So, here’s a serious question: With all of the beautiful art in Florence, why in the world would we spend our time rubbing the nose of a pig?
I’ll be brief. We were told if we rubbed the nose of the pig, or the snout of the boar if you prefer, we would come back to Florence. Considering we had six hours to explore everything Florence had to offer, we looked on our nose polishing efforts as a guarantee of a return trip.
Il Porcellino, or Little Pig, as he is known, was sculpted way back in 1612 and was based on an original marble pig of Greek origin dating back to who knows when. The present pig is a copy of the copy. You can tell by his shiny nose that lots of people share our desire to come back to Florence. Apparently rubbing his snout for a return trip dates back to the 1700s.
Little Pig is housed in an attractive marketplace that was built by Cosimo de’ Medici between 1547-1551. Bad merchants, who had the misfortune of going bankrupt, were spanked here before being sent off to prison. I couldn’t find a description on what the spanking entailed.
NEXT POST: A teaser from our present journey around North America in Quivera, our 22-foot RV.
Today we will visit St. Peter’s Square as part of my armchair travel series for the Age of Coronavirus. This is based on a post I did in 2015 after a visit to Rome.
Our hotel in Rome, the Giulio Cesare, was within a mile of the Vatican. We walked over twice, getting mildly lost both times. It didn’t matter. Rome is chock-full of fascinating architecture and tantalizing history.
The first time we went via the Tiber River, passing by the Castle St. Angelo and its neighboring bridge, the Pont St. Angelo. Eventually this brought us to the broad avenue leading up to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. Mussolini built the avenue to provide visitors with a better view of the church. He also gave the 100-acre Vatican its independent nation status. Today the Vatican serves as the religious center for some one billion Catholics.
Today, I am continuing to dip into my archives as part of my armchair travel series in the age of Covid-19. On Wednesday we visited Rome’s impressive colosseum. Today, Peggy and I go on a walk-about visiting various historic sites and dodging pickpockets. In terms of coronavirus, I had an amusing thought: It must be much harder for pickpockets to work when 6-foot social distancing is being practiced!
If you’ve been following this blog, you know we like to walk extensively when visiting a new city. It’s a good way to become acquainted with the region and its people. Plus it’s great exercise. While Rome is huge, the historic section is confined to a relatively small section. It was large enough, however, that we used mass transit for longer distances.
There were two challenges. The first was figuring out the where and when of catching a train in a language we didn’t speak. The second was that the subway is a great place for pickpockets, especially during rush hour. Rick Steves, in his book on Mediterranean Ports, was constantly admonishing us to be on theft alert.
Peggy, who is more paranoid than I, is always urging me to transfer my wallet to my front pocket when we are in a crowd. Sometimes I even comply. Once, she didn’t even have to ask. We were in Amsterdam and the city had put up huge banners across the streets warning people about thieves. Neither did I require urging in Rome. Folks in Southern Europe were suffering from serious Euro Deficit Dysfunction. Times were tough. We both wore money belts.
The stories are legendary about various scams. Travelers love to share tales. One of my favorites is a woman will ask you to hold her baby while her compatriots grab your wallet. No way was I going to hold a stranger’s baby. Heck, I’ll hardly hold the baby of a woman I know. Babies are known to burp and pee on you. Can you imagine the insult added to injury if a baby was burping and peeing on you while someone was stealing your wallet?
While the stories are fun, the problems are real. A man staying at our hotel lost 2000 euros. A woman told us she was waiting at the airport when a nicely dressed couple told her something was sprayed all over the back of her jacket. The woman took it off. Sure enough, the jacket was covered with green goop. While her husband took the jacket to the restroom to wash, the couple kept her company. They left when her husband returned. Only later did she realize that her purse left with them.
We were at the Termini, a major transfer point on Rome’s transit system, when our turn came. It was at the peak of rush hour and the train was crammed full. John, Peggy’s brother, and his wife Frances had climbed on first. Four little kids, maybe eight years old, jumped on in front of us. Peggy and I were squeezing in when John shouted. He had felt someone reaching in his back pocket. Meanwhile, the four little kids were trying to jump off the train. Peggy, being the ex-elementary school principal she is, thought the kids were confused and tried to shove them back on. The little pickpockets, of course, thought she was trying to collar them. They managed to escape just as the doors were closing. Fortunately, John was also wearing a money belt. He kept his euros and we had a story to tell.
Besides our experience with the pickpockets, we had managed to visit Trajan’s Column, the Trevi Fountains and the Pantheon on our day’s walk-about.
NEXT POST: No trip to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican.
I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s history of early Rome, “SPQR,” so I had fun going back and revisiting Rome with my posts from 2015. In fact, I had so much fun, I’ve decided to share them with you as part of my armchair travel series. We will go on a walk-about where Peggy and I barely avoid pickpockets, visit the ancient Forum, stop off at the Vatican, and take a trip to Rome’s grand Colosseum where I met a ghost of the great cats that once fought gladiators.
I first viewed Rome’s grand memorial to gladiators in 1967 on my way home from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. I was as impressed with the number of feral cats living in the ruins as I was with the structure. Massive renovations have taken place since then. Today’s Colosseum is crowded with tourists instead of cats. We joined the throngs.
Originally the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheater, after the family of emperors who built it. Nero, who had a bad case of self-adulation, built a huge statue of himself nearby. It was known as the Colossus. At some point, the name was applied to the Colosseum. A later emperor removed the head from Nero’s statue and affixed his own stone likeness on top. Why pay for a whole statue? It became the custom with each succeeding emperor. So much for everlasting fame…
When completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 screaming people. During its 100-day inauguration, some 2000 gladiators killed each other and 9000 animals.
While their taste in entertainment left much to be desired, the Romans’ engineering abilities were superb. The Colosseum is high testament to this. Modern stadiums are still built on a similar model, designed to move large numbers of people in and out quickly. I was amused to learn that the Romans called the entrance/exit passages vomitoria– hence our word, vomit.
Spectators were issued tickets on pottery shards that listed their entrance gate, section, row and seat numbers. The higher your rank, the better your seat. The top rows were saved for slaves, foreigners and women. Some people, such as actors and gravediggers, weren’t allowed in the Colosseum at all. Now actors are idolized and even elected as presidents and governors. Gravediggers still dig graves.
The top could be covered for bad weather by a large canvas awning that was put up and taken down by sailors from Rome’s navy. The true gem of engineering was the floor, however, which covered a network of tunnels and cages where wild animals and props were stored. Eighty different elevators operated by pulleys served to bring scenery and wild animals to the surface. You might be in the middle of an African jungle for one scene and a Greek city the next. Imagine the job of being prop master! The floor could even be flooded for sea battles.
You never knew when or where the next wild animal might pop up, which could be bad news for gladiators. Cats at the Colosseum then meant lions and tigers with long claws and sharp teeth. There were also elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles and even giraffes— although I can’t imagine why or how you would fight a giraffe. I once chased a herd across the Serengeti Plains in a Volkswagen beetle, however.
Gladiators came from the ranks of slaves, poor people, and criminals. (Contrary to legend, there were very few Christians.) The most successful earned fame, fortune and freedom. Rick Steves, in his book, Mediterranean Ports, reports they even gave endorsements. I can see it in neon lights, “Barbarian Bob eats at Papa’s Pizzeria.”
Barcelona’s public market, La Boqueria, was on our must-see list when we visited the city in 2015. It’s rightfully famous for its size, variety of food, tapa bars and number of tourists. Not surprisingly, Catalans have become a bit grouchy about the latter. “Buy fish, don’t take photos!” one yelled at me. Little did he know that I was helping him out. If more people featured ugly seafood in their photos of La Boqueria instead of chocolate and oranges and mushrooms, and peppers, and corn, and garlic and strawberries, and cheese, and delightful tapa bars, fewer people would visit. Heck, fewer tourists would likely come to Barcelona. Problem solved.
So think of this as my campaign to help the Catalans who are hoping that the tourist numbers don’t climb into the stratosphere again when the coronavirus ends. The slogan for the campaign is, “Barcelona: Stop and Smell the Fish— but Don’t Let Them Bite You!”
“Curt,” Peggy called, “come here quick! There is something small moving through the grass.”
I hurried over to the window. You never know what new animal, bird, snake, lizard, etc. is going to drop by for a visit. This time it turned out to be a fawn, probably on its first venture out from wherever it had been hidden by mom. The doe had just jumped over our fence, leaving her baby behind. Peggy’s mother-instincts kicked in. No need, the fawn easily crawled through the fence.
Peggy started snapping photos. So did I but my camera was beeping at me. I’d forgotten to put the memory card back in after downloading photos. Oh well, Peggy took enough for both of us. It was our first fawn of the season.
And now for the bear.
Peggy and I came out of a deep sleep at 2:30 am yesterday. Something was crashing around outside our bedroom window. “Bear!” we simultaneously exclaimed! Our neighbor Bryan had texted us on Wednesday to tell us that a large, black bear had rummaged through his garbage the night before. Apparently, it was our turn!
I jumped out of bed without getting dressed, grabbed our heavy duty Mag-lite and made a dash for our patio door. Bears can do a lot of damage in a short time. I threw the door open. Nothing. Our garbage can was my next thought. I had spotted fresh claw marks on it a couple of weeks earlier. I ran though the kitchen and threw open the back door. Again, nothing.
Then I heard a crash on our porch. Damn, the bear is going for the grill, I thought, and went charging through the kitchen, dining room and library. We had already had one Weber grill tipped over and damaged by a bear. I didn’t want to see it happen again. I threw open my third door of the night, this time shining my light on the grill. It, too, seemed fine. Then I noticed that the bird feeder was swinging back and forth and been turned into a crooked parody of itself. The bear had been playing tether ball with it! I pointed my flashlight up our driveway to see if the bear had taken off. He hadn’t.
He was standing 30 feet away staring at me. And he was big, as in BIG. I had only seen one that was larger, and given that it was standing on its hind legs with its feet and claws raised above its head growling at me, I may have exaggerated its size.
“What are you staring at Bear?” I asked. “Haven’t you ever seen a naked man before?” And then I yelled. He leisurely turned around and ambled off up our road. I prefer that my bears run.
I’m sorry I don’t have any photos for you. My mind was a bit preoccupied. He really was a magnificent creature. I suspect we will have more opportunities for photo ops. But here are three pictures for perspective. I’ll close with a final ‘cute shot of mom and baby.
NEXT POST: I’m assuming it will be on the fabulous market in Barcelona unless the bear comes back or more fawns show up. (Grin)
My blogging friend Kelly at Compass and Camera posted photos a week or so ago that showed stained glass windows and reminded me of Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral, Sagrada Familia. The soaring faith required to imagine and build this beautiful sanctuary in Barcelona is a reminder that faith and hope together have tremendous power, enough to build a soaring cathedral— and enough to get through the darkest night, which is a comforting thought given the troubling times we have experienced the past few years and are especially experiencing now. (These photos were taken on a visit that Peggy and I made to the Cathedral in 2015.)
Barcelona arrived in the Twentieth Century with its own brand of Art Nouveau, Modernisme. Combining whimsical and practical with a healthy dollop of nature, Barcelona’s Catalan artists and architects did a makeover of their city. Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), the best known among the Modernistas, added strong religious belief to his work and became the architect of Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family.
Started in 1883, the church continues to be a work in progress today. Like the great cathedrals of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, it is a work of generations, and like the great cathedrals of Europe, is a masterpiece of art and architecture. Peggy, our traveling companions, and I walked inside and could only stare in awe at the beauty. I’ve selected the photos for this blog to provide a sense of why.
It’s time for more nature tales brought to you by the wild animals that live on our property and entertain us continually by doing what comes naturally.
Our property is a regular herpetarium. We have wall to wall lizards ranging in size from tiny babies that have hit the ground running up to foot-long alligator lizards that can scare the heck out of you. We also have skinks, beautifully iridescent lizards with bright blue tails.
Fence lizards dominate, however. You can’t go outside without seeing dozens at this time of the year. They are fun to watch as they scamper across our yard in search of bugs. And they are even more entertaining when they try to impress another lizard by doing push-ups and puffing up their bodies to almost twice their normal size.
They are also quite curious. Or at least they seem to be. Anytime I am outside working around the house, they show up and watch me, often choosing a high perch for a better view. If I do something that chases them away, they’re back in a minute or two. The fellow below came out to watch me when I was building a brick planter around our yellow rose bush earlier this week.
I think we have seen all of one wren since Peggy and I moved here. But a couple of weeks ago, a pair showed up looking for a home. It was pretty funny. The male wren, it turns out, is responsible for house hunting and nest building. The location may be a tree cavity, a birdhouse, a drain pipe, etc. Even an old shoe will do in a pinch. Once he finds what he considers the ideal site, he fills it with twigs and invites his lady love over to check it out. She’s the one that makes the ultimate decision about his nest finding abilities. I can see where she might be concerned if he has picked an old shoe. The poor guy may find himself building 3 or 4 nests before she finally says yes.
I think ours must have been on number four— or maybe five— when he showed her our bird house. He seemed very eager, or maybe he was nervous, like a real estate agent about to close or lose a big sale. He talked and talked and talked. Finally, she hopped in to take a look. And immediately hopped out with a feather in her mouth that she spit out. I could almost hear the discussion. “You are trying to sell me a used house!” “No, no sweetie. Think of it as an already feathered nest.” Whatever he said, she went back inside and came out with another feather. This time she ate it! Apparently that meant yes because the little guy started hopping around and talking twice as fast. Then he zoomed off to pick up some grass to add to the nest. Soon, they were both busy at work.
I’ll close today with a few more photos of the deer herd. Do you remember when I did the post on young buck and his fearless leaps over a wall and a fence to get at our honeysuckle and native shrub garden? Well, it turns out he isn’t so young…
A while back I posted a photo essay on Pompeii that many of you would have seen. This post will include some of those photos but the focus will be on the Roman gods (adopted and adapted from Greek gods) that were a daily part of Pompeian life before Mt. Vesuvius blew its top. Once again, I am traveling back in time and pulling up a post from my archives for my armchair travel series in the time of Covid-19.
It is impossible to visit the ancient cities of the Mediterranean without thinking about the importance of the all-too-human early gods.
Back before they were relegated to the status of myths, they were as alive and real to the people as say Christ might be to today’s faithful Christians. A primary difference was their misbehavior. They became involved in feuds, had affairs, became jealous, drank too much, etc. Other than the fact they were immortal and extremely powerful, they might be your neighbor.
If they liked you, they could be your best buddy. Make you healthy, wealthy and wise. But if they disliked you, watch out! They were like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. “When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” (From a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
So it isn’t surprising that the ancient folks of the Mediterranean spent a great deal of energy and money trying to stay on the good side of their gods. Some of the world’s greatest art was created in their honor and whole herds of castrated animals were sacrificed and cooked to keep them smiling. Interestingly, the smoke from the cooking meat seemed to satisfy the gods. Mere mortals consumed the flesh. As the old saying goes, “Man is nothing, if not practical.”
The Romans, who lacked Greek creativity, obtained their gods wholesale from Greece, only changing their names to sound more Latin. Zeus with his fiery lightning bolt became Jupiter, his wife/sister Hera, became Juno, and his daughter Athena, who sprang fully armed from his head and gave him a headache, became Minerva. And of course there was a whole pantheon of other gods.
Each of these gods had a role to play. If you wanted to kick someone’s tail, Zeus was your ‘man.’ Juno could help you through a difficult childbirth. If you needed more wisdom, and who among us doesn’t, Minerva was there for you. There was no one stop shopping like today’s church goers enjoy.
The gods did gain more power as they aged, however. They took on the roles, and sometimes personalities, of the earlier gods they replaced. Juno, for example, was responsible for both “loosening a bride’s girdle” and protecting the money of the Roman Empire. In her latter role she was the patron Goddess of the Royal Mint.
Jupiter, Juno and Minerva were worshipped as a triad in both Pompeii and Rome. Possibly it saved time and money. There was also a temple to Mercury in Pompeii. His earlier persona had been that of the super fast Greek God Hermes who carried messages for the gods and had wings on his feet. He was also the god of getting rich, luck, trickery and thievery. Hmmm. Sometimes a fast get-a-way is critical.
Another post from my armchair travel series during Covid-19. This time I’ll take you on a window shopping tour of Venice with an emphasis on glassware, including face masks that come with a long nose…
I promised a window-shopping trip in Venice so window-shopping we will go. Staring in store windows is fun. Like people watching, it falls under the category of vicarious pleasure. And it’s free. Of course the shop owners have other objectives in mind.
Venice does a fabulous job with window displays. We saw mouth-watering pastries, chocolate fantasies, clunky shoes, a bejeweled rear end, and an interesting ceramic cow.
What impressed me the most about the window displays in Venice were those featuring glassware and masks. Both reach back into the city’s ancient history.
How many places can claim they have been “supplying quality glass products since 1291”? That’s the year that a Venice made of wood required all of its glass makers to move to the island of Murano in the Venice Lagoon. Community leaders feared that the glass making process would burn the city down. Venice quickly became the center of Europe’s trade in beautiful glass objects.
The upside for the glass makers was that they were invited into the highest ranks of Venetian society. The downside was they were threatened with having their hands chopped off or assassination if they moved and took their talents elsewhere.
Venetians apparently carried out numerous activities they felt were best done while wearing masks. For example, in 1339 Venice passed a law that forbade inhabitants from visiting convents while wearing masks. One can only wonder. During plague times doctors wore long nose masks they believed protected them from the disease. Today masks are a central part of the Carnival of Venice that ends on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras).
NEXT POST: Continuing on our armchair journey during Covid-19, it’s off to Pompeii to visit with the gods.
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