Libya

As I’ve moved west access to television news in English has gotten easier. Here in Arcueil I have my pick of CNN, the BBC or Skye News. I could also get Al Jazeera in Greece. So I’ve been able to watch the rebels in Libya shoot down their own plane, pose for pictures on top of shattered tanks while flashing that universal symbol of vacuity, the peace sign, engage in bitter disputations amongst themselves, lie to the television reporters by staging an obviously fake burial for the cameras, and cry out for military assistance. I’ve seen a high profile representative of the French intellectual class, Bernard-Henri Lévy, weigh in on the side of military intervention. Given all these warning signs, if President Obama does anything more militarily in this situation, he is not as smart as I thought he was.

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The Paris Métro

The Paris Métro has 245 stations within 34 square miles of the City of Paris. It is said that there is “no point in the city situated more than 400 meters away from a metro station.” I am using the excellent online route planner to set my trip from the hotel in Arcueil to my new place on Rue Cambon. It includes the interesting information that travelling by theP1000809 Métro is estimated to cost 25 g of CO2, as opposed to 1466 g of CO2 by car.

This is the view from my window of the Marriott Courtyard in Arcueil. Not so bad, considering that the room is free. I was glad to see, just down the street, a car dealer selling Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps. I also saw a man parking a black Mustang GT that looked (and sounded) good amidst the Citroëns, Puegeots, Fiats and Mercedes’.

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The Paris ‘Burbs

The overnight train from Florence to Paris is old and I shared a four-person cabin with two others, an unrelated man and woman. I had a lower berth so narrow that I couldn’t lie on my back without risking falling out of bed. I slept well under the big moon. It’s surprising how easily I have adapted to sleeping in close quarters with total strangers. In the morningP1000790 there was good espresso in the club car and I retired there to read while my cabin mates snored away the sunrise. On the way I had to squeeze by a pixyish man, barefoot and in black underwear, making a dash for the bathroom. Neither of us were happy to see the other.

The train dropped us at the Bercy Train Station in Paris. My hotel, a one-night freebie earned with with Marriott points, is in Arcueil, a Paris suburb. It has become a point of pride not to surrender to taxis, and to instead find my way on public transportation where possible. A young man at the Information counter with a shaved head and mascara was very helpful and efficiently got me on the  proper Paris Metro line, pointing out the correct transfer point. I found the hotel without incident, and it’s great, with a big TV in my room where I can watch P100079480’s music videos on a German cable station.  Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name” never sounded so good, but what were those dudes in Dead or Alive thinking? I had time to shop for shoes at the mall across the street – my sneakers are shot – but couldn’t find anything suitable. I paid .27 € for a banana (.38 cents) and am enjoying the cheap bottle of Pinot Grigio I carried from Florence. The ambulances make that scary siren noise I first heard back in grade school when my teacher showed the class François Truffaut’s dystopian Fahrenheit 451.

Tomorrow I’m moving to a hotel “located in the pretigious [sic] quarter of the Ópera and the Place de la Vendôme, very near the Louvre museum and the Champs Elysées.”

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Arrivederc​i, Baby

My final day in Florence was unstructured. I hung around the Villa Carlotta until checkout time, then left my bag and went out to kill eleven hours until my train left for Paris at 10: 12 pm.

Another sensational Spring day as it turned out, with a light wind. I sat in the sun at aFerrari store in Florence restaurant in Piazza d. Mercato Centrale, as Mario’s is not open on Sunday. I had a nice chat with a young art student at the next table who, as it turned out, had relocated from the US to Australia with her parents  on a freighter when she was 9, with English officers and a Filipino crew. When she left her place was taken by an older Canadian couple who were on their way to Venice, then back to Rome where they started, then Malta, where the woman was born. I mentioned that Anthony Burgess had relocated to Malta to avoid England’s taxes and found it oppressive, which is the sum of my knowledge about the place, then regretted it since the woman was clearly troubled that someone might not have loved Malta unconditionally.

The man was born in Holland. He was worried about their reception in Venice and told an unlikely story about a friend who had ordered two beers in a restaurant thereP1000802 using his index and middle fingers, in the “V for Victory” sign. This was misinterpreted as a grave insult and supposedly caused his friend’s ejection and a near beating. His friend should instead have used his thumb and index finger to signify due birre. His other story: Two friends sat for an hour in a Venice restaurant and were utterly ignored, victims of Venetian snobbery. I enjoyed these laughable stories, a lighter version of old adventure tales in which the intrepid hero unintentionally commits a faux pas and winds up in the cannibal tribe’s stewpot.

While we were talking a beggar approached their table. The man was certain it was the same beggar he’d been approached by in Rome the previous day. Surely not; how could that be? He related a long story about the millionaire travelling beggar of Ontario thatP1000803 sounded like the Canadian version of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen of Chicago” canard.

In Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, the book in which he retraces the route he first took in The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux finds himself bored in Vladivostok:

But just when I thought this icebound city represented nothing more than a glacial point of departure, I was sitting in the hotel bar and the gods of travel delivered to me a horse’s ass. He was a honking Englishman, almost unbelievable in his prejudices and pomposities, fresh off the plane from Moscow for a business meeting, monologuing to his Russian friend, who was either very tired or else, like him, drunk.

While talking to the Dutch Canadian and his Maltese wife I was similarly grateful to the deities and already thinking how I would write about the conversation.

In the late afternoon I went to Palazzo Strozzi for its exhibition, “Angry Young Men: Picasso, Miró, Dalí.” The museum staff clearly labored to find a common theme in the three artists’ early work but other than the fact that the three were Spaniards, and that Miró once delivered a cake to Picasso in Paris baked by Picasso’s mother in Spain, I didn’t get it, particularly the “angry young men” subtitle. The exhibition featured mostlyAmerigo Vespucci statue ourside Uffizi Gallery in Florence early works of the three but was worthwhile if the contrived museum narration was ignored.

While in Florence I also went to the Uffizi Gallery. If I had my act together, or paid attention to Rick Steves, I would have booked tickets in advance. I don’t so I didn’t, and wound up standing in line from 10 am when it opened until noon. By the time I got in I was tired and it was time for lunch so I did another drive-by viewing of the truly remarkable exhibits there. I’ll do better next time and spend the time the Gallery merits.

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Ancona to Florence

The ferry from Patras put me in Ancona, Italy and there isn’t too much to say about that town. It is a small seaport with and 2 other ferries tied up at the docks. The ferries are quite large but they do not take on pilots when entering or leaving port, nor do theyP1000731 have tugs to assist them berth. In fact the captain just swung around in Ancona and reversed the vessel up to the seawall, since all loading and unloading is done from the stern. It’s like a big garbage truck, you almost expect to hear the “beep-beep” when it backs up.

I stayed in a run down place across from the train station called the Hotel Fortuna. My room was monastic, with a single twin bed and bare walls. I found a place to do laundry and slept. The hotel manager recommended Ristorante Gino’s which was a few doors down so I went there, in part because it was raining. Terrible food, and the owner, even though the place was empty, seated a woman with a hacking cough and sinus trouble right next to me. In the middle of my meal, the hotel manager came in and accepted a bottle of wine from Gino and left after waving sheepishly to me.

The next day I had time for a trip through Ancona on the municipal bus before my train to Bologna Centrale Railway Station, where I transferred for the short rail journey to Florence. Part of the challenge of the trip has been constantly learning new systems on the fly. It takes time to figure out that to take a city bus you must buy a ticket from aP1000741 newsstand and then, when you get on the bus, punch the ticket yourself on a time clock on the bus. The driver doesn’t check if you have a ticket, enforcement is done by another fellow. My lack of Italian meant I didn’t recognize the words on the train ticket for car number or seat and ended up fumbling up and down the aisle with my bag looking for mine when in fact I was in the wrong car. The Laundromat in Ancona has a system for turning the machines on that is far from obvious. Just when you figure these little systems out, it is time to move on.

I heard the word treno before I saw it in writing and was shy about using it because it sounded to my ear like pidgin Italian – “train-o.” 

Of course the taxi driver who took me from the Florence train station to the hotel was a petty cheat. The road from the station to my hotel is direct and I now recognize that he took me on the rube route to run up the meter. The hotel is the Villa Carlotta and it isP1000746 terrific, my favorite of the trip so far. It is south of the Arno just off Viale Niccolo Machiavelli, in what seems to be a residential neighborhood. My room is done in orange and has a chandelier, bitches. It is also quiet and the neighborhood is full of songbirds. Although the hotel is a bit off the beaten path the staff educated me about the simple bus routes and sold the tickets as well. Boboli Gardens is nearby and, on the day I arrived, was offering free admission. The hotel has solid (and free) wi-fi that allowed me to watch the Gonzaga Bulldogs dissect the higher-seeded St. John’s team in the first round of the NCAA tournament on my computer in the middle of the night.

Florence has to be one of the most photographed cities on the planet and for good reason. It makes even the most amateur shutterbug look good, since it would be hard to take a bad picture here. I saw the sights on day two, the Duomo, the Convent of San Marco, andP1000771 others. I had lunch at Trattoria Mario’s on the Piazza d. Mercato Centrale on the vigorous recommendation of friends and was very pleased with both the food and the atmosphere. It was packed and I shared a table with a couple from Puerto Rico who were world-class eaters and fun to talk to although I internally rejected all their advice about what to do and see. I have no interest, for example, in having dinner at any place with “Teatro” in its name. I bought a scarf from a Brazilian street vendor, made train reservations for Paris, accidently attended mass, and ate dinner at a place I happened across called Trattoria Marione on Via della Spada that had casually-dressed Florentines queuing up outside before its 7 pm opening. Nobody eats before 7 in Italy. It was very good simple food at a reasonable price.

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More Atatürk

Before I forget, here are two more busts of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Mustafa Kemal AtatürkHis image is everywhere in Turkey, in restaurants, the Grand Bazaar, government offices and museums.Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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