699. Amalfi Coast

Image result for amalfi coast highway photosThe crown jewel of our trip, according to everyone we spoke to, was the Amalfi Coast. It’s like no other stretch of coastline anywhere in the world. Once we arrived on the spectacular serpentine roadway above coves and inlets and ancient magical dwellings, I realized it was somewhat familiar to me. You see, I’d seen parts of it in movies and commercials. You have too. Maybe you’ve seen the Fiat commercial where all these Fiats drive into the sea water around Amalfi and pull out of the Hudson River in New York City. Or you recall a fabulous convertible driving along the Italian coastline in Under the Tuscan Sun or any of a dozen other movies where a windswept silk scarf is sacrificed on the altar of passionate love.

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It’s not hard to comprehend that the coast highway started out as a donkey path centuries ago. It’s just amazing that it hangs on to the cliff sides under all that road traffic centuries later. If you have a fear of death, bridges, heights, car wrecks, etc. it is the perfect laboratory for exposure therapy to work its magic. A case in point: my wife has been afraid of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and bridges in general for decades; however, a week after we arrived home from the Amalfi bus ride, she calmly sat in the front passenger seat as I drove over and back across the CBB without a single gasp, death grip, or dramatic gesture. If only I’d known this thirty years ago. But no. That’s not how life goes.

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The bridges and tunnels are not modern, but you cannot afford to think about the possible weaknesses of construction as your multi-ton tour bus lumbers on… any more than you can second guess your airplane as it rockets down a runway into the great blue yonder. That’s part of the thrill to know that you could topple to your untimely death at any second. This raw fear helps battle any perfectionism you might have about getting the perfect camera angle from the bus seat where your sphincter pulses metronomically. As we swerved onto the official Amalfi coast highway, I glued my cell phone to the sea side window and held it on video for long periods of time. Our guide Sah’ rah turned on Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro to accompany us into the ethereal splendor. Goosebumps erupted and then baby goosebumps erupted on them. Gravity was suspended along with all the laws of physics as we soared weightlessly like music unfurling across a crystal glass pane over a thousand foot drop.

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Yeah, it was the sort of fear mixed with beauty, as if you had asked a super model for a date and she said yes. Now what the hell are you going to do? The bottom drops out and there you are in your silky boxers all excited with no where to go. MMmmm, maybe I said too much there. And maybe she said, “Okay, whatever. I’m so tired of this hot weather. But it’s just too hot for words, if you want to make love, okay”.
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Anyway, anyway, it’s all good. No matter where you turned, you found an unrepeatable beauty,  a Miss Universe moment’s hook, a diamond in the polishing tumbler wherever you happened to look. Everything, every millimeter shone brilliantly of the proof of God, as if a sardine’s shimmering scales burst through the teal water to knock you over in surprise at the depth of beauty like a bidet of Perrier mineral water upheaving your disbelief. Yeah, damn words just get in the way of the energy, the juice of the universe. Sitting here now with a glass of bourbon does not come anywhere close to the heartbeat of that moment, like the first time I saw a naked girl in the front seat of my dad’s wonderbus. Okay, I said it. Have I gone too far again? The drive in movie theater on Route One that featured Carnal Knowledge and some other movie that we reported in detail to her parents, maybe The Shoes of the Fisherman or The Sting or Serprico.  That was my Amalfi Coast slithering highway at 16 years of age in my dad’s 1968 Belmont Oldsmobile.  The intersection of magic and orgasm, lemons and canolis, grappa and whathappa?
“Life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long.”

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Okay, so there was yet another delicious hairpin turn in the highway of inexplicable bliss. Like a movie filled with hyper reality-ness, we kept on rolling along, singing a song of oceanic ubiquity. Yeah, and so much more… ceramic words fired up in a kiln of a thousand degrees, and we descended, finally, to the soft shores of the actual town of Amalfi.Image result for town of amalfi photos

And yes, it’s the calm end of an unbelievable dragon that snaps in and out like a kite’s tail. The weak end of the serpent, where limoncello is extracted from the frothing fangs of the Leviathan. We didn’t purchase the offered drink. It was just a little too strong I think. Or maybe we were just too worn out to entertain another sales spout. No matter, off we contentedly went, oh, back to the start at Sorrento.

Dinner was on the veranda, another perfect night featuring 360 degrees of pure paradise. As we started to order, other folks from our tour group popped up and we made room for Lynn and Sandy, the Aussies, then another couple of Americans, and two more. Across the veranda we spied the Canadians with the other Aussies and the Indonesians next to the one man band. Of course the crooner got to Volare and our troupe began an impromptu conga line (if that is not a redundancy… “Officer, it was a premeditated conga line, I could just sense it. Collusion.”) around the veranda. It was unmolested fun for the dancers and the onlookers, if not for the wait staff, I think. An exclamation point on the Italian trip in none other than italics. Buona notte.Image result for night time views of sorrento



698. A Bridge Too Far

Image result for scaramucci and alisyn camerota picturesThe inimitable Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci, former White House Press Secretary for 11 seconds, has spoken: “If the President continues on this path of reprehensible, racist, Neanderthalish outrage, then I will no longer support him.”

When Alisyn Camerota pushed him for the exact exit number where Mooch would leave the Donald J. Trump Highway, he could not or would not get specific. You know, cuz that’s when you paint yourself into a legal, moral or ethical corner and you have to follow through or be seen as an irredeemable liar. Donald Trump's Adopt-A-Highway sign on the Henry Hudson

A.C. “One more racist tweet? Will that be enough?”

Mooch “We’ll have to see.”

A.C. “Another Neanderthal boulder bashing? Another Charlottesville debacle? Does he have to lead a Klan cross burning in front of an historically Black church in Charleston?”

Mooch, looking for a way out of a definitive answer. “I, I don’t know. We’ll see, we’ll see.”Image result for scaramucci and alisyn camerota pictures

A.C. “What if he actually does shoot that hypothetical person on Fifth Avenue, only it’s no longer hypothesis but reality. Let’s say it’s any one of the four Congresswomen he has already attacked. Will you finally sanction him and withdraw your blind support of everything he does?”

Mooch “That’s a tough one, Alisyn. They have it coming. They are socialists and hate America. Plus they are dark women. And two of them are Muslims… so, I mean the President would be within the castle doctrine to use deadly force when someone like that is invading his home, our home, the good old U.S. of A.”Image result for trump miming shooting a gun photos

A.C. “You have to be shitting me!!! You are sanctioning the murder of a fellow American citizen?”

Mooch “Now, wait a second. What is your ethnicity?  I mean you are a pretty blonde white woman and you say you’re Italian from Jersey, but have you done a DNA test to exonerate yourself? Like Elizabeth Warren, you know. She said she was native American, but Donald called her out into the deep end of the gene pool and it turned out she couldn’t swim there. Remember that? And that’s what I love about the guy: he’s got the biggest cajones in the business. Unsinkable with all that blubber buoyancy. You can’t drown him in bad press or red ink. The unsinkable DJT. We gotta name a carrier after him. I mean McCain got a ship, which really pissed off the boss, lemme tell you.”Related image

A.C. “Anthony, I cannot believe my ears. Your words are like a fully loaded Amtrak passenger train slamming head on into a burning freight train full of depreciated soy beans at 90 miles an hour in my cerebral cortex. People and crops are exploding everywhere and you calmly talk about your terminal point of revulsion being just a bit further on. Well, that’s a bridge too far for humanity, Moochie, and I’m voting with humanity. What is your limit?  When do you peel away from this monstrous madman?”Image result for furious alisyn camerota photos

Mooch “Now, Ally baby girl, hyperbole can only get you so far, like the White House. Hah hah. But seriously, there has to be a code of decency in the media, which is why the President calls this outlet and others Fake News. Let’s face it, and KellyAnne can reinforce what I’m saying while she chugs a gallon of Gatorade (amazing circus woman, she can tie a drinking straw in knots with only her tongue while conducting an interview underwater), there has been a vast left wing conspiracy since the beginning to discredit this President. And we don’t need proof to prove that. Everyone knows it. I mean the focus on his personal life and the sexual assaults, the bankruptcies, the infidelity, the avoidance of the draft, the tax cheating, the university, Russia, his mob lawyers….”Image result for trump miming shooting a gun photos

A.C. “Yes, we actually played his own quotes and presented indisputable evidence that had been corroborated to the nth degree, so we are guilty of journalistic due diligence.”

Mooch “Ca’mon Allie. Din’t your mother ever tell you that if you din’t have sumthin nice to say den say nuttin at all? Capiche?”

A.C. “Anthony, we are not back in Bayonne right now, so I’d appreciate you speaking respectfully and professionally during this terribly embarrassing and painful interview.”Image result for scaramucci and alisyn camerota pictures

Mooch “Alisyn, I appreciate your guardrails and I respect you enough to be on your show because you have historically supported my fast talking investment broker style that does not leave a lane open for questions or redirections so that I can segue into unrelated topics that leave you gasping at my slippery elusiveness; I’m a catfish you cannot contain even if you think I’m hooked.”Related image

A.C. “Shut up!! Just SHUT UP Anthony!! You are more fake plastic than my daughter’s Ken doll. Greasier than a diesel mechanic in Herzegovina. Slimier than an oyster bathing in Oil of Olay. Filthier than– uh, uh, I’m sorry. I lost it there.”Image result for scaramucci and alisyn camerota pictures

Mooch “Allie, we’re all under a lot of pressure these days with a roaring economy and threats at all our borders, fear and hatred everywhere. We need to get back to when America was great, when Ronald Reagan made commercials for Boraxo 20 Mule Team soap….”

A.C. “Okay, last time. What would it take for you to abandon the President, Anthony?”

Mooch “Before I can answer that question I need to preface it with a caveat that it’s not just me but many of the President’s friends who will jump ship if this should occur.”

A.C. “Anthony!! Answer the damn question!!”

Mooch “Okay, for me to stop supporting the Donald he would have to–”

BANG! BANG! BANG!Related image

A.C. “Oh my God. Anthony! He’s been shot. Call an ambulance.”

DJT “That won’t be necessary. I just fired the Mooch for the second time, and everyone knows I don’t do second chances unless it’s for me in golf. Just ask my first wife. “Related image

A.C. “But Mr. President, you, you just killed a man on live television, a friend of yours, a supporter who twisted himself into a human pretzel to avoid criticizing you, and, and…”

DJT “Yeah, it’s too bad. He was a terrific guy. But you saw what he was doing to me there. Plus, your ratings aren’t anything I worry about. My people will love me over on Fox no matter what I do. Just wait and see. My ratings will likely increase. There is no bridge too far for my lemmings.”Image result for lemmings jumping off cliff gif


697. The Leader of the Pack

I have been remiss, my faithful blog readers. I have ignored the high adventures of Joel for too long. I got carried away with all the Italy coverage and abandoned my Holy Mockery of Joel Ministry, HMJM.org if you would like to donate. All gifts are not tax deductible nor a good idea. I repent and will try to do better. Strangely enough, Joel was in Italy about the same time that we were. However, he rolls with a different socio-economic crowd. His peeps sailed on a huge luxury sailboat from Malta to Sicily to Positano to Rome. We just missed one another in Palermo, Catania, Pompeii, and Rome. He claimed no cell service, but I know the real reason: he did not want his top shelf friends to meet me, his coffee shop boyfriend. Sad but true. Joel is a shallow elitist that way.d06ecef41a9edf1a486279a6b13e-post (Custom)

Now back at Coffee Central we shared our Italy stories with one anther. The flames of memory continued to burn and flicker. We are not really a couple, just for the record. I simply enjoy antagonizing him and he seems to enjoy the beatings. I mean he still falls for the fake handshake trick where I drop my outstretched hand as he comes in to shake mine. Not once, not twice, no… three times in a row! It’s Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football kick all over again.Related image

But the other day we were jawing on about when he is going to pass to the Great By and By and leave me his Spyder motorcycle. I am not getting any younger, you know. He told me I was in the running for it. “Don’t play with my avaricious heart, Joel. You could just settle it now at the notary’s and give me the key.”

“I, I just don’t think I’m ready to do that. I have some more rides left in me.”Image result for man riding a spyder motorcycle images

I countered, “I don’t want a lot of miles on the Spyder, Joel. So try to limit your distance to under 5,000 miles per year, which is plenty since you mothball it over the six winter months we experience in Pennsylvania.”

“I’m not sure you understand the concept of possession and legal ownership.”

“I may not be a pinstriped attorney like you, Joelseppe, but I have a napkin contract somewhere back in my office papers that is as good as any title. Don’t you remember you told me you loved me, baby? Said you’d be coming back this way again maybe? With a Spyder?”

“You seem to be confused.”

“Ahem… I also have some incriminating other things, like Michael Cohen things, that our friend David Pecker might want to publish. You know what I’m saying now, Joel? Huh? I can’t hear you.”Image result for michael cohen sweating pictures

“You wouldn’t. You set me up to autograph that paper coffee cup years ago in a frivolous moment. You can’t possibly use that against me. Have you no decency? No conscience? No integrity?”

“Joel, have you no memory. I have only antagonized you for the past 8 or 9 years. What did you expect?”

“Please, I have a reputation, a family, a business in this town. Don’t do this to me, Burrito.”Image result for anthony hopkins photos from silence of the lambs

“Now, that’s more like it, Joel. Now that we have set the atmosphere, let’s set the terms of the transfer…”

“But, but it’s MY SPYDER!!! I won’t be extorted into any agreement with you, you mad man!!”

“Joel, you don’t have to get all loud and possessive. You watched The Godfather many times, didn’t you?”

“Yes, it’s a classic movie that holds up well over time.”

“You remember the movie director who insulted Don Corleone and cursed Tom Hagen, the consigliere?”Related image

“Who could forget the horse’s head scene.”

“Good, good. Well, I’d hate to have you wake up some early morning with just the Spyder’s handlebars and dash display in your bloody hands.”

“You wouldn’t!! Would you? No, you would.”

“Think hard on this one, Joel. If I have to go to the mattresses, I will.”Image result for tom hagen being insulted by movie director in godfather 1

“Oh, what have I done. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten mixed up with the Coffee Shop Mafia. Can’t you do something for old time sakes, Burrito?”

“Joel, you broke my heart.” Cue up the Shangri-las…

Mm–“Is he really going out with him?
“Well, there he is, Let’s ask him”
“Burrito, is that Joely’s ring you’re wearing?”
“Gee, it must be great riding with him”
“Is he picking you up after work today?”
“By the way, where did you meet him?”Image result for james dean motorcycle gif
“I met him at the coffee shop
He turned around and smiled at me
You get the picture
“Yes, we see”
That’s when I fell for the leader of the pack, Vrrroom VrrrooomRelated image
“My friends were always putting him down, down, down
They said he came from the wrong side of town
They told me he was bad but I knew he was sad
That’s why I fell for the leader of the packImage result for james dean motorcycle gif
“One day my wife said find someone new
I had to tell my Joely we’re through
He stood there and asked me why, but all I could do was cry
I’m sorry I hurt you, the leader of the pack
Do do doRelated image
“He sort of smiled and waved me good bye
The tears were beginning to show
As he drove away on that rainy night,
I begged him to go slow, whether he heard,
I’ll never know Look out! Look out! Look out! (Wreck noises)Image result for james dean motorcycle gif
“I felt so helpless, what could I do
Remembering all the things we’d been through?
In town they all stop and stare
I can’t hide the tears, but I don’t care
I’ll never forget him, the leader of the pack
Ooh, the leader of the pack now he’s gone
the leader of the pack now he’s gone
the leader of the pack now he’s goneImage result for james dean motorcycle gif

And I have the Spyder all to my own.”

can am spyder rs 2008 for sale - Buscar con Google


696. Sorrento

We wound our way from the caves of Matera to the seductive scenery of Sorrento on the coast across from Mt. Vesuvius. As the pattern continued, each new stop managed to overwhelm the previous greatest hit on the trip the way top 40 hit songs fight for top billing over time. So in a rock music analogy, this stop was “Stairway to Heaven”. Our hotel was the finest in our travels for sure, situated above Sorrento with a commanding view across the Gulf of Naples

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We stayed at the Hilton Sorrento Palace with all the bells and whistles, surrounded by lemon tree groves and featuring five pools that cascaded into each other. So welcome after a day on the bus. Swanky is the only word that comes to mind. The lobby felt like an art museum whose masterpieces hung outside, each view a Cezanne landscape come to life.Hilton Sorrento Palace hotel -Hotel View Inside the floors were gorgeous terraza, and yes, we felt pretty special gliding across those shiny surfaces into upgrade heaven. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would be proud of our peacocking through the lobby.

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Once again I wanted to just stay put and frolic in the pools or walk the lovely grounds of our hotel; just take picture after picture of the breathtaking scenery from our balcony. Our tour guide Sah’ rah had arranged for a 40th anniversary bottle of champagne and a sweet poem by Goethe next to it on our dresser. I wanted to drink it all by ourselves and hiccup happily. My bride suggested we share it with all the folks on the trip in a toast later on. She prevailed in her wise prudence.

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Sorrento was warm and busy on this June lovers’ night, thronging with tourists in the piazza as we walked to our restaurant. The cuisine was unusual for me– octopus and squid as the main course. It was a bit strange since I don’t eat swimmy fish. Their oil makes me ill even in small doses. But this combo didn’t hurt in the least, or I would have been banned from the bus, busted for excessive flatulence and other miseries. We told jokes and stories and drank tasty wine from big pitchers as the meal wound on. Desserts were offered. I took a single chocolate smothered cream puff that must have been 1,000 calories by itself. These cream puffs reminded me of NFL linemen on steroids. I was more scared of the dessert than the octopus. They screamed excess cholesterol and triglycerides, but I ignored their furious confectionery cries. We had a doctor sitting next to us after all. Gino is a blood specialist,  a hema- something or other, and I’m sure he would have followed his Hippocratic oath and stopped any foodicides before they got started. Others had two of these diabetic coma inducers without falling into insulin shock seizures. I showed some restraint.Image result for sorrento piazza at night photos

When we retired for the night, we could not just go back to our room. We had to sit on the veranda and have a last drink of wine and drink in the awesome beauty spread out before us. As I looked around, I saw others from our group hanging out, unwilling to say goodnight to this heavenly scene. But the next day we were heading up the Amalfi coast, so again we had to trade in the present awesome for the future fabulous.

In the morning we were off to Vietri Sul Mare and ceramics shopping. Once again words just did not capture the craftsmanship evident in tables and bowls and lamps and dishes. Our eyes would light up and our hands hypnotically moved to touch these treasures. My wife was staring in a trance at a ceramic covered volcanic rock table that cost 5,000 dollars, trying to figure out the shipping costs. I thought I was going to have to stage a Shopping Channel  intervention. “Honey, step away from the table. Breathe deeply and count down from 10, 9, 8… Repeat after me: ‘I don’t need this beautiful table. I don’t need this beautiful table.'”

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We exited without a significant purchase due more to the weight than the cost of the massive artifact. My bride continued to comparison shop like Gino’s wife Susan at the jewelry shop. (So far no overloaded FedEx truck has wheeled in one of these monoliths to our house… but I know she’s still strategizing.) Once again I wanted to stay where I was and soak in the atmosphere, not to simply shop, but to share an organic experience with a local.

“Is that your parking space, signore?”

“Si, si.”

“How did you get such a good spot right here on the main thoroughfare?”

“It came with this house that has been in my family for 700 years. Very valuable. I could make it a gelato shop, but I promised my family never to work.”Image result for Vietri sul mare photos of shops

“So before cars and Fiats and Vespas?”

“Si, si. We had only donkeys then, so this was an animal stall.”

“So, have you ever run into Bob Dylan?”Image result for Bob dylan singing in Taormina photos

“You must leave now, Signore Uomo Pazzo. Meester Dylan could not carry Bocelli’s butler’s jocka strappa. He sounds like the alley cat in heat walking on broken glass outside the butcher shop. He’sa no gouda. Iffa he woulda come to the opera house, I would keel him before one a notea he coulda singe.”

“Okay, thanks Giovanni. Ciao, Man. I don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

A real conversation that was not transactional; yep, that’s below the cultural epidermis tourists only scratch, but it’s where verbal histamines can drive a man to scratch himself to death in a glorious paroxysm of excoriation. This makes no sense but sounds heady, frothy as a Guinness stout on tap.Image result for guinness stout on tap photos

I need to stop here and save my arias and crescendos for the Amalfi coast trek. Standing on our balcony gazing across the lights of the Gulf of Naples, I could not imagine anything more beautiful than what was in front of me… including my wife. She was in front of me too. I want to make that clear. I am not some international voyeur. I mean I could hardly see into the next room if I tried due to the privacy wall and my neck was a bit stiff from all the touring about.


695. On the Boot

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The Straits of Messina separate Sicily from the Calabria province of Italy. Its whirlpools are the source of the ancient Greek myth of Scylla and Charybdis, the competing sea monsters that Ullysses had to navigate through in the Odydssey.

Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology, meaning “having to choose between two evils”.Image result for charybdis and scylla images

The two evils have to do with hazards involved in sailing the Straits not the evils of Sicily and Italy. It was a lovely,  monsterless ferry boat ride across to Calabria, which is where one of the Aussies on the bus, Tony, was born. He was born in Calabria not on a bus, in case you are over thinking or speed reading. He has a thick Aussie accent but still speaks his mother tongue as well. We stopped the bus to have a picture of him in Calabria.

Image result for calabria photosSomehow Italian emigres like Tony found a better economic deal half way across the globe in a dramatically different culture filled with koalas and kangaroos in Australia. What a strange uprooting it must have been, like a joey in a mother’s pouch. I’ve only experienced small variations from a metropolitan culture to a rural one in the U.S. It’s a tough choice: ugly money or impoverished beauty. His humor was on the sardonic side. No surprise, eh. He claimed to be writing a secret book for men about how to live with women as his wife Connie melted their credit card. “I’ll have to push my retirement back two more years now”, he uttered in defeat.  I smelled burning plastic.

“Cheer up, mate. She’ll never leave you with such a good credit score.”

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In our tour of the jewelry factory, Tony and Paul and I huddled in defiant unity as our wives flitted about the expensive samples in glittering display cases. I noted Dr. Gino’s attempt to dissuade his wife Susan from buying an expensive necklace. I bet the guys five euros that she would prevail. Paul was skeptical. Tony was on the fence. I was resolute. “She is the pileated woodpecker, my good men, and Gino is the soft pine. You will see when the sawdust settles that she will be wearing that necklace.” Don’t call me a prophet, but fifteen minutes later Susan wore the necklace to our Italian ceramic snack table as Gino sighed. “You knew? Just observing body language. You knew?”

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“Well, that and the past few days of experience. Once she started comparison shopping on her I-pad, I knew you were done. She had you at ‘I’ll just look, Gino honey.'”

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Off we drove to a winery in the hinterlands of Basilicata where a feast awaited us. Up in the hills we drove until there were only gravel roads. Then we came to a lovely villa with several outbuildings surrounded by 1400 acres of grapevines and fruit trees. Our hostess was the owner of the operation. She showed us around the windswept vineyard and its stunning views. Along the way she mentioned the problem of wild boars digging up her vines. I offered to stay and shoot them for room and board only. My offer was politely ignored. All of us herded into the main house like wild boars where a huge table was spread with bread and cheese and samples of their various wines, two whites and two reds. Delizioso.Related image

The first course came with vegetables and appetizers, making me wish I had not eaten breakfast… ever.  Then the three pastas came. I hoped it was over, but then the beef, lamb, chicken, and pork came out. I would not, could not touch it, not in a box with a fox, not with a goat on a boat, not even with a cat in a hat. Likewise with the salad that followed. I believe the dessert was a light custard or granite, which I choked down, feeling like a Roman glutton in need of the vomitorium. Somehow I managed not to burst as we digested our way along to our next destination–Matera, like a busload of swollen pythons.

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Several movies have been filmed in Matera because it is such an old establishment, one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the world, like 11,000 years old. Just ask Bob Dylan. Originally folks called Sassi lived in caves they carved out of limestone in the sides of a steep river gorge that was the source of their water. Later dwellers built facades on the cave dwellings, but the originals were content with their one room shelters. In the 1950’s the Italian government condemned this village and forced its inhabitants to evacuate. They called the Sassi “the shame of Italy” and moved them to public housing. Nowadays the Sassi’s old shameful caves are  a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Funny how fashion and history repeat themselves.Image result for Sassi caves pictures

Oh, the gardens and flowers, the vines and statues, the ancient walls made of cut stones. It makes one wonder if every Italian had once been a stone cutter. Streets and floors were works of art to walk upon. Every town is so full of steps. What we did not see was a gymnasium.  No need. From Matera we took a trip to the Alberobello, home of the stone buildings called trullis. Legend has it that these dry stacked buildings were constructed this way to avoid using mortar and thereby avoid taxes. Piles of loose stones could not be considered residences. Odd, I know, since carving a room in a hillside did constitute a residence. The theme of tax avoidance seems to be a constant in Italy.  Not sure I’d want to collect taxes from a village full of stone cutters.Image result for trullis

Another feast followed at our hotel in Matera. The group’s cohesion continued to gel like pectin in jam, a very unique jam made of a dozen different fruits. There are lessons everywhere if you open your mind to learn them. Disparate stones and people can be gathered into beauty if your mind is governed by love.


694. A Foretaste of Heaven

Image result for giardini naxos photos at nightAs we drank wine between the Mediterranean Sea and our hotel terrace under a mulberry twilight, I facetiously wondered out loud if many Italians get disappointed or outright pissed off when they get to Heaven. (I do the facetious schtick with regularity as I’m sure you fully realize if you’ve read other posts of mine.) It was a rhetorical question that hung in the warm air with no need of an answer, just a jaded chuckle or two, like a hummingbird moth…almost fabulous in its falseness.Related image

When Dr. Gino told me that lawyers in Indonesia drive cabs and wait tables because the unemployment rate for attorneys is 50% there,  I offered my airtight solution:  have the unemployed lawyers commit minor crimes so the demand for the employed lawyers goes up. Then, when the incarcerated lawyers get out of jail in five years, the market will have expanded and the employed lawyers can then commit crimes so the market continues to grow and everyone not only earns money but gets five year vacations paid for by the state. It’s only fair to take turns so the entire body of attorneys builds their market together as only lawyers can. He chuckled at the near absurdity of my facetious proposal. Still, there was some quasi-legal/psychotic logic there.Image result for Indonesian cab driver photos

That’s when the conversation turned to the movie The Godfather and our excursion the next day to the mountain village of Savoca, where Michael Corleone’s courtship and wedding to Apollonia was filmed. I did my best Don Corleone for Gino and gained his approval…. “Uh, mmmm, mmmm, Gino, you don’t even think to call me Godfather. You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder– for money. That is not justice. Your daughter is alive…But let’s be frank here, you never wanted my friendship. You were afraid to be in my debt.”Related image

In this awkward rendition Gino was thrust into the role of the undertaker, Amerigo Bonasera.

“Be my friend, Godfather?” I imagined he asked me.

“Okay, Gino. Someday, and that day may never come, I will ask you to return this favor.”

“You do that very well”, he offered. I tried not to overdo it… but it’s very hard to unstuff your vocal cords once you have Brandoized them with cotton balls. Usually it takes two weeks and a gallon of Mucinex to clear the clog. However, it took merely one gulp of good Sicilian wine to do the trick on this night, a magic Italian night that makes things disappear, like worry- filled starlings arcing over the ink black hills.Related image

Taormina sits atop a narrow winding road built for Vespas and Fiats not tour buses. Our trusty driver Massimo, however, lived up to his powerful name and neatly parked at the foot of the last hill which leads into Taormina. We had to schlep the last half a kilometer up the volcanic rock pavers, past a Chinese film crew who were about to shoot a scene for some movie we would never see. Each building was more uniquely beautiful than the last. Gold, tangerine, ochre and flax structures alternated as we walked up the narrow winding streets. Tall date palm trees and brilliant bougainvillea trembled languidly overhead in the hilltop breeze off the sea below, on our way up to the ancient Greek theater that faces Mt. Etna in the distance. Our  guide explained that the Romans tried to make this a gladiator venue but it never caught on despite their bloody efforts. Their lions all went vegan on them. As we toured this historic site, the roadies for Jethro Tull were setting up a stage, lights, and speakers. Time waits for no one. Rock and roll. Greek tragedy. Roman blood lust. Once again words failed to clothe the majesty before us and slipped onto the two thousand year old bricks as threadbare rags.Image result for images of greek theater in taormina

Our guide told us that Bob Dylan had played there around 2000, and he kept turning to look at Mt. Etna as it lit up the night sky. The only question from our group was if the date were 2000 B.C. or A.D. or AC/DC. Dylan is old, man. (There is never a good time for a bad pun.) Leaving such a gorgeous treasure is like leaving an old girl friend. Not that I would know since I’ve only had one girlfriend who didn’t leave me and we’re still married. However, I imagined it would go like this… “But I love her. I can’t leave. I’ll be back, my love. I swear by the pulsing blood in my dying heart. My Taormina. Ahhhh.” Then I’d fall on my sharp sword… and Jethro Tull would have to sort of work around my lifeless body.

“Drying in the cold sun
Watching as the frilly panties run, hey, Aqualung
Feeling like a dead duck Spitting out pieces of his broken luck, oh, Aqualung”Image result for jethro tull live photos from 1972

In any event we had to get back to the hotel and on to our second excursion to Savoca, the setting for Michael Corleone’s courtship and wedding to the lovely Apollonia after he killed the chief of police in New York and before his enemies blew up Apollonia in her car. I hate to ruin the ending for you if you haven’t seen the movie, but you’ve had 48 years to do so and I believe the statute of limitations has expired. Besides, if Michael had stayed in Sicily, how could there be a Godfather II or III?

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When I sent my Miami Beach, Florida brother-in-law the photo of the church and town, he texted me that Apollonia’s body had just recently crashed to earth near his house. Now, call me cold or Aspy, but I thought this presented a nifty physics problem, as follows:

If a 120 pound woman is launched from a small village in Sicily by a metric ton of TNT in 1971 and comes to earth in Miami Beach, Florida (roughly 5,000 miles to the southwest) 48 years later, what was her average speed in miles per hour? Assume a constant west to east wind speed of 22 knots per hour.Image result for space shuttle pictures launching

Now we are not math majors, but we came up with this equation:

120 pound Apollonia x 4.184 gigajoules x -22 knots per hour = 5,000 miles

576 months

We computed within a  margin of error of 3% that her constant speed must have been approximately 8.68 miles per month or .289 miles per day or .0120416 miles per hour. Basically my corpse back at the Greek theater could have beaten her to Miami in a foot race. Image result for zombie foot races pictures

And that’s the truth.

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693. Palermo to Taormina

Image result for pictures of palermoAfter the dinner wrapped up and most guests went upstairs to sleep, we slid over to the Canadians’ table, Paul and Karen from Toronto, seasoned travelers like Gino and Susan. Name the place and they have been there multiple times. I’ve never met a rude Canadian by the way, and P & K were no exception to the rule. We shared another glass of wine with them and some warm stories about how we met our spouses and my wife’s biological family story. We began to weave the fabric of friendship in simple strands, jokes, and yarns. They had preceded the group by several days in Rome and Palermo, so their jet lag had subsided while ours was still abuzz. The wait staff cleaned up around us until we toddled out at 10:30 p.m., happy as a glutton with fresh cheesecake in his mouth.Image result for italian breakfast buffet pictures

Breakfast was a widely diverse buffet that featured various meats and cheeses, croissants, fruit, pastries, eggs and bacon that was not smoked. Gino suggested espresso. In fact he had three or four. “I may be addicted”, he added unnecessarily and self evidently. One of the few disappointments I experienced was the Italian coffee– it was weak and served with milk, no cream. I eventually followed Gino’s lead with milky espressos in the morning. “Get your motor runnin’….” This theme rolled over onto the tour bus with our patient driver Massimo.Related image

On the bus, on the bus we went for a tour of cathedrals. Sah rah warned us to be on time and use precision German time not Italian time. First out to Monreale, which overlooks Palermo sort of how Jesus overlooks the pews in this picture. Image result for monreale cathedralThis is where words fail and things like music and art take flight into the metaphysical world. My humanness seemed to turn to talcum powder or the ash of incense in the presence of such holy majesty. My pride was voided as if I were singing in front of Andreas Botticelli. Only a fool cannot be still in such a glorious house of God.Image result for medieval fools pictures

We wandered about the hill top town of Monreale and all its steps. A craftsman was carefully making a mosaic of Jesus out of tiny broken tiles. We wanted to buy everything in the shop but showed some restraint. It was the first real day in Sicily and we had to count on suitcase space as well as making our euros match the next ten days’ extra expenses. What was so impressive was the importing of great craftsmen from Medieval Constantinople to do the super intricate mosaics. Their tradition continues today.

“Sicily is like a lasagna”, Sah rah said. “It has been invaded over and over again by Greeks, Muslims, Romans, Spaniards, the Normans, and others. Each adds some layer of their culture to Sicily. So it is diverse and delicious.” Her words matched what we saw. In fact, later that day at the Palermo Cathedral she pointed out a passage of the Koran on a recycled column in the entrance. Amazing how in repeated efforts to conquer the island, the conquerors had actually fertilized its culture.Image result for Palermo Cathedral

We found the Palermo Opera House, Teatro Massimo, and took the tour while singers were auditioning and dancers were practicing. It’s one of the largest opera houses in all of Europe, rising up like a temple to the arts, featuring Greek muses sculpted outside.

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Inside it rises up six balconies to accommodate 1,387 pairs of ears.Image result for palermo opera house pictures

By evening time my wife and I were whipped. We strolled along the main shopping road and soaked in vibes that were off the guided tour path, aware that there were some pretty sketchy streets just off the tourist center. As our stroll ended at the open cafes, we looked to pick out a pair of seats for a drink and snack. As we did so, Gino and Susan beckoned us to join them as they finished up a huge fishy meal. So pleasant in the warm evening with our new pals. Gino impressed us with his fluent Italian. “I get by”, he said modestly. Before I knew what was going down, he generously paid our tab. I figured I’d have to get up pretty early to catch this Indonesian worm. “Lunch is on us tomorrow.” Off to the second night of Italian dreams.Image result for Palermo cafe pedestrian way at night pictures

On the bus, on the bus we headed out for Catania and the seaside hotel in Gardenia Naxos after a stop in Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. Awe kept drying out my open mouth in the hot air.Image result for valley of the temples pictures

A fellow could lose his head in such hallowed ground.Related image

A fashion show was going to be put on at one of the temples later that day, so a herd of workers were laying out ramps and lights throughout our visit. Big name designers were paying a princely sum for the backdrop. The hills and the sun combined to fatigue us and curtail our curiosity. But we were heading to the beach next and could not wait for a dip in the pool or the sea. Yeah, we arrived around 6 pm, just as they were closing the pool in order to prepare our outdoor buffet dinner. Oh, well, we dipped in the chilly Mediterranean instead. You just could not lose.

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Another fun dinner and endless wine on the veranda with our new friends.  We were getting to know our fellow travelers and becoming more comfortable with jokes and stories and just the chemistry that develops among like minded, willing folks. If it weren’t for the presence of Taormina up above this beautiful town, I would not have wanted to budge. Each town seemed to be a portal to heaven, only to be replaced by an even greater beauty. Taormina shone like a magic castle town in the indigo night with Mt. Etna’s red glow in the distance. We could see both from our precious cove along the Mediterranean. It’s hard to sleep when you are surrounded by such spectacular beauty, my friends.

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692. Prettily pre-Italy

Related imageI’ve been off the blog production line for the past few weeks due to a fabulous trip to Italy with my bride of 40 years… but I’m back, Mi Bloggianos. This excursion had been a talking point of our lives forever. She’s of Sicilian descent and I’m Irish, so our vague dream was to one day go to Italy and then Ireland after the kids had flown the home nest. Well, the future arrived in the present one day like a forgotten airliner that went missing over the Bermuda Triangle in 1979. Boom! There it was in my driveway and we were getting on board for a nine hour flight across six time zones. No questions, just compliance. I wish! (Yes, my wife made all the arrangements so I’m sure she has a very different perspective.)

Image result for police controlling a crowd picturesThe week leading up to the big trip was crowded with appointments, which kept my anticipation at bay. I’m not much of a worrier to begin with but even less so when I’m distracted by others’ pain and anguish. Exhausted is the word that comes to my mind as I finished up my obligations, drained out. No worries, though, because the inexhaustible beauty and joy of Italy lay ahead. I figured I could just float on my back until we hit Nirvana or Palermo, whichever came first. It’s an odd feeling when a dream or fantasy comes to fruition: as our driver picked us up at my brother’s house near Warrenton, we felt a pretty darn special transformation, a giddy sort of status like we were on our way to the prom, only better because it was in Italy. I’ve flown many times before, but this trip was going to be rock star life without the concerts. Related image

Sleep on the plane is impossible unless you’re in the first class section with the seats that convert into beds. The 777 seats over 300 passengers. We were in the back 90 economy seats packed like sardines nine across. By the time we disembarked in Munich, our feet were numb and we had begun to smell fishy. Image result for canned sardines pictures

Now once we arrived in Sicily two hours later, things got warm and intensely vibrant. Colors, movement, beauty, texture, smells, and sounds burst out like high speed paint ball poppies overwhelming our sensory windscreens. Our driver spoke no English but drove like the proverbial bat out of hell to our hotel.  We passed the red and white marker that commemorates the murder scene of an anti-mafia judge whose car was blown up by a land mine outside of Palermo in 1992. On a hillside concrete structure is crudely painted “No Mafia”.

On that day, 24 July 1992, the war was against the mafia, and Italy was losing. Six days earlier, a car bomb had killed Paolo Borsellino, the chief justice investigating the godfathers of Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia. The five officers in his police escort also died. In May, the car of another judge, Giovanni Falcone, the mafia bosses’ number one enemy, had been blown up. The 300 kilos of TNT that killed him along with his wife and three escorting officers opened up a 15-meter crater in the motorway connecting the airport to the city.Image result for no mafia sign in palermo picture

As we were driving over that very assassination spot, a bit of fear bubbled up from my intestines. A sense of the wild, wild west came over me. Italian folks don’t follow speed limits or rules of the road, yet they seem to avoid wrecks with great skill and ease. Rules simply appear to be suggested obstacles to maneuver around. How can scooters and motorcycles glide by trucks and buses effortlessly without a blinker or warning or a wreck? This dance seems choreographed– similar somehow to the way pedestrians walk in the thousands on New York City sidewalks without running into one another. There must be a radar node in the brain that guides humans around other humans without carnage.Image result for NYC pedestrians gif

We’d been up for 30 hours when we crashed onto the bed for a pre-dinner nap. Even my ear lobes ached with fatigue. Amazingly, though, after a two hour nap I was nearly human again and fit for social interaction. Down to the bar we went in a tiny elevator that opened to the front and right sides. Four full sized and deodorized people could maybe fit inside this lift or two skinnies without deodorant. Our tour group was to meet at 6:00 pm and then go to dinner together at 7:00 pm. Our guide Sah’ rah had met us and promised to be a fun blonde Sicilian lady.Image result for sara basile tour guide

In the lobby outside the tiny bar we met the first two of five Aussies, Lynn and Sandy. They were from Queensland, which meant nothing to me, but they were charmingly chatty and used to making friends fast. Their accents were crisp and proper jolly, not bloody toasty.  I asked Lynn to define a Sheila. She complied. I hadn’t expected Aussies to be on the tour because of the great distance, but these ladies had skipped across from Dubai to Greece before Sicily. They were not just out for a milk and eggs run, no sir. They were shopping for the record. Slowly the rest of our 18 member group showed up. We did not have name tags yet, so it was hard to tell who was who. Eventually we gathered in the meeting room and introduced ourselves to each other. Sah’ rah went over the basics and off we went for a delicious five course dinner with endless wine. Image result for group dinner with wine pictures

We were seated opposite Dr. Gino and his wife Susan from Indonesia. Not their real names; they had obviously Anglicized their birth names to make things easier for English speakers who were not multilingual. Gino spoke Italian and Chinese, Japanese, and a bunch more languages. He knew more about American politics than I did. They were experienced hard core travelers who had been everywhere you might want to go. I was impressed but not over awed as I would have been twenty years ago. I relied on my razor wit to hang with them. Soon we were laughing at my repertoire of stupid jokes and puns and enjoying our shared humanity… effortlessly, just by being real. We could not guess that in 9 days we would all be conga line dancing on the hotel veranda in Sorrento.Image result for conga line dancing gif