Saturday, May 27, 2006

From the Sea to the Mountains

The day-tour of Venice started with a water taxi going around the outside of Venice and entering the Grand Canal from direction of the Adriatic Sea.

We wandered around and found a compact, gorgeous church, San Zulian. While we were gawking at the fabulous artwork in the cube-style church, Mass began. So we attended our first mass in L'italiano.

Then comes the glass "factory", in reality an outlet for the factories on Murano island. But there was a glass blowing demonstration.

And lots of chandeliers.

And more chandeliers (Momma took pictures of all of them, I swear).

And masks.

And other gewgaws.

Then we return to the Piazza San Marco, from which we departed last night.

And we admire the exterior of the Basilica di San Marco.

No pictures inside, but it was gorgeous. And I should note that in every church we visited on this vacation, and there were a lot of them, Momma said a prayer for our girls.

A tour of the Doge's Palace follows, including a walk across the Bridge of Sighs to the prisons on the other side.

But all good things must come to an end, so arrivaderci, Venezia.

A long bus ride up the Po river valley takes us to Lago di Garda. A long, winding ride north up the east side of the lake takes us to the northern end and the town of Torbole. The foothills of the Alps rose up majestically on either side and to the north of the lake.

The hotel was perched on a mountainside and our balcony had a beautiful view of the northern end of the valley.

Tomorrow Firenza!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Grand Canal

We boarded the bus in the morning for a long day's drive, through Umbria,

past Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and, finally, into Veneto.

We stayed in a hotel in Mestre, across the causeway from Venezia. We took the Night tour of Venice, including the obligatory gondola ride (including a tenor accompanied by an accordianist).

And then a walking tour through the city

capped by visiting Piazza San Marco.

And around the corner the Bridge of Sighs.

After loitering awhile we boarded a vaporetto and returned to our embarkation point where the causeway connects Venice to the mainland. Some of the grand hotels were all lit up and gorgeous. Under the Rialto Bridge,

after which, we looked back down the Grand Canal and, behold, the Moon rising over old Venice.

This trip just keeps getting better. Tomorrow a visit to Venice by day and on the bus to the Italian Lake District.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Piazza San Pietro

We disembarked at Civitavecchia, an hours ride outside of Rome. We joined our dinner partners and another couple renting a van-taxi. He dropped us off at our hotel the Melia Roma Aurelia Antica on the outskirts of Rome (but inside the Grande Raccordo Anulare).

Anticipating a later nine-day stay in Rome, we booked a Trafalgar tour that had already begun that morning. So we connected with the tour guide, Katrina (show me an Italian without a cell phone), who directed us on how to join them in mid-tour. Our taxi-driver spoke more English than we did Italian, but that's not exactly high praise.

We could see the Cupola as we drove around the outside, but Momma didn't twig on where we were. We disembarked across the street from the tour bus, which was outside a store. The tour group had just been given a free hour before resuming the tour.

We spoke briefly with our guide, then I steered Momma through the colonnaded portico.

Now understand that she is an intelligent woman and that we took Italian classes in the Spring just to prepare ourselves to interact with the locals. And we were talking with the taxi driver about "Piazza San Pietro". But only when we emerged into it did it hit her like a tsunami: "We're here! We're really here!" Dozens and dozens of photos followed, but I'll spare you all but one.

With that reaction, I was satisfied. The goal was reached. I had taken Momma to the centre of her idea of Europe. Everything from now on is gravy. Who knew there was so much gravy in Italy?

After a driving tour past, amongst many other things, the Circus Maximus and the Victor Emmanuel monument, we stopped at the Colosseum. The tour group went their way, while we just wandered around the neighbourhood, including having a dinner at a sidewalk cafe. It was our first taste of Pizza Margarita. We returned to the hotel that night high on the idea: "We're really in Italy!"

Tomorrow we start the trek across Italy to Venezia.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Our Last Cruise Adventure: Bouillabaisse

was in France. It was Sunday, so we attended our last Mass on-board before debarking. Then we took a tender to the dock in VilleFranche. We walked along the streets there, making our way slowly to the train station.

Here's the view from the station.

That very weekend was time for both the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. Both would spell crowds and line-ups. So we had opted to take the train to Nice, just ten minutes and a tunnel away.

There we just wandered along the streets, slowly working our way to the beaches.

A block or so away from there we found a traffic-free mall (Rue France?) with shops and restaurants.

We stopped at one which promised Paella (a Spanish dish, really) and Bouillabaisse (how French can you get?). So we sat down to order one of each.

The Bouillabaisse looked a little more complicated than I had anticipated. As I tentatively started to try eating from the multiple bowls and plates set in front of me, a gentleman, who was reading at a table behind us, came over and slapped my hand: "No, no, no!"

He then carefully spread the spread on the dry crusty bread, then dipped the bread in two containers of cheese gratings and finally put this is the empty bowl. Then he ladled the Bouillabaisse into the bowl over the bread. Over my protestation he insisted on feeding me the first spoonful. Just so Momma wouldn't be jealous he did the same for her. So now we are experts in the art of eating Bouillabaisse. Aren't you glad?

We walked along the seaside avenue where I learned that toplessness is optional in France.

What, you thought I was going to take a picture? Mon Dieu! (Our ship is anchored behind that promontory.) So we wandered back to the train station and arrived all too soon in VilleFranche. Tonight we would be packing for five days on a Trafalgar bus tour and I had to burn our cruise pictures onto a c.d. to free up memory for Italy. So we bade farewell to VilleFranche and boarded a tender back to the ship.

Au Revoir France. Good-bye Cruise.

Buon Giorno Italia!

Playing Catchup

So we spent a day cruising up the coast of Spain just inside the Balearic Islands. We were already feeling a little sad in anticipation of saying good-bye to the ship, our new friends and our comfortable little cubby-hole of a cabin.

The tie-breaking battle in the Trivia Battle of the Sexes was won by the appropriate gender.

We had our last Formal Dinner (of four as I recall)

and decided to go strolling about the ship before attending the night's entertainment. It was dark and we noticed a light reflecting in the Mediterranean. At first I thought it was a flood light from the ship. But once we got far enough up the ship we saw the source: a full moon.

The evening's entertainment was the Formal Farewell from the Crew.

The last of the sumptuous midnight buffets was awash in gawkers.

Our last port-of-call: VilleFranche.

Some People Say It Better Than I Can

which doesn't stop me from blogging, mind you. Amy Welborn in this case, looks at the "this hasn't shaken my faith, heh, heh" reaction here.

It's no comfort that one of the comments talks about the "this doesn't bother me, but it's all those ignoramus's I'm worried about" types:
In order to accurately describe both (i) the stupidity of DVC and (ii) the fact that its stupidity doesn't make it safe, you have to do something that doesn't go over very well. You have to come right out and say, "DVC is no harm to my faith or my reason, but then I'm not an ignoramus; by contrast, most people don't know much about history, and they're at risk of being fooled by DVC, stupid though it is."

Are people who are likely to say something this undemocratic likely to get asked to do interviews on the radio?

Ouch! I guess I'm just a republican at heart. (Note the small "r" before attacking me, please.)


To resume the re-living of last year's journey (still two days behind): Landing in Gibraltar was a special moment: this was, in one sense, the minimum goal--to take the wife to Europe. Today (One year and two days ago) she steps foot on the continent for the first time.

And no, we weren't intimidated by the scary tunnel. What could go wrong in Gibraltar? First we join a random group on a tour-van that takes us to the southern end of the Rock. Here we look south to Africa.

Then, a little further along the spine of the Rock we stop to walk through some of the caves, including a nice light show.

After we resume our journey, about half way along the Rock, we pick up a pilot,

who assists our driver.

He later poses "with" Momma. Don't let the placid smile fool you. She was squealing all through: "He's pulling my hair! Hurry up!"

At the north end of the Rock we see the Airport below that is the boundary between Gibraltar and Spain.

A tour of the fortifications facing Spain ensues. We descend into Gibraltar proper and wander along the tourist infested streets

One of the charming moments came in the bank where I was waiting in line to change Euros into Pounds (to buy postage stamps). Two young ladies were chatting in line in front of me. It was fascinating to hear their British-accented English merge seamlessly into and out of Spanish. This is known as Spanglish.

A beautiful day, Momma renews acquaintance with a distant cousin (I'm in trouble now, aren't I?) and my dream of taking her to Europe begins to be realized: God is good. So we leave Gibraltar behind us, beginning to realize that our cruise is drawing to an end and Italy is awaiting us.

For My Daughter

who is dating a nice young Polish fellow. The other morning his unpronounceable name was the subject of speculation. The fact that the youngest is majoring in linguistics makes this all the more appropriate:
Polish: The language of Poland. With its strings of four or more consonants, (e.g., the word czczy, meaning “empty”) this language is regarded as very difficult to pronounce. When non-Poles try to speak it, Poles who hear them give a slightly pained, indulgent smile. The pain comes from the effort to suppress laughter. They’re keeping a secret: the secret is that it’s actually impossible to pronounce Polish. Not just for non-Poles. Early in the twelfth century, Polish ceased to be a spoken language. When no foreigners are present, Poles speak in another language, usually !Kung or Welsh.

Poland is a kind of experimental theater of nationalism. Poles had already tried the more common experiments, like existing without any territory, so to top it they tried shifting their borders a couple of hundred kilometers west on a moment’s notice. (In Transylvanian dance, this is known as the “Time Warp.” It is explicated in the documentary The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) Similarly, other countries, like Ireland and India, have already tried having official languages that no more than a minority can speak. Attempting to break new ground, and because virtually all Poles maintain to foreigners that they speak Polish, they have established dialects, so that you can fail to speak Polish in two or three different ways, automatically! In addition to eastern and western alleged pronunciations, there is also a special dialect “spoken” in the Gdansk area. Back in the eighties, they tried to get together an army to make the Gdansk dialect a language. This effort broke down, but they ended up forming an independent trade union that eventually led to the first peaceful surrender of power by an established Communist government in Europe. All because of linguistics.

Thanks to Joseph Bottum at the First Things blog. He, in turn, was citing from this website.

Avoid Ignorance: Read a Book

So we should welcome Mike Aquilina's recommendation of Don’t Know Much About Catholic History: From the Catacombs to the Reformation:
Dr. Moczar provides vivid summary treatments of all the major periods, chockfull of memorable stories and characters. She ends each chapter with points to ponder and suggestions for future reading. She ends the book with two helpful and very practical essays on learning history and on evaluating history texts. Anyone who reads this book is well on the way from cluelessness to a lifelong love of learning. And the price is hard to beat, so you should probably buy copies for several friends, and for the back of the church, and for the town library, and …

I see it's cheap at Amazon Canada. I'll give it a try.

It's Just Fiction!

Have a look at Amy Welborn's Open Book for stories of encounters with educated and uneducated alike believing fiction is truth. That Canadians are about evenly divided (30% for each) between believing TDVC is "somewhat true" and "completely false" still strikes me as indicating abominable ignorance amongst the public.

On the other hand the wife and I saw Over the Hedge and I know that it is
True. Well, at least, there really are bears who hibernate, racoons who steal from humans, opossums who play dead and squirrels who, oh well, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go, watch this movie and find the Truth about Suburbia.

TDVC and Faith

Carl Olson writes I saw TDVC and I almost lost my faith... for the Insight Scoop blog. Of course he's being cheeky. The idea that this movie might cause people to lose their faith is a source of humour for some.

At a family gathering last night one of the wife's cousins was triumphantly announcing that, while she preferred the book, the movie was enjoyable and her faith was intact. There was a big smile and the mischievous hint that the idea of TDVC weakening "faith" was silly. Could something like this book and film weaken someone's faith? Is there some defect in someone's faith who would be put into a crisis by this kind of thing?

Paul spends some time dealing with the relationship between those who are strong and wise in the faith and those who are,conversely, weak and ignorant. His conclusion is:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.”
Romans 15:1-3 (RSV)

The abysmal ignorance of history, the unreflective and almost solipsistic relativism ("It's all relative unless I say so") and the highly selective skepticism that I see in our culture don't fill me with confidence that every person of "faith" is going to come away from all this rubbish with their faith untroubled. Which, in turn, makes me think that care for those weak in the faith should be a concern of those who are strong. Just as those who knew that meats from sacrificed animals were not really forbidden were told by Paul to avoid them for the sake of the weak (Romans 14; 1 Cor 8-9):
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
(1Cor 9:19-23 RSV)

And what about those who do not know Jesus is the first place? How does one share the Good News (as mandated by Christ) with people so confused about what we can and cannot really know about Jesus? This may be the worst effect of this series of otherwise silly books (Holy Blood, Holy Grail and so on). Jesus says that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35); Dan Brown and others say that the four Gospels were arbitrarily chosen in the Fourth Century. How can one take Sacred Scripture seriously (as Jesus clearly did) if it is the result of ancient politics?

So It seems to me that our mandate in dealing with these kinds of controversies is the one announced by Our Lord for Himself:
(Luke 4:18-19 NAS95S)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Tunnel of Terror

There's a reason it's called adventure. After a good time in the Azores (we did have a brief scare that we were going to miss the departure), we were ready for more gallivanting in Madeira. So Skip and Lynn, ourselves and Mary went walking into Funchal.

We quickly decided to hire a tour-van. The nice lady at the tourism kiosk gave us a proposed route for touring the island. She then called a tour company who sent a guide in a van. We negotiated a price and jumped in.

We wandered along the coast at first stopping at a seaside village. Then we stopped at a wine shop and picked up some liqueurs and, what else, some Madeira wine.

Then we started climbing up the steep mountainsides.

As we left the prosperous and booming residential areas behind on a narrow, winding road, the forest, which reminded me of eucalyptus, closed in. On a particularly steep section, the driver became concerned because the engine temperature was rising. Shortly after leaving the last lonely residence behind and trying to slowly climb up a steep grade, steam started coming off the engine.

We stopped, the driver got out and checked under the hood. we stretched our legs and began to fret. We were out of cell phone range so he couldn't call the company for help. We thought we were going to have to coast back downhill into cell range and call for help.

Our driver bravely(?) decided to open the radiator cap to release the pressure. The Automotively-aware among you will recognize that this is exactly the wrong thing to do. He got a nasty scald on his forearm while startling the rest of us with a cloud of steam that enveloped the front of the van. So now, for sure, you're thinking, we going to turn around and get help.

Gee, you have no sense of adventure. We went back to the last lonely, seemingly empty, residence, filled our radiator from a water tap by the road, and resumed our agonizingly slow climb up the the mountain. (Something about translating a tour guide's English: "five minutes" means half an hour--up the mountain, that is). Our focus all the way up was on the engine temperature gauge. High anxiety.

We finally emerged on a plateau and were able to resume normal speed (which helped cool the engine off). We stopped for a view of the Atlantic on the other side of the island.

Then we descended to a town by the sea, where we ate a lovely, if late, lunch. We had Black Scabbard. A photo-op and we're racing back to Funchal.

We followed the coast road to the middle of the island, where we headed into a tunnel. This is good news, because it means we don't have to climb all the way up the mountain that is the backbone of Madeira. Now remember that space is at a premium in Europe and especially on this crowded island. So this is a long, narrow two-lane tunnel. Just as we head into this tunnel a big, slow dump truck pulls in front of us. That means we have to go slow, which causes the engine to heat up; in a narrow long tunnel we cannot turn-around or go backwards in. And the first puff of steam greets us.

And you thought we were anxious going up the mountain. A van full of people cursing and encouraging the van. The long slow climb up the tunnel. You have never seen such a happy group emerging into the daylight. We coasted down to the village we had first visited, stopped at a hardware store and waited for the boss to deliver a functional van.

It was an adventure of the sort not to be forgotten. Do you think this cured us of the desire to be independent?