Monday, October 31, 2005

Late weekend assignment.

   Well, tonight is Halloween. That means that my wife spent last night sewing, and I spent it scraping the guts out of pumpkins. I always wait until the day before to carve the pumpkins, owing to the disturbingly common trend of having your pumpkins smashed in the middle of the road by local teenagers if you put them out too early. My wife, on the other hand, absolutely hates waiting until the last moment to do anything, and Matthew's third mind change of the week regarding his Halloween costume late yesterday had steam coming out of her ears. Luckily, my Mother was here, and contributed her considerable sewing experience to the endeavour. Now, I'm not saying that the costume would not have turned out as well without her, but it would have been well past midnight, with me and Matthew cowering in the basement, trying to stay safely out of her way before Pat got it done on her own.
   That brings us to last week's weekend assignment. Yes, I know that the weekend is over, but what better day is there than Halloween itself to tell a Halloween story?

Weekend Assignment #83: Tell us a scary Halloween story... that happened to you. What I'm looking for here is a story where you were spooked or scared by someone or... something... in or around Halloween (or, alternately, a story where you spooked the heck out of someone else). Please note I don't want stories in which you or others were genuinely in danger -- I'm talking about you getting one big BOO! moment, which, after you were able to get your heart back into your chest, resulted in you saying something along the lines of "Don't do that!" to whomever was giving you a spook. A fun frightening, in other words.

Extra Credit: The song "Monster Mash": Fun or lame?

   OK, so, first things first. The Monster Mash is definitely fun. I don't think any generation of kids since the song came out in 1962 have ever labeled The Monster Mash as lame. Although, as today's kids all label me as lame, what do I know?
   As for a scary story, this one has stayed with me my whole life. I don't remember how old I was. Younger than Matthew is now, for sure. Probably somewhere around seven or eight, is my best guess. I don't remember what my costume was that year. In fact, I remember very little about the whole episode, other than a few vivid details here and there.
   My father and I were out trick or treating. We came to a dark house, on a dark corner. I remember my father warning me that it might be scary to go up to that house, and asking if I wanted him to come up with me. Apparently, I confidently announced that I could go up by myself.
   I'm sure the conversation was more in-depth than that. I'm sure my father explained to me that the man who lived there was a friend of his; a friend who enjoyed dressing up his house for Halloween, in as scary a fashion as possible. The explanation must also have included the standard admonitions that it was not real, that everything I saw there was make believe, although I don't remember those things.
   What I remember is standing at the front door of that dark house, and calling out, "trick or treat!" I remember eerie music playing. A light somewhere inside the house began flicking on and off. In the brief flashes of illumination I could catch glimpses of a towering, shadowy figure through the small window in the door. I remember saying, "I'm not afraid of you." Then, the door slowly started to open. The next thing I remember is trying to burrow into my Dad's chest at the bottom of the driveway. The moments in between are completely gone.
   My Dad filled them in, recounting the story years later. It seems that I was, indeed, scared by Mr. Taylor (I think that was his name). When the door started to open, I fled. Mr. Taylor, really a nice guy, and concerned about having truly frightened me, decided to chase me down the driveway, a handful of candy extended in contrition. In retrospect, I'm sure he later felt that was a poor decision on his part. It only made me run faster into the protective arms of my Father.
   That is all I remember of that night. I can recall nothing that happened before we arrived at Mr. Taylor's house, nor anything that happened after, but I have these few brief flashes, like film clips clumsily edited together, and I can see them clearly whenever I think about Halloween.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

I had to do the test twice to get this result

   I loved the movie They Live, starring Roddy Piper. The guy can't act his way out of a soggy paper bag, but there's something hypnotic about watching him try.

You're Nada from They Live.
They Live.

Which B-Movie Badass Are You?
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Thursday, October 27, 2005

What's all this then?


Mmmmmmm, nope. I'm not feelin' it.


I doubt it

   The latest edition of The Skeptics' Circle has been published. To read up on the latest and greatest writing about critical thinking in the blogosphere, go on over to The Uncredible Hallq, and enroll in the College of Skepticism.

P.S. This one is my favourite this week:
Quite Reasonable Doubt. Warning, a little bit o' language gets thrown around here, so if you're of a tender constitution, you might want to give it a pass.

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Destruction and creation in equal measure

note: this post is back dated to September 29th. It was originally hand written in my travel journal during my recent vacation in Italy. The first post in that series is here: "Well, I'm back."


I miss my dog.

Thursday, September 29, 2005.
   Today is my fifteenth wedding anniversary.


   Mt. Etna is Europe's highest (at 3315 meters altitude) and most active volcano. In fact, it is considered by some to be the second most active volcano on the planet. It erupted most recently in 2003, and has a constant stream of steam and smoke issuing from it. It is also the volcano with the longest recorded history of activity, with confirmed eruptions dating back as far as 1500 BC. In antiquity, the mountain was believed to house the forge of the Greek god Hephaestus, and later, his Roman counterpart Vulcan (from whose name we take the word volcano).
   We were supposed to go there today with Joe, a friend of my Father-in-law, who is visiting his mother here. Unfortunately, she became ill, and he had to cancel, so Ciccio took us instead. As we drove along the Autostrada on the way to Catania, we came upon a stretch of highway that presented a clear view of the mountain, so I rolled down the window, stuck my camera out, and took a picture. Later, we marveled over the fortuitous positioning of the road sign in my random snap. It certainly was pointing the way to where we were headed.

   The road up the mountain is new, the old one having been covered by the flow from the 2003 eruption. It curves back and forth across a barren landscape of jagged black rock, almost reaching the tree line on either side before abruptly turning back toward the center of the eerie, dead fields of lava. As time goes by, the forest will slowly move inwards over the lava flow, like an occupation force. The advance scouts are already out, in the form of patches of mosses and lichens, establishing a first foothold in enemy territory. Following close behind are the scrub grasses, sproutingwherever dying moss has combined with crumbled lava to form a rudimentary soil. As each successive cycle of life and death adds more organic material to the mix, the larger, bushy plants will eventually move in, to be followed in time by the full sized trees, whose roots serve to crush the lava rock into smaller pieces and, at the same time, holdit in place. Slowly, the frontier will be pushed back, until, in several decades, it will be almost impossible to tell that the lush forest one is hiking through on the mountainside was once burned away and paved over by nature.
   Also new, at just under 2000 meters of elevation, is the tourist area. It, too, was completely destroyed in 2003, and has been completely rebuilt in impressive fashion. The wide, smooth, freshly paved road and parking lots, the massive, chalet style restaurant buildings, the cable car system, the heli-pad, none of which was here eighteen months ago, all speak to the amount of tourist money flowing through this place. We took the cable car up to 2500 meters elevation to have a look around. From there, it is possible to take a guided tour up to 2960 meters elevation, about 350 meters shy of the summit, but we didn't want to spend the extra money to do so.

Zio_Giovanni   OK, truthfully, we didn't want Ciccio to spend the extra money for us to do so. It's not like he was going to let us pay. Between Ciccio, his father, Pat's Zio Giovanni, and Pat's other Zio Mario, we were not allowed to pay for anything during the trip. Early on, we managed to pay for our espressos and granites at the bar one morning, but after we slipped that one by him, Giovanni started a tab, and instructed the bar owner not to take our money again. It's nice going on vacation and not having it cost you anything, but there is a limit to how much you can take for free and not feel guilty about. We let Ciccio pay for the cable car ride because once we were in line, he wouldn't let us back out, but we demurred on the further jeep ride up to the top.

   In the winter, Etna is a ski resort. It is the only place in Sicily where snow can be relied upon to fall in sufficient volume. As we ascended in the cable car, we could look down on the smaller t-bar lifts running up various short portions of the mountain, and trace out the path the ski runs would follow. I can only imagine the machinesnecessaryto gouge those pathwaysout of the jagged lava fields, and, grinding the knife sharp rock into black sand, spread it along the way. In places the distinctive  quadruple herringbone patterns of hikers' footprints and climbing poles could be seen, following the cable car towers to the top, or, perhaps back to the bottom.
   Back at the bottom, in the souvenir shop, we bought a kit containing examples of all the various types of volcanic rock that, almost certainly, came from somewhere else. Etna makes black and red basalt, and that's about it. Oh, and a profit.


   Later that night we had dinner at Ciccio and Concetta's, where they surprised us with a cake and champagne.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A few little things

   Just a note to say that this week's edition of CarnivAOL has now been posted. Drop on over and check out the bumper crop of entries submitted this week for your enjoyment.

   Also, a couple of things have dropped off the front page, or nearly so. If you have not already done so, check out
my personal quiz, and find out how well you really know me.
   If you are a member of the AOL J-land community, make sure you add yourself to the
AOL J-land map.
   And, if you want to read more about my adventures in Italy, you can find the start of the story at
this entry, and work your way forward.

   Oh, and one more note: if you are reading my journal for the first time, be aware that, for some incomprehensible reason that has something to do with the fact that I am on AOL Canada, there is a glitch in the software of my journal that causes my archived entries to be pushed down below the end of the sidebar. So, if you are trying to read some of my older entries, and you don't see anything, just scroll down. I thank you.

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Oh, Frak!

   You scored as Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo). You have spent your life trying to life up to and impress your Dad, shame he never seemed to notice. You are a stickler for the rules. But in matters of loyalty and honour you know when they have to be broken.

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo) 81%
President Laura Roslin
Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)
CPO Galen Tyrol
Commander William Adama
Tom Zarek
Dr Gaius Baltar
Col. Saul Tigh
Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)
Number 6

What New Battlestar Galactica character are you?
created with

via. Respectful Insolence


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Padre Pio...he's everywhere!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

   It has been a wonderful two and a half weeks, but I have started the homeward bound countdown. I miss home.

   They keep giving us things to take home with us. Home made liqueur, home pressed olive oil, home grown lemons, walnuts, pomegranites... I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to bring those things into the country. I have a horrible poker face. Going through customs is going to be interesting.

Padre_Pio   I don't remember seeing him anywhere in Rome, but here in rural Sicily Padre Pio is everywhere you look. Well, not Padre Pio himself, he's dead. But, pictures of the guy. Padre Pio is the most recently canonized Italian saint. He is a hero to religious Italians.
   Born Francesco Forgione in 1887, he entered a monastery at the early age of 16, and was ordained a priest in 1910, at only 23 years of age. Eight years later, he was sent to the Friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he remained until his death in 1968.
   According to popular reports, Padre Pio, as he named himself when he first took orders, bore the stigmata continuously for 50 years. Local legend also has it that Allied fighter planes during WWII attempting to bomb the area saw a huge vision of Padre Pio in the air above San Giovanni Rotondo, and encountered an unknown force that prevented them completing their missions. His most important "miracle" took place in 1962, when a young priest asked Padre Pio to pray for a woman in a hospital in Poland who was reportedly dying of cancer. The woman made a full recovery, and we are told that the doctors could not explain it. That priest would later become Pope John Paul II.
   Although everything one will hear about Padre Pio in the popular media is all wine and roses, it was not always so. Investigations into his youth reveal that he was prone to fits or faints, or some kind of spells. Unusual behaviour would sometimes accompany these episodes. It is likely that his parents placed him in the care of the Capucin Friars in order to get rid of an embarrassing problem child. It is also likely he was sent to San Giovanni Rotondo because it was a small, out of the way parish where they might hide an oddball priest. Thatis, after all, how the Catholic church traditionally deals with its problems. Just ask any Newfie orphan.
   Claims of stigmata are not taken lightly by the Catholic church. They are always investigated thoroughly, and ruthlessly. Padre Pio's first claims of stigmata were of the sensation of pain in his hands and his side only. It was three years before any physical manifestations became apparent. When they did, it was claimed that he lost a cup of blood per day through the wounds. It was also considered miraculous by many that the blood smelled of floral perfume. Apparently, the man bled continuously from 1918 until just before his death in 1968. A few short days before he passed away, the stigmata disappeared, reportedly leaving no traces that there had ever been wounds.
   It is instructive that after an early investigation into his stigmata, the Vatican ordered Padre Pio not to appear in public without gloves on to cover his stigmata, and eventually prohibited him from public celebrations of the mass. Doctors' reports of the time period suggest that his wounds were self inflicted, perhaps by the use of acid, and an investigator for the Holy See expressed the opinion that the floral perfume was simply something Padre Pio used to mask the musk generated by frequent "giving of penance" in the confessional to female members of the congregation.
   Padre Pio's transformation from priest of questionable piety to miracle worker bound for sainthood appears to mirror the rise in prominence within the church of Karol Józef Wojtyła. The man who would become Pope John Paul II was reported to have steadily advanced the cause of Padre Pio, and he was the one to beatify in 1999, and then canonize Pio in 2002. John Paul II was also the Pope responsible for the elimination of the office of the "Devil's Advocate," a Vatican scholar charged with casting a critical and challenging eye over the evidence put forward to support a nominee's potential sainthood. Other questionable candidates to attain sainthood under John Paul II were excommunicated 15th century theocratic dictator Girolamo Savonarola, and Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of the Opus Dei group who was a virulent anti-Semite and fascist sympathizer. In total, John Paul II was responsible for the raising of 482 saints, the most by one Pope in the history of the Catholic church. In Italy, the canonization of Padre Pio is his most popular decision.
   So, let's see what we have. A young man, born at the end of the nineteenth century, so alarms and embarrasses his parents that they send him to a monastery to get rid of him. The Capuchin Friars find him so disturbing, they fast track him for the priesthood. (It's the only way to get rid of him, you see. If he doesn't become a priest, he spends the rest of his life there). He is a priest for less than eight years before the Vatican needs to make him go away, and sends him to some out of the way church in a backwater province. Eventually, they prohibit him from performing the mass in public, in his own church. Sounds like a saint to me.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

New addition

   If you look at the right, farther down, where it says 'other journals.' Yeah, down at the very bottom of that I have added a link that says 'my complete blogroll.' Clicking that will take you to a list, at, of all the blogs I read regularly. I had it pared down to 78 earlier this week, but it tends to grow on me. Not that any of you really care what else I'm reading. I just thought...never mind.


Friday, October 21, 2005


Astrologer predicting hour of his own death fails to die.

Is anyone really surprised? One more piece of evidence supporting the fact that astrology is claptrap. Of course, he has an excuse. Some people prayed for him. Perhaps he can show us in the night sky which planets were moved out of their proper positions by the prayer, thereby rendering his astrological prediction inaccurate.


Weekend assignments

   Yes, I said Assignments, plural. I haven't participated in any weekend assignments in a while, although I really like the last two. So, I'll try here to make at least a cursory stab at this week's, as well as last week's, and the week before's. I have absolutely no idea if those apostrophes are in the right place.

Weekend Assignment #82: What was your favorite bedtime story as a child?

Extra Credit: As an adult , have you shared that favorite bedtime story with a child?

   I have always been a vociferous reader. Even before I could read for myself, I wanted the stories read to me over and over again. I can remember being at my grandparents' house and reading Little Golden Books, like The Poky Little Puppy, and The Little Red Hen. When I was about three, I amazed my grandparents by being able to read them out loud all by myself. It didn't matter which one of the books they put in my hand, I read the whole thing correctly, all the way through. They believed they had some kind of prodigy on their hands until my parents illuminated them. I had heard them all so many times that I had simply memorized them, and said the stories from memory as I turned the pages.
   Other favourites were the Dr. Seuss books, like
Hop On Pop, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Later fun was had with Green Eggs and Ham, and Fox In Socks. I used tohave a record (you know, those antique, black vinyl pancakes that music used to come on) of those two, and could at one time recite them from memory. That was a long time ago. These days I get all my ticks and clocks, sir, mixed up with my chicks and tocks, sir. Horton Hears a Who is one I remember from my childhood, as well as How The Grinch Stole Christmas, but the television special of that one was always way better than the book. I think my favourite was The Lorax.
   Did I introduce them to my son? You betcha. In a garage sale this past summer some of the most popular items were our stack of Little Golden Books, and Matthew still can be found reading
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins or Bartholomew and the Oobleck from time to time. He did graduate to older reading material fairly early, though. As an experiment, I read him The Hobbit as a bed time story over the course of several weeks when he was about six. I had to stop, because it scared him a little bit, but two years later he picked it up on his own and read it in one week. Last year he read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy all by himself. I didn't get through that until I was a young teen.

Weekend Assignment #81: Share one of your favorite science fiction movies. Note that this doesn't have to be the "best" science fiction film ever, or the most popular, or the most significant; it doesn't even have to be a good science fiction film. It just should be a science fiction film you enjoy watching over and over again -- the kind that always sucks you into the couch whenever it's on TV.

Extra Credit: Who is the coolest science fiction character ever? Note that this character doesn't have to be in the film you've selected asyourfavorite -- consider the entire genre.

   I'm a huge science fiction fan, and I've been looking for an excuse to participate in the meme that Jaquandor created out of Scalzi's Science Fiction Canon List. So, here it is. This is the list that John Scalzi called the 50 most significant science fiction films in history. I have emboldened the ones I have seen.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!

Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The Stepford Wives
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
12 Monkeys
28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey
La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)

   Twenty nine. Just over half. And that's just counting the ones I'm sure I've seen all of.There are at least six on the list that I know I have seen parts of, but I can't remember if I've seen them all the way through. Still, as a self professed science fiction fan, that's not really very good. Obviously, I have some work to do.
   Here are a few movies that did not make that list, but I think are interesting films (not that I think they should be on the list, I just liked them):

Silent Running
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Waterworld (Honest, it wasn't that bad)
AI:Artificial Intelligence
Titan AE
Dune/Children of Dune (2000/2003 made for the SciFi Channel. Way better than the original theater film from 1985)
Minority Report

   And a few that are less serious, but I thought were a lot of fun:

Tank Girl
They Live (A really bad film, but redeemed by the completely over the top acting job by Roddy Piper)
Total Recall
Independence Day
The Fifth Element
Men In Black
Galaxy Quest
Pitch Black

   My favourite? I thought about this for a while. Should it be the cerebral Blade Runner, or 2001:A Space Odyssey, an intelligent film? No, even though it isn't a deep thinker, as one of the best skiffy romps of all time, as well as a movie that redefined science fiction movie making, I have to go with Star Wars. I was twelve when it came out, and I still remember the awestruck feeling I had watching that Imperial Cruiser lumber overhead, like nothing I had ever seen before. My favourite-no, wait-it says the coolest science fiction character ever? Tank Girl. No contest.

Weekend Assignment #80: Share a favorite joke. Keep it clean, of course. Otherwise, go nuts.

Extra credit: Seriously: Do people think you're funny?

   I don't tell a lot of jokes. I hear a lot of really good ones, but I can never remember them when an opportunity to share them comes along. There are three jokes that do stick in my mind. One of them I can't tell on this forum due to its content. The second is one in which the politician of the day can easily be substituted. I first heard it with Jean Chretien's name used, but he has since retired. I will use someone more topical.

   George W. Bush was sitting comfortably in the back of his limousine as the Presidential motorcade made its way through a tour of ruralTennesee. Somehow, due to bridge construction, and a series of confusing detours, the President's car had gotten separated from the secret service vehicles accompanying it. The driver, in a high state of anxiety, as you might imagine, was craning his neck right and left, looking for a way back to the main road, and the rest of the convoy. He never saw the hog.
   It was a formidable collision that left the large porcine beast dead, and the presidential limousine completely immobile. Having a total fit by now, the limo driver was frantically punching at his cell phone, trying to reach someone in one of the other cars, but to no avail.
   "Relax," his employer told him. "It's not a big deal. First things first, we need to locate the owner of the farm animal we have just killed, and explain what happened, and offer to pay for the damages." So the driver, after making Mr. Bush promise to lock the doors behind him, and stay in the car, went up the hill to the little shack they could see tucked in the trees.
   He was gone for almost two hours. When he finally returned, he had a cigar in his mouth, whiskey on his breath, and lipstick on his collar. "What the hell happened," demanded the President. The somewhat chagrinned driver explained that the family in the shack had pulled him in through the door, fed him, shared a bottle of whiskey with him, let him sleep with their gorgeous 18 year old daughter, and sent him out the door with a pocket full of cigars. Incredulous, the president asked, "what the hell did you say to them?"
   "Well," the man said, "all I said was, 'I am George Bush's limo driver, and I have just killed the pig.'"

   The next joke is one with a distinctively Canadian flavour. Although, like most jokes, you could insert the protaganists of your choice, telling this one with a authentic Newfie accent adds great punch to the punch line.

   Two Newfies working in Ontario decided to take up the sport of hunting. After going through the process, and the waiting period, they purchased rifles, and headed up to the north country. They parked their pick up truck on the side of the road, and hiked off into the bush. After several days of near misses, they finally bagged a nice buck. Of course, they were at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. After a short discussion, they each grabbed a leg, and started dragging the animal back in the direction of their pick up.
   It was very slowgoing. The deerkept getting hung up on stumps, and in thick brush. Sweating, and aching, they stopped to rest, and sat wearily down on a fallen log. Suddenly, an old man appeared in front of them. He appeared to be of native descent, and he watched them intently. Finally, he spoke: "you know you are going about that the wrong way?" he asked. "You are dragging the animal against the grain of its pelt, making you work far too hard. You should take the deer by the antlers, and drag it head first. Not only will it slide easier, but the legs will drag behind it, and be less likely to catch on obstructions."
   The two thanked the man for his advice, and he silently melted back into the forest. Rested up, they stood, and each took a firm grip on one of the buck's antlers. After about a half an hour of pulling the animal through the woods, the first Newfie spoke up. "Lard Tunderin', By, but dat ol' Indian feller sure knew what he were talking aboot," he said. "Dis here's much easier'n it were before."
   "Yeah," said his buddy, "but we're gettin' furder away from da truck!"

   Seriously, nobody thinks I'm funny.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Various links to check out

CarnivAOL: The call has gone out for new submissions. Not sure what it's all about? Click on the link and investigate.

Sweet Fern Lane: Amy has updated her Earth Mother's Cupboard page. She now offers natural products for bath, body and home. I know Christmas is still a ways off, but you need to allow for shipping and stuff. I ordered some of her pot-pourri last year. It was the best pot-pourri I have ever seen (or smelled).

The Revenant: Picked this one up in a chat one night. Every time you click in, you are presented with a different, random poem about autumn. The poet's name is Mara Broadway. I don't know her. edit: according to Sandi, I do know her. I read her journal.

The Fridge: Speaking of poetry, try creating some of your own out of this virtual fridge magnet poetry set. Have fun.

Where's Willy? ® 2.0: Track the paper money that leaves your wallet as it moves from spender to spender across the country. For Americans there is a Where's George version.

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns & Fairies Index: The complete text of the 1893 book.

The Infinite Cat Project: Really cool.

BookCrossing: If you loved a book, and wish others could love it too...

What's wrong with this picture?: I still haven't figured this one out.

Ninjai: The Little Ninja: An ongoing flash cartoon. Extremely well done. NSFW.

29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: the Scientific Case for Common Descent: The title is pretty self explanatory.

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: May you be touched by his noodly appendage.

   There, that's a dozen links for you to explore. But don't waste the whole day on it, eh?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Now, this is funny

ProtectorYou are a protector.
Yes, you don't like to kill people. That goes against everything you belive in. It's not that you are a coward, but your ideals and morals wouldn't allow it. You are the typical hero, do the righteous things, get the bad guys and do it all legally. But just because you don't kill doesn't mean you can't kick ass. And that is what you do. You use your brain and your strength to do honourable deeds and protect people you know and love. If an evil guy is going to take over the world soon, it's you who will get involved. You hate watching innocents suffer, and love seeing bad people getting what they deserve. You are probably also happy and optimistic and work pretty good in groups. And the friends you usually make are true ones.

Main weapon: Anything at all

"You only live once, but if
you do it right, once is enough" -Joe

Facial expression:

What Type of Killer Are You? [cool pictures]
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Belay the obvious jokes.

What Flavour Are You? I tashte like Alcohol.I tashte like Alcohol.

Heh. Heh. I taste like beer. I like beer. Buy me a beer. I'm not drunk, I can drink plenty without... What was I saying? Beer.

What Flavour Are You?

via Cyber Chocolate

Velociraptor - Spunky, but you do know how to kill.
You're small, yet witty, and love to play.

Which Dromaeosaurid Are You?
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Pups we are

   Pat asked her cousin, Carmelina (Ciccio's daughter) how old the village of Mandanici was. She shrugged, and told us that Il Duomo, the church we are staying beside, was built in 1690. When we asked if it was the oldest church in Mandanici, she just shook her head. We can't find a date for the oldest church, but suffice it to say that people have been living in an organized village here on the mountainside for at least 315 years, and probably longer.

          >>>>>>>>>>Fast Forward to tomorrow's entry>>>>>>>>>>

   One of the locals here, a friend of the family, is an architectural and civil engineer. His current project is the excavation of about 500ft. of the main street of the town. The plan is to put new, pre-formed concrete piers in place in order to form an underground conduit which will facilitate future upgrades to the electrical and communications infrastructure of the town, and then resurface to road. They expect the project to take 3-6 months. One of the problems they face almost everywhere in Italy is that when they start to dig, they are never sure of what they are going to find. Antiquities abound.
   One of his previous projects involved the rebuilding/restoration of several of the local churches. According to Tino, although the Duomo beside our apartment was built in 1690, it was built on the foundation of an older church. That foundation has been dated to the eleventh century. As well, they found an old clay jar buried in the piazza in front of the church that was full of coins from the same approximate time frame.
   So, we must revise our estimate of the age of Mandanici. There has been an organized village on this site for at least one thousand years.

          <<<<<<<<<<Rewind to the previous entry<<<<<<<<<<"We can't find a date for..." [oops, too far]
>>>>>>>>>>"315 years, and probably significantly longer."

   The sense of history in this country is overwhelming. In Canada, our history lessons start with the year 1534, when Jacques Cartier first sailed up the St. Lawrence river and landed at what is now Quebec City. Americans like to push their history back to 1492, although Colombus didn't actually make landfall at any place that is currently part of the United States that year.
   In Italy, anything that dates after the beginning of the 16th century is considered "modern." The Romans were attending sporting events in a 50,000 seat stadium with a crowd control system that allowed them to completely empty the building in less than fifteen minutes almost two thousand years ago. Over a thousand years before Marco Polo opened new trade routes to the east, Romans were importing rare oriental marbles to decorate their houses. Almost two thousand years before the Bush administration enacted The Patriot Act, the largest empire the world has ever known was ruled for the people, by the people. To walk around in buildings that are so old their corners have all been worn smooth by the rain, one can't help but be awed by the accomplishments of civilizations that predate us by 2700 years.

Have you Frapped yet?

   This is a fun little thing for AOL J-landers:

Check out our Frapper!

How well do you know me?

   This has been floating around J-land for months, but recently ran through a spate of journals I regularly read. So, for those who think they know me...
Find out.

Take my Quiz on!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I come from the land of the ice and snow...

You Are

You are a beautiful person, in a wistful kind of way. If you could, you would spend all your time daydreaming and writing poetry. You are a tragic beauty.

You are sensitive and caring, and you don't take insults well. You don't smile much, but when you do, you really mean it.

People like to be around you because you are a calming influence. You have an appreciation for all things beautiful, and you probably have some potted plants. You also most likely own a cat.

You like Sundays and hot tea. You will spend your entire life yearning for quiet beauty, which is a rarity in this world, so you read a lot.

Everyone you know thinks you're "nice."

Take the Which Led Zeppelin Song Are You? Quiz

via Olddog299

A story twice told

   I have been chastised for not finishing the story of the lost tourist in Palermo. "Did you find her?" someone asked. "Did the bus leave without her?" queried someone else. And most importantly, Penny wanted to know, "what did you have for lunch?" The answers, in order, are yes, yes, and calzones.

   I'll give you a quick summary of our day first. The bus took us south to Catania, where it picked up a leg of the Autostrada that runs northwest, across the centre of the island, past
Enna, the highest town in Sicily, and to Palermo. Once there, we picked up a local guide, Antonio, who stayed with us until lunch.
Duomo_di_Cefalu   The tour focused on three churches, which we saw in reverse order to their construction. The first built, which we visited later in the day, is the Duomo of
Cefalu, built by Roger II, the first Norman King of Sicily, between 1131 and 1148. Intended to be the principal religious seat in Sicily, it is one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Europe. Its awe-inspiring mosaics are highlighted by the now somewhat rare depiction of Christ Pantocrator, the all-powerful king.
   The next church to be built, the first one we visited that day, was the Duomo at
Monreale, originally a separate city, but now more a suburb of Palermo. In 1172, King William II, the third Norman King of Sicily, wanted to build a new church based on the design of the one in Cefalu, but he was prevented from building it in Palermo by the Arch Bishop, who would not allow a church more splendid than his own to be built in his diocese. Following on the decoration of the cathedral at Cefalu, but going far beyond, the entire interior of the church is decorated in gold mosaic, featuring scenes from the old testament in the nave, the teachings of Christ in the aisles, choir, and transepts, the Gospels in the side apses, and culminating in the Christ Pantocrator once again. Completed in only ten years, the cathedral at Monreale is a tribute to the wealth and power of the early Norman Kings.
   To put the picture of the mosaic of Christ into perspective (see above link), take these measurements in to account. One of his eyes is forty-five centimeters tall (about 18 inches), and his right hand measures 1.9 meters (six feet).
Duomo_di_Palermo   Third, we have the Duomo of Palermo,which was begun in 1184 by the Arch Bishop of Palermo, in response to what William II had done in Monreale. Outside, it is a fascinating study in the melding of various architectural styles as it was added to over the course of several hundred years. To quote the tour book we took with us: "the exterior shows the development of the Gothic style from the 13th-14th centuries. The south porch (1453) is a masterpiece of the Catalan style, and at the apse end, sturdy Norman work can be seen through a decorative Islamic-inspired overlay. The dome is 18th century." Although it is larger, and more ornately decorated inside, it does not, in my opinion, match the splendor of the mosaics in Monreale.

   The calzones were quite yummy.

   So, there we were, whispering back and forth amongst ourselves about who was missing, where they might have got to, and what the guide and driver were going to do about it. After waiting almost an hour, the guide announced that we had to leave. Although everyone hated the idea of leaving a person behind, as I have said before, there were thirty other people the deal with. The missing person's companions stayed on the bus as we pulled out of Palermo.
   Just before the bus reached the main highway, the guide's cell phone rang. Our missing tourist had been located. It seems she had gotten lost trying to find the bus after lunch. She wandered around until she recognized a landmark somewhere, and found her way to the main cathedral of Palermo, where we had been earlier in the day. There, an unlikely series of events unfolded.
   A souvenir vendor on the sidewalk in front of the church recognized her. Not only did he recognize her, he remembered which one of the dozens of tours that had been through the church she was with. He also knew the cell phone number of the local guide, Antonio, who had been with us at the time. The vendor called Antonio, who then called the main office of the tour company in Taormina, who then called the guide on the bus, who instructed the driver to turn around.
   She was lucky. We picked her up at the cathedral, and continued on our way, now more than an hour and a half behind schedule. The unfortunate offshoot was thatour stop in Cefalu, one of the prettiest towns in Sicily, had to be cut shorter than planned. Still, we enjoyed the day tremendously.


So there, Jay!

Congratulations! You scored a super 62%! Cool, calm and powerful. Whilst your actual super abilities may not be anything too dazzling, you have earnt the respect of both friends and enemies in response to your amazing fighting skills, strategic combat and experience. Luckily you have access to the greens which can fund all your majorly cool gadgets, vehicles and weapons! Also, you're reluctant but still accepting to the idea of having a teammate/side-kick, which just makes everything a whole lotta fun, doesn't it now! On the down side, you've probably suffered some sort of trauma at a young age (that's why we don't talk to the old man near the swings, kids). Similar to the Wolverine, your past is a base for your current motivation, undertaking some kind of personal vow in search of justice. All in all though, you're one tough nut. There's not a lot of people who have the minerals to go up against you, and you're experienced enough not to get cocky and let the little things like never finding happiness get you down!

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online dating free online dating You scored higher than 45% on Heropoints
The Which SUPER HERO are you Test on Ok Cupid

via Anglia Rian

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Leave the gun. Take the cannolis

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This morning's earworm: Fire and Ice, by Pat Benetar. Don't ask me why.

   To the left is a mosaic depicting King Roger II receiving the Imperial Diadem from Christ. Found in the church of Santa Maria Dell' Ammiraglio, commonly known as The Martorana, in Palermo. The Martorana is a Greek Orthodox church built in approximately 1140 by George of Antioch, the Admiral of Roger's fleet.

An interesting day Friday. We booked a bus tour to Palermo, and environs. So far, Ciccio has been taking us around and showing us the sights, but Palermo is halfway around the island. The bus was scheduled to leave from Taormina at 6:00 AM. In order to get there in time we had to leave Mandanici at 5:00 AM. Which meant we had to get up at 4:00 AM. This is becoming a disturbing trend.
   At about 4:45 AM we heard a peculiar roaring sound outside. Thinking it might be a rainstorm, we took a peek outside to see a raging bonfire over beside the church. Two large plastic garbage cans that sit there for public disposal were on fire. We knew the gentleman who lived upstairs was awake, because he was the one who was going to drive us to Taormina on his way to work that morning. Pat alerted him about the fire, as we had no idea how to call the fire department.
   It turns out there is no fire department. Giovanni went out and extinguished the fire himself. As we made our way through the narrow, twisting, hilly streets and alleyways of the town, on our way to the main road down the mountain, we passed two more sets of burning trash cans. Someone was deliberately setting the fires. Later that night we heard the scuttlebutt. Common opinion was that someone who was unhappy about a current street construction project in town had set the fires in protest. Yeah, I know. Stupid.

   So, we're in Palermo, and we have to be back at the bus after lunch by 2:30 PM. By about 3:05 we began to realize that something was not right (we're a quick bunch). The tour guide and the bus driver are running around outside with cell phones glued to their ears. Someone has not returned to the bus.

Here's a conundrum:
   You are onvacation in a foreign country. You have learned enough of the language to order a cup of coffee, and ask where the bathroom is. Otherwise, you are helpless. On  a bus tour of a distant city, your spouse disappears.
   The bus has waited for almost an hour while the guide and the driver scour the area with the help of local police. Finally, the bus has to leave. There are thirty other passengers who must return to their point of embarkation.
   What do you do? Do you stay with the bus, and your only contact who speaks yourlanguage? Or, do you stay behind in the area in which your spouse has gone missing, in an unfamiliar city, in a country whose language you do not speak? What do you do?
   There are no hostages to shoot.

A detail from the above pictured mosaic.

~~Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody
I got some money 'cause I just got paid
I really hope I find someone to talk to
I'm in an awful way~~
   -At least I think that's how it goes.

   I finished my other book: Scatterbrain, by Larry Niven. A collection of short stories, novel excerpts, essays and commentaries, some of it has been rendered erroneous, or irrelevant by new scientific discoveries, or advancements in technology since it was written. Other parts of it are just aimless ramblings; a peek into the mind of the man. Probably only for the dedicated Niven fan.
   I only mention it because it has left me bereft of reading material. In near desperation, I picked up Angels and Demons again. If you recall, I had read about fifteen pages of it and put it down, suffering from an inability to suspend that much disbelief. Hoping that once I got past the introductory material, I would get involved in the "breathless, real-time adventure...[that is] exciting, fast paced, with an unusually high IQ..." (San Francisco Chronicle), I pushed on. After another nineteen pages, I ran out of patience. Extremely poor writing, paired with implausibility piled upon implausibility make it unlikely I will be able to finish this book.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Skepticism it is.

   Just a note to say that the latest edition of The Skeptics Circle has been published at Time To Lean. Check it out, if you're into that kind of thing. You know, rational thinking, and all.

   I know, I know, I'm two days behind on CarnivAOL. Sorry all. I'll get it up today.

It's up! I mean CarnivAOL, you schmucks. Go check it out. Go. Now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Historical lunacy

I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

via Patrick

A man and his donkey

   The weather has been unseasonably cool here. For us, it's much like a late September at home: 20-24 degrees during the day, and cooling down quite a bit overnight. (Ironically, the weather was nicer at home while we were away than it was in Sicily.) All the locals are walking around in jackets and commenting on how cold it is.
   Unfortunately, we did not bring enough appropriate clothing. While I have a couple pair of jeans, I only packed one long sleeved shirt, and one pullover fleece jacket. The locals see us walking around in our shorts and t-shirts, and think, "those Canadians are sure used to the cold." We try not to let them see us shivering.
   Along with the cooler temperatures has come some changeable weather. I'll tell you, you haven't experienced changeable weather until you've experienced it in the mountains. Sudden rainstorms come and go like hummingbirds to honeysuckles. Today we went from full sun to cloudy and raining and back four times over the course of half an hour. Ciccio says the weather might get more severe tonight. He knows because he saw the fishermen down at the seaside begin pulling in all the boats.

   This little town seems idyllic, with one exception: the cars. If it wasn't for the Peugeots and FIATs parked hither and thither, you could almost believe yourself to be in an eighteenth century farming village. Sometimes every element comes together, just for a few seconds, and the illusion is complete.
   The other morning we stepped out onto the balcony with our cafe lattes. For once there were no cars parked in the Piazza del Duomo. The soft morning sunlight streamed across the valley. Sparrows darted and dove in its depths. A soft clop, clop, clop swirled like a leaf in an eddy of air. From around a corner appeared a little old man in  a threadbare vest and a wool cap leading a small donkey by a rope. They tropmped across the square and disappeared past the edge of the church. Pat sighed and said, "I could almost see that being one of my Uncles."
   When she described the scene later at dinner, Concetta laughed. "There is only one man in Mandanici who still owns a donkey," she said. "That was one of your Uncles."

Pat and Matt with Zio Pepe. The donkey was camera shy.

Sights to be seen

Church_on_Lipari   I mentioned the church bells chiming the time. Did I mention the siren? There is a siren. It sounds like an old air raid siren. It probably is. Sicily was bombed fairly heavily during World war II. It sounds at 8:00 AM, noon, and 4:00 PM, key times in rural Sicilian life.
   This is the daily rhythm: up at dawn and about your daily business; stop working at noon for lunch and a siesta; back to work at four, and work 'til dark; home for dinner and time with the family. Even the stores follow that schedule. Concetta's bottega is open 8:00-1:00, and 5:00-8:00.

   Everywhere you turn in Italy, you find a church. I mean everywhere you turn. Mandanici is a small farming village. At its height of population almost 50 years ago it may have held 3,000 people. It has five churches. The little town I grew up in had five churches to service a similar population, but they were five different churches. There was a Presbyterian church, and Anglican church, a Lutheran church, etc. These are all Catholic churches.
   Not all of them are in use today, of course. One of them was destroyed in a flood in 1620, and was only rebuilt recently. It is being used as a museum. Another, the oldest one currently standing, has fallen out of use, and was closed for years. Today they open for one Sunday a month. There is the Duomo. You know, the one with the bells. And the siren. We never got to see the other two. I suspect they are in serious states of disrepair in an older, little used section of the town.
   Little used buildings are everywhere in Mandanici. From a burgeoning town of 3000, it has shrunk to little over 800 people. There are few jobs for young people in rural Italy, and most of them move to the city as soon as they are old enough. Abandoned houses are the other thing you see everywhere you look.


   Yesterday (don't ask me what day that was. At some point I stopped making note, and I don't have a clue), we visited Taormina, where we saw Il Teatro Greco, the ancient Greek theater. They call it that, although the ruins are mostly Roman, the theater having been destroyed and subsequently rebuilt after the Romans annexed Sicily in the third century BC. Taormina is even more densely packed with churches than Mandanici, I guess because it is so mucholder. Some of the piazzas we walked through were bordered by churches on three sides.
   The streets of Taormina were packed with tourists, and the bars, shops, and restaurants were doing a booming business. Ciccio told us that it is off season, and most of the hotels are operating on a reduced staff. In July and August the tourists must be jammed shoulder to shoulder, like sardines.

Vulcano_from_Lipari   The day before we visited Lipari (Lee-ba-ree), one of the Aeolian Islands, off the north coast of Sicily. The entire group of islands, which includes Il Vulcano, are commonly referred to as Lipari, as is the island we visited, and it's main town. Lipari is a pretty little port town that is very popular with tourists from all over Europe, and from around Italy as well. The rest of the island is populated by private villas used as vacation homes by wealthy Italians, with the exception of two large pumice mining operations.
   One of Pat's cousins is married to a man who works as a personal assistant /property manager for the owner of one of these properties, so we were treated to lunch at the private villa of an Italian millionaire (only because he wasn't there at the time). we didn't actually have the opportunity to visit the sulphur baths on Isola Vulcano and plaster our naked bodies with steaming mud. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Reflections on Rome

   The latest automobile sensation to hit North America is the Smart Car. In Europe, the Smart Car is only slightly smaller than every other car on the road. On the streets of Rome, the Mini Cooper is a large car. Sure, there are some luxury cars to be found; a few Mercedes, Lancias, Alfa Romeos, but most of those are being driven by plain clothed Carabinieri, state police, or government security. Large vehicles are simply impractical in the narrow streets of old Europe.
   A word about driving in Rome: don't. Rules of the road exist, but 'red light means stop' is about the only one I've seen anyone actually pay attention to. Lines on the road, when they exist at all, are uniformly ignored. Cars and motor scooters park anywhere they can find a space. It is common to see someone fold in their side view mirrors in order to squeeze through a particularly tight alleyway. Anyone who leaves their car parked on the side of the road and doesn't fold in their mirrors is likely to come back to one of them dangling.
   The little motor scooters, commonly referred to as Vespas, but now made by every motorcycle company, are the most numerous vehicles on the road. They are driven by every segment of the population, from young children (although, in the city, drivers must be of age, and licensed to be on the road), to old men, to business people commuting to and from work, as many women as men.
   They completely ignore every rule of the road, including the one about red lights. They will take any opening available to get ahead of the traffic. I have seen them jump sidewalks, go across medians, and down one way streets the wrong way. At every traffic light, they weave their way in and out of the stopped cars until they get to the front of the line of traffic. When the light turns green, it looks like the start of a formula 1 race for Vespas, as ten to twenty of them leap away from the line, criss-crossing and jockeying for position.

   Picture yourself driving along a one-way street. The way is narrow. Parked cars line both sides of the street, leaving just enough room to carefully squeeze through. Ahead of you, a delivery van has stopped, completely blocking the road while its driver carries a package into a nearby business.
   In any North American city I've ever been in this is a text book provocation to instant, insane road rage. In Rome,you would just wait patiently until the driver returned to his truck, and moved along. You understand that he has  a job to do, and has nowhere else he can go, and he understands that he is blocking traffic, and is moving as fast as he can. In three days in Rome I have only heard a car horn honked in impatience twice.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Three quickies

You Are a Freedom Rocker!
   You're stuck in the 70s - for better or worse
Crazy hair, pot soaked clothes, and tons of groupies
Your kind showed the world how to rock
Is that freedom rock?... Well turn it up man!

What Kind of Rocker Are You?

Your Brain's Pattern

   You have a tempered, reasonable way of thinking.You tend to take every new idea in, and meld it with your world view.For you, everything is always changing. Each moment is different.Your thinking process tends to be very natural - with no beginnings or endings.

What Pattern Is Your Brain?

You are an Atheist
When it comes to religion, you're a non-believer (simple as that).
You prefer to think about what's known and proven.
You don't need religion to solve life's problems.
Instead, you tend to work things out with logic and philosophy.

What's Your Religious Philosophy?

Ah...anyone have a cigarette?

When they say UP country...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Granite con Brioche (Gra-nee-ta con Bree-osh)
   Granite is a frozen confection made with lemon juice and sugar. We might call it a lemon ice, however no lemon ice you've ever tasted approaches Granite for pure yumminess. The Brioche is a light, sweet, egg bread roll that you eat with the Granite. By themselves, each is delicious. Together they are a taste sensation that is beyond description. Really, you've seen all the pictures of the Eiffel Tower already anyway. Did mention that was breakfast?

   Today we went to the countryside, a campagna (cam-pan-ya), to visit the farm, il cuzza, owned by my wife's family. I thought the narrow winding road up to the village was precarious. At least it was paved. The glorified cart path leading up the mountain to where my wife's great grandfather first farmed the land was twice as steep, and a third as wide. And I had to drive it.
   Ciccio's Mitsubishi truck would never be able to negotiate the narrow switchbacks, and his other truck, a Suzuki Sidekick, had the rear seat folded up in order to make room for all the good stuff we would be bringing back down. Besides, Matthew wanted a ride in the Ape.

Matthew, Pat's Zio (uncle) Mario, and several cats pose in front of the Ape.

   An Ape (ah-bay) is a hybrid of a three wheeled motorcycle, and a pick-up truck. It is the rural vehicle of choice in Sicily. Newer ones have car-like controls, but most of them have a set of motorcycle handlebars for driving.
   So Matthew and Pat squeezed into the Ape with Ciccio, while I followed in the 'jeep.' Ciccio's mother, Pat's Aunt Carmella, was my passenger, and the 80-odd year old bird was calmer than I was as we assayed the climb. It really was no problem at all, as long as I didn't look down over the edge of the road to the dry river bed five hundred feet below.

Looking down.

   The cuzza is a series of stone walled terraces extending up and down the mountain for hundreds of feet of elevation. The terraces are a mixture of fruit trees, grape vines, olive trees, fig trees, prickly pear cacti, and traditional garden plants like tomatoes, beans, and lettuce. We came back down the mountain with the truck filled to overflowing with prickly pears, peaches, plums, pears, lemons, grapes, tomatoes, and Sicilian zucchini. As well, we walked up the mountainside an additional several hundred feet or so, along a treacherous, winding path to fill every empty bottle we could scare up at the farm's natural spring. The most delicious water I have ever tasted.

   ~~A side note that will be of interest only to a select few...~~

   The toilets in Europe are, well, deeper than what we are used to in North America. The standing water level is also considerably lower. Given the somewhat, uh, amphitheater-like shape of said toilet bowls, this leads to some, shall we say, impressive acoustic phenomena during certain, uh, activities performed behind closed doors. I'm just sayin'.

What, are you mad? I didn't take any pictures of the toilet bowls, OK?

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Bella Sicilia

Thursday, September 15, 2005

   We arrived in Sicily tonight, a 45 minute domestic flight from Rome, during which they managed to lose one of our suitcases. Pat is disappointed that it was Matthews's instead of hers. She would have loved an Italian fashion shopping spree courtesy of Air Alitalia. Matthew has only the clothes on his back, which he has already worn for two days. Tomorrow he gets an Italian fashion shopping spree.
   So we're late, which means it's dark as we turn off the Autostrada between Catania and Messina, following a sign that reads: Roccalumera, Pagliara, Mandanici. My wife's cousin, Francesco, is driving. Beside him sits her Uncle Mario. Pat, Matthew, and I are crammed into the back seat of Ciccio's Mitsubishi pick-up truck.
   Ciccio (pronounced Chee-cho), is called Ciccio Grande, because he is the eldest of four cousins, all first born sons named for their paternal grandfather, Francesco Ciatto. My father-in-law's eldest brother, Ciccio's father, is named Giovanni, as was his grandfather, and is his grandson, Ciccio's son. Confused yet? It just gets worse.
   The truck's headlights pick out details at the side of the road as we go by. Here, an old stone wall built to hold in some earth for a small garden plot. There, a cactus has grown out over the road like a hangman's tree. In some places the steep rock face is jacketed with wire fencing up a hundred feet or more in an attempt to prevent rockslides onto the road. Almost like being in an airplane during take-off, you can feel the air pressure changing on your ears as the truck rounds switchback after switchback.
   Mandanici (Man-da-nee-chee) is only about 6 miles from the ocean, but it is above 1300 feet in elevation. Ciccio's wife, Concetta (Con-chetta) runs a small store, una bottega piccolo, on the main street of town. A little bit further on is the Bar, which in Italy means breakfast cafeteria, ice cream parlour, coffee shop, lunch room, liquor store, pastry shop...oh, and bar. Beside the bar is a barbershop. A few doors down is the tobacconist, and that's about it for the main drag.

Friday, September 16, 2005

   They have us installed in a little two room apartment. No one will tell us who owns it, or if anyone was displaced to make room for us. Off the kitchen is a small balcony overlooking a small square, or piazza. The piazza fronts Il Duomo Mandanici, The Mandanici Cathedral, a beautiful, old church. Looking farther afield, the view between two other buildings is lush Sicilian mountainside. It's like a picture postcard depiction of the perfect, old world, European village. Except the horses and carts have all been replaced by cars and motor scooters.
   Well, not all. We have heard the distinctive clop, clop, clop of horses hooves go by once or twice. Yesterday morning we also heard the distinctive two tone drone of an emergency vehicle. Later we found out that the man with the horse had only just bought it that day, and that it had promptly kicked him in the head. We never did find out if he lived or died.
   I mentioned that we were right beside the church. Did I mention that the church bell rings out the time? Every quarter hour? All day, and all night?
   Did I mention that we're right beside the church?

   So, we had to go shopping for Matthew. Ciccio collected us in the morning, and we headed down the mountain. Daylight filled in many of the little flashes of detail we received the night before.
   The little stone walled garden plot is only the first of a series of terraced plots climbing the hillside. The cacti are all brimming with ripe fruit. Fico d'India they are called. We call them prickly pears.

   As Ciccio negotiated the winding road down the mountainside, and the narrow streets through the little towns along the way, the driver of every car we passed honked and waved. Every person standing by the street called out, "ciao, Ciccio!" Mandanici is a small town, as is Pagliara. Roccalumera is a little bit larger. But when someone on the freeway in the nearby city of Messina sticks their head out of their car window and yells, "ciao, Ciccio!" you know you are in the presence of a character.

Friday, October 7, 2005

A little late, but...

Your Summer Ride is a Beetle Convertible

Fun, funky, and a little bit euro.
You love your summers to be full of style and sun!

What's Your Summer Ride?

The fall of the Roman Empire

Preview   Rome was overrun by Goths and Vandals in the fifth century C.E., and the tradition continues to this day in every major urban center.

No coins in the fountain

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

   This afternoon we took a bus tour of 'Ancient Rome.' I could tell you all the things we saw, but if you take a peek at any tourism guide of Rome you'll get the full list. A couple of observations:
1) Virtually every Roman building and monument still standing and useful has been co-opted by the Catholic church. Columns, colonnades, and obelisks throughout the city have been topped with Christian icons and statuary.

2) Anything still standing that approaches 2000 years old is made of marble. Even the Colosseum was originally, and primarily made of marble. And, it would still be standing to this day had the barbarians who sacked Rome in the middle ages not removed the iron (or brass, depending on who you talk to) pins that held the blocks in place.

   The Colosseum. Here you can see the holes bored into the Travertine marble by barbarians attempting to remove the metal pins or clamps in order to use them to make weapons. All of the remaining marble in the Colosseum is honeycombed with holes like this.
   An interesting factoid: this building's name is actually The Flavian Amphitheater. At one time there was a colossus, a huge statue, of the emporer Nero beside the amphitheater. In everyday usage, Romans referred to the building as the theater by the colossus, and it eventually became know as just The Colosseum. Click on the picture for a 1028x764 version you can use as a desktop wallpaper.

   We learned very quickly that if we just wanted to stop somewhere for a quick coffee and snack, that sitting down was the wrong thing to do. When we popped into any small coffee shop, or snack bar, we saw numerous Romans standing around, munching on pastries, or drinking coffees, with a whole room full of empty tables unregarded. Tourists, however, are immediately invited to sit down, and handed menus. In short order, we observed that if we sat down, we paid €1.25 for an espresso. If we stood at the counter, we paid €0.85.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

   Today we walked. From 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM we wandered around centralRome. Many of the obligatory Roman sights were seen. A hint: Piazza Espagna, featuring the Spanish Steps? It's just a big stairway.
   The Pantheon is the best preserved piece of Roman architecture in the city. Originally a temple to honour the entire pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses (hence the name), it was converted to a Catholic church in the seventh century. I am somewhat ambivalent about the role of the Vatican in the history of Rome. On one hand, they have co-opted a huge portion of Roman history. On the other, if it wasn't for the church, a significant number of Roman historical sites would not exist today in the condition they currently enjoy.

   The best part of exploring Rome is going off the beaten path; getting yourself lost in the maze of little streets and alley ways where you glance in an open garage door to see an antique furniture restorer at work, or turn a corner to discover a little cafe tucked in between two warehouses. In just such a tangle of cobbled streets we came across Trevi Fountain.
   It was looking for Trevi Fountain that got us lost in the first place. We had seen The Mausoleum of Augustus, The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and, according to the guide book, Trevi Fountain was on the way back to the hotel. The problem was none of the streets in that section of Rome run in anything resembling a straight line, so it is almost impossible to properly orient yourself looking at a map. We ended up walking up a steep hill (one of the seven hills of Rome as it turned out) and an even steeper set of stone stairs, and ended up at Piazza Quirinale.
   Now, Piazza Quirinale is nothing but a huge empty square, hemmed in on three sides by buildings with imposing, featureless edifices, with a confused combination of statuary tucked into one corner. Other than Palazzo Quirinale being the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, there is little, or nothing to interest tourists here. In fact, when we found it, it was absolutely empty, with the exception of the guards at the entrance to the Palazzo. We headed back down the stairs,and the hill, and into the maze once more.
   Despairing of ever finding Trevi fountain, we decided to stop for gelato. If you have never tried authentic Italian ice cream before, put "eat gelato in Rome" on your list of seven things to do before you die. Bump the Eiffel Tower for it. It is that good. So it was with lemon, and creme caramel, and tiramisu flavoured gelato dripping down over fingers wrapped around cones thin like upside down church spires that we turned another corner, and there it was: the most crowded place in all of Rome.
   Trevi (so named because it is at the corner of three streets-tre vie) is an impressive work of sculpture, but one has to wonder if it would be such a popular attraction had it not been for its appearance in films like La Dolce Vita, and Three Coins in the Fountain. The stairs leading down to it were crammed with people trying to get to the fountain to take a picture of a friend or family member tossing a coin in, and then trying to get back up. Legend has it that a coin thrown into Trevi Fountain will guarantee one's eventual return to Rome. I would have tried it, but I was dissuaded by the crowds, and the fact that I didn't have anything smaller that a €1.00 coin in my pocket.

The crowds around Trevi Fountain

Matt at Trevi after dark.


   I had a whole bunch of these quiz thingies done and saved in my test journal. I figured I would have two or three opportunities to check in over the course of my vacation, either from an Internet cafe, or via a friend or family member's computer, and I could post a few quick entries, just to keep the journal active. No such luck. And so, I've got eight or nine of these things backlogged and taking up space. I'll throw them in here and there as I post about my vacation.


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
brought to you by Quizilla

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Pillows and bad posture

Monday, September 12, 2005
10:37 PM Toronto time

   When we boarded, they handed everyone a slim package containing a blanket, and something that could only have been called a pillow by someone in a marketing department somewhere. Sleeping on the plane is proving to be a difficult task. Pat got an hour and a half or so, and Matthew was finally persuaded to close his eyes shortly after ten. He is currently snoring contentedly on his mother's breast. 
   Speaking of when we boarded...

~~earlier today~~

   We had been told by the travel agent that we would be flying on a large plane, a 747, or a 777. Seating (we were told) was three at the window, four in the center, and three at the other window. Our travel agent pre-booked us what he called choice seats: three at the window that would be looking west (or so) on departure, and east (or so) on arrival. See the sunset and the sunrise on the same flight; it sure sounded good.
   When we checked our baggage, and received our boarding passes, my wife asked the attendant if our seats had been pre-booked. We were told they were not, and that no window seats were available. Initially, we were ticked, but when we actually boarded the plane the reason became apparent. This was a much smaller plane than we had expected. Window seats were only in pairs, with a bank of three seats down the center. My guess is, they undersold the flight, and so used a smaller plane than originally planned. C'est la vie.

10:46 PM Toronto time

   According to the airline magazine, our potential in-flight movies include Herbie:Fully Loaded, The Longest Yard, and Hitch-Hikers' Guide To The Galaxy. No such luck. We get a surreal British comedy called Millions, and some sub-titled Italian comedy about a young, prospective night club owner. Distinct yawn.

   Ah. Reading a little more closely, I see that H²G² is only available as the third film on flights from Italy to China. Looks like, on the flight home we have The Beauty Shop, and another Italian comedy to look forward to. Remind me to buy a good book at the airport gift shop.
   Speaking of good books, I started reading Dan Brown's Angels And Demons in the departure lounge. I'm on about page 12, and I have already rolled my eyes over at least two serious implausibilities, one scientific impossibility, and one just plain silly incongruity. So, I'll let you know if I find one; a good book, that is.


   So, this pillow, um, thingie is propped behind my back trying to ameliorate some of the discomfort of what has to be the most poorly designed airplane seat I have ever experienced. It has this hump, right at the back of the chair part, that serves to cause one to slowly slide forward until one has assumed a slouching position bad enough to invite the most vitriolic of rants from one's mother, were one still a teenager.
   Not still a teenager - in fact, being several decades past teenagedness - this slouching position has served only to exasperate my normally mild general back and neck stiffness to the point where I expect to require assistance disembarking.
   I exaggerate.
   A bit.

11:40 PM Toronto time

   They have begun serving breakfast. I'll take that as my signal to set my watch ahead to Italian time. It is now 5:41 AM.

~~somewhat later~~

   It is 9:00 AM. You are in Rome, the eternal city. What do you do?
   You take a nap. At least, that's what you do if your personal clock says it is 3:00 AM, and you haven't slept since 5:00 AM the previous morning.

It took about 34 seconds for Matthew to find a friend in the airport departure lounge.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Vacations and dreams

   You may have noted the new name at the top of the journal. Tutt'a posto is an Italian term that translates literally as, "everything in its place," but is commonly used to mean, "everything is OK." I thought it would be fun to use it as the title of my journal for the next little while, as I recount my travels in Italy.
   Here goes.

September 12, 2005
5:30 PM Toronto time

   we are cruising at an altitude of 10,100m at approximately 900 km/h, one hour out of Pearson International Airport. Takeoff was relatively uneventful...except for that overhead compartment that repeatedly popped open as we taxied out from the terminal. One after another we (myself and the passengers around me) undid our safety belts and stood up to push it closed. It would remain that way for  a few moments, until a bump caused it to pop open again.
   At one point a flight attendant came out and closed it firmly, then spent about a minute and a half jostling it, trying to make it come open. Unable to do so, and apparently satisfied, she went back to her seat. Within thirty seconds it had popped open again. Finally, we just left it, and spent the takeoff warily eyeing the gradually shifting baggage within.

~~Dinner Interlude~~

6:55 PM Toronto time

   It is remarkable how quickly the sun sets when you are flying away from it at 900 km/h. According to the cool overhead display, we are crossing Newfoundland with a  beneficial tail-wind of over 40 km/h, and it is -46°C(!) outside the plane. We have traveled approximately 1780 km of the 7095 km distance from Toronto to Rome.

~~earlier today~~

   Waking up at 5:00 AM is only slightly less insane than doing so one hour earlier, but we felt it was important to get an early start to the day. We arrive in Rome at about 1:00 AM our time tomorrow, but that will be 7:00 in the morning local time. Sleeping on the plane is a concept we felt was important to embrace.

7:02 PM Toronto time

   Oh look! As we approach Gander, Newfoundland, the view on the overhead screen has changed to include the entire Atlantic ocean, and our destination: The Boot.
   Gander, Newfoundland was most recently famous for playing host to thousands of international travelers bound for American destinations when U.S. airspace was closed on September 11, 2001. Prior to that, Gander was famous for being flight control for every single commercial aircraft crossing the Atlantic north of the equator. Before that, Gander was famous for being named after a male goose.

~~earlier today~~

   The new Terminal One at Toronto's Pearson International Airport is a grand sight, incorporating art and functionality in a pleasing synthesis of towering glass and stainless steel. At the Alitalia check-in desk we divested ourselves of our luggage, and received in return boarding passes. And instructions. It seemed, according to the soft spoken lady with the almost incomprehensible Italian accent, that we were to walk down the concourse to the very end, turn left, go through airport security (where my wife, by the way, held up the entire line at the metal detector because she had forgotten to remove the coins from her concealed money belt, and had to practically strip to get them out-but that's another story), down the escalators two levels, and onto the bus. The bus? We were sure we had heard incorrectly...until we got to the bus.
   A short jaunt across the tarmac took us to the 'Infield Terminal,' a temporary facility being used until the new Terminal One is fully completed (<~~not a Tragically Hip reference).
   After boarding was complete, we were informed by the flight crew, in a long and rambling message in Italian, and then in English, that we were ready to go, but that the airport wasn't ready to let us go. It seems the tractor that pushes the plane out of the embarcation dock was missing the special bar which it needed to hitch itself to the nose of the plane. We sat, unmoving, for about ten minutes as I imagined overall clad baggage handlers, and drivers in bright orange headphones running around the garage shouting at each other.
   The rest of the takeoff was uneventful. I mean to say that no one received an errant bag on the top of their head from the malfunctioning overhead compartment. And once we were airborne, the door behaved itself for the rest of the flight.