Saturday, December 29, 2012

What travel teaches....

Home again, I am missing the daily activity of exploring a new location, taking pictures of interesting stuff and then writing about it. I came back to the US for the holidays. The last two weeks have been filled with touching base with people, getting back into the home routine which includes cleaning out closets, sorting through three and a half months of mail, wrapping Christmas gifts, etc etc.

I visited with my friend Anna, and told her some of the more amazing aspects of that long trip to Europe. She asked if I'd learned anything. Well, of course! I learned tons about various artists, history, etc, but what has struck me as fundamentally more important are the historical connections that get made when travel takes you to places you've only ever heard of. What a lifetime of thinking, reading, and learning does is make connections in the present moment while standing in front of a painting, or seeing something as breathtaking as St. Peter's Basilica.

What I learned about art in Spain is how much El Greco from the 16th century influenced modern  impressionism in the twentieth century. His work and interest in his life was almost forgotten by the time the late 20th century rolled around, but interest revived, and his very modern impressionistic painting strokes were seen in new light and influenced a couple of generations of painters. I had viewed his work in high school, thanks to my Spanish teacher's large collection of art slides, but seeing the giant works in the Prado in Spain meant seeing for the first time, and the similarity of his work to modern impressionists was astounding. It made me go looking for information, it made me curious, and it made me go to Toledo to see his museum.

In Rome, I read a small text next to an ancient sculpture that set off another big connection. The blurb was about the wife of an emperor who was deified after her death and a temple was built for her. The ancient Romans deified people? I thought their pantheon of gods was solid and immutable, but no, they kept adding new ones as people died and others decided they deserved God status. Isn't that what the Catholic church does today, in slightly different form? They sanctify people, who in life were deemed to have accomplished miracles, saved people's lives and who in death, still miraculously heal.

My favorite of the modern saints is Padre Pio, a rather eccentric priest from Petrelcina who was known to go into trances and appear in other locations, sometimes half way round the world. He also suffered terribly from the Stigmata, with almost constant bleeding from the holes in his hands. His following, during life, was extensive, people packed his church when he was giving a mass, as much to receive mass from so unusual a man, as out of curiosity to see if he might fall into a trance and writhe on the floor. The day he died, the Stigmata disappeared and his lifeless body showed no signs of scaring or even healing.

When I told Anna about this interesting historical connection, she said, "Why do you think they call them Roman Catholics?"


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And home again.....

Ghost Ranch, NM, in December
Ah, back in New Mexico at last. Three and a half months in Europe: Spain, Turkey, and Italy. Not enough time in any of them, many reasons to return.

After an interminable trip - many hours sitting in airports guarding my heavy carry on and toting it from gate to gate, I finally made it to Los Alamos where there is the largest concentration of geniuses per capita in the world.  At the indoor swimming pool, in the warm therapy tank, I had a nice conversation with a fellow about hominids and australopithecines (in English!). I thought "How nice to be back with my people."

It was a great trip experiment that answered a lot of questions. Could I live and travel around in Europe without spending a fortune? Yes, using AirBnB (or some similar website where people rent out a room in their home). Or staying at a "pension" can work well, like in Sevilla.

Is it possible to house and animal "sit" to save money on accommodations and still get to see good parts of a country? That's a tougher one to answer. Certainly the house-sitting in southern Spain was difficult because I didn't have a car and had to explore in a limited area, plus there were more animals than I'd really signed up for, so there wasn't as much time. However, the local Brit expats were wonderful and took me around to see things. It was a slice of rural life in Spain which is not something most tourists experience. On the other hand, the time in Cappadocia allowed for exploration of some very interesting terrain and archeological ruins, some of which were entirely undocumented. The buses were varied and frequent, and I had more time between dog-duties. The whole area is one giant tourist magnet so there was something to see and experience at every turn. A month there saved enough money so that the three and a half weeks in Italy were amply funded.

Another great scary question was about coping in a country when I didn't speak a word of the language. I got some preliminary practice in Spain, where I'd hope to refine my travel Spanish in the "mother country". However, most of the time I couldn't understand a bloody word of their rapid fire slurring of that beautiful language. Time in Barcelona was even worse as they also spoke Catalan and often mixed the two languages in an equally incomprehensible slur! I must say though, the iPad's translator program came in handy many times in Turkey. As long as I had wifi or could tap into a cell tower, I could write my questions, translate it, and the other person could type their answer in Turkish, except of course for that poor clueless cook in Urgup.

Every travel problem was solvable, and more than likely a solution of sorts had been found by someone before I ran into it. There are several great sites for getting answers. I often used the forums on Boots'N'All and AFAR magazine to find out what others recommended for sightseeing on a limited time or monetary budget, and Travel Advisor always has ratings for restaurants and attractions. When two hundred people love a place and two hate it, it's a fair bet the two are either just grumpy or had a beef with somebody. I've even stayed in places that weren't rated very highly, but then, I'm not as picky as some people. I don't mind sharing a bathroom, but I do mind rodents for instance. Thus far, I've shared many more bathrooms than shared any space with mice!!

So this is the last post for a while, until January when I will return to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

The next big adventure will be yet another experiment. I've organized a tour for the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club of the state of Chiapas. So far 8 people have signed up and two others are on the stand-by list in case someone drops out. The tour will be a test of my organizational skills and any concept I might have as to what people like to do on an adventure trip. Under the auspices of the Mountaineers, I am covered by their legal documents, as other mountaineers were covered.....when long ago in utter terror, I regretted signing that piece of paper.....the day I lost my Rock Virginity! Hopefully, nobody will regret signing up for the Chiapas trip. So stay tuned.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Postcards from Rome

After Venice, Derek and I rode the train to Rome, arriving late in the evening. We stayed at the same little apartment we'd rented before in Trastevere. It was nice to be "home" again, we already knew where the markets were, and got ice cream at the same great little place with the weird flavors: nutmeg, cardamom, Madagascar chocolate/orange gelatos. The next day we walked to the Trevi fountain, hiked around in the Borghese gardens and went to the Galeria Borghese for which everyone said you had to have reservations far in advance. (In December you can just walk in and purchase a ticket, no lines at all.) Then we walked down the cliffside to the Spanish Steps, then caught a bus "home". A lovely crisp cold day in Rome, the last one together. The next morning Derek flew home and I spent a day alone. I wanted to see the Sant'Angelo tower and museum. Along the way I bit the bullet and bought a few specialty presents like black truffles at the outdoor Christmas fairs. It was a wonderful and relaxing last day for me. So here are some photos of Rome in December:

The Spanish Steps at night

Crowds in front of the Trevi Fountain.
Imagine the density there must be in summer!

Sea Horse and Merman in the Trevi Fountain

A street underpass:  instead of a long tunnel full
of graffiti, it houses a walk-through bookstore!! 

Buildings on the grounds of the
Borghese Gardens, love those shaped trees!

Seahorse fountain (the horses have fish tails!),
Borghese Gardens
Castle Sant'Angelo, with the 2000 year old Roman
bridge across the Tevere. The castle was originally
 the tomb of Emperor Hadrian and his descendants. 

St. Peter's Dome viewed through a portal
in the defensive wall of Castle Sant'Angelo

The Archangel Gabriel, sheathing his sword at the top of
Castle Sant'Angelo. The legend says that Rome was besieged
by a plague, but then the Pope saw a vision of Gabriel
above Hadrian's tomb putting his sword away,
which meant the plague was over. And it was.

View to the north from the Castle on a clear day.

Another view of Rome and surrounding mountains. 

Edge of the castle and the outside defensive walls.
 The rough bottom section is the
old Roman tomb of Emperor Hadrian, once covered
in white marble. The brick top and walls
were added over many years to
create a safe place for the popes when the
Vatican was under attack. The pope's apartment
inside is as beautiful as the rest of the Vatican. 

Small section of one of many carved marble pieces that covered
Hadrian's tomb. It was a round edifice right on the edge of the river,
on one of the main roads leading to Rome. The family's ashes
 were kept in gold vessels, now long taken by grave robbers. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Postcards from Venice

Photos from Venice, right before the Christmas holidays. Street fairs, chilly gondola rides (and gondoliers!), museums, canal scenes, and local people going about their lives:

View of the city from the Campanile,
the bell tower in Piazza San Marco 

Local weekend flea market, with
additional handmade items for Christmas. 

Under the Rialto bridge, which has
shops lining both sides as it arches
over the Grand Canal. One of the most
photographed structures in Venice.

Beautiful buildings facing the water.

One of the Grimani patriarchs, no label in the Palace to
say which one. The family had 3 Doges of Venice,
and a Cardinal. Judging from other paintings,
this is probably Marino Grimani, around 1596

Inside the Grimani Palace looking up into the dome.

View out a window to the
neighboring apartments
Sunny day reflections in a canal.

Beautiful carved black gondola.

Two gondoliers chatting with others across the water.
This boat is for locals, it's the type you stand up in
while crossing the canal, nothing romantic here!!

A copy of the famous Laocoon sculpture,
in the Grimani Palace. The original,
with missing arms, is in the Vatican.

Post note: If you go to Venice and want to visit the Grimani Palace, be aware that there are two of them. The real one, where the Grimani Family ruled Venice for generations, faces the Grand Canal and houses some government offices. The Palazzo Grimani Museum, which may not have even belonged to the Grimani family, is across town on Costello street.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Venice Water Buses

Glass objects reflected in a glass case in the glass
capital of Murano, Italy.
After spending three or four days wearing the nubs off our boot soles, we decided to spring for a 12 hour pass for the Venice bus system: boats  that run up and down the Grand Canal, around the outside of the island and over to other islands like Cemiterio, Lido, and Murano, famous for its glass work.

Even with the 12 hour pass we were routinely kicked off the bus at the end of each run, had to get off, re-run the card on the reader and re-board to continue. I'm sure tourists take advantage of the distances the buses run and go all over for the price of one trip ticket if they can get away with it. We rode all day without our pass ever being checked but on the last trip which was at night, two women in uniforms, with meters, boarded our bus to verify the passes were legitimate. Had they expired, we would have had to pay a 56 Euro fine. The ticket for 12 hours is only 19 Euros.

The past week has been cold, but Saturday it actually snowed a little and boats in Murano had snow on their canvas tops. We weren't quite prepared to be this cold. Fortunately most shops have some heat and certainly museums and restaurants do. We noticed a lot of places in Murano were just shut up, closed for the winter. Not so in Venice, but I wouldn't be surprised if many close after Christmas for a few months until it warms up and the new crop of tourists arrive.

A public sculpture in Murano
The workshops in Murano usually give tours of the factories and demonstrations of their amazing glass construction techniques, but not this Saturday, it was some Saint's day, the factories were closed. So we were reduced to wandering Murano's narrow streets and canals, popping into a shop here and there. The offerings ranged from jewelry and touristy trinkets, to useful dinnerware and interesting sculptures. Outside along the walkways were several impressive public displays of glass that reminded me of the American artist Dale Chihuly. The Museo Vetrario was under renovation so it was closed too! While autumn and winter are good travel times to avoid crowds and insane prices, there are drawbacks.

We rode up and down the Grand Canal of Venice on the bus-boats just to see the palaces, government buildings, and gorgeous hotels that are all but invisible from the street side where their facades fade into a cacophony of shops. Many buildings are in worse shape than I expected. Blackened fungal growth covers the stone blocks, weathered wooden doors are rotted at the bottom, wrought iron gates are disintegrating where they've rusted, buildings are covered in graffiti, and some windows were never replaced but boarded up to keep out invaders. However, some have been restored to, and even surpass, their original splendor. White marble exteriors glisten in the sunlight. At night, Christmas decorations of Murano sculptures hanging from high ceilings light up the golden interiors, creating a sumptuous repast of visual gluttony. We gorged ourselves on that feast, passed the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and got off at the next stop to see a church and then her art collection. What a contrast that was! Modern art and artists: Calder, Picasso, Max Ernst, Klee, Pollack, Agnes Martin, Kandinsky, Chagall, Dali, Miro, Giacometti, and others; some of the pieces touching and brilliant, much of it not understandable.  Then we rode the water-bus back up the Grand Canal in the darkness to see the palaces again, now dressed in their evening clothes.

Gondola under the Rialto Bridge on a cold windy day.

The Leonardo da Vinci Museum with many
working models from his great mind

The Archimedes Screw, a device that captures
water and raises it to a higher level.
And it works!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rockin the Gondola

Entrance to a building from the canal.
Derek found a great little apartment in Venice and we arrived Wednesday afternoon on the train. We got on board a water bus that took us down the Grand Canal out to the open bay and around to the eastern edge of Venice to Fondamenta Nuove. There, the landlord Andrea (he's a guy!) met us and led us down a rabbit warren of narrowing streets to the apartment. It a great place, with a decently outfitted kitchen, newly remodeled and with plenty of space. Andrea speaks English with many pauses to think of the right word and understands more or less at the same speed. I throw in a few Spanish words if I think they might help the communication, so we've gotten along just fine so far.

We headed out into the tightly packed city to eat lunch and wander around to see the things before it got dark, which happens around 5:00! And promptly got lost. That was fine as long as the sun was still shining. Maps can still be read, but after a while it got a little iffy. Eventually we made it to the edge of the water and found the place the water bus let us off, then it was just a matter of trying to remember how we'd gotten from there to the apartment.

In these deep city "canyons", some barely the width of two adults and not laid out on anything resembling a grid, it's very easy to get lost. The big streets are the waterways, the solid streets are just sidewalks. We ate lunch at a little outdoor cafe and had an Italian version of a burrito, they call it rolled pizza. We watched a couple get into a small motor boat with their little boy and his scooter, and "drive" away. I think wheeled traffic must be banned within the narrow walkways.  Children and parents congregate in a large piazza every afternoon and the kids zoom around on their scooters.  I've not seen a bicycle, a Segway, or even anybody on roller skates. Of course every time you have to cross the water, there's a bunch of steps up to a bridge and then many steps down. It would be difficult on roller blades, impossible for anyone in a wheel chair, and painful for those with bad knees.

On Thursday, the sun was out but the air was cold. We slithered through the maze over to San Marco, a huge open piazza surrounded by stores and government buildings, anchored on one side by a Basilica and a former palace museum. The church is decorated inside and out with mosaic paintings made from glass tiles the size of a match head in some cases, the larger ones not much bigger than a finger nail. Millions of them, many covered in gold leaf, form paintings of the events of Jesus' life, starting on the east ,where the sun rises, and ending in the west where the Son of God never sets. Upstairs is a display of the bronze horses, identical to the ones outside on top of the church, and many displays of how the mosaics were supported and restored back in the 1930s when the building was dismantled around them and rebuilt over them. I'm not sure why they did it that way, unless the building was crumbling, it was a tremendous undertaking.

There is a bell tower in San Marco square, the Campanile, with an elevator that takes you to the top. From that high point you can see in every direction, south to Lido, north to the mainland and down into the many piazzas and open patios around the city. I think Venice is the most densely packed city I've ever been in, with the exception of a few in India where the streets are too narrow for cars and they too have become walking-tourist attractions.

View from the Campanile

Since the Christmas season is upon us, the stores are decorated with reds and golds. This is by far the most expensive city I've been to in Europe. "Buses", those boats that travel the canals are 7 Euros per ride, even if you only go from one stop to the next one. A day ticket is 19 Euros, allowing you to ride for 12 hours, or you can buy one for 24 hours. However, the prices are not the same for the locals who carry an ID with them, using it to get the "real" price for goods and services.

Prices are Euros per kilo, which is about 2.2 pounds,
actually a lot of fish for the price!
The landlord Andrea has bent over backwards to accommodate and take care of us. He stocked the kitchen with food for a breakfast or two, though that was not in the online deal. He lent us movies to watch and invited us to go with him Friday to purchase fish at the huge outdoor market. It was pretty early so Derek slept in,  and I went. We walked across our section of the island to a gondola crossing. Venice is exactly like one would expect from the movies and photos we've all seen. The goldoliers dress in striped shirts, wear a straw hat with a ribbon, and slowly row romantic couples around in the black beautifully carved gondolas with red heart shaped cushions. (Now that it's winter they have thick jackets with striped sleeves, wool scarves, and ear muffs under the summery straw hat!) Those are the expensive gondolas. The run of the mill gondola, used for daily transport is plain, and has a flat plywood floor. I didn't know what to expect when Andrea told me we would be riding a Gondola, and that it was cheap. He showed his ID and gave the boatman 50 cents for my passage. The riders stand up in this 'regular' gondola, while it gently rocks back and forth with the movement of the giant oar in the back. It was scary! Andrea told me I could sit, but there was no place to sit, I would have had to crouch down. Everyone else (all ten passengers) were standing so I stood too, though there was nothing to hang onto. The ride lasted less than a minute. All boat traffic came to a halt as we slid from one side of the canal to the other, but the waves created by all that traffic still rocked the boat. Andrea said during Carnival (late March or early April), when the traffic was greater, one of the gondolas did turn over, dumping everyone into the cold water. Of course he told me this as we were rocking across!!

Our Gondolier, no straw hat for this guy!

The market is a huge outdoor affair, under permanent cover. The stalls were full of every edible thing from the Mediterranean. Whole flounders, crabs, lobster claws (I assume the rest is sold to the fancy restaurants!), tentacles and heads of octopi, shrimp in dozens of sizes and shapes, bright red fish and pale mottled ones. Andrea went to all of the stalls looking for the best price, then settled on one and purchased 1.5 kilos of large shrimp, some of whom were still moving. Next door is the same setup of cover but for the fruit and vegetable market. I thought by now I'd seen every kind of produce in the world, but I was wrong.

In the buildings that flank the outdoor stalls there are meat markets and bakeries. In this one small area, you could purchase absolutely everything you would need to produce a meal, or ten. Everything is fresh and boated over from the mainland. It's not cheap, but it is less expensive than in the grocery stores. We actually had a bit of difficulty finding a grocery store the first night. Part of the reason is that the entrance to any store is just a door on the front of the building. Only jewelry and clothing stores have window displays. The very nice grocery we found occupies a large space but the majority of the space is at the back of the building, it's huge compared to what you expect walking into the small storefront. The other reason is that there are very few full scale grocery stores. After seeing these fresh markets, I could see why.

A cabbage-like vegetable called Treviso

Fish monger
Interesting fish for sale.

Little piggy sausages!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bits and Bills of Florence

The rape of a wood nymph atop
a fountain in the Liberty Plaza.
I wondered if there might be a
philosophical connection....  
Wrapping up five very full days in Florence means a lot of small stories have not yet been told. The place we rented was up in the north eastern part of town where there are no tourists and few locals who speak English. The guy at the tapas bar (not really called that, but that's what they serve - appetizers and wine....) asked us "What are you doing here? How come you're not in the center with the rest of the tourists?"

Across the street from the apartment, a small bar/restaurant is owned by a charming young woman. Irene bought the tiny restaurant over a year ago, but she had to wait till she was 21 for the license because she is her only employee! She's at the restaurant six days a week from 7:00am till 8:00pm and other than sounding a bit hoarse in the evenings, seems to be inexhaustible. She speaks rudimentary English, tutored by a blue-eyed Rastafarian Reggae musician from Portland, Jamaica, named George. His stage name is Yellow Culture. George is in Europe for two months playing at bars and clubs under a music visa.  Irene gives George lessons in Italian, he teaches her new English words, and how NOT to say them with a Jamaican accent.

Figuring out the buses has been a challenge, and not just for us clueless tourists. Streets are torn up all over the neighborhood. The signs for the regular stops have orange bags taped over with a tiny sign that says the bus has been re-routed. That's it. It doesn't tell you where to go or even what street the bus has been re-routed to. Consequently, we have hunted all over for the bus to no avail and more than once walked all the way to the center of town, a distance of at least 2 miles. One morning, around 8:00, the whole apartment filled with a horrible odor. Gagging I went outside for some fresh air and next to the front door was an open sewer pipe in the bottom of a trench. We couldn't find a bus fast enough that day!!

A delicacy: sugared roses. They taste like
eating your Grandmother's perfume! And
they cost $60 Euros per kilo!
It takes $1.30 to purchase one Euro, so an easy conversion for me is to just add $3 for every 10 Euros to get an idea of how much real money something costs. The large museum tickets cost 10 and 15 Euros, some smaller ones are as low as 6. A typical meal in a sit-down restaurant starts at 12 Euros. Many have a service bar, where you can stand and drink a cup of coffee with a pastry. If you sit down at a table the price doubles. Tips are not expected since the waiters are paid a living wage. And taxes are built into the price so the posted price is all you pay. I actually prefer this to the American system as a consumer, but it is a way of hiding from the taxpayer how much the taxes really are!!

Buildings lit up for Christmas shoppers,
and there are many of them!
My traveling companion, Derek, is an economist interested in the state of the world. In Italy he expected to see evidence of terrible unemployment, falling prices, and a collapsing economy based on what he'd read. Instead we've walked around the center of town through piazzas packed with people doing their Christmas shopping at high-end stores like Gucci, Prada, and Este Lauder. The number of tourists right now is low, so most of the people are locals. The restaurants, while not packed, have been reasonably full. He waved his arm over the crowd and said, "Remember what this looks like. This is how it looks before the fall."  I commented that the US looks like this too. "Exactly" he said.

Down a narrowing set of streets in between several churches, we came to a "y". One street was named Inferno, the other Purgatorio. Purgatorio ended at a T-intersection, you could go either way. Inferno was a dead end.

At the train station, a guy wanted to "help" us and punched the buttons on the automated kiosk, zipping through so fast that we ended up buying two tickets for about 32 Euros more than we thought. Then he expected a few coins for his trouble. Turns out he'd punched in the "base" price, which is essentially insurance that allows you to miss the train and reschedule, or reschedule to an entirely different destination. If you don't buy it and you miss the train, you have to purchase new tickets. Derek figured it out the next day by chatting with an actual train company employee. So from now on, we won't be accepting anyone's "help". So many of these kinds of hidden charges happen to us, because we don't know any better. Just this evening we were charged an extra 3 Euros on a restaurant bill. It was for the cloth napkins! Who knew? I'm a little surprised they didn't charge extra for the plate, I left actual germs on that!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Other Florentine Art

 Not all the art in Florence originated during the Renaissance. There are a couple of modern art museums and the Pitti Palace has an exhibit of "modern" art, that of the late 19th century!

Scattered around here and there are examples of unfettered creativity, and more than a little skill. These photos came from a long pedestrian tube running under the railroad tracks. It's not your usual graffiti, nor was it entirely done with spray paint.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Art of Renting

An accidental bus trip (the bus went right, not left
at the corner) put us in the town of Fiesole, an old Roman
rival of Florence with an amphitheater still is use. 
Derek and I were discussing how amazingly lucky we are to be able to travel, have enough money though neither of us are rich, and see the world as it is right now, at the pinnacle of human achievement in technology if not in art. 500 years ago the Renaissance flourished here in Florence and vestiges of it are everywhere. We have spent long hours in museums until we almost dread seeing yet another painting of Jesus on the cross, Mary holding Jesus after he's was crucified, or cuddling him as a baby in front of adoring crowds (that surely knew nothing of his birth or potential at the time)....etc. Yet, we keep going because so often there will be something amazing and unexpected, and even those many religious artworks can still amaze in their artistry and by comparison. After seeing the Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, no other pieta by any other artist stands favorably in comparison, it was such perfection. I find myself almost willing to agree with the person who stated, "Why even bother to look at another piece of sculpture after seeing The David by Michelangelo, the most exquisite work of art has now been seen." Yet, at every turn there is some unknown (to us) artist who has created something worth remembering and thinking about, even if it's only a gnarly looking expression on a gargoyle's face.

Florence has a "museum" to da Vinci as well, with many of his inventions built and some actually work. Drawings and art, albeit most of it is reproduced, it's still an impressive collection. Plus the ticket includes lunch: pizza and beer at the museum's restaurant!

So it dawned on me that without engaging in the art of renting, all this travel would not be possible. I am clearly a novice, I don't know every website that features apartments for rent, nor am I all that comfortable renting a room in someone's home and sharing the bathroom with them. Some rental artists get housing for free using sites like CouchSurfing and HomeExchange. Others get deep discounts with the promise of travel articles and other advertising support.

I doubt seriously if I ever get the very best possible deal on airfare. Not purchasing a train ticket online last week meant we paid almost twice as much in person at the train station, much to my horror. Yet, anywhere, at almost anytime, I can rent a place to sleep, or a seat inside a silver tube capable of hurtling through the skies at 30,000 feet and fully expect to land safely. Included in that pittance of a ticket price is plenty of money for maintenance of the aircraft and training for the crew that flies it. Once in a while an edible meal is included!

I can rent a car, a moped, or a Segway if I chose, rather than spend thousands of dollars to buy one and insure it. When I buy a bus pass for $1.50. I get to ride for many miles, in a large vehicle easily seen by people in other vehicles and therefore not as likely to get into an accident! Plus a professional driver is included in the fare. I can rent an apartment for one night, a week, or a month. I can even negotiate lower rent for longer terms.

And all this has come about because of the advances in technology, the product of the collective human  mind: individual human minds building on the minds that came before them and collaborating with the minds around therm. It is possible because of an unspoken agreement amongst humans all over the world that certain things have value, like gold, and therefore money is transferable and usable everywhere. Should some lose faith in those agreements, in those assumptions, it could fall faster than a lead ball. But meanwhile I get to traipse all over the world where I can obtain the local country's currency out of machines, use a credit card to pay larger hotel and airline bills, and find great deals thanks to the technology of computers, printers, and the Internet.

I'm slowly learning the art of renting what I need, when I need it. I'm learning to discern a good deal from a mediocre one. It's taken a while to learn to read maps in such a way that I don't end up living out in the boonies when I would rather be in the middle of a city. Even a complex city bus map is decipherable, where it was not even readable when I first started out. I'm discovering how to think ahead so I don't end up taking an expensive cab to the airport because the plane leaves so bloody early in the morning; how to end up where I want to be at a decent hour, so I don't have to fight jet lag, confusion, and darkness all at the same time. Like any art form, experience counts for much of one's skill. The rest of it depends on thinking and taking risks. When you don't know where you're going, really, it feels a lot like jumping off a cliff in the darkness. The artful renter takes the leap with confidence, lands in a nice bed in a great place, and is ready to see some sites in the morning.

Maybe I need a mentor.

Long vistas seen from Fiesole.

Florence spread out below Fiesole

To-die-for views and an olive orchard
on the hillside of these two old villas.