Last Day (and Last Supper)

You would think that I had enough self-respect not to make a reference to the Last Supper.  But I don’t.

Before I start on today’s adventures, I must mention that during the visit to the Jewish Ghetto, we stopped at the Piazza del 13th (?) del Ottobre. (Sorry, IFOB, that I butchered the name of the plaza.)  It is the place where the Nazis rounded up the Jews and took them to Auschwitz on October 13th (?), 1943.  We were standing in the piazza and, as if on cue, a police car passes nearby, blaring Anne Frank noise (eeeeee-awwwwwww eeeeee-awwwwwww).  It is the sound that makes every Jew shutter.  The ambulances have a different noise, I noticed (eeeee-eeeee  eeeee-eeeee).  Now I have completed the tale of devastation and triumph of world Jewry.  Phew.

Today, our only aim was to shop.  Shop for things that are made here in Rome and not in Milan or elsewhere.  And of course look in the churches and walk in the piazzas along the way.  That is one thing about Rome, a church on every corner and lovely piazzas.  There is even an Episcopal Church that had Irish dancers and a bagpipe outside, trying to get worshippers to come inside.  Now that is a tough sell in the seat of Roman Catholicism.

So not a lot of things made in Rome.  We had to search out artsy areas, a hard thing for foreigners because it is so easy to get lost in Rome.  And, I get bored of shopping in less than an hour.  POB (partner of blogger) wanted to shop and so TLP (our son, the little prince) and I had to schlep along.  Mind-numbing and exhausting.  Some things but nothing really.  Milan would be the city for shopping.

So, nothing really absurd or crazy happened today.  We found some groovy areas that we would love to visit next time.

TLP had a great time in spite of his pre-trip whinings.  POB relaxed by mid-week despite her stress about traveling.  I got stressed as the week went on, because I was almost totally out of touch with everything in the US.  I did check in with the office daily and my secretary and colleague texted me as necessary.  I heard snippets of news — Dow tumbled on oil supply fears and not because of a massacre in Tripoli, Berlusconi’s Bill Clinton problems, Obama’s not defending DOMA anymore.  Other than the massacre, I really don’t care.  Monday I will care.

I think this means I actually had a vacation.  A real vacation.  But wait, the journey home is tomorrow.  So, I shouldn’t jinx it.

Roma, Thursday

Today we wandered a bit en route to the Jewish Ghetto.  We walked on meandering streets to the Tiber River and found our way to the Ghetto. We walked up to Capitoline Hill. We were a little lost until TLP (our son, the little prince) said, “this is Capitoline Hill.  I recognize it from our tour the other day and the map.”  POB (partner of blogger) and I looked at each other and sighed.  I guess we don’t have to worry about our child’s intellectual development.

IFOB (Italian friend of blogger) calls it the Jewish Quarter.  Euphemistic.  If an area was walled off with only day passes to the City, it was a ghetto.  A ghetto is a ghetto.  It was long ago and now the Jews of Rome thrive, with 15 synagogues.  We saw the two old synagogues and plaques from Roman times. But being Jews, we have to pick at the scabs of the past.  We have to wallow in the persecution.  All in, it took about 4 hours to recite the indignities since the 2nd century.  That was exhausting.

We had a kosher lunch.  That just means it is even more expensive than Rome generally and everything is overcooked.  IFOB gave us a suggestion for an eatery, but after the recitation of our people’s trials and tribulations we barely crawled to the first place we saw.  There was a sink and the blessing and men in yarmulkes.  All in Italian.  Very cool. A man came over to us and complimented us on how well behaved TLP was.  We were beaming, as in beatification beaming.  TLP got extra gelato.

We saw the four lesbians from the Jewish museum at the restaurant.  They were hard to miss in either place.  The particularly masculine one was flirting with a beautiful woman who worked at the museum.  The woman was clearly flirting back.  I was intrigued but my job as a Jew was to relive the painful past, so I didn’t have time for interesting side stories.  (IFOB: I am being my usual over-the-top self, so don’t be alarmed.  We really don’t going into excruciating details about the past.  We usually conflate a few centuries to save time.)

Then, we walked through various piazzas and along side streets where open doors showed courtyards and beautiful buildings.  Truly magical, as long as no one runs you over.

We took a bus to the Sistine Chapel and TLP survived, barely.  He is not a Raphaelite or a fan of Michelangelo or Titian.  I told him that I am not either, but one has to appreciate the art and the extraordinary talent and skill that is evident.  We took the subway back.  TLP was in transportation Heaven.

We napped and went shopping.  Then off to dinner, in a quiet restaurant. That is, until the LARGE, LARGE group of American adults and children came in.  Three huge tables.  And one of the adults thought it was appropriate in a public place to give a LOUD, VERY LOUD toast to the group’s leaders.  All the English speaking people in the restaurant looked on, stunned and gobsmacked.  The Italians also were talking, and I am sure not in the most glowing terms about the Americans.  One group of kids was being loud and I turned around and said, “Really? Really?  You think this is appropriate?”  They were silent.  Phew.  It could have backfired.

There was one family from the UK also in the restaurant.  They looked similarly distressed at the large (did I mention, LARGE), loud group. As we passed their table on the way out, I looked at the mother and said simply, “Oy.”  She held up her hand and we high-five’d.  Now, THAT’S international communication.

Another great day in Rome.

Roma, the next day

My Italian friend (IFOB) reads my blog and thought I was being harsh on Italians in my prior blog entry.  Actually I was being harsh on Americans of Italian descent and self-satisfied religious people.  But I didn’t intend to be offensive to IFOB or others.

Today, Villa Borghese.  It is like Central Park, grander because it was formerly an estate of the Borghese family.  We couldn’t get tickets to the museum so we went with our son to the Zoo. We spent hours at the zoo and in the park.  Our son can identify animals to an excruciating detail, so when we go to the zoo, he says things like, “oh, look, an Egyptian diamond eyed swan!” or “see, a blue footed booby!”.  There is a kind of bird called a “tit”.  So, when he started saying, look at the beautiful [insert ornithological name] tit!” I had to muzzle him.  He didn’t quite get why I sternly told him not to yell names of birds, since most are not necessarily offensive sounding to a female passerby who might think he is remarking about her cleavage.  But I didn’t necessarily want to introduce a crass slang for breast if he didn’t already know it.  Ah, the joys of parenthood.

Walking in Rome is not quite the death challenge of being on the floor of the Colosseum in the old days, when at least one death was assured, but it is harrowing even to a New Yorker.  Even if you think you are walking on a pedestrian path, a Smart car will try to mow you down.  Mopeds and motorcycles are everywhere and will try to park on your feet if you are standing at a curb, waiting to cross.  People, cars, mopeds all use the same thoroughfares in a perpetual dance that is fluid and dangerous.  Traffic lights and rules are merely suggestions.

So, I was relieved to go to Ancient Rome sites via bus.  Let someone else do the drive and just sit in your seat oblivious to the potential mayhem in the streets.  We went to the Colosseum and the Fora.  Even our son said, “this is spectacular!”  It was hard to explain to him that people and animals were killed for sport, since that is a scary concept.  He was happy that it was long ago and not done today.  Sometimes we as parents over-think the issues and kids figure out their way to get comfortable with the facts on the ground.

The tour was arranged by 206 Tours.  It was awesome.

After so many hours walking and walking, we all collapsed. The hotel was in the middle of everything and truly old world Rome with updated amenities.  Great choice for people who don’t want to lounge about and really want an active visits.  Also arranged by 206 Tours.

Partner of blogger (POB) rallied us for dinner out.  Actually, she dragged us kicking and screaming because we were sooooo happy just lying around. Sometimes, vacation should not involve self-propulsion.  A little entropy should be allowed.

Our son’s gelato cravings is reaching heroin proportions.  Rehab once we get back to NYC.  For now, we are on a gelato spree.

Roma, Day 1

Day 1 in Rome and we woke up earlier than I ever get up usually.

We had a 8am guided tour of the religious sites.  We decided that we really needed someone to schlep us around Vatican City because, other than going to the Sistine Chapel, we weren’t so wild about the Holy See.

I am so glad we did.  The Basilica was spectacular.  Ok, the sarcophagi were a little eerie and the slightly decomposed body of Pope John the twenty-something lying in state was not a highlight.  The mosaics that look like paintings were unbelievably beautiful and we were in awe of the art and craftsmanship.  And it was fun to have a tour guide holding up a red umbrella because it was sooooo kitsch.  The Vatican gift shop is a trip — the Popes, Jesus and Mary in every pose, on every precious metal and for every occasion.  I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and art of the Holy See that I had to hold myself back from buying a cross (of course, one without a Jesus).  And I am Jewish, as in Jewish-from-New-York Jewish, as in two-generations-from-the-boat-to-Ellis-Island Jewish.  Luckily, I quickly re-morphed into Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were.

This tour was great and arranged through the travel agency, 206 Tours.

We had lunch and then a little nap.  (When in Rome . . . .)

Then we walked around and found the Spanish Steps and walked more and found the obelisks which were plundered when Rome was the seat of an empire.

The mix of people in Rome rivals that of New York.  Asian and Mediterranean people speaking Italian.  Of course, it shouldn’t be a shock.  Still, in a place where there are more churches than anything else, it is wild.  We saw a Muslim mother and daughter on the street, speaking Italian.  The mother wore a head scarf and jeans.  The daughter wore a mini-skirt with spandex leggings.  The big take-away from this for me was that older women wear sensible shoes in Rome and younger women wear high heels on cobblestone streets.  (Wait, was there another message in this?)

Rome is a beautiful, ancient and yet modern city.  You can’t walk two blocks without being astonished and awed by the beautiful antiquity that lives side-by-side with bustling modernity.

Tomorrow, Villa Borghese and Colosseum/Forum.  By Wednesday, I am going to need to see the Jewish Ghetto because I know that there will be no crucifixion scenes, no murals depicting the tragic deaths of martyrs and saints and no arenas where people fought to the death for amusement.  I love the history and walking where ancients walked.  However, we are on vacation and there is a limit to the suffering I can handle, whether ancient or modern.  I know it isn’t politic, but it is the truth.

And of course our son had gelato.  And so the day was a success.

Are we there yet?

Since we are going to Rome, the city where the Holy See is resident, I figured there would be pilgrims because a former Pope is being beatified next month.  I didn’t realize that the choir of the Bridgeport Diocese would be going – 23 people strong.  All are glowing in the reflective glory of the Lord.  “Padre” said “Amen, Brother” twice and we haven’t taken off yet.

We had to wait until the entire group arrived which held up our departure time.  So now we are over an hour delayed.  And they seem oblivious to that, or unconcerned about the inconvenience.

They are quite a boisterous group.  You can tell them by their matching crosses.  Big, scary, pilgrim crosses.  Padre likes to talk loud and be the center of attention, so much so that he was quite un-Padre-like when another passenger asked if they all would stop talking loudly across the aisles.  They all felt put upon and gave each other annoyed glances.  Padre said to the passenger, “we are on vacation,” to which she responded, “so are we.  And we have all paid a lot to be on this plane.”  I backed her up even though I had an altercation with her earlier.

This group thinks that we all want to watch their interactions and think that their various pithy commentaries are bon mots for all to appreciate.

POB (partner of blogger) is sitting stunned and gobsmacked by the ill manners.  Perhaps she is still shell-shocked by the profound underarm hair of the women trip leader.  The length suggests a lifetime achievement.

There is an obviously gay man in this choir (trust me on this).  They were talking about church classes and he said he has taken 5 courses on blasphemy.  In the law business, we call that forum shopping,  Is he looking for a (gay) friendly judge who will issue a different ruling on those pesky verses of Leviticus?

Ok, so the passenger who was flipped out by all the hoopla and Christian comraderie, is a first-time flyer.  She brought her pillow from home, black-out eye patches, 2 meals from Burger King, fluffy slippers and earplugs.  Still, she was unsettled by the din.  That’s air travel these days.  The turbulence was hell-ish (50 mph winds), but that didn’t bother her.  The 2+ hour delay and the jocularity in Christ (they were comparing prayers for wind – I think they should have specified unscary, non-wrath-of-G-d type wind).  She whipped out her smartphone while we were waiting on the tarmac, and I said, “you give up the higher moral ground if you don’t obey the rules.” “I know, but I need to tell my family I will be two hours late to arrive at a family event.”  “I am sure they’ll check the planes,’ I said, trying to be helpful.  “You don’t know my family.”  I looked at her, and thought, that is true but based on the hair, the outfit, and the accent, I bet I could get a sense if I watched Snooki et al on The Jersey  Shore.

Our son was a trooper on a terrible flight in terrible weather with terrible people.  So, was POB who caught his projectile vomiting in her hands and I was a rocker for cleaning everyone up.

We got into a cab and the driver had two phones and was reading from a clipboard as he was driving on the autostrada.  When in Rome . . . put on your seatbelt.  We tipped him extra for not killing us.

Now we are so exhausted that our son doesn’t even want to stay awake for gelato.  We arrive at the hotel and collapse in our beds.

I can’t even read this over to see if it makes sense.  We are going to bed.  Today, purgatory.  Tomorrow, glorious Roma.

But we are, finally, here.


I hopped a cab tonight because I really, really, couldn’t deal with the humanity that crowds the subway.  Well, actually, it was late enough that the trains wouldn’t be crowded, but still.  There was a chill in the air (frigid, perhaps) and I needed to get home.  A long-ish day.  Not like the “old days” but then again I am not in my 20s or 30s any more (barely still in my 40s).

The cab driver was talking on the phone.  His driving skills were basic:  if your foot is not on the gas (accelerating in a way that gave a born-and-bred Manhattanite motion sickness), then your foot must be on the brake.

Ok, so I needed him off the phone and off the gas pedal.  Hmmm.  I struck up a conversation.

“Where are you from?”


“What do you think of the elections?”

“I don’t think it will change much.  There will be fighting.”

“Are you from the north or the South?”

“North.  Independence won’t change anything.  People will fight each other now in the South.  Many different peoples.”

“Same problem in the North?”

“Government there is strong.  So, no fighting in north.”

I offered “brutal” as a more apt description.

He said, “way of life there, not here.”

I had no response to that simple statement of relief and admiration for this country.  I asked him what he thought about Egypt.

“Now the world knows what has been happening there.”

I was silent.  Maybe I should have known before.  I just didn’t think about it.

He offered up, “no one speaks to police.  too much bribes and danger.  not here, government is less corrupt.”

I had never thought of our government in terms of lesser corruption.  Not the superlatives we were raised to expect of our government.  But he meant it as a true compliment.

My world view, turned on an incline — “less corrupt” as a compliment and an ideal.

Another lesson in life from a stranger.

We interrupt your usual programming

Egypt is still in chaos, Cambodia and Thailand are having border skirmishes, Southern Sudan is preparing for independence, and there are protests in Jordan, Lebanon.  Just to name a few things going on in the world.   Oh, yeah, and some asteroid will blow us up in 25 years.

But, we haven’t been able to talk about these things since Sunday.  Pre-game Superbowl coverage, the GAME and post-game jubilation and lamentation.  We’ll catch up with the world, let’s say, around Saturday, February 12.

So, please, rest of the world, forgive us.  We love you.  Really, we do.  But we love Super Bowl Sunday, chicken wings, salsa & chips, beer and barely-clad cheerleaders way better.

No, it is true that we love you.  We let our news coverage of the crisis in Egypt last one full week.  SEE?  The anchor men and women didn’t go back to being stupid until this morning.  And they say we Americans have attention spans of gnats.

Politics, Politics

Ok, the rant is building, building, building . . . here it comes!!

I liked the State of the Union address.  The President could have touted that he saved the car industry, that he kept the country from economic free-fall, that the US and Israel disrupted Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but he didn’t.  I think he should have because America needs to remember all that he has accomplished.   But that is because I am partisan.  I think he struck the right tone as willing to make principled compromises. Besides, he had one hour to say all things to all people.  Hey, now that’s a reasonable expectation.

The sign that he did a good job was that he was being pilloried by MSNBC, CNN and, even without watching it, FOX.

Oh, and, apropos of nothing, Speaker Boehner has a bad body colorist.

In the GOP retort, Paul Ryan said investment is a code-word for spending.  It is not.  There is no code. Investment is spending.  When I invest in real estate, stocks, etc., I am spending money, with an eye toward making a good return on my investment.

So, the three things that distinguish the GOP and the Democrats is who should do the spending, on what and how much.

I believe in spending on education and innovation.   I believe that these will provide a good return on the money invested.  The GOP believes that investment should be made by private enterprise.  How private enterprise would have developed the Internet and GPS or will develop high speed railways and clean energy without government grants is beyond me.  And should we abolish public education?  No, but the GOP wants to starve it so that the little money spent on it would be a waste.

We pay the least amount of taxes of the industrialized nations.  Before WWII, tax rates had some people paying 80%.  So everyone, chill out on taxes.  Remember the GOP spent willy-nilly (not a usual phrase for me) on two wars and kept it outside the budget so that the American people wouldn’t know.  So, now, NOW, we have to worry about taxing the top 2%?  Did you ask me?  If you did, I would tell you to keep my tax cut and buy some muzzles for the Tea Party legislators.  Now, that is a good investment.  Do you think it is really tea?  It is a dry weed-like substance.  We should try rolling that “tea” and seeing if smoking it give us delusions of intelligent impact on the national discourse, too.

Paul Ryan seems like a lovely guy but I was distracted by his perfect hair and a little freaked out by his Biblical references. And why is your part half way between the middle and one side?  Isn’t that radical?

Rep. Ryan said something like our regulations were fine, it was just the corporate and governmental evil-doers that stole our prosperity.  But, wait, that happened BEFORE President Obama was president.  Remember, that Decider guy?  Yeah, that one.  He was running the show.  And, wait for it . . . he is a Republican!!!  Omigod, how embarrassing, Paul.  Still, with that gaffe extraordinaire, your hair did not move.

And, will you stop about small government?  There are 300 million of us.  We need hordes just to pave roads and administer social security and Medicare, run the military and veterans benefits.  You don’t mean to scrimp on these things, do you Paul?  You even referred to the days of Lincoln as an example of small government.  Those crazy, high energy, innovative days when were no fair labor laws, children worked 14-hour days, no food or product safety laws and, oh, yes, no truth in advertising or disclosure by companies.  So we could die in the factory, die from rotten food or poisonous products or lose our life savings to corporate con men.  And, as a student of history, you know that our nation went through boom and bust cycles every decade because of the inability to regulate the unbridled greed of speculators and market makers.

Oh, yes, sign me up, Paul, for your vision of America.  Or I guess I could just go to a third world nation for the same experience.

President, pundits and Palin

I watched the President’s speech last night.  He spoke as our nation’s leader, as a parent, as a person and as a professor.   He clearly choked up when talking about the young girl who was killed.  In that moment, he was a father who couldn’t imagine losing one of his daughters.  

It is something that is remarkable about this President.  He has young children and he often talks about the world he wants to pass down to them and their generation.  They are our future.  Last night, as President and father, he asked us to live up to the ideals of that young girl who was killed.  Let’s move beyond the cynicism and the vitriol.  Let’s make our kids proud.  This wasn’t fake rhetoric or soaring oratory; this has been his message and his example since the campaign days.  

(And yes, he is professorial, so sometimes you have to struggle through the abstract and long-winded parts.) 

I noticed how naturally his and Mrs. Obama’s hands intertwined when he was seated.  Theirs seems a relaxed affection that belies his stoic and Mr. Spock-like reputation.  That comforted me although I am not yet sure why.

It was startling that it was a rolicking good time at the auditorium.  I think those tuning in expected something more somber.  But, having been in mourning more than once, I know it is the start of a personal journey and not something to be judged by outsiders.

Then I watched portions of Sarah Palin’s podcast.  I am not sure what I would do if people blamed me for the deaths of innocent people.  She is who she is: an agitator but not a leader.

The conservative, liberal and middle-of-the-road pundits were out-doing themselves last night.  They must get paid by the word and get bonus dollars for picking things apart in ways that become senseless.   And I think there is an even bigger bonus if you say something really inane and it gets repeated by another pundit on another show. 

All in all, I think we and our democracy are best served when we, as citizens, go to sources — reading the books and listening to the speeches and debates —  and making the decisions, rather than relying on talking heads to tell us what we ought to think.  They get paid to incite controversy.  If we just listened to each other, maybe the tone of the rhetoric would naturally tone down.

Tragedy on so many levels

In Tucson, many are dead and injured as a result of a deranged man with a deranged message.

Let’s put aside the left blaming the right and whether it is foreseeable that a lunatic would do this.  That conversation will get us nowhere and misses the point.

I think it is more worthwhile to wonder why politics is a bloodsport these days in a way that we haven’t seen since in perhaps a century.

Let’s think instead about how our politician are so invested in being right that they vilify the oppositional view and the integrity of its proponents.  In 2008, when Michele Bachmann said that then candidate Barack Obama and Michele Obama were “anti-American” because they hold views different from hers, that is a code that our country is being infiltrated by enemies.  Think about it, she said that the likely 44th President was the Manchurian Candidate of the movies.  And in the movies, a lone gunman (the good guy) kills the Manchurian Candidate.

Then Sarah Palin has a website that has a target on Rep. Giffords’ district (“in the cross-hairs”) for some reason or other.  Or the famous, Palinism: “don’t back down, just reload” or something like that.  Words have meaning, even if you try afterward to refudiate them.

This is war-speak.  And in war, enemies are killed, and our soldiers come home to heroes’ welcomes (ideally).  But war produces body-bags, brutality, starvation, desperation and carnage.

Is that the fevered pitch we want in our national discourse?  So, let us speak gently and with respect when we debate.  Even if we have to fake it.

Let’s set some ground rules:

  1. A socialist and tea-party member can love this country and protect the very institutions of government that make us strong.
  2. It isn’t about being right; it is about building a consensus and keeping this country great.
  3. Political defeat is hard to take but you can’t take your marbles and go home or start threatening people.
  4. The media does more to stoke the divisions than provide any useful information.
  5. If our nation tacks to the left or right, some people will not be pleased, but they must always remain the loyal opposition. (It is hard; I know. I had to endure the policies of George Bush and Dick Cheney and even some of President Obama’s policies I don’t like).
  6. Exemplifying and practicing the principles of this nation are essential for this country to move forward in one piece and in peace.