Notes From Italy, Vol. 6: Botticelli’s Niece

Vol. 6 in my Notes From Italy series.

So, yeah, we were in Florence, visited the Uffizi Gallery, a massive and profound feast of art, and we had the great pleasure to stand right in front of this masterpiece, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

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… and the very first thought that popped into my mind was:

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

–Bob Dylan, When I Paint My Masterpiece, 1971

It didn’t matter that Dylan speaks of Rome and this Venus is in Florence, and it didn’t matter — if it wasn’t creepy enough to think of the artist painting nudes of his brother’s or sister’s daughter– that art historians have firmly ruled out that the image of Venus is that of his niece.

Given that Birth of Venus is such an iconic piece, it seems a very good possibility that Dylan was referring to the painting and having a little fun.

So, you might ask, what thoughts did I have about Birth of Venus once the Dylan wore off?

Well, it had nothing to do with how beautiful the painting is, or the mythological story it tells, or what a wonderful composition, with the winds blowing Venus to shore and her handmaiden waiting and ready to clothe her.

No, instead, I thought of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Terry Gilliam’s brilliant animation:

I know, I’m so highbrow!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 7: How To Fake Speaking Italian

Notes From Italy, Vol. 5: Miscellaneous One Liners

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Me and the lovely Mrs. preparing to storm the castle.

Vol. 5 in my Notes From Italy series.

In this installment, something a little different.

As I mentioned in my introductory post for Notes From Italy, my journaling method on this trip consisted of writing down bits and pieces of observations in a running list, rather than in an organized narrative or free writing.

While some of the list items proved ripe for expanding upon, as in the first four volumes of Notes From Italy, others are fun to just read as they are, one (or so) liners, in simple list format.

So, here we go!

1. Not all ragus are created equal. Namely, this:

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… does NOT, in any way, shape, or form, equal this:

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2. The combination of the beating sun and ubiquitous flowers means nearly ubiquitous fragrance wafting through the air, as if there was some machine somewhere pumping out the smell as a kind of tourist attraction.

3. The biggest exception to #2: Italians smoke like chimneys. I’m worried I might need a lung transplant at some point after this trip.

4. Gelato = ice cream, typically VERY good ice cream, but really just ice cream. Everyone loves gelato.

5. The back and side streets of Florence and the Tuscan and Umbrian hilltowns are quintessential old-world Europe in every thoroughly charming way one can imagine.

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The Mrs., wandering around Bolsena, Italy.

6. You don’t have to be religious to be grateful in the summertime for the old, stone churches, conveniently located nearly every other block or so, with their reliably cool interiors and benches to rest on.

7. Even very cheap wine tastes fantastic in Italy … because Italy.

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Bottle of red, bottle of white, both about €5 and yummy!

There’s more one liners to come, so stay tuned.

Ciao!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 6: Botticelli’s Niece

Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

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Via Dei Neri, with tower of Palazzo Vecchio in distance

Vol. 3 in my Notes From Italy series.

My favorite street in Florence, by far, was Via Dei Neri, a narrow, 4-block stretch, one block in from the north bank of the Arno River, lined with shops, trattorias, osterias, pizzerias, cafés, bars, gelaterias, bakeries…

…so yeah, mostly food, and only a block from the apartment we were staying in.

There are no major landmarks directly on Via Dei Neri — though you can look up and westward to see the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio — and this adds enormously to its off-the-beaten-tourist-path charm.

As mentioned in my Notes From Italy, Vol. 1:

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

The epitome of the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishment is All’antico Vinaio:

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Source: Halldis Discover

Though not shown in this photo, there is almost always a line out the door and into the street at this wonderful little osteria, and for a very good reason: for just €7, one can get the most delicious sandwich I ever had — prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and arugula on rustic schiacciata bread with fantastically chewy crust — all washed down with an equally chewy glass of chianti.

Yes, wine with a sandwich, this is Italy, and this sandwich more than deserves the pairing:

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Molto delizioso, and WELL worth the wait in line!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 4: Naked In Church

Notes From Italy, Vol. 2: Italians & Their Tiny Vehicles

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So, remember what I said in my last Notes From Italy installment?

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could…

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

The one exception?

When Italians get on their lilliputian scooters or into their lilliputian cars — heck, even their trucks are lilliputian! —

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… they do so as if they are all facing a dire emergency; as if getting from Point A to Point B, even if Point A is home and Point B a grocery store, is a matter of life and death.

Tailgating and passing other vehicles whenever humanly and mechanically possible is of the utmost importance.

Traffic rules don’t seem to exist. I don’t think I saw a turn signal used the entire two weeks in the country, except for obvious fellow tourists in rental cars.

Italians drive like they speak, with great intensity of feeling. They are the Luciano Pavarottis of the road.

But then maybe these motoring tendencies are NOT actually an exception to the “artists of leisure” label I have applied to my Italian brothers and sisters.

Maybe, after all, Italians drive their tiny, tiny vehicles very, very fast because…

…it’s fun!

By that logic, then, driving, even for the most mundane of journeys, could be seen as a form of play, a form of leisure!

Molto bene!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

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Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!

Um…Hello? Is This Thing On?

Retro microphoneOver the 7 years I’ve been writing Fish & Bicycles, the two longest breaks I’ve taken from the blog have been sizeable, especially when you consider that normally I post at least once a week.

First, there was a planned hiatus from June 2013 thru November 2014, and today I emerge from an unplanned break of some months, not having posted anything since April 21, 2016.

Reasons for the breaks have been many, but mostly it’s a combination of a decline in inspiration to write, married with various life events that demand time and attention.

Fitting, then, having just returned from two weeks in Italy with my wife and 18-year old son, that this particular life event provided the inspiration I needed in order to make my way back to Fish & Bicycles!

I mean, how can you NOT be inspired by this?

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Florence, the Arno River, Ponte Vecchio

I journaled a fair amount during the trip, and starting soon I’ll be posting a series of blog entries titled Notes From Italy.

So, cook up some pasta, pour yourself a glass of chianti, and enjoy!

Ciao!

Na Pali

  

Stuff We Need: The Evolution Of The Backpack

mindshiftI haven’t posted an installment in my Stuff We Need series in quite a while, and I’d like to think it’s because I’ve made progress in my effort to curtail my overall need or perceived need for stuff.

However, I LOVE hiking and traveling and other activities where I’m on the go and need to comfortably carry stuff that I legitimately need on outings — e.g. layers, water, food, guide book, wallet, keys, camera, etc. — and a backpack is still the best solution.

Yet, backpack design has remained remarkably static for many years. Oh, they’ve become lighter, more comfortable, and able to carry a wider assortment of items, but as anyone who has used one knows, for all of their convenience, they’ve always had one serious convenience flaw: In order to access the contents of the backpack you must take the pack off in order to access all of the good stuff inside.

Well, thanks to a post over at Gizmodo, I found evidence that backpack designers are finally trying to solve this problem, via three packs that address this access-to-stuff issue in three different, interesting ways.

First up, the Paxis, which has a compartment attached to a swingarm:

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Very cool idea, I’m sure it uses aluminum to keep the weight down, but I’d worry about the hinge and/or the swingarm getting bent or broken. Accidents certainly do happen, and backpacks are usually tossed around a lot in transit and at camp.

Next up, a commenter at Gizmodo linked to a similar concept by MindShift Gear called the rotation180° Panorama:

Definitely seems like a simpler take on the same basic idea, with less bulk, less added weight, and no big aluminum parts to bend. It’s made specifically for photographers, but I don’t see why you couldn’t store things other than photo gear in the movable compartment.

Finally, Gizmodo found the Paxis at Gizmag, and the Gizmag post links to a very different concept, the Wolffepack:

wolffepack

I’d worry about the cord that the pack is lowered by, that it could get snagged, tangled, or cut, but the advantage of the Wolffepack is that you gain access to the whole pack, not just one small compartment.

Overall, these are promising out-of-the box ideas and evidence that backpacks are indeed evolving.

Eyecatchers: 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

NationalGeo12-croppedIf, like me, your family had a subscription to National Geographic Magazine when you were a kid, before you learned to love reading, one of the reasons you LOVED the publication was because you didn’t have to read the articles to learn amazing things about the world beyond your neighborhood, town, city, etc.

Reason: The photography was mind-blowing — pictures are worth a thousand words, as is often said — and one could dwell on these pictures, could dwell IN these pictures, could get lost in these pictures.

One of the most popular posts I’ve ever published here at Fish & Bicycles, from July 2012 and titled Eyecatchers: Steve McCurry’s World of Bicycles, featured the photography of one of the magazine’s most acclaimed photographers, and the images I included in that post serve as fine examples of how photography can tell us so much about a place and its people, people in places we’ve never been or may never visit.

In addition to teaching us so much about the planet we inhabit, National Geographic has inspired millions of people to try their own hand at photography, and a fitting testament to how inspirational the magazine has been to so many is their annual Travel Photo Contest, where anyone, amateur or pro, can submit photos for prize consideration.

This Eyecatchers installment, was inspired by a selection of 2015 National Geographic Travel Photo Contest entries handpicked by The Atlantic, and features my favorites from this selection. (Please be sure, though, to visit The Atlantic in order to read the very informative captions to each photo.)

If you’re busy and have a lot on your plate, you might want to consider setting a timer with a loud alarm, as I will not be held responsible for readers getting lost in these photos and losing track of time. 🙂

Enjoy!

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Fish & Bicycles Is Back!

Vacation in southern Nevada and Utah was awesome, and I hope folks enjoyed the photos I was able to post while I was on the road.

Needless to say, there was much to photograph in the canyonlands that my wife and I visited throughout the week, I’ve got one more for you today, from just west of Zion National Park, and followed by that, since we were still in peak hiking habit upon our return, and I was so pleased to see water and greenery after so long in the desert, a snapshot from the Chuckanut Ridge Trail, overlooking the Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands, just a few miles from our home.

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Salish Sea