Notes From Italy, Vol. 5: Miscellaneous One Liners

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:


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


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.

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.

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

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


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

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:

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

Ci vediamo presto!

Out Of Office Update

outJust a quick update on my Out of Office post from last Thursday.

I’ve kinda had second thoughts about taking a complete break from blogging, and have decided, instead, to keep one foot in the online publishing world using Twitter.

I’ve had a Fish & Bicycles Twitter account since I first started the blog, but I rarely post anything exclusively to Twitter, and instead have it set up so that every time I post to the blog a tweet is automagically posted with a link to the blog post.

My plan now is to use only Twitter for a while and post my tweets to the blog.

I have no idea whether or not this idea will work out, but it feels better than having Fish & Bicycles go completely silent indefinitely.

Out Of Office: My Muse Is Otherwise Occupied Edition

outIt’s been a longstanding tradition of mine, here at Fish & Bicycles, to announce when I will be unable to post for a while.

This series of Out of Office posts has spanned the last five years, they usually marked occasions when I was traveling, but sometimes I just knew I’d be too busy to blog during the winter holidays or other life events.

THIS, is not one of those occasions.

Though I actually am leaving tomorrow for Kaua’i, and will not be home until March 1st, the real catalyst for this post is the fact that my muse, who has been by my side as a writer for many years, with just one disappearing act from June 2013 to November 2014, has been completely and utterly occupied by a different creative pursuit of mine…


My muse isn’t very good at multitasking, and as my latest music project started to get serious, right around the beginning of this year, very little inspiration for writing has come my way.

The only place I’ve consistently found my muse lately has been here:


I’m super fortunate to be playing with a group of musicians of the highest caliber, in a studio like this, making the most complex music I’ve ever attempted to play.

One of the founding principles of this band was that we are all treating it as an opportunity to learn and grow as musicians; no small task when you consider that, except for our 20-something keyboard player, we’re all over the age of 50, hence lots of new tricks for old dogs.

But, considering that there is growing scientific evidence that making music can help stave off dementia, this is probably the very best thing that I can be doing for myself right now.

A friend of mine who shares with me a love for the music of the Grateful Dead, just tonight sent me a link to a YouTube clip featuring Jerry Garcia telling a story about a time when he had to play a concert after he had accidentally been dosed with LSD. Jerry explains that he got very paranoid before he had to go on stage, thinking there were mafia gangsters in the crowd who might want to kill him, especially if he went out there and couldn’t play because he was tripping on acid.

And so, in order to get through the situation, Jerry said to himself, “I’ll play for my life.” It worked, and it became a kind of mantra for other times in his life when he felt, musically, in a tight spot.

I relate to that, in numerous ways. Making music feels to me as if I AM playing for my life, not thinking that someone will kill me if I don’t play well, but because making music gives me life, sustains me, makes life worth living, makes life MUCH more fun.

SO … I’m not really sure when my muse will steer me back to writing, but Fish & Bicycles means much too much to me to give it up.

Most likely, after I have focused on music for a while, once the band has fully gelled, once we’ve been through the learning curve for the 30-40 songs we’re working on, maybe then some of my brain capacity will be freed up, and my muse will sense this available creative resource, and the inspiration to put words together in hopefully compelling ways will return.

Until then, thanks so much to any and all of my readers out there. If you’re subscribed, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, etc., you’ll see me again when you see me.


Headline of the Day: Keeping It Real

starbucks-pumpkin-spice-latteIt’s hard to know where to start with today’s Headline of the Day installment, so let’s just start with the headline itself and see where that takes us, shall we?

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is now going to contain real pumpkin and it’s probably going to be disgusting

Listen, don’t hold anything back, writer Lindsay Abrams! We can tell that you have strong feelings about this. That’s good. Maybe, even, as good as … real pumpkin?

I guess I’ve been out of the loop, but I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!, to learn that there’s never been, until this fall, actual pumpkin in Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

Ok, so, I’m not really shocked. Nor am I particularly bothered by the fact that there hasn’t been real pumpkin in the lattes.

After all, the phrase “pumpkin spice”, to me, very clearly refers to the spices associated with the most famous pumpkin dish of all: pumpkin pie. Pumpkin, by itself, isn’t really all that flavorful. I doubt very many people even consume real pumpkin without spices of some kind, whether it’s sweet, like pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, or savory, like pumpkin soup or pumpkin ricotta gnocchi.

I don’t really understand attacking Starbucks — a company that is certainly attack-worthy for other reasons — for adding real pumpkin. She brands it “pandering to an ingredient-crazed consumer base”, but it’s not like this ingredient-crazed consumer base is clamoring for more artificial ingredients!

Now, Lindsay Abrams, who I might say is overall a solid writer who covers other topics, such as politics and the environment, makes a fair point about just how little real pumpkin will actually be in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. She includes the list of ingredients published by Starbucks, where “pumpkin purée” is listed as just one sub-ingredient in the “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce”, which is the third overall ingredient on the list, after espresso and milk.

And yet, she loses credibility with her sarcastic addition of a photo of the pulpy inside of a pumpkin, calling it disgusting, either ignoring, or ignorant of, the fact that the flesh of the pumpkin, not the pulp, is what’s used in pumpkin purée, and that purée, by it’s very nature, has a smooth, creamy texture, perfect, right?!, for a latte.

All in all, much ado about nothing, and embarrassingly, I suppose I’ve merely added to the ado.

I can’t wait to wash down my shame with a delicious, real Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Video Fridays: Patti Smith

pattiI’m on a real women-in-music kick these days.

Last week’s Video Fridays installment was on the late-great Nina Simone, inspired by having watched the wonderful documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?.

This week, I’m inspired to feature Patti Smith after having read her amazing autobiography Just Kids.

If you go into reading the book having only heard of Patti the musician, you will either experience disappointment or revelation; disappointment, because music, while woven throughout the story, is by no means the primary focus; revelation, because Patti the poet, Patti the visual artist, Patti the muse of her longtime companion-then-friend, the groundbreaking artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, comes to vivid life in the reading, along with the explosive New York City art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Patti, being a poet and musician, writes her autobiography with such lyricism, such raw emotional presence, and there were many times when I’d re-read lines, and sometimes whole paragraphs, because they were rendered so beautifully, so movingly. She has an incredible eye and ear for small details that add so much depth to the story, peppering her narrative with mention of items collected or exchanged, often cheap trinkets or handmade gestures, brief interactions with legends like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, things that, out of context, would be seemingly trivial, and yet in the very mentioning and describing of these things you learn how meaningful these smallest of details were to Patti.

I was particularly touched by her relationship with Mapplethorpe, a relationship that weathered the extreme poverty and struggle of their early years together, the emerging awareness of his homosexuality, the transition to a radically accepting, loving, loyal friendship, and through it all the powerful support they gave each other in the pursuit of their art. A relationship Patti describes thusly:

We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together.

It wasn’t easy choosing a video to include with this post, because, as Patti has endured, losing none of her potency as an artist and performer over the years, I could have selected some of her more recent work, such as the amazing 2005 Live at Montreux concert, available, at least for now, in it’s entirety on YouTube, rather than what I have here for you now, a precious document from her 1976 European tour, featuring songs from her classic debut, Horses, as well as cuts that would soon appear on her sophomore album, Radio Ethiopia.

Observe her total, unapologetic commitment, as she bravely claims her place in Rock&Roll, despite how male-dominated it has always been. Observe and enjoy and check out Just Kids when you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Headline of the Day: Christian Freakishness?

jesusThere’s an utterly fascinating article right now at The Atlantic, that also happens to be worthy of a Headline of the Day installment…

….for this headline certainly caught my attention:

The Freakishness of Christianity

The Atlantic

It’s a thought-provoking introduction to ideas put forth by Christian evangelical theologian Russell D. Moore in his new book Onward, ideas that I find encouraging, however skeptical I might remain.

First, a quick detour: My earliest memory of the use of the term “freak” as a non-pejorative noun was when I heard David Crosby‘s CSN&Y song Almost Cut My Hair, from the 1970 album Déjà Vu.

Crosby sings:

I feel like letting my freak flag fly

…and I didn’t really understand it at first.

But, as I became more and more interested in hippie culture, listening to more music, reading books, and watching films on the subject, I eventually got it, and I LOVED it.

While I never felt the need to label myself a freak or hippie or overtly dress the part, I certainly related to the 1960s & 1970s counterculture’s rejection of conservatism’s sense of superiority, its judgement of others, and its capacity for hatred. As result, I’ve always had a very healthy inner-hippie.

Back to the Atlantic article, it’s interesting to discover that there’s a prominent evangelical Christian leader who seems to have come to some of the same conclusions, proposing the idea that Christianity’s marriage with American conservatism is ready for a divorce.

This is not an assimilated, salable Christianity. If anything, it troubles the anodyne, dog-whistle-y “values” rhetoric that Moore rejects. It calls for politicians to be committed to living out Christianity beyond the breath it takes to utter “God bless America.”…

And inevitably, it undermines Bible Belt identity, which has long depended on pairing God with guns and Republican politics. Not to worry, Moore says: “The Bible Belt was no Promised Land.”

Right on!

I’m still troubled by the whole idea of evangelism, and I’d much rather all religions evolved away from doctrines of proselytization.

And, while this sounds incredibly exciting:

Moore is making an argument for embracing Christian strangeness. “Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture,” he writes. “Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.”

…it’s decidedly odd language coming from a guy who looks like this:


Still, to judge Moore by his appearance is shallow and utter hypocrisy on my part.

So, I’ll let that go, and I’ll hold out hope that some good may come from his ideas.