Monday, May 28, 2012

Squeezing tits and shoveling shit.

Those are the basics of dairy farming. That, and the cows need to be fed.

I came to this place with minimal expectations, and little idea who I would be working for. We never spoke on the phone or had much in the line of in depth emailing. I saw their ad online, responded, they replied with a detailed attachment of how they work, asked when I can arrive, and I said I'd be there Monday.

Their email gave me the basics. Thirty hours of work per week, I can help with milking if I want, but that's on my time, they'll give me a place to stay and feed me. They also promised to provide work boots. I was sold.

They also stressed that the farm was drug free. I was still sold. I had just spent a week smoking weed daily, so I don't mind taking a break from it. I have two days off a week anyways, and it's only an hour and a half to Amsterdam.

I arrived. The boss lady showed me my room, a caravan (what Americans would call a camper) out behind one of the barns. It's tiny, and gets hot as hell during the day, but it's all mine. It hasn't a toilet, but the barn has been partially converted, and has a kitchen and large bathroom.

I started work the next morning. I cleaned windows all day. Day two was more cleaning and some raking. Day three I spent weed whacking. The farmer loved that phrase. He's never heard it. Days four and five were spent cleaning the milking room and part of the barn.

Sunday and Monday are my days off. Sunday I borrowed a bicycle, and pedaled to the town of Amersfoort. A small but lovely little village. Nothing too exciting. Today, I'm finally catching up on my blogging.

The farm has forty-five cows, one bull, eleven calves, two goats, two cats, one dog, and an elderly chicken. The chicken only lays one or two eggs a week, and will probably become a stew soon. Such is the life of a farm animal. Most eventually become dinner.

This is an organic farm. No hormones for these cows, and the hay fields get no chemical fertilizer or pesticides. The farmer only spreads the cows own shit onto the fields. The rules are different in the Netherlands to qualify for organic. Antibiotics are still allowed, but they are being phased out. This farmer only uses a topical antibiotic that he sprays on an infected hoof or the such. He has a cow with an infected udder, and he gives her a homeopathic remedy, which is the same as no remedy. I don't think cows even have the ability to experience a placebo effect, which is the only hope one can get from homeopathic remedies. I do question whether it is humane or wise to not treat an ill animal. But, I am not an expert on antibiotics or organic farming. I need to do some research. And, don't worry. The milk from the infected cow is dumped down the drain. It isn't sent to the tank.

I can enjoy this life for awhile. I'll stay here for a month or two, and then go off to another, similar type of situation. As long as I have a place to stay, and am fed, I can live quite cheaply. My biggest expense will be traveling from one gig to the next. Maybe I should try hitchhiking.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

That extra post I've been promising.

I spent Saturday as an extra on a Dutch TV show called "Divorce."

The wife of the artist couple that I interviewed with last week gave me the lead. She sent me an email with an email address to send an inquiry. I sent them an email. It said, "Greetings, I heard a rumor that you are looking for extras on Saturday. Photo attached." Simplest damn cover letter I've ever written. It worked. They hired me.

I've never done this kind of thing before. In college I acted onstage for a friend's play. I only did it because he begged me and badgered me relentlessly. After seeing me act, he regretted his begging and badgering. I can't act. All the time that I lived in New York, I never considered trying to pick up extra work. That's what actors do. All of the struggling actors spend their days trying to get work as am extra, then hopefully get a line our two. They hope to eventually be given a role with at least three lines, cause that's the cutoff for membership in SAG. In New York, there's competition for extra work. I never tried it, and never even thought about trying.

But, I knew rule one for being an extra. Don't look at the fucking camera. Simple.

I was the first to arrive. The shoot was at a hospital in Amsterdam. I was supposed to ask reception for Daycare. They pointed me in the right direction. I met an obvious techie in the hall. I told him I was an extra, and he started rambling on in Dutch, as the Dutch are wont to do. I told him I only spoke English, and he rolled his eyes. He told me to wait in some room. I did, wondering if it was the room for extras, or if he decided to get rid of the funny talking American. It didn't look like a daycare. There were no toys.

Turns out it wasn't daycare daycare, but what the Dutch call daycare, but we call outpatient. The second extra to arrive clued me into that. He was an older gent, been doing the extra thing for a few years now. He told me that on his first job that he got in trouble for looking at the camera. He told me to don't do that. I didn't tell him that I already knew rule one. I just chuckled at his story.

He and I were the only two to show on time. The others filtered in ten, fifteen, twenty, eighty-two minutes late. One didn't show at all. They were an older lady, two women wise enough to bring nurses uniforms, a younger guy missing a tooth, a middle aged guy, a woman who was eighty-two minutes late, and a family of three, mom, dad, and daughter. The daughter was about thirteen and spent her off time reading magazines. The mom appeared to be a stage mom, and she spent most of her downtime talking about her daughter. I could tell because she kept pointing to her with her thumb. Daughter never looked up from her magazines.

Extras provide their own costumes, unless it's a period piece or a zombie movie. Police and nurse uniforms are provided by extras, as are construction workers gear and formal wear. For this shoot, I was told to bring three different casual outfits. Good. All I own is casual. Some lady came in and looked at everybody's clothes. She told us what to wear for our first and second scenes.

Eventually some guy, I think the assistant director, came in, selected a few extras, and left with them. I waited. I looked at pictures in Dutch magazines. I waited some more. I got bored. I looked at more magazines. I waited even more. The chosen extras came back. I kept waiting.

The AD returned, and selected me and the woman who was eighty-two minutes late. He led us down a hall to the set. He pointed some while jibberjabbing in Dutch. I apologized and told him I only spoke English. Dutch murmurs all around as the AD explained my chore. Just walk down the hall with the woman, past the star and another actor doing a scene. He asked if I've done this before. I told him I hadn't. "Oh, okay. Whatever you do, don't look at the camera." I didn't tell him I already knew rule one.

It was easy enough. On "Action," we took our stroll. No one told us where to stop, so I just followed the woman who was eighty-two minutes late, and we walked right back to the extraa room. We were called back to do it again. And again. Six or seven times altogether. At one point, the star gave me a thumbs up and said, "Don't worry, American. It's not you. You're doing fine."

Apparently he's a big star in Holland, doing TV and film. He seemed rather decent and not the least bit diva-ish. He even had his picture taken with the woman who was eighty-two minutes late.

I was in a total of four scenes, slight costume change for each. Since no one really sees the extras, that's common. In one, I sat on a bench talking to the older lady while the star walked by. The next, I left the lobby just after the star entered. Finally, I pushed the older lady around in a wheelchair.

I hope the show is available on the internet at some point. I know my mom will want to see it.

I was paid €40 for a ten hour day. They provided lunch and snacks throughout the day. The woman who was eighty-two minutes late got the same pay.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Betty, TOO!, or the best damn coffeeshop in all of Amsterdam.


They have wifi. You can tell because I'm writing this here right now.

I haven't done any research into the best coffeeshops in town. I wanted to discover them. I wanted to wander into places I like the look of and find my favorite. I have been beginning to wish I had done some basic googling. Almost all coffeeshops have unfriendly, inattentive staff. A few have been decent, but on the whole, customer service is lacking in Amsterdam. None have wifi.

But today, I've found my spot.

I have a spot I can return to whenever I visit again. I'm leaving town tomorrow, but I'm only going an hour away. I'll be able to take regular day trips, and when I do, I'll have a place to smoke, where I'll know there will be a friendly hashman.

I happened upon Betty, TOO!, at Reguliersdwarsstraat 29, by chance. I had started to stroll down a canal that was filled with flower shops. It was crowded, and I got bored quickly, so I took the next side street as an exit. At the corner I discovered a great spot for a wake and bake.

The owners are a Japanese couple, in business for six years. They offer the usual variety of different buds, hash, and pre-rolled joints, along with a selection of beverages. The hot chocolate was excellent. The prices are average. I tried their cheapest spliff, a medium strength weed mixed with tobacco for €3.50. Perfect for a breakfast buzz.

The ambiance of the place is top notch. It's not overly dark like so many coffeeshops. I can actually see what I'm smoking. The owner has English papers to borrow (try to read before the weed sets in). One can sit upstairs, outside under an awning, or at the little counter. They do not sell cooked food, but there is a selection of snacks if you get the munchies. The hot chocolate comes with a cookie. It was tasty.

The customer service makes this place stand out. The was the first coffeeshop I've been to where the person behind the counter seemed genuinely pleased that I stopped by. That makes a difference in my book. It helps if the people I'm giving my money to appreciate me as much as they do my money.

---

It's Monday now. The above was written yesterday as I was sitting in the place. But, being that Sunday was my last day to really enjoy Amsterdam, I ordered another spliff, this time the Betty Haze, a stronger buzz at €6.00. It did the trick. I stopped blogging for the day and wandered about.

I had asked the proprietor where I could find decent yakitori, which I hadn't had since I left New York around Labor Day. He told me of a place not too far, and I ambled in that direction. It only took about 45 minutes to find the place, plus the time I spent lost because I was supposed to cross a traffic circle and I only went a quarter of the way around instead of half.

Eventually I found the place and they weren't open yet. I had time to kill. I found a bench and sat. An old lady joined me, and we got to chit-chatting. Eighty-four years old. Four daughters. Husband died last year after fifty-nine years of marriage. Two daughters also lost their husbands last year. Sad. She and husband owned a store for fifty years. She's retired now.

She was waiting for friends to join her for dinner. I told her that I was waiting for a Japanese restaurant to open. She told me if they was Japanese, I'd be better off going to McDonald's. "At least then you can trust the meat." What a bitch.

The restaurant had looked expensive, but I really wanted to try it. So, I walked down the street and had a sandwich at a Jewish deli. A just like New York Jewish deli. I had hot sausage. Cost €4.

Then I went back to the yakitori place and had an appetizer instead of dinner. I had two skewers, one steak and one cheese wrapped with bacon and seaweed. Delicious. I also had one drink, an oolong hai, my favorite Japanese beverage which I hadn't had in awhile. I figure that I saved about €8 by eating the sandwich beforehand.

---

But, I'm supposed to be writing a coffeeshop review, not recounting my day.

I went back to Betty, TOO and had another spliff. It was my last day before heading off to Dairyland, and I meant to enjoy it. I did. I went back this morning for another breakfast buzz. Dairyland is a drug-free zone, so I'll be abstaining for the near future. I bid the owner farewell and asked for a photo of him. He said no, but welcomed me to take a photo of the place. He doesn't want his family back in Japan finding out that he peddles weed. They think he runs a regular café.


Off to give dairy farming a try.

I have a dream. I want to be a nomad. I want to travel somewhere, spend a month or two or twelve, travel off to some place else, and repeat. Such a life can be expensive. Establishing oneself in a new city it's not easy, especially since I'm a bit on the poor side. Travel to foreign countries becomes more complicated with visa requirements. My dream seems somewhat impractical. One reason I was a cab driver for ten years. I was too scared to give it at try.

David's offer of a trip to Europe took me by surprise. He offered to pay my way, and I accepted happily. He originally planned to fly me back to Bellingham after the trip, and I asked for the cash instead. I am in Europe. I want to stay. I want to so something completely different. I want too live my dream.

The cash from David was enough to live for a week and a half staying at a hostel. I didn't have much time, but I had a plan. Go door to door, asking for work at every bar, restaurant, café, and coffeeshop I come upon. I figured someone would hire me eventually. I was wrong.

I first seriously considered moving to Amsterdam seven or eight years ago. I checked with the Dutch that hopped in my cab. They all agreed. Go, have fun, finding work will be easy. I checked with the Consulate's office about work and residency visas. I was told to just go, find a job, then apply.

I hadn't done any new research since then. I should have been a touch more proactive, but I also wasn't expecting the tour with David to end quite so suddenly. I came here blind, with eight year old research, a foolish dream, and absolutely no exit strategy. But, being in Europe, no idea when I'll be able to return, I needed to stay and find a way to make something happen. I was terrified coming to Amsterdam. I knew I was taking a gamble. But, I have no wife, no kids, and no job. If I'm going to be penniless and homeless, it might as well be in Amsterdam.

Things have changed here. The conservatives are trying to take over. They have had some success. The Netherlands have passed strict new laws to discourage illegal immigration. The possibility of arriving, finding work, then applying to stay is no more.

I checked so many places. I asked so many proprietors, and they all turned me down. "You have to be Dutch." "You need a Sofi number." "We only hire students."

I was getting discouraged. I needed a new plan. I googled communes in Amsterdam. The only one I found is some new age yoga meditation religious place. I skipped them. I wasn't that desperate yet. I did more research. I discovered that communes are now called intentional communities. I know, that sounds silly.

In my googling for an answer, a way out, a roof over my head, I found two websites that gave me hope. WWOOF and workaway. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a group that brings volunteer workers to farms and gives the workers room and board. Workers volunteer to work on an organic farm, learn something about farming, and are given room and board in exchange. Workaway is similar, but does not limit itself to farming. Bed and breakfasts, hostels, farmers, artists, and people needing pet sitters all advertise for volunteers. It's the same deal. Work in exchange for room, and maybe board.

I checked every host in the Netherlands. I applied for a dogwalking position. I applied at a couple of communes, sorry, intentional communities. I applied at a number of farms. I applied with one group that wish to convert a twelfth century monastery into a peace and meditation center. I applied with an artist couple looking for help finishing their home.

I have skills, and I have some experience in this type of position. I recently spent six months living with my sister and her wife and helping them renovate their home. I can do carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. I have a technical theater background. I used to build scenery and hang lighting for a living. I've replaced sills, put in toilets, wired this, and rewired that. I paint. I do windows. I'm a jack of all trades, and a master of none, or a very useful volunteer for an organic farmer or someone renovating an old monastery.

On the afternoon I found these websites, I sent out a dozen inquiries. I received responses from all except the lady looking for a dogwalker. The artist couple responded first, and they were my main choice. They live in Amsterdam, and they need some help finishing their home and on various art projects. We met for breakfast and had a delightful conversation. Unfortunately, they are not yet ready to host someone. They responded to me because I mentioned in my email that I'm already in town, and looking to start immediately. I was in a bit too much of a rush for them. Perhaps a later date.

The lady did give me the tip that led to the extra gig with the TV show. Details in a later post, I promise.

In the end, I had two farmers and a commune, er intentional community, discussing a position for me. I chose an organic dairy farm only about an hour away from Amsterdam. I will have the freedom to come back to town to party or try another extra gig (I applied for second), they seem like decent people, travel there is only €15.30, and they were the first to give me a definite yes. I'm going there as soon as I finish this post and get some breakfast.

I'm hopeful that WWOOF and workaway will give me the chance to travel all over Europe, meet a lot of interesting folk, and help others with their dreams. It will be a good way to live for a year or two or twelve. We'll see what happens.

Volunteering won't provide an income though. Tobacco costs about €2 or 3 a day. Not all hosts provide full meals. Some provide one or two a day. Some provide none. Travel from place to place will be on me. I have some cash still, enough to last me a month or two at the farm I'm heading to. But, I'll run out eventually. Depending on the distance to the next gig, I might not have enough to get there.

I'll try to pick up side gigs here and there. A local farmer will need help with haying. I can mow lawns. Someone will need a bookcase built. Something will present itself.

I'm on track to have one hell of an adventure.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tired

I got up early to go do that extra thing. It was fun. I made €40.

I left there and took the train and wandered in search of that talkative hashman I mentioned earlier. My plan was to smoke a joint, come back to the hostel, and write a blog post. I hadn't decided yet if I was to write about the extra gig or my plan for the next year or two or twelve. The hashman wasn't talkative this time. He was took busy.

I left the coffeeshop and wandered home. An hour later I was back at the same coffeeshop. I tried again and eventually said fuck it and went into another coffeeshop. I was hoping to get a strawberry-banana milkshake to go with my spliff, but service was so wretchedly slow, I gave up and just smoked my weed. I have yet to find a coffeeshop I truly, or even remotely, like.

I headed home and got lost again. By luck I stumbled upon the French fry place, and from there it was easy to find the Old Church and the Old Church is the center off it all and from there it would be easy to get home.

An hour later I was standing in front of the Old Church again.

An hour later I am finally back at the hostel. I'm tired. I'm going to bed. Let me know what post I should write next.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I just got a job as an extra on a Dutch TV show.

Now, who  woulda would thunk?

Vondelpark's lost and found department

Vondelpark has a found fence. If you find something in the park, clip it to the fence. I did an inventory.

2 pieces of candy in wrappers
1 rock
1 pacifier
3 coins
1 note from tourists saying they love Amsterdam
3 sets of keys
1 piece of cardboard approx 1"x4"
1 thing you put around your neck to hold ID
2 businesses cards
1 hotel swipe key
1 fluffy red thingy
1 blue plastic wearable thing


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I meet a guy.

I have some leads work wise, so I celebrated.

My expenses for the day:
3.05 - Lunch
2.50 - Dinner
3.50 - Spliff
5.95 - Some homeless guy I met

Lunch was a pasta salad with tomatoes and mozzarella and a piece of ciabata that I picked up from a supermarket. The salad was tasty, but small. Bread, yummy.

Dinner was French fries. I bought some yesterday from some fry stand, and they were great, and a fair bargain. I wanted them again. Fat fries that are fried twice. That way, the guy can cook them quickly and serve them hot.

I couldn't find the place though. I tramped through the RLD and got thoroughly lost. My professional pride is beginning to get hurt. I spent ten years as a cabbie, and I pride myself on my sense of direction. Walking through Barcelona and Messina, I could always knew where home was. In this town, I'm always lost. Every street looks the same. The canals follow some weird horseshoe pattern, with the streets going sort of parallel to the canals. Sort of. Every day I have managed to get completely and totally lost a few times. Probably doesn't help that I've been stoned whenever I get lost.

A homeless guy came up to me. "You're looking for something." I stopped, and he went into his spiel. He started giving me the rough layout of the area, telling me where the good girls are, where the trannies are, which dealers to avoid. I interrupted him. "I'm looking for the French fries."

The guy laughed and took me right there. "I've been doing this for twenty-eight months, and you're the first guy to ask about the fries." 

We got a talking. He's from Boston, moved there when he was six. He got deported, and was given a twelve year probation before he could return. Three more months he said, and he could go back.

At the fry place, he asked for a donation. I gave him the change in my pocket. I offered him some fries. He said he would prefer the cash. I gave him the change from my fries. He gave me a brief tour. That's what he does. He finds people who look lost, and helps them find what they need. Girls, drugs, whatever they need. He knows the best coffeeshops. He knows which girls will cheat their customers. He knows cabdrivers that'll let their passengers smoke. He gives tours of the underbelly.

I asked him if he knew of a coffeeshop on a  houseboat that I saw a picture of. He was stumped, and embarrassed to admit it. I thanked him anyway. He gave me a good conversation.

I went looking for the coffeeshop. I had done some research and found the name of the canal it was sitting in. It wasn't there. I went from one end to the other and looked at every houseboat, but no dice. Maybe it closed, maybe it moved, maybe it sunk. No wonder the guy never heard of it.

So, I wandered around and checked the first three coffeeshops I came to if they had wifi. The third guy said he had a computer with internet, so I bought. After smoking I checked out the computer to find that it cost extra to use. I was annoyed.

It is very difficult to find a coffeeshop that has free wifi. I haven't done it yet. I'm beginning to suspect that they don't want stoned people clogging up the coffeeshop all day like a Starbucks in NYC. But they could give us a time limit like the Starbucks in Barcelona. That works.

On leaving, I paused to roll a cigarette. Then I met the homeless guy again. He spotted me first. He started on a new spiel. He needed just a buck fifty more, and he could get a supply of something to have in case a tourist needed something you know. I gave him the change from my spliff. He gave me his phone number. Now I got a guy to call if I need anything. I can't imagine what I might ever need from him, but it's always good to know a guy.

I asked him why he got deported. "I killed a guy in prison. He raped a child. If you rape a child, you get killed."

Okay.

Amsterdam

A beautiful city. The canals and bridges and narrow streets and tilting houses all make Amsterdam a picturesque city. Main streets are asphalt, while the smaller ones are paved in brick or cobblestone. The city is entirely flat except for the arching of the many bridges.

---

The canals are lined with boats. Some old, some new. I saw a duck nesting in one abandoned boat. I went to take a photo, but she started squawking, so I left her in peace.

Ducks are everywhere. I've seen a few swans and another type of water fowl that I couldn't recognize. Someone has built little floating islands covered with sparse greenery, presumably to support the wildlife.

---

The canals are incredibly filthy. I watched a man clean his boat. When finished, he just tossed his rag overboard. All canals have litter floating here and there. I found it rather disappointing. I'm glad the ducks are able to adapt, but wish they didn't have to.

---

I'm surprised by the truck traffic. With all of the canals, I thought that they would be utilized more for commercial use. But, the canals don't reach every building, so perhaps they are not that efficient. So far, I've only seen one tiny tugboat, a few construction barges, and several sightseeing boats. That's it for commercial activity. The canals are used almost entirely by pleasure craft.

I've seen dozens of cargo boats, all converted to houseboats.
---

The center of Amsterdam is a party town. No surprise, that's why the tourists come. But, with drunkenness comes a need to pee, which can lead to drunken men and boys peeing in the streets and alleyways. The city in their wisdom has built dozens of open air urinals. They have a steel spiral wall encircling them, enough privacy to pee, but not enough to have sex or move in. I haven't noticed if women use them, and I don't even know how possible it is (I haven't investigated them in detail.) But, women aren't known for peeing in the streets as often as men.

New York should take note.

---

Bicycles are everywhere, and chained everywhere. Despite the traffic, accidents are rare. The only person I saw take a tumble was a tourist. The bikes are mostly old and beat up. They rattle and squeak. They only have one gear. That's to deter thieves. A thief is more likely to steal newer and shinier bikes. Regardless, I've been told that there are a hundred thousand bicycle thefts a year here. Another twenty thousand end up in canals.

People lock their bikes anywhere they can. They choke there narrow sidewalks. I've seen them chained to the railings of wheelchair ramps, which pissed me off. How callous must one be, able-bodied enough to ride a bicycle, and to just block the access of someone who doesn't have the same luck of health. I confess that I wondered if I could get away with cutting the locks and just moving the bikes to another area. But, I can't afford bolt cutters or a battery operated disk grinder at this point in life.

---

Cyclists in general respect most traffic laws except the ones about pedestrians and right of way. I've learned that even when I have the light,  crossing in a crosswalk, that I should beware. A bicycle can still whiz by at high speed. I've had three or four close calls at this point. I'm more aware now.

---

The hostel provides free breakfast. It consists of bread and jars of peanut butter, jelly, butter, and Nutella. And coffee. There's a toaster in the kitchen if I prefer my bread toasted. It's not much of a breakfast, but four or five slices of bread coated liberally with Nutella can fill me up for some time. It's tasty and free, so I'm not complaining.

---

The kids staying at the hostel do not seem particularly friendly. Every getting that I give is returned with silence or a mumble. I suspect that they look at me with suspicion. I am twenty years older than the average age here, staying in a ten person dorm room.

---

Everyone speaks English. Everyone.

American TV shows are not dubbed, but subtitled. In Italy they were dubbed. I prefer subtitles.

---

The prostitution seems just so normal here. It's just out in the open, with no shame or stigma. The women stand behind glass doors, wearing lingerie, and smile and wave at the passer-byes. If you take a second look, they open the door and call you over. It's common, and somewhat disconcerting, to be walking from point A to B, and happen upon a window. Or twenty in a row.

I confess that they are tempting, but I have two problems preventing me from indulging. One, I'm broke. Two, I cannot tell the difference between the slaves and the willing participants. I've read that Amsterdam has a major problem with organized crime, forced prostitution, and slavery. I have no moral hangups when it comes to hiring a willing prostitute, but I don't want to have sex with a slave. I have seen social workers going from window to window talking to the women. I'm not sure what kind of help  they provide.

Also, it's a good thing that weed is tolerated. If I've been walking around the Red Light District drunk, I might very well have spent all my money by now. Alcohol does lower the inhibitions. Another reason why weed should be legal.

---

Oh, the weed, the weed!

This is truly glorious. I can wall to the closet coffeeshop and buy a spliff of generic, cheap weed mixed with tobacco, and get a high that would last me for hours. And for only €3.50.

The Dutch like their weed mixed with tobacco, which is fine by me. They also like the tapered spliffs. About for inches long narrow at the filter end and fat at the business end. The filters are made of a piece of paperboard rolled tightly. They come in these little plastic tubes.

But, that's the cheap stuff. Coffeeshops vary by quality, and their product varies greatly. All the shops sell bags of straight weed of various strengths and prices. I could experiment and get the real good shit, but I'm happy with the cheap joints. They are plenty strong enough for me, and they are already rolled. Glorious.

Coffeeshops should be allowed in America. They really are quite civilized.

---

The job search is not hitting yet. The bars all want to hire college students. I've heard that line from a number of places so far. I am too old, and not hip enough.

I have a few more ideas to try out. I'm not conceding failure yet.

Monday, May 14, 2012

First day.

Today started frustrating. The hostel is clean enough. But, a little cramped. I'll be able to handle it, but hopefully not for long.

The job search started  poorly; I had started with a faulty game plan.* But, some people I spoke to have some good advice, so I'll have better chances tomorrow. This city is not New York. Amsterdam follows some rules that New York does not. And versa vice. Amsterdam has some rules that I've never heard. Some rules need to be gotten around, and I understand it can be done. I need to gather more details. I met one hashman (I know it's not gender neutral, but I can't think of a better one yet. I don't even know what the proper term is yet.) who was chatty, and he gave me some good advice. I'll stop back in the place tomorrow and have another chat with him.

My gameplan:

Start the day by doing some internet research. I have a few details that need filling in, and Google should be able to help. This includes planning a beat, which I'll use to be thorough.

Start hitting businesses around three or four.* Work my planned beat for four or five hours.

Go back to the hashman I mentioned earlier, and hit an expat hangout or two.

Get stoned and take a leisurely stroll.

Perhaps try busking again.

I'll bring four or five signs this time, and try to be a little more engaging.  Now, being in Amsterdam, a thought has naturally occurred. Should I busk sober or stoned? I haven't decided yet. Maybe both? Any thoughts, those of you who might know me both ways?

Tonight, before going to bed I'll place this add on craigslist.

Newly arrived American seeks position.

Thirty-nine year old American male, new in town. Looking for any type of gainful employment. I'm willing and able to wash dishes, tend bar, tend plants, bus tables, wait tables, milk goats, be a handy man, anything legal and maybe a few that aren't. Experienced in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, painting, washing dishes, prep cook, storytelling, building scenery, hanging lights, rigging, managing the stage, and ten year NYC cab driver. 

Willing to learn anything new.

New in town, just arrived this morning. Not sure if you've noticed, but America has gone a little nuts over the last twenty or so years. I wish to experience residing in a place a little more, well, civilized.

If you have a position that needs to be filled, give me a chance to live out a dream. I'll accept any reasonable offer, and perhaps some things not.

Thank you for your attention.

I'm going to try a few different techniques, and see what hits.

Any advice or good ideaa that any of you have, please leave a comment. Thanks.

*I have no papers, so I'll be vague while describing my job search and any job I find. I suspect that discretion is advised.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some random notes I can write while killing time on a twenty-two and a half hour train journey.

No wifi on these trains. Even Greyhound has wifi in the States. Frankly, I expected better from these Europeans, and as an American I expect instant gratification.

---

One can eat cheaply in Firenze. Yesterday I had a delicious sandwich and a cup of cappuccino for a mere €3.20. What a deal. I hope I can find similar deals in Amsterdam, for I'll need to be able to live on a tight budget until I get settled.

---

I don't recall paying any VAT in Italy. I don't know if it was always included in the price, or if most businesses just avoid it. I do know that most hostels only take cash, so I suspect that a lot of taxes are avoided.

That is Greece's problem. They don't need austerity measures. They need to get people, especially the rich, to actually pay the taxes that they owe. That would solve their problems.

---

I did see art while on the cruise. I swear, it wasn't a museum. I often heard announcements for the daily Free Champagne Art Auction. I always ignored them, because a free glass of champagne isn't worth subjecting myself to art.  But, I went once out of boredom and for a free glass of champagne. Well, what do you know, the champagne was unlimited. I had six or seven glasses, and got quite happily drunk. I went back again the next day and did the same. Sadly, that was the final day at sea, and my last opportunity. To think, I could have been taking advantage of this the whole damn cruise. Bummer.

---

While watching TV on the cruise, I kept coming across a reality show about some pretentious artist with hideously pretentious hair. It was all about how difficult it was to get taken seriously as an artist, and how hard it was, and yadda, yadda, yadda. It bored me, but his art did seem kind of cool. He airbrushes on steel plates. He does good work. But, he was on this one channel all day, everyday. Him and his pretentious hair.

At the auction, they had a number of his pieces available. One even sold. I guess that was why he was on TV everyday. Just a commercial for Royal Caribbean.

---

Firenze has been unbearably hot the last few days, so on leaving, I wrote shorts and candles like I've been since I got off the damn boat. Northern Italy is rainy and cold, and I began to get the chills. I had to change in the train's restroom. It wasn't as small as an airplane's, but it was tight enough. I feel comfortable now.

---

Damn, another hour twenty before we get to a stop long enough for me to hop off and grab a smoke. I have some nicotine gum in my suitcase, and I'm kicking myself for not putting it in my pocket. I suppose I could rummage through my suitcase again, but it's somewhere near the bottom. I don't want to unpack entirely.

---

We are in Austria now. I just hoped off the train for a smoke. I consider that enough to say that I've visited Austria. Before the cruise, I had been three countries on two continents -US, Canada, and Japan. As of now, I've visited nine countries on four continents. By the time I get to Amsterdam, I'll be up to eleven countries. Yay.

---

In Munich now for a four hour plus layover. I wandered a bit and ate at McDonald's for dinner. I'm enjoying McDonald's in different countries. In Cittivecchio I had a NYCrispy. It had bacon bits baked into the crust of the bun. Now that's a sandwich. I wonder why I can't find one in NYC. Do Citvivechians go to NYC expecting to find their favorite burger? I hope not.

Today I had a Big Tasty Bacon. That was the name. It was huge and tasty and it had bacon, so I guess the name is apt, if lame. I had fries with that.

---

I checked for wifi in the train station. I clicked an open network and was shunted to their website. I had to register. They said it would be free and easy. It was. Then I was sent to the next page which said that I had to pay money to get online. It was only free to register. Assholes.

---

My next train is the overnight to Amsterdam. My ticket says that I'm in Car 184, Bed 104. I'm curious to see what the beds look like. It's a second class ticket, so it can't be too fancy. I'm guessing something like those business class airplane seats that folds flat and a pretty blonde stewardess will fetch me a pillow just like the commercials.

---

Drinking in public is legal in Italy. How's that for civilized? In NYC, you'll get a ticket or, if you're black, arrested for doing something so outrageous.

Last night I bought two 66cl bottles of beer for €2.80. I got quite happily buzzed for less that three bucks. And I drank them sitting on a park bench and people watching.

---

I'm sitting in the Munich Station ticket area. They don't have lines. People take a number and sit on a comfy, upholstered bench. Civilized.

---

During my brief stroll through Munich, I happened across a group of people trying out circus equipment. Some were trying the stilts, some were playing with, and dropping, devil sticks, some were balancing on a board on a piece of pipe, and some were attempting a little right rope setup. All of these people were random pedestrians, who happened across this scene, just like I. I saw two folks in blue coveralls standing next to a blue cart with some happy looking German writing on the side. I figured they brought the stuff.

I saw one guy make it across the tight rope setup. Everybody else fell.

---

David found his garlic bread. We went to an Indian restaurant in Firenze. He ordered garlic nan. It was tasty. I had the lamb tikka. It was delicious.

Leaving, I noticed a wooden box full of bidis, little Indian cigarettes made out of a leaf of tobacco rolled tight and tied with a string. I asked how much and the proprietor said they were complimentary. I hadn't  smoked one since college, back when a classmate used to bring them from home.

---

Just got kicked out of the ticket office; they were closing. I wandered around the station and found a waiting area, and, damn, they have free wifi, compliments of T-Mobile. Now I can check up on Facebook.

---

I found an awesome head shop in Messina. The shop was tiny, but the variety was huge. Most American shops that I have seen, have the same basic types of pipes in dozens of slight variations. This shop had dozens of different type of pipes, some I have never seen before. The prices were also rock bottom. I didn't buy any; I'll wait until Amsterdam.

---

The train is here, and I've found my car and my bed. This really sucks. It is a small cabin with six bunks, three on a side. They are incredibly uncomfortable. I'd much rather be sitting in a regular train seat. It's softer and I can sleep sitting up. I don't sleep well on buses, planes, trains anyways, so I'd rather be sitting. I asked a conductor if I could switch  to a sitzwagen, but he said the train is almost full and that I should take my bed. If I ever travel on a night train again, I'll request a sitzwagen.

I don't even see a pretty blonde stewardess offering pillows.
---

Awake. They have alarms to wake people at the stops, or one of my cabin mates had her own alarm. I don't know which. We stopped at Dusseldorf for two minutes, and were off again. A little under three hours before Amsterdam. I've found a window seat on the sitzwagen. I have a view of the  Dusseldorfian suburbs now.

---

Here, at the hostel. The place is relatively clean, but nothing to brag about. Five bunk beds in my room. They are even more uncomfortable than the train. But, they are clean.

---

The train was about a half an hour late. I'm not impressed. I expected better from the Germans. My morning stroll thru the Red Light District was pleasant. The streets are narrow, as are the canals. Every building has a stout iron hook jutting out from the top. They are for housing up furniture on moving day. These houses apparently have narrow staircases. I did see two men, construction workers, using one to hoist lumber, so they are still in use. I also saw a small tugboat, only term or twelve feet in length, pushing another boat.

Even at 9:30, some coffee shops were open, and the smell of marijuana was evident. I didn't stop in; I should find a job before I start smoking weed before noon. A few of the window ladies were also open. Again, I didn't partake. If I could afford to hire one, I wouldn't be stating in a hostel.

Now, time to try and find a job.

---

I did finally find a spectacular view. On the fifth floor terrace of our hotel, I spotted a number of hills in the distance. I headed for one, and after a couple of hours of walking, I found a spot to take a photo.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Drink like man!

I was running low on cigarettes, and I decided to switch to roll-your-own in order to save money. I spotted a tobacco and shop and wandered in. The old man behind the counter spoke broken English, but far better than my seven words of Italian. He knew enough to get me what I want and to tell me how much. €5.20. Not bad seeing that I roll them thin and can get at least fifty smokes from the pouch.

Leaving, I saw a shelf full of small bottles of grappa and sambuca. Not airplane size, but slightly larger at 5cl, whatever that is. I was tempted, but not enough to spend €5, so I kept walking.

Not long afterwards, looking for lunch, David called and informed me that our grand tour is coming to end. I've been expecting as much; David doesn't seem to like traveling by train from city to city, hotel to hotel. He likes cruise ships, and he's looking for one that will take him back west. Me, I like trains.

When David originally proposed this trip, he promised to fly me back to Bellingham at it's conclusion, and I've asked for the cash instead. I've decided to head to Amsterdam, a city that I've wanted to live in for years. I figure that I'm almost there, I might as well go. I have no job, wife, or kids expecting me back, so I'm relatively free. After ten years driving cab, I'm ready to put that freedom to good use. Also, I want to give socialism a try. Maybe I'll even get health care.

So, we met at the train station, and he got me a ticket and some cash. I leave Sunday morning. The trip is nearly twenty-three hours with a four hour layover in Munich. I wonder if I'll still like trains afterwards.

We parted for the afternoon; him to research cruise ships, me to climb the dome. A Facebook friend clued me into the Doumo di Firenze, a big assed dome on a cathedral that tourists can climb up for free and get a spectacular view of the city. I found it and waited in a long line, respectfully removed my hat and went inside. It was a church, and a big one, but most of my readers know my opinion of churches, so I won't rant. I looked in vain for the line to the dome and finally got around to asking a security guard. He pointed across the way and said, "At that door, outside." I had gotten into the wrong line, and to see a church! Dammit.

I went outside and found another, not quite as long, and the correct line. I waited, and eventually got to the front and discovered that things have changed since my Facebook friend climbed the dome. Instead of free, it's now €8. I considered for a bit and decided that €8 could be better spent on a panini and a 5cl bottle of grappa. What money I have must be spent carefully and wisely until I get a job and an apartment.

I wandered the streets, found a panini (prosciutto and mozzarella, €2.50, I saved!), and set out for the tobacco shop. When he saw me, the old man said, "So soon? You smoke fast. Go slow. Live old, like me."

I told him I wanted to try grappa and he got me a bottle. I asked if I should mix it with water or Coke, and he said, "No! Drink like man!" and pantomimed drinking from the bottle. I did. It was nasty. I should have gotten the sambuca.

And, I finally got around to googling something. A 5cl bottle is an airplane size bottle. Just a different shape that looks a little bigger. I think I overpaid, but no harm. I'm in Italy. How could I not try grappa?


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Firenze

I like to walk. I love entering a new town and walking for hours. Down random streets, discovering something new around every corner, watching people pass by, pausing at shop windows.

And, that was my first day in Firenze. I walked.

I walked across a bridge with a view of a dam. Sun worshipers were sprawled upon the concrete, hastening the onset of skin cancer. I strolled up and down narrow streets, most just wide enough for one car to pass, with sidewalks only a foot and a half wide. I saw tourists galore, Indians, Japanese, German, American, young, old, awed, bored.

I stumbled upon a mazey nest of streets filled with artisan shops. I watched as a sculptor took hammer and chisel to a block of wood. I saw a book binder examine an old and battered tome with the owner standing over his shoulder. She left the shop with the book in his care, looking relieved. Furniture repairers, a chandelier maker, a shop filled with wooden boxes, a man welding an ornate patio table. I bought postcards at an printmaker's. Window after window of artists at work. I spent hours just watching them.

I climbed a hill. It looked steep and long, but I didn't care. There must be a view to behold at the top. I climbed up two dead end streets and had to double back. But, I made it to the top, and I saw nothing. Massive stone walls on both sides of the streets, no view to speak of. I chose a different street on the way down. It was narrow of course, but no sidewalks. It had gutters of flat stone laid in a concave shape. Whenever a car drove by, I had to gingerly step in, holding onto the wall for balance. Downhill was even steeper, and I'm still feeling it in my ankles.

I came across a square tower with large arches on every floor. I could see the staircase winding up inside, and I wondered, are tourists allowed up. I checked - locked. But, a friend has told me where to go for a view. I'll try it today.

I walked down a flight of steps onto yet another twisting, narrow street. There I found a tiny park with a low stone wall. A perfect spot for a rest, so I sat. The view was just another stone wall, and few pedestrians passed by, but it was peaceful.

The sun was blazing hot, far too miserable to enjoy a stroll. But, with the combination of tall buildings and narrow streets, I spent most of my time in the shade.

Almost all buildings are light earth tones with roofs of reddish orange tiles. Even the satellite dishes are painted a dull red to match. Most streets are rectangular stone blocks, much larger than cobblestone. Footing is treacherous. Drainage grates are stone, as are many manhole covers. Unlike those in Rome, these are round.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Leaving Roma.

And now we are off to Florence, with a change of trains in Pisa. We haven't yet decided if we're going to see that tower we've heard about. It's just a fucking tower, and a poorly built one at that. We'll stay in Florence for a few nights. David has found a hotel with a pool, which makes him happy, and free wifi, which makes me happy.

---

The drivers in Italy do drive fast, with seeming little regard to traffic laws, but they don't strike me as crazy as their reputation. But, I was a NYC cab driver for ten years, so maybe my perspective is slightly skewed.

Drivers will only very rarely stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The technique is to wait for a wee break in traffic, hope for the best, and go for it. Neither David or myself ever got runned over, so I guess we done well.

---

We took a taxi at one point. The driver raced around, weaving in and out of traffic, all the while being passed by scooters on the right and left. It is a touch insane, but copable. The congestion was no where near as bad as I expected. Traffic flowed.

---

I did manage to see a few drivers get pulled over while sitting in my busking spot. The police's technique is entertaining. They give chase on scooters, pull up alongside, blow whistles, and start waving. If I was the one pulled over, I would have probably  laughed and waved back, amused by their antics. Good thing I keep my law breaking to busking.

---

Wifi is easy to find, but one must be wiling to pay for it. Many cafés and restaurants offer wifi, but a purchase must be made. Establishments do not allow wifiers to idle away all day long and only buying one cup of coffee. You will be thrown out. Considering the near impossibility of finding a seat in any NY Starbucks, I think that's a reasonable policy.

It does make staying connected a bit of a pain. I got blogging, email, and the Facebook to keep up on.

---

Floors are numbered differently here. The ground floor is 0, and the second floor is 1, or the first floor above ground. The basement is -1. We are staying on the second (third in America) floor, and the first morning I took the stairs down one flight and wandered around wondering why I couldn't find the lobby.

---

David has found his favorite restaurant, and we have eaten there often. This being a tourist town, the menu is in both Italian and English. The English they have for a calzone is "folded-over pizza."

They don't serve garlic bread. We haven't found a restaurant yet that does. Perhaps an American invention?

---

Rome must be a hot place in the summertime. It's been in the mid to high seventies the last few days, but the Romans all wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, and often a light jacket. David and I have been perspiring in shorts and T-shirts.

---

I have a phone now, with a phone number even. It's a cheap pre-paid thing, not smart or anything. It works, allows family to call me and me to call family. And to keep in contact with David when we wander separately.

Europe is a continent of many small countries, and one would presume (at least I did) that a phone in one part of Europe would work in any other. Or at least  within the EU. But, a call from Italy to France is an international call, even though one can spit from one to the other. It is cheaper and easier calling Canada from America than calling Spain from Portugal.

Using a German phone with a German number in Switzerland will cause massive international roaming charges. Customers must change SIM cards and phone numbers whenever they travel From one country to the next. To make life easier, many phones in Europe, including my cut rate piece, are dual SIM. A user can keep their home SIM card in and add a local card when they travel. Very handy.

I wonder why some enterprising corporation or entrepreneur hasn't come up with plan allowing customers to get one phone with one SIM and use it anywhere in Europe with no international charges. Any company that went with such a plan would corner the market in Europe. I suspect that corporate interests, individual regulations, and varied protected monopolies prevent such an enterprise from getting off the ground. I'm surprised that the always riot ready Europeans haven't thrown an almighty shit fit yet.

The one cool bit about European phones is that they don't charge for incoming calls, only outgoing. That's handy. So, call if you want, but keep in mind that Italy is six hours ahead of New York. Don't wake me; I'll become grumpy.

My number with country code:
0039 331 391 6875

---

There are large paper signs announcing all of the arrivals and departures at Roma Termini. Do not trust them. I almost missed the train to Civitivecchia yesterday because I was standing on the right platform. The train left from two platforms over. I guessed something was wrong because the tracks were still empty three minutes before my train was to depart. I asked some official looking dude. He straightened me out.

---

I never did see Caesar's house. Rome had a rare snow storm this year, and the place was badly damaged. So, it is now open only sporadically while workers try to keep it from collapsing. Maybe next time.

---

Rome has rectangular manholes. For some reason they have yet to realize that only the round ones cannot possibly fall down the hole. Or, perhaps they just like tempting fate.

The SPQR stands for a Latin phase I haven't learned that means "The Senate and People of Rome." Government property has been stamped thus for 2000 some odd years. Maybe longer. I haven't bothered to look it up yet.


A random post to see if I can post more than one damn photo at a time.

View of Tenerife, Canary Islands, the first land I saw in nine days. Hilly place



My five pound ashtray.


David at rest.


The outlet in our stateroom bathroom. Left is 115v and right is 240v. I'm guessing that the center line is a shared neutral.

A 2000+ year old theater we saw in Ephesus, Turkey. Supposedly Saint Paul preached here, and was arrested immediately afterwards. Elton John sang here recently. Awesome acoustics.

Somebody hung a monkey up by his thumbs. I suspected Neal.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I decide to give busking a try.

I need money.

Or rather, I want money. In truth, I have all I need. David is providing food, transit, and room, and enough spending money for cigarettes and the occasional expenditure. But I could use a bit more cash. I would like to spend a few evenings hanging out in bars and pubs, buy the odd joint, and perhaps even get a souvenir for my mum.

I put up the donate button on the right over there, but with my tiny readership, it doesn't bring in much. I do appreciate those that have given. The money was well drunk, er, spent. So, I've decided that I need to earn money. Finding a job is damn near impossible, as we are only in any town for a few days before moving on, so I could only come up with one practical idea.

Busking.

Those that know me well are aware that I have no buskable talents; I cannot sing or dance or juggle or mime or craft silly sculptures out of tableware. But, I can talk, and I can even be amusing at times.

So I made a sign. "Ask Me Anything - €1"

Years ago, passing through Union Square Park, I spied a gent with such a sign. I laughed and asked him if it was working out for him. He just smiled and pointed to the "$1." I gave him a buck, and he said, "No, not very well at all." I asked if that was the best he could do, and he just smiled and pointed to the "$1."

I'll do better than he. I'll allow free follow up questions and attempt to give answers that are entertaining enough to be worth an euro. We'll see what happens.

---

That didn't work very well. I sat on a small wall near the Colosseum holding my sign for forty minutes before the most beautiful police officer in all of Rome told me that I needed authorization. I told her that I could go home. She thought that was a good idea.

In those forty minutes I got several second looks, many laughs, and one euro. And that wasn't even a question, but just appreciation from another busker - some dude dressed as a gladiator, ready to hold his sword to his chest so a foolish tourist can pretend that he's killing a Roman as his wife takes a picture.

Several people took photos of me and my sign, but none offered a euro, even when I requested it. There are two types of people who take photos of buskers - those who pay a buck, and the cheap motherfuckers who think  they can do whatever they want whenever they want. Don't be the second type.

I think I'll make a few more signs before my next outing. I can shuffle through them when I catch someone's interest.

"Relationship Advice - €1"

"NYC Cab Driver Stories - €1"

"Help an American Get Drunk - €1"

Any other good ideas?

Perhaps I should ask permission of the police before I start out again, or perhaps it's easier to ask for forgiveness, as I did today. I'll play it by ear.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Roma

On Sunday, David and I finally disembarked from the damn boat. Cruising isn't for me. The idea of getting to port, wandering around for a few hours, and them taking off for another port doesn't work. I like visiting each city for at least a few days, so I can get a good feel for it. Also, the cruising model gives no chance to experience a city's nightlife. I like nightlife.

We disembarked in a little port town by the name of Ciavatcchia, which I can neither spell or pronounce. Civetchia's primary industry is its port, being the second busiest cruise ship destination in Europe after Barcelona. They call themselves the Heart of Rome. I don't know how the Romans feel about that. They aren't part of Rome. It's like Newark calling itself the Heart of New York. Sounds silly to me.

David found a little hotel in Ciavtecchia. It's a bit cheaper than the hotels in Rome (but not cheaper than the hostels), and it's only about an hour from Roma Termini by train, which is only €9 round trip. They claim their building is an "ancient 19th century palace," which cracks me up. Imagine something not even 200 years old being called ancient. But, this is Civitivechia, not Rome. A building doesn't have to be very old to be considered ancient in the Heart of Rome. They don't have free wifi, but do have a truly kick-ass continental breakfast. I tried four different types of coffee.

Wandering about Civtiviechia, looking for our ancient palace of a hotel, we met Angela from Boston who worked on another cruise ship. She was off to Rome to check out the Colosseum. David asked if she wanted company, so we tagged along.

Angela's main goal was to see the Colosseum, and to get back to her boat. She had a deadline of 6:00 PM, but she wanted a large cushion because even a minute of tardiness meant dismissal. Those cruise companies are strict.

So, we grabbed lunch at a happy little café and wandered off towards the Colosseum. There we were accosted by people looking to organize group tours for the cost of the €12 entry fee plus another €15. They claimed we could then skip the line, which was the main selling point for David. He doesn't like lines. We signed on.

Our tour guide was a woman with a quiet voice and a strong accent. She used an amplifier, but with static and accent, a could hardly hear her. The tour sucked. We saw a wee bit of the place and heard mostly static. The most interesting thing I learned was that the Colosseum is a brick structure. I have always thought it was marble. I thought the Romans built everything out of marble. Also, I discovered that the design of stadiums has been little changed over the years. The method of getting people in, to their seats, and back out is pretty much the same today as it was 2000 years ago.

Our ticket (actually a little yellow sticker that didn't look particularly official) also entitled us to a tour of Palatine Hill. After a quick consultation and a bit of math, Angela decided she had time to see that also, so off we went. We got a new tour guide, a Canadian by the name of Stan. He had a loud voice, and knew how to project it, so he didn't need a staticy amplifier. He was a damn good tour guide.

He brought us to the top of the hill which was covered with crumbling and crumbled brick walls and partial structures. Stan filled us in on the whole lack of marble issue. The Romans built brick structures and covered them with marble tile. They did not build with solid marble block. Perhaps if they did, more of their crap would have lasted the centuries. The marble is all mostly gone now because the Vatican stole it all, though they prefer to call it "recycled." I want surprised in the least to learn this tidbit.

Stan told us a tale of a tour he gave in which he informed the group that the Colosseum was built in 72. After the tour, an American went up to him and claimed he made a mistake. Stan asked what his error was, and the man said, "You said the Colosseum was built in 72, but I was here in '64..."

After the tour, Angela was in a rush to get back to her boat, so we had a mad dash to the station. The subway cars are heavily graffitied, like New York's in the seventies. They also do not announce the next stop, so one best know where one is going.

Once at Roma Termini, we accidentally got on a first class car, but as the conductor never checked tickets, we didn't complain.

The next day, David and I wandered about for awhile and then went in search for the coolest bit of ancient architecture in all of Rome, perhaps in the world. A bridge called Ponte Fabrico, built in 62 BCE by some dude named Fabricus. I wonder if he gave us the word fabricate. The bridge has been renovated a few times, but it is still mostly the same bridge Fabricus built. We walked across it, and I doubt I'll ever walk across one older. Think about it; it was built about a hundred years before the myth of Jesus was created. I was awed.

The  smaller arch in the center is to allow water to pass during floods, so to lessen the pressure on the span.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

I move to a new town and visit Sicily.

The character of any town is determined by the nature of its citizens. Sunday we docked at unpronounceable port near Rome and ended the first leg of the cruise. About 2500 people got off and about 2600 new cruisers boarded. And, we were off on the second leg of or back-to-back cruise. With the change of so many people, I feel like I'm living in a different town. I've left the retirement community, and I've joined a much  younger, more diverse, and hipper village. But not that hip, this is a cruise.

And so much more European. The last cruise was 5/6th American, and this one is only 1/3. I've learned a few things about Europeans the last few days, all stereotypes and generalizations of course. I'm not one of those liberals who thinks all stereotyping is wrong. It's how one uses stereotypes that can be problematic.

My stereotypes thus far:

1) Europeans are incredibly disrespectful while attending theater. They talk, laugh, joke, and act as if they are in a bar, with no common courtesy for the performers or fellow attendees. I have decided that unless a show looks really damn interesting, I won't bother to see theater while in Europe. Good thing that I don't really like theater much anymore.

2) Europeans take the stairs. An American will take an elevator up only one floor, and often down only one. Even healthy Americans. Even healthy Americans who are going up one flight to go to the gym. Europeans will take the stairs even when they are going down five flights or up two or three. Today I followed an elderly woman up two flights, even though it was a bit of a struggle for her. I've long been more  inclined to take the stairs, unless I was going up a number of flights, or with people. Or drunk. I do so for speed, exercise, and common courtesy. I get annoyed when I'm going up several flights on an elevator, and some lazy, fat-assed fuck slows my day by getting on and getting off after only one flight. Especially when this happens ten times on an eight flight trip. I'm aware that some people may have an unapparent disability, but most are just lazy.

3) Europeans smoke a lot. On the first leg, the smoking corner on the pool deck would have only a few puffers at a time, but now it is always crowded. Often I can hardly find a seat. I find that despite the crowd, I am spending quite a bit of time puffing away in that corner of the pool deck. I suspect it has something to do with all of the European ladies in bikinis. In an effort to keep from chain smoking, I'm looking for other reasons to lurk in my favorite smoking corner, such as writing this post.

---

My free drinks are gone. For this leg of the cruise, we had to get new cards. No one made a mistake this time, so I lose all of the perks that the rich people get. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

–––

I think I could have gotten laid Sunday night. I was at the disco, sitting at the bar, drinking water when a lady in her mid fifties sat next to me. She complained of the insanity on the dance floor and asked if I could provide some sanity. I asked the nature of the insanity, wondering where this could lead. She was tall and thin with short red hair, and obviously on the prowl. She responded that two black, homosexual men were grinding against each other on the dance floor. "I don't care what they do in private, but I don't want to see it."

I lost interest. I can happily have casual sex, but not with a homophobe. Unlike some, I have to actually like those I bed. I suppose I should have called her out on her bigotry immediately, but I was shocked silent by it, and I'm not very good at confrontation in person (unlike my confrontational nature on these here digital pages). In hindsight, I wish that I had simply told her that I was gay. 20/20.

David said that I should have fucked her anyways, and afterward told her that the experience turned me off women and that I think I'm gay now. "That woulda learned her."

I saw her the next night with a young Italian guy. She seemed pleased with her catch.

---

I'm meeting folks from all over at the smoking spot. Germans, Norwegians, Croats. Last night a forty something Japanese couple walked by and the lady approached me.

Her: Sorry, can I cigarette?
Me: Hai, dozo.
Her: Ah, arligatou gozaimasu.
Me: Dou itashimashite.
Her: (something well beyond my comprehension)
Me: Sumimasen. Ich spreche nur ein bishen Deutsche.

I was just talking to the German fellow a few minutes earlier. I confuse languages at times. In France last week, at a restaurant, I kept saying hai instead of oui. The waiter started calling me Japanman.

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We went to Massina, Sicily the other day. I had the best pizza of my life. With half a million Sicilians living in New York, I wonder why I haven't had pizza like that before.

Prices are funny in Massina. At the first café we stopped at, we each had an espresso and a cannoli. The charge was €15.20. At the next café, we each had an espresso and a pastry. The charge was only €5. The second spot was in a residential neighborhood. If you visit the town, ask for a menu before you order.

Massina seems to be a poor town. There seems to be very little traffic enforcement. Litter is everywhere. The sidewalks are crumbling. And you can't find an English newspaper anywhere.

We came across a guy smoking a joint at some scenic spot. I wanted to ask for a hit, but I don't know the language or customs. I did say ciao, and he greeted me back, but didn't offer the joint. I need to learn to get over my shyness.

The view was amazing. Too bad I'm so technologically impaired that I can't share it. But, here's a view from the boat that morning. Assuming it goes through. As a former cab driver, I'm impressed that the captain was able to find a parking spot right in the middle of downtown. The church in the background was where I stumbled across the pothead.