Thursday, July 30, 2009

Recap of Rome

I’d like to sum up the first couple days of our trip to Europe, which were spent in Rome and the Vatican. I will also throw in a few pictures, emphasis on “few.” Don’t worry; I’m not making you sit through a slideshow of all 610 of my pictures. Wow, 610… did I even see anything with my own eyes?

On our first day, we saw the Trevi Fountain, which was packed full of people.

This first day of Rome, I did not feel good. I had heartburn from breakfast (which I determined was from the eggs), which started during a mass I sat through with my family. It was my wife’s first Catholic service, and I think she was disappointed nothing interesting happened, not to mention that the priest was more liberal than Barack Obama. She enjoyed the post-church donut/pastry (some things truly are universally practiced by Catholics).

By mid-day, my stomach acid had worked its way through all the tubes. I was beginning to feel really ill and in need of a bathroom by the time we got to the Coliseum. I ran up the stairs of the hotel to our room when we got back… only to realize my wife had the keys. But no worries, I made it in time.

So besides experiencing what my wife referred to as “Caesar’s revenge,” the first day of touring was very interesting and relaxed. Also, this was the first of many days in Rome where meals were skipped (this time, lunch). However, we ate a wonderful dinner out where we got great Italian food, or as they call it in Rome, “food.”

My wife and I both got fettuccini, mine with pesto and hers with veal (the black balls are kapers). As per our arrangement upon ordering, we switched plates half-way through each of our meals. They were both amazing, but I must say I preferred the veal.

We wandered around a little, going back to spots me and my wife wanted to see again. We went back to the Column of Marcus Aurelius, the Spanish Steps, and our last stop was to see the Trevi Fountain at night because we were told it lit up. My wife seemed disappointed; I think she was expecting some sort of Pink Floyd laser light show complete with disco ball. However, we saw this neat fountain on our way back:

First up for day two is Michelangelo’s Moses statue, located in the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains:

We saw this on our second day, before going to the Vatican. Those horns used to be much longer, and were rays of light (Exodus 34:29). The story goes that they were once long and were broken off and filed down over time. However, the Hebrew word for rays of light and horns are spelled the same, so it could simply have been a translation error (as it is translated into most versions of the Bible as "horns") which was taken literally. This isn’t even the only well known horned Moses in Rome:

This was near the Spanish Steps, next to a depiction of Ezra and a towering column topped by Mary.

On the second day we also saw the Pantheon. Being a learned man of all things Classical and snooty, I was able to clarify to my wife several times in a condescending tone that it was the Pantheon, not the Parthenon (though we did see both on this trip; the Parthenon is at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece). The Pantheon was interesting, and housed the remains of the artist Raphael:

Rather than post a picture of the Pantheon in all its glory, I decided to show a picture I took of its one imperfection, the spot where the portico (entry) meets the domed rotunda:

Initially, the columns of the portico were to be higher. One can see in the picture where it was meant to meet the rotunda.

We then headed off to the Vatican, with our ultimate stops being the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ll say it now: I have pictures of neither because my camera’s battery ran out in the stairwell leading into the Sistine Chapel.

First up is a painting that I find quite interesting. Sadly, I have little info on it because the title is obscured at the bottom. I know it is located in the Pinocoteca museum. I have no idea who the scratched out figure could be, but I love a nice, overt display of censorship:

Next we have a statue of a woman with over a dozen breasts:

Here, you can see not only the immensity of the map room and its detailed ceiling, but also the crowd we braved:

At this point my camera needed to be recharged. That night, I took some photos from the roof of our hotel. Here’s one of the better ones:

For my next blog post, I’ll be posting about our trip to Pompeii and the boarding of the cruise.

However, in honor of John Bolton’s appearance on the Daily Show last night, I just had to post this timely photo of him, taken in front of the Parthenon in Athens:

I am the walrus, coo-coo-cachoo.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back Home

I have so much to say about my trip, but now that I’m back in the US, the most recent thing in my memory is the process of travelling back.

Nothing about Europe made me hate America, only coming back did. There wasn’t anything particularly seductive about Europe, nor did anyone there have anything inflammatory to say about the US. Rather, I would like to quickly point out the difference between entering foreign countries versus entering the US.

Our flight to Rome was quite long. Upon landing, we were quickly directed to one of several lines where our passports were stamped. After this, we picked up our baggage and went about our business. The procedure was even simpler when exiting the cruise ship, but the whole process is always expedited by the cruise line anyway, so I cannot say with much certainty how easy it would be to fly into Greece, Croatia or Turkey.

However, coming back to the states after a flight lasting over ten hours, we had to go through several, much longer sets of lines, including going through security again (as if we had not all just been herded from an airplane). Never mind the fact that we already went through US-level, take-your-shoes-off security in Rome. We also were given a form to fill out when on the plane.

The form for entering Rome asked basic information egarding swine flu symptoms and where we could be contacted in Rome should an outbreak potentially occur among fellow passengers. However, the US form was far more amusing.

Questions included whether we were transporting “disease agents, cell cultures, or snails.” How specific. The back of the form also mentioned that “Controlled substances, obscene articles, and toxic substances are generally prohibited entry.” I don’t know what they define as obscene articles, but I know for a fact America loves its controlled and toxic substances, often mixed together. Of course, we were allowed to bring wine, even though by any definition it is a controlled substance.

I just didn’t appreciate being sent through three times as many lines and searches when entering the US as I did in Rome, even though the US does not regulate its food, drugs or guns as tightly as Rome. I also hate the mentality that, “If you don’t have anything illegal, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

Really? You wouldn’t be embarrassed having someone go through your dirty underwear? How about perfectly legal porn, or even tampons? What about my ten inch pink dildo and anal lube? Privacy is not merely a curtain for criminal activity; some things are just best left hidden.

I don’t appreciate security theatre. The entire process is arduous and irritating for the sake of being arduous and irritating. They nitpick over insignificant things to give people the illusion of safety. The mind of the fool says, “Well, if they don’t let me bring on nail clippers, then clearly no one could bring a weapon.”

But it’s all an act, folks, a stage play meant to put our minds at ease. There is always the danger of someone hurting you; that’s life. We cannot just sacrifice our personal liberties, even though it is really about nothing more than mere convenience. I would sooner drop the bullshit just to save the people who missed their connecting flights from having to reschedule because I acknowledge we are no safer for it.

On another note, after a 10 hour flight from Rome in which a toddler cried the entire fucking time, I no longer consider child abuse a crime.

Well, I’m off to label and upload my 610 photos of our two week trip. And yes, I got pictures of John Bolton, standing in front of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens, no less.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Posting From Overseas

I'm writing this update from the ship as we depart from Kusadasi, Turkey. I won't be able to post it until the morning (which will mean it is late the previous night in the US... for I am a time traveller). I don't particularly like writing much about my own life or experiences, but I suppose I might be indulged to share the interesting things I have seen, heard, tasted, and even smelled over the past two weeks or so.

Rather than sum up everything we have done in Rome, Greece, and Croatia (which can be read on my wife's blog, at any rate), I would like to focus on our trip today to Turkey.

For one thing, the bus that took us to Ephesus had a Turkish rug down the aisle (or as they call it here, “a rug”). Before seeing Ephesus, we made a scheduled stop at a spot that the locals would love for us to believe was the Virgin Mary's house.

Now, I believe Yeshua (Jesus) was a real person, even though there is evidence suggesting the contrary (though they are mostly just inconsistencies which suggest embellishment, not a completely creative and conspiratorial lie). However, in this part of the world, there is not only a vested religious interest in attributing many things to him and and his followers, there is also quite a lucrative economic interest.

Perhaps a little background on Mary's house would be beneficial, so that the reader may make a judgment for themselves. If the details are slightly off, I apologize, as I must go completely by memory as I write this offline without the benefit of research and verification (internet access is a couple dollars a minute, so I will only be online long enough to paste this post from a word document). However, I have more than captured the gist of it all.

In the 19th century, a German nun had a dream in which she saw a woman who instructed her that she was Mary. This vision also instructed her that her final home was located in Turkey, atop a mountain in Ephesus.

Here is where my skepticism begins, as it clearly states this fact in the Bible, and while Christians are no good at acting as the Bible instructs, they are quite good at latching onto minor details and obsessing on them as absolute truth. She no doubt read that Mary was taken by the apostle John to Ephesus.

If she had pinpointed some spot, or even chosen a single mountain or hill, I might be more impressed. However, German archeologists dug atop several mountains (as there are quite a few nearby) before stumbling upon the foundations of a modest home overlooking ancient Ephesus. The site was quickly proclaimed to be “Mary's Home,” despite nothing being found there beyond some pottery and less than a foot of stone foundation.

A stone house was quickly erected, and a visit by a pope found no evidence that could disprove its legitimacy. As in all things religious, it was determined real because it was not proven fake. Pope John Paul II declared the location a place of pilgrimage, and Christians of every persuasion have been duped into trudging through the inauspicious fabrication ever since.

Perhaps the most interesting point is that Eriksson, the cellphone company, recently paid for many of the modern renovations, and perhaps even the building of the restaurant and gift shops nearby. In exchange, they were permitted to erect a cell phone tower atop the mountain. Tasteful...

The house was quite small. It had two doors and the building itself was arranged in the shape of an “L.” There was a large picture of Mary behind an altar, and gold or bronze incense burners hung about the room. A nun sat inside next to the altar, saying the rosary. Soft choral music was playing. I have no pictures of the inside, as video and photography was not permitted (however, I'm sure a quick Google search will yield plenty of photos). In fact, I cannot post any pictures until I return, as I left my camera's transfer cord at home. On a side note, my camera also ran out of batteries at the Vatican just as we entered the Sistine Chapel, so I lack any photos of that or St. Peter's Basilica.

There is also a wall at the Virgin Mary's house where the faithful—and I suppose even the unfaithful—may write something on a piece of rice paper or cloth (I was unsure) and tie it to a wall. My wife remarked that the practice is much akin to that which is performed at the Wailing Wall. At regular intervals, the caretakers of the house light the wall ablaze, “sending the prayers up to heaven.” This is a far more elegant solution to the accumulation than the rabbis who sweep up and throw away the pieces of paper that fall out of the wall in Jerusalem. I will post a picture of this wall with all my other photos when I get home.

After travelling down the mountain by bus, we got out again at the entrance to Ephesus. The city is quite old, having been established 3000 years ago and occupied until the 8th century CE. In its nearly two millennia of activity, it was first a Greek colony, then a Roman city, and finally it passed into the hands of the Byzantines. It fell into disuse when the sea receded, turning the once powerful port city into a malaria infested marshland.

As it fell into disuse, and the surrounding mountains being stripped of their trees (likely for use in fueling the public baths), it was only a matter of time before mudslides from the mountains flanking the city on either side buried the ruins, which had been toppled by earthquakes.

My wife and I took many pictures, and she bought a beautiful shawl in the bazaar outside Ephesus. The cruise ship's literature extolled the Turkish merchants for their “warm hospitality” and “friendly banter,” which turned out to be euphemisms for pushiness. My grandmother explained it best when she said it reminded her of shopping in Mexico, for they both have a sort of desperate sales pitch. It was the first country that took American dollars in addition to Euros.

After walking through Ephesus, we hopped back on the bus which took us to a rug shop where they did weaving on-site. We were shown tens of thousands of dollars worth of rugs. My wife was given a glass of apple tea, and I had a glass of Coca-Cola—I don't drink wine, tea, coffee, or “Lion's Milk,” a local hard liquor (the other choices). By the end of the demonstration, it quickly turned into the all-too-familiar sales pitch we have become accustomed to. We politely made our escape, even though the “exit” was on the other side of the shop from the entrance, forcing us to walk through a jewelry section.

We walked around another bazaar, and my wife bought a small, turquoise colored ceramic jar. We made our way back to the ship, and along the way saw cigarettes being sold. I wanted to take a picture, but someone in the store came up and stopped me. There was a warning in big, bold letters at the bottom which read “Smoking Kills.” We're talking a HUGE warning label, which took up a third of the carton's display side.

Earlier in the day, we shared an elevator with former UN ambassador John Bolton. There is a large Republican conference (the Nation Review) being held on the ship this week, and we've seen “the Walrus,” as I like to call him, several time. Supposedly, Karl Rove is on board, but that triple-chinned bastard must order a lot of room service because we never see him. We also saw John Bolton at the Virgin Mary's house, and several times previously while eating. He's kind of like a real-life version of Waldo now.

Leave it to Republicans to hold their group meetings in foreign countries, spending their money outside the US while their home wallows in the worst economic situation in generations.

I was told by our amicable and Muslim tour guide to pass along the knowledge that Turkey is not like most nations that are predominantly Islamic. Though the population is 90% Muslim, they are quite progressive. They sell alcohol openly, have bikini clad women on beautiful beaches, and the tour guide's brother married a Jew while in America and plan to raise their child in typical Jewish fashion in Instanbul.

This is nice and all, but I will point out that the travel information provided by the US informed us that criticizing the Turkish government is a crime. So I will not laud them as being truly free until I have time to adequately research the matter, and I am certainly not qualified to speak on their attempts to join the EU. However, they were as hospitable as any other port we have visited.

I believe this will be my only post until my stay abroad comes to an end in 4-5 days. I'm a little confused on the time loss/gain, and I am also unsure of when I will be prepared to post again even after we return, as I have quite a few things to take care of upon arriving home. However, the time away has provided me with quite a few insights, and I have filled half my moleskine notebook with thoughts I am looking forward to sharing here.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I'll be gone on my honeymoon for two weeks. I'll post during the short times we'll have internet (we have to pay per minute for access). Sorry this post is so short, we've been packing for the last two days, and there's still so much to do.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


There is a psychological occurrence very near and dear to my heart called “projection” in which a person “projects” their own personal qualities and actions upon others. Israel appears to have done this.

During the attacks that occurred in December and January of ’08/’09, I made some posts (here and here) denouncing the actions of the Israelis. I still refuse to criticize the Palestinians because it is not the fault of the entire Palestinian people that a few individuals are firing rockets across the border (would you want America blamed for a couple individuals attacking another country?). I have no problem blaming the Israelis for the actions of their organized and state-sanctioned military, let alone their US funded arsenal.

It seems the primary moral-crutch the Israelis fell back on during the fighting in Gaza is a sham. According to Amnesty International’s report on the events, Palestinians did not use civilians as “human shields.” On the contrary, the Israelis actually used Palestinians as shields by forcing Palestinian civilians to remain in their homes as the Israeli forces advanced and occupied different sectors.

The death ratios say it all: 13 Israelis killed (including the victims of the rocket attacks which Israel used as their reason for the offensive) versus about 1,400 Palestinians, of which about 300 were children and hundreds more were innocent civilians. These stats also ignore the devastation to the infrastructure also suffered by the Palestinians (which I addressed in a post here, after reading of Jimmy Carter's visit to the region).

Have these people even heard the phrase “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth?” What? They wrote it? Unbelievable…

On a lighter note, I found this hilarious video I thought I would share:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let Them Eat Meat

I wear a lot of t-shirts. I don’t have many political or religiously themed shirts. In fact, the only one I have is my Communist Party shirt, given to me as a gift by my wife. Most depict bands or are humorous.

However, the shirt I wear that gets the most comments is my “Animals Taste Good” shirt. I can find a couple online that are similar, but I’ll post a pic I took of the shirt below:

Basically, I only hear positive feedback. In fact, I hear a lot. Sometimes when I’m wearing a band shirt, someone will say “Nice shirt,” or “Oh, I like Nirvana, too!” However, with the Animals Taste Good shirt, someone will tell me they like it, no matter where I go. I got a comment on it today in the pet store, from someone who WORKS with animals.

What’s odd to me is I don’t get any negative comments. Many vegetarians I’ve known have strong feelings on the matter. While they don’t necessarily care if someone eats meat, they usually oppose fur, so why not shirts promoting the carnivore diet?

In fact, I bought the shirt hoping to unload some of my philosophical differences on nosey vegetarians. I have dated more than one vegetarian, and I’ve spent long hours arguing over both its moral and nutritional validity.

For one thing, vegetarians shouldn’t do it for the animals. Life is life, and vegetarians eat formerly living things, too. Where’s the pity for the soy holocaust that had to occur to make your tofu? And how dare you accuse my food of being overly processed when I have seen soy turned into everything. You think that soy naturally has an imitation meat consistency, or that it gives milk?

Don’t even get me started on cleanliness. Which is cleaner, meat which may have brushed against poop and is then cook at high temperatures, or plants that grow in shit, gets handled by dirty farm hands, and are stored in rat-infested silos for months, only to be briskly washed under cold water by the consumer? I can’t even imagine the diseases festering in the petri dish that is the “raw food” vegan. I won’t even shake their hands.

Eating meat is part of being human. It was an essential part of our evolution. If people seem emotionally attached to their meat, this is probably why. I know that one day, meat may be a rare commodity, but it surely won’t disappear from our diet.

Plus, there’s so much fun you can have with meat. You ever get a bunch of hot wings and wonder if any of the chickens knew each other? What the very idea of a chicken omelet. “Yeah, I’ll have a chicken fried in its own abortion, thanks.” It seems like something Ed Gein or Jeffry Dahmer would order.

I’ll never understand what drives individuals to deprive themselves of meat. “But Ginx, don’t you know what they do to those poor animals?” Yes, and it tastes good.

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