OK, you can have just a little

I wasn't going to, but I can't resist. I went to the Domus Aurea today -- Nero's Golden House, now buried under the ruins of Trajan's Baths. The tour was great, but even more incredible were the dozen jaw-droppingly attractive young women that were leading the tours / staffing the ticket office. Glamorous, beautiful, with lovely thick accents when speaking English. I know nothing more about the Domus Aurea than when I started (due entirely to the level of distration I suffered, not the quality of the tour), and guess what... I couldn't care less. That's what books are for.


Today is my last day in Roma, and you can't have any of it. You'll have to ask me in person.

I will finish up some old posts to fill in the gaps over the next couple of days, so be sure to check back (and check the older posts as well, sometimes the updates get shuffled in there if they're too old).



On the top of the Aventine Hill is the Priory of the Knights of Malta, which has, for some reason, extraterratorial status. Its garden has been designed in such a way that when you peer through the keyhole of the gate you can see three separate sovereignties: The grounds of the Priory, Italy (the city of Rome), and the Vatican. It took two different settings to capture all three on my little camera, but here is the view...

malta near

malta far

The Aventine also has lovely parks filled with oranges and spectacular views of the city.

A day of contrasts

I hiked to Tridente today to visit the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum of Augustus. On the way, I took my little detour to visit Il Gesu.

Unfortunately, the Ara Pacis (Altar of Augustan Peace) is inaccessible due to galloping mounds of scaffolding that are impressive even by Italian standards. Richard Meier is apparently in the process of building a museum space for the Altar that he thinks Rome will finally appreciate. I'm not so confident, but I'll reserve judgement for now. In stark contrast to the flurry of activity at the Altar, the Mausoleum of Augustus next to it looks a bit bedraggled. The grounds are ill-kempt, and sitting as it does below the current ground level (the ancient ground level was about 4 meters lower), this burial place of the most powerful Roman emperor ever, looks small and insignificant. The marble and travertine cladding was pillaged in the Middle Ages, the remains removed, and the building subsequently renovated into a fortress and later into a theater / stadium. It's now surrounded by a square clearly designed by the Fascists, which is used primarly for a car park. The small park in which the Mausoleum sits serves primarly as a place where the homeless sleep and people let their dogs poop. This seems very, very disrespectful.

I climbed the Quirinal to Quatro Fontane and went inside of Borromini's church of San Carlos. The grey feeling that I had been carrying in my chest since visiting Augustus could not have found a more effective place to dissipate.


carlos' dome

My pictures can't do this tiny church justice - the feeling of height and light has to be experienced in person.

Next, walking along the via Nationale, I noticed that the church of San Vitale was open, which is rare. I went down the flight of stairs (this ancient church is about 3 meters below the current street level), and paused briefly in front of the immaculately carved doors before heading inside. Inside the church felt comfortable in a way that neither Il Geso nor San Carlos had. The ceiling was coffered with huge but simple wooden beams, and unlike the Il Gesu -- which was opulent to the extreme -- San Vitale does not have any noticeable expanses of marble verneer. In fact, the walls are painted with lovely trompe l'oeil renderings of pilasters and columns and of all the precious marble cladding and ornamentation that this church lacks. It felt a bit like the church had been decorated with the ancient equivalent of Formica and Linoleum, but I liked it - it felt like home.

I finished my day off with a stroll behind the Palatine to San Gregorio Magno, then across the Aventine, and down to the Pyramid of Cestius and Testaccio before heading home.

Better men than I

Remember a couple of days ago, when I said that there are some things that just can't be captured in pictures? I think that I have to amend that. I just went into Il Gesu, the mother-church of the Jesuits, and the fresco on the ceiling ('The triumph of the Name of Christ') blew my mind. The figures literally fall out of it, spilling over the edge of the framing sculpture, and the foreshortening and perspective lend a sense of tumbling and animation to the bodies that I've never seen before. This city is replete with examples of better men than I trying (and succeeding) to capture with paintbrushes and chisels, pencils and clay, those things that common-sense tells us mere mortals cannot be captured.

No picture. Sorry, I know my limits. I may not like them, but I know them.


Stones of Rome

So basically, I've always thought that Ruskin was a bit full of shit, or at least a bit of a drama-queen, with his sighing and panting over the stones of Venice. On the other hand, I have always been a bit intrigued by how local building materials give such distinctive colors to town like Sienna, Assisi, and Florence. Now I'm sold. I picked up a smashing guidebook to Roma (the Oxford Archeological Guide), and under the influence of the sections on Roman building materials I've found myself noticing the incredible variety of techniques and materials used. And while perhaps this is a bit trite, it's the marbles (moreso than the otherwise interesting brick-and-tufa construction, like opus reticulatum and opus vittatum) that have fascinated me.

Here are a couple examples:

Numidian Yellow

numidian yellow

Red Porphyry

red porphyry

The stunning colors are hard to appreciate in these pictures, but it's more than just the colors that I find interesting. Numidian yellow stone comes from the Tunisia, and red porphyry comes from the eastern desert of Egypt. The stories, the politics, and the economics of how they came to Rome, and why these rocks said such powerful things about the Empire... that's what I find so interesting.

A story

San Bartolomeo, the site of my musing in my previous post, is a medieval church + hospital complex on Isola Tiburtina. Apparently the island has been associated with healing since Roman times, when there was a temple to Aesculapius (probably) on the site of the present day church. The story goes that, faced with a dire plague, the Romans sent some ambassadors to the Temple of Aesculapius in Epidauros, Greece to ask the god for help. Bear in mind that traditionally, the ambassadors would have swords and would cart off a big gold statue from the temple to set up in their own city to make sure that they had the protection of the particular god, these gods having a small radius of effect, apparently. This time however, they were met by the priests of Aesculapius who gave them a snake. Which the Romans took instead. That's right, I don't know why either, just listen to the story. ("Er, no, you can't take our solid gold idol, it's... er... out for repairs. But wait, we've got this... er... umm... holy SNAKE you can have!" Fabulous.)

Anyway, after a long sea voyage, just as the ambassador's ship was coming up the Tiber and into the city, the snake escaped from it's basket, jumped off the ship and swam onto the island. Which apparently indicated that this was where the god wanted his temple to be built, and so it was. Not sure what happened to the snake after that, the story doesn't say. Actually, I don't even know if the snake helped to end the plague, but I'd like to assume that the story has a happy ending, and that the snake and Romans lived happily ever after.

Character flaws

This afternoon, I was sitting in the square of San Bartolomeo, eating gelato (more on this below) and thinking about a couple of tiny little blemishes on my character that I've noticed since coming to Roma. Nothing huge: I'm not saying that I'm embezzling old peoples' life savings, or eating people, or anything like that. Small stuff.

First, postcards. That's right, postcards. They're easily one of the most effortless forms of communication that humans have ever invented. You are not even expected to write a lot - there is no room to do more than scribble some pathetic half-truth like, "Roma is lovely, wish you were here," stick a stamp on it, and drop it in a postbox. For the love of Christ, you don't even have to lick it. And yet... I can't seem to find the motivation to do it. I just can't. They just sit there in their racks, taunting me for 60 cents apiece, and still, I... can't... do... it.

Second, I'm a book slut. Why am I buying books in Roma? It's not that I'm an impulse buyer. Oh no, I thought about it long and hard, rationalized furiously, then went back to the museum shop like a tourist-trout hooked in the wallet and plopped down for an enormous, heavy book. Written in Italian. And, no, in case you're wondering, I don't read Italian very well at all.

Last, I've become absolutely addicted to gelato. I'll use any excuse or rationale to suck down huge, gluttonous quantities of the frozen goodness that I crave. Furthermore, I never have the presence of mind to keep it simple, so now I've first-hand knowledge that fragola and pistaccio do not go well together. Neither, surprisingly do merangata and ciocolatto. Of course, the four year old kid at the counter next to me could have identified that fact immediately, but I have to mix and match, as if an eclectic taste in gelato imbues me with a high class aura. Do I expect that I'll suddenly come across a variation that no one has ever thought of before? And there's always a warning... the person behind the counter always gives me the raised eyebrows when I say "nocciola". "Nocciolo e melanzane?" "Si!," I answer confidently. And then they give me one of those classic Italian smiles before they hand me my cone.

Also, I eat it too fast, and it gives me an Ice Cream Headache.


Finally IN (Interlude, Day 3)

Today we toured the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's. We had intended to get up bright and early and be at the museum when it opened, but out night of wild debauchery got the better of us, and we slept in a little bit. There were still pretty sizeable crowds, but the line into the Museums went very quickly. Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel was closed in preparation for the Conclave, but we still got to see a great deal.

One of the great thing's about the Vatican Museums is the quirky, seemingly random things that you find there. Contrary to popular belief it's not all about Popery. For example... You might think that this...

yet another foot

... Is the ceramic reliquary of the foot of St. Bunion, whom Christ healed of his foot disfigurement. But in fact it is not (the foot of St. Bunion is kept at the Lateran). It's just a lovely, colorful foot from a Roman statue.

And these funny little guys...

tiny little workers

... are tiny statues that do your chores for you after you're dead. But only if you're Egyptian.

You find some pretty pervy stuff in the Vatican too (who would have thought it, hmmm?). Like this:

ancient pervy statue

I'll let you figure it out.

Although the Sistine Chapel was closed, we did get to see the Raphael Stanze. Raphael had an endearing habit of including his contemporaries in his paintings, and so we have this cameo by Michelangelo.


Michelangelo, known to be moody, was perhaps not as charmed by his unauthorized portrait as subsequent generations have been.

Before I forget, I've been harassed for not posting any pictures of myself yet, for which there is a good reason - it's very hard to take pictures of one's self. But while Rano was visiting I got a couple. Here is me, with an egyptian lion fountain in the Cortile della Pigna:


And one of Nina and I waiting for Rano to come out of the bathroom.


After the museums, we headed over to look in St. Peter's. There was huge, immobile crush of people trying to get through the metal detectors (the Vatican police doing a better screening job than your average Italian police officer). After clearing the crowd, we noticed this sign:

no topless women

Apparently barring one legged, topless women, and men in lederhosen who have had their shoulder removed, from entering the Church.

The inside of St. Peter's is, like many other places in Rome, hard to photograph in a way that does it justice, but here is a picture of the lighting inside playing havok with the dynamic range of my new digital camera.

san pietro light

Rano and Nina headed back tonight - I saw them off at the bus to the airport (at Termini). Rano bought me a lovely bottle of grappa which she gave me before they left. This is why I love her... the booze. Also, she is the sweetest person in the world, but really, it's the free booze.


Alarm Clock (Interlude, Day 2)

We woke up this morning to the crashing of the canon. This is what vacations are meant to be filled with - unabashed laziness. Realizing, however, that we were going to run out of daylight, we jumped up and headed out to pound the pavement.

We started with a whirlwind tour of the Campo dei Fiori and the Campo Marzo, taking in Pasquino (the talking statue), Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. At the Pantheon, I was becoming very frustrated at not being able to capture the photo that I wanted, looking up at the column capitals from under the porch. It seemed impossible to simultaeously capture both the immensity of what my eye could take in, as well as the overpowering sense of... weight... pressing down on me. Distracted and visibly irked, I glanced over at a man sitting at the base of one of the columns who just smiled back knowingly. Finally it dawned on me that there are some things that just can't be captured with pictures. So I put my camera away, and just enjoyed being very small in the presence of something very large.

Next, went by the Trevi Fountain where we threw some hard-earned Euros into the water, and ate a bit of lunch. Then, we hot-footed past the Forum to the Colosseum. I had never been inside before, and it is a pretty interesting piece of engineering - huge buttresses, underground tunnels, four or five risers of bleachers, hydraulic pumps to flood the arena, and the ancient concession stands near each exit are still working (ha ha, not really).

colosseo dead on

There were also some nice views of the Arch of Constantine from up in the Colosseo.


The Arch is an incredible, political work of architecture. The simple story is that Constantine had it erected to commemorate his victory over Maxentius at the Milvan Bridge, but pillaged a bunch of previous works of architecture and art to decorate it. For example, several of the roundels are actually of Marcus Aurelius, but have been recut to resemble Constantine. This is typically read as a result of either the miserliness of Constantine, or of the decline of the ability the Empire to produce fine narrative reliefs.

The truth is quite a bit more complex. Some of the roundels are original. And the ones that are spoila have been identifed as originally portraying Marcus Aurelius because several of the other roundels from the series have been found, and they were appearently removed from monuments to Marcus Aurelius much earlier than the time of Constantine... saved when the original monument was dismantled, in the expectation that they would be reused. The use of these works was in fact a higly polictial act, and Constatine in all likelihood counted on his contemporaries/subjects identifying the original subject matter (Marcus Aurelius subduing the barbarians), and conflating that act with his victory over Maxentius.

Also a lovely view of me.


Accompanied by the Temple of Venus. This temple backed up against the Temple of Roma (it's mirror image, now mustly incorporated into the church of Santa Maria Nova), both of which were designed by the Emporer Hadrian, himself.

Tonight, I braved the rain to run out and grab some pizza and a couple bottles of wine, and then we sat at home and listened to the rain fall on Rome.


Interlude, Day 1

Rano and her friend Nina arrived this morning from Lausanne, after many trials and tribulations -- namely the airports being closed for the Pope's funeral. We dropped off their luggage at my flat, and then did a bit of walking around... we saw Teatro Marcello, and the Republican temples and the medieval Casa Di Crescenzi in the Foro Boaria, and then stuck out hands in La Bocca della Verita, which I also convined Rano it was good luck to kiss.

bite your lips off

Nina was horrified.

It was a bit of a rainy day, and we got a bit wet, but we were rewarded with stunning view of the rain drenching the Forum before we headed into the Capitoline Museums.

rainy forum

Unfortunatly, Il Spinario was in London for some nonsensical reason, but we got to see the various colossal bady parts in the courtyard, the Capitoline She-Wolf, and Bernini's Medusa. I never noticed before how morose Medusa looks - ever her snakes looked a tad droopy.

unhappy to be Medusa

For dinner we went out to a lovely little restaurant that Rano and Nina found, at which Nina decided to demonstrate how much better her Italian is than mine, apparently having had quite enough of my macho slaughtering of the language. She got her come-uppance later though, when we went out to a jazz club and the two older ladies, with whom she was chatting, tried to take her home. HA!

Mistaken identity

I was killing some time at the cafe this morning, waiting for Rano's shuttle from the airport to arrive. It had been raining, and when I walked in, I noticed an umbrella lying on the ground next to a tall, round, brass canister, obviously an umbrella holder. It even had a plastic bag inside, to keep the inside dry. So I tossed my umbrella inside and sat down at a table.

A little while later, I noticed... odd... there were several umbrella holders around the cafe, not just at the door. Then a man that had been standing at the bar wadded up his napkin and tossed it in the umbrella holder.

Except that they weren't umbrella holders, were they?


At least, I think it was success. I just dropped my laundry off at the lavanderia. The man (the same one as before) grabbed my laundry out of my hand as soon as I walked in. Then he scribbled down something on a slip of paper (I think it was the number 11), demanded 6 Euro, and then said HA HA HA and winked at me again. I still don't know what that means. I may have just paid a man 6 Euro to steal all of my clothes.

I think he likes me. Come to think of it, I just left every last scrap of clothes that I have with me with a total stranger... I hope he likes me.

Still baffled by the HA HA HA wink.


The hottest show in town

Is apparently the Pope's funeral. I got up at 6 am, and walked to the Vatican in the hopes of getting a ringside seat for the 10 am funeral. I live in a fantasy world apparently. I couln't even get into St. Peter's Square, and I just barely got within the walls of Citta Leonina. For those of you without a map handy, this means that I was about a quarter of a mile away from even being able to see the Square, let alone St. Peter's. So I went home. I listened to the pre-funeral show on the radio (like a lot of other Romans... old men at the corner bar had it turned on) for a little while at home, but I didn't understand much and then I back fell asleep.

After I got up again, I spent most of the afternoon wandering around the Campo dei Fiori and Campo Marzo, getting lost in whatever little back streets I could. It wasn't hard. Not a lot was open, but I bought some bread and salami at an alimenteria, and also a bottle of araniciata. I had lunch near the site of the Temple of Isis, built by Julius Caesar in about 43 BC. The Temple is long gone, but across the street from where I sat to eat was this:

Which is, apparently, all that remains from a colossal statue of Serapis, the consort of Isis, that used to stand in the Temple. This is one of the reason's that I love Roma - people parallel park between vast bits of millenium-old statues. And Romans are so casual about it... "What? 2 meter long sandalled foot of a cult god imported from Egypt in the first century BC? Sure, next block over, in the alley on the left."

By the way, you may have heard that for 24 hours around the Pope's funeral, all the streets inside Roma's ring road were closed. And they were. Unless, of course, you were driving a taxi, or a police car, or a scooter, or you were a foreign dignitary, or you were any other Roman who wanted to go any place inside the ring road at all. Closed, my foot.


Laundromat bafflement

This morning I went by a lavanderia that I found an advertisement for. The clean clothing situation is going to get a bit grim in a couple of days, and I'll have to resort to wearing my sheets as a toga. (They do that here, and it's OK. I swear.) I have no concept of how this lavanderia place works. There is a large switchboard on the wall. The machines have no coin slots but big signs that read so-and-so-many kilos. There is a man that rushes about opening and closing the washers and dryers (I assume they're washers and dryers, but there is no discernable difference between the two). I asked the man in pathetic Italian how to use the laundromat (warning him in advance that I spoke poor Italian - not that he needed any warning). He rattled something off in an absolutely unintelligible language, them laughed HA HA HA and winked at me. HA HA HA wink? What the hell does that mean?

Stay tuned for updates.


Lazy day

Although my two previous posts might indicate otherwise, today was a very lazy day, and I spent it mostly exploring Trastevere, although I did pop over the river to take a peek at the Foro Romano just before sunset.

I'm absolutely charmed by Trastevere. The tiny streets are cobbled in basalt pietrini, they wind every which way, oftening opening up into little squares or stopping awkwardly at thick, battered medeival walls. The church of Santa Maria in Trestevere has an incredible exterior... with a puzzling 13th century mosaic of the Virgin with 12 maidens on the facade, a medieval bell tower, and an awkward looking portico by Carlo Fontana glommed onto the front. The church is one of the oldest in Rome, probably completed sometime in the early 4th century.

[I'll put a picture here, as soon as I take one]

For the rest of the day, I wandered over to the Tiber island - Isola Tiburtina - and then across the Foro Boarium (the cattle market) to peer into the forum from the back of the Campodoglio. Just downstream of the island is the remains of the Ponte Rotto (the broken bridge).

ponte rotto

It's incredible to think that this bridge was originally built by Augustus Caesar in the 1st century BC. It was used until 1598, when part of it was swept away in a flood. Of course it was repaired several times, including once by Michelangelo, but even so, getting 1700 years of useful life from a structure is incredible.

Also on Isola Tiburtina, some wise guy in 1C BC carved a little boat prow into the retaining wall of the island. Part of it is still there.

the island is a boat
[The pavement under the boat is the new, 20th century river embankment. 2000 years ago the boat was in the water.]

Toward evening I walked up onto the Capitoline Hill and watched evening descend over the Forum. Beautiful. Absolutely stunning, and impossible to capture with a camera. On the way back I walked under the Monte Tarpeo, a cliff on one side of the Capitoline where the Romans used to execute criminals by lobbing them off the top. There's a great story about it's name, but I forget it now... I'll post it later if I can remember it.

Walking like a Roman

After careful study, I think I've identified how to walk like a Roman. It involves moving very slowly, with either a half-smile or slighly pursed lips, and it looks very relaxing. Unlike Americans, who walk fast as a matter of habit, Romans do it only under duress, and then with a slight, constant frown, as if to indicate that while they might have to, they are decidedly unhappy about it.

In between sitting down drinking coffee and sitting down staring about in wonder, I've been practicing my walk. Its not perfect, but its coming along.

More on crossing the street like a Roman later... for now, suffice to say that it involves staring menacingly at the oncoming rush of traffic, and has nothing whatsoever to do with pedestrian markings or signals, if those even exist in Roma.

Under attack

My slumber was rudely interrupted this morning by the crash of a canon firing. I am not making this up. It's a nationalist thing, apparently.

I'm told that this happens every day at noon, from the top of the Gianicolo - it's close enough to cause the windows to rattle fairly hard. And to cause one to have a heart attack in one's sleep. Pietro had to come in and pound my chest with the espresso pot to get my heart started again (that's what they use here instead of those shock-paddles).


Via dei Riari 48d

The apartment is lovely, and my landlord, Pietro, is a king among Romans. There are several cats on the premises, who apparently think of me as an interloper, to the extent that they can be bothered (which is hardly). The back of the house is against the Orto Biologico (botanical gardens) on the Gianicolo, which is beautiful.

Here are some pictures of the place...

Outside (yes, those are lemons):
via dei Riari 48d outside

via dei Riari 48d inside

Interesting note about the Riari for whom the street is named: The Palazzo Corsini, at the head of the street, was originally built for a member of the Riario family - cousins of the delle Rovere pope Sixtus IV, who was himself responsible for building the Sistine chapel and the Ponte Sisto over the Tiber. Sixtus was involved in a botched (only 50% successful) assasination attempt against Giuliano and Lorenzo de' Medici, the rulers in Florence, for his cousin Girolamo Riario's sake. This, understandably, made the Tuscans a bit uncomfortable with the pope's politics (by "uncomfortable", I mean, "led to decades of intermittent warfare"). The palazzo ultimately passed to the Corsini famly, and was also used by the scandalous (or at least, put-off-ish) Queen Christina of Sweden, and was where she died. It now houses part of the National Gallery of Art, the bulk of which is at Palazzo Barbarini.

Three Classic Mistakes

I arrived in Roma this afternoon. I flew RyanAir (go team, go!) down from Stansted, which was an experience. Walking across the tarmac in London, under a slate grey sky, with the smell of jet fuel pervading my head... brought back all sorts of strong Navy memories. I was telling someone just the other day how closely I associate smells with memories. Who was it?

Anyway, although I had been forewarned, I made three rookie mistakes as soon as I arrived in Roma today.

Classic Mistake #1) "Make sure the taxi uses the meter." At Termini, I tossed my bags in the trunk of the first available cab (after determining that it looked official), asked the driver for via dei Riari in Trastevere, and away we sped at gutwrenching speed through the streets of Roma. After several near misses with other cabs (cute how they roll down their windows to talk to each other, while driving at full speed), scooters, ancient monuments, etc, when my heart had finally climbed out of my throat, I noticed that not only was the driver not using his meter... the cab apparently didn't own one. I refuse to tell you how much the ride cost.

Classic Mistake #2) "Make sure that the taxi drops you off at the door, not down the street." The feeling of the cab slowly decellerating should have been the first indication that something was wrong. I know now that Roman taxi drivers usually maintain a speed above 60 miles per hour until they are approximately parallel with their intended stop, at which point they veer sharply to one side and halt screechingly, in such a way as to both block traffic and toss their passengers about forcefully. My taxi did nothing of the sort. After making several circuits of the same five block stretch (much like an ancient charioteer in the circus, I like to imagine), my driver pulled over and proclaimed "Eccoci!" ("Here we are!"). We were clearly not. Nevertheless, we were close, so I piled out, paid, and relied on own my exceptional sense of direction and own two feet to get me the remaining four blocks.

Classic Mistake #3) "Make sure that you have the correct address." Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems entirely sensible to assume that number 48D is a flat in the house labelled 48, yes? Upon entering the gate of via dei Riari number 48, while searching for a buzzer to ring flat D, I was charged by a man yelling "Che fai!?! E un ospitale!", Roman for "Get the hell out", apparently. Number 48D was the next house up the street. While beating a hasty retreat out the gate of 48, I noticed a small sign on the wall that said Dipartimento Salute Mentale. No comments please.



I got to see Sophie this afternoon. We met up in Hampstead (I bravely took the bus!), and then went for a walk on the Heath. We walked down to the ponds and bought some of odd British ice cream cones with the awful chocolate sticks in the top. Sophie, the trooper that she is, ate my chocolate stick. While I scurried about trying (and failing) to get a good picture of the Heath, Sophie showed off her new cell-phone-game-skills, which have been honed to an almost superhuman level since the last time that I saw her.

We had a truly nice time, or at least I did. We talked a lot about her mother, and about life in general, as we walked about on the Heath and looked down on London. I made the mistake of nodding approvingly in the general direction of an egg shaped building that is, apparently (unbeknownst to me) a monstrosity. Later, we walked back to Hampstead where we ate at an incredible French restaurant (le cellier du midi, 28 Church Row, for those interested) that Sophie recommended highly. We discussed the pros and cons of dietary variation, a discussion made eventually moot by the fact that everything on the menu was excellent. We had some lovely mint tea at a Moroccan restaurant, and then we popped back to St. John's wood for another cup of tea with the many Patels before we trundled her off in a cab for home.

I can wish and wish that the circumstances might have been different... but they weren't. Nevertheless, it was lovely to see her again, and I'm sure it will be one of my best memories of this trip.


Traditional British leisure activities

I arrived in London yesterday afternoon and soon met up with Raj (against all odds, the authorities having undertaken a massive renovation of Victoria Station so as to utterly remove the landmark at which we were to meet, whilst simultaneously brainwashing all Londoners to stare at me blankly when I asked for said landmark's last known location.) Anyway, after dropping my luggage at his brother's flat where we are both staying (our old place in St. John's Wood), we headed for his parents' place, where I stuffed myself with homemade Indian food until I was unable to move without the assistance of heavy machinery. In return for their hospitality, I allowed the Patels to use me* as the target of their well-meaning-and-entirely-justified-concerns about the excessive spicy-ness of several of the meal's constituent dishes. The rice alone rated "Magma", even after cooled with yoghurt/ice cubes/novicaine applied to my tongue.

I thought that things couldn't get much better, but this morning Raj had a huge surprise for me: that's right... a day of traditional, British...

Parking Tickets and Cheese!!

In order to run a couple of errands, we borrowed Raj's brother's very nice car. Before he let us pry the keys from his clenched fist, Sanjeev gave us the following helpful advice: "Don't get a parking ticket, don't get a parking ticket, DON'T GET A PARKING TICKET." Off we sped to Marylebone High Street...

marylebone high street

... where -- of course -- we promptly got a parking ticket. Apparently, the practice of "feeding the meter" is illegal in the UK. Even if your total stay at the meter is less than the posted time limit, you can only put money in once. It seems odd to me that in the most heavily state-surveilled city in the world, the authorities are unable to accurately determine how long your car is at a meter, but Raj (ever the optimist) assures me that it's purely a revenue generating tactic. Did I mention that the ticket was for 50£?*** In order to salve the pain of the massive pecuniary hemmorhaging, we went into a grand cheese shop (with it's own climate controlled cheese room) and spent an ungodly sum of money on some of God's own cheese.


As we were checking out, the (American expat) man working at the shop tried to impress us with his encyclopedic cheese knowledge by telling us that the name of the cheese that we had just purchased, tete du moin, meant "monkey's head." This would have been highly impressive if it were true -- but it is not, a fact that both Raj and the man's other coworker pointed out immediately.

Bemoaning the sad state of American foreign language education, which dooms graduates to jobs in the coal-mine-like conditions of the British boutique cheese shop industry, we headed back to the flat where we enjoyed our cheese and hid the parking-ticket from Raj's brother.

* I was the token white person, required by British law since 1951 at all meals of 5 or more brown persons**.
** This is an imperialism joke.
*** The current exchange rate is 1.89 USD to the GBP. Do the math.