Jun. 28th, 2007

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I'm sitting in an un-airconditioned overpriced (€3.50/hour -- I was paying €1/hour in Florence, and £1/hour in London) Internet cafe a couple blocks from the Vatican, as Lis and my uncle Bob go on a guided tour. I'm catching up on email, and trying to think about what I want to blog about the second half our our time in Tuscany, and what Rome has been like.

The thing which I noticed about Tuscany is that it's so unafraid to actually live up to its reputation.

I mean, my parents and I were at a small restaurant, sitting outside in comfortable chairs on a narrow cobblestone street, or really, an alley, between medieval stone walls. Our table was set such that we could all see down a cross-alley, and we could see down the hill, out to the horizon which was covered with rolling hills raising to low mountains over fields, vinyards, olive groves. . .

The food we were eating was extremely simple food done so well as to stagger credulity. And just as I was thinking how blatantly stereotypical this was, that this was a parody of what we all think Tuscany is, a flock of swifts swooped down the alley eating bugs.

And yet -- it's NOT a parody.

I remember once writing in this blog about the Wisconsin Dells, and how they were honestly and sincerely tacky -- that there is no irony in their tackiness. Vegas and Atlantic City may be aware of what they are, but the Wisconsin Dells have an innocence about them -- they are every bit as tacky, but are totally sincere in their tackiness.

Tuscany has the same sincerity. But it's about its sincerety. It is honestly and sincerely honest and sincere. Tuscany is aware of how beautiful it is, and is aware of how beautiful people think it is. And you'd think that, when it realized that, it would start trying to hard.

It doesn't. It just sits there being so beautiful as to be a parody of itself, but with no irony.

I feel that trying to describe it is to destroy it, because every description I say about it sounds like every description I've read of that. And that makes me feel that I'm saying it is this way because other people have said that it is this way. And yet -- it IS that way, despite the fact that everyone says it is.


What of Rome?
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Rome has fountains everywhere. And by "fountains", I mean "big decorative things that throw water into the sky", but I also mean, "water bubblers", aka "drinking fountains". They're of the "always on" model, and some of them are decorative, and some of them are just functional, just arcing a stream of water onto the ground.

The functional ones are kind of a standardized form: a cylinder rising out of the ground, with a curved pipe with water coming out. Perfect for re-filling water bottles, or soaking your head. Not quite as easy for drinking from directly, but there's a hole drilled on the top of the pipe, just where it's bending. Block the water coming out the end, and it squirts out the hole in the top, instead, so you can drink from it that way. All Romans are apparently adept at blocking it just exactly enough to shoot the water exactly high enough to raise it to the level at which they like to drink. I would be very surprised if Roman kids were not also adept at spraying passerby with this trick.

What I saw today, on the way back to the hotel, is that they are also absolutely PERFECT for filling water balloons. You stick the balloon on the end of the pipe, so the water squirts out the top, and block the top hole with your finger, and the water fills the balloon just perfectly.

Our hotel is in Chinatown. I don't know what Rome calls their Chinatown, or if it's even recognized as a neighborhood, but it meant that there was a Chinese import shop a couple blocks from the hotel where we could buy a really, really GOOD pair of compact binoculars for €12. Lis bought a folding fan (green laquered wood slats painted with a flower scene, held together with a green ribbon), which looks really good, for €2. When Mom saw it, she HAD to have one, too, so I took her there and she bought a red one for herself, and a maroon one for THIS family member and another one for THAT family member. . .

Lis wanted me to mention that I finally figured out why Italy does so much with really sexy shoes. See, in Rome, if a woman doesn't have legs that could stop traffic, how else could she cross the street?

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