It’s lonely at the top of the Coliseum

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‘The time we went to Rome and no one was home’

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. It’s been thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster, so I guess it’s safe to tell a somewhat-amusing story about it. After all, New York Times Journeys is selling tours to the Chernobyl site. The group is ‘departing’ (nice choice of words, Times writer) May 27, so there’s still time to sign up. If you’ve got $5,495 and a hazmat suit.

I think I’ll skip this, tempting though it may sound to stay in ‘the only hotel in the town of Chernobyl’

So what could Chernobyl possibly have to do with a nice thirty-something couple in New York? Well. The Dude was a freshly-minted doctor at the time and was preparing to give his first big lecture at his first big medical meeting. This meeting, of ophthalmologists from around the world, was to be held in Rome — a city that sounded darned nice to visit, meeting or no meeting.

So The Dude got his notes and slides all prepped and polished and I found us some nice cheap plane tickets and a nice cheap hotel. (These were the days when we were living ‘Barefoot in the Park’-style in that fish-bowl ground-floor apartment, remember, and the Hassler was not in our budget. Still isn’t, actually.)

Then one day a week or so before we were supposed to leave, we read in the paper that a nuclear reactor had melted down somewhere in Russia, Chernobyl to be exact. We of course felt bad about this, but as was our wont, we went on with our lives and didn’t think a whole lot more about it. Until we heard about the Radioactive Cloud.

This was, basically, a super-nasty airborne plume of ‘hazardous isotopes’ that floated away from the Chernobyl disaster kind of the way a balloon floats away from a birthday party. Except that, instead of getting trapped in a tree and causing an eyesore, this nasty balloon was going to poison crops and cause cancer.

Nobody knew where the plume was going to land, but scientists thought it was going to be ‘somewhere in Europe’. So trips were being cancelled left and right — including trips to The Medical Meeting. We thought about it maybe for a second, and decided that bailing was not an option. Money had been spent. And besides, The Dude had that talk all practiced up. So off we went to Rome.

I’ll skip the part about what it was like to fly coach in the ‘non-smoking section’ on Alitalia back in the Eighties. (It was the last row way back by the not-too-clean toilets — and yes, it was just one row.) And I’ll gloss over the part about what Leonardo Da Vinci airport was like back then, except to mention that this was only about a year after an infamous TWA hijacking, so the place was swarming with teens in uniform toting machine guns. Sort of like any airport in these post-9/11, post-Trump days, I guess. But back then it was unusual.

But we made it to our comfy-but-cheap hotel, settled in, and headed out on the town for some pre-meeting fun.

All I can remember about this place was that we could afford it

Well. First thing we noticed was a surprising lack of, well, people. No matter where we went, Rome looked like a ghost town. A wonderfully well-stocked-with-antiquities ghost town, but still definitely ghostly. The Palatine Hill — deserted. The Forum — empty. The Vatican — you could shoot a gun and not hit anybody. Only The Coliseum was full. Of cats.

The Palatine Hill (I think; it’s been a long time) — and me

Me, making like a Vestal Virgin. (Vestal Virgins were thin on the ground that day)

The good part about this was a lack of crowds. The bad part was the lack of fresh food. Here we were in Rome with, basically, nothing to eat. The restaurants were thrilled to welcome us — we would be greeted with happy cries and even hugs when we entered any trattoria or ristorante. Once we were even treated to complimentary grappa, which I thought tasted kind of like tennis shoes. Tennis shoes that had been kept in a damp basement.

But there was no fresh food. No tomatoes, no milk, no fruit. Because of the toxic plume, you see. No one was sure if anything fresh was safe to eat. So there we were in Rome, eating canned peaches. Oh well, at least we were in Rome.

Nope. I don’t even see the Pope. Maybe he was craving fresh mozzarella, and left town to get some

Since our hotel was next to the train station (travel tip: many inexpensive hotels are next to train stations), we did leave Rome to go on a day trip. Went to Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este. Which were equally empty.

No people and no produce at the fountains of Tivoli. No cats either. Oh well, cats hate water

We were starting to feel a little lonely when we finally went to The Medical Meeting. Where, you’ll be happy to hear, there were at least a dozen or so intrepid souls in attendance to take in The Dude’s talk. He wasn’t nervous, not one bit. But then again, it wasn’t exactly a big scary crowd.

And what happened to The Big Scary Cloud? It settled, eventually. But not anywhere near Rome. It glommed on to Scandinavia. And, even though they ‘got’ the cloud, I’d rather visit the Swedes than, as the Times Journeys description puts it about their Chernobyl trip, “gain an unparalleled perspective on this seminal world event, and emerge with an informed view of nuclear power”.

I’m afraid that’s not all I’d ’emerge’ with.

New York City. May 2017.

 

The Cave of Our Marriage

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‘Or, How deep is your love?’

First, let me say that The Cave of Our Marriage was and is not the cute snow cave pictured above. (Though that is The Child of Our Marriage gleefully playing inside.)

I’m showing you that snow cave because last week I promised cute-kids-in-snow photos if I could get my scanner to work. (More on that later. Or not.) But mainly because no pictures of the Marital Cave exist. (It was waaaay too dark in there for any to turn out, if we had thought to take any.)

Why a story about a cave? See, this week is The Dude’s and my wedding anniversary — the latest of many. At this point, we’ve been married more years than we were alive before we got married. Or something like that.

But about that cave. Continue reading

“Drive,” she said.

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‘On the glories of the Open Road’

Last week’s tribute to my Male Parent and his napping powers included a memory of Dad piloting us on those long drives up to Gramma’s house. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott remarked that Dad was the only person he knew who could ‘simultaneously nap and smoke a cigarette while driving.’)

So true, Scott, so true. But I failed to mention why Dad would get so sleepy on those drives. It was because it was at least six hours to Gramma’s — on charming-but-small-town-clogged two-lane highways — and we wouldn’t start the drive till he got home from work. Sometimes, I remember, we would pull over to the side of the road so everybody, not just Dad, could sort-of-safely sleep. I remember that when we lived in Memphis, and the trip to Gramma’s was more like twelve hours, we had a mattress in the back of the Ford station wagon for the kids to crash on. Very Joad-like, but that’s the way it was. Continue reading

Panamaman Memories

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‘Don’t sit under the Tourist Tree with anyone else but me’

Apologies for my tardiness in getting this post out, O Faithful Fans. But The Dude and I just flew in from Panama, and boy are our arms tired. (Not to mention our bottoms, after six hours of getting to the airport while bouncing in a van on quaintly winding Panamanian roads.)

Speaking of flying, we saw gazillions of new bird species. (Well, around 250, give or take a specie.) Plus lots of other animals like monkeys, and sloths (the non-human kind), and adorable just-hatched baby turtles. Here is The Dude bonding with one of the babies (turtles, not sloths — though we did see some baby sloths too):

Don’t worry Little Guy; Wayne likes turtles. And I don’t mean in soup

And here they are, hightailing it down to the water. The Child saw one bobbing next to her surfboard soon after its release. Maybe it wanted a ride. Continue reading

Walking on air

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‘Spending New Year’s Eve in a jungle. (No, not the one in Times Square.)’

When I was a kid I used to watch the Ball drop in Times Square on TV, and dream of being there on New Year’s Eve to see it in person. But now that I actually live in New York, somehow the idea of standing cheek by jowl with a bunch of inebriated strangers in the freezing cold doesn’t sound nearly so enticing.

I think that’s the case with a lot of things that you dream about being old enough to do: driving, wearing pajamas all day, eating dessert first. I’m sure you can think of your own examples.

But even if I’m not out there partying in Times Square (or partying anywhere, for that matter) I still insist on staying up till midnight to See The New Year In. Even if no one stays up with me, which happens more and more frequently with each passing Eve. Continue reading

Street Legal

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‘The Motorcycle Diaries Part II: Getting the goldarned license’

I was going to write about little girls and summer afternoons and wineberries, but it made me feel way too gosh-what-happened-how-could-they-be-grown-up-already.

So instead I’m going to (finally) finish the story about me and my Vespa. You Faithful Readers out there may recall that, instead of flowers or candy or piece of jewelry, I got gifted with a scooter for Mother’s Day one year.

Now, a Vespa is a great Gift Idea. For one thing, it lasts a lot longer than flowers or candy. (Notice I don’t compare it to jewelry.) But there are certain strings attached. For one thing, you can’t just hop on and make like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday’.

Nope. The mean old State of New York makes you get a motorcycle license. Even if the ‘motorcycle’ is a cute little powder-blue Vespa. They also make you wear a helmet. Which might have been a deal-breaker for Audrey.

Me on my cute little Vespa. Yup, I had my license tucked into the pocket of my Lilly

Me, appropriately helmeted on my cute little Vespa. Yup, I have my license. No doubt tucked into the pocket of my Lilly

So. I got myself down to the DMV, met the gentleman who suggested I invest in leather (hilarious details can be found by reading ‘The Motorcycle Diaries Part 1’), and took the written test for my motorcycle license. Continue reading

Yachts: many many boats

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‘A few salty sallies from the pages of New York Magazine.’

Last week’s post was sort of a Reader’s Digest of amusing Metropolitan Diary entries written by, um, me. Since you Readers seemed to get a kick out of it, I thought I’d regale you this week with a few examples of stuff of mine that got into New York Magazine. (If I ever get anything into the New Yorker, like my pal Ken, you’ll never hear from me again.)

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually KNOW him!

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually know him. Fun fact: he also wears blue glasses (!)

To be honest, I’m really doing this stuff-from-New-York-Magazine thing because I played hooky away from my computer all weekend. I was on a birdwatching trip (honest) to Cape May, New Jersey, and it was kind of hard to think about my blog while I was trying to concentrate on warbler wing bars. (I promise to share wacky birding stories soon; stay tuned for my views on how “birders” are practically sexually indistinguishable — and much much more!) Continue reading