Why April 24 Matters

NOTICE: This post contains subject matter of a sensitive nature and graphic images. 

 Twitter is blowing up with the hashtags #TurkeyFailed and #ArmenianGenocide. Why? April 24 is the official date of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, and 2014 marks the 99th anniversary of those atrocities.

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government actively began plans to massacre Armenians. Over the course of a few years, they murdered 1.5 million Armenians in the first act of genocide in the 20th century. Whole villages were rounded up and executed. Men and women were raped and tortured in heinous acts. Thousands upon hundreds of thousands were sent on death marches, forced to walk without water or food until they died. Young children were sold by Turkish soldiers or kidnapped by families and taken as slaves.

Turkish official teases starving Armenian children by showing them a piece of bread during the Armenian Genocide in 1915

An Armenian Child Starved to Death

Bodies of Armenian Children





Here is video testimony of Astrid, a Genocide survivor.


 These events were widely accounted for, documented by, and written about by English, French, German, and American witnesses, including Henry Morgenthau, the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He formed the Committee on Armenian Atrocities to raise awareness and to supply aid. Unfortunately, nothing stopped the Turkish government from carrying out their campaign of annihilation, especially as World War I served as a cover for their crimes. armenian poster

Despite Turkey’s plans to annihilate an entire ethnicity, a few Armenians survived. One was my maternal grandmother, Siranoush. She was very young at the time of the Genocide, perhaps three or four, so young that she could not remember her surname. She was a survivor of the battle of Musa Dagh (Musa Ler, Mountain of Moses) and stayed in a refugee camp in Egypt. She was sent back to Musa Dagh as an orphan after the Genocide was over. When she got married, she moved to Antioch in Syria and from there to Damascus and then Beirut, Lebanon. None of this was an easy life. She was widowed at a young age and left with five children. The youngest is my mother. Despite terrible economic hardship and having to flee yet again due to Lebanon’s civil war, my Nana didn’t just survive, she lived. She had many grandchildren and was honored by her family until her death.

photo (3)

My maternal grandmother

Had Turkey been stopped, perhaps my grandmother and other grandparents would have had much easier, happier lives. Perhaps the millions of Armenians would have been saved. Perhaps the country of Armenia would not struggle economically-—had more men and women survived to till its soil and build its industry. Perhaps my heart and those of my fellow Armenians would not have to grieve for the horrors our ancestors faced. Perhaps my grandparents would not have been orphaned. Perhaps my parents and I would not have been products of the Diaspora. Perhaps my children would have happier stories to tell about their ancestral history. Perhaps April 24 would be a date of celebration instead of commemoration.

But the Genocide happened. Despite Turkey’s denial, despite its campaigns to revise history, despite its attempts to extricate itself from wrongdoing, Turkey murdered 1.5 million Armenians.

BUT Turkey failed in its attempt to wipe out a culture. It failed because the Armenian culture is alive and strong and well. It failed because millions of Armenians around the world recognize that they must continue despite a tragic past and the burdens of such a history. It failed because we still sing songs and listen to our music. We still recite our literature. We still pray our “Hayr Mer” (Our Father). It failed due to the bravery of those who stood against it. It failed because I, like so many others, am here today. It failed because my children and their generation know their history. It failed because the Armenian Genocide will not be forgotten.

And that is why, 99 years later, April 24 matters.

Genocide memorial


To this day, Turkey does not recognize the Genocide and actively teaches against it. Twenty-one countries and 43 states of the USA do recognize the Genocide.

Please consider signing the Change.org petition urging the US Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

If you would like to learn more:

Facing History, Facing Ourselves: The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian National Institute

The History Channel: The Armenian Genocide

The United Human Rights Council

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian, a National Book Award finalist

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response by Peter Balkian

The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powers, Pulitzer Prize winner and currently the US Ambassador to the United Nations

The Sandcastle Girls by New York Times bestseller, Chris Bohjalian

Zabelle by Nancy Kricorian

(While the above books are linked to Amazon for book descriptions, please consider purchasing them from a local bookstore.)

The HIMYM Series Finale Hate Fest

The How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) series finale may well be remembered as one of the most hated episodes in television history. The Twittersphere erupted as #HIMYMfinale tweets spewed the vitriol of anger and, ultimately, disappointment. Fan boards and Facebook were aflame with opinions (no hard facts on numbers, but astoundingly negative) on how the writers messed up.

And they did. They really, truly, absolutely did mess up. I don’t know what went on in their minds as they wrote that convoluted disaster, but an understanding of what the audience wanted and expected wasn’t in there. That much is clear.

Perhaps they were burnt out. Maybe the pressure was too much. Could be that they realized that they wouldn’t be able to please everyone, so they just did what they wanted. However, my hunch is that they were so busy trying to be clever and leave a for-the-annals-of-television-history finale that they overlooked one very important piece of psychology: you cannot ask an audience to commit nine years to a premise and then not deliver it. You have, in essence, cheated your loyal audience. And not only have you cheated them, but you’ve done it after you have asked them to wait for almost a decade. That makes people mad, and angry people have long memories.

Would it have been so bad to deliver what was essentially promised? No. Ted’s happy ending with the mother would have been enough because that is what the audience wanted, that is what the premise (and title) suggested. This is a clear example of less is more.

Here is a popular fan-created ending.

So now, when (former) fans remember HIMYM, they won’t just remember the fantastic moments like Ted’s battle with the goat or the play book or Marshall and Lily’s relationship. No, they will remember that the show ended with the played-out, unwanted pairing of Ted and Robin in a much-derided episode.

The hate fest is so vast that there is even a petition to get CBS to re-shoot the finale. (At the time of this post, it had over 10,300 signers and growing by the second.) If you are so inclined, you can sign it here.

R.I.P. HIMYM. Your finale will go down as a legen–wait for it–dary disaster.


When English Isn’t

In my former role as a high school English Language Arts instructor, I would teach the students a (brief) lesson on the history of the English language. After all, students ought to know the origins of the language they use and change and edit and manipulate on a daily basis. Some of the students found the origins of the language from native Britons to the introduction of Latin via the Romans to the influence of the conquering Germanic tribes to French in the court of William the Conqueror worth their while. Almost all of the heads on the desk (of which there weren’t many; I ran a tight classroom) paid attention, however, when they realized that words they commonly used weren’t English or even European in origin.

The lesson usually went something like this:

Me: “Hey Johnny, do you like pancakes? Yes. Alright, what do you pour on them?”

Johnny: “Syrup.”

Me: “Where’d you think the word syrup comes from?”

Johnny: “I dunno. Canada?”

Me: “It’s from the Arabic word, sharab, which was then adapted by the French and possibly the Italians to sirop.”

Class, somewhat disbelieving: “Really?”

Me: “Yep. I’m not making this up. And what about ketchup? Where’d you think that word comes from?”

Class, thinking hard: “Here?”

Me: “Nope. It comes from a Chinese or possibly a Malay word that sounds like catsup.”

Class: “Whhaaa?”

I’d then proceed to list off other words that the students were very familiar with but had never given much thought: magazine (Arabic, again), shampoo (Hindi), zombie (West African and then the Caribbean) and dollar (German). This was news to them. Of course, they knew that words such as taco or pizza weren’t English in origin, but had entered the English language due to common use. Magazine has an origin that was often more difficult to follow: Arabic to Italian to French to English.  The students associated Seventeen or People with the word, so the idea that magazine isn’t of modern American origin was hard to grasp.

This enlightening lesson ran a close second in interest level to the “discovery” that Shakespearean English isn’t Old English, but is, in fact, considered the onset of Modern English. I’d play a recording of Beowulf, which is Old English, and the Canterbury Tales, which is Middle English. Then I’d watch as their minds were blown: “That doesn’t even sound like English!”

I’d like to think that these lessons opened the minds of the students to the notion that English really contains a mix of many words of different origins. It is an ever-changing, adaptable language, one that they adapt and change themselves. Selfie, anyone?

Now, go read the dictionary. It’s a good book.

(Taken from my RitatheWriter website.)

Men Aren’t Boys, so Why Are Women Called “Girls”?

Updated from my original version.

The Writable Life

Have you ever heard a man refer to himself as a “big boy”? I’m betting no. Now take a second and think if you’ve ever heard a man or, worse, a woman referring to a woman as a “big girl.”  I’m betting yes. Why the difference?

Men rarely ever reference themselves in a fashion that detracts from their manhood. The last time a man in your life was going through a rough situation, did he ever declare, “I’m a big boy! I’ll get through it!” I somehow doubt it.

Yet, turn on practically any episode of “The Bachelorette” and listen to both the male contestants and the bachelorette herself refer to her as a “big girl.”

“I’m a big girl. I can handle myself.”

“She’s a big girl. She knows what she’s doing.”

And, of course, there’s Lena Dunham’s equally lauded  and bashed show, “Girls.” While it’s true that some of the…

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You Can Have Your Tea and Enjoy It, Too.

Tea has been a part of my life since childhood. Between being born into an Armenian family and spending my formative years in London, I was surrounded at an early age by dried leaves of splendor. A cuppa (or cupper) was the beverage of choice when my Mum’s friends dropped by for a quick visit. Likewise, we were served tea when we went visiting. I don’t think I can recall anyone ever saying, “No, thank you. I’ll have a coffee instead.” That, in the pre-Starbucks England of the ’70s to mid ’80s was unheard of.

Tea was everywhere. We saw it on the telly on adverts (commercials) and shows, such as EastEnders. The PG Tips monkeys were very popular and the company ran a long campaign with them (1956-2002). You couldn’t get away from the stuff, not that you’d want to, and drinking tea was as much a part of the day’s activities as breathing. 


Of course, there was tea time (otherwise known as afternoon tea) and high tea. We would come home from school and our Mum had tea and iced buns or Bakewell tarts waiting for us. We’d slip out of our school uniforms into our comfort clothes, and enjoy the tea as its steam warmed our hands, cheeks, and noses. That was our tea time, usually around 4 p.m., and we held to it for all our England school days. Cream_Tea

Every now and then, we’d have high tea, which is distinguished as more of a meal, something like supper. For high tea, we would have sandwiches, perhaps some fish and vegetables, and, of course, tea with the cosy on the teapot. For us, tea time was almost a daily occurrence; whereas, high tea was occasional. I remember both very fondly.


Maybe J.R. is enjoying a Long Island Iced Tea?

Less tasty was my first venture with iced tea. My younger sister and I made it on a whim, after viewing an American evening soap opera, perhaps Dallas or Dynasty. In any case, we knew iced tea was an American phenomenon and, thus, it had the allure of glamour. There we were in our kitchen, measuring the water, dropping in the teabag, waiting for it to cool, and adding in a few ice cubes. Maybe we didn’t brew it correctly, or, more likely, our taste buds weren’t used to it, but we were disgusted at the first sip. Everything about it seemed wrong–from pouring tea into a glass instead of a cup or mug to watching the ice cubes bob away. We couldn’t understand how Americans could suffer the stuff. We thought they were as nutty as their behavior on the soap operas indicated. Many years later, I’ve grown to love iced tea and it is my cold (non-alcoholic) beverage of choice.

Nostalgia aside, I like the associations that tea carries with it. Coffee has a place in my household, and its aroma is delicious. However, I find that coffee is almost always linked with caffeine addiction and getting through a tedious workday.

Tea tends to have more positive connotations.

Tea is healthy. When was the last time you heard anyone state, “Yeah, the doctor said I had to give up tea”? Probably never. Tea has proven medicinal benefits, such as protection against heart disease and types of cancer. My Mum would serve us mint tea when our stomachs hurt, and, many years later to this day, the smell of mint tea conjures the same loving feeling that I felt as a child. Beyond my Mum’s herbal remedies is scientific proof in Dr. Oz’s article about the benefits of tea. In fact, “there doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman, Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD. You can read more about the types of teas and their health benefits here.

Another wonderful attribute is that tea is communal and comforting. You offer a cup of tea to soothe shaken nerves or for warmth. People ponder and reflect and commiserate while having a cup. Even young children play tea party, where they mimic the hospitality of serving and sharing tea. Within many countries (China, Japan, India, Afghanistan, for example), the sharing of tea is ritualized. Some rituals are for more formal occasions, such as the Chinese wedding tea ceremony, and others are honor-bound, such as the offering of tea to guests. People share it, and that’s one of the many things that makes tea so lovely.  

Finally, tea has quite the association with another of my favorite subjects, literature. Esteemed writer C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said,”You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  Henry James, acclaimed American author, stated, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” I couldn’t agree more.
Check out this flavorwire article on 25 famous tea drinkers. Most of them are authors, and there’re some musicians and actors in the blend. I especially like Morrissey’s take on tea: “One day I decided to try to have a complete day without tea. I was quite shaken. I was quite disturbed.” I know what you mean, mate! I can’t go a day without a good cup of Earl Grey, Darjeeling, or Irish Breakfast.
So, whether you are of the likes of the Downton Abbey staff or of the Countess Dowager’s ilk, whether you add cream, sugar, lemon, or leave it be, you can have your tea and enjoy it, too.
Downton Abbey staff Dowager Countess
Photos from Google Images.

Move Over Punxsutawney Phil: Hedgehogs Rule!

February 2, 2014, is widely known as Groundhog Day in the USA. That’s when groundhog and pseudo-meteorologist, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges from his burrow (or doesn’t) to predict if winter will last for another six weeks. Unfortunately for the folks on the East Coast, that is apparently the case this year. Tough break, guys.

But, the groundhog is a sorry seconds. That’s right. The original weather forecasting hogs weren’t groundhogs or even warthogs but hedgehogs. Romans used hedgehogs to predict winter’s length. Apparently, this tradition spread through Northern Europe and the German settlers in Pennsylvania, not having hedgehogs at their disposal, substituted the native groundhog instead.

Whether hedgehogs or groundhogs can accurately predict winter’s length is supposition at best, but I will say that hedgehogs are just a lot cuter. As a child in London, I imagined having a Beatrix Potter/Enid Blyton-esque garden one day, complete with a stream, river otters, foxes, rabbits, and hedgehogs as my companions. (I also believed in gnomes, and knew, with all certainty, that they would be residents in my beautiful landscape.) Well, an English country garden is hard to find in the Southwest, so here’s my attempt:

Hedgehogs and GnomesIt’s no Kew Gardens, but it’ll do for now.

Hedgehogs may be cute, but they are badass when it comes to their hedges. They do hog them, after all.

Hedgehog or groundhog, it’s going to be a long(er) winter, so stay warm out there!

The End of the Road, for now anyway (Travelogue, part 4)

October 2003

Hello everyone,

We’ve really appreciated updates, news and responses from home.  E-mail, while fairly accessible, is not cheap, so we haven’t been able to send personal responses.  But, we’ll be home soon enough and will be in touch then.

Two culinary mishaps ensued in CT.  I had not yet learned my lesson about translation assumptions, despite my salad mix up in Vienna. Here, I ordered what was translated on the menu as mixed grilled fish, thinking fish like Nemo. To my horror, what was brought out was a large platter of shellfish, which I don’t eat.  (I can’t bear the idea that some poor creature has been boiled alive because of me.) A lobster, half a crab, some king prawns and three items that neither Paul nor I could identify. One look at my face and Paul realized that I was not going to eat it, so he valiantly attempted to eat all he could. The waitress, realizing something was wrong, came over and I explained that in Eng. fish means with fins and gills and a tail. (Actually, what I did was make wavy motions with my hand since I don’t know the words for fish body parts in Italian.) Then, I ordered a grilled sole. So, even with a menu translated for you, it always pays to ask for specifics. Lesson learned. (BTW, After getting over the shock of having fish served in tact with head, tail and skeleton, I had honed my deboning skills down to one minute.)

The second mishap is really more of a mystery, and if anyone can identify the mystery substance, we’d be grateful if you’d let us know.  I ordered two cups of hot tea and I know I did it correctly because it’s what I’d been saying for the last five days and we’d always gotten tea.  What we got this time was unidentifible to us.  The liquid was dark. Now, the Eng. drink their tea very strong, but strong tea is dark brown. This was black, blacker than the darkest roast coffee you can imagine.  At first, we thought the waiter had made a mistake and served us coffee, but it didn’t smell like coffee and it came with a lemon wedge. Paul took a sip and made a weird face. He guessed squid ink. I tried it. The water was tepid and the liquid had an extremely bitter, almost peppery taste that even two packets of sugar didn’t touch. We left the rest alone.  Can anyone help us identify this?

We bid a fond arrivederci to Cinque Terra, towns free of any form of franchise, and to Italy, land of erratic ATMs that seem to work on a whim and of people who sing all the time–the gondoliers, the fishermen, the construction workers, the bakers, old men sitting on stone benches.  It’s a happy place. Our time in CT had mentally prepared us for the rigors of travel on the Italian train system. If there is rhyme or reason to this system, it is not apparent. Frequent strikes are called last minute, trains are often late or do not arrive on the publicized platform.  And, if you’re trying to catch a train, this results in a mad scramble to get to the right platform, not easy with luggage.  We shared our compartment to Rosenheim, Germany, with an Austrian sugar daddy and his much, much younger Italian wife.

Our trip through the Alps was, you guessed it, lovely. They are majestic mountains. Snow was already on the caps and the valley was green. The woods are packed densely with fir trees.  Upon arrival in the brisk, bright Bavarian state, we were pleased to find that there is a vertical luggage conveyor belt at the train station.  You walk up the stairs and your luggage follows along. Handy, and energy conservation conscious.  The conveyor is not constantly running. You start it by placing your luggage on the belt.

The area is extremeley quaint, to the point of looking like a movie set or toy model town. Think Heidi; picture The Sound of Music; imagine living surrounded by a luxury golf course. Green, rolling hills wherever you turn; woods to the left and right; rivers, streams and ponds full of ducks in the middle of town. There are cows, sheep and chickens on the side of the road. May poles are adorned with figures. Homes have wooden shutters and window boxes full of flowers. Bavarian painting style adorns some of the buildings.  The roofs are red tile, slanted for the snow. We actually had to stop the car to let a herd of cows cross the road.  (One was a renegade and instead of turning right to follow the herd, crossed straight ahead and ate the grass there.) There are absolutely no billboards anymore–not even along the autobahn. People have lived in the same towns, same homes, for hundreds of years. It’s almost too clean and pretty to be true.

A popular, non-alcoholic drink here is called Spezi.  It’s a mix of cola and lemon soda or sometimes orange soda.  But not lemonade, as I was vehemently told. Both Pepsi and Coke have their own brands of it.

When you’re at the Gasthof (a tavern inn), you may not sit at the table with the Stammtisch sign. This is for the regulars only–people who’ve been going there for many, many years. We were told that as foreigners, if we sat at the stammtisch, we’d be politely ushered to another table and that of as somewhat ignorant. If we were Germans who sat at the stammtisch,  we’d be not-so-politely told to move and run the risk of not being served at all. The gasthofs mostly have their own farms, so all the food is very fresh. We had schnitzel, which is breaded meat that is fried.  Very tasty. All restaurants in Germany must disclose if any ingredients are artificial. So, preservatives, coloring, etc., are avoided as much as possible, as they are not popular. (The Germans are v. environmentally conscious. In fact, one of the first things we saw in town were the local recycling bins on the street.  You have your standard glass, plastic and aluminum, as well as clothing. That’s right, the government will recycle any unwanted clothing. No need for Goodwill drop-offs, etc. )

Gas at uninflated prices costs about $4.40 a gallon and all gas stations are pump first, pay later. Such trust!  Police cars, white with a bright green stripe through the middle, are mostly Mercedes and some Audis. Semis and delivery trucks are also Mercedes. So stylish!

We visited crazy  King Ludwig’s castle. He certainly had a fanciful imagination. Swans adorned every room, every inch of every room. Wagner operas painted on the walls and ceilings. A stalagtite grotto with an overlooking view of the lake and grounds. While we were tired of ornate and elaborate palaces, this was unlike anything else we’d seen. It really looks like Disneyland, or I should say Disneyland looks like it.

After a quick one hour drive, we were back in Austria to visit Salzburg. It is a lovely town, much like Prague, but somehow cheerier. I think it has to do with being surrounded by so much greenery. We saw a tavern that claims to have been in operation since 803 AD, obviously with renovations.

Tomorrow we head back to London for three days and then we return home.  So, this is the last travleogue unless something stupendous happens in London. Someone wanted a highlights list, so here is one for Paul and one for me.
Paul’s list: London–climbing almost 400 steps to the top of St. Paul’s cathedral and visiting Hackney where Rita grew up, esp. seeing her Hogwarts-esque middle school. Prague–the old town square and the cheap prices of food and Velvet beer. Vienna–the wurst stands and the Peter Breugal paintings. Venice–wandering the streets, taking in the incredible buildings, and floating by the opera in the church during the gondola ride. Cinque Terra–the ocean color, the grilled seabass and the pesto, which originated there. Rosenheim–the fresh pastries in the old-school bakery.

Rita’s list: London–seeing friends and family. Prague–being able to navigate in a city where nothing is written in English and the language is not even remotely similar. Vienna–being able to stomach that much meat. Venice–a tie between listening to the restaurant orchestras at Piazza San Marco and listening to a Vivaldi concert in a dimly lit church at night.  Cinque Terra–the sheer wonder of being there. Rosenheim–spending time with our friend Martin and seeing the fantasy castle. Getting away from city life also a huge plus.

Finally, some observations: everywhere but London, restaurant receipts are handwritten and change is made at the table, not brought back from the cashier. Grog seems to be popular in Prague, Vienna and Rosenheim.  I’d seen it in Old English texts, but had no idea what Beowulf was drinking. Found out that it’s rum and hot water. Not to be disgusting, but squat and drop toilets are STILL in existence. No smoking signs are routinely ignored or not enforced. Keyboards on the main continent have swapped the Y and Z keys. Europeans do not hate Americans, as in the people. We didn’t come across any problems.  But, they do dislike GW Bush intensely, as we were told in London, Vienna and Rosenheim. However, as Paul and I also dislike GW Bush intensely, we understand completely.

This has been a wonderful trip, and while we won’t be taking another one for at least a couple of years, it has whetted our appetite for more, more, more.  The world is a wonderful, exciting place and we can’t wait to explore as much as we can.

Rita and Paul

La Dolce Vita (Travelogue, part 3)

October 2003

Buon giorno,

We arrived in Italy a week ago, after a grand train ride through the Austrian mountains.  Past ski towns with chalets, dense forests with thin, tall alpines, thick fog and beautiful landscapes.

Venice was amazing.  “A living museum,” says Paul.  “A feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach,” say I. What’s my favorite food after Mum & Dad’s cooking? Italian!  Oh, the oodles and oodles of noodles! Paul salivates with the gelato. The smell of espresso and vino.  Yum, yum, yum! Pizza has a paper thin base. Interestingly enough, if you order a pizza with multiple toppings, they are not sprinkled all over. For instance, my vegetarian pizza had a section of red bell peppers, another of mushrooms, another of onions and another of artichoke hearts.

Venice is a crazy maze, where it’s okay to get lost. There are endless passages leading to campos (squares) with the requisite statues and fountains. Some streets so narrow that only one person can pass, some so narrow that Paul could not stretch his arms.  He also had to keep ducking his head through the archways. Countless shrines to saints and Mary adorned with flowers tucked away in corners, over archways, next to windows or built into the bricks. The crumbling edifaces hide lovely interiors, esp. along the Grand Canal.  We took the vaperetto tour and could see into the “palaces” that line the canal.  Vast paintings on the inside of someone’s living room. A mosaic on the ceiling. Chandeliers (sp?) hanging overhead.

Most noticeable is the complete absence of cars and bikes.  It’s a great change and one that we quickly adapted to. If you don’t feel like walking, you take the water bus (vaperetto) or gondola taxi (tragetto). Cheap and efficient, not to mention fun. Also, it’s quite funny to observe a nautical traffic jam, although I suppose it’s not funny if you’re in one.

The Venetians are inordinately fond of lap-toy dogs, and they take them everywhere: restaurants, cafes, shops, bars. They are truly a part of the family, not just a pet.

The Venetians are v. chic, dressed head to toe in the latest fashions for the youth and tailored suits for the more mature.  You can definitely point out the tourists by the jeans and faded clothing.  No fancy, pointed leather shoes for me.  So, to fit in and be chic, how about a $3000 Roberta di Camerino alligator purse or a $850+ Gucci bag?  No? Not in the budget this year?  Not to worry! You can always buy a leather knock-off starting at $45 from the numerous African immigrant vendors.  But, you’d better make that purchase quickly because you never know when there’ll be a police bust and you’re going to be left standing as your purchase is whisked away. In our brief stay, we saw three of these busts.  The police run down the street and the vendors take off, leaving behind the merchandise or sometimes attempting to run with a few bags.  We got the skinny from a local who explained that there are only a certain number of permits for street sales.  Most of the vendors are not on the official list.

Speaking of police, they seem to have a nice life. There’s little violent crime in Venice, and the police, when not chasing illegal bag sellers, amble about checking out the girls, smoking cigarettes, chatting with the merchants, sitting and sipping coffee.  Not only that, but they get to wear a smart-looking, pseudo-military style outfit.

Of course, what is Venice without a gondola ride?  Since a gondola has a very special meaning for us, we took a moonlit ride through the quiet, non-stinky canals of inner Venice.  Just us, the gentle lap of the water, the moonshine, and occasional narration from Roberto, our gondolier.  He pointed out Marco Polo’s  and Casanova’s houses.

Before I describe Cinque Terra, our current stop, I must write about our bathroom in Venice.  Italian bathrooms (toilet and shower and bidet) are extremely compact.  So, compact that not more than one person can fit. Ours was 5 feet long, 4 feet wide and about 6 feet 9 inches high. Paul could just about manage to fit. The sink slid from one end of the wall to the other, so that you can move it out of the way.  The shower is not separate from the rest of the room.  It is a shower head and a curtain that you pull along the rail to cover the sink, bidet and toilet so they don’t get wet while you shower.  Truly space-efficient.

Now, onto Cinque Terra, part of the Italian Riviera.  It is truly difficult to describe with accuracy in print how happy I am to be back here.  You would have to see my face and hear my tone to really understand. The Mediterranean is one of the most beautiful, breath-taking, wonderful
places on God’s great earth.  It is the cure for all the ills that come with life in urban USA.  The sea is aqua marine by the coast, so clear you can see right through, and becomes a deep turquoise further out to sea.  Clean air, warm skies, friendly people who appreciate life for all of its simple grace. Sitting at the edge of the ocean, soaking in the sun, listening to the sea
gulls, the call of the fishermen, the waves as they hit the shore–all of it simple and peaceful, relaxing. There are no tourist sights here, no cathedrals, no museums, no agendas, nothing to do but appreciate the wonder of it all. We hiked for just over 2 hours along the cliffs, stopping to
observe nature. Local seafood has been our staple, with the best fish we’ve ever had.  Even anchovies, cooked with capers and lemon, are delicious.  Not salty and harsh like back home, but flavorful and delicate. Pesto with pasta. Good wine.  Amazing tiramisu. It truly is la dolce vita.

We leave in a couple of days for Rosenheim, near Munich, into the hospitality of our friend, Martin.

Wishing you well.
Margharita e Paulo