So many photos

We got back from Italy last night. I took over 700 photos over there, plus Martine took several hundred more. Don’t worry — we’ll edit.

I’m waiting for my bag to arrive (Air France liked it so much they left it in Rome). They say it will be here tonight. Fortunately, my camera and memory cards were with my carry-on bag.

In the meantime, I’m having fun reviewing all those photos. I’ve put a few featuring Martine up on Flickr, starting here.  More to come…

Cinque Terre Cat Story

High on the path between Vernazza and Corniglia, on a hot late afternoon, Martine and I rounded a bend and saw an orange cat lying on its side in the middle of the path. As we approached, the cat lifted his tired head and looked around at us. He appeared to be pretty beat up, and was panting a bit. As we walked around him he dropped his head back to the ground and his eyes glazed over.

The territory along this side of the mountain consists of terraced vineyards and small gardens — part of what makes the Cinque Terre landscape so unique. Next to the path was a stone retaining wall about 12 feet high. Had the cat fallen from the top? A 12-foot drop is nothing for a young cat, but this one looked old and haggard. Perhaps he had broken a leg, or busted up some internal organs.

As we were pondering this, a few other hikers passed by, but they were the chatty types who don’t pay much attention to things. One or two said “oh look, a kitty” and immediately went back to their chatter.

Clearly the cat was suffering. There was nothing we could do, but we couldn’t just leave him there either. We had a little bit of water left, so I cut the bottom out of the bottle to make a small bowl, and we set the water down next to the poor creature.

The cat looked at the water, and then stood up. He gave us a contemptuous look and walked away, with the swagger of an old, arthritic sailor.

We were going the same direction as he, so we followed along. After a few minutes we came to an intersection where a small overgrown footpath veered off to the right. The cat took the exit, and in a final salute he hitched up his tail and unleashed a Herculean quantity of cat stink into a bush. One more contemptuous glance, and then he was gone. We continued on to Corniglia, parched.


Yesterday, Martine and I were high up on the mountain above the Cinque Terre village of Vernazza. We were hoofing along on trail “8b,” an old footpath that sweeps around a mountainside that juts out into the sea, and circles back inland where it joins up with trail “8” for the steep descent to the village.

The mountainside has few trees as it suffered several large fires in the 1990s. There is an abundance of low scraggly brush, plenty of rocks, and an overload of blue from the clear open sky and the sea along the Ligurian coast. It is breathtaking.

Martine on trail 8b

As we approached the junction with trail 8, we noticed that a small road passed along that side of the mountain, and there was a silver car parked there. A few steps farther and I saw a man ahead of me, standing in a dip in the trail. All I could see was his head and his shoulders. In terms of orientation, the village of Vernazza was behind us now, but since he was facing our way, he had a splendid view of the village and the sea, such as we saw a few minutes earlier before the trail looped around.

I took a few more steps and could see that the man, about 60 feet in front of me, seemed to be fumbling with his crotch. “Oh great,” I thought. This guy stopped to pee, and now we’re interrupting what could be the most spectacular urination of his life. I slowed a bit, to let him finish, then continued on.

After a few more steps, the blond woman’s head came into view. I hadn’t seen it before, of course, as she was on her knees with her face in his crotch. OK, he’s not peeing, but we’ve just interrupted the most spectacular BJ of his life. I turned to Martine, who was busy watching her step lest she tumble several thousand feet down into the ravine, and said “blow job, dead ahead.”

What are the rules of etiquette for that? I figured we should just stand there and make ourselves obvious, which would allow them to make themselves presentable and either leave (if they are embarrassed) or stand aside to let us pass (if they just want to get on with it).

The view, moments before the other view

Unfortunately, the happy couple seemed oblivious. The man had a gorgeous view, like this one only from higher up, and was rather preoccupied with the immediacy of the moment. He was in no hurry to leave. The woman, on the other hand, had only a view of a hairy navel, but she probably didn’t know we were there (less than 50 feet behind her).

La-dee-daaa. We took in the view (of the village), and eventually they moved on, but really slowly, so we couldn’t tell if they wanted us to pass or if they just wanted to get out of there. (Be decisive, people!) By the time they got to their car we were right behind them. As the guy got in and started the engine I tipped my hat and gave a polite “buon giorno!” He grinned at me with a set of big white choppers. The woman, on the other hand, was busy looking down the mountain at the village and the sea, probably glad for the change of view.

Notes from Venice

Actually, we left Venice this morning, but with the scandalously high Internet rates there, I was in no hurry to check my email. Besides, it’s Venice for Pete’s sake! (Or should that be, for Mark’s sake?)

Now we’re in Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre), but here’s a quick rundown of the Venetian adventures:

  • We got yelled at for touching the fruit in a market.
  • We got thrown out of a church.
  • Martine got yelled at because she didn’t get a good Italian education.

In other words, Venice is a crazy insane place and I absolutely adore it. The siestre of Saint Marco is everything bad you hear about Venice — jammed with tourists, packed with overpriced designer stores, and stuffed with ripoffs around every corner. But that’s only part of Venice. We spent a good chunk of our time there in the other siestres, such as Dorsoduro and Canalreggio. (Please forgive me if I’m spelling those incorrectly.)

I found Canalreggio to be particularly captivating. Imagine a warm and sunny afternoon in Venice, choked with tourists around St. Marco, so you loop around the Grand Canal and in about 15 or 20 minutes you’re in a part of Venice where people actually live. The streets and canals are well kept, there are no tourist shops to be found anywhere, and indeed no tourists. At one point Martine and I stood on a bridge and looked all around and saw only three or four people, none of whom appear to be tourists.

We had lunch in a little bar serving nice wines and “cichetti” (Venetian snacks). “Authentic” is a slippery word in any tourist town, but given that the only other people in the bar were locals (with one possible exception who appeared to at least be an ex-pat, probably English), then I think I could use that word. It was splendid. The next night we had dinner nearby in the same neighbourhood, again surrounded by locals.

I could go on and on, but it’s getting late and I’m ripping hungry. After you read this, Google “Riomaggiore” (or do a Flickr tag search on it) to get a sense of where we are now. Completely different from Venice, but just as spectacular.