Saturday, October 31, 2009

Notable Venetians

You can never see Venice too often. This was either my third or fourth visit, and the place continues to exert its fascination, despite construction around the Campanile marring some of the beauty of Piazza San Marco. (And not all of the milling tourists are gorgeous to look at.) I did learn that practically no one in Europe seems to be wearing jean jackets anymore—jeans, yes—and I may have to put my beloved Gap number, which has seen me through many travels, out to pasture. On my last day there, I had three projects: to take the tour of Teatro La Fenice, the fabled opera house; to take a boat ride through the canals, and to have a drink at the Caffè Florian. I managed only the third of these, as the Teatro was closed, probably due to the running of the Venice Marathon, though it didn't pass by the opera house; and some of the boat landings were closed, also owing to the marathon.

Florian, though picturesque, isn't that great, but I had to go there. They even have their own Web site:

And it's as good a spot as any to watch the passing parade.

Among legions of notable Venetians—especially, of course, great artists—are Marco Polo (though some claim that he was born in Croatia); Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646–1678), the first woman college graduate ("la prima donna laureata nel mondo"); and, of course, Antonio Vivaldi, the Red Priest ("il prete rosso"). He was, like many from this area, a redhead, not a communist.

And Venice is wall-to-wall Vivaldi. The little bands and orchestras in Piazza San Marco seem to be stuck on The Four Seasons, which they mix with rock and show tunes and the Toreador Song, among other selections. Some fellow travelers and I also attended a concert by the Interpreti Veneziani at the deconsecrated church of San Vidal, where, naturalmente, Le Quattro Stagioni was also performed. And with more energy than I've ever heard, even if it was not note-perfect. The mostly young musicians raced down the church aisles to take their places and played with enough verve to dispel the notion that they could probably play this delightful set of violin concertos in their sleep. There are far worse fates than all-Vivaldi all the time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What, No Wi-Fi?

As a lover of technology, though far from an expert at it, I delight in the various modern marvels at our disposal. On my latest travels, to Croatia and Venice, I was equipped with two mobile phones—one for the U.S. and one for almost everywhere else—my iPod Touch equipped with Wi-Fi, my digital camera, and—reverting to a practically ancient standby—my beloved little Grundig AM-FM-short-wave radio. I have to give a shout for the quality of Grundig products, since I had spilled water on the last-named item, rendering it mute before departure, and was frantically searching the Radio Shack website for a replacement. However, the Grundig dried itself out overnight and resumed its excellent reception before I could buy another. Even if you don't always know the language, listening to the radio in other countries is a great travel enhancement that I find superior to hotel-room TV with the inevitable, repetitious CNN or BBC international channels. By the way, short-wave still exists in the Internet age. I picked up Radio Moscow's English-language hour, where they promised that we were going to hear "some interesting programs."

I found Croatia Radio 3 after a journey around the dial and was delighted to be able to make out, if barely, the announcements of classical selections and their interpreters. I surmised that the language, like Latin and Russian, e.g., has noun declensions, as composers all seemed to have an additional u or other vowel at the ends of their names. This was confirmed by our multilingual, delightful Slovenian guide, Maja. And on RAI, the Italian radio, I was pleased to learn that nerd has now been added to the Italian language. The Italians were also paying tribute to, of all writers, the late Jack Kerouac on the 40th anniversary of his death, and reading excerpts from Sulla Strada (On the Road).

The availability of Wi-Fi is inconsistent. One of the lesser hotels had free reception and a strong signal, while another quite luxurious establishment—O.K., the Hilton in Dubrovnik—made you pay for it. And fuhgeddabout Venice. Even at the overpriced, if historic, Caffè Florian you have to pay. Although in the overall cost of foreign travel, these charges are not significant, I didn't pay and only used the e-mail on the iPod Touch where I had free reception. My inner cheapskate surfaces in these situations, although if it had been truly necessary I would have paid. Back in Dubrovnik, though there wasn't free Wi-Fi at the Hilton, there was in the center of town, where you could have a bite at an outdoor cafe and log on free to Dubrovnik central. Very hospitable town.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trapped in a Toilet in Split!

No, not trapped in a split in a toilet, although after a lifetime of ballet training, this could probably also happen. The name of the city of Split in Croatia has nothing to do with division or acrobatics; it comes from the name of an indigenous plant. Except for the more than impressive palace of Roman emperor Diocletian, a native of what is now Croatia, Split is not a major tourist destination. Nevertheless, it has many attractions and beauties, and its inhabitants, like their neighbors the Italians, appear to enjoy life sitting in cafés along the Riva, or seaside promenade, pictured here.

After a pizza (what else?) lunch, I availed myself of the facilities at a local restaurant, the appropriately named Adriana, for one located on the Adriatic. A long-held nightmare finally came true. When I attempted to unlock the cubicle door, it wouldn't budge. Furthermore, as it was late in the midday lunch hour, I had been the only remaining customer in the restaurant, and there seemed to be few staff on duty. And on top of that, the cubicle door was flush to both floor and ceiling! I had a cell phone that works in Europe with me, but I didn't know how to call the Split equivalents of 911, information, or the restaurant itself. Thus, I started banging on the door, crying the usual "Help!" and, in the second language of the region, Italian, "Non posso aprire!" My Croatian is, shall we say, limited to "Hvala!" (Thank you!)

Hvala came in handy, as my cries for help were shortly answered by a tall, handsome employee of the establishment, who fiddled with the door catch, opened it, and also showed me the almost invisible place where one flushed the toilet. No apparent apparatus or chain to show the way. Also, one needed to be tall to reach it! This young man was typical of the local residents in his attractive appearance and height. Almost worth my getting stuck in that embarrassing situation! He said that I was the first person to get stuck in there, but not the first person to be unable to find the toilet flush. And at least, had I found it, I'm tall enough to reach it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“Only in New York, Kids….”

I’ve quoted the redoubtable Cindy Adams’s signoff to her gossip column before in these pages, but today merits quoting her again. Cheers, Cindy! There’s never a day in which A Lot isn’t going on in NYC, but today was a bit more frazzling than usual. At least the U.N. General Assembly members have packed up and gone home, which means that I can at least get around my own neighborhood a bit more easily. Today we had unbelievable autumn weather—bright sunshine, low humidity, and perfect temperatures. We also had the Polish Kosciuszko Day parade on Fifth Avenue, one of those infernal street fairs on Lexington Avenue, a Turkish parade somewhere else, and a book fair in Brooklyn, to name but a few.

Three friends and I had tickets to a revival of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s 1927 comedy The Royal Family, a gently satirical portrait of the great Barrymore acting clan. We never got to see the play, as the curtain came down about twenty minutes into the show to rise again only to have the stage manager tell us that the show had to be canceled because:

‘Royal Family’ Sunday Matinee Canceled After Tony Roberts Fell Ill - ArtsBeat Blog -

We certainly wish popular actor Tony Roberts, whose work we have enjoyed often, a speedy recovery. I did get some entertainment—as usual—on the way to the theater, as I passed these two inflatable “athletes” in front of an Irish pub on Eighth Avenue. They remind me of the marvelous inflatable dummy pilot in one of my favorite movies, Airplane!