Category Archives: travel

When Junk Food Doesn’t Count

A friend of mine has a grandmother who keeps kosher except when on vacation.

I’m not sure what the logic is in that. Is holiness so much higher away from home that non-kosher food is automatically ok? Or can supernatural beings only see you when you’re at home?

Whatever it is, I feel an affinity for her, because that’s exactly the same kind of logic I use when on road trips.

Have you noticed that whenever you stop at a gas station, the shops always have junk food that you never see anywhere else? While I haven’t seen “Bugles” at any grocery store near me for at least ten years; they’re at every gas station from LA to SF.

And I didn’t even know there were “TGIF” branded snack chips. But there are, and some are bacon flavored!

I don’t usually buy this stuff since losing the metabolism of a teenager (let me know if you guys find it, okay?) But put me on a three plus hour car ride, and it’s bring on the “Bugles”!

Perhaps it’s the weird, “in a bubble” feeling of being in a car by yourself for a long time. How many times have you seen someone swear, pick their nose, or otherwise behave in a manner that is inconsistent with how they would behave, even in their own home? How many times has that person been you?

So, it is in the same spirit of “cussing in the car doesn’t count” that “eating crap food in the car doesn’t count” has evolved.

I have not yet let myself descend to “Slim Jims” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been tempted.

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The Bone Collector, or the Missing Penises of Rome

After the previous post’s more philosophical ruminations on Rome, I’m going to bring it down a bit.

Let’s talk about penises!

See, in Rome, there are penises everywhere.

But a lot of them are missing.

On statues I mean.

It’s possible that they might be missing on the living people too, but I suspect that’s not the case. Otherwise the men would have been looking a lot more distressed than they did, and they seemed no more unhappy than the men in other cities I’ve visited.

Anyway, I found it strange that in a country that proudly owns and displays countless, beautiful, priceless works of sculpture showcasing the human form, that almost every single male one seemed…inadequate.

Turns out, the missing penii has a lot to do with a bout of religious prudery by Pope Pius IX during the turn of the 19th century. So, during that time, many priceless works of art were essentially vandalized, as the “offending” bits were covered with plaster fig leaves or lopped off. A mass-tracation, as it were.

However, I prefer to imagine that throughout the ages of the civilized Western world, there was a penis thief. A criminal with a penchant for geological genitalia, who stole sculptural dongs from ancient masters and Renaissance greats such as Michelangelo and Bernini, criminally adding to his collection through the centuries.

This collection, an awkward, yet undoubtedly priceless collection of dildos, passed on, generation to occasionally dismayed generation.

“Son, I have something important to show you. It’s our family legacy.”

[A father takes his son to the vault where each penis, some made of marble, others of granite, most flaccid, are stored and labeled.” Zeus” says one. “St. John” says another.]

“You seem very quiet, son.”

While no one went around replacing the missing appendages, it seems Rome has since gotten over its discomfort with at least hinting that “there’s something there”, if this mannequin at the airport is any indication.

He has no head, no arms, or legs…but hey, at least he’s carrying heat!

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On Being Spoilt for Time in Rome

In California, it’s a big deal if a place has been around for thirty years. We look at each other and say, “oh, it’s so charmingly old school! It’s been here since the 80s!”

And heavens, if it’s been around since the 1930s, it’s an institution! Did you know that this court yard was used to film a scene in “Casablanca?”

The east coast gets to be a little snobbier, scoffing at us and showing us places that Gilded Age Barons used to frequent, or George Washington once slept.

But let’s face it, no U.S. city has anything on Rome, a city with thousands of years of civilization and opulence under its belt. This is the civilization that set a standard for grandiosity whose aesthetic is still followed today. It’s style continues to be loved by those who wish to show wealth and power; a visual language that can be see not just in the carefully maintained Renaissance palaces and churches of Rome, but whose origins date back to the days of the ancient empire. Need to make something look expensive? Use columns, gilding, marble floors, statues, frescoes, wood paneling, elaborate lighting fixtures, and stained glass.

You know who also had all that? Julius Caesar.

Here in the new world, I like to call this “The Cheesecake Factory School of Design”, since every “Cheesecake Factory” I’ve been to, uses this aesthetic. I suppose it’s so that people can feel like they’re in for a more luxurious experience than say, a “Chili’s” or a “Chevy’s”, onion rings are more luxurious when experienced surrounded by wood paneling and marble floors.

Time collapses histories, and a human lifetime is but a blink. When in Rome, this sense of the fleeting nature of time is constantly and subtly reinforced. A building that was around “only” two hundred years” seems recent. Renaissance works, so vibrantly and casually displayed in a public fountain without security, feel as if they were created only a generation before, instead of the sixteenth century.

And ancient ruins, with their crumbling, yet easily discernible foundations and still standing columns, perhaps their time was only the more recent 1800s, the time of great grandfathers, instead of two thousand years ago.

In San Francisco, the remains of the Sutro Baths are in far worse shape than the Colosseum, and the baths were standing and functional during the last turn of the century.

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Without the aid of carbon dating, or intimate knowledge of building materials of each era, which one seems older? Wouldn’t they seem contemporary to each another? While I tend not to like the modern aesthetic of opulence, finding it insincere in its mimicry of the old world, I’m realizing that the old world itself, mimicked the ancient one, using many of the same markers.

If an alien race came to earth, thousands of years from now, they will come across artifacts from an old “Cheesecake Factory” or perhaps one of those shopping malls that try to mimic old Roman squares, such as the Glendale Galleria, or the Grove LA.

And from their vantage point, the Renaissance and our present won’t be that distant. So they might posit that the Romans made their way across the ocean and settled in LA, deciding to create a variant of what existed.

Because it’s the same idea, right? Create an area of shops and habitation, surrounding a statue or some work of art. And people will come, stroll, purchase some items, perhaps see some entertainment, eat, and go home. It’s odd and comforting to think that we haven’t changed all that much as a species.

Except for that watching people get killed as a sport thing.

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Agenda-less vacation observations in Israel

Happy new year everyone!

So I ended last year by traveling to Israel. It was amazing, and I feel I should tell you all about it.

Like most Americans, my familiarity with Israel before visiting, consisted of biblical stories and the occasional news story. Not only has A LOT happened between those two markers, but neither religion nor news falls within the “frivolous” category of topics.

And I’m resolute in keeping this blog untaxing, emotionally and intellectually.

Therefore, here is a list of random observations that I made while on my trip that are of no religious or political importance.

-The temperature in the winter is not unlike California, but the angle of the light is sharper and brighter.
-The yellow light at traffic signals indicate that the light is about to change, so it turns yellow before a green light as well as a red one.
-People stop at the yellow light. I did not see any red light runners. However…
-I was not impressed with the general populations’ ability to park.
-Roundabouts are more frequently used in traffic than they are in California.
-Signs are written in Hebrew, English, and Arabic
-Because Hebrew and Arabic are read right to left, anything that is numbered, is numbered right to left. The first time I saw a calendar in Israel, I had trouble figuring out what day it was.
-People work six days a week, although some take a half day on Fridays.
-Everything is scaled smaller. Doorways, lamp posts, electricity towers. I felt tall!
-A particular shade of blue is used a lot. Bus stops, railings, lamp posts, public garbage cans.
-There are mezuzahs on every doorframe so that the Orthodox Jews can enter freely.
-The pita bread is fluffy and delicious; not the unpleasant flat, dry, “eat this instead of chips because you’re dieting” stuff that we get here.
-Yemeni food is deceptively heavy. It is the Tardis of cuisines; bigger on the inside.
-Israeli food is not the same thing as Jewish food (as understood by most Americans)
-Italian food is apparently popular everywhere in the world.
-There is a prominent café culture.
-There are stray cats in every city, just hanging out. It is fun to imagine the lives of these cats.
-American culture is very pervasive. I went to a bar that was designated as an “American style” bar, and they weren’t kidding, I could have been in SF. The music, the hipsters, and the food, were identical. The only thing different was that people spoke Hebrew.
-I was informed that it is not illegal to piss in public in Israel. I did not test this.
-Even dry cuticles, much less any kind of scratch or cut, BURNS when floating in Dead Sea water.
-They have wild ibex!

And my non-Israel based observation regarding my flight to Israel:

-Turkish Airlines keeps their flights unpleasantly warm. Also, I think it would have been more comfortable had I been a double amputee.

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Hebrew slang through geek filters

What I heard:

“Sababa!”

Roughly translated, it means “cool”, “fine”, “I’m okay with that.”

What I thought I heard:

“Sebulba”

Roughly translated, it means… character from the pod race sequence in “Star Wars, Episode One” who was not sababa.

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I’ve traveled to Israel and made an important discovery…

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December 20, 2013 · 8:11 am

Spa-ing out the old…

Well happy new year! (Insert trite observation about time flying and post holiday slump)
I’ve managed to exit the old year by being at a resort with my family in Austria.

Yeah I know. Believe me when I tell you that I do not treat this with the casualness typing such a sentence would imply. It really feels more like this:

OH MY GOD I’M AT A RESORT IN AUSTRIA!!!?!

This whole experience was quite amazing. Full spa facilities with a rather confusing array of rooms and recommended experiences. Services such as facials and massages cost extra, but all the spa facilities, were free.

There was a salt aromatic steambath, tiled in glossy white, and outfitted with little LED lights that made me feel a bit like I was in a very damp, small nightclub, one where occasionally, there were gigantic, naked, middle aged men staring mutely into the distance, glazed from the heat.

So you know, a typical Tuesday.*

There was also a non salted aromatic steam room that was hotter and smaller, making the avoidance of eye contact with naked strangers much more difficult. It also had a bunch of buttons. But since I don’t read German, and couldn’t see without my glasses(glasses being useless in a steam room), I was reluctant to push any of them. See, the day before, I had used one of their showers which featured a standard handheld spout, as well as a waterfall, freshwater “falling rain”styles, and for some reason, a hose. I accidentally turned them all on at once. Since they were all on timers, I couldn’t turn any of them off, and simply had to stand there, being thoroughly showered in all directions, only one of them which was warm.

There were also two dry saunas, one at 60 and one at 100 Celsius. Being American, and apparently the only people in the world, who use Fahrenheit, this was meaningless to me, and all I needed to understand was which one was less hot. (The 60) The recommendation is that after a dry sauna or wet steam, you dunk yourself in the cold water pool to cool off. Apparently this has health benefits, but I wasn’t brave enough to try it past my knees.

Which I immediately couldn’t feel after dunking them into the cold water.

New discovery: after heat, ducking into cold, cold water, your feet get immediate pins and needles. I have no idea if this is part of the health benefits or simply a reassuring sign that your circulation works.

I never did figure out if a steam/ jacuzzi regimen alleviates jet lag, or simply makes you so relaxed that you don’t care. But random, naked old men aside, it’s pretty great.**

*the saunas are coed. Many European and Asian societies have a public bath/sauna culture and thus, nudity does not have a prurient edge to it. But I’m American, so intellectualizing it doesn’t keep it from weirding me out. Telling yourself over and over again “don’t be weird about the naked people, don’t be weird about the naked people” simply makes you radiate weirdness about naked people.

**No judgement if random naked old men are your thing.

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