Friday, November 30, 2007

Italian Nativity Scenes

In Italy, the presepio, or Nativity Scene, is an integral part of Christmas in the home. This is my aunt's presepio in the round. Click on the photo to see more detail and all of the characters and objects. Nice, huh?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now I've Seen It All!

While staying at the Fairmont hotel in San Jose, I browsed the room service menu and found this page. Yes, dogs are allowed in the rooms of this very nice hotel. Yes, you can have expensive snacks and meals delivered to them. Why not get the Chef's Daily Special, a Nutritive Meal for your Loved One, for only $12.00 or some Banana Biscotti for only $10.00?


Winter in San Jose...Oh, the Snow!

Who knew that it snowed in San Jose, California? I took this photo recently while speaking at a conference there. Well, photos can be deceiving. What is so clearly a thin layer of snow is nothing more than a white tarp placed on the ground. What? You weren't fooled? You knew it all along? Shucks, and I thought it looked so real!

I was also interested in skating under the palms. Unfortunately, it was to start just after I was to leave San Jose. And, oh yeah, I'm not a great skater!

The Puppy Who Would Be A Spy

I took these pictures at Dulles Airport after coming off a flight that I shared with this puppy and his owner. The puppy was very close to me and I never knew it. I don't think it was drugged and yet it stayed in a bag under this lady's seat without making a peep. It could be trained to spy on ne'er-do-wells without them knowing it. When she pulled him out of his bag, I was so surprised, that I barked!

Courtroom Jesters

These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts, and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place.

ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks. ____________________________________________

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?
WITNESS: We both do.
WITNESS: Yes, voodoo.

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam? ____________________________________

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: Uh, he's twenty.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you kidding me?

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Uh.... I was having sex!

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Are you kidding me? Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Would you like to rephrase that?

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him! ____________________________________________

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Huh....are you qualified to ask that question? ______________________________________

And the best for last:

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Beauty of the Mountains of Italy

My sister and I outside her house. Pretty area, isn't it? The water pressure may be a little low and central heating is not common, but boy oh boy what a view!

Sarzano Castle

As castles go, this is not one of the largest, but it is the closest to my sister's house in Sarzano, Italy.

Guess to whom it belongs? No other than British actor Christopher Lee. His full name is Christopher Frank Carandini Lee and it's the Carandini line that ties him to the area. His mother was Marchesina Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano.

You may know him from his role as Saruman the White in the Lord of the Rings or Count Dooku in the Star Wars movies but he's actually been in 289 movies (and counting!). He was Dracula in all the early movies. Lee was named 2005's 'most marketable star in the world' in a USA Today newspaper poll, after three of the films he appeared in grossed $640m.

On July 21st 2004 he was given the honorary citizenship of the Italian city of Casina (Province of Reggio Emilia) where Sarzano, the castle of his ancestors is situated. He gave his speech of thanks in Italian. Pretty cool, huh?

The first two photos I took while in Italy this week. The second one shows my little friend Arthur, son of my friends Garry and Irene. Irene named him, believe it or not, after King Arthur, and doesn't he look regal in front of his castle?

The last two were taken by my sister when Christpher Lee was given his honorary citizenship in 2004.

Casina, Italy

Click the photo to enlarge it!!

This is the town of Casina in Italy, where my sister lives. I took this photo from the top of one of the hills, looking down on the town. No words or photographs can express the feeling of actually being there, but I hope this comes a little close.

The Beauty of Fog in Italy

You may want to click these photos to enlarge them. The fog nestled in the valleys near my sister with the mountains peaking look like islands on the ocean. They look surreal and beautiful to me.

Teaching English in Italy

My sister teaches English to various groups in Italy, including this group of advanced students at a company called Elletric80. A nicer group of folks you could not hope to meet! It was a lot of fun to help sis out on a couple of classes. I got to converse with these fine folks and got to know them better.

Nice-looking folks, don't you think?

The Mini-family Reunion

Here I am in Casina, Italy, with my sister and mother in the front row and my sister's husband on the far right. In the middle are my Uncle Attilio and two of his three kids, Edoardo and Arianna. I hadn't seen my uncle since 1999 and the kids sure have grown since then! In fact, they are now adults, just as mine have become adults during that time. It was wonderful to see them after all this time!

Caffe Macchiato with Class

Italians do everything with class, including coffee. This is not a cappuccino - it's a caffe macchiato. You may have ordered one at Starbucks without knowing that macchiato means "stained" in Italian - it's basically coffee stained with milk. Ah, but that wasn't enough for this young lady who made the coffee for me. She had to add a smiley face to help me smile on a cold winter day. Thank you, nice artist lady!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monkey People in Milano

A series of beautiful photographs in Milano, Italy, along Via Dante, the Champs-Élysées of Milano, is marred by crazy tourists who can't help imitating what they see. Monkey see, monkey do?

Only kidding, of course. I put my friend Irene up to this! She's a good sport and looks nothing like the monkey in the photo. Well, maybe just a little.

La Galleria in Milano, Italy - Juxtaposition!

La Galleria is one of the earliest "malls". It's in an X shape and is enclosed except at the four entrances which are open, as you can see here.

The stores inside vary from the luxurious to the silly but nowhere is this more evident than smack in the middle, where four stores face toward the middle.

Here I present to you one of the silliest extremes to face each other. In one corner, Prada, the epitome of fashion and luxury. When you enter, there are more clerks than customers. The clerks dote on you hand and foot, flattering you and pointing you to those items that, once worn, will make people ooh and aah at you.

Directly facing Prada is the other extreme, McDonald's, the haven of hamburger-chomping and French Fry-nibbling American tourists and curious Italians, where there are many more customers than clerks, where the food and drinks will, once consumed, cause you to look less flattering, and will make people go oh-oh when they see your expanded gut.

Ah, the juxtaposition is simply...astounding!

My sister's artwork outside city hall

This is a carving that my sister made, commissioned by the city of Casina, Italy, to place at the entrance to the city hall. She is quite the artisan and quite the artist. Here she is next to her handiwork too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Great Duomo of Milano

The central figure in Milano is the cathedral. Cathedrals in Italian are called catedrale or duomo, so this is known as the Duomo of Milano. It was built in the Middle Ages over a 300-year period. It's magnificent, awe-inspirting, jaw-dropping.

OK, now to some fun stuff.

Inside the cathedral there were, of course, confessionals, where people go to confess their sins to the priest. The priest sits in the middle area, which you see in the second photo. I guess priests get hungry too, considering what the tin of cookies I see half hidden in there!

On the main door of the cathedral are many ornate figures, including the ones you see here. One of them has a very shiny leg. That's because for centuries people have seen that leg as lucky if you rub it. Irene is demonstrating how to rub the lucky leg.

In the next photo you can see that I decided that touching the leg wasn't enough luck for me. I had to kiss it. I didn't quite kiss it, though, because I was thinking about the millions of people that touched that leg before me. Who knows where those peoples' hands have been??

Inside the cathedral, I also saw an announcement that Jesus is now on the web. However, they didn't provide his blog site address, so I'll have to update that later when I figure it out.

I'm in Milano, Italy!

OK, well I was in Milano a couple of days ago. (Now I am visiting mom and sis south of there above Tuscany.) My friends Irene, Garry and their son Arthur, who's seven, met me up in Milan. They live near me in DC but they were on separate flights. We spent the day going around Milano. Here I am reclaiming my right to my castle. The locals call it Castello Sforzesco, named after the ruling family Sforza in the Middle Ages, but they like to conveniently forget that the Sforzas left me their castle in their will. I've had central heating installed, satellite TV large HDTVs in every room, and I had the walls painted from that garish Middle Ages gray brick to bright pastels!

People keep walking in and out of the castle as if they think it's a tourist attraction. Time to pull out the cannons again!

Speaking of nostalgia (were we?), see the bench that I'm sitting on? Well, a few years ago when my wife and I were not yet married, we used to sit on this park bench behind the Castello Sforzesco and...uhm...chatted. Well, we used our lips, anyway. OK, we kissed, all right? For hours on end! There, I said it, I'm a kisser.

I look lonely there, don't I? Soon I'll be back home and I'll be kissing some more!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Follow Up to the Balloon Trip Across the Ocean

Regular readers of my blog, both of you, will remember the story I related back in June about the balloon trip across the ocean. To refresh your memory, click here:

As I knew I'd be coming back to Italy this week, I let the school know and they insisted that I come visit them to spend lunch with the kids and dinner with the parents and administrators. I'm going next week on Friday! Last week I sent a request to many of my friends asking them if they could provide some messages to the children of Modena who had sent the balloons. 62 of you responded and I compiled them, printed them, and will bring a bound copy to the kids next week. You can be one of the first to see the messages, though, by clicking below. If I do this again and you didn't contribute last time, consider doing it next time. It only takes a few minutes and it's a way to reach out your hands to another part of the world.


I just arrived in Vienna (Austria, not Virginia) where I have a six-hour layover before flying to Milan, Italy, to visit family. I've settled into a coffee bar called Ikarus, recharging myself by drinking cappuccini while I recharge my laptop whose battery I drained on the flight over. I'm surrounded by smokers so my clothing is going to stink later but living a few hours less of life is a small price to pay for having a powered laptop and free wireless access. Besides, those hours will come at the very end of my life when I probably won't be feeling all that good, anyway.

Even though I have a six-hour layover, I was advised not to try to go into town and back because it really isn't enough time. I'd like to see Vienna, but I guess today is not the day.

This is the first airport I've seen that had an adult bookstore that advertises adult toys, videos, etc. If only the dollar wasn't so weak right now (haha)...

It's snowing outside, first snow I've seen this year. The guy sitting next to me on the plane, who appeared to Middle Eastern (the guy, not the plane), looked delighted to see snow. It may have been a long time since he'd seen it. The airport is playing American Christmas music. Is it really that time of year already? Apparently here it is.

Strange, a lot of German-speaking people around here. :-)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The 10 types of people in the world.

There are only 10 types of people in the world:  Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

(If you don't get it, you may ask.)