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Thursday, May 30, 2013


       Who wouldn't want to go back in time with Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris"?   In one scene he zips back eighty years and meets Ernest Hemingway.  They're in "Le Polidor", a Left Bank restaurant  favored by writers for the last 150 years.

   With its aged decor and the complete lack of anything new, you can vis zip back in time yourself.  A sign inside proudly proclaims, "We haven't accepted credit cards since 1845".  
     .     The four of us went early last July, skipping the crowds.  We loved the French comfort food like beef bourguignon and mashed potatoes 

...but my favorite thing was the bathroom.  There is only one and it is the size of a porto-potti.     
 To get to it you open this ancient door and step out into a tiny, dark alley (I remember seeing a small piece of sky above).  To the right was this little blue-tiled room, a hole in the wall with a hole in the floor.  
If youpolidorbathroom're tall at all you must duck to enter and keep your head tilted inside.  
  After you do your thing you yank a chain and Viola.  Water rushes down a pipe and spurts out into the basin to wash everything away.  
   I loved my visit to the bathroom museum and made sure that everyone in our group went as well.  Imagine the thrill
of standing over the hole where Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Arthur Rimbaud once stood.

     When that thrill was gone we began hiking east to the tower where I proposed to Francesca eight years ago. 

  The line to the top was long, too long, two-hours long.  We asked the guards, "Isn't there some another way?"
    He pointed to the stairs and said,
"There's no line for that.  You just start climbing and nineteen floors later you're there!".  

And so we headed up and up and up.
Once we got there we found The Spot, had a quiet moment, and looked down at the thousands of people gathered below.  We realized they were there for Paris' Nightly Event, "The Switch".  It's when the tower's dazzling strobe lights are switched on.  
We had to hit the ground for that so we began a rapid, dizzy descent.   I did it in six minutes perhaps setting a record for old guys.
    The Eiffel Tower crowd was festive, happy and drunk.  We followed the sound of drums and found young Turkish men doing a beautiful, solemn, circular dance.  Three minutes later, "Boom", the tower lit up with twenty thousand lights flashing. The dancers paused as everyone roared with delight. 
    Later the four of us walked to the subway to head home.  The platform had a mysterious blue light that I knew would be perfect for a portrait.  Dylan was kind enough to oblige.

       By the time we got home it was midnight in Paris.
  I couldn't resist taking a peek at the St. Martin canal party down the block (see previous blog). Hundreds of young people were enjoying the evening, looking at each other, not their smart phones.
   We spent our last day seeing a few more sights like the Pompidou Center, 

 its colorful fountain, and a flirtatious young girl who ended up getting arrested for picking someone's pocket.   

     Paris was hard to leave.  Nevertheless, the next day we arose at dawn and made our way home to the land of sunshine, mangoes, and conventional toilets.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


   Pisa, Italy, has an incredible thrill ride.   For $73 you climb inside a large metal tube that shoots up into the stratosphere (this is what we saw out our window!).  It's like the Richard Branson Space Ride for cheapos.
   We  returned to the Earth in a completely different city, a place called "Paris".  It's where Jim Morrison died.

   Francesca and I began to explore.  A few hours later we ran into
two young men backpacking down Le Boulevard Magenta.  I quickly recognized them as my sons, Ian and Dylan. 

    They told us they had spent the previous two weeks (last July) skateboarding through Belgium, Holland, and Germany.

They're  good sports.  I asked Ian to meditate and Dylan to look askance so I could take this seemingly candid photograph.

   We rented an apartment by the historic St. Martin Canal; it winds down from the north to reach the Seine. 
Ever summer night there  is a party along its banks, thousands of young people talking, singing, drinking, and urinating. 

To make the last one easier (for guys) they set out these triangular pissoirs.  Ian was kind enough to model.
    At one night's canal party I got to sing "Lady in Red" with a young man from Birmingham.  Empty beer bottles served as microphones.

     Miami is just getting rent-a-bikes but the City of Light has had them for years.   They're free for the first 30 minutes and just two bucks per hour after that.  You ride somewhere, check it in, then grab another one when you're ready to head home.  Plan it right and you can bike for free.
    We grabbed four and headed south to see the sights.   When I asked, "Y'guys wanna to visit Jim Morrison's grave? There's a party there every day". 
 They replied,  "He's been dead for 40 years.   Anyone who remembers him is probably too old to party".  I told them I wasn't and they were kind enough to indulge me.  We headed three miles south to Cemetierie Pere Lachaise.

The lead singer of The Doors has gotten a lot of attention since he OD'd in his bathtub.   For years young folks gathered at his plot to laugh, sing, and leave half-empty bottles of Jack Danial's. On my Dead Rock Star Tour in the early      80's,  Jim's grave was at the top,  just ahead of Duane Allman's in Macon, Georgia.                                 (Above,  Jim's grave in '83)

  The party is smaller now.  On a Wednesday afternoon there were less than a dozen gathered
at his grave site.  His concrete bust was stolen long ago.

This young man, who could pass for Ian's anorexic twin,  asked for people to "light his fire" in song.
Thankfully, no one tried.
    The crowds were much bigger at the next stop, a gigantic old building filled with art.  Three hundred people crammed into one spot to see either a distant painting or the Japanese lady standing in front of it.

The crowd was a pickpocket's dream and there are thousands of them in Paris.  I lost my wallet on a previous trip.
   Just last month, the Louvre was shut down for a day when its security guards went on strike.  Seems they were tired of having their pockets picked.

In another room Dylan had Napoleon and his army all to himself. 

I had similar luck when they asked us to leave at closing time.  
There were no lines outside to see "Red Dog".

 The boys just had to see the Tim Burton  exhibit so we headed for Le Musee Cinimatheque.  The two-hour line had art of its own.  This entire cast of "The Munsters" was smiling from this guy's arm.  

The next day, while crossing the River Seine, I saw a dog with an incredibly long nose.  

   Her name was "Hunter" and the owner let me hold her. It was nice to be smelling dog again.


  It was hot, even by Miami standards.  The river, being too nasty to swim in, had a huge  barge tethered a hundred yards south.   Inside was this pool.  
 We attempted to take a dip at the Josephine Baker Aquatic Center but we told we lacked the necessary bathing caps.

      We made for the shade and wandered.  Eventually we came upon the ghosts of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Arthur Rimbaud.  More on that later.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

HOT PISA IN 3 MINUTES (or it's free)

       As Francesca and I gear up for this summer's adventure, it occurred to me that I have not finished writing about the last one.  The Grove Guy covered his Caracas adventures,  the joys of Brittany, and the beggars of Venice but there was more.

      Last July a Venetian water bus took us to train heading for Florence.  When we got there the temperature topped 100 but it wasn't so bad.  Our old apartment had thick, cool walls and a breeze was wafting up the Arno.  

Art was everywhere,
 Convent filled with frescoes by Fra Angelico

They must have made this guy a saint for putting up with this


and a market sold peppers that "were better than Viagra".


We walked by the apartment on Via Gucciardini where Francesca spent a summer.  It's two blocks up from the Ponte Vecchio, next to the Pitti Palace.

I appreciate a place that uses small turtles to hold up it's window bars.

Every night five thousand people were crowding into Plaza St. Croce for a reading of a 12th century comedy (Roberto Benigni reading Dante's Divine Comedy, both artists from Tuscany).  Things like that rarely happen in Miami.

 We never thought about trying the pizza.
Two days later in Pisa, we did have a hankering for something good to eat, the real thing.   We found it down a narrow, dimly-lit alley.  A hand-lettered cardboard sign read, "Andre the Fisherman".   Three small tables on the street led to a mini-kitchen.  
   A short, round woman was busy working the stove.  Simonette smiled, invited us inside, and asked, "Questo, questo, are you hungry?".  
  We felt like we were in a Fellini movie.

  She introduced us to her handsome, 50-year-old nephew, Andre.   The well tanned man in the skinny shirt would be our waiter.   He told us he paddles far out into the Mediterranean in his kayak to catch the fish they serve.  He used his I-phone to show us the previous day's prizes, two 20 lb. tuna.

  Simonette pointed out photos on the wall, she was once young and beautiful.  I told her in my very best (very bad) Italian that she still retained her good looks.  That got me a warm, Italian hug.

  I don't recall this ever happening in Miami restaurants though I wish it did.

  We finally sat down for a great little meal.  

 Afterwards wandered north to see the tower that leans.  


The next day we visited Lucca, a walled, medieval city just north of Pisa.

Needing a bathroom, a tourist map told us there was one in a plaza where the only sign said,


 We went up three flights of stairs only to find a library.  The attendant took pity on us and led us to her small bathroom. 

  Afterwards we asked about her surroundings. She explained that it was a thousand years of records, the archives of the ancient principality of Lucca.


   I could not believe we were looking at a huge collection of hand-letter parchment from the Dark Ages.  There were rooms and rooms of it.  In one she took out  a folded map from the 13th century.  As we opened it I thought about the person who had drawn the multi-colored hills surrounding Lucca fifty generations ago, and, would we remember how to fold it back again?
   We could not.  After several tries we got lucky.  It's safe on the shelf for another 900 years.

 While we were touring Tuscany my two sons were in Germany (they heard they had great beer and  electronic music).  Every day or two they sent us a text to say they were  managing to have a great time without us.    

     Fortunately, they ran low on money and asked, "Can we still share that apartment in Paris?".   We said, "Oui!" and headed for Pisa International.  

We had to  leave the bikes behind.


Thursday, May 9, 2013


   The April 8th New Yorker had an article about a drone workshop in Washington D.C.   It said for $325 you could buy and assemble your own Chinese drone. 
    What could be cooler that that?  
Well for one, how 'bout doing the same thing for $26.  I just bought a little drone (fully assembled) on Amazon.  It's my new best friend, my little blue helicopter.
We go flying everyday.  As it hovers above me I imagine being up there, the rotor swishing madly above.  When it crashes (it happens a lot) it hurts but my electric wonder pops right up to fly again.

   Its such a far cry from the gas-guzzling planes I flew as a kid.  Once they hit the ground it was over.
   These simple machines are amazing, a reminder of how far micro-avionics have come.   When I fly my chopper for visiting women they seem mildly amused.
  Every guy goes wide-eyed and squawks, "I gotta get one!"
    For an extra $80 you can get a helicopter equipped with a video camera.  I don't need that.
   I'm happy enough watching my mechanical dragonfly zip around the living room and occasionally chase the dog.
   They are using larger versions to deliver supplies to troops in Afghanistan.  I tried to get it to bring me a can of beer. Unfortunately, it can only lift an empty one.


There's a new hostelry
in Coconut Grove.  I looked through its brochure and it said the finest room was the "King Mango Suite".  For  $35, someone will even give you a bath!
 Intrigued, I visited "Dogtown" on Grand Avenue.
The manager, Lucille, told me my dog can have a sleepover in the king's suite for just $58 (If Pi brings a friend, $76).  Like many finer hotels there is a gift shop. It includes a great selection of toys, bones, and hydrants.