Friday, November 25, 2022

Good Morning Venice!

The moment I'll remember most from my recent visit to Venice was when I emerged from a dark alley onto a wide sidewalk on the banks of a busy canal. It was very early and the canal was alive. Water taxis and vaporettos, delivery boats and cargo barges. The sounds of motors blaring from boats going to and fro, their captains calling out to each other. The hurried pace of locals and tourists, on my side of the canal and on the far bank, scurrying up the stairs to the Santa Lucia Train Station.

I hadn't expected this wondrous moment. 'Good morning, Venice!' I almost said aloud. I couldn't believe that I had arrived in this marvelous city, crisscrossed with canals instead of streets. The sun had yet to rise and here I was, witnessing the dawn while strolling along the Grand Canal.

We stayed three nights in the Albergo Marin, a small hotel just a short walk from the Piazzale Roma bus terminal. Albergo Marin advertises itself as a 'charming, sanitized one-star boutique hotel—it was a really pleasant place to stay. Except possibly for the very steep, narrow steps we needed to climb to our second-floor room.

We took a vaporetto to St. Mark's Square and made our way through the throngs of tourists, but didn't bother to stand in the long line leading into St Mark's Basilica. We took the elevator to the top of Campanile di San Marco, the bell tower with an observation platform offering a panoramic view over the Square, the city's orange rooftops, the canals, and the islands.

Some highlights of our Venetian stay:

Doges Palace (Palazzo Ducale) - the residence and the seat of Venetian government, symbol of Venice and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, has incredible interiors including intricately gilded and painting-covered ceilings. We did something extra special when we visited. We took the Secret Itinerary tour, a small guided tour of palace rooms "where the delicate work of some of the most important bodies in the Venetian administration was carried out." Climbing up one steep darkened staircase after another, we saw the palace's jail cells, including the one where Casanova was held prisoner and from which he later escaped. We saw the complex's torture chamber and the Chamber of the Council of Ten, seat of the administrative body that worked with the Doge and his counselors to rule the Venetian state. By taking this tour, we also had the chance to walk inside the famous Bridge of Sighs!

Inside the Doges Palace

The view from inside the Bridge of Sighs

Burano – we rode the vaporetto past Murano, the island famous for Venetian glass production (much of which has shut down following the pandemic and the rise in natural gas prices) and arrived on the island of Burano. We strolled along its canals, fascinated by the colorful houses along their banks and amused by the island's leaning bell tower. We sat down for espresso and essi (Burano's traditional s-shaped biscuits) and admired the view. For lunch, we had pasta in a restaurant alongside a canal. Overall, a wonderful relaxful morning – highly recommended!

Vivaldi Concert - The Italian composer Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) was born in Venice and it is said that he composed many of his works in the Santa Maria della Visitazione church, also known as the Vivaldi Church. What an amazing place to hear a performance of Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' (composed around 1720, the modern church was built three decades later)! The performance was by a string ensemble conducted by master violinist Alberto Martini. With the church's excellent acoustics, this was a concert to remember!

What else will I remember from our short stay in Venice? Eating bite-size Venetian cicchetti while drinking Campari; wandering through the streets and over canal bridges without getting lost (thanks to Google Maps, although I was disappointed by the lack of fog); the good food; our visit to colorful Burano; and the grandeur of the Doges Palace. But more than anything else, I will always cherish my memory of seeing the early morning hubbub of Venice's busy canals for the first time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

"How Sweet It Is…" to See "Sweet Baby James"

When I told my colleagues that I had traveled to Florence, Italy, to see a concert of James Taylor, they asked, "Who is James Taylor?"

I could respond by simply telling them that James Taylor is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, but for my wife and me, he is something much more than that. We grew up listening to, and singing along with Taylor's songs, as well as to the other pop and folk music performers of our generation. We never imagined that one day we would attend one of his performances.

When dates were announced for Taylor's 2022 international tour, we hurried to purchase tickets for his concert in Florence. We were very optimistic, with hopes that COVID-19 travel restrictions would no longer be in place, and planned our Italian vacation around the concert.

The concert was held in Teatro Verdi, a theater located in the very heart of historic Florence, and we booked a hotel within walking distance. We were impressed by the grandeur of the theater, which was built in 1854 and seats 806, especially by the six tiers of theater boxes that seemingly reached up to the ceiling.

James Taylor and his All-Star Band took the stage and opened with "Something in the Way She Moves" and "Country Road". We were immediately enraptured by the songs we know so well. At the age of 74, Taylor is still an excellent singer, although his voice has mellowed over the years. We especially enjoyed the fact that he spoke to the audience between songs, speaking of their origins and occasionally sharing jokes, some of which the mostly Italian-speaking audience didn't fully understand.

We sang along, snapping photos that couldn't do justice to the heartwarming concert. Taylor's renditions of favorites "Sweet Baby James", "Fire and Rain" and "You've Got a Friend" and all the other songs stayed true to the studio-versions that have played background to our lives for decades. We rose to our feet and joined the audience singing "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)", saddened with the realization that the concert was nearing its end.

A wonderful experience that will remain in our memories for years to come!

The full playlist of the Florence concert:

  • Something in the Way She Moves
  • Country Road
  • That's Why I'm Here
  • Walking Man
  • Never Die Young
  • (I've Got to) Stop Thinkin' 'Bout That
  • Sweet Baby James
  • Steamroller
  • Copperline
  • Long Ago and Far Away
  • Up on the Roof  
  • Teach Me Tonight  
  • The Frozen Man
  • Bittersweet  
  • Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
  • Fire and Rain
  • Carolina in My Mind
  • Shower the People
  • Your Smiling Face
  • You've Got a Friend  
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)  
  • You Can Close Your Eyes 

Postscript: A few days after the Florence concert, several members of the All-Star Band tested positive for COVID-19 and shows in Zurich and Frankfurt were postponed or canceled. And then, Taylor himself began suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 as well (although the latest social media posts report that he is on his way to a full recovery).

We are so very lucky to have attended the concert, especially having bought our tickets a year in advance. We will always cherish our memories of seeing James Taylor perform live in Florence.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

"A Stand-Up Comedian Walks Into a Bar" - short story

"Tough crowd tonight."

"You can't win them all," Mac said, slumping into a chair at the side of the club.

"Some of your jokes are quite funny."

"Nah, no one's laughing."

Mac picked up a bottle of water and guzzled half of it before coming up for air. Upon hearing the roar of laughter greeting the next comedian performing on Open Mic night, he rubbed his eyes. "I need new material." When he realized that he was talking to himself, he brushed off his clothes and left.

Mac had dreamed of becoming a stand-up comedian his entire life. He could make a career of it, he imagined, but his wife was not supportive of the idea. "Stand-up doesn't pay the bills," she complained. He would moonlight as a comedian, he vowed, until he achieved the recognition he felt he deserved.

Read the rest of the story on Esoterica Magazine.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

"Running in Time" - short story

“Are you going running tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow? Maybe.”

I didn’t run every day, but there were days when I needed to. It wasn’t only about getting back in shape; it was also about getting back in time.

As my wife turned off the bedroom light and kissed me goodnight, I closed my eyes and smiled to myself, remembering how wonderful a day it had been.

I had gone on my morning run—3 miles in the park, which was pretty good for a 60-year-old man, especially after what had happened—and came back to find breakfast laid out on the table for me. I hopped into the shower and then joined her at the table, a cup of steaming hot coffee already placed at the side of my plate.

Read the rest of the story at On the RunPhoto by Nourdine Diouane on Unsplash