18 July 2001 Livorno and Florence

A huge swell overnight made our cabin into a cradle, though the elegance of the ship's design assured that nothing spilled.  In the morning, the view had changed radically: we had entered the huge port of Livorno, Italy, large enough not only to accomodate our 900-foot posterior, but several cruise ships of our size or tankers.  The point of docking in this rather industrial town was it's proximity to the legendary, but strangely land-locked city of Florence.  I had been to Florence in 1988 on my visit with Rob Clingan's family while they were living in Monza, outside of Milan, Italy.  We would have only about 4-5 hours on this trip, however, as the bus ride itself took a good piece from the afternoon, and elected to maximize our time, forgoing a look at the leaning tower in nearby Pisa.  It was a good choice- we saw it from the highway anyway, from the front seats of our double-decker bus.  

The Ufzi.  Each and every one of these people wants to poke us in the eye.

 Our dear friend Laurie Jakobsen had just returned from an Italian honeymoon with her husband Mac Randall, and tipped us off that we could reserve Ufizi Gallery tickets online (give the URL) .  This we did before ever leaving the States, which allowed us to saunter past the nearly four-hour line, much to the chagrin of a few thousand other tourists.  

The gallery was as splendid as I had remembered.  Jen claims I loved most the "Rembrandts and any nude women.  " To be fair, were I was dazzled by the Rembrandt self-portraits a decade earlier, this time I was bowled over by the Botticellis, especially La Primavera.  The large Ruben canvases caught both of us in their dramatic sense of motion, and enlightened, worldly idea of a beautiful woman's figure!  We had had a few moments to windowshop the many jewelry shops on the Ponte Vecchio, and our eyeballs swam with gold.  Lunch was low key: panini with procutto è mozarella on some vacant steps in the Plaza della Duomo, watching families and young children take carriage rides in front of the great towers and domes of the cathedral.  David and Linda Zoffer had taken a long trip to Florence to study art that summer, and wisely recommended that we discover pan forte, found in a bakery in the Plaza called Scudieri.  It is a unique treat, rather like a drunken fruitcake, but tender.  

After lunch and a stroll through the duomo, I insisted that Jen see my single most favorite view in all of Italy, found on top of the duomo.  I was rather proud of asking the guard where to find biglietti alla cupola without having actually studied Italian, and we joined the line to the

staircases that wind up to the summit.  We found a boy of about ten standing curiously close to Jen on the line, but our evening with the Legal Pickpocket paid off as I made enough direct eye contact with him to convince him to try another target.  The climb itself is thrilling, providing spectacular close-up views of the ornate frescos inside the dome, and "Ron loves Maria" graffiti dating back centuries.  The stairs lilt at odd angles around the curves of the roofline, changing styles every floor or two.  The final pitch is much like a ladder, where one spelunks through a dark hatch to emerge into the dazzline sight of the red rooftops of Florence.  I was admiring the 360 degree panorama (see above) until I heard Jen's wheezing and increasingly creative death threats, as she collapsed onto the roof.  Well, there were rather a lot of stairs, and Jen's no friend of heights, though the number of stairs she counted is currently 463 and rising.  More graffitti "decorated" the cupola.  My personal favorite was the bold lettering reading "Deo non existe!  " I figure the author probably jumped.

We had to scamper back down the stairs to catch the bus back to port, and our tour guide was approproately huffy at our slightly late arrival, but we were happily outdone by the couple arriving so late back to the ship that they delayed our departure a full fifteen minutes.  The passengers stood on deck, cheerfully razzing them as they boarded, and we sailed away to Puccini arias while the Livorni waved us good-bye.

Jen and I enjoyed a different dinner that night in one of the ship's two specialty restaurants, the Desert Rose, with a Tex-Mex theme.  I got whiplash switching from Italian to Spanish to French to speak with our waiter, all while listening to the couple performing light folk and country tunes.  We abandoned a very silly "pub show" with the entertainment crew to watch the stunning sunset.  It went very fast, sinking behind the islands.  Later, we bumped into Stuart and Cheryl again, and enjoyed a drink in the nearly abandoned disco, the Skywalker lounge, situated fifteen decks up, towering above the sea.  There was a big swell again that night, which may have accounted for the lack of partygoers.



She'll grow up to be Joan of Arc.

Intermezzo: Nice touches in our stateroom.

  • dimmers on the reading lamps by both sides of our bed
  • remote switches for cabin lights both by the door and the bed
  • catches on all bureau drawers preventing them from opening in a swell
  • the hinge on the bathroom door prevents it from swinging freely in any position
  • real hangers
  • a fridge big enough to accomodate leftover pan forte
  • all space used wisely: trashbin fits neatly under the table
  • hair dryer situated at the desk with a mirror
  • a temperature indicator light dims when the room is darkened
  • tidy cloak area left open; plenty of room for luggage beneath and over hanging clothes
  • Ramon!  Room cleaned twice daily by personal steward
  • curtains extend past the window to allow for serious darkening.
  • soft frame around the mirror behind the bed forms a head rest, prevents concussion

19 July 2001 Naples

Allow me to first establish my credentials.  I was raised in New York City; I have ridden in NYC cabs and merged into the Holland Tunnel.  I have driven across the Key Bridge to Georgetown in Washington, DC.  I have even taken a left-hand turn in Boston.  But I say this unto you: the drivers in Naples are the craziest I've ever seen.  

We were allowed a little respite in the morning, joining a 9:30 tour of the city's legendary archeological museum.  It was on the bus from the harbor that I first witnessed the horror, the beautiful madness of Downtown Traffic.  Cars sped like kamikaze pilots on espresso, darting around other vehicles to get to intersections first.  There were lanes in the road, but these were treated as quaint anachronisms.  One tiny hatchback zigged wildly across our path, sucking in its breath so as not to lose it's entire coat of paint.  Our tour guide, consummatly Italian, smiled.  "Women drivers...  they are somewhat transgressive.  It is good to be a little transgressive now and then.  You should try it!  " We noticed the clearly-from-Mississippi couple that had been our dinner companions three nights previously seated behind us, agog.  

There were other signs that we were no longer in the north.  One was the billboard for a sale at Herrod's featuring a bare-chested woman, beaming pertly.  The palm trees along the streets were also a clue.  Another was the landscape itself.  A cliffside road brought us up to see breathtaking views of the coast.  The city is dressed with islands such as Capri and Ischia, and still lives in the shadow of the great Vesuvius that buried Pompeii.  It is the third largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan, but unlike most of the larger cities in the New World, it has grown organically.  Its skyline now features skyscrapers mixed with ancient castles, one of which stands at a major intersection downtown.  (But has apparently not been mangled by the traffic as of yet.  ) The sun itself seems to give Naples a classic Italian feel- desultory and informal.  It's just too hot to be uptight.
Many folks spend their entire visit at the excavated ruins of Pompeii, but another hot tip from Laurie led us to go first to the museum, a converted fifteenth-century palace.  It contains almost all of the artifacts found in the city: perfectly preserved statues, mosaics, even actual unbroken, decorated glassware from two millennia ago.  In short, it blew our minds.  Jen and I had both studied Renaissance art.  I had always assumed that the techniques developed in the sixteenth century were an extension of ideas from the classical period, but images of Egyptian glyph and perspective-less Greek vases had always dictated my impression of what classical art looked like.  The mosaics here had all the depth, perspective and understanding of human anatomy of any of the works by Raphael or Michelangelo.  The eyes were exceptionally expressive, carrying incredible shadings of emotion.  The museum featured theatre masks, not neoclassical, but in the "current style" of 79 A.D.  Sculptures were also akin to sixteenth century work that we had seen in Florence, but predating them by a millennium and a half.  The pieces were often enormous, such as a mythologically-descriptive piece featuring a man holding back a rearing bull poised to strike at his stepmother.  In some ways, the work was far superior to its later counterparts.  A statue of a general on horseback, for example, made it quite clear that the steed was no filly.  In fact, phallic images were quite prominent in the statuary, from fertility ornaments to brothel advertisements.  Our guide was quite cool about these, reminding us that it is the American culture that is puerile and adolescent.

Even when looking back at these pix, Jen exclaimed, "That's my house!"
We took a quick lunch back on board, then finally joined our tour to Pompeii itself.  Or sort of.  As we were learning is Princess' custom, we stopped for a 'bonus' on en route.  They have agreements with prestigious and often unique shops to enhance their tours with demonstrations.  That the stores often make loads of sales this way is purely intentional.  On this occasion, it was the Italian art of hand carving shells into cameo broaches.  The artists carve the shells to reveal the darker color - or indeed colors - of the interior.  It is very meticulous, detailed work and quite beautiful.  Also quite expensive; we made it out with our wallet unscathed.  

Pompeii itself is not an excavation like anything else I've ever seen, in person or in pictures.  It is simply enormous, stretching for miles and miles.  It would not take a whole day to see all of it: it would take three.  Fortunately, we had a hyper-enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guide to highlight his favorite attractions.  Like Naples, it still sits in the shadow of the volcano that once entombed it.  Seeing it now, a full scale city, gives a visceral impression of like in Ancient Greece or Rome that I, Claudius only dreamed of.  Our guide was particularly enamored of this layering of the two Classical cultures.  It was a startlingly advanced city, replete with curbs, sliding doors, plumbing.  

Rain gathered into specially designed runoff pools.  Gardens were exquisite.  Markets were designed with wells and recesses to display goods.  And Vesuvius stopped it all in mid-stride.  We still find fossilized breads in bakers' ovens and the skeleton of the baker.  Two clearly and expressively human mummies are found in one center square: we can look on the actual face of our distant cousins!  Some two-story structures still stand.  It was hard to shake the feeling of neoclassical architecture here, as that had been the only erections I had seen at this full scale.  But, speaking of these, this period had a very different moral structure from the sixteenth century.  A brothel was decorated with a visual "menu": frescos illustrated the activities a gentleman might wish to purchase for his hours' respite.  (The Italians of the twentieth century had posted a sign outside this door barring women and children from viewing their ancestors' indiscretions.  ) Another structure, a Roman bath, was stunningly intact.  Mosaics lined the walls- even parts of the floor.  Chamber walls were perfectly preserved, separating the hot, cold and temperate baths.  An old dog slept inside.  

This last was not, in fact, mummified - thank goodness - but merely attempting to escape the stifling heat.  And it was awfully hot between the miles of reflective stone and lack of shade.  We were wiped out by the time we arrived at the exit gates, and the tchotchke carnival outside.  Statues of a Greek faun anyone?  Cold drink?  Postcards of those naughty frescos from the brothel?  Um, no, grazie.

We did not have time to wander in Naples after these two tours, alas, but had

Pompeii, still lying in the shadow of the mountain that once killed it.

to return for a quick departure and dinner again in the Bernini room with a cellist from Eastman.  The new show that night was canceled due to a qualmish lead, but they quickly substituted a rather good British comic.  The evening, however, was highlit by a walk on the Promenade deck to the bow of the Princess.  This had usually been roped off at night, and indeed the lights on deck were turned out now.  But as no one complained and the moon was so lovely...

20 July 2001 At Sea

And we had no tours for the next day.  This is where the classic image of a cruise comes in to play: the part that I had dreaded, with nothing to do all day but stretch out, eat, sleep...  it was paradise.  Their (really awfully good) buffet is open 24/7, and we wandered up for breakfast when we jolly well felt like it.  The aft sun deck, nice chair by the rail.  A book.  A nap.  Lunch.  A nap.  Postcards.  Decided to crash Stuart and Cheryl's wedding.  Found the chapel.  Cheered like crazy as they emerged, beaming.  Snapped pictures.  A nap.  Formal dinner that night, and posed for a photoshoot, as we were decked out to the nines.  Tuxedo, gown, smile once more, thank you...

Dinner with a family and sons from Austin.  An utterly ridiculous crew show: the liar's club.  Bail.  Run to an illusionist, the Great Gaitano.  The mother of the horn player from the other night embarrassed onstage.  Excellent finale with a nice twist featuring Alistar, the emcee.  Dancing in the disco for a nightcap, the crowd well-dressed but neither bored nor uptight, a departure from previous club experiences.  Probably just a disenchanted high-school thing.  Bed.

Not posed. Go away.

Next: The lion and the cafe.

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