Sunday, May 31, 2009

Governmental Confidence

In 2000 we had a budget surplus in excess of $200,000,000,000. I like writing it all out. It's more impressive. It it's that hard to write out correctly, imagine how hard it would be to spend correctly.

Anyway, that's an impressive surplus (you'd think).

Mr. Bush took over and immediately began running a deficit. He started out slow, but for his grand finale we had a budget deficit of over $400,000,000,000.

Mr. Obama's budget deficit is scheduled to be over 4 times that amount! Or about $1,700,000,000,000 (edited to add more zeros -- surprised no one caught that)!

I decided this year that yelling about the government doesn't help. If they can spend the money and get away with it then they will continue to do so.

Does anyone trust their government? I try to avoid talking politics in public settings so I don't have a large sampling of Americans, but I haven't met anyone yet that trusts the government.

I'm not talking about blind trust. I want someone to say, "I can understand why Obama is doing what he's doing. I trust that he's going to make a difference. Maybe not today, but in the next 3 years." Why doesn't anyone say this?

Is it because the federal government is too large? Do you trust your state government? Do you trust your city government? Maybe we need to go back to a less powerful central government and allow the states to have more control.

When my wife lost all of her identification a few months ago, it was my state representative that helped me out. Representative Tan Parker. I called my federal representatives and they were fairly useless.

I'm reading an interesting book about Economics. It's called "Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science" by Charles Wheelan. I'm obviously not done with it yet, but he's already devoted two or three chapters to the government and economics. He's actually managed to give me a little more confidence in our federal government and I didn't think that was possible. I may have to do a book report later. Of course, I'm still reading my history book too. So many books, so little time.

Can we re-elect Bill? Taking full advantage of the oval office and creating a budget surplus. I love the man.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Alliterator Animal Sh*t List: The Letter 'X' - take 2

Because Joely and Ed were disappointed in my attempt at lazy humor. I have acquiesced and decided to try the X's again. In searching for words that begin with X, I discovered that I am quite the xenophile.

I thought about doing this all with Ex but spelled with X so I could use words like Xcrement. But I decided I would take a brow beating for that as well.

Now that I've built up all this xcitement let's go ahead and try this:
Xylocarpous Xenopus Xenocrystic Xylan

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lemonquila


I've been warned about drinking and blogging. I'm not going to do it. Sorry to disappoint. I'm not even feeling up to typing something up for tomorrow's sober editing.

I just wanted to let you know that Lemoncello and Tequila are two great tastes that taste great together. It's like the Reese's Peanut Butter cups of the liquor world.

Of course, this is some of the best Lemoncello combined with some of the best Tequila. Don Julio & Villa Massa.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Worst Airline Ever Has Merged

Today someone sent me this. It's from another blog, but it's a good read. It coincides with my experience of Italian air travel.

If you read my previous story about the nightmares of travel, you will remember that I called "Air One" the airline I'd never fly on again.

Well, never is not as long as it used to be. I think I also commented on the lack of choices when traveling outside the USA. In Italy, Air One and Alitalia are about the only choices for air travel. It also came to my attention that Air One and Alitalia are in the process of merging. Apparently, they both suck equally well and are hoping to combine forces in order to create a giant vacuum capable of traveling through time.

We were to leave on Saturday via Lamezia Terme. Our flight was to depart at 6 PM and arrive in Rome at 7 PM. Our flight from Rome was to depart at 9 PM and arrive in London at 11 PM.

Lamezia to Rome was on Air One (better known as the airline I wish I didn't have to fly on). The flight to Rome was 2 hours delayed. When we arrived in Rome they were already calling our names on the airport intercom telling us to report to gate C21. We were doing the thrilling run through the airport when we hit a line leading to Passport Control and had to stop.

Italians don't know how to stand in line. I don't know why. It must be a mafia thing. It's more of a shoving match to see who's body odor can win out. On a side note, when we were leaving Lamezia, there were two attendants handing out boarding passes. One of the attendants was helping with a line of people flying on Berlin Air to Stuttgart (Germany). The other attendant was handing out boarding passports for the flight to Rome (Italy -- the line I was in). The Rome line was chaotic. We were all wrestling and bustling and yelling and generally waving our arms in the air trying to out sweat the guy next to us. The Stuttgart line was in a nice little column. They were quiet and they were orderly and their line went by very efficiently. It was like night and day.

So, you can imagine the huge quagmire of bustling people leading up to passport control in the Rome terminal. It's completely disheartening. But, as they say, when in Rome. It still took us 10+ minutes to get through the line and by the time we were on the other side they had quit calling our names.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:15 PM and we made it to the gate at 9:16 PM. The lady at the counter said, "That flight it already gone" and continued typing. She told us to go downstairs and talk to an Alitalia customer service representative (which should probably listed as an oxymoron).

We went downstairs and there was no one there. We knocked on a few doors. No one came. Finally we found a janitor. He pointed us back through passport control. He indicated that there was another Alitalia support desk just on the other side. I'm not sure if all Italians lie or just the airport employees. I'd like to think it's an Italian airport thing.

We went back through passport control. The line (or lack thereof) was shorter, but was moving much slower. There was an insanely drunk guy in front of me. At one point he started wobbling wildly and I had to back up out of the way. I decided I'd break protocol in the wild Italian mob mentality and let this guy have room to weave. I saw some police to my right watching him and I was waiting for them to take him away, but they never did.

He finally made it to the front of the line (after dropping his Bourbon laced Pepsi on the floor in front of me). The passport agent motioned him forward and he got up to the agent and couldn't find his passport. He looked through his pockets. He put his bags down and knelt down to start going through those. He fell over to the right once. I didn't know if he was going to get back up, but he did. The police finally came and got him and took him away. I don't know where they took him. It was entertaining enough to take my mind off the Alitalia fiasco.

We made it to the next service desk. They told us we had to go to Terminal A (were were in C), and behind some bookstore (which I don't remember the name of at the moment) there is an EAS office. I can't remember what EAS stands for. It was something like European Avaiation Service or Evasive Answers and Swindling.

To reach the EAS office, you have to go down this little hall that says, "Authorized Personnel Only". Those are my favorite kinds of halls. The EAS office is filled with good looking Italian stewardesses in short skirts designed to distract you from your goal. They are very efficient.

Finally a fast talking guy comes in and says, "ah, we can rebook you tomorrow from Rome to Washington and then to Dallas. We'll get you a hotel for tonight."

"Is there a chance we can get our luggage?" I asked.

"No," he says, as the stewardess in the shortest skirt smiles at me, "the bags have been held in storage and we'll put them on the flight to Washington tomorrow. Meet me back up here at 8:15 AM and I'll get your tickets."

Then one of the pretty stewardesses says, "You need to go back downstairs to Lost & Found to pick up your hotel information. We do the flights up here, but the hotel reservations are handled downstairs." She called another skirt over to help us find our way.

Downstairs to lost and found meant going back through security. I hate going through airport security. But she was pretty so I followed the skirt back to airport security. To her benefit, it seems that she argued with the security guy to just let us through, but he wasn't having any of it. Of course, it was all in Italian and I was distracted so I can't be sure.

The hotel was nice. So, it's really not all bad. We were going to have to stay at a hotel in London anyway. This hotel stay was on Alitalia and it was a nice hotel so I wasn't complaining (too much).

Next day, we go back to EAS at 8:15. There are more skirts. Bending over books to check schedules in their high heels. It was all very distracting. I was intent upon trying to get a business class upgrade from Rome to Washington. I forgot all about it.

Finally, the fast talking guy comes back in. "Here's your tickets and your bags are taken care of."

"Thanks!" I smiled as I cast one last look back at the latest skirt to walk in and check her schedule.

We had to take a bus from Terminal A to Terminal 5 (the International Terminal). The woman at the United ticket counter had no idea where our bags were, but at least she gave us boarding passes. Until I read Mr. Totten's story, I had no idea how lucky we were.

I finally made it home (5 hours later than I was supposed to). My luggage arrived today (2 days late, but at least it arrived).

My wife picked me up wearing a short skirt and heels. I love my wife :).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Italian Polizia

The first time I went to Germany, I thought it was odd that I didn’t see many police. The Germans seem to be very disciplined. They all follow the rules. Even today (Memorial Day) my German wife was shocked when the lawn service showed up to mow the lawn. “Are we going to get in trouble because they are making such a racket between 12 and 2 on a holiday?” It sounds crazy, but I think Germans just have a way of doing things. But, like I said, I’ve not seen too many German police. I had a manager of a bar threaten to call the police once and informed me that I wouldn’t probably like the inside of a German jail; I just said “Was immer” and walked off. Tequila makes me belligerent.

But I should get back to my point lest I stray further from my story. I’ve spent time in The Netherlands (Amsterdam to be exact). I’ve traveled all over Germany. And, I’ve been to Italy. Italy is the only place I’ve been to where the police presence meets and possibly exceeds the police presence in Texas. They are everywhere. Of course, when a cab driver in Rome is trying to steal money from you they are magically absent, but that’s another story.

On my first trip to Italy we discovered a nice little pub called “Tortuga”. It’s a quaint little pub on the first floor of a building that is largely under construction. Our friends Giuseppi and Manuela work there.

We decided to have dinner there last Thursday. I was facing the door sitting at a table on the left side of the bar about midway back. I was concentrating on my food, but when the door opened, I could see it and I always looked up to see if any interesting people were coming in. It’s just something I do.

So, I felt the breeze indicating the door had opened and there was a policeman standing at the door. I didn’t think much of it. I figured maybe he was a regular. Off duty, coming in for a beer type thing. I took another bite of food and had another drink of beer. The door opened again.

Two more police had come in. Now there are 3 police standing at the door and a small tingling began in the back of my spine. Easiest means of subtle absquatulation were at the forefront of my thoughts. I had another drink of beer.

Next time I looked up there were 8 armed Polizia standing at the front door. There are basically two different types of Italian police that you see every day. I’m sure there are more but these are the ones I saw. One is the state police: the Polizia. The other is a type of military police: the Carabinieri. From the one Italian I spoke to whose English is not the greatest. He describes Carabinieri as “bad”.

The 8 Polizia began going from table to table gathering ID’s and taking notes. Everyone pulled out a passport or some kind of book that identified them. I guess you aren’t supposed to leave home without it if you are Italian. I didn’t see anyone not produce one. One of the police (they were all men) even casually strolled into the women’s restroom to make sure there was no one hiding out in there.

I had left my passport at the hotel so I was the only person in the bar not to pull out a cool identification booklet. I don’t think the Italian police speak good English. At least not the ones in Catanzaro Lido. Catanzaro Lido is called by some fans, “The California of Italy”. It’s called by others, “North Africa”. I was leaning towards the North Africa description when I realized that the Policeman was talking to me in Italian in a stern voice and was not giving any indication that he was going to switch to English. He also looked irritated.

I was starting to wonder what a “North African” holding facility would be like. I was trying to remember if the movie “Midnight Epxress” took place in Italy or Turkey. My colleague has his passport. I handed them my pretty Texas driver’s license and tried to explain to them that my passport was at the hotel just down the street.

They didn’t seem too happy. They grudgingly accepted my license and came back and with some sort of twisted sign language that my fear inspired brain couldn’t translate asked us if we were together. They pointed to the stamp in my colleague’s passport as if to say, “Did you both get the same stamp?” He said “Si” and they left us alone.

Finally, the capo, or at least the one that acted like the capo came over and asked where we were from. He actually seemed friendly. I was wishing that I had violently sneezed on my license before handing it over. Maybe they’d be concerned about getting the Swine Flu after I told them I was from Texas. The capo told us that “this is control” whatever the hell that means.

It took several minutes for them to write a bunch of stuff down. They had a large stack of ID’s from everyone in the bar and they diligently went through them all.

At the same time the bar manager or owner or someone came out with a bunch of files which they also went through.

Fun was had by all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Off To Italy, Ubuntu, Backups, Windows 7 and NTFS

I'm off to Italy today. I'll be gone a week. I'll try and get my required Thursday post in. We're on X. It's an easy one.

Just a side note. I've got a media/backup server at the house running Ubuntu. It recently upgraded to 9.04. That's one of the cool things about using "free" software. You just get the upgrades. I like feeling like I have the latest greatest software all the time.

I installed a 1 terabyte drive to store all my media on. I set it up as a samba share so I can write to it and read from it on my Windows machines. It works quite well except that I bought a substandard gigabit network adapter. It's a TRENDnet TEG-PCITXR 10/100/1000/2000Mbps PCI Copper Gigabit Network Adapter. I don't know if the card is just cheap or the drivers on Linux are just substandard or what. It works most of the time, but under heavy traffic it occasionally just quits working.

I bought a Western Digital Terabyte external drive to do my backups. The last time I bought Western Digital, it turned into a nightmare. I was thinking since it's external, it'll be less likely to cause such problems.

I plugged it into my Ubuntu machine and Ubuntu recognized it. It even put a little icon on my desktop to let me know I had plugged in and it had automatically mounted an external Western Digital drive. I started trying to copy my media to it (to make sure it would work as a backup).

Everything seemed to be going fine and suddenly I would start getting errors and it would quit. I started doing analysis and discovered that the darn thing was formatted for FAT32. Why do they ship external Terabyte drives as FAT32? The big problem with FAT32 is that it can't store files larger than 4 Gigabytes.

I opened up the handy dandy package installer on Ubuntu and did a search for NTFS. Sure enough there is an NTFS project available for Linux which is trying to create 100% compatibility with NTFS from Linux. I installed it and it allowed me to reformat the external drive as NTFS. All my trouble went away. I could have formatted as EXT3 or EXT4 as well, but I wanted to stick with something I could use on my Windows machines. Windows has some EXT3 emulators, but I didn't want to go down that path. In my experience I've discovered that it's better to emulate from Unix. Emulating from Windows can sometimes be flaky and at other times can be expensive. The geeks write good code and like to freely share it. The really good geeks like Unix better than Windows.

Also over the weekend I downloaded the Windows 7 Release Candidate. I installed the old beta version on my youngest daughter's computer and she loves it. She's already asked if I could install the released version when it comes out. She's hoping she can ask for it as a Christmas present. Windows 7 looks quite a bit different from what you think of as Windows. What always amuses me is that the GUI is getting closer and closer to what Unix looked like 20+ years ago as far as functionality. It's just prettier. They have done a nice job of taking advantage of the new graphics processors.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Land of the Free" and "Home of the Brave"

I've been disheartened lately at the lack of Google hits on my blog. I normally get at least 5 hits per day which is not a lot, but it keeps me ticking. In the last week or so I am lucky to get 1.

I've been told that I need to write stuff with more key words. I'm not sure I can do this, but I can try. I thought my various travel stories would score more points.

Thus far my most popular posting had to do with MMO PC games that I no longer play.

I've decided to try something different. I've decided to try and make some people mad. I've discovered that when people are mad they keep coming back.

Ed sent me a story a while back about an American living in The Netherlands. It's entitled "Going Dutch". You should really just go read it, if the link works. It's one of the New York Times links which I have found occasionally ask you for a subscription. I don't know why it's not asking me, but maybe I signed up before and just forgot about it.

Anyway, go sign up for it (if you must), read it, and get back to me.

I like the part about the 52% tax rate, but the fact that the government gives him quarterly money for each child as well as a book allowance. The government also forces companies to give their employees a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation and a bonus each May equal to about 8% of their salary to use for said vacation.

When I went to Europe for the first time back in 2001, I was shocked that we claim to live in the "Land of the Free". It's ingrained into our brainwashed heads at a very young age. We don't live in the "Land of the Free". Well, maybe we do, but it's not the only "Land of the Free". And we leave out the "Home of the Brave" part which has taken on a whole new meaning.

In the past 2 years or so, especially in the last couple of days with GM and Chrysler announcing huge dealership closings that will have a huge ripple throughout the country, we may begin to question what Freedom and Bravery are all about.

We have to be brave because it's every man for himself. But, we are free to live on the streets when we lose it all. Actually, that's probably not entirely true either.

In America, we have carefully crafted a tightrope capable of crossing great lengths at magnificent heights. It's wonderfully free and liberating up there. If you can actually make it to the other side there is wealth beyond your wildest dreams. It's the "Land of the Free". It's also the "Home of the Brave" because America has a very narrow safety net. We spent so much time crafting the tightrope we forgot about the net.

We have to work very hard. Most of us get 2 weeks or less of vacation per year. When we lose our footing, it's a long way to fall and it's going to hurt. Having children makes balancing on the tightrope much more difficult. The government tries to help by telling you how fast you can walk and how much your balancing pole can weigh, but it's still very risky.

European countries and maybe others (I've only been to Europe) have tightropes too. They are not as high and they are not as dangerous and if you make it to the other side, the rewards aren't as lavish. But they have very large safety nets with lots of cushions to catch you if you fall. Heck they even have things there to put you back up on the rope to start up almost where you fell off. It's also "The Land of the Free", just not necessarily "The Home of the Brave".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Thieves of Rome

This will be my final installment of my "first trip to Italy" story. I hope it was amusing for you. Not really.

I just got my plane tickets. I'll be leaving again next Monday. We found our problem. It was a defective board in the PC. A bad lot of boards from the manufacturer and we got two from the same lot installed in Italy. It'll more than likely be a 15 minute fix. However, having been optimistic before and disappointed I am choosing not to mention it.

I don't like getting ripped off. It pisses me off. People in Rome need to do something about this. It's ironic that the Vatican is in Rome and it's also in Rome where I was ripped off once and the attempt was made again the next day. 39 is the magic number.

After my horrifying 5 hour train ride with the Talkative Australian, I was ready to get to my hotel and put my bags away so I could walk around Rome a bit before I went to bed. It was getting close to 19:00.

We left the train and made our way to the line of Taxi's. The Talkative Australian had warned me about the cabs in Rome. I thought I was following her instructions rather well. I looked for the "badged" drivers. When we got in the cab, my colleague reminded them to turn on the meter.

The problem here is that they either don't speak much English or pretend not to. As soon as we got in the cab I was worried because the guy we were talking to got in the rider's seat with a "I am training" excuse. I couldn't see the meter, but they said it was on.

Now, at this point what do you do? It's your first time in Rome. You don't speak the language. You don't have any bearings about where you are or where you are going. You've been told the hotel is about 3 kilometers away, but it's easier to take the cab. Your bags are already loaded in the back of the cab. The doors are closed and you are moving.

Different thoughts were going through my head, but I was feeling rather trapped. Finally we stopped across the street from the hotel. "Your hotel is right there," the passenger thief said. "There is no chance for us to get to that side of the street. That'll be 39 euro".

I've taken lots of cab rides. Some longer than others. My first trip to The Netherlands I took a ride from the airport to my downtown hotel and it cost about $50. With exchange rates 39 euro is about $50. The ride in Amsterdam was about a 40 minute ride. The ride from the train station in Rome was about 5 minutes.

Normally, in Germany, this type ride would cost about 7 euro. I knew he was overcharging me so at this point it's a matter of how much do I want to spend to avoid a confrontation. I don't know where the police are. I don't speak the language so I can't subtly dispute his intelligence like I'd do here.

My colleague gave him 30 euro which emptied his wallet. Then he looked at me for the rest. I said, "Here give me the 10 back all I have is a 20." I took the 10 and handed him a 5 and started walking.

He stopped me and shook the 5 euro in my face. I took the 5 back and handed him the 10 back. He backed off. I was pissed.

The next day, there was a 4 hour line getting into the Vatican. I'm not much on Catholic stuff anyway so it didn't bother me too much. I certainly didn't want to stand in line for 4 hours. A guy came by and was looking for "English speaking people" for a special tour of the Vatican without standing in line. The cost? 39 euro. I left.

I have a few pictures that I took on my website. My camera was being a bit flaky so I missed some pictures and some are a little out of focus. If you look hard you can spot a thong sitting in front of a church. The website also times out sometimes. If you get an error, just reload. So far it's always worked for me the 2nd time around. I'm too lazy to fix it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Trains from Lamezia to Rome

We decided to take a train from Lamezia to Rome. It cost about $75 for a one way ticket for a first class seat.

There are two types of trains. The old ones and the new ones. The new ones don't make it down to Southern Italy very often. I think there was one new train from Lamezia to Rome and it went once a day. It's a 4 hour ride on a nice new train.

We didn't take that one. We took the old one. It's a 5 hour ride in an older model train.

First class basically means you get assigned seating in a compartment with 5 strangers. Two rows of 3 seats facing towards each other. I expected I'd be the only English speaking person in my compartment.

I immediately had problems. I was supposed to be in seat 84, car 4. I walked up and down car 4 twice and couldn't find any indication that it contained an 84. However, I noticed one compartment with no numbers. The previous compartment said 74-79 so I did my special math that they taught me in grade school and decided that my seat was in the compartment with no numbers. This compartment had 5 people in it and there was a purse or something in the one available seat.

Flashbacks to the Air One debacle resounded in my head with the seated Italians all yelling at the boarding Italians. I put on my best Texas accents and said "excuse me" and pointed to my ticket. "Can you help?"

So this lady with a brilliant English accent said, "You are in the right place" and proceeded to spew out some Italian to the other four that resulted in much maneuvering to clear a place for me and my bags. I sat.

For the first 2 hours, they all talked Italian. They were all so talkative and all so friendly that I thought they were traveling together. At one train stop, they all got off. Well, everyone except for the English speaking one.

They all seemed very happy to get off. Even stopping to shake my hand as if they knew me. All except for the English woman. She remained seated.

For the next hour of the trip, it's just me and her. Apparently the other Italians weren't being nice when they left the train. They were expressing their sympathy at leaving me alone with this woman.

She talked. Then, when I thought there was nothing left, she talked some more. At one point, I politely retrieved my book from the backpack as a subtle hint. She wasn't up on recognizing subtle hints and proceeded to talk some more.

I learned that she got divorced 2 years ago. She owns an English speaking school or 2 or 3 in Italy. Her best friend and her got married, had children and got divorced at the same age (very coincidentally). Her ex-husband is trying to bankrupt her. She's not allowed to take all 3 kids on trips because he knows she won't come back. She told me about her best friend's strange sex life with her abusive, now ex, husband. I can't even recount the story to you here without giving myself chills. She told me about the usefulness of a bidet and why she misses them when she returns to Australia. Oh yeah, she told me she's from Australia. She told me about her first trip to Sicily. At one point she wanted me to tell her a story about my life and she came and sat down right next to me and hovered. I was allowed to speak for approximately 45 seconds. She continued to hover while she told me why she'd never hire another teacher named Karen. All Karens are bad. I didn't ask what her name was.

Don't get me wrong. She was an attractive woman. Maybe she was just lonely. I had fleeting thoughts of how to make her shut up and not all of them were nice. Some of it was entertaining and in hindsight, it probably did make the trip go by faster.

An hour before we arrived in Rome a Japanese girl came into our little cabin. She spoke English. I thought to myself, "I've been in Italy for almost a week and haven't found anyone that can speak conversational English. Now, I'm on this train to Rome and I'm stuck in a cabin with the only 2 English speaking women in Italy and I want to take pictures and read my book."

The Japanese girl didn't talk much. However, she sat across from me and giggled every time Ms Talkative Australian started in on another story or asked me an embarrassing question. At one point I was quizzed about when I got divorced and how old I was and that I didn't look old enough to have a 15 year old daughter. I gazed at the Japanese girl with my pleading eyes to save me from the onslaught, but she just chortled into her book.

As for the scenery, I didn't get to take any pictures. But the Southern portion of the trip (from Lamezia to Naples) ran basically up the Western coast of Italy. It was very pretty. Mountains to the East and sea to the West. At one point we went past Mount Vesuvius (the only volcano in Europe to erupt in the last 100 years).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Leaving Catanzaro

Wednesday was a 12 hour day that saw us having dinner at a seafood place. I ate some stuff there that, a year ago, you would have heard me saying, "I'll never eat that!"

Our Italian colleague ordered the food and the wine (we shared 1 bottle between the 3 of us). The food just kept coming. He didn't explain what any of it was. I was left to my wicked imagination and the teachings of Jacques Cousteau.

There were little fried fish. Not like fish sticks you buy at Burger King, but actual fried fish. You could see their fried little lightly breaded eyes. It worried me eating all the bones and the tail fin, but they told me it was the way to do it. I just made sure to chew forty times before swallowing. Crunchity, crunchity, crunch.

There were the clams. They were cooked. I think I would have balked at anything raw. Tastes don't bother me, but textures will send me hurling to the bathroom.

There were things that looked like baby octopus legs. There were things that looked like baby squid heads. I'm not sure about any of it. At one point I was eating some noodles with some cream sauce when something made a squishy crunch. I think it was a hidden lobster eye or something. I lost my appetite.

That all happened at 22:00. We didn't leave work until 21:00.

I think I was in bed before 00:00 that night.

I should mention that Wednesday at lunch my luggage finally arrived at the airport. It was about a 30 minute drive from the customer site. I was glad to get to change pants. I was on my last pair of socks and undies from my backpack. I was starting to get nervous and my pants were starting to have a plastic permanent sweaty feel. I didn't bother to perform the sniff test.

Thursday was to be our last full day at Catanzaro. The day was spent making arrangements for returning to Italy with a solution to the problem that brought us there. We never could, with 100% certainty, say, "Here is your problem". We had several solutions but they all required coming back to Dallas and making a return trip in a few weeks.

Thursday evening we decided to go see our friends from Tuesday night, but in reverse order. We started at the pub across the street from the hotel and ended at the Irish bar.

The bar across from the hotel was having karaoke night. Karaoke in Catanzaro is a bit different. They have a big projector that shows the words on an entire wall. The bar suddenly goes from 50 people to 250 people with standing room only. Everyone seems to know all the songs and they all sing along. One or two people are picked out to hold the microphones and kind of lead the singing. I couldn't tell if they were being chosen at random or what. I offered to do my striking rendition of "Welcome to the Jungle", but they weren't interested. I wonder if it's been translated to Italian.

It was at this bar that we made an interesting discovery. There were no ugly women (we weren't looking at the guys -- maybe I was the ugliest one there). I mean, no offense, but I've been to lots of bars and normally the bar is predominantly filled with people I don't particularly enjoy looking at. This bar in Catanzaro had 0 ugly women. Most of the women were very good looking. On a scale of 1 to 10 and 100 women, there were maybe 2 5's, 93 6-8's, 3 9's & 2 10's. If my wife it reading, she's an 11.

The Irish bar was about the same as last time. I think the bartender introduced us to his sisters or cousins or something. We met a guy going into the bar that had an English girlfriend. I think he might have been an Italian lawyer. I don't remember the details. He said he was traveling by train to Rome the next day so we decided we'd do the same.

We met him again the next morning in Lamezia at the train station. The train ride from Lamezia to Rome requires a post all on it's own. You'll understand. It has nothing to with him.

Alliterator Animal Sh*t List: The Letter 'V'

The last few letters of the alphabet are the most difficult. How many animals can you think of that start with the letter V? I don't think they are very funny (the last few letters), but in the spirit of finishing what you start...

Viscous Vats of Vulgar Vulture Vile

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tuesday in Catanzaro (Introduction to Limoncello)

Tuesday in Catanzaro started with a continental breakfast at 07:30.

At 08:00 we were picked up by one of our Italian colleagues and taken to a customer site. I think I mentioned previously that we knew what the problem was and we were mainly there to provide warm fuzzies while we fixed it.

I was wrong. Well, I wasn’t wrong. I mean I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken. And boy was I mistaken!

They were having a problem that was easily reproducible at the site in Italy, but impossible to reproduce in the lab in the USA. Was it electricity? Was it a small wiring difference that we had failed to duplicate? We spent 10+ hours trying various combinations of things to find the problem. Tuesday, at the site, ended at about 19:00 with no success.

Our hotel was within walking distance to several good eateries and bars. We were tired after our 31 hour travel nightmare the day before followed quickly by 12 hours of disappointing work. We wanted to chill.

We went to an Irish bar. I know what you are thinking. An Irish bar in Italy? Are you crazy? Well, yes, I am.

The food was good. I ordered some spicy pepper ball type things that I can’t remember the name of. Our Italian colleague ordered some bread with some kind of spicy sauce spread on top. I can’t remember what my American colleague ordered. Spicy food makes the beer go down faster. We were drinking something called Kent’s Very Strong Ale or something of that nature. It was appropriately named (9% sounds right).

After we finished eating and had our second beer my Italian colleague decided it was time for some cultural experience in the form of the local liqueur. Its name is Limoncello and it’s not a name I will soon forget. It was very good.

After the Limoncello he decided it was time that we discovered the Italian version of drinkable rubbing alcohol. This is called Grappa. After this it was time for another Limoncello. My memory fades after this so what comes next was relayed to me by my colleagues. I have no way of knowing if it was true. I have some pictures that I allegedly took, but that is all.

I honestly don’t remember the name of the next shot my Italian colleague bought. He translated it, but I don’t remember the translation either. I’m hoping someone can clear it up. It was something like “no sweet for the boss” or “too weak for the boss” or “too sweet for the boss” or something like that. My American colleague swears to me it was translated to "no sweet for the boss", but for some reason that doesn't sound right to me.

I think the bartender decided we were entertaining at that point because he brought out 3 shots of some kind of chocolate liqueur that I also don’t remember the name of. I was told we had one more Limoncello for the road and then left. I should probably sue someone.

On the way back to the hotel, it is said to me, that we passed a bar that I wanted to check out. Although I don’t remember, they tell me I was adamant about wanting to stop in. It was just across the street from the hotel. My Italian colleague wisely bailed. My American colleague ignorantly entertained my mindless adamant pleadings.

I am told that I took lots of pictures and was busy telling anyone that could understand a smidgen of English about this lovely blog that you are reading now. I am told that I made lots of friends and everyone thought I was very funny. I am also told that when I dropped my beer on the floor that we mutually decided it was time to go or maybe we were encouraged or maybe my American colleague drug me out. All I have are the pictures and a note.

We were at work at 09:00 Wednesday morning. Upon waking Wednesday, I found this note with an email address and something in Italian, but between translating and deciphering the letters, I have no idea what it says. “Pino. Prendo per la gola.”? It’s a mystery. I suspect it will stay that way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Nightmares of Travel

I can't decide whether to write my trip report chronologically or just based on various entertaining stories.

Since I can't decide I'll just start spewing forth stuff as it occurs to me in a semi-chronological fashion.

I can't get into the details of Italy until I arrive at Italy.

I've flown overseas a lot. Back in the 2002/2003 era I was a platinum member of American Airlines. I flew back and forth to Frankfurt about twice a month for almost 2 years.

This trip was the worst. This is a boring travel story. You can skip it if you want. There are not too many details of Italy. Just a relentless brow beating as sort of a preface to some of the incidents of the actual stay in Italy.

It started in Dallas. My itinerary involved flying from Dallas to Chicago with an hour lay over in Chicago before flying to Rome. Basically, I leave Dallas at 14:00, arrive in Chicago at 16:00, leave Chicago at 17:00, and arrive in Rome at 09:00. It sounds easy enough.

The Dallas flight was delayed because of weather and then further delayed because of a mechanical failure. As soon as they announced the second delay I talked to 3 different airport attendants trying to make different arrangements. Either let me go back home and try again tomorrow or get me on an alternate path to Rome. I don't want to be stuck in Chicago over night.

I was told the same thing 3 times. Since I had already checked my bags, I was already in the system. I will just have to fly to Chicago and go from there. I think sometimes airlines use government regulations as excuses for their own ineptness. They'd rather us be mad at the government than at them and since they all do it, we live with it.

The flight to Chicago finally departed at 16:00. Before landing they informed us that the flight for Rome had already left and to head to gate X after landing to get rescheduled.

The American Airlines re-booking lady in Chicago was very pretty. I think she may have distracted me because somehow we got booked on a flight to London via British Airways with a connection there to Rome. It was to leave Chicago at 20:00. We would eventually arrive in Rome at 18:00 the next day. She called the baggage area and confirmed that our bags had been located and forwarded on to British Airways. She gave us itinerary receipts and told us to go to the British Airways ticket counter where we would be issued tickets.

So far this is all working out rather well. I'm not having to stay in Chicago after all.

When we arrived at British Airways they confirmed that they had our reservations, but they couldn't find our luggage. They told us to go ahead and get through security and head to the gate and ask the folks at the gate about our luggage. My colleague had lost his bag receipt from American, but I still had mine (which supposedly was a good thing).

We made it to the gate. They had my colleague's bag, but not mine. They told me that when I arrived in Rome, I should talk to the lost & found folks there and fill out the missing baggage report.

We flew to London. In London I asked about my bag again and was told the same thing. It was missing. As soon as I arrive in Rome I should make a report.

We flew to Rome. In Rome I made the report. The woman at the counter in Rome was very pretty as well. She may have distracted me. I thought she said that my bag had been located and I would probably receive it the next morning. By this time it was Monday, 18:30. The original plan was to be at our final destination by now. We were going to take a train from Rome to Lamezia.

Being that we were already greatly delayed we decided to fly. We found an English speaking agent at the airport and acquired two tickets to Lamezia on Air One. It seemed relatively safe. Air One is my new word for "The airline I will never fly on again".

It's about a 5 hour train ride from Rome to Lamezia. Had we taken a train we probably would have arrived at about 01:00 (Tuesday morning).

Italians don't speak much English. Once we went into the realm of "domestic flights" in Italy, we were outcasts. There was a large mob of people at the gate. They were accosting the attendants in a seemingly irritated fashion. I was concerned about this display.

The attendants would suddenly speak loudly into this microphone announcing something in Italian. It was quite loud, but I don't speak Italian.

After they finished the announcement, the angry mob would start raising their fists and yelling (also in Italian). It was during the angry mob yelling that the attendant would very quietly make the same announcement in bad English that was probably impossible to understand in a quiet room.

We got to where we would stand safely outside the radius of the mob and wait for one of the attendants to escape and then we'd accost them. Our gate changed once. The flight was delayed for 4 hours, but in 10 minute intervals so you couldn't really leave or anything.

Once we got on the plane, they made another announcement. The lady next to me took off her seat belt and proceeded to start standing and yelling at one of the flight attendants. I was weighing my options. By this time I had been awake for over 30 hours. My diplomacy skills were not in their finest shape. I decided to sit quietly and hope I didn't get injured in any crossfire.

Based on what happened next, I assume that they combined two flights into one because they came through counting seats and then a bunch more people came on board the flight. There was lots of bickering. Even seated passengers were yelling at boarding passengers. It delayed us about another hour.

Finally, at about 00:00, we departed Rome for the 1 hour plane trip to Lamezia. My opinion of Italy and Italians was not very good, but I had not lost hope.

By the time I got to my hotel room in Catanzaro Lido it was after 02:00. Our schedule was to be ready to go to work at 08:00. I wasn't happy and I didn't have my luggage. I had enough supplies in my backpack to last about 3 days. If you think in Central Standard Time, I left the house at 12:00 April 26 and arrived at my destination 19:00 April 27. I had been traveling for 31 hours.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Italian Trip Report

I can't do this justice all in one post. I was hoping to be able to write 3 or 4 things from Italy, but the Internet connection was "the suck" and I had no patience for the slowness. Besides, I had better things to do.

Now I am back home and will have to put all of my thoughts together in some kind of entertaining way. I went with a colleague of mine so I had a partner in crime in all that I did.

I will leave out names to protect the innocent and also to not offend anyone for the names of those I can't remember or never received.

The picture above was taken from my hotel room window. It was on the beach in Catanzaro Lido. I'm not sure how many Americans make it to "The California of Italy". Maybe we were the first Americans they had ever met. I'm not sure we made a good impression. I have some pictures of that too. And I think I gave my blog address to several of the locals. They may have quit checking up on it after the first 2 or 3 days of inactivity though.