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I know what I did this summer

Well, the post-vacation report is something of a grab bag.  But first, here’s to the great NYC blackout of 1977, which occurred 32 years ago today.  At the time, 8:30ish to be kind of exact, I was in a public park in northeast Queens, and when the park lights went out, one of my friends said, “damn! the cops killed the lights on us!” But when we looked out over Long Island Sound and the Throgs Neck Bridge, we saw that the lights were out everywhere—quite a sight, really.  Whereupon another of my friends said, “uh, you don’t think the cops killed the lights in the Bronx too?”

People have been telling me how much domestic US craziness I’ve missed in the past two weeks, but I just don’t see it.  Obama continues to disappoint on some critical fronts and to offer reasons for guarded optimism in others, and his opposition on the right continues to be utterly and completely batshit.  Looks like things are just where I left them: on one side, the usual exasperation with feckless Democrats and obstructionist Blue Dogs and the Higher Broderism; on the other side, vast and visceral and very profound relief that John McCain and Sarah Palin do not occupy the White House.

Now, about me.  Every vacation has its ups and downs, of course.  On the up side, ten days in Arcadia and lots of fun driving on twisty-turny mountain roads, dodging cyclists and scooters and people standing by the roadside, all while enduring Italian popular music:

On the down side, I gained 38 pounds in one week by eating yummy burrata cheese and drinking chianti from 8 in the morning until midnight.  I do have a hockey game tonight, though, and I don’t think it will be possible for anyone to push me out of the crease, burrata-laden as I am.

On the up side, Jamie cavorted through a number of lovely medieval cities, and even insisted—despite his fear of heights—on climbing one of the seven towers of San Gimignano.

“Let’s try it,” Jamie says.  He made it about halfway up before the aforementioned fear of heights kicked in, at which point he contented himself with looking out the window while his father ran to the top and back.

But he had all kinds of fun!  In the clip below, he is dancing in the streets of Florence when suddenly he is lured into the kitchen of the Quattro Leoni restaurant and kidnapped by the cooking crew.

You’ll remember this scenario from the recent movie Taken, which reminds moviegoers that we manly American fathers need to hone our CIA-approved enhanced-interrogation techniques in order to save our daughters when they go to Yurrup and wind up being abducted by traders in the sexual-slavery market. Those secret counterterrorism programs are good for the family, dammit. Fortunately, Jamie’s encounter with the chefs of Quattro Leoni ended more happily, when his manly father finally put down the videocam and told a French-speaking cook from West Africa, “il parle français quelquefois,” referring to Jamie.  The cook was duly amazed, whereupon Jamie brightly asked the cook, “comment t’appelles-tu?” and volunteered the critical French-101 information, “j’ai dix-sept ans” and “mon père s’appelle Michel [yes, he pronounced it ‘Michel’] et ma mère s’appelle Janet.” As always, Jamie the World Ambassador made new friends.  All hail Jamie the World Ambassador!

A few days later, on our second trip into Florence (this time by regional bus), we visited La Specola, not far from Quattro Leoni.  Both were Nick’s suggestions, and we took Nick’s suggestions, because Nick is a bum who lived in Florence for the first four months of 2007.  The bum.  As I recall, Nick’s kind of exact words were “weirdest and coolest museum EVER—a must see, and well off the beaten tourist path.” He promised us it would be empty, and sure enough, it was completely empty.  We skipped the icky human-anatomy rooms and spent all our time with the (many many) wax-animals displays; and after three or four rooms, a funny thing began to happen to Jamie.  Now, picture the setting.  It was four in the afternoon.  We’d been in town for three and a half hours.  We’d walked twenty minutes from the bus stop at the Piazza Beccaria to lunch at the Yellow Bar, then visited the Bargello for an hour or so, then marched Jamie over the Arno on another twenty-minute walk through ninety-something degree heat.  By that point Jamie was almost museumed-and-touristed out.  He dragged himself up the four flights of stairs to La Specola with a weariness of limb to which I can scarcely do justice here.  Yet upon realizing what La Specola was, Jamie promptly turned into a docent, and led Janet from one display case to another, naming all the varieties of animals.  After ten or fifteen minutes of this, I decided that La Specola’s strictures forbidding videocams did not apply to people who want to capture their teenage son-with-a-developmental-disability as he engages in his very first attempt at public pedagogy, so I hid under their security cameras and took some footage of Jamie the Docent:

All hail Jamie the Docent!

On the down side, Jamie did get airsick at the very end of the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, and since Janet was sitting in the row ahead of us, I took one for the team.  Because there were no airsickness-bags anywhere within two rows, I cannily decided to absorb Jamie’s regurgitated lunch with my right pants leg.  We were reunited with our checked baggage in Customs, of course, and I took the opportunity to change my clothes, but still, I think it’s possible that I may have been the smelliest person to enter the US via an airport that day.

Burrata cheese is extremely delicious, by the way.  I’m amazed that I’ve lived 47 years without knowing about it.  Then again, I’m also amazed that I’ve lived 47 years without hearing about the Pear of Anguish, an ingenious device I encountered at the entrance to one of San Gimignano’s torture museums.  Ah, Christianity, the Religion of Love.  (Yes, yes, I know, only the bad Christians employed the Pear.  You know, the ones running the show, together with their enhanced-interrogation-technique specialists.)

Finally, I do not understand why Mercedes-Benz does not sell their A-class vehicles in the United States.

Janet sagely suggested that the Benzines prefer to market their product in the US as “exclusive” and “luxury,” and not so much as “convenient” and “affordable.” But if you have any alternate suggestions, well, that’s what the comment section is for (perhaps I will get my first Mercedes-Benz spam!).  Believe it or not, this compact dust-bustery-lookin’ vehicle held five people comfortably, with room in the storage area for three or four large bags.  The only problem with the car was that for our entire stay, it picked up nothing but Italian radio, which (as you might have gathered from that first clip), plays mostly Italian rock/pop.  Italian rock/pop seems to be slightly better than French rock/pop, but this is a little like saying that the Cleveland Indians are somewhat more talented than the Washington Nationals.  Though I should admit, in all fairness, that my famous complaints about French pop in this old post were answered a few years ago by a Penn State graduate student who very kindly gave me a CD compilation of contemporary French music.  Janet and I did indeed like one song on that CD, and here it is, complete with the usual WTF video.  (The song says “the wind will carry us,” not “the wind and sand will sweep away the child we left playing by himself on the other side of the dunes”):

For the next few weeks, this blog will be posting on the “Jamie has only three hours of summer school four days a week” schedule, so you can play Noir Désir’s “Le Vent Nous Portera” again and again until I have some free posting time again. Enjoy!

Molte grazie to G. and M. for making the whole thing possible.

Posted by on 07/13 at 09:50 AM
  1. I’m running off to class with barely a moment to say “Welcome Back to the Asylum!” I can’t wait to see the videos. I’ll fill you in on draft day and how the Rangers saddled Montreal with Scott Gomez’s contract. Nice use of the pants leg in any case. (Kick save, and a beauty!) I hope Jamie is feeling better. I need to hear more about cheese and wine.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  11:20 AM
  2. Kids with Down syndrome, of course, have dismal futures that cannot possibly include such things as making small talk in French with Francophone Afro-Italians. (Not!)

    Janet looks terrific. What is she, 29?

    If you’d asked the airport employees, I’ll bet they’d have reported that there were a few others equally abhorrent to the senses, given that toddler diaper blowouts are not unknown in air travel. You were probably in the top three, though. Congrats!

    Posted by Orange  on  07/13  at  11:38 AM
  3. I think it’s possible that I may have been the smelliest person to enter the US via an airport that day.

    Oh, now who’s being naïve?

    Still, Master Bérubé is quite the decent docent, except during descent.

    Molto grazie to G. and M. for making the whole thing possible.

    “Hot grass”?  Better stick with French.

    (perhaps I will get my first Mercedes-Benz spam!)

    I will carry on the Socratic spam dialogue in advance, just in case:

    Dive deep into America: Get the Benz

    ...

    Okay, this is harder than I expected.  Where are my voices when I really need them?

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  11:42 AM
  4. I love that Noir Desir song, but then I dislike it when I remember that the lead singer beat his girlfriend to death (his girlfriend was Jean-Louis Trintignant’s daughter, in fact).

    Posted by oudemia  on  07/13  at  11:54 AM
  5. And yipes, he’s already out of jail for it.

    Posted by oudemia  on  07/13  at  11:57 AM
  6. I had the exact same thought about the A class when I came back from Europe. I would definitely buy one if I could.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  12:08 PM
  7. I refuse to pass along the URL of this entry to my 17-year-old, who will immediately complain that SHE never gets taken to Europe and that in fact the only time she’s been out of the country is when she went with her grandmother to Newfoundland, so I am definitely the inferior parent and could she be adopted by your family, at least for the next year and especially if she can get out of Florida for the hot-and-disgusting season?

    Posted by Sherman Dorn  on  07/13  at  12:39 PM
  8. Janet looks terrific. What is she, 29?

    Yes.  And has been since I met her.

    “Hot grass”?  Better stick with French.

    Fixed.  Pill.

    the lead singer beat his girlfriend to death (his girlfriend was Jean-Louis Trintignant’s daughter, in fact).

    And yipes, he’s already out of jail for it.

    Yipes alors.  I don’t believe that graduate student included that information.  Truly horrific.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  01:13 PM
  9. Fixed.  Pill.

    Wait, that actually was wrong?  Hee hee, and I don’t even know Italian.* What an inadvertently a proposito* attempt at a play on words. 

    *Or… do I?**

    **No.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  01:27 PM
  10. Well, mds, you got “grazie” wrong.  But it’s “grazie mille” or “molte grazie” and not “molto grazie.” Unless one is talking to one’s imaginary friends, who tend to be lenient about usage.

    I did manage to say eight or ten sentences in Italian.  Abbiamo una prenotazione per un’auto con una trasmissione automatica, È questo il autobus per Greve, Jamie vorrebbe la salsiccia del cinghiale, per favore, that kind of thing.  But I pronounced everything wrong, just to let my interlocutors know I wasn’t capable of going beyond the phrasebook.

    I’ll fill you in on draft day and how the Rangers saddled Montreal with Scott Gomez’s contract.

    Oh happy day!  Now there’s some real news.  I’ll bet Scotty Hockey is thrilled about this.  Just don’t tell me we had to take Kovalev off their hands.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  01:46 PM
  11. hovercraft...eels...all that.
    Wish I had known about La Specola when I was in Firenze some years ago, when I was, like, 29.
    Welcome back.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  02:02 PM
  12. Wiki tells us the ingenious Pear of Anguish is “more than just a simple gag in the shape of a pear”. Indeed, if you ever find yourself painfully gagged you should correctly conclude your handlers are about to propagate some information to you—they are not engaging in some enhanced routine to extract it. You’d do well to nod your head as vigorously as you possibly can when your interlocutor pauses for confirmation.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  02:30 PM
  13. I particularly like the semiotics of the thumb at the edge of our vision in the first museum video.  To me, it represents the weight of tradition, money, and power as we decide what is “worthy” of being displayed in glass cases in a museum.

    Posted by gmoke  on  07/13  at  05:14 PM
  14. To me it represents my completely half-assed attempt to conceal the videocam by holding it at my hip instead of holding it in front of my face.  But thanks!  I eagerly await La Althouse’s interpretation of the thumb.

    I also like Jamie waving me off once he spots the camera I thought I’d hidden, and Janet’s little white lie about how I’m just checking the battery.

    Posted by Michael  on  07/13  at  05:54 PM
  15. The videographic evidence will clearly show that the filmmaker was totally ogling his wife’s haunches in that the camera did not shyly avert its eyes from the general direction in which her haunches were to be found. I condemn this crass objectification on the part of the filmmaker, who is clearly a perv.

    Posted by Orange  on  07/13  at  06:02 PM
  16. 14: I eagerly await La Althouse’s interpretation of the thumb.

    One can’t help but note that the first video was of a car driving through terrain where there well might have been tunnels, and yet no tunnel was entered. The second video had multiple free-standing towers and the third ended with shots of erect stanchions. Need I say more about the thumb?

    AND: Yes, I realize that I have been completely unhinged on this subject for years, and I stand by my analysis of the videos.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  07:20 PM
  17. I particularly like the semiotics of the thumb at the edge of our vision in the first museum video.

    Especially since it was actually, and impressively, the left thumb.

    “The Mercedes-Benz A-class: Go with Your Haunches.”

    And Orange, the proper term is “prev,” in homage* to Jacques Prévert**.

    *Nope, no French, either.

    **Or Stanley Kubrick, given your penchant* for wicked filmmakers.

    Posted by  on  07/13  at  07:28 PM
  18. As someone who read “Life as We Know It” in Harper’s way back in the day, let me just say how amazing and wonderful it is to see Jamie in Zoology Professor mode.  Thanks for sharing that.

    Posted by Gary Oxford  on  07/13  at  07:59 PM
  19. Whoa, is it summer already?

    Posted by  on  07/14  at  12:42 AM
  20. San Gimignano & small cars:  there in spring 1972, lunch alfresco, approached at table by multiple black-truffle sellers. Freshness attested by authentically grimy hands and by accompanying truffle dogs. Bought some, returned to Florence in a Fiat 500, which concentrated the scent even through many layers of wrapping. I don’t think the radio was on, but could have endured anything for that experience.

    Posted by  on  07/14  at  09:48 AM
  21. Cleveland Indians are somewhat more
    talented than the Washington Nationals.

    Were I a fan of any other team besides Cleveland, this would depress me.  However, as a lifelong sufferer who knows it is usually pretty bad, I must compliment you: well-played, and humorous (plus, it reminds me that the season isn’t a TOTAL wash.  After all - we’re not as bad as the Nationals!

    Yet....)

    Posted by Mr. Trend  on  07/14  at  01:53 PM
  22. After seven years, we still have Quattro Leone matchsticks to remind us of the fantastic food and even fantasticer err, chianti they serve.

    Loved your talk here in Denver a couple of years ago.

    Posted by  on  07/26  at  01:11 AM

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