Sunday, June 8, 2008

Viva Venezia

Since today is the day of rest and I will not be spending any time on my thesis (Hallelujah! - I'm always most thankful for the Sabbath at times of intense academic pressure), I thought I'd seize the opportunity to catch up on chronicling my time in Italy.

Venice. It's hard to describe Venice. Yes, it's completely crowded with tourists. No, there's not a whole lot to it besides the novelty of roads made of water and the get-your-ticket-stamped Piazza di San Marco. But still, Venice is magic. There's nothing like walking out of the train station and getting your first view bustling Grand Canal. And the side roads (really, canals and sidewalks) are completely charming. Even the hundreds of tourist shops are hard to resist - it's really fun to admire the blown glass and porcelain carnival masks. It has a really unique appeal.

It's weird to imagine people living their lives here, but they do. And I didn't realize it, but Venice is an island in the middle of a lagoon, and the city is sinking. Some of the houses have front steps that end in water, and it made me wonder if there were more steps submerged.
It's kind of otherworldly. You'll have to look close, but you can see in the picture below a couple of gondoliers in their cute little striped shirts and straw hats. Heidi and I did not take a ride - it's pretty pricey and neither of us had a sweetheart with us, but it was fun to see the gondolas.

Another thing that's magical about Venice is walking into St. Mark's square. The first view of the basilica is breathtaking. The photo doesn't do it justice. And I have to admit, although I think the pigeons are slightly disgusting, and I would never entice them to sit on me for a photo op like so many people in the square do, it wouldn't be the same without them. They're sort of lovable in all their diseasey grossness. Again, the picture doesn't do the building justice. It's amazing.

I actually visited St Mark's Basilica twice that day. It's an interesting experience because they try to maintain a respectful, even reverent atmosphere by asking the hundreds of tourists not to talk while they're inside and requiring all the women to cover their shoulders. But it was strange to see all of these Gentiles walking through, gawking, while at the same time on the other side of the ropes set up to guide traffic, groups of people were worshiping at mass. It also felt strange to me that there were various stairways and wings of the building you could go into - each with a separate admission price. Still, it was magnificent. Touring Venice is not easy on the neck because there is so much to look at above you. Here's a little prohibited photograph Heidi and I snapped inside the Basilica. We thought maybe it would be okay because it's not in the main part, but we were sternly told "No photo!" The artwork on the ceiling here depicts the story of Joseph in Egypt. It was cool. Heidi and I also went to the Doge's Palace, which is an eyeful. I think it was my favorite thing in Venice. It was just so opulent - ridiculously so. For hundreds of years it was the place where all of the government and political affairs were taken care of, and it's set up so that people whose business brought them there - like foreign officials - were led through increasingly extravagant and impressive rooms. It kind of makes you feel puny. One of my favorite rooms had maps covering the walls and the most enormous globes I've ever seen in the center of the room. Dad, I was wishing you could see it. One of the globes was the world, and the other was the zodiac.
Another of my favorite rooms was a beautiful, and again, enormous, ballroom (used for grand council meetings far more often than balls, I think). Pictures weren't allowed inside the palace, but they did let us point and shoot out the windows, so here's a view from the window of the ballroom looking across the courtyard.

Other points of interest at the Doge's Palace were 1) a museum of medieval weaponry and 2) the prison, which is attached to the palace by the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). It was pretty creepy in there. Anyhow, Heidi and I were thoroughly fascinated and delighted with the Doge's Palace, as you can see. If you're ever in Venice, don't miss it.

Other highlights of the trip were shopping for glass beads, being the victim of a hit and run by a pigeon, having gelato (twice) for dinner, and visiting another museum which featured Egyptian mummies, cool boat stuff, really old coins (we're talking over 2,000 years old), and a colossal foot (I don't know where the rest of him is).

A note on travel: We ran out of gas on the way to the bus stop that morning. With the strength of Hercules, Aunt Aleta pushed while I tried to steer the car off of the narrow and busy street, but not into a ditch. It was reminiscent of the time I almost killed Blaine on accident. After that it was smooth sailing. Heidi and I enjoyed the bus ride to the Vicenza train station, which was a lot like that bus ride in Harry Potter where the bus shrinks to fit between some trucks.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Word Vomit

Not a pretty image, is it? Well, writing a thesis is not a pretty job. I've never passed a kidney stone, but I suspect this might be comparable. Actually, I'm sort of glad it's so hard. Getting a master's degree wouldn't feel like as much of an accomplishment otherwise. I really do like hard work. Now all I need to do is give birth to and raise children sometime in my life, and I'll be able to stand next to all the farmers of the world without shame.

I am very relieved to report, however, that a portion of this hard work is now behind me. I finished chapter two today!

Porque él sabe

Okay, I think this phrase means because he knows. (Thanks, Matthew!) Who is this he? James. And what does he know? The location of his missionary service for the next two years. Are you ready to know too? Drumroll, please . . . JamesE will be serving his mission in the Spanish-speaking land of El Salvador!

Congratulations, James! I'm so excited for you! (But I'm glad we get to keep you around until September)