Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Crash Goes on a Cruise--Part II

Tap, tap.

Is this thing still on?


Crash attempts to awaken the two people sitting in the audience. She is only halfway through with her travelogue.

She clears her throat:


Saturday. Once again the family hires a private tour guide. Tonio is excellent at letting them know what time they will reach each destination and teaching them important Italian catch phrases such as Babaloo, which he uses to refer to idiot drivers and Germans, and Bunga Bunga, which he uses to . . .  make McKenzie and Brody plug their ears and cry, “children on board!” 

The tour bus crawls along the steep shoreline of the Amalfi coast. Think narrow, winding roads with stunning views. (Windows seats cost extra.) 

At the end of the coast is a classy cool town called Positano. Under the Tuscan Sun filmed in this town. John Steinbeck wrote a short story about this town. It’s that kind of classy cool. 

The family receives threatening instructions from their bus driver to be back in one hour. They must obey. Lingering along the lovely narrow streets is not an option. But the view of the sophisticated sea resort from the beach is worth the rush. It's postcard pretty. Orange trees. Lemons trees. Palm trees. Rows of beach chairs and umbrellas in delicate pastel colors.  Alan and Paul are captivated and begin ripping off their shirts. They dive recklessly into the ocean while the rest of the group runs along to buy pretty gifts in pretty shops before the clock strikes twelve.

Next the family makes their way to Sorrento, where locals eat nothing but charm for breakfast. They sign their names in blood and promise to be back on board within the hour. They manage a buy some lemon drops and peak over the edge of town at the sweeping vista ocean resort view below.

Now they are at Frantoio Gargiulo--a family operated shop on the outskirts of town, where a variety of sweet and savory olive oils are laid out on a table for the tasting. The family easily succumbs. They dip and buy and dip and buy. 

Now they are watching a shy Italian woman make mozzarella cheese at La Sorgente in the hills above the city. The process takes five hours daily if you include milking the cow, but the family gets a made-for-TV demonstration. They are on a farm where fresh olive oil and limoncello (lemon wine) are produced. 

A lovely table of cheese, wine, antipasto, and bread is set before them. Yum, but we don’t drink wine, says the family. What? Impossible! Then we will squeeze fresh lemons into water and call it lemonade. See how they like it. This is said behind closed doors in Italian accents. The Americans don’t hear the chortling from the kitchen as they drink what life has handed them. 

There is a price to pay for snubbing limoncello in Italy.

The last stop of the day is the ruins of Pompeii, a city frozen in time for 2,000 years by volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius. 

The clock is ticking so the tour guide needs to narrow. He chooses the red light district. This hole is where the red light was located, says the tour guide. The family is scratching their heads. This stone is not Mickey Mouse. He is pointing to the road at a rock shaped like male parts. A recurring theme in Italy. Men would bring women to this rock to communicate what they had in mind for the evening. That makes sense. 

More than one family member is wishing they had tried the limoncello. 

On their way back to the bus the tour guide hands out booklets so the family can look at pictures of the important things they missed. The rock is not among them. 


Venice requires a story. Once upon a time the East met the West on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. They fell in love and made a baby. Venice, they named her, after her Roman baby daddy. But she was more Byzantine Empire than Roman Empire. More Istanbul when it was Constantinople than Rome when it was Rome. She was unique. She was beautiful. She was . . . centrally located. In an extremely powerful way. She became the Queen of the Adriatic. The most elegant, luxurious city in the world. Rumor had it music could be heard from every open window in Venice. Her navy dominated during the middle ages. The crusades were planned in her parlor. The trade route to silk and spice led to her front door. She was the original “spice” girl. 

And then Columbus discovered America. The End.

Monday. This is Venice. This floating city. This jilted city, of masks and bridges and canals. The city that gave the world Casanova and Marco Polo and the “it” bag. Leather and lace. Glass with class. 

The family has been travelling for a week, yet no one is tired because even in a state of slow decay Venice fascinates. The ship slows way down for the grand entrance. A canoe could glide faster between the rows of muted creamy buildings. Cathedrals and palaces. Domes and spires. Lancet arches set in gothic designs 

So much geometric complexity!

But look closer. Something is off. Where is the light in her eyes? The walls can talk. I’m pooped, they say. The only thing alive here are the 50,000 tourists who walk all over me each day. Give us some romance, the tourists say. Not tonight, she replies. I have a headache.

But whatever. This is Venice. 

The family pays $50 each to catch a ferry from the ship to St. Mark’s Square. A prostitute would charge less. 

But whatever. This is Venice. 

Dixie is still keeping up. Even in the rain she makes her way through the city in her Audrey Hepburn hat with a certain je ne sais quoi. She sits with perfect posture on bridges while the family buys silk ties, leather bags and Murano glass bracelets. They drop 240 Euros for three gondolas and then glide along canals and under bridges cuddling and kissing for the camera. Paul and Jen’s gondolier serenades them with gusto. It rocks Paul’s world. 

The youngers in the family want some authentic Italian pizza. Plus, they have to go to the bathroom. They find a hip spot called Bar Nova. Bathrooms are free, but the waitress gets hostile when they order only two pizzas. What?? No wine?? No cookies?? She charges them $10 for sitting at the table. 

But whatever. This is Venice.

As the sun sinks into the sea, St. Mark’s square begins emptying its streets of tourists. Marianne, Brody and McKenzie grab a gelato and linger. Venice no longer has a headache. Strings of lights twinkle to life along the outdoor cafés where musicians gather and fill the air with sounds. Brody’s thoughts turn to Courtney. McKenzie’s thoughts turn to Andrew. Marianne’s thoughts turn to . . . her favorite wedding planner.


Wednesday. The family takes it easy in this lovely, restful town where barred windows are more of a fashion statement than a safety precaution. Bikes are all the rage in Ravenna. Nuns carry Bibles on bikes. Old men carry flowers on bikes. Young boys wear Speedy Gonzalaz hats on bikes. 

In the morning the family dodges bikes and eats pastry. In the afternoon the family dodges bikes and eats gelato. 

They peek into churches and museums, searching for well-known mosaics.

Dante is buried in this town. Divine Comedy Dante! Dante’s Inferno Dante! Father of the Italian language and poet second only to Shakespeare Dante! Paul helps Debbie find his tomb so she has something to talk about at school. 

A few churches and a doll museum later, the family is gathered around tables eating gelato in front of Sorbetteria degli Esarchi. It might possibly be the best gelateria in the world. Or it might be the 7th in Ravenna. With flavors like frutte di bocca, tiramisu, and bocio what does it matter? Under Debbie’s powerful influence, Mark orders one after another.


Thursday. Paul negotiates a private boat tour on the spot and the family is sailing through the deep green bay of Kotor. They are in love with each other. They are in love with the world. They are in love with Montenegro. It is not the barren wasteland they imagined during the Cosovo war. It sparkles dramatically. Bright mission rooftops between the shoreline and the mountains. 

Now the family is doing a photo shoot at the church on The Lady of the Rocks, a man-made islet. Literally. For hundreds of years local residents threw rocks into the sea until it grew wide enough to hold a church. Stranger things have happened. 

Now it’s off to Perest for Gelato and a stretch. Alan, Susan, and Mckenzie buy local art for $25. 

Now they are sailing back to the picturesque landscape of Kotor. The family wanders captivated through the maze of medieval houses inside the old walled town. They totally get it now. Why this city is called the city of cats. 

Under Debbie’s powerful influence, Susan is seduced by owls on scarves, and Jen is seduced by pastries in the town square. 

With great power comes great responsibility. 

Now the the family is bidding farewell to this historic relic by the sea. And also to the sea itself. Within hours they will be rolling luggage down the gangplank and blowing kisses at each other into the wind. 

Cheers to getting a jump start on forever. 


Crash Goes on a Cruise--Part I



Is this thing on?

Crash taps the mic, winces at the audio feedback, and squints into the bright lights shining in her eyes.

Is there anybody out there?

(So Pink Floyd, right?)

See Crash. How she doesn't use quotation marks with her dialogue. (So Hemingway, right?) And how she now speaks in 3rd person about her life experiences. (So J Peterman, right?)

She is going through a phase.

Last year her greatest wish was to please her relatives with her potato salad. This year her greatest wish is to please them with her words. She gets it now, that if you give a man your potato salad you feed him for a day, but if you give him your words, you feed him for a lifetime.

Were Crash still using quotation marks with her dialogue and speaking in 1st person, she would say, "I'd like to dedicate the following words to my mother-in-law who has always given me so much to write about. This year she gave me a cruise through Italy. No words have ever given me more joy to write. Here's to you, Dixie Darling."

The following stories are all exactly true. Any similarities to works of exciting, romantic fiction are purely coincidental.


Sunday morning. Royal Caribbean’s, Brilliance of the Sea will soon set sail through the French Riviera and Italy. Final destination: Montenegro. 

Half the family meets in Barcelona a few days before departure and attacks the thriving urban metropolis as if it is a Queen song. Statistics are inconclusive, but suggest they  walked nine miles upon arrival. 

Dixie keeps up, although she is later found wandering the halls of the hotel in her underwear.

Tuesday afternoon. Bon Voyage. The family boards the ship, looks at each other and thinks, “Let’s get this party started.” 

For the next 12 days, at 6 p.m. sharp, you can find them at table 309 and 310, where their servers, Ali and Dandy, spread napkins across their laps and begin killing them softly with cosmopolitan soups and salads. The entrées are written in cursive on the menu. 

Enough said. 

After dinner, with Dixie looped through one child’s arm or another, there are photos to be shot and stairs to be mounted before bedtime. Some slip down to the Jacuzzi in the midnight hour to listen to classic rock and drink watery juice together. It works. 

On sea days they meet in the dining room at 9 a.m. to have a laugh together over various fancy egg combinations. They hoard deck chairs in the Solarium to watch family videos made by Dave. They walk laps. They catch rays. They play shuffle board. They do the electric slide and the cupid shuffle. Somehow Bruce becomes a legend before he even takes the dance floor. Strangers call out his name while doing the hustle and the wobble. When Alan and Paul finish dancing, old people are quoted as saying, “I would almost pay to see that again.” 

In the Colony Club they learn the merengue and the jive. Susan has to partner with a girl, but pulls it off. 

During the lazy afternoons a gathering begins. Card games in the Schooner Bar, where Dixie pretends she doesn’t understand how to play Shanghai and then wins glamorously. An age-old strategy. 

In the evenings there is music. On 70’s night the family dominates the dance floor and gets featured on the cruise channel doing the YMCA. On Karaoke night Paul dominates the stage with an electrifying rendition of “Taking Care of Business.” The dance floor should not be empty, so the family moves to fill it. Susan is leading the way, sauntering. She’s got groove. She’s got game. She’s got . . . no one picking up the rear. The family lets her have the spotlight as they point and laugh. She pulls it off once again.

The cruise is fun and games, but it's not all fun and games. Two grandchildren are born back at home while the family is at sea. Tears are shed. Prayers are said. The show must go on. 


Wednesday. A colorful, coastal maritime harbor. Clear air. Soft light. Sexy charm. The family arrives wide-eyed in Villefrance, but public transportation proves to be a group effort that provides more patience than convenience, and isn’t as sexy or charming as backpackers make it seem. The bus stop is tricky to find. A old man carrying a loaf of French bread recognizes the group’s fresh-off-the-boat faces and leads them to the top of a long and winding road where they board a crowded bus and head to Monaco. They stand, packed together for the duration. They get bumped around. By the time they reach the grand Casino of Monte Carlo Susan is $200 lighter. 

Welcome to France. 

Here bus drivers have little patience for Americans who think that families who pay together, stay together. 

One bus driver grumbles, another explodes. Paul keeps calm and carries on, making sure all fares are square. Except when they hop on and off between the casino and the palace. Oops. Some might say they are rebels without a cause, unless you count trying to find a bathroom as a cause.

The family spends too much time at the palace buying expensive chocolate to get change for the bathroom. In between looking for bathrooms, looking at maps, and looking for buses, they fully engage in looking at this slinky resort town where rulers and racers seek entertainment, and movie stars, high rollers, and royalty live it up by the sea.

After missing the changing of the guard the family sets off for Nice to check out the Promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean. Cheers to the wealthy British for coercing poor immigrants to build this walkway so the privileged didn’t have to slog through pebbles as they strolled the coastline. What was an inconvenience to the Brits is a disappointment to Dixie. This coastline is famous. But it’s lined with little rocks. Where is the romance in little rocks??? (Direct quote.) 

The family meanders along this sparkling blue sea watching the locals play volleyball, sunbathe and make out. Something is different about this place, they notice. Children are at play, they notice. And adults are on scooters. 

Nice is too much to appreciate in an afternoon, and on an empty stomach, but the family is able to grab some gelato and snap a photo of Bruce with a nude statue. Oh wait! It's not a nude statute, it's  a replica of the David. 


Thursday. The family goes in separate directions today. Half of them catch a ferry to Cinque Terra—a group of rugged coastal villages, where award winning hiking could take place. There are no roads that lead to Cinque Terra. Only paths. Paths that connect terraces built along steep cliffs where houses hang on for dear life. But they hang on in style. And in bright shades of yellow, orange and peach. Apparently the men in Cinque Terra had two and a half tasks to complete each day. They ate fish, they sold fish, and they kept an eye on their houses while they caught fish. Just to make sure their wives were doing their wifely duties (and not someone else’s wifely duties). This required color in order to tell one house from another. The results are stunning. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the family catches a train to Florence. Paul and Jen strike up a conversation on the train with a cute Italian woman named Simona. Surprise, surprise, they become fast friends. 

Dixie hypnotizes Simona by stroking her arm as she shares her family history. (You are getting sleeping. You are getting very sleepy.) Under Dixie’s spell, Simona guides the family from the train to the historic center of Florence where the Piazza del Duomo boasts its main cathedral. 

Marble panels in fifty shades of green and pink Gothic façade. It makes an impact.

After adding Paul and Jen on Facebook, Simona hugs the family goodbye, and sends them off to take in the beauty of Florence from the top of the Duomo--worth all 413 narrow steps that wrap around and around and around the largest brick tower in the world. (Did I mention largest?) 

A moment of silence is required, and not just because they can't breathe, but also because of the panoramic Tuscan eye-candy of this city. And because of the pivotal artists, philosophers, scientists, and fashionistas this city pumped out during the renaissance. 

Thank you Florence, for giving the world so much to talk about and think about and wear.

After catching their breath, the family jumps the line at the Academia with fast passes obtained by David and Keri. Psychology 101. Marveling at larger than life, must-see statues made by Michelangelo is more enjoyable from the front of the line. 

The David. Check. 

Next they eat pasta in the Pasticceria Robiglio—Debbie orders spaghetti and smiles. Portions are small. Presentation is simple. Flavor is delightfully light and satisfying. 

Others in the group add their observations: “where’s the beef?" 

In an unexpected plot twist, the family grabs gelato. They then make their way to the Plaza del Signoria, which like the rest of the city, is grand and elegant and filled with dozens of disrobed statutes as far as the head can turn (but who’s counting?) 

Look up as you exit the plaza. Statutes strike poses. Don’t try them at home. They won’t spice up your marriage. Alan. 

Take ten steps forward to the Arno River. Turn to the left. To the right now. Take it back now. One hop this time. Slide to the left. Criss cross. You just did the Cha Cha Shuffle. And also beheld the 2nd oldest bridge in the world. Ponte Vecchio. The only bridge in Florence spared during the bombings of the World War II. 


Yes. ROME should always be said in all caps. 

The family hires their own tour bus and guide for ROME. Mouro. He takes them first to the Vatican, which is astonishing--or should I say ASTONISHING! They trek down a long hall of paintings and tapestries (all probably very important and meaningful) to where the most famous chapel in the world awaits their attention. The Sistene Chapel. 

THEE Sistene chapel. 

On cue, and along with all 15,000 other tourists in the room, they drop their mouths and crane their necks to take in every inch of it. 

They are then led down some back stairs and around some dark corners—a route that only the Pope (and the tourists) get to travel. Suddenly they are standing in front of St. Peters Basilica. Awe-struck, they turn to take in the square. 

The shape of it. 

The colossal Tuscan colonnades of it. 

Four rows deep. 

With fully robed statues lining the top. 

Oh. My. Goodness. Seriously? Seriously people? 

These are some of the phrases they want to scream across the piazza. They snap photos with the oldest Egyptian Obelisk (AKA phallic symbol) in the world, and then they cross the threshold into the basilica, rumored to be the most impressive church in the world. Once inside, it is clear the rumors are true. The words freaking and awesome can be heard whispered reverently under breath, particularly when nearing The Pieta. 

Still recovering from the shock and awe, the family crosses St. Peters Square in the rain, stopping for photos at Berloits Fountain. It is the stuff movies are made of. 

They spend too much time eating pizza at the Ris Café just outside the Vatican walls, and then ride through the city, unprepared for the element of surprise around every corner. 

The sparkling baroque marble monument honoring the first king of Italy. The Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar is killed. The Forum. The Colosseum. Caesars palace . . .

Caesars palace (wait, isn’t that in Las Vegas?) 

It's jarring--the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern side by side--yet oddly thrilling. Debbie reaches Nirvana and realizes that aliens do exist. To drop enormous classical ruins from the sky in the middle of the night. It seems more probable than the possibility of new cities growing up around old cities. 

Brody, who has been studying in Israel, provides convincing evidence to the contrary. He is book smart and street savvy, but Debbie watches Fox News and knows it is just a matter of time before the truth comes out.