Thursday, May 31, 2007
It's hard to believe, but we only have a little over a month left here in Geneva. Which explains, I guess, our heavy travel schedule. So much to see! So little time! Two four-day-weekends in a row! So the weekend before last it was Madrid/Barcelona, where we finally got to see au pair daughter Caitlin (hooray!) and the whole family was together again. We met her family, or at least the mom and boys (check out the Madrid/Barcelona album at Innocence Abroad for pictures) and saw a little of Madrid, a lovely city. I took the picture on the left on our way to a late dinner (is there any other kind in Spain?), near the royal palace.
Barcelona was essentially a Gaudi-fest. We saw the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's amazing, as-yet unfinished cathedral, one of the apartments he designed, and a Gaudi park. This is one of those places where you think: what would it be like to live next door to an architectural landmark? (Same goes for living next to Roman ruins, or anywhere in Venice--more about that below.) When you live, work, and play amongst tourist-worthy sites, do you become jaded?
And then there's Venice (a few photos posted here on our web album--more to come). What an improbable, audacious, lovely and, sadly, sinking, city! No matter how many times you've seen pictures of Venice, you're still not prepared for the dreamlike quality of the city. Water buses (vaporetti) provide the main form of public transportation; no cars--not even bicycles!--are permitted in Venice. Narrow pedestrian streets end in blind alleys. It's like a real-life Disneyland, with all of the tourists. I heard one old Venetian lady giving a guy working on a crowded vaporetti an earful about the "touristas", but the sad fact is that without the tourists Venice would probably be nearly empty.
And in fact, it's hard not to hate the tourists when you visit a place like Piazza San Marco. The basilica is breath-taking, a wedding cake of a church, but the crush of tourists and the pigeons--the pigeons!--sort of ruined the experience for me. Apparently it's supposed to be good luck if a pigeon craps on your shoulder, so tourists buy pigeon food to entice them (filthy, disgusting boids) to land on their shoulders and make them lucky. Ever hear of salmonella, anybody? 15% of the pigeons in Venice carry it. Now that's what I call luck!
And now I'm making plans for one last major trip before we return to Champaign; this one is actually work-related. I've arranged to interview a volcanologist who works at the Vesuvius Observatory in Naples for my new extreme scientist book. She was one of the co-authors on a paper published last summer showing that there was a Bronze-age eruption of Vesuvius 4,000 years ago that devastated a village just 15 kilometers from Naples. It would have been much more powerful than the one that destroyed Pompeii in 79 CE, and they say that hazard planners should increase preparations for a similarly catastrophic eruption. I plan to visit Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Archaeological Museum in Naples, which is supposed to be awesome, as well as the new Nola site.
BTW, if you look Nola up on Wikipedia, you learn that today most of its "territory and economy are well under control of the camorra" (the local mafia), and that one of the major activities of the camorra is the "illegal treatment of urban, chemical and industrial wastes in the countryside located in the region between Nola, Acerra and Marigliano. This formerly rich and green countryside is sometimes now called the 'Death Triangle'."