27 June 2011

Diocletian's Tower

Though I had a taste of the Adriatic in Venice, Croatia has truly given me the pleasure of knowing it better.  Today, even in my near-sighted blindness, I chased a school of fish in a deep cove. 

Venice Booty

Even the berries in Venice are romantic.   Romance wasn't in the grand canal that sweeps through the middle of the city, full of the bustle of ships and luxurious palaces, but rather in the tiny alleyways.  The small canals crisscross the city and lead to wonderful bridges.  That must have been it for me, the linking bridges holding old sunken pilings together.  I only had two days in the city but with the remarkable absence of cars, the winding narrow walkways felt quite comfortable.  Even if I was lost several times.

Watching the gondoliers with their gondolas was better than any single ride with just one.  Only a few were under 35 years old.  They could all be 13 though, making stupid jokes between each other, barking and singing happily from their posts on the back of the boats.  I found their physiques to be quite peculiar.  They all shared a shape of a very strong trapezoid in the torso, broad very wide shoulders and strong arms, but then nearly always an unabashed beer belly. 

There is of course the Cathedral, and the palaces of so many rich merchants to admire, but the little bits of Venice in the corners were truly worth admiring.  While walking around with my new travel friend Marsh we found a council home for stray cats in front of a church.  They were all a bit wild, laying calmly until approached, then hissing and spitting. 

But thanks to Marsh talking me into going, the real art show we saw was the Venice Biennale.  Happening every two years, each participating country is given the time and space to exhibit their greatest new artist or artistic team.  Marsh and I are standing inside the Japanese Pavilion in the middle of teleco-soup by Tabaimo.  This piece was one of my favorites.  Great Britain had a remarkable exhibit as well, a full scale installation within their pavilion of a crumbling abandoned house.  There was no centerpiece, but the feeling of queerness crept slowly behind as we crouched under low ceilings and stumbled through a maze filled with other visitors.

19 June 2011

Pizza Pisa, you'll lean over 3.99 degrees for our Pisa Pies.

I was going to take the picture of me propping up the tower.  Really I was, but there were two good spots to take it from and about 30 people standing around with their hands in the air.  Ah well.  I preferred this angle anyways, with the leaning tower peeking over the shoulder of the cathedral.  I was certainly not expecting how beautiful the tower was in person.  Our whole lives the world outside of Italy has been shown and taught that Italian marble is truly fine and distinguished, but here and now it's nearly tripped over.  My hostel in Rome was quite modest in construction and aesthetic, and even it had a marble staircase.  The charm isn't lost on me yet, although the occasional statue in bronze catches my eye as a result of the variety.

After all that I've seen and places I've been, I feel like I could turn in a thesis and receive an honorary art history degree.  The Vatican Museums were a who's who of Renaissance artists, but it was their small contemporary art section that I enjoyed the most.  The subject matter is almost all Christian iconography, but the more modern pieces really caught me by surprise, particularly a Dali, an Orozco, and a Van Gogh.  The modern section is near the very end of the Vatican Museums tour path, with the Sistine Chapel as the last stop, so most visitors are on overload and fast forward by the time they reach them.  The Sistine Chapel was nice, but everyone has already seen the principle images in greater detail than looking up at a dimly lit ceiling 30' overhead.  I will probably remember the experience more for the bare shoulder police, pointing menacingly at the harlot tourist women with too thin of shoulder straps on their dresses and occasionally shushing everyone.


If I make the effort I tend to find wonderful other guests at the hostels.  Sometimes though, they just fall into my lap.  Mary in the middle mistook me for Jonathan, but I was happy to substitute.  She had come to the hostel on his recommendation but that rascal had split in the meantime.  Tosha on the other hand, was sleeping in the bed next to mine and we had spoke several times, but on the day this photo was taken Mary and I ran into him in the middle of Rome.  We had the time of our lives together.

09 June 2011

Genova, Genoa, Gênes

Maybe if I keep a punchcard, after 20 UNESCO world heritage sites I'll get a free footlong sub.  They do seem to be falling over each other here in Italy.  New rule, at least one major Hollywood blockbuster has to have been made about the place or circumstances before it qualifies.  Better luck next year Christopher Columbus.  Try calling Bruckheimer.  Besides being the home of the namesake of the worst American holiday, Genoa is a beautiful port city that's reaped the benefit of its position as traders to the world over centuries.  For example, check out that door knocker. He's a merman.  A MerMAN!  I think he could turn the starbucks mermaid into a merlady.

Splendid little plazas were everywhere, hidden up stairs and behind giant doors.  Many of them were free to enter and wander through.  I found this jewel of a sculpture in a small pond behind one of the many doors.

Genoa does appear to be bursting apart old seams, but it just adds to the character.  New developments and architecture collect at the edges, but the century old houses and apartments remain the same as the city climbs into the steep hills.   

08 June 2011

Nice was a sentimental last stop in France.  More than the architecture, or the beautiful turquoise water, or the myriad of other reasons that bring the world's rich and famous, I will remember hiking too far in the city with my backpack on.  It's not especially heavy, perhaps 15kg, but I was regretting the two euros a night I saved by choosing the hostel on the outside of town and then taking all day to walk there.  My toes were swollen little sausages the next morning.  I'll definitely watch for switchbacks on the map next time I'm planning a walk. 

I saw so much though.  I could lead walking tours of the city now.  More than half the time I was there it was raining, but I didn't mind.  It was never cold, and I had my rain jacket.  Supposedly the locals hate this sculpture, Square Head.  Inside the cube houses the offices of the Museum of Contemporary Art.  I have several grand vista views, but the city maintained its persistent grey. 

Thankfully, Monaco was all sunshine and jingling jackpots.  Behind me in the picture is the Prince of Monaco's palace.  The ports and hills of the tiny country were beautiful, but most of the time I felt about seven figures away from the right income bracket to enjoy the amenities.  There was a brief moment where I was asked to watch a 98 year old woman while her daughter got something from the house.  We sat and talked about how she carried her baby into the hills when the Germans came during WWII, then the daughter came back out and rolled her eyes.  I had a feeling the story lost its impact for her. 

02 June 2011

Au Revoir France

A millennium of sun, wind, and rain has left the neighboring castle remarkably intact.  While I was at St. Pierre I took the short hike several times.  My last trip was a particularly beautiful day, and I had the opportunity to play tour guide to the new volunteers, James and Hannah.

Sadly, my time at Ferme St. Pierre has come to an end.  Much like the perfect dessert to a long and luxurious meal, my experiences at the farm will forever be the sweetest lingering memory of my time in France.  I can't thank my hosts Berté and Carina enough for the opportunity and openness they've shared with me.  I'm starting on my tour of central Europe, and for essentially the first time, traveling through countries where I don't have even a smattering of the language.  I plan on seeking out Spanish and French speakers. 

23 May 2011

Storm's a Comin

Now that it's warm almost all the time, the most wonderful thunderstorms have been blowing in.  They'll come in the early afternoon, shake and shudder, blow, dump rain, and then leave just the wonderful smell behind. 

18 May 2011


The world is tough, and can be quite cold.  Therefore, curl up inside your round house wrapped in wool felt.  We've finished all but the last touches on both the yurts, thank goodness.  Tourists are falling over themselves to come and stay inside.  Along with the general assembly I had the opportunity to assemble all the furniture.  The nice thing about the two little beds is the far side curves to fit the shape of the wall. 

Bones aligned, the skeleton came together.  The margin for error was frustratingly narrow, but with determination we pieced the ensemble.  Once we added the other layers, the weight prevented the bedeviling shifting.

We were threatened several times by storm clouds, but in general the weather was kind to us.

These walls of wool felt were nearly an inch thick, but surprisingly fragile.  In laying on the individual pieces we used great caution to grab no less than a double layer after learning our lesson by tearing off several fist sized pieces.

All the previous photos were of the orange yurt, but I find the red more attractive.  With a base fabric, the felt, a waterproof layer, and the final canvas, the entire structure settled reassuringly.  Now that these are done, we'll be moving on to the tipis.

09 May 2011

La Remplissage


Sifting sand is hard work.  My latissimi dorsi can attest.

07 May 2011

A tranquil pique-nique

I am more reluctant to adventure to new places than you might imagine.  For me, the comfort and satisfaction gained in living and working to improve a home is paramount.  Thanks largely to the existence of wwoof I've been able to have my cake and eat it too.  As my flight home nears, I've begun to fantasize about the life I will build for myself.  In some respects, the trip across Central Europe that I'm planning before I return home is an afterthought.

Nevertheless, I have managed to venture beyond the boundaries of Ferme St. Pierre.  Located just behind the farm is a large natural preserve around Verdon Gorge.  My hosts have assured me that they will talk some of their guests into taking me along when they go to visit.  In the meantime, I'm happily hiking to some of the tributaries, which included this incredible thistle.

The weather has warmed, and the days of afternoon thunderstorms are over.  All the plants are exploding in response.  Above is a photo of a chestnut flower.  The yellow candlesticks covering the tree in the photo below are from a different variety. 

And finally, this photo that my host took of me was just too cool to leave out.  Check out the dust cloud.  Check out my mustache!  The yurt will be arriving within the week, I'm quite excited to begin.

23 April 2011

This Time It's Sérieux

Ferme St. Pierre has welcomed me with open arms.  I would find it difficult to describe a place more suited to my present goals and desires.  I'm speaking French all the time, except for the times when I'm speaking English with my Canadian little brother Robert.  I'm given enough latitude working to feel like I know what I'm doing. And finally, the food is consistently outstanding.   I'm in the real Provence now, the little garlic press is at the dinner table next to the pepper mill.

The most extensive job in progress is the preparation for two yurts arriving directly from Mongolia. My lovely hosts, Carina and Berté, make their living primarily through the clients that come for vacation or horsemanship.  The addition of the yurts will be sensational, if somewhat bizarre new accommodations.  There will be a few modern amenities within, such as a wall outlet.  In the above picture Berté, Kaci, and Robert are getting things done while I document.  

Here I am, ready for the pour.

Quite mercifully, the cement, mixer, and sand were uphill from the pad, so once mixed we took turns reining in the slow slosh of cement splashing in the wheelbarrow sliding down the slope.

26 March 2011


Ah, the sublime pride of a job well done.  The feeling was double in the unseasonably warm sun and clear skies.  I've been working with my friend Wayne at his On-its-way-to-a-farm farm in the middle of Bretagne.  With the exception of two hour lunches, daily trips to the store, and nightly movies, our days were occupied by fencing his property.  Often times what was to be simple digging and a little clearing of brush to level the route for the fence turned into full strength dig and deny weeds.  Blackberry and Ivy, the old standbys, are here just like Seattle, but Wayne also had a considerable network of fern roots which has over the time he's spent there, broken three garden forks.

"We couldn't be all work and no play!" Wayne declared, and so we took an overnight vacation to Carnac and Rennes.  Carnac is a wonderful coastal town still cold and shuttered in March to the occasional tourist wandering through.  The real season doesn't begin until after Easter.  Even better than the beautiful white sand beaches are the enormous collection of Carnac Stones.  Lines and lines of stood stones litter the countryside, so commonplace they've been dug up and used as construction materials in the past. 

On the road back to the farm we stopped in Vannes, and walked about with the purpose of rubbernecking and eating kebabs.  It's easy for me to be blasé before and after seeing another walled city thousands of years old, but in the moment the magic remains.  Wayne's company added a comical intensity of appreciation for the stone work all around.  Since buying his farm in France he has been teaching himself the vagaries of building stone walls and houses, and now stops to admire and photograph the mortared cracks between stones.

13 March 2011

Le Tour

The Eiffel Tower is according to wiki, the most visited paid monument in the world.  I understand the appeal.  I wish I had made it for the last light and sunset, but the view at night was surely more wonderful than either of those.  For those confused, the blue beams in the sky are the spotlight trekking across.  I took the pictures in series and stitched them together.

The wind blows quite cold 1000' up at the beginning of March, so if you're going, wear long underwear!

Here's a bit of the ride.

14 February 2011

Kew Gardens Temperate House

 Let me be clear.  My initial reasoning for going to Kew Gardens was that Carl Sagan visits the same place in the series Cosmos.  If you're curious, it's Part 2, "One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue", about 34 minutes in.

The Best Cheese Toasty.

Upon a recommendation of a forum about London, I set out to try "London's finest cheese toastie". Under a pop-up tent in the middle of Borough Market cheesemakers make raclette and cheese toasties, panini grilled cheese sandwiches with red onions and leeks.  At £5 I was a bit skeptical of this glorified grilled cheese, but I can assure you I got much more than I paid for.