Louis G. Pol – The Traveling Dean

I began this blog in March 2013 because I wanted to document some observations about my travel experiences in India. As I reflect back on other travel taken prior to March 2013, I wish I had begun posting about my adventures in 2003 as I made my way to St. Petersburg, Russia, or 1992 during a trip to France and Italy, or in 1991 while travelling in Romania and Moldova. Oh, well…

I am the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly Omaha University). I became the dean in August 2003, which means that at this point in time, March 2017, I have been the dean for nearly 14 years, a very long time in one place for a business school dean. The average stay for a business school dean is about 4.5 years. Prior to being named dean, I was a faculty member here, at Rollins College, and at Memphis State University, but not all at the same time. If you want to learn more about me, I am providing a link to my website http://cba.unomaha.edu/lpol. Also, you may wonder what I look like, so here is a picture.

dean-pol-full

As you can see, I am in my official dean uniform. The sculpture in the background is one created by Jun Kaneko. You should look him up.

My goal in regard to this blog is simple. I want to share my experiences with anyone who wishes to know more about the places I have visited. At the same time, if you continue to read, you will gain some insight into my opinions about the places I visit and the people I meet. From time-to-time, you will learn more as I offer comparisons of places, including those experienced before I began this blog. I will try to remain apolitical as I write about what I see, but I will fail at times. Keep in mind that it is March 2017, and remaining apolitical is most difficult.

Finally, I enjoy receiving your comments and corrections.

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A Road Trip to Kansas City – Billy Joel

Billy Joel was in Kansas City for a concert in the third week of September, and we were there.  It was the first concert in 39 years for Kaufman Stadium, and the place was sold out (well nearly sold out, we saw some vacant seats). Anyway, the old rocker is still on his game (mostly). He continues to surround himself with excellent musicians who on occasion help him hit notes that he can no longer get to. His list of performance dates is much shorter these days. Keep in mind that he turned 69 in May, and there are those who make the case that he is not a low mileage 69.

Billy Joel 1

Billy Joel 2

KC Stadium

Billy Joel concerts are enjoyable for two reasons. First, his list of hits, and other songs that I would argue should have been hits, is extensive. Even without new material, there is a lot from which to draw. Few, if any, in the audience seemed to be disappointed that they were hearing tunes that all of us have listened to many, many times before. I had hoped to hear my three favorite Billy Joel songs, “New York State of Mind”, “Leningrad”, and “Good Night Saigon”. I only got to hear the first one I listed, but I was not disappointed. I ended up playing “Goodnight Saigon” on the drive back to the hotel after the concert, although I am not sure that my passengers were pleased that I did.

The second reason his concerts are fun is related to his connection to and engaging conversations with both the audience and his fellow musicians. Wrapped up in the conversation is a self-depreciating humor that I think puts the audience in the right frame of mind for a good time. Very early in the concert he noted that “I know what you are thinking, what the hell happened to him?” That was followed by another line, – he did not know that he would end up looking like Dr. Evil. A little later in the concert he noted that yes he was still playing that same old shit, and thanked us for continuing to come out for his shows. He seems to be comfortable in his own skin. His professional and personal story is complicated. If you are interested, I suggest that you find his 2006 biography and the story, Thirty-Three Hit Wonder.

Road trips to Kansas City are great fun, especially when your best friends are along for the ride. No Kansas City trip is complete without at least one stop for barbeque. We often go to Oklahoma Joe’s, but this time we went to a new place, Q39, just a short drive from the Plaza. I suggest that you check it out. The menu includes the usual brisket, ribs, and pulled pork sandwiches, done quite well. Sausage, chicken, onion straws, and local brews add tasty dimensions. The outdoor seating is excellent. (https://q39kc.com/ )

The concert was on Friday night. Saturday and Sunday marked 87th Annual Plaza Art Fair. The combination of great art (at reasonable prices), multiple music stages, and first-rate food and drink makes this a must event. I visited a number of art booths, trying to get a sense for how particular pieces might look in the new house we are building. Finally, later in the day, Janet and I saw a piece that we added to our collection. It arrived last week. Rick Abrams, the artist, works mostly in acrylics, on glass, floating two images, one on top of the other. The subjects are largely comic book characters and objects. We find his pieces a lot of fun to look at again, and again, of course asking the questions, “how did he do that?” you might want to check out his website https://www.rickabrams.com/, and smile at his work.

Abrams Art 1

Abrams Art 2

Long Island for Labor Day

We flew to Long Island, Islip/MacArthur Airport, and drove to Baiting Hollow to spend a long weekend with our Ardovino cousins and their families out on “The Island”. There were about 55 of us in attendance at a Sunday gathering, a great event featuring a lot of good food, Italian of course, and the re-connection of people who in some instances had not seen each other in decades. For me, having moved away from New York at age 10, and thereafter only returning during the summer and on holidays, I met many of my more distant cousins for the first time.

Baiting Hollow

MacArther

It has been 116 years since my great-grandparents left a small town in southern Italy for a new life in America. Spending time with my cousins made me think about whether or not my great-grandparents would be proud of us. Would they be able to look beyond their nineteenth century conservative family values and at least understand our twenty-first century behavior? How would they respond to the fact that our family now lives all across the country? And, would they forgive us for marrying non-Italians?

I can only speculate about the answers to these questions. I do think that they would be proud of us, and pleased that some of us return to the “old country” now and then (a few have even moved back there permanently). While they would not approve of our language, they would like our cooking (well, at least my cousin Mary’s delights). They probably would not like the fact that we live so far apart, and that we do not see each other very often. They would enjoy our life stories, the tales of family, friends, place, work, joys, and disappointments. All of us owe them our best. They took the risk and ventured to the new world.

Long Island stretches over 120 miles from New York Harbor to its most eastern reach, Montauk Point (think the movies Jaws and Sharknado). Long Island has a population of nearly eight million people, but most reside on the western end of Long Island, near New York City. Keep in mind that Brooklyn and Queens are part of Long Island. “The Island” has a rich history that long predates European settlers. George Washington lost the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and we did not get it back until 1783. Washington’s spies on Long Island and other areas of New York City were crucial to eventual victory. In 1790, the population of “The Island” was 37, 000. More recently, but not that recently, before the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the only way to reach Long Island from New York City was by ferry or some other watercraft. There was no major commercial air travel to and from Long Island until La Guardia airport opened in 1939.

Brooklyn Bridge

Long Island has great beaches (think Jones Beach and Fire Island) and 43 wineries scattered about, although most of the wineries are on the North Shore. I suggest a tour, one where you are not driving. We had my cousin Vinnie (yeah, I have one of those) and his wife, Blake, to guide and keep us out of trouble. Many city dwellers, some of them my cousins, vacation regularly on “The Island.” Many of my cousins live there.

Strange story. I recently learned that a few of the vending machines on Long Island had new merchandize, crack pipes (yes, crack pipes). Well, that did not last long as small town mayors, city council folks, and the “just say no” crowd expressed their outrage with this development. My sense is that crack pipe vending sales have plummeted since the New York Daily News ran the story. Cracked.com flashed the headline, “Behold, The Crack Pipe Vending Machines of Long Island.” But, don’t you wanna know? How did they get there in the first place?

It turns out that someone(s) decided to repurpose three tampon dispensers. Yes, you may read that sentence again. These were stolen from parts unknown. After a bit of signage adjustment, the machines were placed in front of an apartment complex, a bus stop, and Home Depot (now doesn’t that bring alive a whole new set of images connected to home improvement projects?). The vending machines were advertised as selling pens or “S-Pens”. However, when you payed your $2 you got a crack pipe. Imagine the surprise, cough, cough, when folks got a crack pipe, not a pen. My great grandparents would be mortified.

Not to be missed if given the opportunity is a boat ride anywhere whether it be on the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean off Montauk or South, or Peconic Bay, east of Baiting Hollow. Vinnie, yeah that cousin again, took us out on his boat to explore the scenery, discuss the rise and fall (and attempted return) of the oyster industry, and visit (boat side) a few of the towns that grew up on the Bay during varies times in the development of the central and eastern part of Long Island. It was a great day for a boat ride, what day isn’t, with plenty of sun, not too much wind, and a lot of cool stuff to see.Long Island Boat Ride One

Long Island Boat Ride Two

The drive between Islip and Baiting Hollow is most interesting. Central and eastern Long Island are very rural, full of all kinds of farms, cool looking small towns, vineyards, coast line, and many historical markers. The families of Long Island suffered greatly on 9-11. Many, many brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and friends perished when the towers were destroyed. There are now 80 steel beam memorial sites that dot the Long Island landscape from west to east. We saw a few of them on our drive to Baiting Hollow and other excursions while visiting.

Long Island Bar Memorial

Travel with Me and You Might See Something Interesting

Janet and I flew to Tampa in early August to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. My mother, Giovanna, was born August 2, 1928 in New York City. She is the second child of Giorgio and Ersilia Guinta. Ersilia, who later became known as Elsie, is an Ardovino—you know that name by now. Giovanna went through most of her life thinking that her name was Jeanette, aka Jean. However, in the 1980’s she needed to obtain a passport for an upcoming trip out of the country. She wrote for and received a copy of her birth certificate- needed to obtain her passport- and there it was, her real name, Giovanna. My mother still goes by Jeanette or Jean.

New-York-City

The birthday party was a success. The guests consisted of her close friends, both those who do and do not live in her senior living high rise, her son, daughter-in-law, daughter, stepson, cousins, and nephews. Her family traveled from Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio, New Jersey, and New York to attend the festivities. It was a full-out event and included a sit-down dinner, drinking, dancing, a two-person band (my mother’s favorite), flowers, two cakes, kind words, and a lot of fun.

Dining Hall-Lou's Mom's BDay Party

Memorial -Lou's Blog 8.21.18

There was another reason for our travel to Tampa. On August 22nd, 2017, my aunt, June Ardovino, passed away at age 97. She was the last person in our family of that generation, The Greatest Generation, to pass on. Janet and I were with my sister, mother and her husband, and cousins, along with June’s three children to commemorate her passing. June along with her husband, my uncle Charlie, were World War II veterans, and the ceremony of life celebration began at The Bay Pines National Cemetery. Bay Pines is not far from St. Petersburg, Florida. It was dedicated and officially opened in 1933.

First, there was a military ceremony, honoring both my aunt and uncle. It was followed by many stories of the lives of Charlie and June. June was a pilot early in her life, later a Sargent in the U.S. Army, and a strong person who never failed to share her opinions. One of my new favorite stories about her is that as a young adult she and two of her friends did not save up to buy their first car. They bought a plane instead, a Cessna! Charlie was an artist who had studied in Europe and for many years was responsible for creating those amazing window displays found at Saks Fifth Avenue. What a talent! Together, they were a great team. Charlie and June were always very kind to me, especially as a young boy who lived in the city and so much enjoyed visiting their home on Long Island.

Family at Memorial

Tombstone

The title of this post referred to interesting events during travel. This trip included another one of those extra occurrences that seem to happen almost regularly when I travel. This time it involved two guys who caused a ruckus in the St. Louis airport (St. Louis to Tampa), and who were mistakenly allowed to board the flight that I was on. When asked to get off, the guys responded no. Instead of dragging them off and having a video of their extraction on the five o’clock news as well as on Youtube and a bunch of websites, the pilot came on the horn and announced everyone had to get off, no reason given. The guys then knew that they were not going to Tampa, but maybe to jail. After the first row or two deplaned following the pilot’s directions, the two guys came forward and got off. I’ve seen others who have been asked to exit a flight, but never this way.

st louis airport

This happening got me thinking about some of my other airport adventures. You have read about my diversion to other airports (one was a military airport in China), an airport fire, an airport evacuation and such, but there is more. Once on a TWA flight from New York to Chicago, the plane was hit by lightning. No sleeping on that one. Another time on a four engine (propellers) plane, one of those engines quit. I had a touch-and-go on another flight when the plane in front of us did not clear the runway and we had to go back around. There were the heavily armed military guards on the tarmac in Budapest and Bucharest. And then there was the time in Leonardo Da Vinci airport when I was detained for questioning by security. Is there a pattern here? Want to fly with me?

While the birthday part was in Seminole, Florida, a suburb of St. Petersburg, we stayed in our usual haunt, Clearwater Beach. We ate at our two favorite places, Rumba and Frenchy’s, hung out at the beach, and did some exploring. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is again under construction, and the Publix just down the street from the CMA was dropped and completely rebuilt. We did not see Hulk Hogan or Jimmy Hart, but we did see two scientologists out on the street holding hands, a new one for me. The Scientologists/Clearwater City struggles continue, with land swaps, on and off land purchases, and general development projects going back and forth at the city council and reported in the media. I saw some more ‘idiots at the beach.’ Picture this. A big storm is brewing. For the last 30 minutes, the rumble of thunder has gotten louder. The wind is blowing harder. The sky is darkening. Now you can see the lightening, and it’s getting closer. Time to go to the beach? Yes! If on the beach, do not leave or get out of the water swim out farther. Every year I watch this behavior. Every year I read a story of beachgoers being hit by lighting. Every year this behavior continues. Darwin Award anyone?

The Amalfi Coast

Stretching along the coast from Sorrento to Salerno, the Amalfi Coast provides a spectacular view of the sharp contrast between a colorful and steep rocky shoreline and the very blue water of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The towns in between, including Majori, Minori, Ravello, Amalfi, Praiano, and Positano, attract tourists from all over the world. Not far from Naples, Vesuvius, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, it is easy to see why so many travelers are drawn to both the history and beauty of this part of Italy. Amalfi holds historical significance as well. It is one of the former Italian Maritime Republics, along with Venice, Pisa, and Genoa. However, in 1137 Amalfi was sacked by the Republic of Pisa.Amalfi Coast Map 2

Janet, my cousin Pia, and I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Majori. The rooms were old and run-down, but we did not go there to spend time inside looking at the walls. The view of the Tyrrhenian Sea from our veranda was first-rate, and ferries connecting Majori to the other towns along the coast as well as Capri were convenient, although we wished that they ran more frequently. Majori is a cool town on the beach circuit, and on a warm day the mini-cabanas arranged along the grey tone sand are full-up with people soaking up the sun and planning their next shopping excursion. However, when the crowd goes away and the sun is sinking low, the emptiness on the beach is a bit haunting.

View From Veranda

Majori View From Room

Empty Cabanas

Majori Cross

Majori Blue Boat

Majori Stone Path

Those that do not like to be out at sea on a ferry (although not very far from land) can always risk their lives and sanity by hiring a driver to provide transportation from town to town. Check out the cliffs in the next picture, and you can begin to imagine what it would be like to be exceeding the speed limit while going up and down, in and out along the roadway. Switchbacks are marked, or not, creating a sense of adventure, and terror for those who do not care for this kind of excitement. For the faint of heart, or those with queasy stomachs, take your medication and tighten your seat belt.

Positano Roadway

I would write more about these places, but pictures tell the best stories. Positano is my new favorite town. Colorful houses, apartments, shops, and churches can be seen from the ferry many miles before arrival. At dockside, travelers come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors, and all seem to be in a festive mood. The winding and steep streets provide a good workout.  Along the ascent there are plenty of places to eat, shop or simply observe. The churches and the art galleries are very impressive, bringing together old world art with contemporary works that are often stunning. If you plan to buy art, I suggest that you visit your bank or credit union to secure the needed funds. As someone once said, “it ain’t cheap.” One of the art specialties found in Positano is ceramic tile-covered furniture, particularly table tops. Janet and I were tempted to buy, but we decided to pass, this time.

Positano Church

Positano Tan Building

Majori 2

Positano Water People

Positano View from Veranda

Majori 1

Positano Gorgeous Water View

Positano Close Up Hill and Water

One last item. There is always a sign somewhere in my travel that I cannot stop thinking about. So, here it is, but it has two parts. The first one I get. They don’t want us falling, diving, jumping, belly flopping, or otherwise entering the water while not in a boat. Boats are constantly going in and out of the harbor, and it is a dangerous place for swimmers. The second part of the sign is more puzzling. Why does someone need to be told or reminded by sign not to drive their car into the ocean? It seems so obvious. What am I missing?

Majori Sign

San Cipriano Picentino–The Ardovinos

As noted in the first of this series of posts, the major goal of this trip was to visit my great-grandparents’ hometown, San Cipriano Picentino, or SCP as my cousin Vinnie refers to it. SCP is a beautiful small town that is a short distance from Salerno, and about 67 kilometers (40 miles) from Naples—about an hour’s drive. The roads around SCP wind up, down, and around a very hilly countryside. The history of SCP has been traced back to 88 A.D., and over time the area has been influenced by the Romans, the Normans, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Also, SCP is only 40 kilometers (24 miles) from Vesuvius. I wonder if people first came to SCP to get out of the way of the 79 A.D. eruption that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum.

san-cipriano-picentino-italy-Hillside

We did not stay in SCP for a long time, just a few hours. We spent some minutes with the mayor’s assistant, the mayor (a very short visit), our genealogist consultant who gave us new information about several family members, cousins who we met at a church known as the Parrocchiale (our great grandmother’s church), and other cousins that we met along via Ardovino, our street. The church is more than 1,000 years old and has frescas that are being restored (some goofy people painted and plastered them over) as well as a few glass plates in the floor, making it possible to view a few church artifacts.

I grew up believing that the name Ardovino translated to English as “hot wine”. Ardo means burns, blaze, be on fire, combust, or filled with strong emotion (no shortage of this last one in our family). Vino means, well, vino. However, I have learned that there is a second definition of Ardovino, brave friend. Cousins, please weigh in on this.

Outside Church

The vegetation around SCP is made up of fruit trees, hazelnut and chestnut trees, and the usual collection of olive trees and vineyards (so, is there a place in Italy where there are no vineyards or olive trees?). The wine in and around SCP is first-rate. They’ve had a long time to get good at making wine and on equal timeframe for drinking it. Italians like to celebrate (who doesn’t), so a number of festivals are held throughout the year. September 16th is the day of the protector, and there is a major festival on that day. Throughout September, there are a series of wine and olive oil festivals. On the last Sunday in October there is a chestnut festival, complete with a big parade and donkey races. I’ve never seen a donkey race, but I understand that the races are very competitive. On December 8th, The Immacolata (immaculate) is celebrated, followed by all of the celebrations connect to the Christmas season. In sum, there’s always a party to be found in SCP. We didn’t find one, because we weren’t there long enough.

Italy Vineyard Generic

On our way out of town (this is where we split up and five of us drove to Salerno and the Amalfi coast, while the others went back to Rome), we stopped to eat at the Villa Rizzo Resort and Spa. Rizzo was my great grandmother’s maiden name. The Villa Rizzo is a spectacular place, one where we plan to stay during our next visit. Of course, we speculated about the name Rizzo and did it mean that we are somehow connected to the spa and resort. Perhaps we can get an answer to this question during our next visit.

Villa R Resort

jacuzzi Villa Rizzo Resort

Villa R Dining

The pictures below were taken in SCP. You can see the hilly countryside and rural nature, yet much of the housing is more modern. I have also added a picture of my cousins Danny, Antonio, and George, left to right. Our cousin Antonio lives in SCP. Danny as the son of George, who is the son of my mother’s older brother. Got that? George and I are first cousins. A conversation about second cousins, cousins removed, and the other distinctions that none of us understand will have to wait for another day. Let’s get back to the sea.

SCP Old Church

 

Pink House SCP

Cousins SCP

Roma—The Pope Had Some New Neighbors

I traveled to Rome for the first time in 1992, and I have not been back since 1997. On previous visits, I spent time at the University of Rome with a group of demographers. I made two presentations regarding my work in business demography, and commiserated with several people about some joint work as well. I also met for the first time my cousin Addie Ciampa. Addie was born in the U.S., but now lives in Rome. She gave me a tour of the city on the back of her motor scooter. It was great fun, and exhilarating, especially when a four lane road turned into ten lanes of cars, motorcycles, buses, and motorbikes all trying to see who could get away the fastest from a stoplight. And, five of those lanes of mayhem were coming in our direction. It was like a quarter mile drag race, except that no one drove in one straight line. We moved quickly darting in and out of traffic, slipping off to narrow streets filled with shops, restaurants, and people, everywhere. I saw places that are not on the publicized top ten, twenty, or fifty “things to see” lists, the best way to view a place when you know so little about it. Thank you Addie.

the forum

But, as noted in a previous post, this trip was different. I really enjoyed traveling with my cousins, even when we were worn out at the end of the day and a bit cranky. Meeting up with our two Rome cousins and their families was the bomb. We ended up eating (that’s what Italians do) at one of my cousin’s neighborhood restaurant haunts. There we were, over 20 of us sitting at a long rectangular table hearing family stories about the past and present and eating great food. Our lives have gone in many different directions, and I hoped that the night would not end—we had so much to talk about. It was a Ardovino (our common family home) infestation.

Rome pic 2

Rome pic

Our first Air B and B arrangements in Rome blew up, and we were left scrambling to find another place to stay. So, Janet stayed calm and just made things happen, as she often does. She found another B and B, this time in Via Stazione Vatican. Yes, we were the Pope’s new neighbors, just across the street from St. Peters. Below is the first Vatican City picture I took from the window of our family room. The across the street entry way to the Vatican was very busy most of the days with a steady line of cars and foot traffic. As might be expected, the odd tourists, usually in groups of two, or three would walk up to the guard house, probably asking if they could come in and stroll about. They were turned away gently, but firmly. The night picture of our view was taken by my cousin George. Keep in mind what you have read about Pope Francis and his living preferences. He has deemed the usual Pope digs as too fancy for his tastes, and bunks in another part of the Vatican. I suspect that his bedroom was no more than 200 yards or so from our Air B and B.

St. Peters

st-peters-night-time.jpg

On Wednesday’s, the Pope holds court at the Piazza San Pietro. During our visit, the crowd began to gather up quite early, in part because Pope Francis gets the show going before the scheduled 10 AM start time. You can see the gathering of the crowd below, as well as a picture of a member of his Swiss Guard. About 9:40 AM, the Popemobile began to make its way along the pathways/aisles leading up to the stage. At various points along the way the Popemobile stopped, and Pope Francis got out to shake some hands, to bless the sinners, and to kiss a few babies. There was a sense of excitement and awe as he made his way through the audience. If you go to Rome, I suggest going. Even for the less religious, the event is spectacular.

Pope Parade

Red White Outfits

Dressed Up People

(Newlyweds)

Pope Parade Man

 

On the Wednesday we were there, and perhaps on other Wednesday’s, Pope Francis gathered up newlywed couples and had them seated next to the stage where he was positioned. Couples who participate sign up well in advance. These couples had great side-row seating for all of the prayers, proclamations, songs, and guest entertainment for the day. For example, that day they watched up close a Korean Taekwondo group give a snappy performance to the song, Ave Maria (two versions)—a bit odd, but when in Rome… My cousin Jared and his wife Jackie are kind of newly married, and signed up early so they were near the stage. Jared was able to take some great pictures of Pope Francis as he shook hands and had brief exchanges with members of the newlywed group. I am including several of his pictures for you to see.

pope 1

pope 2

 

No trip to Rome (well, at least the first trip) is complete without seeing the usual sights, the Coliseum, the Forum, Circus Maximus, and the Vatican. Yes, I had seen those places before, but I had not been in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel. The combination of art and architecture in each location is magnificent. While I will pick a different time of year to visit Rome the next time I go (too many tourists in late May/early June), the crowds did not lessen the beauty of what we saw.

 

White Curved Ceillng

Gorgeous Ceilig that looks like half tunnel

Jesus Red Robe

Cloud Painting

Basilica 1

basilica 2

basilica 3

basilica 4

One more observation. As many of you know, for much of recorded history humans have relocated or re-purposed art and building materials and some of the best examples can be found in Italy. Got a coliseum that has seen better days and is not used so much anymore? No problem, we can take that marble and other stone off your hands to build a church or a house. Got some art from Constantinople or Egypt that looks like it might want to live elsewhere? No worries, we’ve got the museum, church, or private collection for you.

Venice (Venezia)–Batman with No Pants

Most of you know at least a bit about Venice. You have seen the pictures, given some thought about living on canals and not streets, and perhaps have imagined what it must have been like when the ships of the last millennium were loaded with goods, and headed out for the cities along the Mediterranean Sea, India, and China. In addition, you have read about Marco Polo. His book. The Travels of Marco Polo, describes the wonders of Mongolia, Burma, Persia, China, Kublai Khan, the Silk Road, and other places and persons of the 14th century. Marco Polo’s birthplace and home was Venice.

Venice in the 21st century is still fascinating, but it is no longer the mercantile center it once was. It is now the City of Venice and the capital of the Veneto Region, not the independent Republic of Venice it was before it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866 and the Italian Republic in 1946. The city is also known by names that still fit. It is still the “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges” and the “City of Canals”, although I want to add one more, “City of Glass”.

canal pick 2

The decline of Venice actually began centuries ago. You have probably already read about rising waters that threaten the city several times per year, and in the long term could lead to the abandonment of all structures when surging seas overcome coastal cities throughout the world. Perhaps you have heard/read the missives about how large cruise ships disgorge their many thousands of passengers each day, overwhelming the islands and its canals. However, long ago political turmoil and health apocalypses initiated the decline. The failure to hold Thessalonica against the Ottemans and the Fall of Constantinople, both in the 15th century, were significant in the downward path. The Black Plague was responsible for the 50,000 deaths between 1575 and 1578, and the Italian Plague killed one-third of Venice’s 150,00 people between 1629 and 1631. Keep in mind that today’s city population is just above 50,000, down from an estimated 200,000 early in the 14th century.

Canal pic

dock at airport

Arrival at Marco Polo Airport is a most interesting one, starting with the last few miles of aircraft decent when it’s possible to observe the canals and some of the 188 islands from the air. Normally, upon deplaning we find ourselves moving to a parking garage, to a shuttle that takes us to a rental car, to a cab stand, or to a curb side location to catch up with an Uber driver. At Marco Polo airport, you walk down a long corridor to a dock where you catch a boat ride either to another dock or directly to your hotel. The boats move fast in the more open water, but as the water craft get closer to city traffic, movement slows and a lot. Traffic jams ensue, with a combination of boats and gondolas jockeying for position. There are a few hand signals here and there, but for the most part tempers are under control. I saw few signs of road rage (canal rage), no fisticuffs, no one attacking a gondola with an oar or tire iron, and no one was shot, stabbed or maced. Below is a picture of the Hotel Bonvecchiati, the place where we stayed. Yes, our boat took us right up to the guest entry of the hotel.

 Hotel B

Venice boat gondola

You may be wondering, what does this fool mean by “Batman with no Pants?” Well, Venice is also known for its art, art museums and palaces where even more art, largely paintings and sculptures, are exhibited. Major works by Bellini, Carpaccio, Veronese, Giorgione, Titan, Tintoretto, and Botticelli tease our minds and bring us back to the question, “How did they do that?” A short time after entering the Piazza San Marco (and the basilica and museums), I fell in love with Venetian art, again. Now, for Batman. We all see something different when we look at paintings. We might be fascinated by the facial expressions of the subjects being painted, enthralled by the vividness of colors or uniqueness of brush strokes, and/or just focus on the historical significance of a work. For me, it’s all of the above, and more. But, every now and then I see something that for me is different. Also, I have a tendency to name things, even if to others I might seem silly. So, look at the picture below, and at the canvas in the center. It’s beautiful. The subjects jump off the canvas, in this case down at you (it’s on the ceiling). The colors and facial expressions are those we will carry with us for a long time. But look again. There’s a guy suspended, nearly naked, except for a black mask and a red cape. Thus, we have Batman with no pants, or in Italian, Batman niente pantaloni or Batman senza pantaloni.

batman with no pants

Anyone who visits Venice will be advised by someone else who has been there before to stop at Murano and Burano. The advisors are correct, go to those places. Murano is known for glass sculptures and Burano is famous for brightly painted buildings. The glass work at Murano is amazing. Every kind of work from the most traditional to freaky contemporary can be found, and purchased (yes, I bought something and I’ll post a picture next month after it arrives). The artists are amazingly creative. I could have spent days there, looking at various pieces, talking to artists and thinking “How did they do that?”

Murano Face

(Murano Art)

Murano Light

(Murano Art)

Burano Buildings

(Burano Buildings)