Stet by Ria Bacon

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Where there's muck

Out cycling this morning, I passed a field being ripped up. Walking a few metres behind the earthmover (It's Scoop, mama!) was a man with a metal detector and a spade.

Where there's muck ...

Get a lijf! (alt.dutch.humour)

"Dude! WTF!!" I shouted, but he was too busy to look up.

I can't imagine what he hoped to find. Since the land has been reclaimed from the sea, it's only been used for cow pasture.

Bah! Two metres of compacted dung.

Beep! Beep! Beep! My god, he's found something! ...

Just kidding.

In Rome, developers were reluctant to dig in many places for fear of hitting a buried ruin. Once that happened, the ground would be seized and cordoned off by the Ministry of Monuments.

" 'old yer 'orses, Marco. You've only gone and uncovered the almost pristine remnants of a paleochristian oratory, ain'tcha, you dipstick!"

I've freely translated from Romanesco, the local dialect. Although it may not be long before Roman builders do talk like this. The spread of Estuary English seems relentless - it's already reached Friesland where my Dutch mother-in-law talks like one of the Slaters (she's a devoted Eastenders viewer).

And she has a sense of humour ...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Grazie Madonna

Those whose prayers have been answered (see previous post), can show their gratitude at this ad hoc shrine in via Trastevere. The slot at the bottom of the wall for donations for "bread for the orphans" has been crowded out by a hundred or so plaques dedicated to the madonna. The oldest plaques are closest to the shrine and date from the early 1950s. The more recent ones spread over the wall on either side.

La Madonnina

The shrine is opposite the Ministry of Education, so perhaps the plaques are from grateful students who have just passed exams successfully.

Grazie Ria

I like the mix of pompous engraving in marble contrasting with the magic marker on a simple bathroom tile. The grouting is uniformly shoddy, however. Probably due to the fact that they were stuck on hurriedly under cover of darkness.

Tech note: I wanted to do a rollover with the original photo, but couldn't get it to work either with java or css. I don't have Dreamweaver here in the Netherlands, either. Maybe I'll try later with ImageReady that was bundled with Photoshop and not yet used. Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Please please me

Saintly requests

This statue is in Santa Maria in Trastevere. The hundreds of slips of paper are requests for saintly intervention. Note how the more enterprising supplicants avoided getting their requests lost in the mess at his feet and stuck Post-its on his cassock.

Although I forgot to note the name of the saint, it is almost certainly Saint Anthony. Apparently he is the Patron Saint of Finance and can help you sell your house quickly. You should bury a small statue of him upside down facing your house.

I'm serious! People believe this stuff to work. Before I lived in Rome, I never knew Catholicism was such a fun religion. I mean I only knew the kind of Irish Catholicism of repression and misery (I think the rain had a lot to do with it). The real Roman version is so much more freaky fun. The things they come up with ... you'd think they were ...
a) crazy
b) on acid
c) completely out of touch with reality.

Back to my photo. I like how it's slightly over exposed so that the candles at his feet threaten to turn it into an auto de fe.


Asleep in Trastevere

I always reckoned that if you were going to be a bum, there are worse places to choose than Rome.

I took this photo in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. The coat of arms of the city of Rome forms part of the fountain sculpture. The letters SPQR stand for Senatus Populusque Romanus (the Senate and the people of Rome) and were emblazoned on the standards of the Roman armies two thousand years ago. They can still be found throughout Rome, from city council buildings to manhole covers.

I always preferred Obelix's version of the meaning: Sono pazzi questi Romani (These Romans are crazy!).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Last exit for Italy

Last exit for Italy

Someone once wrote that war was composed of long periods of utter boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. That pretty much sums up my trip north from Rome to Friesland. The moments of terror came when an overloaded and swaying lorry suddenly swung out in front of me to overtake another slow-moving lorry. I can sympathize with the lorry drivers, however. I’d go stir crazy if I had to sit behind another lorry for hours at a time.

I hadn’t imagined my trip would be so boring. I had images of road trippin’ with Neal Cassady, Bird blasting from the dashboard. I guess the main reason was that I was doing it alone.

So by the time I’d hit Umbria, I was already yawning and wishing I was anywhere else but there.

Tuscany … ahhh, what can I say about dear Tuscany that hasn’t already been said? How about BORING BORING VERY VERY BORING. Florence? Ugly sprawl of warehouses and 70s apartment blocks.

I thought as a symbol of my blasé-ness and of the tedium of the scenery, I’d photograph road signs of the illustrious places I passed by. However, I was too bored for even that, so there are big gaps between Florence and Germany.

Road sign - FlorenceRoad sign - GenovaRoad sign - KarlsruheRoad sign - FrankfurtRoad sign - KolnRoad sign - Arnheim

I used to drive quite tensed on highways, never moving my head, gripping the wheel with both hands, in the textbook 10 to 2 position. Although in central Rome I drove with one hand always on the gear stick, ready to flick gears and zip into a crack in the gridlock. Roman drivers abhor free space in traffic.

Not long into this trip, I was slumped back, my right arm stretched across the back of the passenger seat and steering with two fingers and thumb loosely hooked round the wheel. My left foot was completely redundant, since I hardly ever needed to change gear. And not a single traffic light for most of the 1700 km.

I was happy to note that Padre Pio was still beating off the soft porn on Italian lorries (read previous post on Pio).
Just after Florence, I got caught in a torrential downpour and could barely see where I was going. Hell, I’ve driven in worse in West Africa. It’s best not to pull over in case you get washed away – just slow down and follow the white centre line.


Shortly after that, I was brought to a standstill for two and a half hours when a lorry carrying pallets overturned and caught fire. Commendable blitz spirit was shown by all. I finished the last of my water and wondered where I could pee.

Traffic jam

I didn’t have a map with me, and as the night was drawing in, I wanted to see how far I’d got. At a Modena service station (Tip: the best balsamic vinegar is from Modena), the only maps available were of Milan and Parma, the two nearest towns. Further proof that Italians don’t travel far. Unlike the Dutch, who formed a constant stream of caravans and campers heading north.

I spent the night just south of Milan, having done less than 500 km. The next day I did 1200 km, crossing four countries.

Switzerland, also boring

In Germany, I passed the time by playing word games with licence plates. German plates are the most generatively heuristic. Favourites were BOT FK 26 and FFS GO 54.

Thinking ahead to the end of the trip, I imagine I’ll have to be levered out of my seat with a pole, I feel bloated and pasty. The long-distance driving diet is very poor in protein and fibre and high in those hard-to-cut-out carbs, while the sugars are off the charts.

As I neared the Dutch border, I smiled to see the Dutch drivers enjoy their last burst of speed (200 km/hr) on the autobahn before going back home at half the speed.

I was struck too by the brilliant colours of the fields, proving that the grass really is greener on the other side of the border, the result, no doubt, of the liquid manure that Dutch farmers are so partial to.

The stench acts has the same effect as smelling salts and keeps me alert for the final two hours.

I use the image of a very top-heavy woman as a mnemonic for the last three highways to take: 50-28-32, until my headlights hit the sign in full beam:

Wolkom yn Fryslân

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ciao Roma ciao!

Una mattina, mi sono alzato
O Roma ciao Roma ciao Roma ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi sono alzato
e ho trovato l'invasor
I passed out around midnight and was only woken at eight by the movers banging on the door and the loud crashes of thunder.

I flung open the shutters and was knocked back by the force of the wind and the wave upon wave of torrential rain!

Sod's Law, of course. Not a drop for months, blistering heat while packing, then a storm on the morning we ship out.


Still not sure if I'm going today (see below), or which organization is paying for the shipping. If any.

Details, details.

If I do get out of here by 2 pm, then I'll try to reach my cousin in Switzerland and stopover with her tonight. Otherwise ...

I may be some time.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Yackety yak

Honey, can youse take out the trash?

Yackety yak

I even sorted my crap: plastic with plastic, paper with paper, oozing sticky fluids with noxious defrosting fish.

Three carloads up and down the drive and it was done.

A little bit of Al Green, then I'm done too.

Stand not upon the order of your going

But go already!

Yeah, yeah, I'm not gone yet. Like Peter Seller's Indian trumpet player, I keep popping up when I should lie down and keep quiet. I'm waiting for the authorization from Paris that we can ship our stuff. Apparently, it takes several days to fax the form from one department to the other, even though they all work in the same building. Something to do with relativity and the position of Uranus, apparently.

Amid 150 boxes, I've kept one pc connected and can enjoy browsing and listening to my favourite radio station in the world. Fridge has gone, so the beers are soaking in the bath; still got a cooker, but no pans or plates. No problemo. I'm gonna load the car with the 25-odd boxes of trash and drive 20 metres to the bins. Hey, it makes sense. They're really heavy boxes, and it's really hot.

More tootling later ... nothing else to do but wait ...

Monday, August 01, 2005


The packers arrived at 8:00 and I had to tell them to wait. We still had no quote for the shipment and therefore had no idea of the cost. Imagine ... we write them a blank cheque, they take all our stuff and hold it as ransom until we pay whatever they ask!

The quote arrived just before noon, but I had already let the packers start, after a tense moment with their boss on the phone. He said it was a done deal ("I promise, I promise!"), which was enough for the moment.

They're now working extremely fast and I'm having a hard time keeping up with them ... defrosting the freezer, washing last dishes and clothes, separating toys and other stuff going to the Netherlands, the rest to Kingston.

I still plan to drive north on Wednesday morning, 1688 km, according to my Michelin online route planner - a brilliant service, btw.

Wish me luck!