5/8/01 The Proud Railway

Where am I? What have I been doing? What is going on here?!

My trip has finally hit the frantic pace that I was dreaming of.

Trains taking me to the wrong places, meeting people by accident and seeing where their influence leads me.

I couldn't sleep last night as I tried to sort out the last few days to figure out what I have been up to and I can't seem to process it myself, so what I'll provide in this email will certainly be a shallow summary. And, frankly, after sleeping a mere 3 hours last night, that's all I am prepared to give.

24 Hours in Venice
Did some great photography, and saw the city. Venice is like sex: fine by yourself, but really intended for sharing with a loved one. The real highlight came the day I was leaving. I met 3 new Aussies at the train station as I planned my next trip. We ended up going out for lunch and having a great talk. It also made my time slim as I had planned on seeing the original European Jewish ghetto which is in Venice.

I had a tight 3 hours to find it and get to the station before I'd be stuck in Venice another night.

So I saw 2 men in Yarmulkes talking at a table and asked one where the Jewish quarter was. "Right here!" He exclaimed. I haven't been too keen on days of the week lately, but he reminded me that it was a Saturday afternoon and told me that his mom ran a Kosher restaurant around the corner. He invited me in for a free Shabbat lunch.

Israelis, French, Italians, a few Americans, and one fool with a skateboard. It was a great experience, in and of itself, but then I got a personal tour of the ghetto from Isaac, the man I talked to. When I have more time I'll talk about what I learned, but suffice to say that this place is the origin of the word ghetto and getting a personal tour from the right person, based on being in the right place at the right time was an incredible memory. It makes me think back to the Celestine Prophecy and the message to look for the coincidences in your life and see how others' life paths cross yours and affect yours. Read it if you haven't.

Cinque Terre Debacle
5 Terra was, like Civita, one of my Rick Steve's must-sees. On the train there, I had a long conversation with a 15-year old Italian kid who gave me great insight to growing up in Italy. Some misinformation from the conductor had me on the train too long, and I got off in La Spezia. I had an hour to kill and was starving. I felt out the town by skateboard, looking for a place that felt right. I walked into a restaurant that was nearly empty. The record stopped, the people looked up. Oh yeah, I am a weird American with my life on my back pulling in on a silver skateboard.

All I wanted to know was whether I should seat myself. But in the next 45 minutes, I had an incredible time with the man with tiny legs who spoke a little English and the 12 year old daughter of the proprietors. We stumbled through English and I got to show them my photos of Seattle and of my friends. Just a beautiful encounter.

Got on the train with seconds to spare and arrived in Riomaggore (5 Terre) at midnight. Right before May Day which is another European excuse not to work. Stupid excuse, but I wish we had more of them, nonetheless.

So word on the streets in Venice was that everything was booked from La Spezia through Genova. Feeling optimistic, I started at the cheapest hostel in the book. Oh man, how did I get there? Details later, but when Rick Steve's says some consider a place a slum, it is a slum. Apparently more recent versions of my book just call a spade a spade. I got a room. "No more blankets, here's your bed." OK.

5 Terre was a beautiful place and a debacle because I fell in the ocean fully clothed, with my only pair of shoes on, clothes smelling like low tide, and was forced to stay there another 24 hours to clean the garments.

I was able to do 2 of the hikes in the area, however. Monterossa to Vernazza was spectacular. The trail is mere inches wide at times. Snaking up over intense cliffs looking over the ocean and running through lush trees and vineyards. This is gecko and butterfly country. Serene and intense. And a perfect place to talk on a cell phone if you are an Italian. With such a narrow path, groups often have to yield to let another coming from the other direction pass. With these travellers coming from a wide variety of countries, some people are prone to yield to the left, which leads to some interesting moments on these cliffs. And of course, some feel it necessary to bring the dog. Not the real dog, the Pommeranian, Lotsa-Oppsa or the Shit-Zoo. And since these worthless dogs can't hack it on the trails on their own, they often get carried up or dragged along by the leash. Worthless creatures. More on them when I talk about France.

Jumping Ahead
It pissed rain in Nice and I didn't find it very nice at all. I got out of there in a hurry. I decided to hop off in Antibes, knowing nothing about it, and met 2 Seattlites leaving the train. They led me to the bus station (still in the pissing rain) where we learned it was closed for that stupid holiday. 3 hours hiking with all our packs in the pouring rain, we finally made it to the hostel. My newly dry shoes were once again bags of water.

Here I found a very interesting subculture: globetrotters that hop around the world working on boats, chalet hosting, chefing, working at ski resorts, etc. They have all arrived in Antibes seeking work on the yachts and other vessels leaving in the coming weeks. They are most fascinating and right-on people I have run into (right up there with my favorite Aussies in Rome). It is a cutthroat environment:

Humans need jobs (well, excepting those that own these pretentious floating hotels) and the competition is fierce as it is to get venture funding in Seattle. People wandering the streets with the equivalent of a résumé in hand, making connections, pounding the streets fighting for jobs. And the free spirited attitude makes them a raucous and hilarious group to run with. I've found South Africans, Brits, Aussies, New Zealanders, Canadians, all people who made the decision to not really be associated with their country of origin.

I spent a full day wandering the streets with them watching how they find the jobs, seeing which qualifications are worth money. And by night, we abused cheap wine and hash, and I picked up a poetic phrase in Zulu. No joke. Clicks and all and I can't fucking wait to do it for you guys! And there are a few of them that have seen the light in The Fun Lab. So I may alter my intinerary for the next few days and avoid other sights, but look for the port towns to see more of these folks.

My pocket notebook has become a frightening array of numbers and phrases in other languages. I am becoming very proud of it.

France in a Nutshell
France is covered in poop. For a snobbish and elitist people, they have a high tolerance for walking in feces. Can't avoid it. The worthless dogs I mentioned earlier: I have seen dogs in strollers, dogs in plastic rain slickers and best of all, a dog in a Gucci leather coat.

These loud rats have the balls to yip at my skateboard, comforted by the knowledge that when I sneer, slam my wheels at them, or growl that they will simply be yanked by the leash up into mommy's bosom.

But I have had great luck with the French people. I think part of it is because for the only time on this trip I can botch the language enough to get my point across and understand what they want of me. It has gotten me a few favors, discounts and the like. Very fun.

So I have tons more to say, but I am done with my photos and I need to hit the streets again.

Makin' friends and influencin' people.