Thursday, April 30, 2009

Toilet Talk - Italy Edition

One of the great benefits of foreign travel is to gain an insight into other cultures. And that often includes their sanitary habits. Previously, I have blogged about the range in quality of toilets in Japan as well as the outhouses and public restrooms in China. My recent trip to Italy opened my eyes to new traditions and systems.

While public restrooms are fairly prevalent they are often missing the amenities that some people associated with johns. Like seats. More often than not, a public restroom was a forced hover zone. I have no idea whether they just never put them in or if there is a huge black market in stolen toilet seats. The predominant design also had the tank located fairly high. It often took some searching to find the button it took to start the flush.

At the other end of the spectrum, every hotel room had a bidet. We usually associated the privates washer with the French, but the Italians love their bidets. The bidet in this first picture was in the restroom of a restaurant in Assisi. I'm still wrapping my head around the scenario where you need to run some water across your genitals after a meal of boar meat sausages, but clearly the Umbrians have their reasons.

And while they are fastidious about keeping everything below the belt sparkling, the rest of the body seems to play second fiddle. Shower stalls are uniformly smaller that phone booths. 3 foot by 3 foot would be considered huge. Depending on how the door was set-up, dropping the soap was a disaster because there was no way to pick it up without getting out of the shower. In one case, there was no separate shower stall at all, just a shower curtain along one side of the bathroom with a drain in the middle. At least they had the sense to put the power plugs on the other side of the door.

But it wasn't until our fourth day that we ran across the bane of European water closets, the trench toilet. While in Florence, we had walked all the way up the far bank of the Arno to San Miniato and were overlooking the city when nature began to call. Down by the gift shop were two small unisex toilets without a throne at all. You're supposed to place one foot on the ridges on either side and aim for the middle. One lady in our party was just not up to the task and was very grateful to find a full service rest area further down the hill. Probably the best euro she spent the whole trip.

And that is probably the biggest philosophical difference. In America toilets are free but few and far between. They are considered an amenity for paying customers but not the hoi polloi. This weekend my wife was denied access to the john at the Slate Run General Store even with a purchase. In Italy, you get what you pay for and is often worth it.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where have you found the best or worst toilets?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Megan Fox At The Ren Faire

I stumbled across a paparazzi photo of Hottest Women Alive contender Megan Fox on the set of western comic book movie Jonah Hex. She looked awfully similar to an act I saw at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire a few years back.


Somehow I doubt Megan has the wrist-snapping strength of the lady I saw. She just has a much more expensive costume designer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

National Kinkiest Komic Karacter Finals

In all my vacationing and photo-editing (and you really should check out my vacation pics), I have neglected a very important piece of unfinished business. We must now pick the winner in the National Kinkiest Komix Karacter Kontest. It's time for the apples to oranges final round where we pit the winners against each other head to head.
The criteria used to decide the final winner is completely up to you. You can go Westminster Dog Show style and decide which one best exemplifies the best of breed. Or you can measure kinkiness in absolute terms. Or go with your personal kink and vote for strip you would most like to star in a porn knock-off of. It's all in your hands, so to speak. Now let's review the results and handicap the field.

Kinkiest Kouple

Ted and Sally Forth

In the most stunning upset of this year's contest, Ted and Sally squeaked by Arlo and Janis. I had expected this race to be a runaway. Frankly, I blame complacence on the part of Jimmy Johnson. A link from Francesco Marciuliano's Medium Large sent not insignificant traffic to this blog and while there was no overt ballot stuffing campaign (not that I would discourage one) it seemed to have been enough to let the Forths win by a nose. Just a few days ago, A&J raised the bar again with what is known in the parlance of Miley Cyrus photoshoots as 'implied nudity' with this strip:

Too little too late.

Hottest Soap Hunk

The Phantom

Never underestimate the power of purple tights. The hunky jungle hunk handily beat out the more conventionally clothed soap guys. I really don't have a theory except that the other guys just don't work hard enough to keep the home fires lit. In the Judge Parker sub-category Sam Driver easily outdrove now-titular Randy Parker (and there is an innuendo-laden porn name if there ever was one) by over five to one.

Barely Legal Babe

Edda Burber (9 Chickweed Lane)

Edda's sexual awakening in Vienna seems to have warmed the hearts (among other places) of her fans. Her now active love live pushed her past still-cock-teasing Toni Daytona, who had one the last time these two faced off. The furry crowd was heard from in the comments with both Cassandra Cat and Ashley Bengal getting write-ins. And while this would make a great undercard, you people are really sick.

Best Bear

Ian Cameron (Mary Worth)

Nobody really gave the Chinbeard of Charterstone any real competition. The pool-lounging beer-bellied bear with the undeservedly hot beard (and I'm talking about Toby here) is clearly master of this domain. How he can do against better looking competitors in the finals is unclear. This category had the best write-ins with Mark Trail's gone but not forgotten Molly and Comics Curmudgeon real-life bear Dingo both getting notices.

Desirable Dominatrix

Margo Magee (Apartment 3G)

Margo never had any serious competition and won by a 2-1 margin, the largest in any category this year. I just have to say that her disciples are a forgiving lot. Margo is mean, badly tempered and rather frigid. But hey, if that is what you like, who am I to argue? Closest competitor June Morgan is going to have to up her game if she ever expects to be a contender.

Hottest Mom


I expected the MILF category to be more competitive that it was, but the readers went old-school and voted by bra size, naming comics zombie Blondie Bumstead as their favorite. Seventy-five years old and her milkshake is still bringing the boys to the yard. This category which had the most nominees also had the most varied write-ins. Moms garnering mention included Lois Flagstone, Janis (sans Arlo), Rose (is Rose) Gumbo, Boopsie (another long-in-the-tooth hottie), and the moms from Cul-de-Sac and One Big Family whose nominators didn't even know their names (Madeline Otterloop and Ellen respective for the record).

Now let the kinkiest karacter win.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


In a lot of ways Venice is like a theme park. Once the trading center of the eastern Mediterranean, it is now a preserved-in-amber tourist spot. The novelty of a city with canals instead of streets and the age of this slowly sinking city are its major draws. With only 60,000 full-time residents, it draws millions of tourists each year.

And if it's a theme park, it's E-ticket ride is the gondola. Gondola rides run about 120 euro for 20-30 minutes which is really steep for a couple, but justifiable if you have a group of six to split it among.

My wife and I took a gondola ride with some of our tour group but in a chivalrous gesture, I gave the other premiere seat at the back of the boat to one of the other wives with us, all the better for me to take pictures from the bench seat at the bow of the boat.

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Our gondolier gave us a great tour and answered all our nosey questions about the economics of life in Venice. Apartments are small and expensive and most buildings are slowly being converted to tourist hotels. As a gondolier you have to stay close to the job.

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Gondoliering is a physically challenging job and you do have to wear the funny shirt, but each gondolier has his own sense of flair.

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We took our ride right after lunch on the beatuiful Campa Maria Formosa. Like most Italian cities, they take a siesta right after lunch so most of the commercial boat traffic on the canals was missing. Instead we say plenty of other tourists riding in their gondolas.

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The ride took us onto the Grand Canal right near the Rialto Bridge.


And from the Rialto Bridge you can get a great view of what almost amounts to gondola gridlock.

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I mean there is nothing like being on the Grand Canal in a gondola. It really is the most picturesque thing.

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But in the pre-high season spring, there seem to be more gondolas than gondoliers as they are parked everywhere. And they aren't cheap. Our gondolier told us they cost about 40,000 euros each.

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And the detailing on a gondola is just gorgeous.

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So until the tourists show up gondoliers have a lot of time on their hands which they use to serenade other gondoliers or just relax while waiting for a fare.

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So while it is a splurge, I heartily recommend taking a gondola ride in Venice. It's every bit as cheesy and cliched as a carriage ride in Central Park (or any other big touristy city for that matter) but there is only one place on Earth to get an honest to goodness Venetian-poled gondola ride. Besides gondola is such a fun word to type when you blog about the experience.


If you haven't figured it out yet, all the pictures are clickable and there are even more photos of gondolas and gondoliers in the full Flickr set.

Happy Gondola-ing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Venice -Then and Now

In the winter of 1984 my fiance and I took a day trip from my parent's house in Italy to Venice. We took with us a 135 format camera to take pictures. From the balcony of St. Mark's Basilica you can overlook the Doge's Palace, Saint Mark's Square and the Grand Canal.

When we went back last week we took with us scans of those old pictures so that we could recreate those old snapshots.

Both days were rather overcast but the Spring day we had this time was far warmer than it was back that December. Also, this time it cost us four euros each to ascend the rather steep steps up to the top of the overlook. Back then the euro as a currency was unimaginable and the overlook was free for whoever could make the climb.

Another difference was that Saint Mark's Square was considerably more crowded with people but had far fewer pigeons. Venice had recently banned feeding the pigeons because they were a health hazard. The few pigeons we did see were still among some of the fattest pigeons in the world.

The biggest contrast was how little Venice had changed but how much we had. Venice which is nearly a thousand years old wears its age like faded royalty. We on the other hand had grown grayer and thicker in the intervening quarter century. We are also older, wiser, and slower, but still enchanted by this city that time seems to have forgotten.

And if you want to see more of Venice, here are the pictures.