Mare Nostrum I: Venice-La Serenissima

Oh Venice! Venice! when thy marble walls
Are level with the waters, there shall be
A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,
A loud lament along the sweeping sea!
If I, a northern wanderer, weep for thee,

What should thy sons do?–anything but weep
And yet they only murmur in their sleep.

Ode to Venice, Lord Byron

It’s easy to be in awe of Venice; it’s harder to like it.

I am not referring either to Venice, California, in the state where I live, or Venice, Florida where my dad used to live and where I spent the summer of ’78 driving up and down the Tamiami Trail. I’m talking about THE Venice, which is the first stop on our three week sojourn around the Mediterranean. The first thing you observe is the sound of water lapping, nonstop, against the docks, the sound of engines revving up and cutting down as the barges and taxis slip around through the canals. History sings as you ride the boats between the Palazzo Thises and the Ca d’Thats, but, even in sunlight, the buildings which shine in the distance seem faded and dingy close up.

Venice St. Mark's Square
St. Mark’s Square, Venice, photo by kajmeister

Beautiful Decay

One well-traveled friend warned me that she found Venice dirty and odorous, like New Orleans without signs in English. Another said she loved to walk around and just “gawk.” For me, the city inspired thoughts of both. Arriving to the train station via water taxi, the food seems airport-priced, the toilets require coins, and people are jammed into the few available seats and benches. (Don’t sit on the bridges!) Lines for the vaporetto (water bus) tickets are long, signs are confusing, and photo stops at the Rialto bridge and elsewhere are wall-to-wall shoulders and strollers. A vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal listening to a pre-downloaded Rick Steves’ tour seemed like a great “get acclimated” idea, except that the popular #1 line was also crammed full of bodies–where do these tourists all come from? Same place as myself, I suppose.

Continue reading “Mare Nostrum I: Venice-La Serenissima”

The Mindfulness of Goop

A modern lifestyle brand.
–the tagline for Goop.com

Wellness Goop.com
Wellness at Goop.com

What is Goop all about? Those four words may seem simple, perhaps even empty, but that is where Goop is elaborate in its nothingness. In being modern, it’s about Today, which is so important, for you would not want to focus on fads from Yesterday. And it’s all about lifestyle, which means it could cover anything in your life, assuming your life is missing a $90 cashmere eye mask and slipper set. Goop is about “cutting edge wellness…vetted travel recommendations…beauty, fashion, and home.” What could be broader than all of your life? but, most importantly, your health.  Plus goop (or is it Goop? or GOOP? all three! ) is a brand which means it is not so much what you buy, but the fact that you bought it on Goop which really counts.

In fact, it really doesn’t matter what it is. But that fits perfectly because where else but Goop would you find a $3 lollipop, a $77 tank top, and a $287 In-flight zip pouch? None of your Walmart $0.50 ziploc bags or Amazon $7.69 zippered pouches, heck no. This pouch has slick black accents and is endlessly versatile for, like Goop, it is see-through and comes empty. Nothingness is environmentally friendly and promotes mindfulness.

The Mindfulness Industry

Mindfulness is big business right now, and sites like Goop are taking full advantage of the opportunity. Mindfulness, of course, is a real process, a part of Buddhist teachings and meditative practices that date back for centuries. As a practice applied with structure, it has been used successfully to treat depression, drug addiction, anxiety, and other psychological problems. Continue reading “The Mindfulness of Goop”

San Francisco, American Phoenix

1906 SF earthquake
April 18, 1906 San Francisco, photo from wikipedia

Today marks the 112th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Watching the news of the commemoration this morning, I am struck by how the city has throughout its history managed to stand for both old and new. The more I poked around the ashes of the story of this most famous disaster, the more I realized how much it stands for rebuilding and the spirit of renewal.

Perhaps the 50th Largest Earthquake

The 1906 earthquake struck at 5:12 am and lasted for 42 seconds, less than a full minute.  The estimated Richter magnitude is 7.9, which makes it the tenth largest quake recorded in the United States. However, the frequency and size of earthquakes around the Pacific Ocean–from Sumatra to Alaska–means that the SF quake doesn’t even make the list of top forty largest earthquakes in world history.

Earthquakes were not particularly frequent or known occurrences in the fledgling California at the time. The Richter scale wasn’t to be invented for another thirty years and scientists, looking back, don’t think there was a tremendous amount of seismic activity beforehand. But, of course, that is how pressure builds up and the quake is the mechanism that allows the faults relieve themselves when they are crushed too closely together. Pressure must escape and, like a genie released from a bottle, the impact of releasing a giant force from a tiny space is hugely felt. Continue reading “San Francisco, American Phoenix”

Middle-Aged Brains are Smarter Even Though We Tend to Put our Keys in the Refrigerator

Beautiful Brain
The Stupendous Middle-Aged Brain, picture from Dreamstime.com

Of course my keys are in the laundry basket. Of course my wallet fell out of the pouch I forgot to zip. My middle-aged brain forgets the name I looked up only two minutes ago, how to fix that thing that WordPress always does, and what you just said. Last week, my wife came out of the garage with a piece of paper. “Honey, did you need this list of CDs?” Such relief!  “I was frothing at the mouth looking for that! Where did you find it!” On top of the frozen bagels.

At middle-age, we lose episodic memory. More on that later, if I make myself a note not to forget to write that part. As we age, we do lose cognitive function, and we incur an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But our Over-40 brains also have a lot going for them, as I learned from Barbara Strauch’s fascinating book, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.

Debunking the Brain Myths: Smarter than a 25-year-old

Believe it or not, we are smarter than we were and, in some ways, demonstrably smarter than a 25-year-old. Strauch cites a number of studies that have had me crowing with pride for the last week. For example, psychologist Sherry Willis of Pennsylvania State University ran a forty-year longitudinal study on the mental prowess of 6,000 participants. This Seattle Study, which covered people of multiple genders, ages, and occupations, found that they performed better on cognitive tests between age forty and sixty than at any other time in their life. Continue reading “Middle-Aged Brains are Smarter Even Though We Tend to Put our Keys in the Refrigerator”

Fun with Tariffs

They’re in the news. They’re in our history. They’re causing massive churn in the stock market. They make my eyes want to roll back in my head. Like gremlins, those wacky, pesky tariffs are back to bother us again!

They even have funny names, like Smoot-Hawley, which has to be one of the more unfortunate names for a piece of legislation, or political theater, if that’s your preferred description for a tariff. The Tariff of Abominations from 1828 at least had a zing to it. Harmonized Systems sounds like something you listen to while floating in a hot tub, looking up at the stars. Even the possible origin of the word--Tarifa--might make you think of the sirocco whistling through an oasis of palm trees.

Smoot-Hawley was a name I could never remember, when I was a wee lass back in high school AP History. The Alien & Sedition Acts was a much easier moniker because that sounds like the title of sexy sci-fi thriller, doesn’t it?  Smoot-Hawley, nope; the long “o” and lazy “aw” sounds would make my eyelashes flutter faster than a hypnotist’s swaying watch. Filmmaker John Hughes understood this dynamic because he created one of the most famous teacher scenes ever filmed, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Continue reading “Fun with Tariffs”