Christmas '16, Part 2

I turned this one around quick for you- it’s amazing what you can get accomplished on a nine-hour flight. Speaking of flights, it was all Air France on the way home today. I have to give them mixed reviews, but since they’re partners with Delta they match my Platinum status and that goes a long way. And speaking of Delta, I’ve softened up on them after flying other airlines so I’m at peace on that front. Let me not get ahead of myself though, I’ve forgotten to tell you about the other half of the journey…

When we left off, I was catching a 4:30 am car to FCO. Destination: Athens (Greece, not Georgia). After a couple of uneventful flights connecting CDG, I landed at ATH. A thirty-minute train ride away and I as delivered to the doorstep of my hotel on Monastraki square. After a much-needed nap, I was up to up for exploring the city. By this time it was dark out and my first impressions of the city were to be at night. Despite being in one of the more happening districts in the city, it was a damp and chilly Monday night so I figured it would be a fairly subdued scene. It turns out that the Athenians like to go out, every night. The city was heaving with people of all ages, but there was a prominent cohort of stylish, youngish folks. The streets were lined with busy retail and restaurants spots from the modest to the upscale. There was an element of “urban grit”, but my first impression was that this was as healthy and urbane as most cities in Europe. I grabbed a gyro from a street vendor (cliché, I know), caught some BBC World on the tele and passed out for the night.

The Lion's Gate- the only way in or out.

It was another early morning to catch my ride out to the Peloponnese for a day trip to see the couple of ancient sites. These places have held my imagination since I took the Introduction to Architecture course with Christopher Mead in New Mexico 25 years ago. Mycenae was the capitol of the civilization that was the progenitor of the ancient Greeks  and the Theater of Epidaurus was a center of healing and performing arts dating from the 15th century BC. I’ll spare you a history lesson, but they’re fascinating places if you’re into such things.

The Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon...or neither.

We got home at a reasonable hour and I had another night out on the town, This time I traveled off the beaten path and found the part of Athens that was more in line with my expectations of what I would find in a country that’s undergone everything Greece has in the last ten years or so. Shuttered shops for lease, half-completed building that have obviously laid fallow for quite some time, and low-level retail focused on low-level tourists. The more I paid attention, I also found that even in the nicer streets in the city, very every inch of vertical surface in Athens was covered in graffiti. I’m not talking about the fake-urban artsy graffiti we encourage in Chattanooga to make us look edgy, I’m talking about crappy tags and poorly done wastes of paint. I suspect the amount of money they spent on spray paint is what plunged them into economic chaos and default. It was an eye-opening evening, but it didn’t necessarily change my opinion of the city as decent place- it just gave me another perspective.

It's no Bryant-Denny, but the view ain't bad.

I woke up early once again the next day, but this time with good reason. I was going to see one of the most iconic sets of buildings in the world. It’s one of the few sites in the world, where the buildings transcend mere architecture and become symbols of something much larger. In this case, the ideals of individual freedom and democracy are embodied in ancient Greece and in the Acropolis. The site itself has been undergoing perpetual reconstruction, so I was prepared for the machinery and scaffolding. The big daddy of them all, the Parthenon was about what I expected, so there were no surprises. What I was surprised by, was how relatively small a couple of my favorite other buildings were. The Temple of Athena Nike is quite small, but so very tidy in proportion and scale. It is truly a gem. The Erectheon was a bit more baffling in person. The Caryatid columns were only about a third of the size that I imagined they would be. The columns on the eastern side of the building were taller and more slender and attenuated than I anticipated- but that’s the hallmark of the Corinthian order, so I’m sure why I’m surprised. While that building caught me off guard, the rest was pretty much in line with expectations- which I must admit were sky high. My only regret is that the top of the hill was windy and freaking cold. The rest of the day was spent walking around aimlessly, nibbling on street food from time to time and taking the train to get some brief glances of some of the other neighborhoods.With that the trip was essentially over, save for another early morning and the flight back (which is where I write from today). I may sleep for three days when I get back to the Scenic City, so you may not see me for a while.

The granddaddy of them all...and the Parthenon.

With the trip in the books, here are some general observations on the whole Christmas Vacation:

-Rome just wasn’t the same this time around. Maybe it was because the food sucked; maybe it was because the people weren’t quite as nice as I usually find them to be. 

-Athens met or exceeded expectations. I did not hold out high hopes for food, and they met that expectation. The people were quite friendly. The amount of graffiti while cute at first became disturbing the more I paid attention to how much of it there actually is. 

-I was two of three on hotel selection. The place I stayed by myself for one night sucked- and I shared my opinions. The other two places exceed expectations- especially our place in Rome, has found a place on my top five list of accommodations.

-The amount of tour and ticket hustlers outside of the Vatican is impressive and annoying.

-If you can’t properly prepare spaghetti Carbonara, you should not be allowed to live in Rome. 

-Delta and KLM stayed on my good side this trip- primarily because most of my flights were on Air France.

-There is no place like home for the Holidays.
-I’m sure there are more, but it’s been a long journey and I’m worn all the way out.

The Caryatids- they got a bum deal.

Let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas. You have all of my best wishes and love.

The Stoa of Attalos. We actually had one in Chattanooga.
If you squint, you can see Community Pie at the end.
I haven’t really talked about health in my two-blog description of the journey. Perhaps that’s because (with the exception of our day in Florence) it’s not affected my daily activities. I am, however, having a tough time with fluid retention and swelling in my abdomen and legs. The problem is that this puts pressure on my stomach, limiting what I can consume. After already losing 30% of my body weight, this is a big deal. It’s tough to say how much I “really” weigh because much of what the scale reads is fluid that has to go. Looking in the mirror, however, I can see that I’m not in good shape. I am worried about this.

As for the tumor, it’s still sitting in the background waiting to do its thing. As of last scan (three weeks ago?), it was stable in size and not really doing anything. As for the absecess and infections, I finished my last dose of antibiotics during the trip and it appears that I have them beat. 

I suppose it’s good news/bad news in the health front. During my last few days alone, however, thoughts death and dying keep popping up in my head. Am I ready or not? Am I traveling to run from it? Would I even care if it weren’t for D and the boys? Will I be able to do it on my terms (outside of a hospital bed)? I’ve turned those over more than a few times. (For the record, the answers are: Yes. I don’t think so. No. God, I hope so.)


Christmas '16

Mere weeks after swearing off both Delta and Europe I’m back in the saddle. So far, both of my flights have been delayed, but not by much. I haven’t missed any connections, and I haven’t had to deal with any customer “service” agents- no complaints. You may recall that last year I took the family to NYC for Christmas. That was a great trip and it’s hard to find fault with it, but I think all of us felt a bit let down by not being at home for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. This year, we learned from our experience and decided to travel just before the holiday to return in time to enjoy being in Chattanooga- sleeping in our own beds, and walking downstairs to Christmas morning.

Destination: Rome. Yes, I decided to go back to Rome…again. While, part of me was keen to pick a city I haven’t been too before so I can continue to check buildings off of the architecture bucket list, I had a more compelling reason to return to the Eternal City. After the last time I visited, I told the big one that I would take him there some day. I never forgot that pledge, and Lord knows the boy has a memory for such things. One of my deepest fears was that I would die before I could make good on my promise, and that for the rest of his life he would be haunted by a trip we never got to take. It was in my power to prevent that, so, Rome it is. I was set to arrive at our destination a day before the family joined me, and while we fly out on the same day, they headed directly home while I took a brief detour.

Bramante's jewel. Worth risking he hospital for.

After landing I hopped on the train at FCO and hopped off at the Trastevere station. The original plan was to avoid any unnecessary walking to preserve my energy, but rather than take the tram to get closer to the hotel, I decided to get out and walk the rest of the way…then I decided to take on the massive hill that leads to San Pietro in Montorio. I almost died, and I had been in town for less than 2 hours. My reward was a one on one session with the Tempietto. Not a tourist or worshiper to be found, just me and Bramante’s jewel- it was a special time for me (especially considering that the other times I’ve been here, the gates to the inner courtyard were locked). After fawning, I schlepped two more kilometers to my hotel, where I had a nap before hitting the town for a totally forgettable dinner (more about that later).

Whew! The Pantheon has managed to remain
"as is" for almost 2,000 years. It also managed
to survive the C.Rushing progeny this year.

The next day the family arrived and I checked us in to a new hotel. I booked with rewards points, and it turned out that we got upgraded to a killer space in a fourteenth century building that has been owned continuously by the proprietor’s family. It just so happens that he is an architect- and I suspect a good one, given the quality of redesign of the interior we were in (which was almost as big as my house). While waiting for the room to be readied, we dropped our bags with reception and headed for a quick roll through the Parthenon and Piazza Navona before heading west. We took on the Vatican Museum, (which the boys seemed to enjoy), St. Peter’s Square, where I introduced them to the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini (which the boys could not care less about), and St. Peter’s Basilica, which was breathtaking for everyone (even those of us who have already experienced it). My wife, God bless her, acquiesced to the boy’s pleading to climb Michelangelo’s dome. To my shame, I stayed below and accidentally fell asleep in a pew in one of the side chapels. Afterwards, we limped our way home (we should’ve taken a cab). After fawning over the rooms and unpacking, we headed off for dinner– another unspectacular, if not downright poor, dinner (at least for me). The exhausted Rushing crew capped off the day with a gelato and an early bed.

Think they were impressed that Michelangelo designed
the Swiss Guard uniforms? (I was too heartbroken and
crestfallen to tell them that this is actually a myth.)

We all had problems with the time change and had a hell of a time getting out of bed the next day. This was exacerbated by the fact that I booked a 6:30 departure on a train headed for Florence. We managed to make it, but Dad was seriously hurting. I managed to miss taking some medicine and as a consequence was extremely unwell. We managed to make our way through the Uffizi and take the short walk to Piazza del Duomo. We started with the baptistery. I tried to interest the boys in the Brunelleschi v. Ghiberti rivalry and got a slightly better response than Bernini v. Borromini. We then popped into Santa Maria del Fiori to see Brunelleschi’s dome. It is truly amazing. But that was all I had in me. It’s a shame that we got all the way to Florence, and didn’t take advantage of everything the city had to offer, but I was simply in no condition to continue. So, it was back to the train, back to Rome, and back to sleep. I woke in time to take the boys to see the standards- Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Piazza della Rotonda, before sitting down for another awful dinner (see the pattern here?)

With the Arch of Septimius Severus.
Or what will hereafter be known as
the Arch of Severus Snape.

Our special treat for the weekend came in the form of a visit by our favorite English. The Joneses graciously put their holiday lives on hold to come spend the weekend with us. For the last several years, they’ve caught up with us on our travels through Europe. This was the first trip, however, where we both brought all of our little ones. It was a special and super fun reunion, although I hope my two little heathens didn’t influence their sweet daughter. Our merry band caught some of the normal sights as well as the Forum and Coloseum. It just so happened that on Saturday night a certain Birmingham City Football Club had a game on Sky Sports. It was my duty to expose my boys to a poly-cultural experience- Americans with English friends, at an Irish pub, in Italy, ordering (bad) Indian food. Very worldly.

Just playing in the street after too much gelato.
As with all good things, this had to come to an end. We went out for one last (poor) dinner as a crew, made our way back to the hotel, and shared hugs and kisses. I was up at 4 the next morning, gave all of my sleeping beauties a kiss goodbye, and went downstairs for my car to the airport. D and the boys had a slightly later flight, and made it home safe and sound later that day. As for me, I’m still on my journey- more on that in a day or two…

Oh yeah, about the food. In the lead up to this trip, I didn’t have as much time as I usually do to research where to eat. They say it’s hard to find a bad meal in Rome, so I figured that Trip Advisor would steer me clear. Social media as a food tool let me down this time. For example, the #8 (of 1500+) restaurant in Rome (according to TA) served a pasta carbonara that consisted of raw (not al dente, raw) pasta with what were essentially scrambled eggs laced throughout. This is a classic Roman dish that any self-respecting Roman has mastered. And things got worse from there. The only decent food I had was a desperate turn to random walk-away pizza spots on the street. This was a very disappointing and vexing aspect of the trip. Anyway, hang on, I'll finish the story shortly. Merry Christmas, Love y'all!


The Asterisk

A couple of readers called me out on an asterisk in yesterdays post, for which there was no explanation. My bad, forgot to write it- here goes. 

*As most of you know, I’m almost dead in the middle of the road when it comes to politics. If pressed to make a choice, however, I tend to shade right. I don’t really follow politics, because even at the best of times it’s a nasty slimy business. Over the past few weeks, however, I’ve been totally shocked at what I’ve seen (primarily from the left). The name-calling, the fear-mongering, the rage, the disowning of friends, the hate for those who don’t live in coastal cities- it’s appalling. It’s almost as if they grew up playing sports where the only thing that matters is participation, and where they were deprived of learning the lessons of winning and losing at a young age…oops…

So the left dog cusses everyone who is not a liberal, criticizes everything the man does, and then feigns indignation that he’s not coming to them with an olive branch to kiss the ring and carry their agenda forward. It would be funny if it wasn’t true. Anyway, all of this hasn't really made me more of a republican, it's simply pushed me away from politics altogether- which is a shame. 

In any event, my prediction for the next four years is that there will be opportunity out there for all Americans to succeed and grow- what remains to be seen is who will embrace those opportunities and take advantage of them, and who will spite themselves by sitting on the sidelines and protesting while those opportunities pass by. Life will (continue to) be there for the taking for those who are willing to work for it. 
The other thing I was called out on was the omission of music of the week. So let’s go with Noel and Ian. Love this song, it reminds me of the boys...damn, I don’t want to leave them. And while we're another some older Ian.


A Special Kind of A**hole, Part 2

Ok, I’m back. If you’ve been reading me the past couple of months, you’ve no doubt noticed that I tried to embrace a different part of my persona- the darker, rage and anger filled part. While I have, no doubt been filled with rage and anger during portions of my cancer experience, as a whole, it’s just not me. I thought that exploring that portion of my persona would provide a new and entertaining perspective to write from while allowing me to blow off some steam. Reality ended up being quite the opposite- I never got comfy writing with that voice, the topics veered into places that I didn’t want to go, and some people got the wrong impression about where I was coming from. In fact, it was brought to my attention that at least one member of my Board at the Design Studio thought that I was saving up to write a vitriolic, vengeful post about how I’ve been treated there. I was taken aback that anyone would think I would go that route- maybe they have something on their conscience, who knows. For the record, however, I’ve never planned on doing anything like that. In almost six years of writing, I’ve never used this space to go after anyone personally, I don’t plan on doing it now. That said, when my time at the Studio is over, will I write about my experiences there? Maybe, who knows, but only if there’s an entertaining story to tell. All of which is to say that I’m officially ending my experiment with trying to delve into my darker side and write from a perspective that I don’t really live. Moving swiftly on…

Haas Haus

To pick up where we left off after the Battle of Brum, we had a lovely dinner with both sets of Joneses and Monsieur Mills before heading off to bed. We woke up early the next morning for a flight to Austria via Amsterdam. We arrived early afternoon in enough time to stroll around the city center. Unbeknownst to me, our hotel, Do & Co., was located inside one of my favorite contemporary buildings- Hans Hollein’s Haas Haus. I’ve actually used that building in this blog as an example of something or other (probably the obvious geode metaphor). It was a nice treat- as was the hotel. (Design Hotels always do a nice job). After strolling for a bit, we stopped by a traditional Austrian pub for an early dinner. I went with sausages for a starter and Weinerschnitzel for my main- The boy had sausages to start, and sausages for his main (hard to argue). It was then back to the hotel to get all gussied up for the evening’s main event- Don Pasquale at the Vienna State Opera. 

The entire opera experience was just fantastic. The architecture was lovely, and while not as old as I expected, provided a great atmosphere from arrival to seat. The boy fawned over the busts of the greats within- Mozart, Hayden, Schubert, Strauss, and others. To top it off, yours truly came through with the private box in the Loge level- we did it in style. The show was great despite the fact that neither of us understood a word. Afterwards, we walked over to Hotel Sacher for a bit of a tea and their eponymous torte, which is as famous as the hotel. All in all, we felt pretty civilized for a couple of deplorables* from the South. 

The next day was our last in Vienna, it was an all-out scramble to see as much as we could in that short time. We spent part of the day in our shoevrolets, and the afternoon with the on-off bus tour. We managed to see an awful lot, but probably could’ve used another day or two to dig deeper. All in all I really enjoyed Vienna, I don’t know that I’ll ever make it back there, but it was definitely worth the trip this time. 

Progenitor of Modernism: the Secession Building

The following day we once again put our lives and our sanity in Delta’s hands- and once again, it was a hellish day of travel. I’ll spare the details of the AMS Delta employees who screwed us over, of an itinerary where every leg was delayed, and of the Detroit TSA personnel who uncaringly savaged a carefully wrapped gift for my wife because they didn’t understand what a cake was- but it was a laughably horrible experience. That day I vowed never to return to Europe and never to fly Delta. (I broke one of those vows today and will break the other next week.) But seriously, screw them all…just writing about it makes me furious…sorry.

Progenitor of Modernism: Austrian Postal Savings Bank

This was a trip of highs and lows for the boy and me. Fortunately, we’ve already forgotten (most of) the lows, and the highs are still fresh in our memories. I’ll try to be more consistent about writing in the coming months, and hopefully I’ll have something about more travel next week. So, until that adventure, Ciao! (how’s that for a hint?) 

Health update: It appears that while I was traipsing around Vienna, my hemoglobin had dropped to 6.7! No wonder I was so fatigued. From the day I got back and started with a blood infusion for the anemia, I have constantly been in ether the doctor’s office or in a hospital bed. I’ve had half a dozen scans in this short time. The highlights of my maladies include: an abscess that developed between my liver and chest wall that then grew up between my ribs (second worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life) that worked its way to the skin and eventually erupted in a spectacular explosion of foul-smelling pus and blood all over my surgeon’s waiting room; two abscessograms; and one procedure for a wholesale exchange of all of my liver drains. All of that said, during that time I managed to stay on top of work, cook Thanksgiving dinner, take the family to Disney WWOS for a soccer tournament, catch all of my son’s basketball games, watch the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship games, and help throw my other son a kick-ass birthday party. I guess you could say I’m doing all right.