A Roman Holiday

Our Roman holiday was fifty percent authentic British.

When we set out from our home in Seattle to this strange European country called Italy, our plan was to spend a week in Rome and another in Florence before heading back home. A week in a city is sufficient to learn the ways of the locals – for instance, pronouncing caffèlatte the right way (emphasizing the consonants). Wise men have said in the past, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, which we deemed to be prudent advice, given the number of people who had gotten crucified or beheaded in that vicinity in the old days.

Pietà by Michelangelo
Pietà, by Michelangelo (Photo Credit: Anu Sharma)

We landed in Rome on Sunday evening, and decided to take it easy that day. On Monday, we walked around the city,  seeing the sights, including a tour of the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum – the usual destinations. By the end of the day, we had seen – inadvertently, perhaps – most of the notable tourist attractions that we could have planned to visit.

Now, you should know that both Anu and I are planners. In this case, we planned for our vacation to be mostly unplanned, which worked out well given that some things didn’t go as planned.

First, it seemed like we had almost exhausted in a single day our impromptu list of things to do, so there was the niggling question of what to do during the rest of the week. Granted, we had not yet seen the Pantheon (which incidentally has nothing to do with panthers) or the Spanish Steps.

As an aside, the Colosseum has little to do with being colossal, and piazzas are unrelated to pizzas, besides the fact that both are found everywhere in the city. (“Mmmm! Let’s have Italian for dinner tonight!” – imagine saying that every day…)

Still, there were four days left in the week until we could head to Florence. After a few hours of exploration, our vocabulary had dumbed down considerably, and we had gotten into the habit of pointing at things and saying things like “basilica!”, “chiesa!”, “naked statue!”, “painted ceiling!” and so on.

On the other hand, the idea of short day trips to different towns seemed romantic and appealing, so the next day we set out by train for Naples and a couple of hours later landed in Florence. It was an honest mistake; all trains looked suspiciously alike.

David by Michelangelo (Photo Credit: Ramnath R Iyer)
David by Michelangelo (Photo Credit: Ramnath R Iyer)

Anyway, the ticket-checker on the train was kind enough to explain to us how to get back to Rome. We failed to parse half of what he said, and successfully ignored the rest. Delighted at the spontaneity of our subconscious in choosing to visit Florence early, we spent the day in the city, mostly window-shopping. In a museum, we discovered yet another naked statue (pictured on the left).

When we headed back to Rome at the end of the day, we faced another dilemma. By now, we had exhausted most of the sights of Rome and all of the sights of Florence, so heading back to Florence for yet another week seemed a dreary prospect. So instead, we decided to spend the second week in London.

London has the distinct pleasure of being home to both of my sisters. For us, it meant the luxury of fancy home-cooked food and good company. After a week of sight-seeing in London that included Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Greenwich, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and a viewing of Henry V at the Barbican, it was finally time to head back home to Seattle.

Did you know that the trip from London Gatwick airport to London Heathrow airport takes approximately 16 hours, assuming of course that this includes a night spent at Rome’s Fiumicino airport?

It turned out that changing our existing Rome to Seattle (via London) flight in any way was doomed to be ridiculously more expensive than any other option, including the option of simply buying a return ticket from Rome to London. Somehow, it cost the airlines less money to put us on two additional flights that brought us back to where we had started.

Rome ➠ London
London ➠ Rome
Rome ➠ London ➠ Seattle

Rome ➠ London
Rome ➠ London ➠ Seattle

Deducing the logical reasons behind this anomaly is left as an exercise for the reader.

U-Haul Adventure

Moving can be a stressful exercise, U-Hauls notwithstanding.

Back in 2007, I landed in the middle of College Town in Ithaca, New York with four large suitcases, at which point I discovered that moving four suitcases with two hands required a highly inefficient time-sharing algorithm. Luckily for me, I managed to borrow a cellphone and call the cab company, and several minutes and dollars later I was at the apartment where I would live for the next nine months.

When I moved to Seattle in 2009, my suitcases moved with me, but were forced to take a different route managed by the United States Postal Service, a route involving exciting adventures such as ‘hide-and-seek for thirty days’, ‘where am I now?’ et cetera.

A peculiar craving visits me once I have lived in an apartment for more than a few months. It is a longing to find a new one in a different neighborhood. Perhaps the grass is greener over yonder after all. In any case, a year and a half later I moved out of Capitol Hill to a neighborhood sandwiched between Queen Anne and west of Lake Union that afforded me brilliant views of the lake, Gasworks and Seattle Downtown.

Back then, my furniture consisted of a futon and a corner table. I’ve accumulated more stuff since, but more on that later. This is the story of the day Anu and I moved all of her stuff out of her old apartment into our new house. It might have been simpler if we were actually living in our new house then, but we weren’t – it was undergoing some form of surgery in the kitchen and we were still at my old apartment. But the plan was simple – move stuff from her apartment to our house using a U-Haul truck, return the truck to the shop on Leary Way, head back to her apartment and move the rest of it into my apartment using the car. Easy, right?

Everything was smooth sailing until it was time to return the truck. Unfortunately, at this point, the situation disintegrated into a river crossing puzzle – how could I get back home after returning the truck?

The solution, of course, was for Anu to drive the car to the U-Haul rental shop, so that I could hop into the car and we could both drive back together. But by this time, it had gotten late in the evening and my phone did what it tends to do best when it gets tired: it went to sleep. Anu’s phone needed charging as well and was back at her apartment, so there wasn’t much chatting to be done. As we headed to the U-Haul shop in Ballard, me driving the truck and Anu driving the car, I realized I had a small problem – I had completely forgotten how to get to that place.

Anu had a better idea of the location, but unfortunately, she was following the truck, and just as we were heading out, she realized that we’d forgotten to unload something else from the car and headed back to the house to take care of it, expecting me to notice and follow.

The rest of the story can best be described as resembling a Tom & Jerry cartoon, and went something like this:

  • Anu went to the house and waited for me, but I did not show up.
  • I went to the house and looked around for Anu, but she had already left.
  • I tried to get to the U-Haul rental location, and ended up driving around in circles.
  • Anu reached the U-Haul rental location, but I did not show up.
  • I drove back to Anu’s apartment to see if she had come back, but did not find her there. But I did manage to look up directions to the U-Haul shop.
  • Anu got tired of waiting at the U-Haul shop and came back to her apartment to check if I was there, and to get her phone.
  • I drove to the U-Haul shop but did not find Anu there, because she had already left.
  • I drove back to Anu’s apartment and parked the truck, and noticed that the phone was gone, which meant she had been there earlier but I had missed her.
  • I walked back to my apartment and messaged her, at which point I discovered she was back at the U-Haul shop.
  • I drove the truck back to the U-Haul shop, and we finally drove back together in the car.

In case you’re wondering, the moral of this story is, “Be leery of Leary Way.”

Movie Review: American Sniper

American Sniper depicts war as a stark assault on modern civilization’s ideals of family. While big guns may be firing away on battlefronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the unseen violence is back home, where elemental relationships erode and get destroyed, and life can never be what it might have been in better times. Can a man who only yesterday purposefully took the lives of others, go home and enjoy playing with his kids? Which part of it is real?

In this fictional world, everything is black and white. Evil exists and it lives out there in the wilderness, amongst the savages. Only in some passing moments does this world admit the possibility that perhaps sometimes evil might simply be the caricature of someone’s untold story of vengeance and sorrow – but those moments quickly dissolve into a blizzard of sand.

In the end, the only lesson to be learned is that war is absurd and futile, built as it may be upon honest foundations of honor, valor and justice.

Swiftkey Flow Rocks

One of the coolest innovations I have seen in recent times is Swiftkey Flow. This is a keyboard input method that is geared towards touchscreen devices, where the user enters text by sliding a finger across the letters of the word to be input. With a little help from predictive technology, this method is simple, accurate, fast and intuitive.

On a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, you can enable this on the “Samsung Keyboard” through the “Settings” menu. If you’ve also setup one-handed operations (the keyboard moves over closer to one side) you could be typing long letters or blog posts with just your thumb and your brain for hours.

Compared to other forms of input such as voice, what makes this so compelling is how easy and seamless it is to handle errors. With dictation, there are bound to be mistakes unless you continually keep looking at the screen to see what gets typed (which you wouldn’t want to be doing if you were talking). With the onscreen keyboard, it is completely intuitive to pay attention to the words you have input, and switch back to conventional typing temporarily when there are errors. It doesn’t hurt that Swiftkey normally figures out the right words to enter without the user having to try too hard, so errors are much less frequent. (This normally happens when you hesitate while spelling out the word.)

Strange Dream

A few nights ago, I had a rather strange dream. It had something to do with reservations. Reservations for something.

Anyway, reservations worked on a first-come-first-serve basis, and involved pasta. (It might be more appropriate to call it a pasta-based organism.) Here’s how it worked: you would take a single piece of pasta and wait until a couple of tentacles slid out of one end. (This would happen periodically – two tentacles/feelers would slide out and then slide back in.)  When this happened, you would quickly catch hold of the tentacles and tie them together in a knot,  which would prevent them from sliding back in. And voila! You had a reservation.