A couple of trips outside of Rome took us to Florence and Venice.
Everyone loves Florence. We were there for much too brief a time (e.g., I didn’t get to see Michelangelo’s David). Climbed Il Duomo, toured the Uffizi, ate some gelato. Sounding like Douglas MacArthur, with a different attitude: “I will return.”
Everyone hates Venice. It has been turned into a theme park, invaded by enormous predators, unloading their locust-like cargo to overwhelm the small area and the small population of actual Venetians. These predators are called cruise ships. They are not popular with the locals. On the other hand, I had a great supper, saw some fabulous art and St. Mark’s Basilica, and, why yes, ate some gelato. My Roman friends said “you have to go to Venice. Once.” Seems about right.
Eventually, I had to leave Rome and head back to the States. I had not realized at the time that Air Canada took so literally the term “eventually.” 40 hours between Rome and Albany, NY.
I then headed to Charlotte, North Carolina for my Fulbright orientation. On the way, I spent the night in Lexington, Virginia, saw the cemetery where—among others—Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson is buried, and toured his house. I don’t think of Jackson as a saint, but the tour guides apparently did, complimenting him on just how wonderfully he treated his slaves while also neglecting to mention that he died after his own troops accidentally shot him at Chancellorsville. Details, I suppose.
In Charlotte, we had our Pre-Departure Orientation. Normally, if I have to wear a name tag and participate in “team building” exercises, I flee or at least find some place to hide. But this orientation was remarkably well-run, all the people attending were fun to talk with, the staff was professional and efficient, and I learned a lot. I heard some great stories, including one about a scientist in Antarctica who went mad, barricaded his part of the site and proceeded to make his own meth and weapons. This combination of The Thing and The Shining, however, ended well. I did, on occasion, wonder how I got included in a group of such talented people.
I must compliment one staff member, who shall remain nameless since I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want it known that she has been seen with me in public. The last session was a 2-hour discussion of all remaining questions about going to China. This quickly turned into 35 over-educated, naturally inquisitive academics asking remarkably detailed questions about tax liability. The staff member fielded all questions with aplomb, professionalism, and extraordinary patience. I’m pretty dubious about the political appointees in the State Department and related areas, but the permanent staff members I met, including Field Officers, were as good at their jobs as anyone I’ve met.
The next blog entry will be written from Beijing, and the actual Fulbright will begin.
But, of course, before leaving the USA:
Baseball. Hot Dogs. Bluegrass.