Shopping Challenged

Am I the only person who can spend a week in Florence, Italy without finding something to buy?

My daughter and I walked for miles every day past shops full of shoes, suits, ties, leather jackets, scarves, and every plastic iteration of “The David” imaginable. It wasn’t until we found an ancient cavelike shop full of leather-bound sketchbooks that my credit card began to twitch. Oh, she’s a beauty.

My wife brought me a small brown version of these Italian sketchbooks some years ago, probably from this same shop. It’s now my coffee shop sketchbook and it’s compiling a nice legacy of decent strip ideas.

Not that a sketchbook has to be fancy, of course. I’ve got shelves of beat-up spiral-bound sketchbooks with some of my best ideas in them. A tour of my sketchbook shelves in a blog post ahead.

Catastrophia!

I’m in Florence, Italy, reunited with my daughter who has been studying at an art school here this semester. She’s wrapped up her work, turned in her key, and she and I are having a great time, toodling around Florence, seeing her world, poking around her school, the Christmas market and all that. For the first time in years, Florence has snow and it’s amusing to watch the unfamiliar locals wiping out on their bicycles and trying to shovel the snow in front of their shops using brooms and buckets.

Getting here was another matter…

When we arrived in Munich it looked like they were shutting the airport down. Snow was falling pretty hard and the planes were creeping around on the runways like old men walking on ice. I stopped worrying about my connection to Florence, assuming there’d be delays all around. I was lucky that I kept proceeding through the airport, though, because as it turned out, we were one of the only flights to board and I barely made it. We sat on the runway several hours waiting to be de-iced, but once we took off everyone on board assumed we were home free. “It never snows in Italy.”

I could see the orange roofs of Florence from the airplane window, but the captain announced that the Florence airport was nonetheless shut down due to snow and we were being redirected to land at Federico Fellini Airport in Rimini, italy. It was the first sign that things were about to get weird.

In Italian, German and possibly Swedish, the Lufthansa people announced their plan to get us to Florence, and passengers began muttering and scattering in various directions to rent cars, make phone calls or otherwise leave the airport. It was quite awhile before the translation drifted to the rest of us that there would eventually be a bus but the road might be closed anyway. A band of eight of us decided to hang together, come what may. I have no working cell phone outside the US, so I was lucky to find a pay phone to make a five minute call to my wife, who relayed the message to our daughter that I was fine but no one knew how or when I would get to Florence.

The first two hours on the bus were promising, barreling toward Bologna, but when we turned onto the road to “Firenze” traffic was stopped and we found ourselves sitting stock still and unable to extricate ourselves from the doomed snarl. The bus driver threw up his arms and shouted “CATASTROPHIA!” and for two more hours we crept forward in a glacier of vehicles. Ultimately a woman with a foot in both Italian and American worlds stepped forward as our group leader and wrestled from the driver that the road ahead was closed and the only plausible scenario was to return us to the Bologna train station, at which point we were on our own. It was 10PM and I’d been traveling for 26 hours.

Somehow Ruth got us through the horrendous mob at the Bologna train station to the ticket window and then to the bitter cold platform where we learned that not only was the train delayed, but it could not get us to Florence either. Its destination was now a small village outside of Florence. I opened my suitcase and began putting on layers of clothes. From the windows we saw workers with torches — torches! — trying to melt the snow on parallel tracks. Our group had been assigned seats in different train cars, so by now I was truly on my own.

One depends on the kindness of strangers in these situations, and new friends in my compartment, all with problems of their own, took the time to find maps on their iPhones for me and translate the announcements that trickled in. In the end a shuttle train was found that could take me into the central station in Florence. Taxis had all shut down. An abandoned bus sat in the middle of the street. A huge Christmas tree stood silently sparkling before the Duomo. I was able to walk the mile to my hotel in the middle of the silent night, dragging my luggage through the snow.

From my room I called my daughter and she came running from her apartment. We sat up eating pears and cookies. When I woke up the next sunny morning I was in exactly the same position as when I’d fallen asleep.

Jim and the Colonel

You'll be seeing some Zits reruns in a few weeks which allow Jerry and me a couple of weeks of not-particularly-hard-earned vacation each summer. Jerry generally uses his having various body parts surgically reorganized, but I like to travel. This year my wife and I went with a group from the Cincinnati Zoo to Tanzania to see the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti.

Wildebeest shmildebeest, fast forward to our arrival home after 32 hours of airplanes to a quick nap and a seven-hour drive the next morning to take our youngest child off to college. Highlight of the trip – besides, of course, seeing our son happily ensconced in a nurturing college environment "nurturing college environment" [see wildebeest migration…] was breakfast in Corbin, Kentucky at the original Kentucky Fried Chicken

Yes, this was the spot where Harlan Sanders first set up a small motel and figured he needed to feed the people on their way to the Best Buy down the street. I've always had a soft spot in my otherwise-corroded heart for the Colonel and was pleased to express my devotion in the fabled redneck Mecca.

-Jim