Thursday, December 25, 2008

So, through the embassy, Allyson and I scored tickets to Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. But when we showed up at St. Peter's Square around nine o'clock last night, the scene was, in typical Roman fashion, utter chaos. Lines everywhere, nobody quite sure what they were lined up for. Every time we asked a cop (or Swiss Guard) which line we should be in, we got a different answer. And most of the people in line had no tickets, and didn’t even seem to realize tickets were required.

We walked toward what we thought was the front of a line to do some investigating when, suddenly and unexpectedly, the line began to move forward. Pandemonium ensued. It reminded me of that time I saw the Grateful Dead at the Meadowlands in 1985, when I was nearly swept off my feet by the crush of the crowd when the gates opened. It was kind of scary. Definitely not a spiritual experience. And now I know what the Hajj must feel like.

We were, however unintentionally, butting in line. It was a venial sin, but nothing compared to the unholy things that were shouted at us by the unfortunates we’d butted in front of. (In purgatory, this will all be a wash.) (Hopefully.) Our ill-gotten reward was an excellent seat, as close to the front as the plebs get, and close to the aisle. When the pope entered the basilica, I shot this short video:

The mass itself was, well, long. Two hours. It was said in numerous languages, though mostly Latin and Italian. I’d estimate that about half the congregation were devout Catholics. The rest were tourists. A young lady two rows in front of us was text messaging throughout the homily. Unlike a lot of other congregants, I was a little self-conscious about taking pictures during mass, but I did manage to snap this shot:

Like all good Catholics, we snuck out during communion. Outside, I was surprised to see hundreds, maybe thousands more people standing in the cold, watching the mass on giant television screens erected in the square.

It was truly a remarkable experience. Once in a lifetime, as they say - but that’s all I need. Next year I think we’ll just go to the little church around the corner for Midnight Mass. No tickets required!

Buon Natale dear friends and family! Today, as every day, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Birthday to my Uncle Steve, who turns 92 this week! Mom visited him last weekend, and my brother Howard took this picture of her and her big brother.

By the way, congratulations to Mom's alma mater, Liberty High School in Bethlehem, 2008 Pennsylvania state football champions!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My friends at Minnesota Public Radio have put some of the contested ballots from the Minnesota Senate election on their website. Click here and decide for yourself whether the ballots should be accepted or rejected. (As an aside: Who in their right mind signs a ballot?!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We had a very nice trip to Mitteleuropa last week. We spent one night in Basel, which was all decked out for the season. It was also impossibly clean, quiet, and calm, with an impeccable public transportation system. It was, in other words, everything that Rome is not!

From Basel we took the train across the border to Freiburg. As I explained in an earlier post, it was my first trip back to Freiburg since I studied German there in the summer of 1985. I thought my return would trigger a flood of memories, but it didn’t. Nor did it restore my fluency in German. Still, Freiburg is a charming city. Best of all, it snowed.

Oh, and we discovered a pretty cool vodka bar, too.

Purple is clearly the "in" color this fall in Rome. All the clothing shops, men's and women's, have purple clothing on display in the windows: shirts, ties, dresses, jackets. Allyson insists purple is not one of her colors. But when we had her try on our friend Laura's purple scarf, I think you'll all agree she looked quite lovely.

Friday, December 05, 2008

This weekend, Allyson and I are flying (one of those discount airlines) up to Germany to spend a few days where the climate (at least) is more Christmas-like than it is here in dreary, rainy Rome. Specifically we are going to Freiburg, a small city in the Black Forest with a famous Christmas market (or Weihnachtsmarkt). Those of you who were reading this blog back in 1985 might remember that Freiburg is also where I studied German that summer. Here I am with my classmates, apparently after some sort of traditional German beer-drinking marathon:

I don't know why I'm the only one seated, or why I thought it was a swell idea to wear that ugly black Yes sweatshirt over a white dress shirt. I think I might recall the names of three or four of my classmates in this picture, but that's about it. As for my German, what little I had managed to remember over the years has long since been supplanted by French and, now, Italian.

I don't remember much about Freiburg, either. This will be my first trip back since that summer. I can't believe it's been more than 23 years. Where has the hair gone?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell, bless his heart, has a new book out. It's called Outliers and, based on what I've gleaned from the reviews, it seems to be about how people like Bill Gates aren't phenomenally successful just because they're talented – it's because they're lucky, too! Really?! Who'd've thunk it!

This is the third in Malcolm's trilogy of wildly popular duh books. In Blink he explained how snap judgments can be good – or bad. In The Tipping Point (the only one I've actually tried to read; gave up after fifty pages) he explained how word-of-mouth can help generate sales and make products successful.

Somehow, he manages to spin these wafer-thin premises out for 300 or more pages. (And I felt guilty for taking 288 pages to explain how two pro football teams merged in 1943.)

My disdain, of course, is firmly rooted in an unhealthy professional jealousy. But, really, my next book should be called No Sh*t Malcolm Gladwell.