Man In A Suitcase

Milan, Italy

I've been reading The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain's account of his experiences as a tourist in Europe. He speaks rapturously and at length about the wonder of Milan's cathedral. This isn't it, although there's a moderately impressive church across the street. This is a shopping arcade. It's named for Victor Emmanuel. Personally I'd rather have a mall like this named for me than a drafty old church. I guess we all have our houses of worship.

Zurich, Switzerland

I've never had a chance to explore in Switzerland. My first visit involved five seminars in five different locations in as many days, which didn't leave any time for tourism. And my second lasted just twenty-four hours, compounded with an arrival on a Sunday night. My Swiss colleagues seem determined to get the maximum value from my visits with minimum energy wasted on my comforts. (Not that I'm complaining, mind. Well, yeah. I guess I am at that.)

So what little I've seen of Zurich came from a walk around the vicinity of my hotel before the dying light made pictures impractical. That walk was surprisingly rewarding, like this rather amazing railway line that ran right through the building next door and up the hill to the university. Or the shops in the pedestrian mall on the block behind. I counted six strip clubs and more than twenty fast food places on my twenty minute walk. Which makes me wonder whether what kind of reputation I have with with the Swiss. Or was the choice of such an interesting neighborhood merely coincidence?

Lisbon, Portugal

I recently paid my first visit to Lisbon and Porto in Portugal. I didn't know what to expect, knowing so little about the country. I knew that they spoke a language that had similarities to Spanish, that they had been great explorers and colonizers a few hundred years ago and that they made pretty good wine. (A few close encounters with more than a few bottles of Lancers and Mateus in college made their impression.) What I found was a very old city, one that hadn't done the kind of urban renewal I find in much of Europe (some of it courtesy of Allied and Axis aircraft in the 40s). Narrow streets, lots of cobblestones and restaurants that like to display the raw ingredients in their front windows. They also have an interesting idea of entertainment. Or perhaps that's just a warning to its motorists, who may just be the worst in the world...

Athens, Greece

The contrast between ancient and modern architecture in Athens could not have been more pronounced. The Acropolis on its own little hill floating over a sea of shops and apartment buildings. (The walk up the hill took me down narrow walkways between people's modest backyards. What would it be like to have that on your doorstep?) And then there's the remnant of a temple to Zeus sitting in a park just a few hundred yards from the Parliament building.

Having just come from Portugal made the shock of Athens even greater. Where Lisbon felt like The Land That Time Forgot, Athens was full of people and traffic and noise. Although the drivers aren't as openly suicidal as in Portugal, they do have their own rules. Traffic lanes and traffic lights are mere suggestions. And sidewalks are just an extra lane for motorcycles. (The audience for my presentation was reduced by the fact that my visit coincided with the annual student riots. Professors from the university had to stay in their offices to keep them from being occupied. Gee, the worst we ever did was apply toilet paper to the trees!)

In the shadow of the Parthenon lies Plaka, home to shops, restaurants and other opportunities to separate tourists from their drachma. On the day we wandered through the weather was refusing to cooperate. So after an extremely soggy visit to the Acropolis we ended up checking out the merchandise. In among the leather shops and hardware stores was this collection of computer gear, whose value was declining rapidly as the rain poured down on disk drives, processor boards and other relics of our modern age. (The cats on the right have nothing to do with the junk on the left. I just thought that they were just too cute to leave out.)

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California