Monday, January 26, 2009

These Boots Were Made For Drinking

We've been in Italy now for about a month and my male bipedal attendant has been drinking a lot of red wine. In spite of the fact that a) this is Italy and b) the wine is excellent and c) the wine is incredibly cheap, he's been a little down in the dumps (= whining) about drinking almost nothing but beer.

Or maybe he's just going through withdrawal. I know I get a little cranky if a few weeks go by and I haven't had a couple of nice gorgonzola, honey & walnut canapés but I hardly make a production out of it. I should just send him back to Slovakia if he wants a beer so badly.

Anyway, I came across a nice little bar in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II here in Rovigo which has on draught a local Italian beer called Pedavena. Naturally he turned his nose up at it, which I suppose I understand because people usually don't think of beer when they think of Italy but still, I thought he was being a little judgmental not to say rude.

As it turned out, the beer arrived in these nifty glass boots! Once you drink about a third
of your beer, the boot - or the beer - (I don't understand physics very well) makes farting noises and big fat bubbles. I apologise because I know that 'fart' isn't a polite word but it does sound like someone (not a bear though because we don't fart - ooops, sorry!) making "bum-bubbles" in the bathtub. Bububububloooop!

And the beer was good - even m
y male bipedal attendant said so, although I think what he said was this beer is good ... for Italy. Whatever.

I just like the boots! It's been so long since I wore Italian boots! And the more everyone drank the more I boots I had to wear. Too bad the bartender kept clearing our table of empty boots so quickly. It was almost as if he was expecting someone (by which I mean my female bipedal attendant with the really big purse and the really sticky fingers) to walk away with a pair. I can barely (bear-ly) take her out in public.

I don't know why Pedavena serves its beer in boot-shaped glasses. I checked their website and I could only find a reference to their signature 'silver tankard' but I t
hink that I - a former international fashion model - can tell the difference between a boot and a tankard. I do know that Italians have what one might call a national shoe fetish (I remember this from my days modelling in Milan), so maybe Pedavena's boot is an homage to Italy's fashion designers and love of footwear. Who knows?

The beer was good and the boots were divine. And in the immortal words of Miss Nancy Sinatra: are you ready boots? Start walkin' Or in this case, start drinking.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh My!)

Back in the days when I was an international fashion model in Milan, I would often pop down to Venice whenever I had any spare time - which admittedly wasn't as often as I would have liked. And because of my success on the runway and as a frequent visitor to Venice, I eventually became a regular at the Venice Film Festival, so needless to say, I know the city pretty well. Last weekend was the first opportunity I had to take my (still unemployed) bipedal attendants and god-bipedal attendants to see the Serenissima, the Queen of the Adriatic, the City of Bridges: Venice

And please forgive me for not being able to let go from my international fashion modelling days completely - I just had to wear the straw hat made famous by Venice’s gondoliers. Only bear-size. They're so jaunty and they do keep the sun off one's head.

Anyway, the city, as you probably know, is actually comprised of many small islands (118 to be exact) floating (or sinking) in Venice's saltwater lagoon. These islands are connected by bridges although scores of gondoliers are only too happy to ferry you around the city for 80 euros for 40 whole minutes (100 euros after 7 p.m.). Given my attendants' financial situation, we explored the city by its bridges

Thanks to its strategic position and ties to the sea, Venice would eventually achieve maritime superiority over its rivals, becoming a major player during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was from this marshy saltwater lagoon that many many ships bound for the Crusades set sail. Honestly! – you humans and your wars of religion. Will you people never learn?

During this time, Venice was a beehive of commerce and those ships which weren’t being sent off to kill Muslims, raze cities, find the Holy Grail and pick up as many saints' relics they could stuff into a sack were used to trade in spices and silks from the Orient. The city became fabulously rich. Unfortunately, Venice fell from prominence about 400 years ago and hasn’t really done much since. Except attract a lot of tourists.

Venice is also the city of St. Mark (who may or may not have written the Gospel of Mark) and so his symbol – the lion – can be seen everywhere. Why a bear wasn’t chosen to be his symbol truly defies logic.

Anyway, in 828 the Evangelist’s remains were stolen from Egypt (now that’s a Christian thing to do) and placed in the
basilica which bears (bears!) his name, ousting poor St. Theodore of Amasea as patron saint of the city. (He still has a statue there on a high pillar but I don't think anyone looks at it since St. Mark's lion is right next to him).
In any case, this relic-theft pretty much catapulted Venice on to the world stage.

These days St Mark’s Square – or the Piazza San Marco – is always full of pigeon-feeding tourists and those willing to pay 1
0 euros for a glass of beer to sit and enjoy the view. And line-ups a mile long of people queuing up to see St. Mark's and the Doge's Palace.

In the photo below, and if you squint really hard (I have to get a new photographer), you can just about see replicas of the Horses of St. Mark or the Triumphal Quadriga atop St. Mark's. The originals - safely kept inside the basilica - were "captured" (which means "stolen") from Constantinople when the city was sacked by the Venetians in 1204 during the fourth Crusade. Before then they were part of a 4th century b.c.e. bronze statue which included the carriage (quadriga) they led. Horses, not bears - honestly!

The horses were sent off to St. Mark’s where they’ve been ever since (except for a brief period when Napoleon sent them off to Paris) but no one kn
ows what happened to the chariot.

Too bad you can barely see the horses. I really should get a new photographer.

Besides the Venice Film Festival, the city is best known for its Carnivale. Because Carnivale begins in about 3 weeks, my female god-bipedal attendant didn’t want me to leave the city without a mask.

By some bizarre oversight, the artisans who create masks for Carnivale don’t have (little grey) bears in mind so needless to say, finding a bear-size mask was like finding a needle in a haystack. But my female god-bipedal attendant doesn’t take defeat easily and I think I must have tried on a hundred masks. I confess that most of the shop attendants were less than helpful in her (or our) quest - I guess my gondolier hat proved to be an excellent disguise - and as well, the two males in my group got pretty cranky what with all the mask shopping. I think they just wanted a beer.

And did she - I mean, did I ever find a mask? - you'll have to wait until February's blog to find out. I just love a mystery! - especially when fashion is involved.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Bologna Has a First Name ...

(and it's not O-S-C-A-R).

It's 2009 (!) and yesterday I took my bipedal and god-bipedal attendants on their first outing
of the New Year. The bipedals are currently "between assignments" (which is my typically sensitive way of saying that they're unemployed) and I thought that a visit to the historically rich city of Bologna would cheer them up.

Bologna is considered by most Italians (especially Bolognians) to be the culinary capital of Italy, and not just because of their namesake pasta sauce which, by the way, is called ragù rather than bolognese sauce - and sausage - which, by the way, is called mortadella rather than bologna. Human food can be so confusing. Anyway, besides its foodie status, this 2500-year old city is home to the oldest university in Europe (3rd oldest in the world) where the likes of Dante, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, Erasmus and Copernicus cracked open the odd book and probably cut a few classes, and more churches, piazzas, palazzos, basilicas and arcaded walkways than you can shake a stick at.

I confess though that it can be a little trying travelling with my bipedal attendants - especially since I do so in order to bring a smidgen of culture into their otherwise bleak little lives. For example, I brought them to the Fontana del Nettuno (the Fountain of Neptune) in the Piazza Maggiore in order to highlight the sculptor's skilfully studied attention to the musculature of the sea god Neptune. I reminded them that this sculpture is Giambologna's homage to the (then) four known continents of the world - represented by the four sirens at the base of the fountain - and all my bipedal attendants could do was snigger at the water spouting out of the sirens' nipples. These people can be absolute Philistines. (Sometimes I just pretend that I don't know them).

We also stopped by le Due Torri - or Two Towers - which dominate the city's ancient university quarter. Not to be outshone by Pisa, Bologna has two leaning towers. The tallest of the two is just shy of 100 metres tall and those who climb its 498 steps are rewarded with a stunning view of the city's rooftops.

At least, I've been told so - because my bipedals refused to make the trek up the tower because they were too cheap to pay the admission fee (it's not like I don't give them a decent salary) and their feet were sore. Which in my mind translates as sheer laziness. Consequently, I had to forego my tower-top photo and pose in front of a street-level mural of Bologna.

Just for the record: it wasn't the same thing.

I do feel a little badly though - and not just about the missed photo op. The truth is, at one point, I almost got them into a spot of trouble at the Basilica di San Domenico - although, really, it was their own fault. My god-bipedal attendants asked that I pose in front of a statue of the Pietà. Normally, I try not to associate myself too closely with religious icons of any persuasion, but my male god-bipedal attendant made an excellent case that I would fit perfectly in one of the cherub's open hands and wouldn't that be a great photo? Of course he was right.

We had set up the shot perfectly but then my male bipedal attendant's hand slipped, thus failing to position me properly, and I took a tumble - at the very moment that one of the church's priests popped out from around the corner. Consequently, all you can see of me in the photo is a red blur. If I hadn't have been wearing my red kangaroo, you wouldn't have been able to see me at all. Thank goodness I still have a keen sense of fashion.

Fortunately, we weren't busted by the priest (those Dominicans were responsible for the Inquisition so I don't like messing with them) but not wanting to tempt fate any further, we all scurried out of the church in search of lunch. As I mentioned earlier, Bologna is the epicurean capital of the country but unfortunately that translates into a lot of meat dishes. As you all know, I'm a vegetarian bear but if there's one thing that Italy isn't short of - along with all those churches, piazzas, palazzos, basilicas and arcaded walkways - is pizzerias. And that's no bologna.