Touring The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, And The Vatican Museums

Our local coffee spot

For our first, and admittedly only, full day in Rome, I booked us a couple tours so we wouldn’t miss must-see attractions. We all wanted to see the Colosseum and the boys were adamant about going to the Vatican. After grabbing to-go doppio espresso shots and a couple cornetti from a store helmed by the friendliest shop manager ever, we walked towards our tour meeting place near the Roman Forum.

Again, I have to admit that I remember next to nothing from my time studying ancient Rome in college. In my defense, when I studied ancient Rome, it was through the Classics department where I spent my time reading Livy and Virgil in Latin. I wasn’t mapping the Forum Romanum. So I was happy to have an actual Roman tour guide lead us through the ruins, some of which date back to 42 BC. The Forum was a gathering place. It began as a marketplace and over time morphed into much more, serving as central location for public elections, speeches, trials, and religious ceremonies, as well as business dealings. The Forum, the heart and soul of early Rome, expanded in size over time to nearly 5 acres. Walking among the ruins was awe-inspiring. Seeing the Arch of Titus, the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, was pretty cool too. The the view from Palatine Hill was worth the trek up there in the 90+ degree heat.

I think the least notable part of the Forum tour was the Temple of Divus Julius, the final resting place of Julius Caesar. I mean, I don’t know what I expected after 2,000 years, but the dull mound doesn’t exactly rival the Pyramids of Giza. I guess, in the end, it really doesn’t matter how important you are because you will end up a pile of ash just like everyone and everything else. And how many people of Julius Caesar’s importance or notoriety have there been among the multitudes of people since the dawn of upright humanity? Not many. Even the most notable of us today will be forgotten soon enough. It’s a good reminder not to take life too seriously.

After the Forum, we walked to the Colosseum to see what that was all about. Our Italian tour guide was brilliant. She was extremely knowledgable. I was happy that Luke spoke up and answered questions she asked. When she told him he should read SPQR by Mary Beard and he told her he already had, she was visibly impressed. At any rate, stepping foot inside the Colosseum was an experience. You can’t imagine the size and scope of it until you are there. It’s massive. There were elevators underneath the floor, operated by slaves, of course. Pretty cool way to make a wild animal appear on the Colosseum floor back in the day, I bet. The engineering was crazy. The tour guide debunked some of the myths about the gladiators, mainly that they weren’t exactly hardbodied like Russell Crowe in his Oscar-winning film and that many of the gladiator battles were more WWE than battle to the death. It was all about spectacle, and who the hell could tell what was really happening on the floor of the Colosseum from the nose bleed seats without binoculars anyway? The Colosseum was for entertainment and while some of that entertainment meant loss of human and animal life, not every event in the Colosseum was bloodsport.

When our tour of the Colosseum ended, we were starving. We’d not eaten since breakfast, and it was 1:45. We had to be at the next tour location for the Vatican by 2:30. So we high-tailed it to the Metro station, figured that out in a jiffy thanks for our time riding the Tube in London and the Metro in Paris, and made it to the meeting point by 2:15 with enough time to grab some Cokes and a couple bags of chips to hold us over.

Our tour guide for the Vatican may have been the most enthusiastic guide we had in our 11 days of travel. He was what Americans would term a stereotypical Italian, the type from the movies. Animated and over-the-top, full of gestures, and passionate about every last thing. I swear he knew every single item in the expansive Vatican museums, and he would talk ad nauseam about every item we passed by that grabbed his interest. So thorough he was, in fact, that we were all exhausted before we’d even reached the Sistine Chapel. Luke actually nodded off while we listened to him explain the ceiling of the chapel before entering. There are no photos from the Sistine Chapel because none are allowed. I will say that I was deeply moved by the artwork in that room. I will never forget my time there.

If I’m being candid, overall, I was a little bit disgusted by the Vatican museums. The artwork stored there is impressive, but it bothers me that a religious group holds that wealth and keeps it rather than using it to help the poor. I can’t help but think Jesus would agree with me. Just saying. Still, when the tour was over, we bypassed the museum gift shops (figuring they didn’t really need our money) and walked to St. Peter’s Square because it seemed like something that had to be done.

Then it was off to get dinner at another recommended place. We were told Hostaria Romana was a place locals frequent because it’s known for its Italian comfort food. Fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, and cheese, were offered up as complimentary starters. The bread just kept arriving. We had the freshest melon with the leanest prosciutto we’ve ever had. Then we devoured our pasta (even I ate pasta because the flour in Europe is vastly different and doesn’t make me ill) and shared the best tiramisu we have ever eaten. Dining al fresco in Rome. Is there anything better? Judging by our faces in these photos, I think not.

We waddled back to our rooms without using Google Maps because we were becoming that familiar with the area around the Arpinelli Relais. Although we were excited to be starting our cruise to Greece the next day, we were already missing Rome. When you book a trip to Rome, you may think you are going there to visit, but what you’re actually doing is inviting it to live rent free in your heart forever. It just happens. É la vita.

When One First Meets Rome

After missing out on sleep completely on the overnight flight from Denver to Munich, I was dying to get to Rome. While a layover in Munich is not a hardship because there are pretzels and Haribo gummi bears to be scarfed down there, Munich is not Rome. And, as I learned when I finally stepped foot in Rome itself, Rome is unparalleled. It reminded me of Paris without the fuss. Something about it being wild and chaotic, ancient and yet modern, made it more accessible somehow. I fell in love almost immediately.

I had rented two rooms at a guest house a stone’s throw from the Fontana di Trevi. When our airport shuttle driver turned from the chaotic main streets onto narrower side streets where the sideview mirrors were nearly clipping pedestrians, I started wondering if I had made a mistake choosing the Arpinelli Relais instead of a larger, more well-known hotel. My fears were unfounded. We were met by a lovely Italian gentleman who helped us move our bags into a small elevator that had to be as old as Rome herself, and then showed us to two well-appointed rooms (one with a charming balcony). There were bottles of Chianti waiting for us there, and then the gentleman sat down at a table long enough for a large Italian family and proceeded to map for us dining and sightseeing recommendations. Italian hospitality at its best and so much more personal than a large hotel. We already felt we belonged. This wasn’t a hotel. It was a home away from home.

With our check in completed and our first bottle of wine emptied, we took off on foot for an explore. First stop was Trevi Fountain, a whole two-tenths of a mile from our lodging. I was surprised at its size and how crowded and popular a location it was. It was a challenge to capture a photo that wasn’t loaded with giddy tourists and lounging Italians. It’s right in the middle of a popular area filled with gelato shops, so it’s no wonder the area is consistently packed.

Knowing we were a two minute walk from this fountain and could easily return, we opted to head to the Pantheon. I didn’t know much about the Pantheon. Honestly, I didn’t know thing one about the Pantheon. I knew only that the Pantheon was not to be confused with the Parthenon in Athens. I was blown away. I had seen photos of the exterior with its columns because our youngest is somewhat obsessed with all things Western Civ and he has spoken to me about the building and even shown me photos discussing its architecture. But holy crap, Batman. People obsess about the Colosseum, but the Pantheon is something else. Originally built in 27 AD by Marcus Agrippa, burnt twice and rebuilt finally in 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian, it is the best preserved ancient Roman monument that survives. The best part about the Pantheon is that there is no cost to enter it. No tickets to be bought. Just walk up, get in line, wander through the epic doors, and have a look around. It’s phenomenal. The dome is 142 feet in diameter, and light inside the building comes through the oculus in the ceiling, which is roughly 24 feet in diameter. It has functioned as a Catholic Church since 609 AD. And did I mention it’s amazing? Photos cannot capture its magnificence.

We gawked at the ancient Roman edifice for a while and then decided it was time to take one of the dinner recommendations passed along by our host. We chose to continue walking our way through the city.

The Italian gentleman at the guest house told us about a couple authentic, Roman restaurants, places where for a fair price you could try local specialties that were excellently prepared. He also told us the restaurant to which we were headed did not take reservations but always had a line before opening at 7 pm. We arrived at Da Enzo al 49 at 6:45 and there was already quite a long queue. It was long enough, in fact, that we debated looking elsewhere. But we had walked thirty minutes to the Trastevere neighborhood for this, so we decided to cross our fingers and wait it out. We were in luck. Once the waiters had busted through the line in front of us, we were given one of the last available tables on a patio adjacent to the restaurant and were quickly greeted by an efficient waitstaff. It was clear this restaurant had a system. We ordered Aperol Spritzes and a couple appetizers, including Carciofi all Giudia (fried artichokes). For dinner, we each ordered pasta dishes. Luke and I opted for the house-made gnocchi with Bolognese sauce. Joe had the Roman classic cacio e pepe and Steve stuck with a carbonara. It was amazing, and as much as we might have enjoyed lingering a bit longer we saw the rest of the line that had been behind us, hungry and waiting for their shot at a table, so we finished up and headed back to our rooms.

Once it was dark, we stepped onto the balcony and noticed the streets below us were still teeming with life. We decided we had enough energy in us for a quick walk to view the Colosseum at night. We were treated to this spectacle.

And with that we called our first day (well, half day) in Rome a wrap and headed back to our comfy beds for a hard-earned rest.

Next up: The Roman Forum, a tour inside the Colosseum, and the Vatican Museums

The Cats of Italy and Greece

My family returned late yesterday afternoon after a glorious 11 days in Italy and Greece. I’m jet lagged, watching a Stanley Cup Final game, and not feeling 100%, but I have a plethora of photos from our travel and thought I would go ahead and share some. So, in this light-and-fluffy post (quite literally light and fluffy), I submit for your viewing pleasure the cats of Italy and Greece. And in the upcoming days, I’ll write about the our travels and the memories we made on this family trip celebrating our youngest’s high school graduation and our oldest’s 21st birthday.

Find the cat

We started taking photos of cats (and some dogs) on this trip when we came across the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in central Rome. I had no idea such a thing existed or we would have made a point of finding our way to it rather than just stumbling across it. The sanctuary, which has been in existence since cats moved into the excavated area of Torre Argentina in 1929, relies on donations to stay afloat. Approximately 125 cats a year are adopted into loving families through the efforts of the sanctuary every year. If you want to support their mission, you can do so here. I took this photo of a lone cat resting on a wall in the ruins. I was pretty proud of my effort. A couple days later, Joe showed me this.

Hope he has at least one of those nine lives left

I mean, seriously? Santorini is pure magic. Joe’s composition here was on point. Of course, his brother would tell you he gets at least partial credit for spotting the cat in the first place. We found so many cats to photograph in Greece, both of feral and the family varieties. Without our dogs to provide our daily dose of furry love, we substituted the cats we met along our journey.

Shade seeker in Rhodes on a hot, sunny day

When we arrived in Rhodes, the cat competition took off. It seemed we couldn’t turn a corner without finding another feral cat that needed to be captured by our iPhones.

Although Rhodes was fertile ground for our cat photos, we hit the jackpot when we arrived in Mykonos Town. So, so many cute cats in one of the most photogenic locations of our vacation. Joe and I disputed who took the better photo of this cat. I will grant that Joe’s composition is better, but I like my photo’s focus on the cat rather than its place in the environment because ginger kitty pops on that whitewashed step when he is the focus.

But we weren’t finished battling it out yet. The photo opportunities kept coming.

This next cat, though, he took the cake. Well, actually, he nearly took my phone. While I was trying to photograph him through the slats on a porch railing, he reached out and stuck his claws into my phone case. I went ahead and pressed the shutter button for him since he lacks opposable thumbs, and we ended up with this green-eyed kitty selfie (and some damage to my phone case). That is the price of art.

The eyes have it

So many cats, so little time in Greece. Anyone who knows me well, though, knows I am a dog person first and foremost. I can’t publish this post without giving a little love and attention to a canine furball. So I shall leave you with this fluffy pooch hitching a ride on a scooter. Man’s best friend indeed.

Wide Awake In Economy

I love travel. I love seeing new places and experiencing new ways of living on this planet. But being on a flight for 10 hours is not my favorite.

Wide awake at 40k feet somewhere over the Labrador Sea

As I’ve documented several times in several ways here before, I am not a great sleeper. I want to be. I really do. I just can’t seem to make it work for me. And in an already cramped economy seat after the person in front of me has fully reclined their seat so their head is in my lap and I can smell their shampoo, my ability to sleep disappears completely. Still, in a desperate attempt to break tradition and at last fall asleep on a flight, I drank my red wine, took some melatonin, and donned my Airpods Max noise canceling headphones. Rather than feeling sleepy, though, I find myself air drumming along the beat in my ears. No bueno, but at least I am burning calories.

I am halfway into this flight from Denver to Munich en route to Rome and I am suddenly aware of what a pampered house pet I am. I keep telling myself I can survive another 5 hours, but my tush is debating the veracity of my forced assertion. And there is only so much time you can spend wandering the aisles in the dark, tripping over outstretched limbs and fallen faux pillows before you begin to look like an anxious toddler or a junkie struggling through rehab.

Perhaps now would be a good time for a haiku:

Too broke for business

Packed in coach like a sardine

Sleep, please find me soon!

FFS

The siren song of Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and pizza will pull me through tomorrow’s exhaustion, and then perhaps tomorrow night I shall at last get some rest. Until then, I shall daydream about sleep. That counts, right?

Not Quite A Mermaid Yet

My brother-in-law and husband working towards their diving certification

“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” ~Helen Keller

This weekend, I learned a few things about myself.

First of all, I learned I am not yet ready to be a mermaid. The dive class Friday night went well for the most part, with my biggest stress coming when we were told we needed to sit underwater with our regulator in our mouth but no mask over our face. This was nearly impossible for me. I’m a fair swimmer, but not a great one. My first experience of swimming was being forced off a diving board into the deep end of a YMCA pool when I was 9. It did not go well. I swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated water, surfaced choking, and decided swimming was not my thing. I eventually learned to swim well enough. And while I passed the 10 minute float test with zero trouble, I remain a 54 year old who jumps into a pool holding her nose. I can swim underwater only if I exhale bubbles from my nose. So, yeah. Sitting on the bottom of a pool with air bubbles rising up from my respirator and hitting my nose was not my thing. I freaked out, inhaled more water up my nose and went home dejected. Still, I rallied and tried scuba class again on Saturday. I had no problem clearing my ears or learning to achieve neutral buoyancy. I loved swimming around underwater at 13 feet and diving for toys. But when it came time to take off my mask, hold it in my hands, swim around, then put it back on, I knew I was finished. I left the class early and alone. I will not be scuba certifying until I get my confidence issues resolved. My mermaid days lie ahead somewhere. Perhaps after a summer of swimming and some private lessons.

On the positive side of this unfortunate discovery, however, is the reality that when I realized I was not ready to meet this challenge at this time I was able to be honest with myself, tell the instructor I was out, and forgive myself for needing a little more time to prepare. I can’t be angry with myself for needing to learn to be a mouth breather. I can be proud of myself for recognizing my limits and being willing to step away until I can make progress with my swimming. This is big step forward for me. Even as it was a disappointment not to be ready to complete the scuba class, it was a growth opportunity I managed. Does it suck not to have achieved this goal as I planned? Sure. But I wasn’t ready. And I’m wise enough now to understand that “not right now” does not mean “not ever.”

Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag. It is difficult for me to admit defeat, even if it is temporary, but I am grateful I was able to acknowledge my current limits and step away. I will get my water issues sorted. I just need to trust the growth process and keep moving towards my goal. Someday I will pass my scuba certification and the accomplishment will be even sweeter for the time I spent working towards my goal.

Henry David Thoreau-ing It

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Me a bunch of years ago celebrating at Red Rocks (with food I can no longer eat)

Birthdays over age 50 are something else. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge you are definitely over that hill and the time ahead for you is far less than the time behind you. On the other hand, you know people who have already left this world, perhaps classmates that didn’t make it to your advanced age, and you are grateful to be here. It’s a mixed bag. I’m simultaneously glad to be 54 and annoyed to be 54. But time marches on and the only way to stop it is death, and that is not an option I am anxious to explore. My fingers are crossed that my luck continues to hold.

While I did not go into the woods like Henry David Thoreau, this month I have been taking a much needed hiatus from social media. My reasons are a little different than Thoreau’s, but the thought is the same. I wanted to eliminate the bullshit. I wanted to face only the essentials of life, to see what those people around me and the situations we shared in person together could offer me. I wanted to delete the distractions provided by the socials. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t wasting my life gawking at other people’s lives. And I needed to make sure I wasn’t so busy presenting a life to others that I was no longer consciously living one myself. I picked a curious time to do it too, given that this month is filled with experiences one would love to post on social media…birthdays, graduations, parties, reunions, and travel.

Still, I’m not doing it quite right. I admit to playing some games on my iPhone and watching playoff hockey and episodes of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I’m not checked in 100% of the time, but I am present more than I have been. This is both good and bad, as I’m struggling with accepting that our youngest will graduate one week from today, and in August we will drive both sons to Washington and leave them (along with part of our hearts) there and return to an empty house. So it’s useful to give myself, from time to time, the opportunity not to focus on the huge changes that are afoot. It’s important to feel your feelings, but it’s my birthday and I don’t want to spend it sobbing about my most challenging, most favorite job ever coming to an end.

This weekend, Steve and I will be taking scuba classes. This should keep my mind off my kids and allow me to celebrate myself and my life and what I am able to learn, overcome, and accomplish, even at the advanced age of 54. This weekend I start the next phase of my life even as the last one is wrapping up. It’s time to make new friends. And if everything goes well and my ears clear and I don’t freak out underwater trying things that are way outside my comfort zone, on Sunday I will finish my first two dives at the aquarium among my new fish friends. I’ve done a lot of exploring on land in my life. Time to see what the sea has to offer.

I’ve decided to refer to this social media time out as “Henry David Thoreau-ing it.” I think he would appreciate my wisdom and the shout out.

Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

The Best Laid Plans

Hopefully all of this will look better in the rearview

You know what is really awesome? When you are just an hour into your horrific, five-hour drive through lower Wyoming and your son (the one you are heading to pick up) texts to tell you a friend whom he sat next to at dinner the previous evening just tested positive for Covid. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the next three weeks are big for us. There are two birthdays, scuba lessons, graduation, a graduation party at our home, and then a trip to Rome to board a cruise. We would really prefer to remain Covid-free. We kind of need to.

But, sadly, viruses do not give a flying fig about your plans. They’re jerks that way. So, Joe is going to be wearing a mask at home and eating and drinking and sleeping separately (even in the car on the ride home) until he gets through 10 days symptom free and with zero positive test results. Because a car is such a small, enclosed space, I might decide to wear a mask in the car even though Joe is wearing his, just in case the seal on his mask is not entirely optimal.

It’s possible Joe is fine. He was vaccinated twice and boosted last November. He had Covid in 2020. The same is true for all four of us. I know we are being a bit overcautious, but we are committed to doing everything within our circle of control to ensure Luke gets to attend his graduation in person. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Stupid virus.

WHYoming

I’m on the road again, on my way to pick up Thing 1 from his college in Washington. This will be my fourth journey to/from Whitman College, which means by the time we reach home on Friday I will have logged approximately 8,800 miles making this trip. And in the roughly 144 hours I will have spent driving from Denver to Walla Walla, about 40 of those hours (or roughly 28% of my travel time) will have been spent driving across Wyoming, a state I shall henceforth call WHYoming.

Five hours of this while being rattled like a rat in a cage

I have driven through WHYoming a lot, which makes sense. If you living in Colorado, WHYoming is the large rectangle that stands between you and other, more-often-visited western states, like Montana, Oregon, and Washington. If you’ve ever driven across WHYoming via the Interstate Highway System, either north to south or east to west, you know everything there is to know about it. First, it’s empty. It’s our least populated state. There is not much to speak of, except for sage brush, rocky buttes, rolling hills, and pronghorn. There are some snowy peaks in the northwestern corner of the state and, while they are stunning, they are completely missed by the Interstate System so you will not see them unless you drive down some state highways through more sage brush and desolate, empty space. Second, it’s windy as hell. Pursuant to the fact that there is literally nothing taking up the almost 98,000 square feet of WHYoming, winds gust through here nearly every day, rattling your car as you haul 80 down the interstate trying to escape as quickly as you entered.

While trying to get my car, bedecked with such non-aerodynamic features as a roof box and a bike rack, out of the state without being over blown over in an endless cycle like another omnipresent tumbleweed, I had five hours to think. I spent a small part of that time comprising a haiku and some potential state slogans.

WHYoming Haiku

More pronghorn than folks

and an endless bad hair day.

This is WHYoming.

New state slogan: “Wyoming: The barren, windy rectangle between you and better western things”

Or how about: “Wyoming: Tipping cows since 1890”

Or maybe: “Wyoming: 80 mph speed limit because we know you’re just blowing through”

Of the towns and cities in WHYoming, Laramie, home to the University of Wyoming, is actually pretty cute. It is also not far from the Colorado border, so I offer this slogan for them: “Laramie: Almost, but not quite, Colorado.”

Okay. Fine. I am being a snob. It’s an easy thing to be a state snob when you are from Colorado, with her plethora of purple mountains majesty (yes, “America the Beautiful” was famously penned here). Do we have our issues? Oh, absolutely we do. Traffic is a big one. (We have transplants from all 50 states who bring their unique driving styles to our highways.) And let’s not speak of the eastern plains because let’s just not. But we are blessed with mostly lovely views and hiking and biking trails galore and tons of sunshine. And did we mention mountains? We have a lot of those. Have you heard?

I have noticed, though, that we have been getting quite a lot of wind in Colorado lately. Perhaps we need to have a conversation about our rectangular, northern neighbor about that. I appreciate your wanting to share, WHYoming, but if you’re looking for a gift for us I think we’d prefer more pronghorn to more wind. Just a thought.

(Post script: Before all 50 residents of Wyoming gang up on me at once, I am just teasing. Mostly. Seriously, though, see if you can do something about your wind. The semi-drivers and I would appreciate it.)

Traveling Back In Time

This weekend I got to be a time traveler. I traveled back to the 1980s with my husband. We flew to LA for the Cruel World Festival, a music experience at the Rose Bowl featuring new wave and classic goth bands. To make the journey even more retro, we attended the pre-show festivities and the concert with a friend I have known since fourth grade, Kerry. This is not the type of concert I normally attend. Over the years after graduating from college in 1990, I embraced grunge and post-punk and then went straight from that into alternative music. Since acquiring satellite radio in 2009, I’ve primarily listened to indie rock. As I tell my husband, the 80s are a great place to visit, but I don’t live there anymore.

Still, I thought it was about time for a visit with my much younger self. So Steve and I boarded a plane bound for LAX Friday morning and headed to California. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew my friend would be an excellent tour guide, as she had kept up with her younger self and her love of 80s music. On Friday evening, Kerry and her husband let us tag along to a pre-concert 80s party co-hosted by Chris Olivas, former drummer for Berlin now known as DJ Christopher J. It was held at Mijares Restaurant in Pasadena, owned by co-host Tom. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was a fun evening filled with margaritas, great Mexican food, 80s-era new wave hits, dancing, and nostalgia.

Someone had wisely hired a photo booth for the sake of memories, so we enjoyed being silly and making use of it.

I met a lot of Kerry’s friends from the 80s cruises she takes every year. They were a lot of fun and were so kind to let us weasel our way into the celebration. After way too many margaritas, Steve and I walked the 20 minutes back to our hotel and crashed out to prepare for the full-day festival on Saturday.

Saturday morning, after obligatory coffee and some lunch, we caught a shuttle to the Rose Bowl. The festival was held at Brookside, a golf club adjacent to the stadium. The temperature was quickly approaching the forecasted high of 94 under clear skies, so we applied vats of sunscreen and swilled from water bottles because we are old enough to be responsible now. There were three stages to wander between and the sets were staggered, so it was a pick-and-choose menu.

Festival line up

We headed straight to start the party day off right with Dave Wakeling and The English Beat. One of my all-time favorite songs is Save It For Later, which I am sure Dave played especially for me. From there, we went to hear Missing Persons and then it was on to see Johnny Rotten and PiL (aka, Public Image Ltd). We had recently learned that Johnny has been home caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s, so we appreciated that he took time from his devoted, kind-hearted care-giving to drop some choice f-bombs and share his rebellious alter ego with us.

Public Image Ltd

After that, it was on to see The Church and then Violent Femmes. The Violent Femmes took me right back to bus rides in 10th grade when the alt crowd would sit at the front of the bus (rebels we were against the cool kids at the back of the bus) and sing along to Blister in the Sun playing loudly on someone’s boom box. Next we hit up Devo, which turned out to be our favorite concert of the evening. They pulled out all the stops with videos, props, and costume changes. Devo was never a favorite of mine when I was younger because I didn’t really get them then. I get them now, though, and can understand their idea that humanity is devo(lving).

The famous red flower pot hats, though

After Devo we caught the first half of Bauhaus’s set before finding a spot to see Blondie. I had never seen Blondie perform and knew I might not get the opportunity again. It was pretty empowering to see a 76 year old woman on stage, still rocking out. Girl Power!

We headed towards the shuttle after Blondie’s set because I have already seen Morrissey perform and it was one of the most disappointing shows I have seen. I suppose I could have given him a second chance. Maybe Moz deserved it and would have redeemed his poor showing in Denver years ago, but I’ve never been great at giving honest, open-hearted, second chances to men who broke my heart once. I tend to be cynical that way, which Morrissey of all people should be able to understand since it was he who penned this lyric:“So now you send me your hardened regards when once you’d send me love.”

All in all, my return trip to the 1980s was a success. It was a blast to spend time with my old-school bestie reliving our high school days. And now I fly back to 2022 to rejoin my life, already in progress. It’s fun to find your younger self sometimes to check in and remember where you came from and how far you have come.