It’s time for the annual back-to-school essay. This summer we went to Italy to study the effects of the devaluation of the dollar against the Euro. I am distressed to report that the dollar is worth about as much in Italy as a Dennis Kucinich for president button. Paying $4 for a small cup of coffee will wake you up. Excellent table wine is cheaper than Cokes, which run about seven bucks. Italy is even more expensive than Starbucks.
    We began in Venice which is the Blanche DuBois of Italian cities, dependent upon the kindness of strangers to keep her afloat. Venice is floating in dollars supplied by kindly American tourists. Wall-to-wall tourists as far as the eye can see. {mosimage}
    Italy invented the cool hat. Venice used to be run by leaders called doges who wore a hat that looks like Beldar Conehead had mashed his head backwards when entering a low door. I would like to be a doge. It was a pretty sweet gig. In addition to the neat hat, you got a really fancy crib with high gold ceilings and paintings of saints everywhere. As doge, they paint your picture on the walls so that tourists can see you 700 years after you have departed this mortal coil.
    There are no SUVs or pick-up trucks in Venice. In fact, there are no cars in Venice. Everyone has to walk. As a result there appears to be no fat Italians in Venice. Italians are a good looking bunch of people as a result of diet, exercise and lack of constant exposure to Paris Hilton. Not that I would notice, but Italian women tended to wear low-cut tops with short belly shirts exposing flat stomachs. American tourists tended to have large overhanging bellies and carried ice cream cones in their hands.
    In one of life’s mysteries, there are no toilet seats in men’s or women’s public restrooms in Italy. As Elvis would say, “There’s a whole lot o’ hovering going on.” The lack of toilet seats raises a number of existential questions. Where have all the toilet seats gone? Were they at an Italian toilet seat convention in Vegas during the time we were there? Had they been grabbed as a result of extraordinary rendition and sent to Gitmo for further questioning? Experienced American tourists were easily recognizable because they were the ones wearing the Wal-Mart toilet seats around their necks.
    We took a boat out to Murano Island where they make very expensive glass to sell to tourists. Murano resembles what Key West would look like after an apocalypse on the U.S. mainland. The buildings are a bit tired, probably from being hundreds of years old and the tourists are gone. We managed to miss the last direct boat back to Venice and accordingly took the local vaporetto ferry.
    The winding return route took us by San Michele Island which is the cemetery where Venetians finished with their earthly duties go to be buried in above ground crypts like in New Orleans. Famous deceased dudes Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound are spending eternity in the Cimitero. Having an island of the dead floating just offshore from the lively teeming streets of Venice is a bit jarring and not necessarily reassuring. As an example of Italian dark humor, there is a sculpture of two large green figures in a gondola floating in the water near the Cimitero. The lead figure is standing up and pointing toward the Cimitero as if telling Venice and its visitors that is where they will all end up. I think the seated figure in the rear of the boat is telling the pointing guy to sit down and return to Venice for a final glass of wine. As Hemingway once said, “It must have been pretty to think so.”
    Next, on to Florence, and not Florence, S.C.

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