Smoky Crater Lake

No A/C in my room, just an inefficient fan, so windows stayed open and I breathed in smoky air all night. Not the best of worlds. About 4:00 am I sensed a change, the air was cleaner. Apparently, that was the pattern at Crater Lake during this wildfire season. The atmosphere became wetter, denser, at night and pushed smoke upwards. With sunup, the moisture quickly evaporated and smoke filled the air.

Smokey skies but a visible lake at dawn. By mid-morning, the lake was invisible from the lodge which sat 100’ above it. Unfortunately, all of southern Oregon and northern California were blanketed in smoke from hundreds of fires that raged from Mexico to the North Pole.

Smoky skies made sensational sunrises. The lodge faced east, the sky lightened about 4:30, by 5:00 I was outside with my camera. If I squinted, I could almost see across Crater Lake. It was reassuring knowing there really was a lake there and a huge one.

I wanted to capture as much of orange/yellow/pink/purple sunrise as I could. The sun didn’t actually breach the rim of the crater until 6:06 a.m.. Before sunup the sky was bright but dull. The sun wasn’t a distinct ball, it was fuzzy as if hungover from partying with the moon all night.

The sun was an orange ball for a few seconds, then darkened and the reflection off the lake was blood red. It was eerie, omen-ish, which caused me a little shudder. The blood  red reflection on the water looked like a crime scene. Slowly, the sun pulled itself together, became not-quite-as-threatening as it transited upwards.

I’ve seen ghostly blood moons before, but a blood sun was something else, something vastly more threatening, more sinister, and more immediate. Maybe it was Mother Nature getting even. Despite our shameful disregard for the earth, climate change is immeasurably bigger than the damage we’ve caused. It won’t last forever but could last centuries, or it could stabilize in a few years. Europe’s mini ice age lasted nearly six centuries with much colder winters, more snow, and more ice from about 1300-1870.

The mini ice age didn’t cause the problems global warming is. I’ve read that both the Gulf Stream and the Prevailing Westerlies are slowing which will have serious repercussions. Not much I can do about any of that but that big orange ball outside my window had me worried.

Crazy Rome

Walked to the Pantheon recently. Rome does a lousy job of signage – there isn’t any, and in the labyrinth of unmarked streets, there were scores of bewildered tourists staring at inadequate maps or trying to get Google Maps Voice to be helpful, which it wasn’t.
Then it started to rain and wife was tired and the swell of people was incredible. After ten tries, I managed to flag an empty taxi.
For the next twenty some minutes sudden death seemed imminent. Harrowing is an understatement. Tony the Terror was our driver. He was about thirty, with a mop of untidy black hair, wore wild sunglasses on the end of his Roman nose, and gesticulated twice for every word out of his mouth.
His English was poor but he had “shit” and “crazy” down pat.. He was mad at the police because they closed a major thoroughfare for ten hours after a metropolitan bus caught on fire in the morning. “No one died,” Tony yelled at no one in particular. “Close for ten hours. Shit.”
He pulled up next to a female cop directing traffic and I thought he knew her and was exchanging pleasantries. No, he gave her hell based on his body language and her reddening face. Before she could react, we were off.
The street was gridlock the direction we were headed. “Shit.” Tony swerved into the oncoming traffic lane and cut back in before the stoplight while cutting off other cars who laid on their horns. “Crazy, no police, I looked,” Tony, said gleefully.
He didn’t stop there, block after block, we sped in wrong way lanes, oncoming traffic gliding inches from our vehicle. I had the sudden premonition the cops might mistake us for terrorists looking to mow down pedestrians and take us out with a volley of machine gun fire.
Our hotel was nearing but it was on a one way street. Tony cut across three lanes of oncoming traffic into an alley so he wouldn’t have to circle the block. “Shit, wrong street,” he said. But instead of pulling into the alley and turning around, he backed up and headed for the next side street except we were on curb side of three lanes of oncoming traffic. That’s when wife put her head between her knees and braced for impact. Cars flew by, pedestrians ran towards shop doors, horns blared from every direction. Shit indeed.
Miraculously, we made it back to the St. Regis.
I paid Tony the Terror extra, either out of appreciation of the thrill, or gratitude we were still breathing, albeit, in labored gasps. He said the trip was about forty minutes but he had made it in twenty-eight. “Sorry,” he said, “I should make in twenty-six. Shit.” Crazy.

Bay of Naples Shifting Light

Lucked into a great room at the Grand Hotel Ambasciatori in Sorrento, Italy. It was gorgeous property overlooking the Bay of Naples.

What made the views astonishing was the ever shifting light. Morning, the sea met the sky at some distant horizon, blues merging into blues making earth and heaven one continuum.



A couple of mornings there were singular fishermen in small skiffs, painted red, or blue, or green, with nets looping about twenty feet behind them.


The last morning brought two cruise ships into port, their blanched white hulls more an intrusion on the seascape than the invasion of tourists. The boats sat silent having discharged their horde further up the coast.


I wasn’t in the hotel midday. I was on a bus down the Amalfi Coast, or on a boat cruising along the Amalfi Coast stopping in Positano, Amalfi or Ravello, or on a boat to the Isle of Capri, or walking through the remains of Pompeii, or hiking to the top of Mount Vesuvius. But, days are long in southern Italy in May and I was back in my room, to rest up, wash up, relax, and sit on my deck before dinner.

The late afternoon light was amazing. While mornings were invariably clear, late afternoons brought clouds. Not cloudy but big, slow-moving, not quite cumulus, not quite nimbus clouds, that played peekaboo with the sun. Maybe the clouds are unique to the Bay of Naples. Stunning color gradient, grayscale where the cloud clouded the sun and brilliant creams and yellows where the rays of the sun struck distant shores. From my deck, a huge sky, a Montana sky, with mountains rimming the bay, and Mount Vesuvius, ever present, but fifteen miles to my right.




The slow moving clouds allowed streaks and streamers of sunlight to illuminate and reflect off the bay at varying angles. It seemed to be the same type of cloud every afternoon, yet the light and shadow, the ferocity or tranquility, the distortion or clarity, of the pigments of light vacillated irregularly. If the clouds lingered, sunset came quickly and the faintly flickering lights from Naples dappled the water giving it a deep and ominous shading.



On clear evenings, stars, not millions, because the ambient light of Sorrento lightened the sky, but enough stars and enough ambient light to outline the bay, to see, green and red lights from small boats that scurried across the open water like maverick lasers – all light and no body – streaks of light brilliant against the ancient shores.

Shopping in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

About ten years ago, when I was in the antiques business, I was shopping in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, In the south of France, just east of Avignon. It’s the Fisherman’s Wharf of antiquing – a place that receives massive press, a place for antiques shoppers who don’t know any better, a place that is sprawling, overpriced, overblown. And yet, it’s a must-go-to place because, on occasion, one might just stumble upon something rare and incredible.



Another reason for visiting was that my shipper, Camard, had its Provencal office there. It was a one person office and Annie was in charge. Camard’s facilities were just outside Paris. On my last day of shopping, I turned over all the buying information to Annie. Camard then dispatched a truck to pick up my purchases around the area and truck them to Paris for fumigation (for furniture), packing, creating customs documentation, and shipping. It was a lengthy process, usually about three months before the container landed Port of Oakland.

This particular trip, I had struck out on finding bonbonnes – those large hand-blown green bottles from the late 19th century that I could sell quickly with a high margin. Annie said she knew a place that might have some and she had been dying to go see it. She phoned and, oui, oui, of course they had bonbonnes. She closed the office and said, “let’s go, it’s not far.”

Three or four backroads, left, right, right, left and we arrived. It looked like a junkyard. We drove through a gate and parked. It was a junkyard all right, a private junkyard. Monsieur Somebody, a scraggily looking gent in Bermuda shorts, blue checked shirt and Ivy League cap, greeted us. Annie translated as he had no English and the conversation was beyond my pathetic French language skills.

“Bonbonnes,” he repeated over and over trying place exactly where he had seen them. The yard was huge, over a hectare, with every conceivable pile of consumer junk imaginable – stoves, ovens, refrigerators, toasters, fences, gates, doors, computers, bed frames, medical equipment, it was mind boggling.


Monsieur Somebody called his thirty-something year old son from a shed where he was fitting some old pieces of wood into new “antique” armoire. It is a common in France that inexperienced and unsuspecting buyers are sold a phony for “a good price.” The armoire probably came from a half dozen different derelict pieces of wood, but usually not an old armoire, planed, sanded, stained, and sold as authentic. The finished product looked good but was not an antique and its real value but a fraction of the sales price. If one knows what to look for, spotting a phony is easy.

Monsieur Somebody et fils were here to help. Junior made me nervous, a little unsteady, intense and twitchy. But Annie knew how to handle the situation and explained our mission to the younger man. He led us down a path and pointed to a mound of dirt.


“Juste là,’’ he said (right there.) The bonbonnes were covered with dirt to protect them from accidental breakage and the weather. Junior, Annie and I dug them out, carefully, by hand, like archeologists at a great pyramid. We salvaged about a dozen and a half, in varying sizes, but in exceptionally good condition once junior hosed them down.  There was another mound and I inquired what treasures might be buried. Pottery, I was told, old vases and vessels. We dug. Another dozen and half. Great find, not particularly valuable but old and interesting. I could sell them for a pretty profit.


Monsieur Somebody then led me around his rubble yard to see if I was interested in old coffee pots, office chairs, radios and TV’s, car parts from Citroens, Renaults or Peugeots. Alas, no. My hands were filthy as were Annie’s and she asked if we could use the hose.

Non, non!” We were led into the house where Madam Somebody awaited us. Father, Mother and junior lived in a house with no running water. Madam directed me to put my hands in the sink while she pumped water over them. I died on a semi-clean linen.

We packed the car. Annie said she would further clean the items before the truck came to collect them. With that, we bid the “merchants” a sad but fond adieu. On the way back, Annie told me the family had rented a stall at one of the pavilions at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. They were quickly evicted after management learned the family was living in the back of the stall. The tipoff came when an evening security guard spotted a bonfire where the family was cooking its dinner.  Monsieur Somebody confessed they liked the space because it had so many modern amenities like running water and plumbing. I paid about 30€ for the pottery and bonbonnes, but the day, as they say, was priceless.

A Day in Murano and Burano

They saw us coming, recognized the $$ in our eyes and wallets. The saleswoman immediately latched onto some “hot ones.” It was the island of Murano, famous for its hand-blown glass and a short boat ride from the Rialto in Venice. Our hotel arranged the ride, no charge per se, though we more than paid for it on the other end.

After a short tour of the glass making facility with the requisite glass blowers on duty to show us how authentic the place was, we were ushered into the upstairs showrooms. Most of the work gagged me, ornate, huge, garish, over-the-top chandeliers, vases, tabletop and decorative wall pieces. Ten feet into showroom #1, we were intercepted by the middle-aged saleslady whose English was exemplary and sales pitch just exactly what Americans would want, she knew all the colloquialisms.


After sizing us up, she had some ideas. Nothing overly decorative, simple, small pieces with elegant design by a master designer. Two small vases and a plate later, I was significantly poorer though I do love the design, the intricacy, the craftsmanship that went into each piece.


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We were led to a special room to pay up because most credit card companies would balk at approving such a large sale without chatting with and verifying the cardholder. Done. Meanwhile, a boat was being arranged to forward us onto Burano, another island or two away, but still within metropolitan Venice. No charge for the boat transport, “hot ones en route” I imagine the phone conversation went from Murano to Burano. Yes, we were greeted at the dock and led to a lace shop. Burano specializes in lace. It is definitely not a West Coast look and certainly not one we wanted. All that lace reminded me of Great Aunt Matilda’s house when I was a boy in the Midwest



Much to the chagrin of the proprietress, we begged off and wandered around the fantastically colorful isle. The old houses were amazing, painted by an open Crayola box, every imaginable color, no namby-pamby pastels either. Bold colors. Besides lace making, Burano is a commercial fishing port. There were canals where they would be streets on the mainland with narrower walkways for pedestrians to navigate.





Quitter than Murano, there were only a couple of restaurants but they were delightful. Seafood, of course, fresh off the boat. We ate and wandered and wondered at the amazing labyrinth of brilliantly painted buildings.






Since we were no longer “hot ones” we took a public vaporetto (water bus) back to San Marco Square.


Tissue issue

When I travel, odd, but memorable, little things happen. I stayed in a nice hotel in Venice, great location, at the intersection of two canals where stripe-shirted gondoliers serenaded me deep into the night while poling starry-eyed tourists through brackish waters.


My room was clean, modern and relatively spacious. The bathroom was largely white marble and chrome. A basket of shampoos, conditioners, soaps, shower bonnets, lotions, Q-tips, and miscellaneous whatnots perched handsomely on a shelf adjacent the extra wide gleaming porcelain sink.

The roll of toilet tissue though, was down to its final few squares and there was not an extra roll anywhere to be found in the bathroom. An extra roll of toilet paper is standard procedure even in the cheapest of hostelries. I considered it a singular oversight by the maid. Fortunately, I made it through the night but finished off the roll before departing the next morning.

Upon returning later that afternoon, my room was spick-and-span but, again, I had only the vestiges of a single roll of toilet tissue at my disposal. This time, I didn’t think there was sufficient paper to meet my needs for the evening. I cruised down the hotel corridor and spied the maid’s supply closet. Luckily, the door was ajar and I helped myself to a full roll of tissue from the large stack neatly lined up on a bottom shelf.

As it turned out, I didn’t need the extra roll but did, once again, finish off the tiny amount that had been left for me. I went out for the day leaving the new roll on the sink. When I returned, the new roll was missing and, again, I had been rationed a minuscule amount of paper for my needs. I slunk down to the maid’s stash and purloined three new rolls this time. One roll was put to use while the other two I locked into the room safe.

It was a wise decision because my newish roll had disappeared by the next evening replaced with the usual inadequate amount. I breathed easier after opening the safe and seeing my little horde of toilet tissue. I stroked them as if they were valuable gems. From then on, I locked all the toilet tissue in the safe regardless of how much or how little remained on the roll.

With the grandeur of San Marcos Square, the canals, the masses of tourists, the charming restaurants, the magnificent art and artifacts, the splendid architecture, the rich history, the delightful shops, the superb vistas, it’s a little weird that my most vivid memory of Venice was locking the toilet paper in a safe.


The old black dog

The old black dog knew his customers. Despite the still early hour, I was tired from walking the back canals and alleyways but determined to see a truer Venice than the one that surrounded the preposterously busy Piazza di San Marco. No gondoliers in the back part of town, no Africans hawking fake Armani and Louis Vuitton products, no street performers, jugglers, hustlers, sidewalk portrait artists, no battalion-sized tour groups, no pricey boutiques, no trattorias back to back to back.

This was the part of Venice where the year-round populace lived. There were a few bakeries, an occasional bistro and several neighborhood Coin grocery stores carved out of the ancient tenements. Every couple of blocks was an open square, sometimes with a tree and benches, sometimes just sun parched buildings with shuttered windows and thick wood doors.



One slightly larger square had trees, benches and a café. Seating was al fresco although there were tables inside for inclement weather days and those winter months when the temperature can dip into the low forties. Not much English spoken in the periphery but, communication was not difficult. I was pointed to a table and was handed the menu.

A few feet away, perched against an ocher colored building, was a large black dog, probably some kind of Lab mix, although I don’t know dog breeds very well. He was basking in the warm sun, tongue hanging, head swiveling, eyes darting, tail twitching. He paid me no heed and dogs aren’t very conscious of human gaze. Soon, his tail speed increased, he drew himself up and quickly strolled, head down, towards an approaching young woman. She greeted him by name, Cupid, patted him on the head a few times, and went inside for her morning cappuccino.

Other customers followed, each time the dog rose and walked over to greet, was patted on the head, with an occasional aside conversation from older men who might well have been greeting their pastor or a life-long confidant. The dog seemed pleased to be on intimate terms. Perhaps some of the daily clientele came because of the friendly dog. When an occasional tourist stopped by, Cupid paid them scant attention. I suppose one needed to make the initial contact to get in his good graces.

I asked the waitress if the dog belonged to the owner. She said no, the owner was afraid of dogs, even Cupid, and he was never allowed inside the café. I gathered from the waitress’s unsteady English, Cupid belonged to someone who lived on the square and was let out each morning and called in each evening. “It has been that way forever,” she told me. I knew enough Italian colloquialism to translate that “as long as I have worked here.”

Then I asked how the owner managed with Cupid constantly outside. “They avoid each other,” she said, “never look at each other. For each one, the other does not exist.”


Much too old

Venice is much too old for its own good. It’s falling apart, it’s sinking, it’s population is dwindling, it’s overrun with tourists, it’s swamped with monster cruise ships, it’s buildings are largely dilapidated, it’s glory as an empire has been in decline for half a millennium, it’s a caricature of itself, it often smells bad, yet, it’s a glorious city-state with matchless charm, mystery, art, food, music, architecture, color, history, ambiance, and enchantment; a good place to go to die (but not Thomas Mann’s version in Death in Venice, more like Henry James The Wings of the Dove way of passing), or have a clandestine affair with a Dangerous Beauty, or, as I do, prowl around the backsides, the undersides, the places tourists don’t want to invest time walking to, the tiny neighborhoods that zigzag around one crazy blind corner after another.



I love that part of Venice. The big island, so to speak, the biggest of the 117 islets that constitute Venezia. Around the corners, past the restaurants, across a maze of bridges, 409 bridges in all that cross the 177 canals, perhaps the biggest labyrinth in the world, if not now, a billion centuries ago when Marco Polo departed for China, and points East. It’s easy to loose one’s bearings, passageways are often tight, buildings loom above, and no alley runs more than fifty feet before dead ending into a brick wall necessitating a ninety degree turn left or right, there is always a choice but not always a marker to lead one back to San Marco, or the Rialto, or Harry’s Bar.



In those deep recesses of antiquity, scents and sounds abound, echoing, caroming, bouncing off walls and doorways, sliding across still canals, and creeping ever so silently from behind penetrating your soul. You swear there is someone just ahead of you, as you round a corner, a flash of a sleeve or boot or skirt disappears around the next corner, and the next, cajoling, teasing, or is that sound behind you? Night plays tricks on the senses, faint noises are amplified, it’s surround-sound from unidentified sources. Then, the sweet scents of dinners being prepared descend like a cloudburst: baked cheese, roasted lamb, bread, sweet desserts.


There are little piazzas, tiny parks here and there, with a tree or two, benches where neighbors chatter, kids play, dogs and cats bask in the sun, old ladies parade in well-worn black coats regardless of temperature, the opposite side of the city where Armani, Paciotti, Cavallini, and Prada hawk their wares to the ricca e bella, but back on our side, where real Venetians survive on tourist’s euros except for the expat writer, painter, composer, or dreamer, existence is mellower, aged well beyond perfection, but not quite putrefaction, more an elegant state of petrification that will linger on for another score of centuries. At least, I hope so.




Intro to Venice

It was as if I had wandered onto a life-sized page from a Richard Scarry children’s book. You know, the ones that have eighty million different things going on at once. When I walked out of the Venice train station and faced the Grand Canal, fifty different shaped boats, including gondolas with stripe-shirted gondoliers jockeying for position, thousands of people stuffed into bars and cafes, souvenir vendors, people awaiting transport, scratching their heads in wonderment, hanging off the Rialto bridge, poking their heads out of the windows of decaying but magnificent buildings, police directing traffic, answering questions, tourists taking photographs, chattering on their iPhones, locals nonchalantly reading on sunny steps.




Meanwhile the sky had turned sapphire after rain dogged my train all the way from Florence, the boat traffic churned up the Grand Canal water and the sun’s rays turned wavelets into instant prisms, flags and banners of every Venetian society, past and present, flapped in the gentle breeze, an Airbus A330 soared overhead departing from Marco Polo airport, a score of churches up and down the canal chimed at four o’clock, a police boat blared a shrill horn at a maverick vaporetto (water taxi), tall poles embedded in the muck beneath the Canal were decorated in stripes of red or blue or green which signified something to the throng of boatmen.


The sensory overload caused me to gasp. I didn’t know how to get to my hotel, a vaporetto was suggested by the hotelier unless I didn’t mind pulling my luggage over a half dozen foot bridges. I did. But, where were the vaporetti? I learned long ago, if in doubt, cue up in any line and start asking those around me. I was directed to a vaporetto stand twenty yards up the Canal. The ten minute ride through ever narrower canals cost me a hundred dollars. By the next day, I had learned how to use the public vaporetto, or water busses, for transport.


Nonetheless, that short ride on the taxi exposed me to the wonders of Venice: the magnificent colors – aquamarine, brick red, cerulean, mulberry, ocher, steel blue; the magnificently decaying architecture; the tangle of gondoliers in tight-fitting canals who yelled “oy” to announce they were coming round a blind corner; splendid old doors with beveled glass; miniscule alleyways that I didn’t want to attempt passage on a foggy night; chic shops with expensive ingredients; strolling musicians; gaggles of Russian, Indian and Japanese tour groups, massive churches with either huge domed roofs or spires that extended halfway to heaven.





Arriving at my hotel, the taxi driver heaved my bags into the lobby, fleeced me of my euros, bid me arrivederci, gunned his engines so he couldn’t hear my song of protest, and floated into the infinite labyrinth of canals.

“Benvenuti a Venezia,” I heard behind me from an instantly materializing bellman. “You will fall in love with Venice,” he continued in English. I did.







How to throw a party – The Hog Island Way

In early December, the shareholders of Hog Island Oyster Company gathered for a gentle repast at the company’s eponymous Ferry Building restaurant in San Francisco. Did I say gentle repast? More like our annual saturnalia minus the debauchery. No arrests were made. A well-behaved group though we gorged on raw oysters, grilled oysters, baked oysters, oysters Rockefeller, oysters casino, oysters with chipotle, fried oysters, oysters with hog wash, hot sauce, a squeeze of lemon, a grating of horseradish and probably more ways than I recall.

There were other goodies too like mounds of cold cuts and cheeses, piles of ribs and crab sliders, trays of hamachi and salads, layers of crayfish and shrimp, dips and sauces and spreads, cocktails, Champagne and wine, gingerbread men, angel cookies and lemon bars.

Oyster shuckers shucked.


Bartenders prepared to create, interpret, mix, shake, pour – and smile.


Cooks cooked.


Grillmen grilled.


Servers swarmed with trays.


Guests reveled.


Desserts did not desert.


and gingerbread men danced with angels.


Mountains of food.


and food


and food


and food


and drink


and outside, it was chilly, Bay Area chilly that is. No scarves or gloves, galoshes or boots, no furry linings or playful hats. Even the Bay Bridge played along, its performance art light show sparkled at the party revelers, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to the season and reason to at least forget the world’s woes, at least for one night. “Season’s Greetings,” I think it glinted, “Peace on Earth,” it concluded.