Italy: Bring Your Own Oats

A Volta Monument

Cristiano, Raffa and her family were very gracious hosts again this year for my pilgrimage to Italia. I was able to spend two nights with them in their palatial Como home. In exchange for hospitality, I needed to bake my Mom's Ultimate Cookies for Raffa's mom.

"No sweat. I got this," I thought. "I've made those cookies twice before in Italia."

That was all true buscept the part where I forgot (as did Raffa) where we got all the ingredients for the previous batches of biscotti. The most difficult ingredient to find last time was oats (aveno); this year was no exception. We scoured the grocery store and pestered her mom and friends, but Raffa and I couldn't find any aveno.

So, we did what everyone in a crisis should do. We ate a big lunch and then she went to the dentist so I went walkabout.

My GPS got me back to the car on time but Raffa wasn't back yet. Had she been back, I wouldn't have wandered away from the car and run smack dab into a health food store.

That right - A HEALTH FOOD STORE IN ITALY! That's about as ironic as "a free ride when you've already paid." We're talking about a country that is barren of veggies unless you count mozzarella and the tomatoes in your insalata caprese.

I'm sure the lady had never seen an Americano so excited to buy a kilo of oats. Clearly she didn't understand the pressure I was under to deliver the dolce vita to Raffa's house.

That lady's aveno saved the day, but securing the ingredients turned out to be the easy part since the recipe is in cups and everything - EVERYTHING - is measured in grams.

Anyone got any idea how many grams of broken up chocolate Easter egg equates to one cup of semi-sweet morsels? It's 250.

And another thing. I understood why I got weird looks when I asked the grocer where the oats were. However, there is no plausible explanation as to why Raffa and everyone in her house looked at me like I was daft when I asked for a glass of cold milk. Cold milk and chocolate chip cookies go together like Peaches & Herb, Ebony & Ivory, bacon & bacon...


First Class fare is worth it to sit down

23, sandberg, ryne, michael, jordan, no tsu oh

Leaving Rimini gets tougher every year. The post-Paga Blues sometimes set in before you even get to the station and definitely attack you once you validate your ticket. But it pays to buy your ticket ASAP because the trains sell out quickly due to the holidays and the Paga travellers.

I'd like to think that I didn't buy my departure ticket immediately to help fend off the Paga Blues. But that wasn't the case. I just forgot to do it in typical jackass fashion. It's been nine years, and I still haven't learned.

Sara and Luca drove me to the station on Monday to book my journey to Milano. The only reserved seat ticket I could get was for the 5 PM Inter City train instead of steady pimping on the EuroStar. I took it since standing up on a train for three plus hours sucks. It is sardine-esque. Ask me about Paris to Milan sometime.

The train was packed with holiday travelers most of which were traveling only as far as Bologna. People and luggage (bagagli) were crammed into every nook on the train car (carrozza). The hallways of the first class cars are popular spots so that folks can snipe empty seats as they became available. Thus, it was impossible to make it to my cabin with all of my loot and not knock over anyone. I ditched my big backpack in the hallway and continued on with the small one and the No Tsu Oh umbrella.

Naturally my seat was taken by someone else - a woman and her daughter. I told them to stay seated but the lady was cool and got up saying, "It's OK. This is your seat."

I felt bad about it even though I did shell out my hard-earned bread to get the seat. That ended later when I figured out that the man in the hall was her husband. He came back to our cabin after the Bologna stop to retrieve luggage - about five bags. Apparently I'd missed the part of the ride where he'd already been kicked out of the cabin by other full-fare paying suckers patrons.


Stay out of my way and walk in a straight line

"Damn you people. Go back to your shanties!"
- Shooter McGavin

I travel a lot. A lot a lot, which means I fly at least two flights per week, sometimes more, which pretty much makes me an expert on travel crowds along my routes and airport behavior in general.

There are two types of travelers: business travelers and the "I still don't have a clue about airplanes" travelers.

These two species of humans are easily distinguished. The business travelers typically don't care about the amount they pay for a flight since it will be reimbursed by their company or client. This equates to them booking flights on carriers that serve destinations across the country and across the seas. If you're going to fly, you may as well earn a free trip to Italy, right?

The ISDHACAA folks are readily picked out of a crowd as well. These folks will usually frequent discount carriers like AirTran, Southwest and JetBlue. I don't blame them. I wouldn't want to pay much for a ticket if I wasn't on the expense account gravy train.

Apparel profiling aside, it would be difficult to discern one class of traveler from another if fare difference were the only indicator. But, that is just the tip of the ice cube. You can really separate the frequent traveler (FT) wheat from the once or twice a year flying chaff in the security line and in the check-in line. The FTs arrive with boarding passes in hand and luggage that weighs in at 49.9 pounds per bag since 50 pounds is the free limit. The infrequent folks (IT) show up with shopping bags for luggage and no idea where their driver's license is. Yes, I'm a luggage snob, but it's about the PITA of keeping up with the multiple bags not about the brand stamped on the damn thing.

And that PITA is borne in the security lines. FTs have their shit together. They didn't spend the last 40 minutes waiting to get to the metal detector talking about how cool it will be to go to the Bennigan's in Cancun to see if the Monte Cristo is served with salsa like the ITs. Nope. The FTs were putting everything metal and metal-like and that isn't a boarding pass or ID into their carry on bag. FTs shoes are already untied if there are even laces on them.

I've spent many a precious minute - the very few that you have between you arriving at the gate and the boarding door shutting in your face - trapped behind knuckleheads who were too busy talking about the new rims they put on their 1986 Civic. By the time they get to the TSA security lady they've lost their boarding pass inside their XXXXXL hoodie.

There should be a global "You Fly a Shit Ton" security line that you can only access if your flight total is above a threshold for the year. All the other rich folk paying high dollar for First Class should be relegated to the No Class line since they don't have a clue about security either. They are just spilling much more expensive loot into the bag check machine.

And no matter your station in life, ITs can not seem to walk in a straight line. They are also masters at walking in small circles while talking on the cell phone in the middle of the central artery of the airport.

Thank you. That is all.


Houstonist Wins HAM History Road Rally

Houston Police Headquarters
Originally uploaded by JaseMan
Team Houstonist won the Houston Arts & Media History Road Rally. 11 teams of five set off on a digital scavenger hunt around Houston this afternoon. Each team had a list of the same 15 clues and only two hours to decipher the answers, reach the locations, snap digital pictures and return to the rally point.

Rob Hays and I were in the car haul-assing around town with SMS support from Jim Parsons and Torie Ludwin.

Anyone got a Ferrari that I can borrow for the Cannonball Run? I've already got the priest outfit.

You're Never Too Old to Stay Up til 4 AM

Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit partying all weekend. First there was the minor partying excursion to the HLSR with Thomamas, but you already read about that. And, this morning I got home at 4 AM after what was supposed to be my low key evening of the weekend. In between was Friday night and the Houstonist Light Rail Pub Crawl Dos.

The LRPC is near and dear to my heart. What's not to love about inviting a bunch of folks you don't know to come out and cocktail it up with you? Nothing. The best part is that you don't have to drive anywhere all night - unless you're a moron like one of my friends who'll remain nameless.

Overall the crawl went well - nearly as well as last year. We started with about 45 folks at The Flying Saucer and then lost people along the way. Last year, we started small and grew to epic proportions by the time we reached the fifth and final bar. 2008 saw us down to a lean dirty dozen or so folks by the time we reached Warren's. I didn't care. I was wiped out and ready to hit the sack so it was just as well. Saturday needed to be mild on the party scale. "I'm getting too old for this shit." (Quick name that movie.)

I met my old roommate Nell Dog, his wife Murph and their friends at Max's Wine Dive for dinner. Things went downhill from there.

We followed up Max's with a trip to Cahill's a few blocks away. The night was filled with various conversations - the election, useless BS and glory stories. I was still succeeding in my battle against the party having cut myself off after only two VSs.

The party broke up, and most of the crew was loading up in the parking lot when I noticed a missing lady. Jess was still inside so TK and I went back to check on her.
[JB el JB] Hey, lady. You coming with us.

[Jess] No, I'm closing my tab and will walk home after finishing my drink. (Jess lives three blocks away.)

[JB el JB] I can give you a ride?

[Jess] It's OK. I walk up here all the time. Don't worry about it.

[TK] You want to get one last round and wait with her?

[JB el JB] One round?

[TK] One round.

[Jess] Yeah, let's have another round and then we'll go.
Everything was going according to plan when a big dude at the end of the bar said to TK, "Tell your redheaded friend that I think she's good looking." "OK," she replied. Then the big guy, Daigle, said to his buddy, "Sahn Dee Ahgo." "A whale's vagina," I answered.

"Get that man a shot," ordered Daigle to the bartender. That's when the wheels fell off.

Three-and-a-half hours later, Jess, TK and I were at an after hours party at Daigle's with him and his crew. Two hours after that I headed home.