virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Smile! I’m blogging you…

Smile! I'm blogging you... (image of and by virtualDavis)

Smile! I'm blogging you... (image of and by virtualDavis)

I remember seeing a t-shirt for sale once that said, “I’m blogging this.” Nothing more. Just a black t-shirt with bold white lettering across the front. I’m blogging this!

I should have bought it. It would make people laugh. People who know me. Especially the ones who don’t quite get it. Blogging, I mean.

But I didn’t buy it. I liked the idea, but I wanted to edit the message slightly as follows:

Smile! I’m blogging you…

On the one hand, it’s humorous, and on the other it’s an increasingly relevant disclaimer. The “fine print”. Not just for me, but for all bloggers. All journalists, storytellers, writers, artists, etc.

What do I mean by relevant? We are photographing and video recording and quoting each other around the clock nowadays. Look at the ubiquity of blogging, micro blogging, YouTubing, Facebook-ing and Google Plus-ing. We are busy documenting our lives as well as anyone else who flits across our paths.

I walked down Madison Avenue this evening as a man filmed all of us. Not a news reporter, but a plain clothed civilian. John Doe. Or Juan Sanchez… Why was he filming us? What will he do with our stolen souls? Thievery! Or not…

Smile! I’m blogging you…

One of my favorite English language writers, Michael Ondaatje, returns again and again to the theme of thievery in his writing. It’s a large part of storytelling. I suspect many writers, artists, etc. ponder the idea.

I prefer to think of storytellers as borrowers, not kleptomaniacs. We borrow characters, scenes and plots. We borrow the smell of bacon cooking three doors down, the sound of a cello being practiced (badly) somewhere on the other side of an overgrown juniper hedge.

Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948)

Vicente Huidobro (image via Wikipedia)

Not all writers admit that they are recyclers, borrowers or thieves. Chilean poet Vicente Huidobrodeclared, “The poet is a little God.” He aspired to invent worlds of words out of thin air and ambition. I invite you to evaluate his success.

With the advent of widespread social media it’s easier and more enticing than ever to collect and curate the perfect pair of eyebrows, the seemy backstory, the unpredictable twist of fate, the melodic denouement peppered with the fragrance of jasmine and fireworks on a summer evening… All from the comfort of our own desktops. Or smart phones. The 21st century storyteller is everywhere you are.

Of course, flanerie still serves the storyteller well, but his boulevards have been extended exponentially. I am an unabashed flaneur, but not just in the Baudelarian sense. I’m an urban flaneur, but I’m also a rural flaneur. I’m a café and sidewalk flaneur, but I’m also a digital flaneur. And I’m collecting and curating 24×7 (to the occasional regret of my bride and friends, I hesitate to add.)

I apologize. I understand that not everyone wants to be onstage all the time. Not everyone wants to have their almost lofty soufflé or their offkey arias recorded for posterity. I get it. I’m with you.

But, I can’t resist. You’re interesting. Not just your eyebrows and your bacon and your cello practice and your seemy backstory and your perennially deflated soufflé and your upside down melodies. You.

But rest assured that mine is an imperfect lens, a distorted microphone. I won’t steel your soul. I promise. I can’t. It’s yours as long as you choose to nourish it. I will borrow liberally, borrow, not steel, and I’ll do so with a sometimes distorted, always playful filter.

Will you lend me the mischievous glimmer in your eye when I ask you what you want for Christmas? Will you lend me the fierce gate, knees high, hips restrained, stride impossibly long that I remember from the first time I watched you walk toward your airplane when heading back to New York City from Paris? Will you lend me your hurt and confusion and quirks and dreams?

I’ll do my best never to betray you, and I’ll always resist your soul.

I promise.

Mindfulness and Flânerie

Just another listless dreamer...

New Yorker marginalia by virtualDavis via Flickr

Linda Hollier’s Mindfulness and The Flâneur examines a topic near and dear to my heart, soul and senses: flânerie.

I’m honored to be mentioned and grateful because she inspired me to update my Metro Flaneur post with a list of my favorite flanerie miscellanea. But ego and overdue “housekeeping” are just the tip of the iceberg.

Ms. Hollier (@lindahollier) is positing an insight that intuitively resonates truth to me, but which I’ve never before heard.

Speed, whether online or offline, is a characteristic of the modern world. The flâneur reminds us to set the pace of our own lives.

Cast as a character in the 21st century drama of life, the flâneur thus begins to play the role of consciousness. (here2here)

Amen. The pace and the scope. Flânerie demands an elasticity of time and space. Freedom to meander, to lose oneself in the other, perhaps even to become the other without fully detaching from self. For a while.

Anthropologist Grant McCracken reflection on Joy Walking comes to mind.

It’s a little like joy riding, except we’re not stealing cars, we’re stealing moments. Joy walking happens when we leave the house or office and start walking. We don’t have a plan. We just go… We step in and out of people’s lives. Couples in love, couples at war…  The tiny courtesies and rudenesses of public life… The key is to get out and about. To get away. To see what you can see. Steal a moment. Make it your own. (PsychologyToday.com)

Ms. Hollier’s suggestion that flânerie and conscioussness may overlap is intriguing, an idea worth passing along to my mother who’s a student of Buddhism and a proponent of mindfulness. Let’s see if I can get her to weigh in. Stay tuned.

Off to meander the digital meadow with the mingling masses…

Update:

Great news. My mother, Melissa Davis, shared her impression. Thanks, mom! Here’s what the wise lady thinks:

Mindfulness, flaneuring and turtles

Reading this after an abbreviated mindful yoga session with Jon K-Z (on tape), I am delighted to chime in. Linda Hollier’s reference to turtles on leashes reminds me of walking with a 2- or 3-year old, a great flaneur opportunity. I recently grandparented my 3-year old granddaughter for a week which required walking her to preschool and back in Georgetown, a fascinating place where equipment and men with shovels were digging up the ancient trolley tracks. Took us forever – which was as good as it gets – even better than a turtle because she had a couple of feet more within her purview AND she asked questions!

Years ago I read a NYTimes op ed that shared the unscientific findings of a city dweller observing adults accompanying small children around a neighborhood in Manhattan. She reported that the majority of them pushed strollers which ensured timely arrivals wherever the adult was headed. She contrasted them with the handful of adults who walked – meandered – alongside their youngsters, stopping to examine every interesting flower or bit of flotsam along the way. She pointed out that there was nothing more important for a child that age to do than poke along – and through – every curiosity.

I think flaneuring is like drawing, something we are born with but that schedules and school steal from us. I agree that mindfulness – being totally present in the moment – goes hand in hand (or leash) with flaneuring. I am not surprised that so many people wonder if they ate, lose their keys, forget names, obsess about how stressed they are given the mindless speed that propels them through their days. A little daily flaneuring would sort them right out! (Melissa Davis)

Amen! Way to go, mom. Just goes to show that my decision to meander the digital meadow with the mingling masses yesterday restored the cosmic balance, inspiring my mother to opine. Perhaps I should meander the soggy non-digital meadow this afternoon?

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virtualDavis Caricature #1

 

virtualDavis Caricature #1Remember fiverr?

Remember “Martial Folly and Sando”?

I’ve enjoyed dabbling with fiverr gigsters from time to time since the site launched, and I recently returned to create some small graphic and video content snippets. Some of these will be incorporated into a longer video and/or a site redesign. Watch this space!  ;-)

In the mean time I’m going to show off some caricatures produced by fiverr gigsters, starting with a fellow named Kyle (aka gmcube) who created that caricature above. Not 100% certain it resembles me, but it’s a fun enough image to start the collection. By the way, if you’re interested having your own caricature produced, just run a fiverrr caricature search. I see that Kyle’s no longer offering the service, but plenty of others are, and the price point is low enough that you [almost] can’t lose.

It reminds me of walking, walking, walking around Paris in 1980 with my mother and her friend, Tanya. I was a young boy of seven-going-on-eight, and I’d grown equally weary of trying to speak French and keeping abreast of my mother’s ambulatory ambitions. Apparently I spent more time kicking pigeons than looking up at the architecture. I do remember getting shit upon by a pigeon in the Jardin des Tuileries while eating a picnic lunch…

One afternoon we arrived at the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, the artist thronged plaza near the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. The three of us walked around watching artists drawing and painting, many whipping off quick caricatures for tourists. Suddenly I was lifted from the cobbles and plunked onto a folding seat by an old wrinkly babbling away in French to my mother. And then my mother and Tanya walked away. Abandoned me! Just like that.

I considered. Looked at the man scribbling madly away while looking at me out of the corner of his eye. I reckoned that he’d see me better if he weren’t looking through a blue cloud of cigarette smoke. Then I glanced to where my mother and Tanya had been. Gone! A large crowd had swallowed them up and I was left alone without cash to pay the doodler.

I panicked. Leapt up and raced into the crowd where they had vanished, the artists shouting after me. I raced willy nilly through the crowds, making my way almost all the way around the plaza before finding my mother. I was scared, frustrated and furious. She explained that they’d planned to walk around the plaza and then return to me to pay for the caricature. Needless to say, I did not return to the artist nor retrieve the incomplete caricature. So far as I can recall Kyle’s image above is my first. But there will be others…

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On Publishing, Adventure and Julio Cortazar

Argentine writer Julio Cortázar‘s short story La autopista del sur (The Southern Highway) opens on a Sunday afternoon north of Fontainebleau, France amidst a traffic jam of anxious, overheating weekenders returning to Paris. Trying to return to Paris.

They check their watches, move a few inches each time they get the chance, tell themselves contradictory stories about what has caused the jam, and wait expectantly for an authority to clear things up.

But no authority takes charge. Nothing clears up. Paris becomes an abstraction, the metaphorical Ithaca that catalyzes Odysseus’s adventures and storytelling.

Are you with me so far? Good.

Top up your coffee; add a dollop of bourbon. You’re going to need both. And if my Cortázar Homer two-step’s already gotten you out of your comfort zone, you just might want to stop here. Seriously. As in, stop listening/reading. Go load the laundry. Turn on the tube. Tweet a friend. Talk about the weather. Because the Cortázar Homer two-step is… It’s just the warm up. The big jig – the toe tapping, deep dipping, smooth sliding number I’m about to dance (and sing) – it’s bodacious. And it’s liable to blur the steps you’re already dancing. More than a little.

Still with me? Laundry be damned!

There’s a new tune in town. And a new dance.

Remember the eBook Summit 2010? Presenters were rhyming and jiving as if their careers depended on it (I suppose they do), innovating right there in front of our eyes. Remember the vook boogy and the broadcastr shuffle? Of course, some presenters were wearing fancy new clothes but humming the old tunes and dancing the old steps. It was a mixed bag.

Publishing industry representative weren’t in sync; presenters were shimmying to at least two totally different rhythms, one oh-so-retro and the other post-post-modern.

Fast forward to the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference. This conference was different. There was much greater alignment of wills and visions. Embracing digital books, digital distribution and digital platforms; embracing print on demand; embracing indie publishing; even embracing increasingly transmedia-oriented publishing alternatives.

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday riffing with many of the five hundred writers in attendance about manuscripts, queries, pitches, proposals, platforms, print books, digital books, etc. And not just writers. The event was thick with editors, publishers, agents, platform builders, app creators,… Three days of presentations by individuals at the bleeding edge of 21st century publishing, professionals reinventing storytelling in the digital age.

On Saturday afternoon, from 3:15 to 5:15, I pitched my memoir Rosslyn Redux to literary agents, many encouraging, interested and full of advice. Most asked for a proposal. Incredible! Actually, the whole experience was incredible, from the controlled chaos of the event itself to the real-time, time-lapse “pitch tuning” made possible by pitching, pitching, pitching. Picture 500+ writers navigating a too tight, too hot, too dimly lit conference room at the Sheraton. Picture 58 literary agents sitting around the perimeter of the room, surnames affixed to the wall behind them. And lines, serpentine lines of writers, waiting for a chance to sit, smile, inhale, greet, pitch, exhale, smile, listen, inhale, engage, nod, exhale, smile, thank, stand and then head off to the next line. And bells, so many bells, every three minutes another bell ringing announcing the change. Next writer. Next pitch. Three minutes. Ninety seconds to pitch, ninety seconds to listen, talk, interact, connect. Or not.

We all sang and danced. Then shuffled to the next partner. And sang and danced again. But better. Each time better. Cleaner, crisper, freer. Less book pitch, more dialogue, more collaboration. I’m talking about getting in sync. Flowing. Finding our groove. In fact, at the risk of bludgeoning this song and dance metaphor into oblivion, the whole weekend was about finding our groove. A new groove, but our own groove. Does this make sense?

Like Cortazar’s protagonist, we writers started the #wdc11 adventure hyper-focused on our destination: deliver the perfect pitch to the perfect agent. I’m generalizing. I’m referring to the majority of the attendees. Several writers didn’t intend to pitch. But most did. Most, like me, have been working long and hard on a manuscript. Most, like me, were pitching for the first time. We were learning how to pitch – hopefully how to pitch well – by pitching. And perhaps, if the predictables and the unpredictables were aligned, we’d accelerate our quests toward published authordom.

It wasn’t just during the Pitch Slam that my memory flitted from the low-ceiling, fuzzy lighting and recycled air to Cortazar’s short story. Again and again I thought about the traffic jam south of Paris. An otherwise random assortment of motorists except for a common ambition: get to Paris. But the delay stretches to hours then days with nominal progress and no authority steps in to offer answers, guidance or assistance. Even the change of seasons doesn’t significantly advance the motorists’ progress. Gradually the motorists’ ambition shifts from reaching their destination to surviving the traffic jam. News and rumors circulate. Then are debunked. Then more rumors. Strategies, amities and tensions ebb and flow. Micro communities of motorists coalesce around the rudiments of survival and sickness and birth and death. Life happens. Until, one day, traffic begins to move. Paris comes into view as columns of cars begin to advance – slowly at first, then more and more quickly – toward their destination. The micro community begins to dissolve as the motorists hurtle toward Paris. I’ll leave the final ironic twist to you. Read the story. In Spanish, if you can.

So why all this song and dance?

Here’s the skinny. As writers we’re all traveling in a similar direction. Or trying to. Sometimes we’re all targeting the same destination. We focus – or think we do – like laser beams. We don blinders to eliminate distractions. We stare straight ahead at the destination, press the pedal to the metal, and race headlong toward the goal.  Then something shifts, slows us down long enough to question, to regroup, to consider

  • whether we’re headed toward the right destination
  • whether we’re pursuing the destination in the best manner
  • whether the destination has changed since we picked it
  • whether we have changed since picking our destination
  • whether we’re missing the scenery and the people along the way

If my destination is the perfect pitch, a debut memoir, a rhyzomic platform, a storytelling career for a loyal audience, or all the above, the Writer’s Digest Conference did a bang-up job of slowing me down. In short, the Writer’s Digest Conference provided the proverbial traffic jam. So many writers ostensibly headed in the same direction, hyper-focused but blinded, caravanning along together but mostly disconnected. Until Friday afternoon. Traffic was forced to slow down for three days. We writers are an independent, solitary and stubborn lot, so it wasn’t surprising that we chomped at the bit, test driving our pitches, asking and re-asking for the secret sauce. For a while. Until we got to know the writers sitting next to us. Until Chuck Sambuchino reminded us that pitching is a conversation, that agents were here at their own expense to find promising talent. Until Jane Friedman dilated the menu of writer’s destinations. Until Dan Blank and Guy Gonzalez dilated the perception of a writer’s platform. Until Richard Nash nimbly bridged the solitary-to-social divide and reshuffled the writer/publisher relationship. Until a parade of literary agents shook my hand and welcomed me to the conversation.

The Writer’s Digest Conference was enjoyable. Singing and dancing usually are.

But the Writer’s Digest Conference was more. It was a traffic jam that introduced me to dozens of inspiring, visionary fellow journeyers on this adventure of writing and publishing. It exposed me to the community that can help me and taught me how to ask for help. It created a map and gave me the tools I’ll need to reach my destination.

Memory Lane, Cinque Terre

Vernazza by Night (photo credit Ales Farcnik via 1x.com)

The power of a photograph. And Twitter. And nostalgia. This stunning photograph of Vernazza by Slovenian photographer Ales Farcnik transported me back almost a decade to Cinque Terre.

I was living in Paris. I had spent August on vacation in the Adirondacks on Lake Champlain. A whirlwind romance. Then I returned to Paris and she returned to Manhattan. I think we were both a little surprised to miss each other. A summer fling. But the longing endured. I invited her to explore Cinque Terre with me over the Toussaint holiday. Within an hour she’d booked a flight. Within a couple of weeks we were falling head over heals in love with each other in Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare. Four years later she became my bride.

Thanks for the memories, Ales Farcnik. And hat tip to to M. Faizan Sorathis (@Staticulator) who retweeted the “100 Beautiful Pics of Night” link that triggered this nostalgic flashback!

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A Cadence of Choice

What is the “rhythm of stillness”? An oxymoron? An invitation to pause and ponder? A whimsical poetic conundrum?

Annie Q. Syed is drawn to the rhythm of stillness experienced in those “quiet hours of the early morning before a city, town, or village takes a big yawn and stretches itself into your routine.” She dubs these rare but sacred moments Still Sundays:

“These mornings are especially unique in New York because the City doesn’t sleep but she just takes naps. And the longest naps are on Sunday mornings. I love Sunday mornings in NYC. I try my best not to have anything planned, not even a yoga class, before 12:00 p.m. If my mind is quiet enough I borrow the stillness and share some thoughts with a few friends or family members via email or a phone conversation. Some mornings I  simply wrap the stillness of a Sunday morning around a pen and put fragments on a paper.

Are you making time to be still? To listen to the stillness? This past Sunday Syed pondered a conversation she’d had with a friend who decried the perpetual frenzy and commotion of life in New York City. She wondered if, how and why stillness is possible (essential?) amidst the whirring, screeching, bumping, jackhammering, phone ringing, car door slamming, elevator bell dinging “city that never sleeps”. It is. She knows it is, and she wandered toward the reason why. Her reason why.

“New York didn’t define me; I defined New York. I believe the stillness I speak of is borne out of that carving. I can hear a steady beat inside the multi-rhythmic pulsating blend of music that can’t easily be tuned out. The tempo matches my heart. Stillness then is a cadence of choice.

At least most of the time. Carving out a space for stillness amidst the throng will open up the possibility of stillness. But there must also be room for chance, for stumbling accidentally upon these somewhat paradoxical interstices, and then honoring them. Syed doesn’t say this, not explicitly, but she recounts an anecdote that trumps any explanation.Tucked into her familiar routine of yoga class followed by pizza at an Upper West Side pizzeria, a fleeting encounter with Nina — a 78 year old Greek lady dressed in a pink skirt suit – offers an invitation to wander into the unfamiliar. Syed accepts the invitation.

If the rhythm of stillness seems to be drowned out by din and routine, it might not be New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago that have picked up the pace or turned up the volume. It might be that we forget to stop, to listen, to wonder. It might be that we’re not quite as receptive as we could be. Should be.

I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve lived in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome as well. Plenty of busy-busy in all of them. And so many reasons to ignore the old bat who says “Hello,” at the pizzeria or asks you how to find the Jardin des Tuileries. No time to stop and wonder at the thousands of tiny black birds painting paisleys in the sky above the Colosseum. Too busy to pause and listen to the girl practicing her cello at Abe’s left foot in the Lincoln Memorial. But, as Syed reminds us, there’s an opportunity lurking beneath the quotidian. Whether it’s an early Sunday morning while the “To Do” list is still snoozing, or squeezed in between a slice of pizza and a bus ride, there’s rhythm in the stillness. Will you stop to listen? To sing along? To dance?

Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Annie Q. Syed (@so_you_know on Twitter) who’s inspired me plenty in recent months, and who is is one of the reasons I believe that Twitter is a midwife for real friendship! And a hat tip to the late Paul Zweig who’s The Adventurer: The Fate of Adventure in the Western World is where I first stumbled upon this idea of interstices.

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A Flâneur’s Tour of Toronto

It’s a at least a pair of decades since I explored Toronto, and I’ll admit a bit of embarrassment on this front. It’s a day’s drive away, and a pleasant drive at that. I’ve added it to the short term bucket list, with ample time for flânerie. Until then, two delightful nubbins to pass along…

“A flâneur is anyone who wanders, and watches, the city. The 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire called the flâneur a “perfect idler” and a “passionate observer.” Baudelaire was a flâneur himself and, when he wasn’t writing poems and spending his trust fund on dandy outfits and opium, he drifted through the streets of Paris. Later, philosopher Walter Benjamin collected a chunk of thoughts on the idea of the flâneur in his epic volume of notes on Paris, The Arcades Project.” (Eye Weekly)

“The old notion of the flâneur will be different for whomever engages in this activity, even in a diverse metropolis such as Toronto. But that doesn’t mean that other flâneurs can’t carve out ways to navigate the city comfortably, recording their own insights and noticing the ways their own particular bodies and histories interact with the cityscape.” (Eye Weekly)

An Ann Arborite in Paris

I often take to wandering the city [Paris] toute-seule and although I do tend to find some really neat things, or things that I really didn’t expect to come across (especially in the 16th) I still think that this a city of meeting up with people, of being headed to somewhere where a group awaits you. I’ve often wondered how a Parisian would survive in Ann Arbor.

Yesterday’s post on La Flânerie was a halting but thoughtful rumination on cultural/social differences between studying abroad in Paris and living in cozier, more familiar Ann Arbor, Michigan. And more too… the differences between solo flânerie and group meandering, between France and Spain, between urban and rural. In closing Emily affirms that she’ll continue trying to understand Paris, but she also leaves us with a more universal and contemplative question: “So how are some people so easily flowing in the hyper-social society while others are perfectly content to have their jobs and come home… and stay there?”

Read the full post at Em Wanders Paris.

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The Invention of Paris

The Invention of Paris

Eric Hazan's The Invention of Paris

Eric Hazan’s The Invention of Paris is a guide, quartier by quartier, to the “psychogeography” of the first great modern city. Hazan is a far-left radical editor now in his 70s, and has lived in Paris all his life. Not only does he know what a certain street smells like, but he can tell us about the geographical, social and political forces that put it there. A widening or a curve might conceal an entire history of oppression – or the moment Baudelaire admired a passing grisette.

Hazan reckons Baudelaire to be the first truly urban poet, a flâneur at the meeting-point between the nocturnal solitary and the individual lost in the crowd. The book proceeds in his urgent spirit, mingling personal knowledge and reminiscence with a Balzacian grasp of the whole. The ghost of Walter Benjamin, the leftwing thinker of a mystical bent who fled occupied Paris and committed suicide at the closed Spanish border, presides over this magnificent meditation on limits and boundaries.

Read the full review in The Guardian

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Winnowing of Goods: EBay Eureka!

So the first step toward lightening the load has begun. A small step, to be sure, but a step nonetheless. My first eBay auction is now underway. An old-ish camera and a lens set that maximizes its utility will soon pass from my ownership to another. Feeling my way. Always difficult to separate oneself from one’s possessions, but my return from Europe and the inevitable winnowing of goods as I turn a Paris home and a Rome home into one small Adirondack home will mean sucking it up and spreading my possessions around. Not certain yet how I’ll proceed, but at first I just want to get a feel for this exciting eBay marketplace. Once I’m a bit more seasoned, I may try to list several items at once. For now, slow and steady. A single bid on the camera so far. Will be curious how many more before it is sold. No reserve, so will probably sell low, despite the value.

On other fronts, had a glorious sunny weekend. Lake Champlain icy blue and rough. The air crisp. Went for a lunch hike up Coon Mtn. with brother, MHD, MHD’s sister, MHD’s nephews. And cocktails and dinner with friends on Saturday evening. A great four mile jog that was more effortless than expected. Writing well again, rewriting early chapters of a novel that one-day-some-day may be completed and forgotten so that I can move on to another. Funny world. A happy, exciting time. Received a wonderful link from a friend who used to live in Rome when I did. You must take a look. If you are at acquainted with Italy, with living in Italy, you will appreciate the humor. I’ve watched and then re-watched, showing my brother as an excuse. Life is good when we remember to laugh. Over and out.

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