Monday, March 3, 2008

Hendersoni Resumes Painting in Venice

Those of you who know and love me, or at least don’t despise me more than I deserve, know that I fancy myself a painter. In Baltimore I had a setup in the basement with a nice big easel that would go to any position, and lots of painting accoutrements. I was able to bring some paints and brushes with me, but not the easel, and no canvases. Now being in Venice I had to find a place nearby to supply me with such things, and I did. There is a lovely little art store in Campo Santa Margherita, right next to a very well stocked wine store (which even comes with a clerk who knows something about wine, and speaks God’s English). I bought an easel that, although not as good as the one I had in the U.S., was quite adequate, particularly in light of the limited space I had in my Venetian apartment. I shelled out the soldi and carted the thing home.

There is a substance in this world known as Venetian Turpentine, which can be had in small quantities in the U.S., and which has a consistency similar to warm honey. In Venice, however, the stuff is sold in hardware stores in a jar of about 8 or 10 ounces, and has a thick consistency, more like cold honey. This substance I like. It makes the paint dry to a very glossy finish, and when applied in heavy doses, runs very slowly down the canvas, entraining other paint that might be under it. This I have used to very interesting effect, which can be seen in the picture at the top of this page. There comes a time, though, when the running of the paint is to my satisfaction, and I need it to stop. This can be accomplished only by laying the painting down on flat surface. I started to do this by placing the first such painting on the drying rack used in this country to dry clothes, even on top of clothes that were then drying. Karen seemed to have a problem with this system, for reasons I cannot even now fathom, and gently relocated the painting to a drying place less offensive to her, and kindly suggested that the clothes drying rack was not where I should dry my paintings. I have observed this rule since.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Quest for Internet in Venice

The dog and I had some work to do . . . Not really. I had some work to do. All the dog ever does is beg for food and generate filth, a pattern he continued in Italy. I, on the other hand, needed to put my stuff away, figure out what was in the apartment, and what we would need. I was then to transmit a list to Karen, and she would bring what we needed if we had it at home.

It turned out that the apartment was completely furnished, and had everything we would need, including towels, sheets, pots, pans, dishes, and so forth. These were things that the prior occupants had used for years, and we might want to switch some of them for our own, but the stuff was here and we could function.

One of the big things I had hoped to accomplish prior to Karen's arrival was to get internet in the house. We both intended to work at our jobs from Italy, and that would require high speed internet. This proved to be a task that I could not complete. After weeks of trying I gave up, defeated by what, I don’t know, but the Italian Telecom company won that battle. I am taking some time here to tell the story, but if you wish to spend any time in Italy, and need to connect regularly to the internet, you will learn from it, and if you are able to read at any reasonable pace, will have spent only a few minutes of the time left to you on Earth.

Originally, I asked the owner to have internet service installed and make it part of the utilities. I had tried to contact a carrier from the phone book, but I could not get past the recorded message. It seems that I needed a phone number, which I did not have. (I had a cell phone, which is what I using to call them, but no residential service). I tried all the tricks I know to get past a recorded message and to an operator. I pushed “0," I stayed on the line without entering anything, and I entered garbage numbers. Rather than kicking me over to an operator, as it would have for such foolish people in the U.S., the message would jabber something in Italian that I construed to mean I had entered incorrect information, and it would hang up. No mercy, and no operator. I reported this problem to the owner, who promised to call the company and have them call me, which they ultimately did, but I had already made other arrangements, or so I thought.

In the mean time, I found a nice internet place not too far from my house, and which was not too expensive. After a while of trying on my own I asked the man there to help me get internet in my house. I saw the irony of this, but he didn’t seem to mind, he spoke very good English, and gladly helped me. He called a different company for me and arranged for me to get service and a DSL modem. They sent a text message to my phone with a code number, which I punched into the phone at home (there was a phone, but no service). This activated service and caused the modem to be sent to me. I got the modem, hooked it up, installed the software, and . . . nothing. That was as close to having DSL service as I ever came.

There is a help number, which I called. I got somebody who spoke a little English, and they told me it would take ten days. After ten days, nothing. I tried to call them several times after that, and either got someone who spoke no English, or got a story about what the problem was. “You are scheduled for March 1st” (this was the beginning of February), “there is a problem in your area.” And then they would say “goodbye” and hang up. No opportunity to inquire further, just goodbye.

I went back to the internet place and had one of the other people there call them again. This time, it turned out that no request for internet had been made, and that there was a problem in the area with the wiring, or something. At this point I knew that they had won. I resigned myself to going with plan B.

In the middle of all this, Karen had arrived. She was kind and understanding about the internet situation, as she always is in the face of my failings, and was even sympathetic about my struggle. But I could not help feeling guilty about it, and feeling that my failure had something to do with my lack of ambition and drive, or to a defect in my intellect, which not only contributed to my past failures, but also to the present one. We needed internet to do our work. We were dragging ourselves and our laptops to the internet café at least once a day, and sometimes more, and paying one Euro (about a buck and a half) for each 15 minutes. But I had tried to get a person well versed in the process of getting internet in Italy help me, and he could not. The internet man told me that it took them two months to get theirs hooked up when they were starting the shop. This was another factor in me losing hope.

Plan B was to go to the Vodaphone store and get service through their wireless network using a gizmo that attaches to the computer. Upside: one can connect to the internet from anywhere; Downside: it cost a boatload to buy the gizmo, and then you have to buy minutes. Well, we had no choice. We made an appointment and trotted down to the store and, after some technical difficulty with my computer, we each got a wireless do-dad and were in business. Moral of the story: if you plan to use the internet in Italy, just bite the bullet and go to the Vodaphone store, open a vein, lay out about 400 Samoans, and get the wireless thing. You will in the end, anyway, and your life will be much easier if you just do it at the beginning.

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