Saturday, May 21, 2011


(Muddy Aligators, John Singer Sargent, 1917, Art

I just learned that the Bobster and I could have toured the sewers of Vienna for a measly ten bucks each when we were there a few weeks ago.

Instead, we wasted a nice big chunk of our precious Vienna time checking out Sissi's above-the-ground bathroom facilities at the Hofburg Palace.

I am bummed to the max!!!

Let's face it, there's probably no one on this earth who loves discussing toilets, plumbing and sewer systems as much as I do.

I feel cheated.

And I am blaming the WSJ.

On the front page of the May 18th edition, the casual reader will find this headline:


I have just one critical question for you esteemed writers at the WSJ:

Was it too much trouble for you to check MY Vienna itinerary in a timely manner BEFORE you decided to publish this informative piece on a date that was completely useless to me?

I think we already know the answer to that question, don't we?

As anyone who has read as little as two pages from any decent self-help book knows, when a person refuses to forgive, he is actually hurting himself.

So let me be perfectly clear on this point.

I simply can't afford to add another nano-second of misery to own life.

Therefore, it is with the deepest humility I announce to one and all that I HAVE ALREADY FORGIVEN THE WSJ!

Which is a good thing.

Because I intend to point my Nike's in the direction of Vienna's "subterranean waterways" the very next time I visit that beautifully Baroque city.

Obviously, I have the WSJ to thank for blasting knowledge of Vienna's sewer tours around the world.

And the truth must be told, I have a certain son-in-law - who shall remain nameless - to thank for giving me a heads up on the WSJ article.

So here's the deal.

Sewer touring is a huge hit all over Europe.

According to the WSJ, in 2007, a local chamber of commerce in Brighton, England voted the city's sewers the "Best Place to Visit."

Brighton's sewers beat out the Duke of York's Picturehouse, one of Britain's oldest cinemas, in that contest.

Not to be out done by the Brits, in 2007, Brussels renovated its sewer museum "whose exterior resembles a Greek temple."

My stars and garters!

A sewer museum that looks like a Greek temple?

I'm already there!

Oh, and by the way, visitors to the Brussels underground can "stroll at their leisure unaccompanied by sewer guides."

As far as I'm concerned, that definitely dribbles the icing on top of that cake!

I can imagine that there is nothing more annoying than a pesky tour guide yapping in your ear when you're trying to have a special moment by yourself in the sewers.

And the next time you're in Paris?

Make a bee line for the Musee des Egouts which is planning a "makeover to handle rising tourist traffic, which surpasses 100,000 visitors a year."

Who knew?

Sewer museum officials in Paris, "plan to expand their exhibits to include topics such as water treatment (yawn), safety equipment (stretch)" and the ever popular......


Now we're talkin'!

The following is a direct quote from the WSJ:

"One display in the spacious sewer tunnels celebrates notable items retrieved, including swords, stolen handbags and false teeth. Another commemorates Eleanor, a 32-inch alligator, whom workers caught in 1984 and who now lives in a Paris zoo."


Say you're ticked off at your neighbor who lives across the street.

He's let his lawn grow far too long.

You decide to hurry up his decision to mow by going over and tickling his ribs with a few friendly sword jabs.

But just before you reach his property line you think better of it.

So you ditch your sword in the sewer opening just beneath his curb.

That explains the sword in the sewer phenomenon.

Now, what about the flushed purse?

If you don't over think it, that makes some sense.

Especially if the thief (pre-flush) has enough brains to remove useful items such as cash, credit cards and the "get the 10th serving free" punch card from your - now his - favorite ice cream shop.

But discovering false teeth in the sewer?

I ain't buyin' that one!

Who in his or her right mind would voluntarily stand over an open commode and insert or remove his or her false teeth?

That's right.


And, finally......

I know that snakes have been known to enjoy a whirlpool bath in the occasional commode bowl.

So it's not a big stretch of the imagination to realize that Eleanor The Alligator likes to do her spa thing in the sewers as well.

That girl's gotta keep her hide hidden, supple and moisturized or she can forget enjoying a leisurely old age at the Paris zoo.

She will, instead, meet an untimely death and morph into some rich bitty's over-priced handbag.

Cases closed.

Hey, it's gotta be said that curators of sewer museums face special challenges.

From the WSJ:

"Constant moisture and noxious chemicals ruin displays. Heavy rains flood galleries. Deadly and explosive gasses can build up, forcing hasty evacuations."

So good.

I'm still in it for the long haul.

But then this sentence appears at the end of the paragraph:


I can say without a shadow of a doubt......

that it will only take one rampant running rat to persuade Miss Merry to jump sky high onto the next available sewer barge.

Again, from the WSJ: Tours of Parisian sewers began in 1867 when workers "clad in white guided visitors aboard special tour barges and wagons."

"It was very chic," says Marie-Christine Amable. "We had beautiful sewers."

But then toilet waste arrived in 1894.

Not to worry.

The rides continued for another 80 vomitive years.

Here's a question for all my female readers:

Do you remember the exact location where Mr. Wonderful proposed to you?

I thought I did until a few days ago.

The Bobster kindly informed me that it was in his car up by the white "Y" at BYU.

So much for my sweet memories of saying "yes" by Utah Lake in Provo.

Carolyn Payne won't have any trouble remembering her proposal.

Steve Sparks asked Ms. Payne to marry him in the Brighton sewer last May.

Mr. Sparks says, "I was a little nervous about losing the ring. I believe that since the sewers were built in 1870, nobody has proposed in them. I wanted to make the moment unusual."

I think we can all agree that he achieved his goal.

Carolyn Payne Sparks enlightens us further:

"It's really quite beautiful and cathedral-like down there. But it does still smell."

The WSJ says that Steve is already looking forward to touring other cities' sanitary works.

"Paris sounds particularly romantic," he says wistfully.

"Maybe we'll tour the sewers of Paris for our first anniversary."

I like the way this guy thinks.

Bob, on the other hand, enjoys telling me that we have seen everything there is to see in Paris and then some.

Not so fast, mister.

I've already got the Musee des Egouts on speed dial. 

Monday, May 9, 2011


(Sisters Gathering Raspberries & Roses, Summer, Ole Henrik Olrik, 1875, Art

Some days life is sweeter than others.

That special sort of sweetness came Bob's way during our stay at the "Das Tyrol" in Vienna.

It happened one sunny morning in the hotel's breakfast room.

Bob rose from his chair at our table-for-two and glanced at the bountiful pastry sideboard.

Soft, flaky croissants the size of small cars greeted his hungry eyes.

Slices of warm, crusty peasant bread, carefully layered in a rustic basket, met his gaze.

A scrumptious-looking blueberry breakfast cake - dusted in snowy powdered sugar - towered over the lavish display.

As did an array of the most delectable bottled jams ever collected on that side of the Atlantic.

All of the usual suspects were present and accounted for: peach, strawberry, blueberry, grape, apricot, orange marmalade and cherry.

But it was the jar of raspberry jam that ultimately caught his attention.

He scooped a few spoonfuls onto a plate and brought it back to our table.

After smothering his warm croissant with the deep burgundy colored jam, he slipped a generous corner of the pastry into his mouth.

Then came Bob's mind-boggling statement:

"This jam tastes exactly like my mother's."

I had never heard those words fall from his lips at any time during our 41 years together.

He had my undivided attention.

I quickly say, "Let me have a taste."

Bob drops a generous spoonful onto my waiting tongue.

"Oh, my stars! It really does!" I quickly exclaim.

Then we get busy.

Bob jumps up and brings the jar of jam to our table.

"Is there a dot-com address on the label?" I ask.

"There is,"  Bob answers matter-of-factly.

I say, "We can see if it's possible to order a few jars of this jam after we get home."

"Yes. But they might not ship to the states," Bob replies.

"They might not ship internationally but it's not going to hurt to try," I counter.

"I guess we can look into it," Bob says.

"Hey," I tell Bob, "maybe some of the food shops around here stock this jam."

Bob says, "Maybe."

That night we traipse over to the local grocery emporium.

We want to pick up some Viennese goodies to take home to the kiddos.

But that task is going to come after we pull to a halt in the jam aisle.

Our eyes carefully scan the fruit-laced selections.

Nothing on the first shelf.

It's a no go on the second shelf as well.

Maybe the third shelf will be the charm.

(I'm starting to worry.)

"There it is!!!" I shriek to Bob.

"You're right," Bob states as he reads the label.

He lifts a jar of the raspberry jam from the shelf and places it in the basket.

"You're only going to get ONE???" I ask incredulously.

Bob and the kids know well my ironclad rule: " ALWAYS BUY TWO OF EVERYTHING."

Because what if the first item is ruined, stolen, or lost?

What would you do without that precious back-up item patiently waiting behind your closet doors for its moment in the sun?

Bob immediately reaches for a second jar, saying, "We don't have room to pack any more than this."

(I don't LIKE buying only two jars of jam but I'll live with it.)

Back in the day, Margaret's raspberries were to die for.

Those luscious plump orbs of juicy sweetness......everyone and I do mean - EVERYONE! - loved them.

Freshly snatched from their ripened bushes, Margaret's raspberries were especially delicious covered with sweet cream.

No added sugar required.

Those bumpy berries did require something though.

They required work.

And lots of it.

Margaret, husband, Ted, and their flock of five children - Ted Jr., LaRee, Carolyn, Bob and Kim - performed those labors whenever the raspberries were ready.

Thorns were the real culprits in the raspberry patch.

The rascally raspberries liked to hide in the middle of the bushes.

Getting stuck was all part of the hazardous and - painful - job.

Eventually, though, these dedicated workers enjoyed the fruits of their labors.

So did the hangers-on like myself.

Margaret's raspberries.

Slathered in their sweet, creamy goodness.

Oh, to be able to indulge in those darlings again!

Monday, May 2, 2011


(Venus of Willendorf, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria, 25,000 BC)

This tiny lady captured my heart the minute I saw a printed reproduction of her hundreds of years ago.

Who in the world is this creature?

The Venus of Willendorf - also known as the "Woman of Willendorf" - is believed to be an ancient fertility symbol.

How do we know?

Well, for starters certain parts of her feminine anatomy are voluminous.

All the better to nourish those pesky Paleolithic offspring!

Secondly, her bulging tummy tells us that she has been busy giving birth to numerous babies.

This is a mom who is 25,000 years old - give or take a few thousand years.

Do you seriously believe she is worried about a few stretch marks on her belly?

I don't think so.

In fact, she has decided to boldly face the world in absolutely nothing but her birthday suit!

Talk about a girl who knows who she is!

Do you think Venus is making herself crazy running back and forth to the dermatologist for yet another Botox injection?

Of course not!

Her superior brain allows her to be cleverly creative on that front.

Venus has come up with the ultimate solution for disguising those troublesome worry lines.

She simply covers her forehead with circular horizontal bands of what else?

Braided hair!

Problem solved.

This beauty is a fully intact female figurine made of oolitic limestone.

Archeologists believe that she was originally coated with a thick layer of red ochre.

I like this girl's style!

Back in the day, she was not afraid to step out in a bright red dress!

As you can see, Venus is missing some vital appendages.

She has no feet.

And her hands are missing.

Oh, well.

So she's not perfect.

Who is?

These impediments don't hold this woman back from fulfilling her personal mission in life.

Venus stands 4.3 inches in height.

That's right - 4.3 inches!!!

That tall blond with the swinging ponytail - her name rhymes with "smarmie" - who lives at Target, Wal-Mart and a million other toy stores, towers over her by nearly eight inches!

Do you really think Venus allows herself to be intimidated by that bubble-headed floozie?

No, she does not!

She's the ultimate domestic goddess who is busy managing 12 gazillion mom-related projects.

Like presiding over her luxurious mansion at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Bobster and I stopped by to say "hello" a few weeks ago.

Venus was standing in her glass enclosed solarium when we first laid eyes on her.

She was catching some powerful rays from the spotlight that highlighted her every feature.

(I guess you never outgrow your need to tan.)

Let me tell you this:

We could not believe the stunning condition of this woman's body.

There were three chisel-like gouges on the front of her ample form.

But then what would you expect from a gal her age?

You would think there might be some visible scratches as well.


Not even a tiny trace!

Please........don't get me started on her lovely mansion.

(The "Venus of Tennessee" standing outside the mansion.)

This thing is constructed of the finest Viennese hardwoods - stained deep cherry red and polished smooth like silky "butta."

Her house is at least ten feet tall and it's approximately nine feet wide.

Not too shabby for a woman who stands a smidge over four inches.

Burnished gold letters spell "Venus von Willendorf" over the pediment portion of her manse.

All of these upscale features were gifted to her by the Austrian government.

The rest of us should be so lucky!

(Check out that classy ceiling in the "sky" outside the home of Venus!)

You may be interested to know that Venus has installed two niches in the north wall of her home.

Two equally ancient fertility statues reside in these niches.

I'll be kind and say that these mother earth figures haven't fared as well as Venus has in the arena of physical beauty.

In fact, they look beaten down, beaten up and just plain overwrought with the vagaries of time.

(Venuses II and III of Willendorf)

In comparison, Venus is a glowing, tightly wound bundle of gorgeousness!


I'm sure it's just an accident that these particular earth mothers have been invited to live at the Willendorf mansion.

Then again.......

well, we all battle that monster called pride every day of our lives.

Why should Venus be any different?