Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mac Court Memento

We bade farewell to McArthur Court -- home of the University of Oregon Ducks -- over the New Year's holiday weekend by attending the last two UO men's basketball games scheduled to be played in the venerable, iconic and much-beloved arena (above).

The 84-year-old gymnasium, one of the great venues in college basketball lore and the third oldest on-campus facility in the country, will soon be replaced by the state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena funded in part by Nike founder Phil Knight.

Mac Court has hosted more than 1,500 men's and women's basketball games, countless volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics matches, and college and high school basketball tournaments. Built in 1926, the facility was designed by Ellis Lawrence, noted campus architect and longtime dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

"The Pit" as it came to be known, was named for Clifton "Pat" McArthur, a former UO student body president and member of Congress from Oregon. In addition to sporting events, the arena has also featured visits by presidential candidates ranging from Robert Kennedy to Barack Obama, musicians from Elvis to The Grateful Dead and comedians from Bob Hope to George Carlin.

As a longtime season ticket holder to UO men's basketball (the view from our seats, above), I have spent a considerable amount of time at Mac Court over the years. But my first visit was not to attend a basketball game, a concert or a political rally; it was to register for class as a new student at the University of Oregon.

In my day, registration for classes at Mac Court was -- in a word -- nutty. Students were assigned times and had to sit in the bleachers to wait their turns. As you might expect, underclassmen always went last and when your number came up, you had to virtually run from table to table to register for classes. Class status and availability were posted on a large scoreboard (above).

Of course, most of the popular classes were filled by the time you got there, so you'd better have a back-up plan. The whole experience was not unlike an ant farm, with students climbing over one another to get that class they really needed to graduate. The only upside to the whole process was that it was a good way to meet girls.

By the time I arrived in Eugene, the UO basketball team had become so popular that it was hard to get tickets to games, even if you were a student. But one fateful day in February, 1974, I took a call from an old girlfriend -- a fellow UO student who lived in a sorority on campus. She bemoaned the fact that she had to travel to Portland for the weekend and asked me if I wanted her ticket to the UO-UCLA men's basketball game.

"Hell, yeah!" I remember saying, and soon I would be attending my first UO men's basketball game in Mac Court. This would be no ordinary conference game, however.

The Ducks were playing the mighty UCLA Bruins, darlings of the college basketball world, winners of 88 straight games (a record which was only just recently bested by the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team) and the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

If that wasn't bad enough, our buddies up the road in Corvallis -- the Oregon State Beavers -- had upset UCLA two nights before. Surely the Bruins would take out their frustrations on the Ducks.

But Oregon was no cellar-dweller that year. Coached by Penn legend Dick Harter, the team featured the "Kamikaze Kids," a scrappy group of players known for their swarming defense and reckless abandon. With future NBA players Ron Lee (below, #30) and Greg Ballard (below, #42), these guys led the league in floor burns and would prove a formidable opponent for the prima donnas from La-La Land.

My impression of Mac Court would forever be shaped by that first game. Before tip-off, the cheerleaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy. During the course of the game, Mac Court rocked so loudly that you could barely hear yourself think; the scoreboard swayed from the stomping and screaming of 10,000 fans. The Pit had its own pulse and you could feel the beat with every fiber of your being.

UCLA jumped to an 11-2 lead, but nobody panicked; UO found ways to break the Bruin press and the Ducks led at halftime. UCLA made a run in the second half, taking a one-point lead, but ultimately they could not stop the collective will of Ronnie Lee, his band of kamikazes and the Mac Court crowd. At the final buzzer, the scoreboard read 56-51 in favor of the Ducks and pandemonium ensued.

Sport Illustrated reporter Kenny Moore -- a UO grad -- wrote "(UCLA Coach) Wooden got his players through the melee, and when the floor cleared in an hour or so, it was slick with tears of deliverance." On that day, I became a true believer in the mystique of Mac Court.

This place was a bonafide home court advantage and students and fans were genuinely passionate for their beloved Ducks. Moving back to Eugene for graduate school, we naturally purchased season tickets (hey, what else can you do in Eugene during the rainy winter season?).

I have many other Mac Court memories including watching a bloated Elvis in his white jump suit belting out his hits just months before his death.

Mac Court was also the site of a 1984 visit by Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (right), who held court among hundreds of admiring students. I shot several rolls of film at that event (below, in a shot taken by my brother Robert's roommate Ray Bell) and they turned out so well, despite Thompson's manic ramblings, that I had a number of them framed.

Years later, Thompson returned to Eugene, this time at the Eugene Hilton.

Knowing Thompson's penchant for tardiness, longtime friend Tom Maloney and I attended a Duck basketball game at Mac Court prior to heading to the Hilton. Hoping for a autograph on one of my framed shots, I handed Thompson the picture. "Great shot, eh?" he blurted. "Reminds me of my glory days." He then handed the print to his bodyguard and ordered him to "put this with the other stuff."

Naturally, I was upset. As a consolation prize, he signed my Oregon basketball ticket with a hastily-scribbled "HST." Much later, in hindsight, my disdain with Hunter S. Thompson was replaced by a sense of honor that he thought enough of his portrait to confiscate it.

With too many memories of Mac Court to recount in this space, I'll wrap up this blog post by noting two other significant events.

Mac Court was the site of both my graduation ceremony and that of my daughter, Gina, (above, middle) who is pictured here at one of the entrances to Mac Court with fellow University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication classmates Hannah Smith (left) and Beth Evans (right).

So it is not without a bit of nostalgia that we say "farewell" to beloved McArthur Court. It is, as the man says, the end of an era. As singer/songwriter Jackson Browne would lament:

All good things got to come to an end,
The thrills have to fade, before they come 'round again,
The bills will be paid and the pleasure will mend,
All good things got to come to an end.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Much Ado About Goomsba

To the editor:

The December 15, 2010 issue of The Leavenworth Echo featured a great cover story by Nevonne McDaniels on the Woody Goomsba promotional video. It was a balanced, objective treatment of a subject that occasionally lends itself to controversy: the art and science of advertising.

Of course, once I read the story, I had to check out the video. My impression? The video is very creative, and Howell at the Moon Productions should be congratulated on a job well done. However, some fuddy-duddies in the Bavarian Village are not so easily impressed. But “outrage” concerning “damage done to Leavenworth’s reputation as a family destination?” And “scantily clad women?” Let’s not go overboard here. These folks need to lighten up.

As someone who has worked in the field of advertising, promotion and media relations for over 30 years, I can tell you that advertising professionals walk a fine line in communicating their messages. First and foremost, advertisements must be creative enough to grab attention; but they cannot be boring or -- by and large -- offensive.

The key to effective advertising, however, is whether the messages communicated reached the intended target audience, in this case, the under-30 crowd. Hate to break it to some of the folks on the Leavenworth Area Promotions committee, but they are not the intended audience for the video. At least one member of the committee readily admits that fact: “To be honest…I don’t click on Facebook and those kinds of things.”

So, did the Woody Goomsba video attract the attention of its target audience in a creative way? With nearly 150,000 hits as I write this letter, I’d say “yes.” The media attention generated by the promotional video is clearly a bonus.

My hat is off to the innovative members of the LAP committee for taking a creative approach to reach an untapped audience, one that will be vital in an effort to sustain economic development in the Bavarian Village and vicinity into the future. As for the negative reaction, just remember that opinions are like birthdays: everybody has one, especially when it comes to advertising.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Birds Of A Feather

Okay, so I lied; however, I have a good excuse, and this is coming from someone who has heard a few from students in his day.

As a long time Duck fan -- and despite the claim that my most recent post would be the last of the year -- I couldn't pass up the opportunity to comment on the subject of the run by the University of Oregon football team to the BCS national championship game against Auburn University in Glendale, Arizona on Monday, January 10.

Receiving an invitation to witness history in the 2010 Civil War from Mat Northway, my former supervisor at Eugene Water & Electric Board, we ventured north to "the belly of the beast" -- Reser Stadium in Corvallis, home of the Oregon State University Beavers. Mat (a loyal Beaver fan), in a genuinely altruistic gesture, invited two other EWEB Duck fans (Tommy Williams and P. Steve Stuart) to the game as well.

Arriving at the the stadium (below) early to witness "senior day" festivities, the weather was as good as you could hope for a Civil War in December -- mostly sunny and in the low 50s. Mind you, most Civil Wars are conducted in a cold, blinding rainstorm with high winds.

The Beavs jumped out the a quick lead after taking advantage of a Duck turnover to make it 7-0. OSU fans were fired up -- particularly the Beaver gal with the shrill voice directly behind me -- and it looked like the Oregon State football team came ready to play despite a 38-0 drubbing by the Stanford Cardinal the week before.

But, as has been the case all season, the Ducks soon took control of the game, refusing to let a few turnovers ruffle their feathers. By halftime, the Ducks led 19-7 and by the fourth quarter, UO had a three touchdown lead over their in-state rival. Beaver fans (below) could see the writing on the wall; the Beaver booster behind me had already retreated to her tailgate party to drown her sorrows.

So, after years of futility and then gradual improvement, the undefeated University of Oregon "Fighting Ducks" will play in the national championship game. It's been a long and windy road from the Toilet Bowl (the 1983 Civil War, the last 0-0 tie in college football history) to the more recent trend of Civil Wars that actually mean something. For that matter, it's been a long ways from Shreveport, Louisiana (the 1989 Independence Bowl, the first postseason appearance for the Ducks in 26 years) to Glendale, Arizona.

Because tickets to the game are both hard to get and expensive (and because we are only entitled to two as season ticket holders), my "partner in crime" at Duck football games -- Randy Enders -- will be taking his Dad to the championship contest in Arizona. For me, I'll watch the game on television and content myself with thoughts of the memorable home games and the historic Civil War that I witnessed in this magical season. Go Ducks!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Write Stuff, Right Time

Faithful readers, I will be taking a short hiatus from my blog during winter break at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in December to continue work on my novel.

Due to the start of a three year process to renovate Allen Hall (above), home of the School of Journalism and Communication, the adjunct offices have been moved to the UO Annex (below) on 12th Avenue near Kincaid Street, in the same block as Rennie's, a popular campus watering hole, and the UO Bookstore.

The building, an old dormitory from the same era as the Animal House, is turning out to be a nice location. Close to Barry's Expresso and a variety of eateries in the neighborhood, the UO Annex is a quiet spot to work, even when school is in session. During winter break, it should be the ideal place to get some serious writing accomplished.

Have a great holiday season and see you in January. Go Ducks!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

King Of The Blues

"I'm 85 years old, and I'm still singin' the blues." That's how B.B. King introduced his show at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene on Tuesday, November 3.

Rebecca, Jory and I picked up some last minute tickets in the front row of the upper balcony section at the Silva Concert Hall.

I had considered going for awhile, but at the last minute, I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to see B.B. King once again considering his age and his status as a longtime diabetic. I've seen him maybe a half dozen times over the years: the first time was at Springer's Ballroom in the hinterlands of southeast Portland in 1969.

It was a great show. His band, which included keyboard, drum, lead guitar, bass, baritone sax, tenor sax and flugelhorn, was tight. B.B. was good for about 90 minutes, then he signed off. I only hope I can do that well at his age.

Noting that he was 85, I realized he would have been 44 when I first saw him in concert as a 17-year-old blues neophyte. At left is a portrait of the artist as a young man. B.B. was named #3 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Capitol Hill Conundrum

As if I hadn't had enough, I was back in the "friendly skies" enroute to Washington, D.C. within three weeks of returning from Italy for the annual Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference held at the Washington Hilton (above) October 15-19.

PRSA, the world's foremost organization of public relations and communications professionals, has more than 31,000 members ranging from every practice area within the PR field, representing business and industry, agencies and counseling firms, government, associations, hospitals, schools, non-profit organizations and more.

Per usual, my role was to wear many hats: PRSA Assembly delegate representing both the Greater Oregon Chapter PRSA and North Pacific District PRSA (as an alternate for district chair Nancy Kincaid, who was unable to attend), and as professional advisor for the University of Oregon Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. The PRSSA holds its annual conference in conjunction with PRSA.

Assembly is an interesting experience; it's the governing body of PRSA, with nearly 300 delegates representing 110 chapters in 10 districts, as well as 16 special interest sections. Assembly is always a lively affair, lots of people with lots of opinions, much like the nominating convention scene in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

This year's point of contention was an amendment that would open up national board service to non-accredited members. The "Accreditation in Public Relations" (APR) is a credential -- achieved through a rigorous testing and interview process -- that acknowledges that a PR practitioner has the requisite knowledge for principled PR expertise and proficiency. This is important in a profession where licensure is not required and many people practice PR without knowing key competencies and appropriate ethical guidelines for decision-making.

After months of spirited debate on a PRSA e-group, followed by more passionate perspective at the Assembly, the amendment to remove the APR as a prerequisite for national board service was soundly defeated. Otherwise, my time was spent in meetings and sessions, though I had several opportunities to connect with the contingent of UO PRSSA members in D.C. for the conference.

With what little time I had left, I explored the Capitol Mall, including the White House (below), the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool and other points of interest in "our nation's capitol," as Forrest Gump might say. Despite my brief stay, I became quite proficient at using the "Metro," the subway system in Washington, D.C.

At the White House, I encountered a large contingent of police officers and secret service agents, none of whom looked too friendly. Ironically, President Obama was campaigning in Oregon.

He must have known I was gonna be in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Return To Owl Farm

Like the Chinook salmon returning to the headwaters of its youth, Rebecca and I ventured up to the genesis of our relationship, the Lake Wenatchee-Plain area in North Central Washington, on October 6-10.

Specifically, our stated mission was to spend time in the wild with Carmen, our golden retriever, enjoy the fall colors (below, at the base of our property at the junction of the Chiwawa and Wenatchee Rivers) in the mountains and prepare Owl Farm for the winter snows.

Rebecca and I first met in June, 1978 at a week-long U.S. Forest Service fire prevention training session held on the Central Washington University campus in Ellensburg, Washington. The training focused on providing background on law enforcement, fire prevention education and natural history for seasonal USFS employees who were in positions that dealt with the public.

That season, Rebecca was a fire lookout (below) on Little Bald Mountain on the Naches Ranger District and I was a wilderness ranger on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, both on the Wenatchee National Forest. When she wasn't on the lookout, which had a spectacular view of the east face of Mt. Rainier, Becky lived with her brother Doug and family in Yakima.

Back then, I lived near the Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station in a rental dubbed the "Mushroom Haus" because of the "Alice in Wonderland-like" mushrooms painted on the side of the structure, located across from the historic Cougar Inn on Lake Wenatchee.

Having just returned to North Central Washington from reporting jobs at the Brookings-Harbor Pilot and The Canby Herald, both small weekly newspapers in Oregon, I was looking forward to a summer of hiking and climbing in the backcountry of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

After Ellensburg, we traded road trips on weekends to see each other during the summer, making the drive between Yakima and Lake Wenatchee.

For most of the summer, however, Rebecca was on the lookout and I was patrolling the spectacular Chiwawa and Napeequa River valleys. Here, I was inspecting a hunter's cabin in the upper Buck Creek drainage.

When Becky was laid off from her seasonal lookout gig on the Naches Ranger District, she packed her bags and moved to Lake Wenatchee, joining me at the Mushroom Haus.

Shortly after her arrival, the two of us (along with "Pancake," a mule, and "Jimmy," a burro) went for a week-long trip along the Pacific Crest Trail (right) to collect garbage left over from the "high hunt" and make one last sweep through the backcountry.

On this, our last trip to Shugart Flats for the year, the memories were so thick, you had to brush them away from your face, to paraphrase James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams. Our long weekend was fabulous, spending time with Carmen, who has a keen interest in squirrels, and enjoying "another fine day in the flat."

The summer of 2010 will go into the books as a most enjoyable one, spending time in the backcountry with trips to Lake Minotaur and Lake Theseus (solo), to Lake Valhalla (with Frank Czubiak) and along Icicle Ridge (with Kelly Tjaden).

Kelly spent a considerable amount of time constructing Das Tree Haus (below, with Kelly's young friend from Snoqualmie Pass helping secure the ladder) at Owl Farm: Phase One is 90 percent complete.

Looking forward to more backcountry heaven in 2011.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Viva l'Italia, 9/7-9/24: Denouement

Much to the relief of some, we're coming to the end of this series of blog posts on mio viaggio attraverso d'Italia (my journey through Italy), so I thought I'd wrap up with a few observations on my wondrous and enlightening 17 days in the land of my forebears.

Some learnings: going to Italy solo is a good news/bad news proposition. The good news is that you can go where you want -- when you want. The bad news is that you're on your own, and there's a steep learning curve. I'll be much more efficient the next time.

Walking around the streets of Old Genoa, I thought the most noteworthy aspect is that people there love their dogs, and many take them everywhere they go. Canines of all varieties of breeds escorted young and old Italians alike.

Oddly, it seems like virtually everybody in Italy smokes, yet the life expectancy of an Italian is two years longer that an American (79 versus 77, respectively). Go figure. Their longevity must be attributable to diet and exercise.

At one of my breakfast sessions on the terrace, I met a nice French couple that was interested in my experience of the boat ride to Cinque Terre. When they found out that I taught college journalism, the woman said: "Oh, you must be a liberal." I thought: "What? Do I have a reader board on my forehead?"

Of course, the term "liberal" has a sometwhat different connotation as it related to politics in Europe, but she knew what she meant: one of those "doughy-handed, bleeding-heart liberals from that festering sinkhole of socialism that is Eugene."

It's funny. Some Italians looked like they wanted to kill me at times, or at least rough me up a bit; others wanted to practice their English and learn new stuff, saying they loved my West Coast U.S. accent.

I also like how Italians say "pronto" when they answer their telephones. It's like, "hurry up and talk or I'm hanging up."

Many have asked about the "bottom line" when it comes to a trip like this. The total cost of my trip to Italy? Just under $3,000.

Roundtrip airfare to Italy was $950, hotel expenses totaled about $1,000 for three- and four-star hotels. The cost of incidentals -- including dinners, train tickets, taxicabs, souvenirs, boat ride to Cinque Terre and other miscellaneous expenses -- was about $1,000.

The memories that will last a lifetime? Priceless. As I bade farewell to my hosts at the Hotel Cristoforo Colombo, I told them -- with my best Arnold Schwarzenegger accent -- "I'll be back."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting Around: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Transportation to, into, around, throughout and back from Italy was the adventure of a lifetime, to say the least.

My first stop in Europe was the Frankfurt International Airport in Germany (above). Moving through security and customs was a breeze, very organized and expeditious. They didn't even make me take off my shoes. Milano Malpensa Airport (below), on the other hand, was confusing and unnerving. Virtually nobody spoke English, so I was left to my devices -- and my Italian phrasebook.

Few things are worse than being lost, having to pee badly and unable to communicate. Like John Candy's character says in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, I would have had "more luck playing pickup sticks with my butt cheeks" than find a restroom in the Milano Malpensa Airport. Eventually, I found one -- before I peed my pants -- and when I did, it cost me half a euro to get inside.

After waiting for over an hour at a bus stop outside the Milan airport for transport to Genoa, a kindly taxi driver informed me that the last bus to Genoa had already left for the day.

He sent me to a money exchange inside the terminal, where a woman with a rudimentary grasp of English pointed me toward a motorcoach bound for the Milano Centrale train station (left).

Once I was on the bus, I felt a little less tense. But arriving at the train station, I was again confused -- and having to pee yet again (it was a 90-minute ride from the airport to the train station) -- while looking for the ticket office for a seat to Genoa.

At this point, it was late: 9 p.m. local time. I had already been traveling for 24 hours. Once I had a ticket in hand, I had five minutes to find my train, which fortunately I did. Catching the last train of the day from Milan to Genoa, I pulled into the city at about midnight.

Late as it was, a couple of taxi cabs were waiting outside the station. Hailing one, the driver had me at the front door of my hotel in less than 10 minutes. Cabs in Italy were quick and expeditious, if somewhat expensive (a ten minute ride was one euro per minute).

In Genoa, I paid 15 euros for the privilege of riding a tour bus, which traveled a route I had already walked. Walking virtually everywhere, both in Old Genoa and around other parts of the city, I learned quickly to keep a wary eye out for the innumerable motorini (motorcycles and scooters, above and below, right) at intersections. Traffic in Genoa was -- there's probably no other way to describe it -- organized chaos.

I can see why Italians drive little cars, motorcycles and scooters.

Aside from the parking issues and the price of petroleum, it's easier to maneuver the narrow streets of Old Genoa.

Nonetheless, people in Italy drive about one inch out of control, yet they somehow manage to avoid hitting anybody from the very large community of senior citizens who are out and about.

The boat ride to Cinque Terre (above) was a good way to see the sights of the ancient settlements along the Italian Riviera. Lots of expensive yachts were on display that day, particularly in Portofino.

My Dutch friend, a retired British Petroleum executive who owns his own boat, noted that the pleasure craft start "at about one million euros." In addition to recreational boaters, large cruise ships (below) and transports to points south (such as Sicily) were in evidence.

Toward the end, I was starting to feel comfortable taking the train to the extent that I could read and understand the schedules and protocols. Coming back from Torino, a young Italian dude joined me in my berth, but he didn't stay long.

After a heated exchange with the conductor, he got the boot for no train ticket (apparently, this is common in Italy, and some get away with it). Two mean lookin' train cops "put the arm on him" as I stuck my nose deeper into my book and slunk lower in my seat.

By the time I returned to Milan for my flight home, I was quite proficient at traveling by train. It's definitely the way to go in Italy, as it is in many other parts of Europe.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things: Miscellaneous Musings

Let's start with the important stuff first: food and beverages. As you can imagine, the quality of food in Italy is what you might expect: "eccelente!" Even if you've been inclined to eating Italian cuisine your whole life -- like me -- you would have been impressed.

For breakfast, I ate on the terrace of the Hotel Cristoforo Colombo (above); the morning meal was included as part of the cost of my room. But this was no continental breakfast. It included an eye-opener of espresso, Cappuccino or Cafe Americano -- as many as I desired -- followed by several types of fruit juices. For protein, I had my choice of ham or salami and hard-boiled eggs. Topping it off was a selection of croissants, breads of all varieties and fruit cocktail.

For dinner, it was a different "ristorante" every night, and I always left as full as an egg; scores of restaurants dotted the narrow alleys of Old Genoa and all were quite different in terms of bill of fare.

However, the common ingredient was pesto Genovese, the famous sauce comprised of basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. One night, I had pesto pasta cut into parallelograms; even with no meat, it was lip-smacking good.

Being so close to a major seaport (above), I enjoyed seafood pasta about every other night. As I noted in a previous post (, the pizza in Genoa was spare compared to the sumptuous toppings found on an American pie.

The Italians excel at wine -- no surprise here -- and all the eateries were well stocked.

However, Italian beer was inferior for my taste. My brother Robert said that Italian beer "tastes like blood," meaning that you can't really taste it. I thought that Italian beer was a lot like Mexican beer (or Korean beer, for that matter). Think: Budweiser. As a result, I stuck with the German and Danish labels, including Ceres Strong Ale (left).

Throughout Italy, the art and architecture are a sight to behold. Celebrated architect Galeazzo Allessi (1512-1572) designed many of the breathtaking buildings in Genoa.

In recent years, the Italian government has emphasized a greater public awareness of the importance of contemporary architecture and urban design in the role of regeneration and redevelopment of cities, and Genoa is no exception.

Italians understand that the quality of their surroundings can lift the quality of their lives.

Beautiful frescoes grace the exposed sides of some of the buildings, while ubiquitous statues and sculptures honor the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ, left) and leaders like Victor Emmanuel II, the "Father of the Fatherland."

Only one word can describe the buildings of Genoa: monumental.

Churches are also in abundance in Old Genoa. The Cathedral Di San Lorenzo (right), with its black-and-white marble facade, was only steps from my hotel. In fact, the bell tower was a consistent reminder of the time of day. The bell rings at 8 a.m., 12 noon and 7 p.m.

This tradition, from the old Italian "book of hours," was basically a call to prayers. The 7 p.m. bell signaled evening vespers.

The church bells were an extremely accurate barometer of time: the 8 a.m. bell was my final wake-up call. In other words, if I didn't have my rear out of bed by then, it was time.

It's a good thing the church bells were accurate because the clocks were not, as witnessed in the photo below. Naturally the hours will vary among the international cities featured here, but the minutes? This is a clock shop, mind you. For me, these clocks epitomized Italy in a way: sometimes stuff works, and sometimes it doesn't.

In terms of apparel, the Italians were -- by and large -- a well-dressed lot. Along with soccer, shopping is one of their favorite sports. But their focal point was "scarpe:" these people love their shoes. A small shoe shop betweeen my hotel and the Cafe Barbarossa was a popular establishment, always packed with people looking for new footwear.

Finally, a last word on toilets. When I first laid eyes on the bathroom in my hotel room, I thought: " what's the deal with the hot- and cold-running toilets?"

My brother Robert explained by text message that these are called "bidits," which are designed for washing one's private parts. In both of my hotels -- in Genoa (above) and Milan (below), the bathrooms also featured a second toilet, a water closet for "number two."

Well, we've been from one end to the other, so enough of this potty talk. I thought it would be a good way to "end" this blog post.