Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What a Rick Steves Travel Guide to Venice Would Look Like if Rick Steves Were Severely Agoraphobic


In this guide we’ll explore the majesty of Venice: you’ll find out how to journey in quaint gondolas through august waterways, dine sumptuously in cozy back-alley pizzerias, and weep in bitter humiliation when a social-panic-induced diarrhea attack sends you fleeing for the blessed privacy of a restroom. Ah, Venice!

Benvenuti!” is the Italian word for welcome, and from the moment you arrive in Venice, you’ll feel warmly welcomed indeed. Incidentally, another important phrase in Italian is “Ho un timore paralizzante delle folle e dei posti del pubblico,” which means “I have a crippling fear of crowds and public places.”

Let’s take a look at some of the remarkably splendid sites and sounds you’ll want to take in during your time in this fabled city known to locals as “most serene.”

Walking the Streets
Enchanting, labyrinthine, and guaranteed to please, the winding streets of old Venice will captivate your every step. Don’t worry about getting lost; it’s guaranteed to happen but it’s part of the fun! This is assuming that getting lost outside doesn’t cause you to hyperventilate and your glands to swell.

Embark on a magical journey on foot to celebrate your first day in Venice. Set out without a map and discover! Fall in love with the myriad canals and bridges. Stuff yourself at one of the many hidden, tiny culinary treasures, which offer up delicious pizza, pasta, and local wine. Marvel at the wholly unique architecture—the points and curves of the windows, the colorful brick and stone, and yes, the Venetian blinds! And when your sweat-sodden body is overcome by the horror of it all, squeal for help and hope that you don’t land on top of one of Venice’s enormous rats when you faint. They are legion here.

Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge
Its praises have been sung in music and poetry for centuries, and in person the Grand Canal of Venice is no less impressive. It is truly a site to behold, or so I am told by people who don’t spend their voyage through the canal covering their eyes and shrieking under the crushing weight of being out in the open. I don’t quite glimpse the Ponte Rialto, with one hand holding my spectacles and the other blanketing my vision, even when the gondolier strikes me with his oar, barks at me to open my eyes, and curses me in Italian for being a disgraceful, womanly coward. But once I put on my glasses again and whimper back to my hotel room, I see some nice postcards. Nice and big. Ponte means “bridge.”

La Gallerie dell’Accademia
The Accademia is home to some of the world’s greatest works of art, and showcases in particular the astonishing éclat of Venice’s great Renaissance painters such as Titian, Tintoretto and Bellini. Art lovers from around the world flock to the museum and spend hours roving its cavernous, masterpiece-lined hallways. Bellissimo!

I spend my visit to the Accedemia curled up in a ball beneath a bench, wailing, twitching with clenched fists, and praying for death to come swiftly. Mercifully, I am removed by two angry security guards, who drive me back to my hotel. They tell me that the gift shop is also very nice. Cheap reprints.

Piazza San Marco
Oh God. Oh dear God. So many people. Pigeons swarming everywhere. I think I’m going to be sick.

The Basilica of San Marco

The Ducal Palace
Because my editor insists that I continue exploring, there doesn’t seem to be any end to this torture. There is vomit on my trademark blue collared shirt, I am battling incontinence, and also seem to have developed a nervous tick in my jaw. And now I’m supposed to visit the doge’s palatial home? With all its florid adornments, fabulous tapestries and centuries of rich history? It’s full of tourists and, I’m sure, stinks of infirmity as badly as the rest of this squalid, God-forsaken hellhole. Screw the ducal palace. I’m going to sleep.

The Glass-Making Island of Murano
Swaddled in the warm, warm blankets of my hotel room, nothing can hurt me. Nmmm. Cocoon. Nmmmmmmmm.

Greg Ruehlmann was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. His work has been occassionally published in McSweeney’s (here, for example) and other places. Greg is proud to say that he knows what “sartorial” means. He now lives in New York City. Maybe he should have a Web site or something.

I’ve Decided to Start Acting More French

Hi, honey. We need to talk.

So I’ve decided to start acting more French, and you’re going to be seeing some changes in my behavior. Exactly what this will entail is difficult to determine, particularly because I have never been to France. But it’s my decision, and I’m sticking with it. Anyway, I’ve got some general ideas on how to do so. Hence the beret.

Why have I chosen to do this, you ask? In celebration of my heritage. I’ve recently been made aware that my last name is probably French in origin. This is not certain, but fairly likely—maybe 60 percent. It’s either French or German. Anyway, I don’t really want to act more German, nor would I know how to do so even if I did. So French it is. Want some baguette?

Please don’t object to this. And don’t fight it. If you want to fight about it, I’m going to have to run away. It is widely acknowledged that French people don’t fight. We are lovers, not fighters. Perhaps I could get someone to do the quarreling for me, if you’re insistent on arguing. Anyway, I’d rather not fight about it, as it’s not in my nature. Let’s just have some wine and a long skinny cigarette.

What do you mean it’s too early for wine? Not in France, it isn’t. French people are drunk 24/7. I’m really going for full-on Frenchness here. So when I drunkenly turn my superior nose up at everything you say, please don’t be offended. It might help your situation some if you wore this Canadian flag patch on your backpack. French people dislike Canadians to a lesser degree than they do Americans. Wear this and hopefully I won’t spit on you. Thanks.

So I was thinking we could head over to the Louvre this afternoon, and then maybe go to the café for some cuisine—perhaps crêpes à la carte. Sound good? How was my pronunciation, by the way?

Are you ready to go? We’ll need to allow ourselves plenty of time for the meal. French people take exceedingly long meals—often nine or ten hours in length—because they savor every nuance and flavor of what they are eating. It is also not uncommon for two French diners to go through 27 bottles of Bordeaux at a single meal, so pace yourself, O.K.?

Sacre bleu! I suddenly find myself conflicted, because as a French person, I am also culturally obligated to enjoy and be amazingly skilled at cooking. I stand for hours on end over an old Wedgewood stove in my Parisian flat, pouring spices and wine into large pans and cauldrons, often sniffing deeply and approvingly as I do so. Usually I am making stews or escargot. Do you want me to cook for you? I guarantee you’ll sleep with me after. French people are that good when it comes to food.

At some point here, I have to stop by the dry cleaner to pick up my tight-fitting, horizontally striped shirt, so there’s that to squeeze in to our day as well. Honestly, though, time really doesn’t matter all that much to me. We can go whenever. I’m pretty nonchalant about punctuality, which it is my understanding non-French people often mistake for ennui.

In case you were wondering, I’m not going into work today. You Americans work too much. It’s ridiculous, your capitalist society. All you think about is money. Maybe you should try cutting your work week down to just two days and relaxing a little. That would leave you more time for the finer things in life, like long meals, copious amounts of wine, and long, skinny cigarettes.

That Jerry Lewis! Oh, my God, what a wonderful man! Remind me to do some research on that guy. Can’t exactly seal the old “I’m French” deal without a deep appreciation for Jerry Lewis, can I? Is he still alive? What was he, a tennis player?

Well, O.K. I’m tired now. I’m going to take a nap. Pretty much all of my days now are going to be devoted to two things: eating and sleeping. Of course there will be some drinking and smoking in there too—usually in conjunction with the eating. But you need to understand that naps are a huge part of my culture. Please be quiet while I’m napping, O.K.?

Object all you want, but it’s who I am. This is what life is going to be like from now on, dear. If you don’t like it, you can go back to Canada.

Eric Feezell’s writing may be seen regularly at The Morning News, McSweeney’s, Yankee Pot Roast, and other fine online publications. He is also a contributing writer for The Onion News Network. Please keep a watchful eye out for ice pumas. Thank you.


I Think I Need to Dispell Some Misconceptions about My Six-Foot-Tall Swedish Ladyfriend Who Happens to Be a Licensed Massage Therapist

Her name is Kerstin. It’s pronounced “SHES-TIN.” A lot of people get that wrong.

She is from Sweden. She is a licensed massage therapist. In Sweden, they have this thing called “Classical Massage” which doesn’t involve vibrating beds or “happy endings.” Most people in Sweden aren’t happy. But they love Max von Sydow.

She is six feet tall and blonde and super-fucking hot. O.K., whatever. But she speaks three languages and works for a living (though not in a Donna Summer style). And, yes, she is a licensed massage therapist. She’s very esoteric, you know. Transcendental and all that shit. It’s not like she’s flying around the world wearing miniskirts and drinking champagne. That’s only in the movies, bro.

She can put her legs behind her head. Yeah, that’s fucking hot and badass, but she’s very serious about her craft. Enough with the stupid jokes.

She doesn’t drive a Volvo. She doesn’t drink Absolut. She doesn’t like ABBA. And she doesn’t cavort in Roman fountains in strapless evening gowns. (Her boobs aren’t that big, either.)

For some reason she doesn’t like Swedish metal. I love metal and there’s all these cool bands coming out of Sweden, but she’s not down with that. She’s into Kitarō and, like, Yanni. And the Rolling Stones. She had no idea about HammerFall until I burned her a disc. (What are you gonna do?)

She teaches a yoga class, because she’s all into that. Did I mention that she can put her legs behind her head and there is this one position in yoga called “Bird of Paradise.” That shit is so fucking crazy sexy I don’t even know what to say. Still, she won’t take me seriously about dating …

She towers over me even without heels. Fucking Swedes. She’s all giggly and sunshine and likes lingonberries on her toast. I don’t have any idea what lingonberries are, but she’s so fucking hot I could care less. She hasn’t given me a massage yet, though. But whatever. Lingonberries. That’s so gay. But, contrary to popular belief, she would put grape jelly on her toast given a choice.

Like all Swedes, she’s very punctual. Like most Americans, and New Yorkers, I’m always running late. But she’s cool about waiting. She doesn’t get pissed if I’m late. Enough with the judgments about pissed-off Swedes who don’t like having to wait. (Did I mention she’s six feet tall and blonde and totally hot?)

A Swedish woman
Fig. 1: A typical Swedish woman.


She knows who the Swedish Chef is because they have The Muppet Show in Sweden. She thinks it’s funny; but, yeah, she gets it. (Bork-Bork-Bork!)

Yes, she eats herring. She doesn’t like it as much as Italian food. So, fuck you—deal with it!

She can’t tell a joke to save her life. True of all Swedes, I have found. Good with stories about growing up on a farm with a pig named “Herr Nilsson” and a ram named “Ulrich,” but that thing about Swedes being serious is way off. I mean—she basically had a pig named “Mr. Nelson,” which is kind of funny. If it was called “Major Nelson” it would be even funnier. But she doesn’t know about I Dream of Jeannie, so my idea about getting her into scarves and calling me “Master” is kind of dead in the water.

She has shopped at IKEA. But no discounts. What’s up with that? Fucking Swedes …

She does like Ace of Base. Well, there are some stereotypes you can’t break through …

Mick Stingley is a freelance writer who lives in New York City. He is featured in Rock and Roll Cage Match, available from Three Rivers/Random House. He is 40 years old and refuses to cut his hair ’cuz he’s so fuckin’ metal.

Europa Europa!

European Hip-Hoppers

Metric Tonne-Loc

50 Pence (a.k.a. 97 Cent)

Prosciutto-Flavored Flav

Sir Mix-A-Lot, M.P. for Brighton

The Notorious G.R.A.N.D.E.


—Michael Baylis

Ja, so, dis is der story uf me, a young mensch who vanders arount New York mit dem red hat on mein kupf. So, der is all diese peoples, they really, how you say, pissing me off. Ich bin ein pissed off teenager, if you know vat I’m saying to you? So, anyhow, ich see all these ducks in Central Park, very beautiful, ja. And I am so, so angry at dis and dat. Vy? Vy ist me so wery angered? Because they ist der phonies! They ist der shams. Der phony, phony,phony! All mit der smiling und laughing! Vat ist dis here, 99 Luftballoons? Mein Gott! So, ja, I making up mein mind I’m no more going back to my Pensey school. Nein! Mit more of dem phonies. Sorry to Charlie! Then, you understand, der ist ein carousel, going round unt round. And there ist dis catcher, he’s grabben der kinder auf der rye. So, that’s it. Ja? Now, what you say we dance? Unt an ein, and a zwei Oom pah pah, oom pah pah!



— Empty absinthe bottles

— Tags and cardboard from packages of lederhosen

The Daily Sun

— Royale with Cheese Styrofoam containers

— Liner notes from A-Ha records

— Drachmas, marks, francs, lira


Day 1
Donna at CareerLaunchers wakes me around nine with a job that just opened up. The catch is it’s in Vatican City. I ask if that’s in Queens, and she says no, Italy. As I’m wondering if it’s worth dragging myself out of bed to commute all the way to Italy, she tells me they’ll spring for round-trip airfare, plus free room and board. Sweet! I consider admitting the slight exaggeration on my résumé of my two years of high school Italian into fluency, but I’m three days late with rent.

Day 2
A guy named Cardinal Roberto meets me at the plane, and I can immediately tell I won’t like working for this guy when he starts with, “You didn’t bring your own miter?” In English, I tell him Donna just told me to “dress nice.” He shakes his head and says, “I suppose, to extend our influence, we should speak the global tongue while you are here.” I’m like, Whatever floats your boat, dude—I can talk in Italian all night long about where the bathroom is and if it is raining or sunny. To spite him, I count the layover in Heathrow on my timesheet.

Day 3
Cardinal Roberto sent me to bed at 5:30 p.m. last night because I was “surely exhausted from my journey.” Hello—I’m not geriatric. Today during introductions, all my coworkers kneel before me and do that thing where you move your hand around your chest a few times, like when you’re joking about being scared. I suppose it’s their way of hazing the new guy. I ask Cardinal Roberto how long he’ll need me, and he goes, “The interregnum shall last until we select a man who is as spiritually elevated as our Lord and Savior Christ but as corporeally humble as an indigent leper.” Good luck finding that combo with today’s crop of M.B.A.s, buddy. I’m too chickenshit to inquire if the job might be temp-to-perm.

Day 4
I’m quietly singing along with the James Taylor song “You Can Close Your Eyes” on my iPod in the office, and after I get to “Well, the sun is slowly sinking down / But the moon is slowly rising / So this old world must still be spinning ’round,” everyone stops and stares at me. Cardinal Roberto comes over and whispers, “You mean, ‘So this old world must keep on remaining stationary while the sun and moon revolve around it,’ right?” O-kayyyy—someone fell asleep during earth science.

Day 6
Pro: I get unlimited use of the bulletproof company car. Con: It maxes out at 12 m.p.h. and isn’t exactly a chick magnet.

Day 7
Cardinal Roberto gets furious today and screams that whoever left the creamer out “has to buy a new one, capisci?” I figure it’s better to confess than get caught, so I say, “Mea culpa.” He takes a deep breath and says, real slowly through clenched teeth, “It is not your bad. You are infallible. I was erroneous. The creamer is not rancid.” Then, I shit you not, he pours it into his coffee and drinks it. He’ll be feeling that later. I’m guessing he’s trying to play with my mind with reverse psychology, but later as I walk to the fax to send the week’s timesheet to Donna, I trip and knock into Cardinal Guiseppe, who says, with no detectable sarcasm, “Excellent dance move, Your Holiness. I feel blessed.” So either everyone’s in on the “infallible” joke, or I can get away with murder here.

Day 8
For the tedium alone they should pay me more than $9.25 an hour. I was hoping there’d be some Italian señoritas around to spice things up, but today after I finally meet a cutie in a full-length, sexy black gown-and-hood number named Maria and ask Cardinal Roberto what her deal is, he strongly hints I shouldn’t date anyone from the company or I’ll be “excommunicated,” which I think is office-speak for “fired without a letter of reference.”

Day 9
They’re catching on that, when it comes to work ethic, I’m no saint. Cardinal Roberto busts me for I.M.ing today, then when I return from my seventh bathroom break of the afternoon, it’s deleted from my computer and there are parental blocks on Hotmail and ESPN.com.

Day 12
Weekend from hell. On Friday I’m craving tortellini with pesto for lunch and need to get out of the office for an hour, but everyone’s like, “Let’s order in for fish!” Do these people soak up nutrients or something from harsh fluorescent lighting? When work ends and I ask Cardinal Roberto where I should sample the Italian nightlife, he informs me we’re not even technically in Italy, and sends me to bed early again. It’s soooo dead here—they should call it Vatican Village. Saturday I stay up late watching DirecTV, and suddenly see Sinéad O’Connor holding up my 11th-grade yearbook photo and calling me “the real enemy.” Plus I was foolishly following the George Clooney-inspired Caesar haircut craze at the time—not a good look on me. Cardinal Roberto catches me and says I must get my rest because I have to give a speech tomorrow at noon—to a few thousand people. I hate public speaking. And on a goddamn Sunday morning, for Chrissakes.

Day 14
I’ve been here two weeks and I still can’t explain what exactly I do all day.

Day 16
Scored an interview tomorrow with Cardinal Roberto and some other suits for the permanent position—I think the official title is “Supreme Pontiff,” which could be kind of cool to tell strangers in bars. I loathe the job, but desperately need the health care, which I’ve heard is lifelong. It seems like everyone around here is a pretty devout Catholic, and since I assume American hiring laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of creed apply here, I think I’ll be up front and tell them I’m not really all that religious. And also that I’m Jewish.

Teddy Wayne is a writer living in Manhattan. His work has also recently been published in McSweeney’s and Time magazine. He runs a 4.3 40 and was a Southwest Conference First-Team selection at cornerback.

Part of Your Complete International Breakfast

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English muffin

Canadian bacon

Swiss cheese

Irish coffee

French toast


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