Friday Links: Anti-Valentine’s Edition

A love story for the ages.

To quote some crazy dude in Japan’s Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Woman Are Not Attracted To: “The blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day, driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists, has arrived once again.”

I really couldn’t have said it better myself. Although, I do confess a certain fondness for chocolate capitalists.

Some links to help spread the love:

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Time Travel to Another Naples: The Bourbon Tunnel

In Italy, December 8 is a national holiday. Something about a feast and some reception and being really, really clean, like immaculate.

I don’t know all the details, but there was a parade with red banners and gold fringe. And a lot of offices and government buildings were closed, and everybody was out and about, shopping and eating.

Neapolitan parade

As far as I can tell, it’s the equivalent of Black Friday. The streets were mobbed with families pushing strollers and carting shopping bags.

Since I’m a good little tourist, I knew that it was a national holiday and tried to plan my visit around it.

I used it as an excuse to visit an underground escape route.

Naples has quite a vibrant little underground scene. I’m not talking “underground” as in, sketchy clubs and coffee houses frequented by emo kids looking to get buzzed while listening to My Chemical Romance (I’m not even sure that reference is accurate. What do emo kids listen to? Is anyone called emo anymore?).

I digress. What I mean is underground structures that you can visit in Naples. Like tunnels, catacombs, cisterns and bomb shelters. It’s surprising that streets don’t just collapse upon themselves since they’re seemingly built over the urban planning equivalent of Swiss cheese.

One of these underground tours was located right near my hotel. And, as luck would have it, it was only open Fri-Sunday and on Holy Days. Which included the National Holiday of Feasting on Immaculate Libation Day.

The Tunnel Borbonico, or Bourbon Tunnel, is down a small alley off the left hand side of a very small street off a slightly larger street off the Plaza Del Plebiscito. Basically, if you make it all the way down the street to the church, you’ve gone too far. Also, there’s a bike barrier blocking the alley, so….look for that.

Bourbon Tunnel entrance
Signage for the Bourbon Tunnel.

There’s another entrance/exit at a very posh parking garage nearby. I’m not sure if that’s easier or not, but it does provide a nice excuse to go shopping (although, you’d then have to carry all your bags through the tunnels).

The tours are at 10, noon, 1:30 and 5:30. Me, and the rest of holiday-making Naples, showed up for the 1:30 tour. The place was packed. There was a small holding area for the groups and it was brimming with people. All of them, as far as I could tell, Italian.

Sure enough, a diminutive and perky English-speaking tour guide (I think her name was Sarah?) comes in and calls for all us foreigners and I’m the only one who steps up. My 10 euros got me a private tour. (You’re not allowed to take pictures, so most of the following pictures are from the Bourbon Tunnel website and are linked)

Sarah explained the history of the tunnel as we proceed down a very narrow and cramped stone stairwell. It was conceived in 1853 by Ferdinand II of Bourbon as an escape route from the Royal Palace to the nearby naval barracks. You see, Bourbons had had a rough time of the whole king business, particularly in Italy.

In fact, turns out that trusting the Neapolitan military probably wouldn’t have been a good move for Ferdinand. In 1856, a soldier attempted to assassinate him, and it’s believed that the infection he received from the soldier’s bayonet led to his ultimate demise.

Ferdinand’s tunnel was never really finished during his shaky tenure on the throne. That’s because Ferdinand had some seriously grandiose plans for what was essentially a “get out of Dodge” tunnel. He wanted a whole underground world with shops and other distractions. He drove the poor architect, Errico Alvino, crazy with his add ons and demands.

The tunnel runs about 530 meters long, and 30 meters underground, and is full of caverns and evidence of it’s past as a aqueduct system that provided water for this area of Naples until the mid-1800s. Sarah, who was very much working on her Hollywood-style teaser hype (“You’ll never believe what happened next. Follow me to find out more!”) told me how workers tasked with cleaning and maintaining the wells would sometimes use them to sneak into the wealthy houses to steal from them during the night. And, sometimes, they would get frisky with the lady of the house and nine months later, the equivalent of the milkman’s kid. (She told me the Italian phrase for it but I can’t find it in my notes.)

During World War II, the tunnel and aqueducts were used as an air raid shelter and makeshift military hospital. All told, nearly 10,000 Neapolitans took shelter there throughout the massive German bombings. People whose homes were destroyed moved down into the tunnels permanently. There is tons of debris – handwritten messages on the walls, abandoned toys and household items. It was actually very moving.

After the war, the tunnels were used by the police as an impound lot until the 1970s. Several cars, motorcycles, and, of course, Italian scooters are still down there covered in dust. Finally, the tunnel was used as a sort of municipal dump, with people throwing piles of garbage down there (including dismantled statues), until 2005, when the Associazione Culturale Borbonica Sotteranea began a five year restoration effort and opened it to the public.

It was a lot of history for an hour-and-a-half tour. As I made my way up and out and back into the crowded streets, I thought a lot about the many lives of that tunnel, and the resourcefulness of the Neapolitan people, and how there can be a whole other world of living history right under your feet. How you can miss the whole thing, if you don’t know it’s there, or if you get lost on a tiny side street on your way to an even tinier alley. You really have to pay attention and look hard at things you might take for granted, I guess.

The only picture I was allowed to take with my camera, at the end of the tour, looking back at the tunnel.
The only picture I was allowed to take with my camera, at the end of the tour, looking back at the tunnel.

Ultimately, I decided to the whole situation might be better considered over a pizza and some wine. It was the Italian National Holiday of Feasting on Immaculate Libation Day, after all.

IMG_2285

It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Vegas and Sharks

Well, hello there, good lookin’.

I’m back from the non-stop holidaying extravaganza! As, I suppose, we all are, regrettably. Oh well. #TheStruggleIsReal

My main man-panion XFE took some time off during the holidays so we ate many, many great, decadent, meaty things, and drank many a delicious wine and cocktail (mostly made with gins-of-the-world, a current XFE obsession), and just generally loafed around competing with the cat on who could be more sloth-like.

You know who else loafs (loaves?) around? Sharks! Those guys are totally lazy.

Employee of the month.
Sharks may be lazy, but starfish are apparently hard workers.

You see, I spent an inordinate amount of 2012 deathly afraid of sharks. I thought they were these ferocious, teeth-grinding, people-killing machines. But through scuba diving the last couple of years, I’ve actually discovered that they’re kinda wimpy, and not really all that scary. (Ssshhh. Don’t tell them I said that?)

Just to confirm this suspicion, we went diving in the shark tank at Mandalay Bay over Christmas.

shark marketing

Because….Christmas, y’all. In Vegas. So….of course.

We had been on an aquarium dive before. In October, we went up to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and did the Atlantic Coral Reef tank dive there. It was….meh. We had to arrange and pick up our own gear (wetsuits, masks, booties, flippers), we did not actually get to see any of the aquarium (entry tickets had to be purchased separately for around $35 per adult), and the tank, while certainly nice, was a bit small. Plus, there was only one or two flesh-tearing aquatic creatures about, so it lacked a bit of pizzazz. (Actually, I don’t remember seeing any sharks, but the National Aquarium website says there are some, so I guess there were.)

But Mandalay Bay, my sweeties, is in Las Vegas and they bring a whole showmanship to their tank dives.

First, they take you and up to four guests on a tour of the Shark Reef Aquarium, which features over 2,000 animals. Our guide, Janna, showed us around the 14 exhibits, including jelly fish, piranhas, and a Komodo dragon. And of course, the shark tank, formally known as the Shipwreck Exhibit. The 1.3 million gallon tank has around 30 sharks, including sandtiger sharks, a couple of types of reef sharks, zebra sharks, and a Galapagos shark. The tank also has stingrays, sea turtles, a moray eel, and some crazy-looking sawfish.

Then they give you all the backstage tour, including and explanation of the filtration system and a stroll along the feeding platform that runs all above the shark tank. It’s very James Bond-ish.

That's Janna, our handler on the left. That's a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.
That’s Janna, our handler on the left. That’s a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.

Then Janna whisked away our loved ones (in our case, XFE’s parents) to go back inside the main shark exhibit while you (the divers) get geared up in the locker rooms. And by geared up, I mean, wedge into the wetsuit and booties they provided and then shimmy into a 14-pound suit of chain mail. Yes. Chain mail. Because they want you to think there’s an element of danger here. Pretty crafty.

Once we were suitable geared up, the incredibly patient and kind team helped us wade into the small holding pool near the exhibit and we did a buoyancy check to make sure everything was working. We also had these ear pieces that were supposed to help us hear our diving guide but really just sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. They did help grab our attention when she (I think her name was April?) was trying to point out something to us.

Meanwhile, they have a videographer recording the whole thing: the divers gearing up (luckily, they don’t include audio so you don’t hear our grunts and cussing), getting in the water, and the view of us from inside the exhibit. In addition, the dive guide had a Go-Pro which she used to record us in the water.

(And I WOULD have posted clips from the final video except WordPress wants me to upgrade my blog plan to $100 a year in order to do that, to which I must say, “hellz no.” Sorry, kids. No MP4 videos on the scrub version of WordPress.)

And, as you can see by the bits of video I’ve posted, the sharks do not give a shit. They couldn’t have been less interested in us. I feel fairly certain there was a greater chance of one of us divers getting some sort of uncontrollable sushi craving all of a sudden and biting one of them than any of us even getting a tiny head nudge from any of the 30 sharks in that tank.

Here’s how the imaginary shark discussion goes in my mind:

Zebra Shark: “Ugh, these guys again.”

Sandtiger Shark: “I know, right?”

Zebra Shark: “I don’t know why they come down here and bother us if they’re not going to even bring us some tasty chum, like a fisherman’s hand or a small child or something. They’re really just wasting our time.”

Galapagos Shark: “And did you see that chick with the googly eyes? What’s her problem? Did you see how she was looking at me, all terrified and whatnot? As if. I can totally tell by that wetsuit that that girl has been eating way to much cheese and everybody knows I’m lactose intolerant.”

White-Tip Reef Shark: “Yeah, and did you see that one dude go right up to Larry’s face when he was trying to sleep? All he wants to do is take a little nap after swimming around in endless circles and what does that moron do? Swim right up and insist on getting his picture taken with him. Geeze.”

Sandtiger Shark: “Alright, I’m out of here. I’m going to go hide out at the top of this ship bow thing until they’re gone. By my limited edition shark Swatch watch, they’ll probably be in here about another 40 minutes, which gives me just enough time to watch an episode of Shark Tank OnDemand. Get it? See what I did there? Shark Tank? That’s comedy gold.”

End scene. 

Cheesepuff in a wetsuit
Cheesepuff in a wetsuit

All told, we were in the shark exhibit for around 45 minutes. It was pretty great. Unlike the National Aquarium where we were allowed to swim around on our own in pairs, we had to stick with our dive guide, but that was no big deal. We got to hunt in the sand for sharks’ teeth, get up close to a sleeping (resting?) reef shark, dodge sea turtles, and wave to the kids inside the exhibit.

When we got out, we unloaded our gear, hit the showers, and met our guests out by the aquarium store.

shark chompers

Even though I didn’t exactly test my mettle or stare down danger, I can’t say enough great things about the fine folks at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. It was first-class attentiveness from start to finish. The very thoughtful aquarium staff even had snacks and water set out for you in the locker rooms, which was a nice touch. They also gave us little glass vials of the shark teeth we’d collected (or, in my case, coral because I apparently cannot tell the difference underwater), and certificates to commemorate the day. And, about a week later, an awesome 15 minute video, which includes a very soothing-spa-music-soundtrack.

Maybe that’s why the sharks are so docile. Nonstop soothing spa music.

Friday Links: Fall Blows Edition

Fall is the worst
This picture of one of the Broderick twins crying with a leaf shoved in her face never fails to crack me up.
  • I’m on a bit of a self-imposed shopping hiatus right now, but if I weren’t, I’d be plunking down some cash for the burgundy version of these wedge booties featured on Cardigans and Couture this week.
  • This post from last year continues to perform really well on thePoeLog. I believe that it’s because it contains the words “Fall sucks.” Yes, I hate fall. But maybe not as much as John Oliver who had this fantastic rant about that most vile and eagerly awaited of seasonal drinks: pumpkin spice latte. Yep, tastes like a candle.
  • Here are a few Buzzfeed listicles about why fall sucks. Yes, I am unfortunately unable to master the art of layering without looking frumpy, and I get lipstick all over every scarf that I try to artfully wrap around my short neck/large bosom area.
  • We’re going to Singapore next year and this helpful article from CNN might save me from spending the trip hanging over a toilet. I can’t believe there are TEN gross foods I need to worry about. At least.
  • We’re actually using miles to fly Singapore Airline’s first class suites, which Paula Froelich of Yahoo Travel jokes “ruined her life.” I’m willing to chance it.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, a new airline will be offering unbelievably cheap flights to Iceland and Europe beginning in March. Of course, it will probably be standing room only and no baggage fees because you aren’t allowed to bring any luggage. Also, I would bring my own safety equipment if I were you.
  • Presented without comment: Wild hogs on the hunt for candy may force town to cancel Halloween.
Skull shirt says Happy Halloween
We have a very lax dress code at Poe Industries. And a hamper of dirty laundry. 

Two Bald Boys and a Brisket

Great Texas brisket can be a life-altering experience, right up there with shaving one’s head or birthing a child.

All three of those life-altering experiences played into our Memorial Day weekend.

Before you get all excited, my personal pitmaster-for-life XFE and I are responsible for the brisket, but not the baby.

Well, sorta.

Some of the remnants. People got on it before I could remember to photograph it.
Some of the remnants. People got on it before I could remember to photograph it.

We started the weekend by shaving XFE’s head bald. He’s been, shall we say, follicly challenged for ages, bless his little sparse head. After a not-so-gentle nudge from his gruff barber Dan a few months ago, XFE asked me if it was time for him to let go of his comb-o-hawk.

Now, this is an incredibly delicate domestic situation to be put in. For one thing, I didn’t really care two figs about the state of his hair. It’s never been a big deal for me. Secondly, I couldn’t really tell how he felt. Obviously, he’d been keeping it the entire time I’d known him, buying hair gel for an increasingly thinning constituency. Why spend money on hair products if you aren’t really attached?

I had to proceed very carefully, gently nodding whenever the subject came up, offering suggestions on how to ease into this new state of hair.

But XFE is not a man to ease into anything and immediately decided to skip the wussy Matt Lauer buzz step and go full on baldylocks.

He went from Louis CK doppelganger (seriously, he looks just like him) to Rick from Pawn Stars
He went from Louis CK doppelganger (seriously, he looks just like him) to Rick from Pawn Stars

The results have been pretty shocking for many, myself included. We were at Target on Saturday and a co-worker walked past him without recognizing him at all. Even though he didn’t have a lot going on up there, the total absence has taken some getting used to. XFE just looks quite different. More dangerous. Sexier, even. And his green eyes are even more sparkly, like Rick from Pawn Stars.

XFE got to debut his new lack-o-hair-cut at a BBQ we had at our house on Sunday. It wasn’t a big to-do: just 15 pounds of smoked brisket, three racks of pork ribs, and around 20 of our friends on our new patio.

Ribs

The afternoon was hot and sunny, the beers and wine were chilling and folks were getting to know each other with the smell of smoking meat and Calvin Harris tunes wafting through the air. After about an hour of chit-chatting, XFE sliced up the brisket and people started going to town, including our 8-months-pregnant friend Amy.

It's not really BBQ without pickles and paper towels.
It’s not really BBQ without pickles and paper towels.

Now, Amy has been having contractions fairly regularly the last week or so and was on strict bed rest. But, I’m not really in a position to tell a woman with a big, pointy belly that she can’t come over and have some food. She did not, however, need to make a big, awesome tray of homemade chocolate chip and pecan cookies, but that’s another thing about Amy: she likes to bake and she’s going to bring something to a party, even if you tell her not to.

So, she did. And then she went into labor. And, as those things tend to go, she had a baby at around 5:09 a.m. (Our party ended a bit earlier than that at around 12:30 a.m.)

One of (a few) recycling bins. Sign of a good party.
One of (a few) recycling bins. Sign of a good party.

We tried to get the parents-in-pending to name the wee one Brisket, even texting the father-to-be on the way to the hospital, but they went with a different, only-slightly-more-traditional Irish/Scottish name. Bummer.

It’s ok – we’re used to people rejecting our name suggestions. A couple of years ago, we launched a very aggressive campaign aimed at some other friends of ours to name their unborn daughter Slayer. We made very convincing arguments on how nobody would mess with a girl named Slayer, including, when the time comes, teenage boys. When the parents-to-be balked at Slayer, we offered up the more feminine Sequin as a middle name. Neither name made even the preliminary naming list, I’m afraid.

Whatever. We’re calling the kid Brisket, and we can’t wait for Brisket to come to Porktober.

New patio: christened. Like, literally.
New patio: christened. Like, literally.

At Least They’re Providing Lunch

I received a disturbing email in my inbox at work last Friday. No, I have not (yet) been fired for taking too many vacations. (Hey, at least I’m not out having babies or something else really time consuming. Remember? I’m a great employee!)

No, the email was to inform me that CIGNA would be conducting a course on “Holiday Survival Skills.”

This is where you stash the fifth of whiskey and earplugs.

What the what? Are we talking like, how not to kill your relatives during the holidays? Or, the best place to park at the mall on Black Friday?

Here’s what the email said: 

“Peace and joy this holiday season can be yours by following a few easy holiday survival tips. Make the most of your time and budget to satisfy everyone on your holiday list and you, too!”

Peace and joy? And what’s this “budget” thingy? Is this work code for “don’t expect bonuses this year?” Oh wait. I don’t receive work bonuses. Dang.

Join representatives from CIGNA as they present a winning formula for a stress-free holiday season. Their holiday survival skills seminar will include how to:

  • Prioritize your time to complete all holiday tasks;
  • Set and manage a holiday budget; and
  • Prepare for holiday shopping.

Again with the budget thing! And what are all these “holiday tasks?” My holiday tasks involve eating too much and opening presents, and I don’t really worry about “prioritizing my time” on either task. They sort of take care of themselves.

Wait…..is this a suggestion that we NOT online shop at work during the holiday season? Are the fine people in Human Resources worried that I might ‘prioritize’ shopping over work during this joyous holiday season? Touche, HR, well played. Let me assure you that for me and many of my female co-workers, shopping is always a priority – holiday or not.

I also love the “prepare for holiday shopping” bullet. Is this perhaps something on the best type of steel-toed shoes to wear to stampede over other people when rushing the door at your local Wal-Mart?

"Weren't the sales just great. I'm so glad we decided to tailgate at the outlets this Thanksgiving. Thanks for the tip, CIGNA!"

What, pray tell, will this “winning formula” include? Will they suggest, perhaps, making time for yourself during the hectic holiday season? Because, that’s not really a problem for selfish little ol’me.

Perhaps the winning formula involves giving the boss a bottle of whiskey while asking for additional days off? That might be a helpful tidbit…..Or the best gift for your picky boyfriend/life partner who buys himself any damn thing he wants when he wants it and doesn’t leave anything for anyone else to buy for him on special occasions?

Maybe Petunia needs some help. Currently, her holiday and every other day survival strategy is to hide away until people leave. This website has some great survival skills for cats, although I really cannot agree with them that you should, “Resist the urge to tie a pretty bow around Kitty’s neck.” It’s pretty! How can that be bad? Petunia would look adorable with a saucy tartan bow stuck on her head!

Petunia would scratch my corneas if I tried this on her.

I suspect Petunia ghost-wrote this one: “Remind guests not to offer ‘people’ food to your pets. And have some of your cat’s favorite treats on hand – just in case.” Yes, please give my Rubenesque cat more treats.

My friend and co-worker Katie summed things up pretty well: “Unless someone is going to teach me crowd fighting tactics like the art of throwing ‘bows and escalator domination, I can’t imagine anyone needing this.”

She’s so spot on.