Tag Archives: travel safety

Venice Earns Dubious Distinction

pigeons 2By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today we consider some of the cootie capitals of the world with Stephanie Chen, a writer/producer at CNN who specializes in writing about business, crime, and travel — not surprising, since she formerly worked for The Wall Street Journal and The Miami Herald. More recently, Chen took on the task of following up on a press release which announced the results of their poll concerning the most un-hygienic tourist spots around the globe. Chen concludes:

Though it is unlikely to get sick from visiting one of these places, health experts say germs are always a gamble. The more people who touch and visit a spot, the more germs there are in the mix, they say. Their traveling advice? Travelers should load up on hand sanitizers and wash their hands often on their trips.

Also, they should wash their mouths out with soap, if they’ve kissed the famous Blarney Stone of Ireland. Legend or no legend, smooching this rock seems like a risky venture, but 400,000 people a year do it anyway, Chen reports. While hanging upside down, incidentally. Less strenuous for the participating visitor is the Wall of Gum in Seattle, site of an accumulation of used chewing gum that has reached science-fictional proportions. The layer of pre-masticated gum is, we are told, several inches thick. Chen’s online article includes a link to some video footage which includes close-ups of various sections of this wall, which look like abstract art if you don’t think about it too hard.

Another germy lip-magnet is the tomb of infamous writer Oscar Wilde, who currently resides in the Père Lachaise Cemetery of Paris. The stone edifice is kissed by many, many people who should know better. A friend from New Jersey told me once of a custom observed in the neighborhood where he grew up. If you dropped a cookie or an apple or any other foodstuff on the ground, the correct procedure was to pick it up and “kiss it to God,” after which it would be safe to eat. Apparently some kind of related superstition operates in the minds of these pilgrims.

The immediate environment of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA is also under indictment for harboring a multitude of germs, since tourists are fond of pressing their hands into the handprints of famous stars. Which are on the ground. But hey, the forecourt of the theater is mopped every day by the staff.

pigeons3Then there’s the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, Italy, where you can get up close and personal with more pigeons than you ever imagined possible. The “living room of Europe” is visited by 2 million people in the average year, and by thousands of pigeons who don’t wear diapers, if you take my meaning. The Piazza also contains lots of outdoor cafes, where the conjunction of food and salmonella bacteria makes some travelers more than a little nervous. A single pigeon produces approximately 26 pounds of you-know-what every year, which is not only bad for people, but corrosive to the historical monuments that also populate the enormous square. The city has taken measures, like banning the vendors who sell pigeon-feed grain to tourists, and forbidding the locals to throw rice at the bride and groom after weddings.

Elisabeth Rosenthal reports in The New York Times that pigeons are not the only problem in Italy’s ancient municipality. The Italians are the world’s leading drinkers of bottled water, and most of them leave their empty containers in the trash cans of the Piazza San Marco. Rosenthal explains that, because of the roadless nature of the Venetian urban area, trash is collected by men in wheelbarrows, at a cost of “$335 per ton compared with $84 per ton on the mainland.” Local officialdom has recently undertaken a public relations crusade to convince people to drink tap water, which originates from the same wells as one of the most popular brands of bottled water, and the city offers plenty of public water spouts where the traveler can refill an emptied bottle of designer water, and make it last all day.

Now, if only the pigeons could be trained to carry empty plastic bottles to the landfill…

feeding pigeons photo courtesy of j.reed , used under this Creative Commons license; sign photo courtesy of Mike_fleming , used under this Creative Commons license

Corsica: Small Island, Many Facets

News Editor

In The Washington Post, Tracy Dahl reports on the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, and if you’re wondering, “What is the possible relevance to Corsica?,” just wait till you hear this. The story of the sweet onion began, Dahl says:

[…] in the late 1800s, when a French soldier found a sweet onion seed on the island of Corsica and brought it to Walla Walla. The Italian immigrant farmers there were impressed with the onion’s winter hardiness, and they began to cultivate it. Years of selecting each crop’s sweetest and largest specimens for seed harvesting made “Walla Walla” synonymous with huge, sweet onions in much of the Pacific Northwest.

Science pop quiz: If they all sprouted from a single seed, where did the genetic diversity come from that allowed sweeter onions and larger onions as time went on? Sounds like a rural legend. Maybe the soldier found, like, a handful of seeds.

Another product of Corsica was, of course, Napoleon. In The Seattle Times, Associated Press writer Ron Todt gives us an overview of the hundreds of Napoleon-related items on exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia through early September. As Todt points out, this is the man who sold the United States 28,000 square miles of land for a nickel an acre.

All the artifacts are from the collection of Pierre-Jean Chalençon, who was interviewed for The Wall Street Journal by Julia M. Klein. Chalençon, who is a scholar as well as a collector, calls Napoleon a visionary because he liberalized the treatment of the Jews in the territories he conquered and tolerated gays in the military. The patron/curator also says, “Of course, he sometimes made some mistakes — nobody’s perfect.”

At Drapers Online, Sushma Sagar tells us about a “boutique festival” in the Corsican town of Calvi (pictured), a four-day music event with a lot of bikini beach action, the whole scene being “reminiscent of Ibiza ten years ago.” She mentions the non-commercial, sparsely-sponsored ambiance of the festival but, with a nod and a wink, suggests that “any brands wanting a fast track to the hippest kids in France might want to take a look.” A self-described brand courtesan, Sagar says of the brands in her past that she “was always faithful and genuinely loved each one at the time.”

And does Kevin Dolgin write about Corsica? Why yes, quite frequently in fact — at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where he contributes one column per year in praise of that loveliest of islands, in amongst all the other places he writes about. And of course there’s plenty of Corsica in The Third Tower Up From the Road, where he says, “While on a map Corsica looks very small, there are whole worlds packed into that island.” Truer words were never spoken. Kevin is partial to a certain town with 29 buildings, and does not fear “roads that are more like glorified, semi-paved mule tracks.”

It’s worth noting here that another travel writer of renown, Paul Theroux, has said, “There are no bad drivers in Corsica. All the bad drivers die very quickly.”

And, as long as we’re doing quotations, Kevin Dolgin quotes his native Corsican father-in-law: “When a Corsican tells you that he’ll kill you if you do something, it’s usually best to believe him.” And maybe there’s some validity in that old saying, “An armed society is a polite society.” The Corsican people are also characterized by visitors as among the most sincerely welcoming hosts on earth. Go figure.

One writer theorized that there are four Corsicas, but that seems to be an underestimation by far. Please report in on your favorite facet of Corsica; we’d really like to hear about it!

photo courtesy of urbandigger.com, used under this Creative Commons license