Category Archives: history

Of pirates, goats, and love

Hey kids!  It’s Elizabeth (formerly the artist known as Kitty, and briefly called the symbol § while trying to project some mystique).  Remember this whole blog thing?  I sure as hell didn’t for ten months.  But we’re trying to get this up and rolling again, so here goes.  It’s been adventuresome, with many anecdotes and items of interest and a glorious incident in which the cat ate an entire package of chicken-flavored antibiotics and much to her embarrassment had to go to feline detox.  Also:


Chapter One

In which we depart from La Spezia and the Ligurian coast, and for a couple of days anchor off Saint-Tropez, a pretty French village of little stone lanes, boutiques, overpriced shoes, Provencal quaintness, and afternoon bocce ball in the earthen square.  Besides being a famed destination for the jet set (Brigitte Bardot got all sexy-like on its beach, and ancient Romans with fat bank accounts kept their villas here), the town was also the site of what may have been the first contact between the French and Japanese, when in 1614 samurai and diplomat Hasekura Tsunenaga led a European expedition towards Rome and sheltered in its port (I read that the French were impressed by the superiority of Japanese swords and the fact that their guests did not reuse handkerchiefs after blowing their noses, because Europeans were way behind in the field of hygiene).  Saint-Tropez (aka Delta Beach) was also the first town upon the French Riviera to be liberated by the Allies during WWII, in the Operation Dragoon landing (suck it, Nazis).  There actually was a Saint Tropez, too!  Or rather Saint Torpes; after his martyrdom in Pisa, his headless body was placed in a boat along with a rooster and a dog, a highly crummy carnival of a cruise which eventually landed here.  The animals bounced and the locals decided the dead dude’s name was a totally metal choice.

Chapter Two

In which we spend a night in Marseilles and forget what we did there but probably watched Brooklyn Nine Nine, and cross the Gulf of Lyon to take shelter in the French town of Sète, which has been called the Venice of the region for the canal which serves as its major concourse.  Rising from sea to hilltop, its waterway and waterfront strewn with the blue boats of the fishermen, the town is mad picturesque.  However, it rained torrentially, so we consumed a good deal of cake and watched more TV.

Chapter Three

In which we elect to sail straight to our goal of the island of Mallorca, a trip which ought to have taken 40 hours.  Thanks to an error on the part of someone (ahem, Davi), we ran out of fuel, a sail crapped out, the wind died, and a storm 20 miles to the east gave us a continual barrage of choppy 3 meter waves from the side.  Thus the voyage lasted for 66 hours (add one more 6 and you know what I’m talking about), including much rocking, rolling, flying tea kettles, and a smidgen of vomiting.  The cats generally pouted and napped, not much of a deviation from the usual.  In the parlance of mariners, it was hellacious.  But not be daunted, Cristina did prepare the highly necessary bloody marys, and the passage concluded with the sight of a waterspout against the clearing skies, which called to mind all the sheer power of the spinning systems of the earth and the forces humans have not made, and was freaking awesome.

Chapter Four

In which we spend a couple of months in Palma, Mallorca’s capital, enjoying its excellent cuisine, music, architecture (between barrio alleyways and a nineteenth-century downtown and castle and modernity, it’s got the structures of a dozen cities at once), and the enormous cathedral with its reflection shimmering contrary upon the waters.  I visited my fam for Thanksgiving, Davi visited hers for Christmas, and Cristina and I commemorated the Nativity by having cocktails with our wonderful friend who ran into a door.  So from my desultory readings I learned that Palma and the island came under the possession of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines, the judicious rule of the Umayyad caliphate, a bunch of disorganized and antisemitic French people, and Spain, as it is today.  However, for about a thousand years the city’s economy depended almost entirely upon piracy, which is so cool.  

Chapter Five

In which a two month sojourn for boat repairs in the town of Porto Cristo upon Mallorca’s eastern coast turns into five months of wondering why the engine is making that noise, where that smoke is coming from, and why do we get an electric shock when we touch the railing.  But Porto Cristo is a lovely little place where limestone cliffs curve into a little cape where sailboats hide, with children (and in our case, cats) play upon the beach before venues closed for the season (really, the main games in town were Burger King and a high recommended plaza café called Es Tanit).  We made beautiful new friends, enjoyed the company of fond old ones, and explored an old bunker from the Spanish Civil War.  Davi’s father visited us there as well, which was a blast and a half.  And we visited the island’s northernmost point of Cap de Formentor.  Culminating in a lighthouse from which one can see the hazy landfall of the other Balearic Islands and the strange meeting of sea and sky, the peninsula of Formentor is also occupied by a splendid amount of friendly goats.

Chapter Six

In which we make a blessedly uneventful crossing from Mallorca to Sardinia, where we enjoy the city of Cagliari and its layers of metropolitan and medieval life rising upon a steep hill over the sea (that music tho: shoutout to Zulu bar and ace guitarist Matteo Leone).  We spent time with some excellent friends and Cristina got new ink (shoutout to Enrico and Sara at Electric Storm Tattoo), and a server spilled Prosecco upon my laptop and I wept quietly in the corner of the café.  It’s all good though, obviously, because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.

Chapter Seven 

In which we make another crossing to Palermo, the capital of Sicily, arriving just in time for Easter.  The holiday was conducted in a delightfully Palmeritani way: after an extremely violent and vaguely traumatic passion play, the procession of the clergy began, carrying the effigy of Christ’s body in a glass coffin.  However, a fight broke out between two bearers of the effigy, the fistfights started, and the crowd of spectators erupted into shouting and punching factions.  I feel that this should become and possibly is a tradition applied to every holiday.

Chapter Eight

In which we find ourselves unable to leave Palermo due to engine issues (SURPRISE), and are entirely cool with that, because it’s a fabulous city of the gritty and the Baroque, garbage and angels, ghosts and mafia (who are jerks and don’t resemble Brando in any fashion), catacombs of corpses mummified and repeated fistfights.  My Mommy visited! which was unspeakably wonderful, and we made forays to the seaside town of Cefalu, where the Saraceni fortress still watches over the slender streets and sunlight renders the pale stone golden, icons peering from the silk-flower shrines.  We also hit up the Aeolian island of Vulcano, *surprise* a dormant volcano: according to Greek and Roman mythology, it was a forge belonging to respectively to Hephaestus and Vulcan, the god of metallurgy, blacksmiths, and fire.  The mountain still smokes and fumes with mystery over its little port, where the extremophilic microorganism Pyrococcus furiosis was first discovered in a fumarole and given its badass name.  Also Mom and I almost got kicked out of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in order to visit the Arab-Norman palace we had to bury my knives in the Royal Gardens of Palermo.

I’m going to break from my typical asshat tone here, however.  While we’ve been distracted by plenty of fun and fascinating things, and there will be more posts and pictures to tell them, our journey was also broken by sorrow.  My grandmother passed away in March, and Davi’s mother passed away in late April.  We traveled to Hungary to commemorate her and to be near Davi’s father and all our family, to be together in mourning and remembrance of so beautiful a woman and devoted a parent she was.  As is the case in all grief, I can’t find the proper words to express the pain of these losses, nor can I express the extraordinary nature of who we have lost, the artistry and laughter and tenderness.  Grief comes in waves, and this is something with which Davi and all of us live in agony and in love.  Representing this love, this pain, and the person we have lost is something words cannot wholly achieve.  We miss, we remember, and we love boundlessly.  So I can only conclude with a reminder of the miracle that love in all its forms is, the unbreakable bridge it makes between all of us, all those who live and all those who are gone.


Those who do not remember the past are condemned to miss some interesting stuff

Acronym of the day: BARF (Boats Are Really Fascinating).  Well, lots of them are.  I’m sure there’s some ghost ship full of lost souls doomed to sail the seven seas for eternity with nothing to do and no booze or Netflix, either.  But from the deck of SY Wake this past week, we sighted another vessel anchored alongside us, a particularly striking yacht with a peculiar history:

well would you look at that
Kinda makes you feel embarrassed about dumping Tupperwares full of cat crap overboard


“Oh, check out that boat!” “It’s so pretty!”  “It looks all retro, nice!”  “Goddammit which of the cats puked on the sundeck?”

party like its 1959
Every girl needs that special “nighttime look”


And, as it turns out, this yacht’s specialness isn’t only in its foxy look, but in its past, too…

I'm out of your league bitches
You can tell it’s historical because back then color didn’t exist


So her name is the Christina O.  Now a charter boat (coming in at $520,000 per week, for those of us who take shopping therapy really seriously), the Christina O owes her unique aesthetic to Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon and second husband of the former Jacqueline Kennedy (apparently he first became a young entrepreneur after listening into business calls as a telephone operator in Argentina, which I did not know).  Christina O was named for his daughter (though the O wasn’t added until 1999), and was a maritime palace, ferrying Aristotle and his family between their sundry houses across Europe.

there is no record of what Jackie is doing in this photo
To this day, historians debate just what the hell Jackie is doing in this photograph.


Being the property of a very rich guy, the yacht was a social hotspot for numerous dignitaries and celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, Frank Sinatra, Maria Callas (‘cause she and Ari were banging for a while there), John Wayne, Winston Churchill, Princess Grace, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy (awkward).

Just chilling in an empty swimming pool, as world leaders do


But that’s not all!  Onassis actually refurbished Christina O in the years following World War II, purchasing it from the Canadian government in 1947 for $34,000 (almost $390,000 today, or the equivalent of three hundred and ninety thousand bags of M&Ms).  During the War, the boat was actually an anti-submarine frigate, the HCMS Stormond, which served as an escort convoy in the Murmansk supply runs to the USSR, during the Battle of the Atlantic, and she was present at the D-Day Normandy landings.  DUDE.


Everybody hates their old yearbook photos.


You guys, history.  I mean, how extraordinary all are these connections and contradictions and all the past waiting just between the surface of our now?  From torpedoes and blood in the water, laughing starlets and gems…  I love this crap.  Anyways Aristotle gave the Stormond a complete Pimp-My-Ride renovation.  He commissioned eighteen staterooms, a spiral staircase, a beauty salon and massage parlor, a sports room, a library, a helicopter pad, marble bathrooms, a lapis lazuli fireplace, its own seaplane, a children’s playroom, on- and below-deck bars, and a controlled-temperature swimming pool holding a mosaic featuring the infamous Minotaur, which at the press of a button could be lifted to become a dance floor.  The whole refit cost four million dollars, but hell, this is how you live like a baller.

I scoff at your puny rowboats you rubes
#richgreeksofinstagram #summerfun #profligatespending


So I managed to rustle up some historical and modern photos of Christina O, which are pretty dope:


And, because BARF, the barstools are made from the foreskins of whales.

because knowledge is power!

Vikings with nice ankles, or, a brief history of La Spezia, Italy

Being hardened sailors with nothing left to lose, we of SY Wake have obviously been engaged in a long and punishing journey across the seven seas—indeed, it’s many a good soul who’s been lost to these deeps.  Like Percy.  We used to have a cabin boy named Percy.  Not anymore.

None of that was true, although I’m sure Percy was a very nice person.  Seeing as it’s only the first summer we’ve had the boat, and we’re still learning/lazy as hell when we feel like it, we’ve been bouncing forth and back between Home Base in Florence and the sun deck, or the town where Wake is currently docked: La Spezia, Italy.

the city center, aka the cleanest part
Historical fact: they fought about the “La” for a century until a decree in 1930 said you HAD to use it

I’m quite certain we’ll end up taking a number of photographs of modern La Spezia (or maybe not, see aforementioned laziness), but today I’ve decided that the healthiest thing a person can possibly do is live entirely in the past (that’s what they say, right?).  So let’s all take a step back and a swig of cheap wine, and learn some historical shit about La Spezia!

Where stuff is
The “boot” of Italy: kicking Sicily around since 100,000 B.C.

Located in a picturesque and highly strategic little gulf upon Italy’s west coast, on the Ligurian Sea (I’ll get to the gulf in a later blog entry, ibid. laziness), the area of La Spezia has been occupied since Ancient Times, which were really important.  Before there was history, there were prehistoric people: we know this because they left their crap lying around for us to find.  In the days of the Roman empire, when it was completely chill to put people in a ring with lions and see what happened, the place was a significant maritime asset, though I presume the tourist industry didn’t thrive as it does today because they hadn’t invented sunscreen yet.

the continuing glory of the latin language
Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries

Anyhow the empire got embarrassingly sacked, after which the Byzantines took control of the region, followed by Lombard rule. Over the next few centuries La Spezia saw some Saracen invasions (sad emoji) and Viking raids: apparently this one Viking dude, Hastein, pretended to convert to Christianity, faked his own death, and subsequently leapt out of his coffin during the sacraments and decapitated everybody, which is totally metal.

viking cat
Bringing the Ragnarok

Beginning around the twelfth century, La Spezia became one of those assets tugged and tossed around by Italian city-states engaged in political bitch fights, mainly Milan, Genoa, and a brief episode in which the city belonged to a single family, the Fieschi, who began construction of the castle of San Giorgio, which is still around today.

On the other hand, the Fieschi family now does late-night infomercials for pasta makers

As a well-situated port, La Spezia grew increasingly significant as a military hub, holding one of Italy’s most powerful maritime arsenals (it still serves as a naval base, so there’s a multitude of frustrating no-trespassing signs).  Correspondingly, the city saw extensive conflict and bombings during the second World War (dude, fuck Nazis), but the totally awesome Partisan resistance remained strong within its walls, eventually recapturing the city from the occupying Axis army; the city itself received national medals of valor following the war.  Subsequently, La Spezia served as a main departure point for surviving Jewish refugees, becoming known as the gate of Zion.  Seriously dude, fuck the Nazis.  In the decades to follow, the city was rebuilt, an economic crisis led to demographic decline, and it settled into the quasi-naval quasi-touristic very-pleasant place it is today, where we have been inebriated a number of times (like with these guys, which was so unspeakably awesome).

BUT in the course of my research regarding La Spezia, I discovered it was once the sometimes-home of this bodacious chick I just now decided to talk about.  Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, was born in 1837 to a minor noble family and, according to the historical record, she was really hot.  One supposes this to be true, since most notoriously she was the mistress of Napoleon III of France; she was a pretty spicy lady.  But the coolest part is that, well aware that she was a fox, the Countess initiated a project in collaboration with two important early photographers whose names I forgot.  Directing and dictating each image, she posed in theatrical outfits with exquisite postures, portraying herself as Jezebel, Lady Macbeth, a nun, Medea, a hooker, pretty much anything she wanted—and homegirl showed no modesty, going so far as to show her ankles, which is just about as scandalous as banging the emperor.  See (NSFW):

$25 and you can look at the other eye
$25 and you can see the other eye
We've all been there
Go home Virginia, you’re drunk
that bosom though
So much hairspray involved in the making of this photograph
That kid don't look happy
There are 23 more children under that skirt
An image kept under the mattresses of so many 19th century adolescent boys

You go girl.