I helped Burt hang sheetrock last week. We had a rented lift. It worked like a dream. We installed a bunch of 12 footers and nobody got mad or hurt. Otherwise I’ve been walking the dogs.
Seattle has had the balmiest weather we’ve enjoyed in summer. It has been pleasant. Trailer life is comfortable. This job is in a quiet neighborhood nestled in the metropolitan area. We are parked as close as we have ever parked to the actual work. The Gypsy Carpenter saw horses are right outside the trailer door. The neighbors have been nice but hardly seen. I don’t have much work because it is a small job. I’ve used my free time to catch up on the trip to Europe and do our taxes.
Speaking of the IRS, I’ll relay this here for the record and your enjoyment. In April I tried to file an extension with not one but two on-line services. Both times I got notices that the form was rejected by the IRS because they could not verify my identity. The IRS uses a combination of factors to verify filer’s identities. In this case they said I was using the wrong 2015 Adjusted Gross Income. It happens that I, and thousands of other filers, was using the right figure. The IRS had a problem at their end. But I didn’t know that yet. I called TurboTax from Mexico. They said file a paper return. From Mexico? I searched the internet for a way to resolve the discrepancy. All I found was file a paper return. I called Dad. I asked Dad to file a paper extension on my behalf. He sent me a link on how to fill out the form. While I was reading it I discovered that if I paid what I owed I did not need to file an extension. Dad read it the same way. I sent check to the IRS and the Montana Department of Revenue.
Two days ago it was time to face the music and do our returns. Burt had been mentioning them every time I asked if he needed my help at work. Need help? No, but you could walk the dogs and do the taxes. I pulled up TurboTax and dug through our records. I hoped I had paid enough back in April. I spent a few hours on on-line. It all looked nice. I had paid enough to both the feds and the state. I e-signed and sent them in. An hour late I received a rejection notice in email. Deja Vu, all over again. I started googling the AGI issue hoping it had been resolved in the meantime. I called TurboTax. They suggested a paper filing. It’s 2017. It seems like a stupid way to go so I called the IRS.
Calling the IRS is not a simple thing. They do not want you to call. Even if you find their number the recorded voice tries to convince you the answer to your question is more easily found on-line. I called and held for 20 minutes. I listened to multiple versions of try on-line and DO NOT HANG UP YOUR CALL WILL BE ANSWERED IN THE ORDER IT WAS RECEIVED. Bad music in between. Suddenly a new voice: We are experiencing technical difficulties. Good-bye. And like that they hung up on ME. Outraged, I called back. I hit 0 until a human got on the line. I asked about identity verification and the AGI discrepancy. He said, “Let me transfer you.” I waited 22 more minutes and heard all the same things. I started to wonder if they were brain washing me. I began to think I could find the answer on-line. I wanted to hang up. Then a woman answered. I listened to her give her name and her bazillion digit long ID code. Did I write it down? No. This is how they get you. I wasn’t really mad, yet. Once I became mad I couldn’t think straight.
I gently explained my ID verification issue. The IRS said: Maybe you need to try a different software program. ME: Are you denying that this is an IRS problem? I read on-line that the IRS has admitted that they have this problem. IRS: I haven’t heard of this problem. ME: You haven’t heard there’s a problem with the AGI and verification? And you want me to redo all my work? IRS: I haven’t heard of the problem. ME: Can I speak to your supervisor? IRS: They aren’t available. ME: Is this call being recorded? IRS: (awkward pause) Yes. Me: Good. Tell me how to fix this verification problem. IRS: File a paper return. ME: So now you know about the problem. IRS: Yes. ME: I don’t have a printer. IRS: (Nasty condescension) You don’t have a printer? ME: No, I do not and there are a lot of people in this world without printers. How can we solve this problem. IRS: I’ll send you the hard copy form to fill out. ME: I just spent hours filling these forms out on-line. Give me another solution. IRS: I don’t have one. ME: You haven’t solved the AGI discrepancy, yet? IRS: No. ME: Where can I print this? IRS: I don’t know. ME: (I KNOW WHERE BUT AM NOT SAYING) I’m not hanging up until you help me figure out where to print my tax forms. IRS: I can mail you the forms. ME: No. IRS: You can print at the Library. Me: Thank you.
Then instead of taking this lying, lazy, incompetent person’s name and number I hung up. I could not get over the fact that they pretended not to know about the identity verification problem. It’s all over the internet. The TurboTax guy knew about it. It’s the IRS’s new identity program and it’s got a major bug. Anyway. This is my documentation (again) of how I tried to get help from the IRS. As a former public servant I get very testy when other public servants are rude and unhelpful.
Jolyn and Tom are friends from Baja. You’ve met them here before. Tom plays mandolin and Jolyn paints. She also teaches art to the kids we work with in Mexico. A month ago Jolyn emailed and asked if we could fit in a garage remodel for her in Seattle. Our other summer job is having trouble getting its act together so we gladly took the I-5 north and parked in Jolyn and Tom’s yard to turn her garage into a painting studio.
On the way to Seattle is Mount Saint Helens. In 2010 the Gypsy Carpenters headed west and Mount Saint Helens was our furthest point north on the West coast. It was winter and the road to view spot near the top of the volcano was closed. It was so cold we hadn’t even put water in the trailer yet. December was our shakedown month. I guess it was really our shakedown year. Now it seems normal to live in this gNash but back then everything was a learning experience. The excursion to the iconic mountain got the merest of mentions. HERE is the post. In it I mention only wanting togo on trips if Harriet was present. I think I can’t even keep up with Harriet now.
This time around it was a bluebird summer day full of sky and wildflowers. In contrast to last month’s Mount Vesuvius visit, Mount Saint Helens was full of interpretive information. There’s even a seismograph that captures the gurgling earth below our feet. The eruption in 1980 was memorable TV viewing on the east coast but nothing like the experience my western friends had. All of them remember the day the ash came down. It is one of those collective memories they all share. Some people still have bottles of the ash they collected. If you’re in the area it’s worth the 50 mile side trip off I-5 to get to the visitor’s center. The magnitude of the blast is visceral in person. Unlike Vesuvius where all the damage has been concealed by hundreds of years (thousands, really) of geology and human development, the new landscape in the Cascades has hardly been changed in over thirty years. You can see the snapped trees and 600′ of ash and the denuded landscape. People and building and RVs have never been found. Many of the missing were scientists studying the volcano as she roared to life. Heroic people just doing there jobs.
The night after we visited and jumped around making the seismograph move an rather large earthquake hit Montana. Things have been rocking and rolling up there ever since. Do you think there’s some connection between us at Mount Saint Helens and Helena, Montana getting rolled? Don’t test me.
The shock of travel keep hitting our systems. Leaving the Baja desert and going to Europe and then the Pacific Northwest wreaked havoc on my inner compass. I’m still waking up in the morning wondering where I am. I’d say we have earned our gypsy credentials in the last 2 month. We’ve been in the Seattle area for a little more than a week converting a garage into a painter’s studio. It is a very urban location but tucked away on a quiet street. The dog park is only a ten minute walk away and there’s a fenced backyard. Olive has managed to dig up the lettuce so she’s no longer allowed in the yard unsupervised. Despite that the job and location are great.
We plan to drive back to Alpine, OR via the Olympic peninsula in time to catch the solar eclipse. Flat earthers beware. I have no patience for such nonsense. Below are some scenes from Alpine. More to follow. I got the taxes done.
The morning of our last day with the family we decided to head out and do the same thing again. I had googled “things to do in Rome’ and nothing compelling or new came up where we could walk. So we sold the previous evening’s tour to Dad, Chris, and Matt and we headed out again to see the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Roman Ghetto. Nothing to add here but the Pantheon did not disappoint. The light was different so the interior was different.
Dad was sentimental at the Trevi Fountain. He recalled visiting with mom in the mid-90s. Back in the ghetto Chris headed off on his own. The rest of us ate lunch. Another great meal and off we went our separate ways. Dad and Matt to our apartment and Burt and I to shop.
The Gypsy Carpenters crossed the Tiber River and went into Trasteverde to find some things to take home. I bought a new wallet and two new scarves for less than 50 Euros. My shopping itch scratched was easily scratched so we had more time to burn before the family dinner. My theory of family peace was working great. Stay out of the house unless it’s dinner time.
Burt and I followed the banks of the Tiber upstream to the mole of Rome. We had spotted Castel Sant’Angelo the morning we walked to the Vatican. The Castel is a round brick fortress that kind of deserves to be called a mole. That first morning we had no idea what it was. Then we heard it was Catstel San’Angelo and we still had no idea what it was. Then we heard it was once the Pope’s secret apartments and still had no idea. Then I heard it was Hadrian’s Tomb and we had to go.
Hadrian’s Mausoleum was renamed Castel San’Angelo by a pope trying to distract a plague ridden populace from their back sliding towards Roman theism. Rumors had reached Pope Gregory I that the people were secretly worshiping statues of Roman gods so the Pope had his own vision. First the pagan statue exploded. Next, Archangel Michael came down and landed on the tomb of Hadrian and blasted the plague out of Rome. The threat to Christianity resulted in the destruction of more Roman sites. They weren’t ruins until they were ruined. All this time, despite being told otherwise, I thought weather and use had destroyed these sites. After seeing the Vatican and these cathedrals and the ruins it is well planted in my head that one culture destroyed the other.
The tomb was renamed for the holy vision and Hadrian became an afterthought. Weirdly, I don’t know why I know about Hadrian’s Tomb. I remember his wall in England but somebody somewhere used to joke about Hadrian’s Tomb. A relative? A teacher? Regardless, Hadrian had quite the mausoleum. His remains are currently misplaced but you can visit where they once were. The fortress like monument became a fortress and hid several popes in times of trouble. The place is still hard to enter. Just the night before our visit Burt and I found ourselves stranded in the moat with rats all around. We were just trying to walk home and wound up in the grounds with no easy way out. I used GPS. The rats were very intimidating. I imagine five could take down an adult human.
The Castel San’Angelo is worth the entry fee. It is a real castle with lots of fun lookouts, a moat, a drawbridge, jails, cannons and all the other things a castle needs. The museum has weapons and suits of armor. The pope’s apartments are suitably extravagant. The wind off the ramparts stole my hat from my head. There is a shining statue of the archangel at the top. He’s surrounded by fantastic Roman views. We both enjoyed the laid back afternoon wandering the castle. I even got my hat back. It was one of 4 that had landed down below that afternoon.
When in Rome here’s what I recommend:
1. Coliseum and surrounding ruins.
3. Roman Ghetto
4. Castel San’Angelo
The Vatican can be skipped. It’s too crowded and too much stuff to appreciate. You can do Saint Peters or the Sistine Chapel separately.
Just a short walk and across the river from the Vatican is the oldest Jewish community in Europe. The Jews were in Rome before there were Christians. Think on that for a moment. When Rome became christian things did not go well for the Jewish community. The Jewish Ghetto was formed in 1550. A pope made discriminatory rules on what Jews could and could not do and forced them to live behind walls. The people were locked in at night. The ghetto lies on low land next to the Tiber River and was known for floods and malaria. The list of humiliations wrought by the papacy can be found HERE. In 1888 the walls came down but the community stayed and became and integral part of Roman life. For a short time things were better. Then the Nazis came.
The Nazis promised they would spare the Jews if they paid a ransom in gold. The community paid up and, surprise, the Nazis betrayed them. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people were taken to camps. The number of abducted is not certain what is known is only 16 survived. And yet, the community survived and now thrives.
Today the ghetto is home to some of Rome’s best restaurants and most expensive real estate. Burt and I visited twice for food. The restaurants are split into those that sell dairy and those that sell meat. The two food groups cannot be served in the same restaurant here because they require separate serving dishes and implements to remain kosher. So one day we ate dairy and the next day we ate meat. Vegetables can go with either. This neighborhood has a homey feeling. The streets and benches were filled with residents speaking Hebrew and Italian. It felt like we were in a community bistro not the tourist-tired cafes of Rome.
If you’re going to Rome I insist you visit this neighborhood. Next up Hadrian’s Mausoleum.
Flashing back again to art history in Holmdel High I remember Ms. Johnston going on an on about the pantheon. She had terrible slides that I believe she had taken herself. I was not impressed by the photos or what she said but she was practically moved to tears trying to convey the thing of the pantheon. Was it her passion for architecture or her frustration with bored teenagers? I liked Ms. Johnston a lot. She was our language arts teacher, too, and she was always nice to me. She once assigned us a heated topic for a persuasive essay and my Catholic girlfriend and I were writing about birth control and other things teenagers need to know about and know nothing about. We asked her what withdrawal meant as a contraceptive technique. I’m still embarrassed. I remember the drama of teh pantheon lecture so when I saw a sign for the pantheon I thought, “Might as well stop by.” Might as well almost miss a wonder of the world.
Michelangelo said it appeared to have been built by angels and I have to agree. There are so many delightful things to know. Firstly, the engineering: almost 2,000 years after it was built the Pantheon sports the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. No rebar here. Ancient Roman concrete has endured and it predates the discovery of Portland cement. There are books about Roman concrete. It lead to developments in architecture called the Concrete Revolution. How did I not know this? I majored in concrete. I guess I majored in Portland Cement Concrete. At the Pantheon they used lighter aggregate as the dome grew higher and thinner. This is a technique we still use today. Coffers in the ceiling and hidden hollow panels lightened the load. The oculus, the circular opening at the top of the dome provides light and eased stress.
Now the more esoteric marvels. Pantheon means temple of all the Gods. This place survived nearly intact for 2,000 years because it was in continuous use as a place of worship. This building is the third version of the temple. The previous buildings are believed to have burned. In the 600s the Roman government gave it to the pope and the pope rededicated it to Mary of the Martyrs. Everybody still called it the Pantheon. Pity the priests trying to change its name through history. It defies ownership by one religion. The dome is a 43.3 meter hemisphere. It sits on a cylinder with walls the height of the radius of the dome. A perfect sphere with a diameter of 43.3 meters could fit inside. The oculus and the front doors are the only source of light. The shape of the building is so pleasing to the eye it has been copied all over the world.
The interior has been modified from a place full of Roman gods to a place full of Catholic images. The bronze portico ceiling was removed and melted down by a greedy pope. Despite the changes the grandeur remains. A shaft of light blasts through the oculus and moves around the interior as the world spins. It’s a powerful and fun effect. Flat earthers have some explaining to do.
I could go on and on. I think I learned this from my experience in high school and the accidental visit. You really have to see it to believe it. The crowds are easily forgotten inside this wonder.
We arrived in Rome in the early afternoon. Burt and I threw down our bags and said see ya later to the family and headed out. We managed an 8 mile triangle that captured the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Jewish Quarter. The Gypsy Carpenters and 150,000 fellow travelers were out that afternoon walking the superheated street of Rome.
Rome was not a planned part of our trip. We had thought we’d be in Amalfi until our departure date but the reservation error put us back in the capitol with two days to wander. Burt and I decided to walk to the major attractions. Actually, the Pantheon, our favorite, was an accident. We found it on our way to the Trevi Fountain. That was kind of fun, accidentally running into one of the wonders of the world while looking for an over rated and ugly marble fountain.
The Spanish Steps are famous because they are famous. Think reality TV. The steps were built in the early 18th century as a kind of urban renewal. The governing forces wanted a nice connector between two landmarks on different elevations. There is a church at the top and there was the Spanish Embassy at the bottom. Not sure if the embassy is still there. There was a competition and these steps were the winner. Frankly, these steps bore me and I am not interested in learning more. I prefer the feel of the steps at the Lincoln Memorial.
Moving on to Trevi Fountain I am slightly more amused. Again, the fountain has a degree of famous for being famous. The name Trevi comes from Tre Vie or three roads. This site was the intersection of three roads and also the terminus of an aqueduct of clean water for the city. In 19 BC a supposed virgin supposedly found the water source that was then routed to the city. I only bring this up because the scene of discovery is part of the extensive marble sculpture that makes up today’s fountain. I didn’t notice the virgin. The marble facade was the result of another arts competition. In 1730 Pope Clement XII had a contest. One Alessandro Galilei from Florence was deemed the winner but the Romans would not hear of it and insisted that the winner be homeboy Nicola Salvi. No word on what Galilei planned. I really want to know. Galilei was a renowned engineer and architect. I tried researching this topic but my Italian isn’t up to the task.
Today water in the fountain is recycled. Toss into the germy recylcled water 3,000 Euros in good luck coins and that is not water you want to drink. People try to bathe in it for superstitious reasons but the Italian gendarme toot on whistles continuously to discourage bathers. They are probably saving scores of people from some dread skin disease. Burt scampered down to the clean water spigot that still delivers the original Virgin’s water and filled our water bottle. I took in the global horde. It was all whistles and selfie sticks and over the shoulder coin tossing and souvenir hawking with thousands of bodies in a stifling heat. I’m guessing it was only a little bit different on market day in Rome when the fountain first debuted some 30 years after it construction began. The marble used here was mined from the, wait for it, coliseum. I have an eye for the cleaner lines of ancient Rome. This Baroque stuff is not for me.
It was late in the day and Burt and I had put some serious mileage on our bodies over the last two weeks. We were not easily amused by the garish public art of the 18th century. We decided to head to the Jewish quarter and have some food. On the way a tiny sign caught my eye. Pantheon with an arrow pointing down an alley. Hungry and tired, Pantheon here we come.
One day while we were walking I tried to buy some local sweets. A shop employee asked me what I was looking for and I asked for the local specialty. I used Spanish without thought. The next thing I knew I was chatting with an Italian. I was thrilled and told her I had no idea Italian would be easy to understand. Then she told me were speaking Spanish. Uh. Duh.
We left Amalfi via the scenic shore side road. This two lane highway snaked around the cliffs of Amalfi and was packed with drivers. My bother did a great job of staying calm and being assertive enough to get the job done. The scenery is fun but I passed the time watching the faces of the oncoming drivers. A lot is revealed behind the wheel in a high stress situation. I wondered about the professional drivers here. They would need a rare combination of bravado and calm to do the job every day, all day. This LINK shows a spectacular but not common event. One guide book said the road is super safe because every one is so scared they pay better attention. I couldn’t find data on the actual number of crashes. In general Italy is known for its horrible drivers and dangerous roads so maybe Amalfi doesn’t stand out.
So now we are back in Rome. It wasn’t planned but that’s where we wound up. There’s lots more to see so let’s go.