• North by Northwest to Mt. Rushmore

    In 1987 I was a very unhappy creative director at a mid-sized ad agency in Boston (representative samples of my work here), when my boss decided it would be a good idea to get me out of town – specifically for a pricey road trip (on his dime) down the California coast.

    As I recounted some years later at Campaign Outsider:

    Thirtysome years ago, my boss at the time, thinking I was on the verge of quitting his ad agency, sent me and the Missus on a deluxe, all-expenses-paid trip down the California coast from San Francisco to LA.

    About halfway through our Golden State jaunt, we encountered the two highlights of the trip: the Hearst Castle and the Madonna Inn, both located in San Luis Obispo.

    The Madonna Inn boasts “110 whimsical guest rooms, each with their own unique charm and decor.” We stayed in the Highway Suite, for those of you keeping score at home.

    The Missus:

    First, the Madonna Inn has nothing to do with either religion or the pop star. Not sure where the name came from but the hotel interiors were not to be believed. Seemingly designed by someone on an acid trip – like the clashing neon colored everything in the restaurant – the place is actually renown for its hallucinogenic public bathrooms, including “the ever-popular motion activated waterfall urinal.”

    Madonna Inn Women’s Restroom
    Madonna Inn Waterfall Urinal

    Our suite had a distinctive design split personality with a huge Fred Flintstone-style boulder fireplace bizarrely paired with an ornate, gold brocade-covered bed.

    Then the bathroom combined delicate French floral pedestal sinks with a discomfiting craggy, rock shower in jet black. It had malevolent rather than outdoorsy vibes once inside.

    Not since I saw the movie “Psycho” was I that nervous washing up, but the place was great fun overall.

    The main event in San Luis Obispo, however, was the San Simeon Hearst Castle. Since the Missus is a certified cinema junkie, we wanted to take all four of its tours.

    To get to the Castle, you took a 15-minute bus ride up La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill). We asked if we could just stay up there for all four tours, but we were told we had to ride back down to the Visitor Center and take another bus back up each time.

    So we did: four round trips, 15 minutes each way.

    It was totally worth it.

    The Missus:

    Unfortunately for my easy going husband, the Sutton family travel motto is “Nothing Succeeds Like Excess!” I knew this was our once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Hearst Castle and figured, what the heck? Why not see it all? Other than the four-round trips up and back, the tours weren’t remotely repetitive (except you saw the amazing pools each time – which was swell). Each guide had a different interest and expertise to share from the architecture and obsessive furniture/objet d’art collections to the Marion Davies/Hearst love story, famous Hollywood guests and over-the-top entertainment. Even the four round trip rides were interesting as Hearst picked the Castle hilltop location to be above the area’s typical fog and cold. It was like an airplane ride where you suddenly see the sun come out and the clouds disappear. It was a completely memorable trip with my always game travel companion.

    • • • • • • •

    Eventually we made our way to San Diego, where it rains roughly five days a year, including the one on which we arrived.

    Undaunted, we checked into La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla. That night at roughly 11 p.m. the Missus and I competed in the First Annual La Valencia Invitational Shuffleboard Championship, to which only we were invited.

    More than several of La Valencia’s uninvited guests were not amused. Regardless, the Missus was crowned champion round midnight in an insouciantly boisterous post-tournament ceremony.

    The Missus:

    I seriously had considered booking the Hotel del Coronado where our favorite movie “Some Like it Hot” was filmed, but I read that the place was rather rundown at the time and La Valencia was a cool alternative. Both were true as we visited del Coronado just to walk around where Jack Lemmon gave the funniest performance of his career.

    (You’ll note a through-line in our travels of my having to visit famous movie locations wherever possible.) By the way, the renovated hotel looks pretty spiffy today.

    Bright and early the next morning, we trundled over to San Diego’s Sea World, which at that time featured a supersized map of the U. S., with prominent tourist attractions displayed in each state. (It was replaced not long after, according to a post on MiceChat, by stables for the Budweiser Clydesdales.)

    The Missus turned to me and said, Anywhere in America – where do you want to go the most? I immediately walked to South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore.

    So the Missus took me there.

    The Missus:

    Have to say I was rather non-plussed when John so decidedly picked Mt. Rushmore, but since I loved Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” was totally on-board, thinking what a great surprise birthday gift. Again pre-internet, I asked my travel agent if he could find bargain airfares to fly to Rapid City for the weekend. “A weekend,” he asked incredulously? With only connecting flights, did I know how long it would take to get there? I nodded. “I mean, what else is there to do after Mt. Rushmore,” I asked. “You should go hiking in the Badlands,” he suggested. “We don’t do hiking.” “How about camping in Yellowstone?” “We don’t do camping.” “Well if you’re asking me if there’s a Bloomingdale’s, there isn’t,” he finally said, exasperated. “Right – so let’s book that weekend,” I said, smiling. And we did.

    • • • • • • •

    Before you could say Four Presidents, No Waiting, we were winging our way to Rapid City, SD. After we got to our room in the Presidential Tower of the Rapid City Hilton, we threw open the drapes and saw, atop a hill in the distance . . . dinosaurs. Five of them, for those of you keeping score at home.

    “We gotta go there,” the Missus said quickly.

    So we unpacked our bags, jumped in the rental car, and went there.

    Representative dino-sample.

    We can all thank Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration for Rapid City’s Dinosaur Park, as Roadside America notes.

    The five sculptures were a Depression-era project cooked up by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, who saw them as a way to make jobs, get the government to pay for it, and capitalize on the flood of visitors to nearby Mount Rushmore. Emmit A. Sullivan is credited as the sculptor — the same artistic genius who created the Christ of the Ozarks and the dinosaurs at Dinosaur World in Arkansas.

    The next morning we went to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

    American History, Alive in Stone…

    Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. From the history of the first inhabitants to the diversity of America today, Mount Rushmore brings visitors face to face with the rich heritage we all share.

    Or the rich heritage we all used to share, not to get technical about it.

    Regardless, the monument (which was dynamited by Gutzon Borglum to within inches of its final form) is spectacular. Every American should go visit it.

    The Missus:

    Another fascinating tidbit we learned: Jefferson originally was being carved to the left of Washington, but when a dynamite charge was over-estimated, it blew the nose right off his face. (Your joke goes here.). They started all over again, more successfully, on the right. Also amusing, passers-by during the early carving days thought the memorial was for George and Martha Washington due to Jefferson’s long tresses. 

    Then there was the matter of the Mt. Rushmore cafeteria, immortalized by Alfred Hitchcock in North by Northwest.

    The Missus can tell you about our activities in that regard.

    The Missus:

    Since you can’t walk around on the top of the monument as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint dramatically did in the movie, I chose instead to reenact the fake shooting scene in the cafeteria which I’m happy to say, looked exactly like it did in the film. So I stood in the middle of the room, had John fake shoot me with a hand gesture, and then fell dramatically to the ground where he took my picture. Couldn’t believe other diners were surprised – clearly not movie buffs. 

    Afterwards we went to the Big Thunder Gold Mine, where we [checks notes] mined for gold.

    What that entailed was pounding away at a wall of rock for roughly 20 minutes to eventually produce a stone roughly the size of – irony alert – a silver dollar. If we added another ton of rock, according to the Big Thunder guy, it might actually yield a single ounce of gold.

    Might being the operative term.

    Consequently, we went back to the rental car and took a nap.

    • • • • • • •

    Contrary to the suggestions of our travel agent, we did not go to Wall Drug or Badlands National Park. We also didn’t get to the Crazy Horse Memorial, although given a mulligan, we certainly would have driven the half-hour to see that great work in progress.

    We did, however, visit Bear Country U.S.A., where we learned that 1) bears are really really big; 2) bears are really really messy eaters; and 3) when bears surround your car, it’s really really scary.

    Other than that, we had a swell time in the bruin house.

    We also returned to Mt. Rushmore for its Evening Lighting Ceremony, multiple home videos of which you can watch here, none of which, however, capture the actual magic of it.

    The Missus:

    Mt. Rushmore illuminated is truly awe-inspiring. Pictures don’t do justice to the enormous scale and detailing of the sculptures – can’t imagine how they dynamited the outlines of Teddy Roosevelt’s glasses, for example. The nightly ceremony began with a very entertaining Ranger telling stories about the monument. He ended his talk cautioning everyone that any photos they tried to take of the lighting would never come out because of the vast distance from the foot of the mountain where we all stood and the monument so high up. “Trust me,” he said, half-laughing, adding, “I know none of you will believe me.” Sure enough, the second the night lights came on, a zillion flashbulbs popped from every tourists’ camera.

    And then, our weekend over, we went home.

    • • • • • • •

    Never one to be shackled by reality in my Adweek columns, I produced this piece upon our return to civilization.

    Favorite passage:

    We checked into the Presidential Tower of the Rapid City Hilton, and the next day we drove out to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, where the cafeteria was offering a presidential breakfast for $1.75.

    There were four choices, of course, and I picked the Jefferson, which consisted of french toast and coffee. The Missus and I agreed that probably the least popular of the four was the Teddy Roosevelt “Rough Rider” breakfast – biscuits, gravy and coffee. Maybe that’s what made the ride so rough.

    Our ride that weekend, though – thanks to the Missus – was totally smooth.

  • Egg Month in Canada: ‘You Could Feel the Excitement in the Air’

    For reasons that remain lost in the mists of time, during the summer of 1987 the Missus and I decided to celebrate the Fourth of July in Toronto, a city I described this way in an Adweek column I wrote upon our return to the Hub of the Universe.

    [Our trip] tied in nicely with Toronto’s slogan, “Discover the Feeling.” We tried our best, but all we could come up with was this – Toronto’s a good town, if you like them on the dull side. It’s also the safest town in North America, so you don’t have to worry about muggers taking advantage of the general stupor.

    Whatever. We had inadvertently stumbled upon a special time in the Great White North – namely, Egg Month – which was trumpeted by a billboard that featured half a hard-boiled egg, some broccoli, and a guy swimming. The billboard was, as I later noted, “signed by Alex Baumann, who must’ve been the swimmer because food can’t write. Underneath the signature, we were all urged to ‘Get Cracking.’”

    So, the Missus and I tried – but I can’t exactly remember what we managed to crack.

    Except for these two things.

    On the Fourth we ventured out to Ontario Place, which was billed as “a tiny, ultra modern Venice,” but decidedly was not.

    Aerial view from City of Toronto Archives.

    The Missus:

    No offense to Toronto, but the only things I remember clearly from that trip are that it was egg month – come on, that truly is bizarre – and that it was the cleanest city I have ever been in. It felt like Camelot, where as the song goes, the autumn leaves blow away completely, “at night of course”. They must have had midnight cleaning crews for the streets to be so void of any trash. It was very impressive.

    I also fondly remember the oldies concert discussed below, and we weren’t even that old at the time.

    We wandered into the Ontario Place Forum, an outdoor arena that happened to be hosting an Oldies Concert that night.

    It featured, in no particular order, 1) The Spencer Davis Group, whose leader memorably appeared in a white polo shirt, plaid Bermuda shorts, black dress socks, and high-top Chuck Taylors; 2) Jan and Dean, who were both still alive at the time; and 3) Gary U.S. Bonds, who at the end of his set thanked “each and every one of [us] individually and collectively.”

    All the while, Madonna was appearing right next door in front of 50,000 fans at the CNE Stadium, where her Who’s That Girl tour sort of turned into What’s That, Girl? when she opened the concert with “Happy Fourth of July, Toronto!”

    Unfortunately, both concerts ended around the same time, so we got to ride back to our hotel in a streetcar stuffed to the gills with amped-up Madonna groupies. So much for Toronto’s general stupor.

    The next day, however, it was Toronto as usual, so the Missus and I decided to take a trip to Niagara Falls, which looked like this according to a YouTube video recorded the following month. (Fair warning: Lots of Niagara, less of The Falls.)

    Undaunted by how tacky the town was, we ventured onto the Maid of the Mist to experience the Full Niagara, as documented in this YouTube video.

    (Resorting to other people’s videos, of course, is further evidence of our deeply ingrained resistance to recording every aspect of our lives, except in print.)

    I do remember that the Maid of the Mist folks gave us rain slickers to wear and that The Falls were totally awesome.

    Everything else about that trip, though, is lost in the Mist of time.

    The Missus:

    Niagara Falls really lives up to its reputation as a true wonder of the world. It’s awe-inspiring both from above and below, though Maid of the Mist is a bit of misnomer. If you don’t carefully button your yellow rain slicker all the way up with the hood, you will get absolutely soaked, not misted. The rocky boat trip also brought to mind the hair-raising denouement of the movie thriller “Niagara” starring Marilyn Monroe, where her murderous husband George (Joseph Cotton) almost succeeds in killing the innocent honeymooning ingenue (Jean Peters).

    But happily, we lived to tell the tale.

    As for the tacky surroundings, there were countless souvenir shops and various game entertainments for the kiddies. We wandered into one with bumper cars and carnival type games which were actually fun. You had to buy a roll of tickets which we hardly put a dent into when it was time to leave. So we offered all our remaining stash to family after family on the ticket line, and shockingly, everyone said no while eyeing us suspiciously. We kept saying they were free, to no avail. Finally, I just put them on the ground and walked away hoping someone would eventually pick them up. Since the people of Toronto were so uniformly friendly and polite, one would have thought tourists more trusting. Then again, we were on the Buffalo, New York side, so there’s that.

    In retrospect, my saddest memory of Toronto is that the Bata Shoe Museum didn’t open until 1995, long after our visit. Currently holding nearly 15,000 shoes and related artifacts spanning 4,500 years of footwear history, this would have been manna from heaven as my fashion consulting business was flush with numerous national shoe companies at the time.

    Ah well, back to John and his amusing ad commentaries.

    • • • • • • •

    When we got home, I wrote this piece for Adweek.

    Favorite passage:

    And while we’re talking about my favorite vices, get a load of this tag on a Benson & Hedges bus-shelter ad: “WARNING: Health & Welfare Canada advises that danger to health increases with amount smoked – avoid inhaling.” C’mon now. If you don’t inhale, why smoke? Just so you can smell bad? It doesn’t make sense. 

    Yeah – maybe just have a hard-boiled egg instead, eh?

  • ‘Hey! Fungoli!’: How the Missus and I Railed Our Way Through Italy

    Several years after our misbegotten maiden voyage to Europe, the Missus and I embarked on a Grand Tour of Italy: Milano to Venezia to Firenze to Roma.

    First stop: Milan, about which I remember exactly nothing.

    The Missus:

    For me, Milan was indeed memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Why go at all one might ask? In the 1980s, the industrial city was most often recommended for being much less touristy than vacation mainstays like Florence, Venice and Rome. But that was like saying, visit Trenton, New Jersey to avoid all those Manhattan crowds! OK, Trenton doesn’t have a magnificent Duomo and “The Last Supper,” but you get the idea.

    However, Milan was the fashion capital of Italy at that time, so as a trend forecaster I planned a two-day stopover for exploring the chic boutiques and elegant hotspots. After checking into the aptly named Hotel Diana Majestic – favorite of models, photographers, and buyers – I donned my cutting edge, black Karl Lagerfeld (pre-Chanel) coat – thank you Filene’s Basement – for window shopping the high-end Corso Venezia.

    The first la-de-da shop we walked into was filled with racks of my personal favorite designs – minimalist silhouettes in exquisite materials. As I touched the sleeve of a beautiful jacket, a sales woman quickly came over and slapped my hand away. I stared at her, stunned. I gathered from her barking Italian that one had to ask for help and perusing was not allowed. Before angrily turning her back on me, she pointed to a loud American couple sitting on a couch. They both wore unattractive clashing bright colors in shiny fabrics with sneakers, yet were being waited on hand and foot. Had I entered fashion Bizarro world?

    No. I soon realized the only color the sales woman noticed was the gold of the husband’s American Express card as he approved his wife buying anything and everything presented to her, which I couldn’t imagine her ever actually wearing. We walked out of the store, me dejected, John finding humor in the situation. He was right of course, so we decided to take in the city’s art offerings to cheer up. That didn’t go much better. (See John’s story about our visit to “The Last Supper” in his AdWeek column below.) Needless to say, we never went back.

    Second stop: Venice, which was totally memorable. But first we had to get there, an enterprise that generated more than a little drama.

    We had decided to travel from city to city on the vaunted Italian railway system. So we made our way to the Milano Centrale railway station to catch the train to Venezia.

    Problem #1: Mussolini was no longer there to make the trains run on time. (Spoiler alert: He never actually did.)

    Problem #2: The Missus had smartly purchased our train tickets in advance, but they were all in German, which did not sit well with our Italian ticket collector. He started machine-gunning whole paragraphs at us – in Italian, of course – while the Missus went back at him hammer and tongue – in English, of course.

    The two of them went around the maypole for more than several minutes, until the Missus successfully browbeat him into punching our tickets.

    The Missus:

    Why were the tickets in German? I have no idea. Pre-internet days, I booked all our Italian train trips through a travel agent. They were stamped official, pre-paid and even had seat assignments. In my battle with the conductor – who I think was just trying to hijack me for personal pocket money – my vehement refusal to pay any surcharge clearly surprised him, as I’m guessing most Americans cave pretty quickly. Clearly frustrated, he finally proclaimed – in English – “You’ve paid for the seats but not the train! You owe me money.” I told him fine, put the seats out on the train track as we’re not moving. Exasperated, he punched our tickets and stormed off. Arrivederci!

    Eventually we arrived in Venice and say, it was swell. To get to our hotel, we caught a vaporetto, which is way more fun than a taxi from Charles de Gaulle to the Marais in Paris or a Blue Line train from Logan to downtown Boston.

    Our hotel, thanks to the Missus, was the spectacular Bauer-Grünwald, which FamousHotels.org describes this way: “The Bauer (Grünwald has been dropped from the name) is one of the last great Venice establishments still in private hands, with a strict, utilitarian facade and subdued interiors providing a refreshing antidote to all the gilded and baroque excesses of the city.”

    When we stayed there, our room was all warm, rich, polished wood you could see your reflection in. It was a knockout.

    As was Venice itself.

    The Missus:

    I was as surprised as John that we were able to afford such a sumptuous hotel, but that’s what traveling off-season will do for you. The March weather might have been chilly, but the sight of the mesmerizing green lagoon was beyond warm and inviting. When we reached our hotel’s vaporetto stop, we were greeted by rows and rows of rectangular plank wood tables. At check-in, I asked if there had been a festival the day before. “No Signora,” the manager said with a smile. “The flood waters were so high yesterday that one had to walk on the tables just to get down the street.” What a difference a day makes . . . 

    We delightedly soaked up every gilded and baroque excess of the city, starting with Piazza San Marco, which is where every tourist begins in Venice.

    We also toured the Doge’s Palace: “A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, the Doge’s Palace is an impressive structure composed of layers of building elements and ornamentation, from its 14th and 15th century original foundations to the significant Renaissance and opulent Mannerist adjunctions.”

    Whatever. It was indeed totally impressive.

    We also took in Santa Maria della Salute . . .

    and the Bridge of Sighs . . .

    and etc.

    But mostly we just wandered through that beautiful city, except for the part where Venice street urchins relentlessly surrounded us asking for money which we resolutely refused to fork over.

    The Missus:

    Normally I’m a sucker for cute kids begging, but I had recently watched a Diane Sawyer report warning Americans that children in Venice were being used for serious street crimes. Wailing, “Mama sick. Mama sick. Please come,” a child would take the hand of a sympathetic tourist who was led to a back alley where adult robbers were waiting. Thanks to 60 Minutes, we avoided any trouble.

    In the evenings, we also had to run the gauntlet of restaurant barkers who stood outside their establishments hawking that night’s blue plate special.

    The Missus:

    This being off-season, we were the only people dining in our selected trattoria – hence the waiters standing outside begging for business. The food and service was wonderful, but there was one wrinkle. The restaurant had a terrible singer playing the piano, and as we were the only patrons, he kept crooning our way in badly accented English. It kept getting funnier and funnier. At one point, he said he was dedicating the next song to the owner’s wife, with the memorable opening lyrics: “Try me. Don’t be afraid, you can try me! Maybe it’s late, but just try me!” Sitting at a nearby table, the imposing boss either wasn’t listening or didn’t care. Either way we were happy to pay our bill and be on our way.

    In the end, it was all special.

    At one point we stumbled on the canal-side filming of the TV series Una donna a Venezia, which kept us from having a drink at the fabled Harry’s Bar in the Cipriani Hotel.

    Just as well, since it left us a few extra lira to take to our next destination, Firenze.

    The Missus:

    Who knew Florence is called Firenze in Italian? Well, Italians of course. Since I was counting the train stops from Venice (Venezia was a no-brainer), I knew just when to get off. I later found out that Americans often miss the stop because the station sign doesn’t say Florence. We tourists can be pretty dense sometimes.

    • • • • • • •

    Presumably because the conductor on the train from Milan punched our tickets, the one on the train from Venice did the same. Upon our arrival in Florence, given that we had only a couple of days there, we went straight for the Greatest Hits Tour.

    First stop: the Duomo, described this way by Visit Florence.

    Florence’s cathedral stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, with the baptistery right across. The cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore is a vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt.

    The inside of the Duomo is equally spectacular.

    After we drank in the Duomo, it was off to Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi, the crown jewel of Florentine museums.

    The Gallery entirely occupies the first and second floors of the large building constructed between 1560 and 1580 and designed by Giorgio Vasari. It is famous worldwide for its outstanding collections of ancient sculptures and paintings (from the Middle Ages to the Modern period). The collections of paintings from the 14th-century and Renaissance period include some absolute masterpieces: Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, in addition to many precious works by European painters (mainly German, Dutch and Flemish).

    Among the collections . . .

    It was altogether impossible to take in everything during one visit, so we saw what we saw and moved on (but went back for a longer look a few years later).

    Our next stop was The Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David.

    After that eye-popping experience, all we had left was the sublime Palazzo Pitti. Once again from Visit Florence:

    This enormous palace is one of Florence’s largest architectural monuments. The original palazzo was built for the Pitti family in 1457, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built by his pupil Luca Fancelli . . .

    Today, the Pitti Palace houses some of the most important museums in Florence: on the first floor is the Palatine Gallery, containing a broad collection 16th and 17th century paintings (including works by Raphael), and the Royal Apartments, containing furnishings from a remodeling done in the 19th century.

    Representative samples:

    The whole place was staggeringly beautiful, as was the adjacent Boboli Gardens, well represented by Neptune’s Fountain.

    It was all so . . . captivating.

    On several occasions, though, we did actually stop and eat something in Florence, which proved rather costly on the whole. In 1986 the Italian lira was The Biggest Loser of monetary units, as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel noted at the time.

    After nearly a quarter century of hemming and hawing, the government finally has decided to put the bloated Italian currency, the lira, on a crash diet.

    It’s about time in a country where a single-scoop ice cream cone costs 1,000 currency units, a cab costs 2,800 for simply turning on the meter, an average dinner for two eats up 50,000 currency units and you have to be a millionaire many times over to rent an apartment — 2 million lire a month is not uncommon.

    You bet I was doing a lot of long division in my head during that trip.

    Exhibit Umpteen: On our first night in Florence, we cruised around the many restaurants near the Duomo and chose one that looked inviting. Once inside, it felt a little pricey, but there we were.

    Scanning the menu, I found the least expensive secondi – or main dish – which was, as best I recall, Polpo Bolognese. Hey, Bolognese Whatever, I thought – that’s gotta be okay, right?


    Because polpo was – and is – octopus.

    Rest assured, I went to bed hungry that night.

    Soon enough, though, it was on to Roma, where we had a much more satisfying – and downright theatrical – dining experience.

    • • • • • • •

    Once we arrived at the Eternal City, we checked into the coincidentally named Hotel Boston near the Spanish Steps. It was a lovely room with large French windows, but, given our limited time in Rome, we quickly headed out to catch that city’s Greatest Hits.

    First stop: The Colosseum, described this way by the encyclopedic Civitatis Rome.

    The Colosseum is the main symbol of Rome. It is an imposing construction that, with almost 2,000 years of history, will bring you back in time to discover the way of life in the Roman Empire.

    The construction of the Colosseum began in the year 72 under the empire of Vespasian and was finished in the year 80 during the rule of the emperor Titus. After completion, the Colosseum became the greatest Roman amphitheatre, measuring 188 meters in length, 156 meters in width and 57 meters in height.

    After that, it was on to the Roman Forum, which is a total wreck.

    The Missus:

    As the name suggests, the Colosseum truly is colossal. Despite the fact that it is now located in the middle of a huge, noisy traffic circle, inside it is downright eerie. You can walk where the Christians were imprisoned before being thrown to the lions and can’t help but picture the horrific violence amongst huge cheering crowds. It’s quite sobering.

    Levity came soon after as we explored the Roman Forum with countless other tourists, all of us trying to figure out which bit of ruin had been what. As we all turned our guidebook photos sideways and upside down to no avail, one could make out in various languages, “You think that was the temple of the Vestal Virgins, or is it Castor and Pollux?” Too bad Gladiator wouldn’t come out for another 20 years.

    And then there was Rome’s main event: Vatican City. Our first stop, of course, was St. Peter’s Basilica, which I’ve always thought of as God’s parish church.

    Once inside, I knew it was.

    We also checked out the Sistine Chapel, whose vaunted ceiling was at the time in restauro, as this Britannica piece detailed: “In the 1980s and ’90s, the Sistine Chapel underwent a long and elaborate restoration scheme sponsored by a Japanese television corporation and carried out by top Italian and international experts. The cleaning removed centuries of grime, dust, and candle smoke from the frescoes and revealed unexpectedly brilliant colours . . .”

    We saw about one-third of the restoration on our visit there, and it was totally eye-popping. Representative before-and-after.

    Just wow.

    We also toured the Vatican Museums, which, according to Wikipedia, “display works from the immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries, including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display.”

    The Missus: Are you serious? They could sell one-tenth of this and lift the Third World into second place.
    Me: We should live so long.

    Luckily, we did live long enough to wander into a Sardinian restaurant that night, to be met by a totally pleasant-looking young waiter who watched us puzzle over our menus, walked up, took them away, and said “Trust me, trust me.”

    So we did.

    Within minutes we had a bottle of chianti and an antipasti dish sitting in front of us. From that point on, Trust Me Trust Me just kept bringing rich, savory dishes to our table and we just kept eating them. (We were much younger then and ate far more wantonly than we do now.)
    After three pasta dishes (primi) followed by a meat course (secondi) and vegetables (contorni) followed by insalata followed by formaggi e fruitta followed by dolce (in our case tiramisu) followed by caffe, it was time for digestivo.
    Trust Me Trust Me came to the table with a bottle of grappa and poured each of us a glass.
    Grappa is winemaking’s potluck: Skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from the winemaking process get distilled into a liquid that tastes how I imagine a glassful of kerosene would.
    Except here’s the thing about grappa: Right around your third glass, it starts to taste better and better.
    Trust Me Trust Me came by our table at increasingly frequent intervals to shake the grappa bottle, a clear sign I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal. So I kept drinking it. I felt I owed him that much after he’d orchestrated such a fabulous meal.
    When the grappa was – gulpily – gone, it was time to play Guess the Check, a game the Missus and I created early in our trip.
    Restaurant bills in Italy (contos del ristorante) notoriously feature more add-ons than a burrito buffet. Did you sit? Did you stand? How many napkins did you use? Did your sandwich contain spinach, whether you asked for it or not? And etc.
    We figured the tab from Trust Me Trust Me was going to be astronomical. When we got the conto, it was the equivalent of $54. We left a 50% tip.
    All that remained was for the Missus to roll me back to the hotel and pour me into bed.
    Great night.
    Not so great morning, though, as you might imagine.
    It wasn’t just the jackhammers in my head that woke me up. There was a tour bus loudly idling right beneath our delightful French windows, which augmented the aural assault on my battered brain.
    I rushed – naked – to the nearest window, flung it open, and yelled at the world in general, Hey! Fungoli!
    I had no idea what that meant; chalk it up to the lingering grappa grip from the night before. Subsequently, I’ve come to realize what I really should have yelled was, Hey! Fongool! (“generally interpreted to mean f**k you”).
    My bad. But I think the world in general got the drift.
    The Missus:
    John being a very mild-mannered kind of guy, I was pretty shocked when he started screaming out the window. Come to find out he inadvertently was yelling something about mushrooms rather than cursing. However, I think the shock value did the trick as quiet soon prevailed and John slept like a log until checkout.
    Later that day, the Missus and I said ciao bella to Italy.

    • • • • • • •

    Upon our return to Boston, I wrote this column for Adweek.

    Favorite passage:

    One place we wished they’d had signage was Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church that houses da Vinci’s Last Supper. After we’d forked over our hard-earned 4,000 lira each, we discovered inside that the famous fresco was in restauro, as the Italians say.


    With scaffolding in front of the middle third of the wall, we could see about two guys on either end.

    “I wonder which one is Judas,” I whispered to the Missus.

    “The guy who sold us the tickets,” she replied smartly. “They don’t call it delle Grazie for nothing.”

    That is why you always want to travel with the Missus.

  • That Honeymoon Trip

    In 1980 the Missus and I met while we were both working at Filene’s flagship department store in downtown Boston (she was the store’s Executive Shopper, I was a copywriter in its advertising department). My route to the copywriting job was somewhat unorthodox, as I’ve described elsewhere. But once there, I took maximum advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, especially regarding the (future) Missus.

    The most lasting impact of my work at Filene’s . . . came from promoting the flagship store’s Executive Shopping Service created by the lovely and talented Tina Laurie Sutton, late of Glen Cove, Long Island. My first encounter with her was thoroughly memorable: I was enjoying the peace and quiet of the eighth-floor Glamour School Room (a leftover from the Filene’s Working for the Working Girl days) where I often went to do my writing, when Tina passed through on her way to the cafeteria. She was wearing a teal skirted suit that fit in all the right places. She had alabaster skin and a cascade of dark hair that would have made Botticelli swoon. I knew her by sight so I asked, “how’s business?”

    “Thin as the gold on a weekend wedding ring,” she shot back.

    Wow – smart, beautiful, and quotes Raymond Chandler? That’s the trifecta all day long. (To be honest, I was thinking about a different Chandler quote: “She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”)

    The next time I saw Tina she was standing in my office doorway (by then I’d been bumped up to Copy Chief) and said, “My boss told me you’re supposed to produce an ad for my service.” “Sure – let’s have lunch.”

    Classy guy that I was, I took her to the Superior Deli, where a bowl of beef stew cost $1.25. She had an egg salad sandwich. Once we got settled in, Tina said, “So what do you want to know about my service?” “I never talk business at lunch,” I replied smartly.

    Soon enough, though, I produced this ad, which I managed to sneak into the Wall Street Journal on multiple occasions when the department buyers didn’t come through with the merchandise that was supposed to be featured in the store’s monthly ad.

    I also produced this Boston Magazine ad aimed at those pathetic guys who wind up at Filene’s around seven o’clock on Christmas Eve looking for something to buy for the wife or loved one (or both).

    Meanwhile, Tina and I ate lunch at the Super Deli every weekday for the next ten months until I went off to work for a local ad agency. Two years later we were married.

    In May of 1983, to be precise, we got hitched by a justice of the peace in the ballroom at Longwood Towers in Brookline, Mass.

    At the same time the doors opened to our modest group of guests, the (open) bar also opened. That nicely set the proper tone for our happy occasion. The wedding ceremony was to take place on the balcony. Right before it began, I looked down at the ballroom and didn’t see anyone I knew. Then the (almost) Missus looked down and didn’t see anyone she knew. So we’re both thinking, are we at the wrong wedding?

    We weren’t. We were at the perfect wedding. Some months later, we embarked on our honeymoon – a double dip to Québec City and Montréal. First stop: Le Château Frontenac.

    We had the biggest hotel room ever: I paced it off as 40 feet by 20 feet. And Québec City was totally charming, although I don’t remember us doing a whole lot of touristy things there, just wandering around the Old Town, which looked a lot like this.

    Beyond that, we dined at the most appealing restaurants we came across in our rambles. One night we ate at the sadly defunct La Jalousie, where the waitress asked us after the entree, Want somesing sweet? We absolutely did.

    We found Montréal, on the other hand, somewhat less captivating. mostly because the Montréal of 40 years ago in no way resembled Montréal today. One of Montréal’s cultural highlights the Missus and I sampled was McCord’s Mukluk Museum, which was pretty lame back then but might be more engaging now. We also ventured to the Musée Marguerite-Bourgeoys Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours.

    Crowning an ancient promontory above the Saint Lawrence River, once a campsite favoured by the Native peoples, a 300-year-old chapel, a museum of history and an archaeological site invite you to hear what they have to say about the people who founded Montreal. Through the achievements of Marguerite Bourgeoys, a woman of courage and compassion who lived in 17th-century Montreal, you will find yourself transported back through time to another world, that of our ancestors.

    As we approached the Chapelle, we noticed that there was a line alongside it, so we took our place at the back. We soon noted that we were getting a lot of side eye from the others in line, which we thought was strange until it dawned on us that we were in the church’s soup line.

    So we moved around to the front of the Chapelle. Once inside we gazed with utter amazement at a display of vignettes populated by dime-store dolls depicting the various activities of Marguerite-Bourgeoys. Representative samples:

    Presumably, the Marguerite-Bourgeoys dolls look better these days. The Missus and I might not, but we’re just as much in love as when we took the aforementioned snapshots in a Montréal Métro photo booth.

    As our waitress at La Jalousie said, somesing sweet.


    In the mid-1980s I worked my way into writing regular columns for Adweek, which I produced from 1986 to 1994. (Details about how that came to pass here.)

    In 1990 I wrote a piece which “casually mentioned that Larry Glick, a talk-show host at WHDH-AM in Boston, was going to broadcast his upcoming nuptials over the airwaves. His umpteenth marriage happened to take place in Las Vegas, which is certainly a charming venue for a wedding. If it’s on the radio, of course.”

    I then proceeded to wax nostalgic “about the happy occasion of my own wedding to the Missus [in 1983], an event which was highlighted for many by the availability of cocktails during the ceremony. There was nothing sacrilegious about it, though, because we had a JP presiding. Or was it a J&B? Well, whatever.”

    Kind of nuts graf:

    Here’s the whole piece.

    A shoutout to my splendid Adweek editor Greg Farrell, who was willing to board any amusement park ride I proposed.

    Those nine years at Adweek were a total gas.

  • Prologue

    It was an unmitigated disaster, and it was entirely my fault.

    The Missus and I were finally making our maiden trip to Europe – first England, then France. The division of labor: She would organize our time in London, and I’d do the same for Paris.

    Mais non.

    Mind you, this was during the pre-Internet 1980s. That was no problem for the Missus, who is to travel planning what Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were to the D-Day invasion.

    Me, not so much.

    I vaguely recall glancing at a few travel guides in our local bookstore and leafing through a French-English dictionary on the flight to London.

    Our time there was terrific: I don’t remember where we went, but I do recall it was totally great.

    Then there was Paris.

    I had bupkis – no itineraries, no opening or closing times, no nothing.

    The Missus was not amused. It hardly helped that Parisians didn’t need no stinking tourist dollars at the time, so they were routinely rude to both of us.

    It got so bad we were accused of using counterfeit money at the ticket window of the Picasso Museum. Vous êtes forgeurs! the irate ticket-taker screamed, throwing the francs back in our faces. Shaken, we promptly went to the nearest banque and asked to change the large bill to smaller denominations. They had no problem cashing it.

    Overall, the trip taught us this essential truth: The Missus was the planner and I was the flâneur.

    And it’s been all good ever since.

    The Missus:

    First, for anyone who thinks the above term of endearment is remotely sexist, let me assure you it is not. One of the Mister’s favorite writers is sports columnist, journalist, author Ring Lardner, who used the term affectionately for his own wife. And under that moniker, I was quoted liberally in columns throughout my husband’s long career, always saying something pithy, funny or smart. Couldn’t have been more flattering.

    It was also our private joke that while readers might picture the “Missus” in a housecoat and scuffy slippers, I am actually a fashion consultant and writer.

    As to the aforementioned first trip to Europe, learning who does what best in any marriage bodes well for the future. We’ve now been the happiest of travel companions for over 40 years.

     But it was on our honeymoon prior to that European vacation that we discovered a common travel quirk very few people share: we don’t take photos. Yes – unbelievable as it may sound – neither of us ever thought to pack a camera. To document the momentous occasion, we instead popped into a Photo Booth at the Montreal Metro receiving four charming snapshots 60 seconds later.

    Even with camera phones today, we still don’t take pictures. A friend once admitted she spent more time framing the perfect photo than enjoying her trip experiences. We remember the best and worst of each trip because we were engaged at all times. Try it.