Pablo Chiste’s Guide To Sicily


My sister texted me “What was your favorite place in Sicily?” A trip I took by myself for Spring Break when I studied in Florence. She expected a short text back instead she got the following long e-mail.

Your trip to Sicily would be very different than mine. Keep in mind I was a college student whose skinflint ways made the modern version of me look like a big spender. I also went by myself so there were no compromises, but also no regular conversations. To save money on hotels I slept on trains when possible and many of my meals consisted of bread and olives. It was a time before Euros and Smartphones, so Sicily could easily no longer be a cheapskate’s nirvana. It was also in March when I went so perhaps it seemed untouched by tourists simply because of the time of year. Regardless, here are my memories of the island that you can take with a grain of salt.

After taking the overnight train from Florence where I slept in the middle seat of a passenger train surrounded by swarthy Italians I arrived in Taormina. This is perhaps the most touristy place I went to in Sicily where British tourists walk around like they own the place. But it is really beautiful. Overlooking the Mediterranean which sparkles blue when the sun hits it  you have a view of Mt. Etna that reminded me of drawings in mythology books. There are the ruins of a Greek Theater that look like actual ruins, but I might have learned later that the theater was not genuine and simply built to appear like the actual theater that was at that site. Either way it still impressed me.

Next I went to Siracusa, also known as Syracuse. I wandered around the town all day and didn’t see much expecting to catch a night train to Agrigento. When I learned there was no night train I was forced to get a hotel room. I started talking to the night clerk whose buddy came over. They brought out wine from a box which wasn’t half bad and the buddy drove me around giving me a tour of all the ruins and historic sites.

Knowing Italian will do you no good in Sicily. If they don’t know English communication is hopeless. Their dialect involves such a thick accent you won’t know if they’re complimenting you or asking if you are as stupid as you look. One Sicilian I met on a train when he learned I was from America started asking me if I knew “Babillion”. He started making weird noises and finally I realized he was singing “Like A Rolling Stone” and was asking if I liked Bob Dylan.

Agrigento was crazy. I went there in the middle of a weekday and took a bus to some Greek ruins. The ruins were on an elevated mesa segregated from the modern city. There were the remnants of  old temples and statues from two thousand years ago that in 1997 had no security or rope cordoning you off from them. You could climb on them, have a picnic lunch on them or desecrate them with bodily fluids and no one would bother you.

That afternoon I took the train to Palermo. I was there two nights. I must have done something, but I have no memory of what I did. In my head it was just a generic city. I do remember there were a lot of American sailors walking around, so there must have been a naval base.

Then came the best part of the trip. I took a boat to the Aeolian Islands. Lipari was the island to stay on because boats to the other islands embark from Lipari. I met two Americans on the boat. It was the first English I had spoken in a few days. When we got off the boat a woman offered  a room to rent for a crazy low price. I think it was like 20,000 lira a night each which was 15 bucks. We had our own kitchen and were right across the street from a beach. The beaches were rocky, but not boring stones. It was green sea glass so it looked like a beach of emeralds.

The next day I took a ferry with the Americans to Stromboli which had a giant volcano on it and beaches with black sand from the volcano. Supposedly if you got to the top you could see lava spewing. We didn’t make it that far. We got halfway up when the path was almost 180 degrees vertical. We climbed as far as our lazy teenaged legs would take us and then jumped down the slope. You see this volcano and you will believe the moon landing was fake. Your movements and the terrain look exactly how NASA portrayed the moon.

The next morning I took a ferry to the island of Vulcano. This island had lower lying volcanoes so it wasn’t too tough to get to the top. I saw no lava, but plenty of smoke fuming. Most exciting about the island of Vulcano are hot muddy springs. You will smell of sulphur, but the temperature is great and spreading the mud on your skin solves all your problems.

I might have glamorized the place with nostalgia, but I have fond memories of Sicily and no problems with mobsters.

Chasing Rainbows

We drive.

My daughter’s in her car seat in the back as a little bit of rain hits the windshield. In the gray clouds I notice the faintest hint of a rainbow. “Look, there’s a rainbow.” I tell her.

“Where?” she asks. I point, but she keeps asking, “Where? Where?”

It’s fading so I try to point it out exactly, but she’s getting frustrated. I’m not sure if it’s the way the seat has her strapped in or the direction my finger is pointing has her looking some way different than I intend, but I start to get concerned this whole situation might be scarring. Three years old is a formative age for the subconscious.  Could this create in her the idea that magic and beauty will always be just out of reach?

But then the road curves and something funny happens, the rainbow gets brighter. “Do you see it?” I ask her.

“A rainbow!”

We turn on to the interstate and I swear to God in the west is the fullest, most vivid rainbow I’d ever seen in my 38 years on Earth. Hell, for all I know it’s the most brilliant, colorful rainbow anyone in the universe has ever seen.

“Two rainbows!” she says. The conditions were so perfect that another fainter rainbow was on the outside of the legendary rainbow.

We keep driving. The road turns again.

“Where are the rainbows?” she asks. And I wonder if we can’t help scarring our young no matter how hard we try. Now she’ll think rainbows are something we’re all entitled to.



Zikapocalypse Now

A flea nearly brought down Western civilization when the Bubonic Plague took a tour of Europe centuries ago, but I’m still not sure how seriously we should take this Zika virus.

They say the sexually transmitted virus only exists in a mosquito that lives in a three mile radius in Miami. But this as we all know is complete and utter non-sense. If this virus traveled thousands of miles from Brazil to Miami in the matter of months, there are flying bugs and sexy people spreading it already at least as far as Kendall and Pembroke Pines.

They say Zika does not hurt most carriers. It will at worst cause flu symptoms, unless you are pregnant, then your poor child will have a misshapen and deformed head.

It is probably nothing. A couple years ago the news media was trying to sell us on the idea that Ebola will be the end of us all, before that was the avian flu, AIDS, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.

But odds are one day the fear-mongers will be right. It will all end for humanity. Or at the very least humanity’s idea of a perfectly proportional head.

In Defense of Third Parties


Besides someone saying “it is what it is” no comment gets me more riled up than, “if you vote for a third party candidate you are throwing your vote away”.  Using this set of logic in the 2016 presidential election, if you vote for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump wins anyway, then you threw your vote away as well. You could also say if you vote for the victor and they win by more than one vote you also threw your vote away. The only vote that has value from this school of thought if you take it to its extreme, is an election where there is a tie, and your ballot will break the deadlock.

Voting in a population as large as ours is a symbolic act. The 2000 presidential election, the closest one on record, was decided by the 537 vote margin in the state of Florida. Those 537 ballots, lawyers argued fell within a margin of error where there needed to be another recount. If 537 votes could easily be misread, what difference does one vote make?

One vote is a voice saying I will not support two flawed candidates who promise war, just because this is what the Republican and Democratic parties served up. Yes, Donald Trump might model his rhetoric on some weird combination of Richard Nixon, Benito Mussolini, and Andrew Dice Clay. He is most probably the Anti-Christ he presents himself to be, but  in good conscience neither can I back a candidate in Hillary Clinton who promises in her Democratic Convention speech “we will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground.” Previously she bragged how as Secretary of State she wanted to get more aggressive in Libya and Syria and most famously voted as a Senator to go to war in Iraq.

In protest I will vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein for President even though she has zero chance of winning. Contrary to the political slogan a vote for a third party candidate is not a vote for Trump.

A vote for Trump is a vote for Trump.

If enough liberals make the same principled act and if enough conservatives vote for the Libertarian Party, perhaps in the next election the major political parties will take notice and give us options where we do not have to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Puppet Pigs and Escalators

I once thought when I had kids I would never let them watch TV.  But like many well intentioned bohemian dreams, reality put  a dent in that ambition. Toddlers are like drunks in so many ways, but mostly in the amount of energy you have to put into keeping them out of trouble. And so I often give my two year old my phone and let her pick her viewing pleasures. She likes watching videos of people opening play-doh packages and uncovering toys. She loves British cartoons like Little Princess and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.

Her favorite though is Peppa Pig. Peppa is an English animated pig with a Daddy, Mommy, and little brother George. They jump around in muddy puddles or visit their grandparents. They have adventures or they don’t, and every five minute episode ends with all the characters falling on their backs laughing uproariously. My daughter can name all the characters and has even taken to speaking in Peppa’s British accent.

When I heard that there was a touring live stage show of Peppa Pig’s Big Spalsh coming to the Fillmore, I pitched to my editor that I could write about taking my daughter to the show. I figured it would make an entertaining story and at the same time make me the #1 Dad in her eyes, at least until the next time I take the phone away from her.

So Saturday afternoon I woke her from her nap, packed the backpack with a couple snacks and took the short drive to the Lincoln Road parking lot where half of South Florida’s toddler population had parents with the same idea. With all the concerts I’d attended at the Fillmore, it was jarring to see strollers, diaper bags, and cotton candy being passed around instead of joints.

We got to our seats exactly at 5:00 which was showtime according to the ticket. My daughter placed her doll on the part of the seat she wasn’t occupying. She was amazed by all the action taking place around her. The kids her age and those a little older, the massive room and the red curtains on the stage. She was in awe until I could see she wasn’t. I looked at my phone. It was 5:15 and I started having flashbacks from our first trip to the movie theater. We had gotten there early and by the time the feature started she was already saying, “Go home Daddy. Go home!” But since that time she’s gotten older and her parents have grown wiser. Mommy told me to pack some chips, they would distract her and they did.

At 5:20 the lights dimmed, and the curtains rose. There was a Crayola hued set and the Peppa Pig theme song played. A woman dressed as a kid in overalls who introduced herself as Daisy came on to the stage and screamed “Where are all my friends?” Life sized puppets of Suzy Sheep and Pedro Pony  giggled as they came into view from the bushes they were hiding behind to the crowd’s delight. But there was still no Peppa. Daisy suggested to the crowd, “Maybe if we scream her name she’ll come out. One… two… three… Peppa Pig!” We did that several times. My daughter turned and smiled at me every time she yelled “Peppa Pig”. Out came Peppa. My daughter clapped like she was having the time of her young life and then began the show’s first point of tension. The late arriving crew sitting in front of us took their seats. My daughter started moving her head trying to see, I stuck her on my lap, but then it came, “Go home Daddy! Go home!”

I tried to distract her. “Look, it’s Mr. Bull!”

“Go home Daddy! Go home!”

I took out the chips, but she pushed them away. “Go home Daddy! Go home! Go home Daddy! Go home!”

This is another example of how drunk friends are good training for parenthood. you have to save these toddlers from themselves. If we were to go home, there would be no life size animal puppets. So we went into the lobby and took a few rides up and down the escalators until that thrill ebbed and returned to find some empty seats with clear views ahead of them. We got back just in time to jump up and down to help get George’s toy dinosaur out of a tree. We missed how it got up there, but I don’t think it was too important for plot purposes.

The plot from what I could piece together was that there was a hole in the school’s roof and Peppa and her friends threw a fair to raise money to fix the roof. There was a scene with talking pineapples that had the parents behind me joking in a South American accent about LSD.  At this point I got a little distracted because my daughter began swinging from the waist high bar in front of us. She’s not the toddler equivalent of the friend who when they get drunk passes out, she’s the one who dances on the tables.

Daisy on the stage asked for more jumping. My daughter would not disappoint. They asked for more cheering. She screamed, ran ten feet away and screamed again. I looked around the room.  Keeping up was not just my struggle. It was pandemonium. This must have been like when Rome was sacked by barbarians. When the kids got at their craziest, the show called it quits. My daughter saw everyone clapping, put her doll down and joined in the clapping. As we walked out of the theater the two of us spoke about what we saw. We recounted Peppa and her Daddy jumping in muddy puddles and all the fun hi-jinks we witnessed.

When we got home Mommy (her Mommy not Mommy Pig) asked our daughter how the evening and the show was.

In a British accent she answered. “Daddy and I went on an escalator.”

We all fell on our backs and laughed uproariously.


03-2015-2016 words drawing on beach with wave

Every new year I head into it thinking this is going to be my year.

2016, the Chinese year of the red fire monkey, I’m taking a different philosophy. This will be my tax write-off of a year.

Too often I raise expectations thinking a new calendar will make all the difference and come January I will have grand epiphanies, memorable accomplishments, and carve some ambition into my lazy bones. By February it becomes clear that all my thoughts have been recycled, my actions have had no meaning, and the only carving I’ve done is an imprint of my buttocks into the couch.

2016 will be different.

I will expect nothing.

2017 will be my year.


A few Novembers ago a friendly neighbor shattered the driver’s side window to break into my Love Interest’s car. We called some glass guy to replace it. He did the job and afterwards he wished us a happy Thanksgiving. That morning and exchange has stuck with me.

It was very early November which seemed a little ridiculous to already be wishing us a happy Thanksgiving. But that Thanksgiving came and went. As did that Christmas and New Years.

Perhaps it is never too early to get in the holiday spirit.

The Thanksgiving Story


As I bought a loaf of bread I wished the man at the counter, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“I know of this holiday.” The gray bearded Italian said, “but I do not know what that means.”

As someone who sees it as my duty to educate the ignorant I felt obliged to bring class to session in the bakery. “It is a day when you come together with your family and give thanks.”

“For what?”

“Some people express thankfulness for the bounty of food placed in front of them, others for the company they get to keep. Some are grateful for a day off to watch or play a little football, for some it’s a marker that they made it through another year. I guess in a nutshell gratitude is what Thanksgiving is all about.”

“Oh, yes Thanksgiving. The day you Americans commemorate Native people feeding you when you were starving and reciprocating their charity with a genocide that would have made Pol Pot and Hitler blush, you then celebrate with gluttony and flatulence with the ritual slaughter of millions of birds and by watching a game where underprivileged men are highly paid to try to knock their fellow gladiator to the ground.”

“I suppose that’s one way to put it. But I thought you didn’t know what Thanksgiving was?”

“Do you take me for an idiot?” He asked. “Of course I know about Thanksgiving. It is happiness I wish to learn about.”

We’re Going To Disney World


I always said the only way I would ever go to Disney World again was if someone dosed me with a truckload of psychedelics or if I had a kid.

Last time I went was 1992. My family took in a French foreign exchange student, as a thank you the school packed the visitors and their host kids on a bus and shipped them up to Orlando. I was thirteen so I had a blast with any dose of freedom. The most memorable moment was on The Pirates of the Caribbean ride when the French boys in the boat ahead of us threw the scrawniest of their number in the water right where the cannonballs seemed to be shooting. The kid was evidently not related to Jacques Cousteau. He screamed and cried as he jumped back in the boat.

Since those innocent days though I have grown a deep seated fear of Disney World and all it seemed to represent. The crowds, the commercialization, the crass idea that you can manufacture and market happiness.

If a trip to Ikea had me one step away from a panic attack, I could not imagine what Disney World would do to me.

And so when my Love Interest requested that we take our daughter there I always turned her down. “Go with your friends and their kids.” or “I’ll drive up there, drop you girls off at the theme park, and I’ll find some  watering hole to disappear into.”

But last month I relented. I rented a car, packed us in, and took the four hour drive to Orlando. The first rule I made to help myself get through this trip as a cheapskate was not to ask how much anything cost. If they started to tell me a price, I’d cover my ears, sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” and hand over the credit card. I broke this rule almost instantaneously as I drove into the theme park and they told me parking cost twenty bucks.

We got out of the vehicle and I prided myself that I walked the extra few booths down to find a shorter line. “These stupid tourists” I snickered as I saved us a few minutes, but I was going in with the wrong attitude. At Disney World as in life you will never defeat the line.

I don’t know if it was the high price of admission, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I feared and the clientele was not how I remembered it. In my memories every other person at the theme park was morbidly obese and every parent was threatening their kids with a whoopin’, but most of the people were trim and civilized towards their children.

You don’t see as many of the costumed characters anymore. You have to pay extra to get your pictures taken with the big dogs like Mickey Mouse or the princesses from Frozen. There were long lines for random supporting characters like the monkey from The Lion King who we started waiting in line for when he walked off and we were told he had to take a break to drink a banana milkshake.

Fortunately the lines for the rides weren’t bad. We went on the Jungle Boat which was filled with bad puns and African stereotypes. Our daughter’s favorite ride was the carousel. Mine was It’s a Small World which would be the safe zone if you did go to Disney World on a truckload of psychedelics.

When you’re there with a two year old though, the rides aren’t that important. The most amazing aspect is seeing it through her eyes, that all this manpower and resources were spent in celebration of an animated rodent.

This is a crazy world we live in, this Disney World.


The Pier


We used to jump off the pier at the south point of Miami Beach. Some would do flips or dive head first, I was only brave enough to jump. It wasn’t life threateningly high, though someone once told me their stepdad spent his adult life in a wheelchair because of a tragic leap off it, but it was a rush that lasted as you sunk ten feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and stayed with you like the salt on your skin until you washed it off.

The pier was closed off and under renovation forever. Maybe a year ago it reopened, child proof with clear signs that there is no jumping or diving allowed.

I took my daughter out there on a beautiful day. Though there was no way she could slither through the fence I still do the math in my head of how long it would take me to dive after her if she did and how I could climb up the rocks while holding her.

But there is no drama or action to this day. We sat in a shady area and the water was so calm and clear even with my awful vision I could spot a parrotfish swimming by. When a tugboat motored through, the waves in its wake scattered out even more sea life. I asked my daughter if she saw the fish, she acted like she did but I’m pretty sure she’s pretending. Then she points out a turtle. I act like I see it as well.