No, it´s not another cold Northerner going barking mad under the warm Tuscan sun. Rather, my epiphany proceeds from the Mac PowerBook G4 laptop I bought from ComputerDNA in Blue Ash and connected to our host´s DSL in Florence, Italy.
I long have marveled at the seemingly inescapable connectedness of younger Americans and Europeans; time away from their cell phones or wireless laptops seems to be life never to be reclaimed. Are they all linked to The One? Is it the reincarnation of Rider Haggard´s She (Who Must Be Obeyed)?
I just didn´t get it.
I don´t carry a cell phone. I don´t have a pager, a Blackberry or anything like it. These devices and their dissimilar controls inspire fear and loathing.
When my wife and I decided to spend a month in Tuscany, we bought our first laptop to edit and store thousands of digital images. It did that.
In addition, the laptop and DSL provided access to Skype for cheap telephone calls and email for messages or digital images instead of postcards. And the news media.
Online, we listened to WVXU, WGUC and BBC World Service. Online, we read The Enquirer, CityBeat, local blogs, The New York Times, dailies from London, Beirut, Jerusalem and Karachi plus France 24 and Al Jazeera English Web sites. It´s addictive, seductive and a helluva lot better than $4 daily for the International Herald Tribune or more for a London daily.
Even without a cell phone, I was beginning to understand connectedness.
For instance, I read the Enquirer story about Mayor Mark Mallory´s desire to ease suburbanites´ fears about downtown Cincinnati.
What I missed online, if the paper carried it, was an interview with the mayor about the image he projects with a bodyguard so he can work safely downtown. In 40 years as a reporter in Cincinnati, I can´t recall a dimmer emissary of city safety.
Which brings me back to the Good Old Days, when a month in Tuscany meant a vacation from news unless a visitor found and bought English-language publications or read Italian.
I moved to Italy in 1961. The Paris edition of New York´s Herald-Tribune was the best paper available in English. The Rome Daily American, for which I worked, was a smaller, parochial also-ran. That hadn´t changed when I returned in 1965 and 1967.
But four years ago, I could have used Internet shops in Italy to read The Enquirer, The Post and other papers, but our trip was so short I never thought of that. We exchanged a few emails, but that was all. I´d scan headlines as we walked past news stands; they told me enough.
Last month, with my laptop and DSL, I read and heard everything I wanted. Email and Skype kept us in touch. I was connected.
· Diane Rehm show on WVXU-FM had an hour-long debate on urban streetcars and one critic made a point that´s worth examining here: How would continuing public support/subsidy affect other municipal spending?
· The Enquirer promotes downtown, but has it no shame? A Sunday Local section cover showed a fish-throwing contest on Hidden Fountain Square that carefully named a pricey downtown eating spot? Fish-throwing? The only thing missing was our mayor and his bodyguard explaining to incredulous suburbanites that they can come downtown without being assaulted by a flying fish.
· Want a measure of financial constraints on today´s daily papers? Despite its fine staff photographers, The Enquirer used a Getty image of Griffey´s homerun No. 600 because it was too costly to follow Junior on the road on the chance he´d hit the historic homer.
· It´s time for local, neutral news media to tell us what Victoria Wulsin did or did not do for Heimlich Institute and end vitriolic charges and countercharges. I don´t mean quoting the usual partisan suspects, but also going to the documents and other sources and records. Tell us who´s wrong, who´s dissembling, who´s obfuscating or what. It was an unhelpful taint on the 2nd District primary, and it´s already stinking up the congressional race.
· Why did it take London´s Independent to alert me to the U.S.-Iraqi talks on the future status of forces for the American military in that country? Have editors so tired of the story that they no longer reward reporters for major scoops?
· The New York Times´ Linda Greenhouse again showed how to translate a complex U.S. Supreme Court decision into comprehensible English when she explained the 5-4 ruling that gave Guantanamo inmates the right to challenge their continued captivity in our civil courts. Her story included the elegant and eloquent defense of our basic liberties by Justice Kennedy (even as the House of Commons diminished the same right in the name of protecting Britons´ liberties).