Happy Birthday, VSSP!

Tomorrow my law firm will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP began on March 1, 1909. For 100 years it has had the same name (well, except for the “LLP” part), has been based at the same location at 52 East Gay Street in Columbus, Ohio, and has continuously provided its clients with thoughtful, capable legal representation.

I have worked at the firm, as an associate and then as a partner, for 23 of those 100 years, and they have been 23 very good years indeed. So good, in fact, that I want to say “thank you” to those who founded the firm, to those lawyers, paralegals, and staff members who have worked so hard to make it a success, to those who decided to hire me in the first place, and to those clients, lawyers, paralegals, and staff who have worked with me over those 23 years. The firm has allowed Kish and me to buy our house, to pay for our boys’ educations, to make many wonderful friends, to join a country club, to take some nice vacations, and to have an enjoyable life. The firm is an institution in the truest sense of the word, but it is a living institution that has had, and continues to have, an enormous impact on my life.

Happy Birthday, VSSP! May you enjoy 100 more!

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Italian Journal, Day 2

St. Peter's

St. Peter's

June 10, 2003:

We got up at about 9 a.m. (which is really sleeping in for me) and after our gratis continental breakfast we hopped onto the Metro and headed toward the Vatican. The Metro is somewhat mystifying — for some reason you can’t get change for your fare money from the machines — and the train itself was hot and stuffy. However, we only had to go 3 stops, and when we got off we had only a few blocks’ walk to the Vatican. It was another extremely hot day, with temperatures in the high 80s or low 90s and not a cloud in the sky.

The Vatican tour began with St. Peter’s Basilica, which is superb. The epic scale of the building, the monumental statuary, the extraordinary paintings and artwork all combine to have an overwhelming effect. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the crowd of loud tourists clad in shorts and flip-flops help to return the celestial to the mundane. For every Pieta there is a loud, profane tourist who seems to be unaware that the basic thrust of St. Peter’s is to be a church.

One of the more interesting things about St Peter’s is the statuary of the Popes over time. Many of the Popes, as I understand it, were cynical and corrupt politicians, advancing the narrow agendas of their families and often responsible for fomenting conflict and war. Nevertheless, all Popes, good and bad, are pictured with hands templed in prayer and faces turned toward the heavens with looks of beatific pleasure. The Catholic Church apparently makes no effort to separate good from bad when it comes to Popes.

We then went to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. The Museum, like the Louvre in Paris, is a case of sensory overload. Too many tapestries, ancient maps, globes, and painted cabinets to properly absorb and appreciate. The Sistine Chapel, however, cuts through the sensory overload and makes an indelible impression. The sheer beauty of the paintings on the ceiling is hard to grasp, and even more hard to fathom is the idea behind the paintings — such as the notion that there should be a minute bap between the fingers of God and Adam in the Creation of Man panel. That artistic judgment alone confirms Michelangelo’s genius. Sitting in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by such brilliance, is an awesome and humbling experience. Kish managed to put it all in perspective, however, by falling asleep on one of the benches at the rear of the Chapel.

After the Sistine Chapel we left the Vatican Museum, had lunch at a neighborhood trattoria, and returned to our hotel. Kish and the boys decided to hang out at the hotel, and I decided to strike off on my own. With the digital camera in tow, I went to the Fountain of Triton — a bit of a disappointment — and then the churches of St. Mary Maggiore and St. Peter in Chains. Both churchs were fine, but in different ways. St. Mary Maggiore was an ornate, overpowering-type church, with statuary and gilt and huge paintings and multiple apses and chapels. St. Peter in Chains was much simpler, and seemed more like a real church. I preferred the latter, and not just because of Michelangelo’s Moses, which is magnificent. St. Peter in Chains had a certain and atractive dignity and solemnity that befits a true, operating church.

I was amazed, as we visited various churches today, at the boorish behavior of other tourists as they visited these religious institutions. They wear clothes that seem inappropriate and talk much too loudly. I would like to see these visitors show more respect for the idea behind these churches. These are placed of deep faith and religious meaning. Is it asking too much to have visitors dress and act appropriately?

After St. Peter in Chains I saw that I was close to the Colisseum, and I found myself drawn irresistably to the Roman ruins once again. I took many more pictures and stumbled across the plain of crumbling ruins, once again awed and humbled by the age of the ruins, by the ideas they represent, and by the sheer chance that separates one preserved block of stone from another that was taken away or crumbled to dust hundreds of years ago. I could easily spend hours at the Forum and Capitoline Hill.

After I strolled back to our hotel Kish and the boys and I walked over to Piazza Navono, where we sat in a cafe and enjoyed an appropriate beverage, then we came back to the neighborhood of our hotel for dinner. My entree was selected by the waiter and was excellent. After only two days in Rome, I can say I like it a great deal — the pace, the food, the antiquity found cheek to jowl with more modern buildings. It has been hot, and dirty, and filled with graffiti, but those attributes cannot mask its other charms.

Italian Journal, Day 1

The Colisseum

The Colisseum

It has now been almost six years since our trip to Italy. I kept a short journal during that trip, which has never been transcribed. What better place to transcribe it than in our family blog? So, over the next few weeks, I will transcribe the journal with appropriate pictures from the trip.

June 9, 2003:

We arrived at the Rome airport early, at about 7:30 a.m. We cleared customs and grabbed a cab to our hotel, which is near the Spanish Steps. Our cab driver was friendly, but spoke very little English. The most remarkable thing about the cab ride was the incredible number of scooters darting in and out of traffic as we came into Rome. Our hotel, the Carriage Hotel, is a charming, traditional Italian hotel wth unique rooms and friendly staff workers. Although the hotel advertises air conditioning, the rooms are still very muggy.

We then walked to the Colisseum after grabbing a bite for breakfast. It was a walk of about a mile in 80+ degree heat. The Colisseum is an extraordinary place. It is much bigger than I expected. It is not hard to imagine how impressive the building must have been in AD 73, just after it was completed. Kish bought a Venus de Milo replica at the Colisseum. The seller came down from 45 Euro to 20 Euro in the blink of an eye.

After the Colisseum, Kish went back to the hotel and the boys and I went to the Forum and the Capitoline Hill. We searched in vain for the Palace of the Vestal Virgins, but did find the arches of Constantine, Titus and Septimus Severus, the Senate, the Rostrum, and the remains of the Temple of Saturn. It is hard not to imagine what it must have been like when Rome was in its glory. It is a beautiful place, and very thought-provoking.

The boys and I then walked back toward the hotel, and stopped for pizza and refreshments. When we got back to the hotel, everyone took a midday siesta. It was about 2 p.m. We awoke at 4 p.m.and headed out for some more walking. We took a short stroll over to the Spanish Steps and had some ice cream at a small cafe. We reversed course and headed back to the Trevi Fountain. It was a magnificent site: an enormous, brilliantly rendered sculpture, a bright blue, sunlit sky, and the quiet murmur of the water from the fountain. It was not too crowded, and a most enjoyable spot for people-watching as we sat on the steps surrounding the fountain.

Kish, the boys and I then walked to the Pantheon. By that time, the sun was beginning to set and many of the streets were in shadow. We encountered our first beggars along the way, including a small, hunched-over woman dressed entirely in black. The Pantheon was another inspiring sight. The dome is enormous, and there is a solemnity and grandeur when you step into the huge structure, with the oculus high above and statuary surrounding you at all points of the compass. It does make you wonder what ancient Rome was like, before its noble facade was stripped away and its monumental architecture was allowed to crumble into ruin.

Our final stop for the day was the Argentinal Sacra, which is a relatively recently unearthed collection of buildings from the Republican era. Our main point of interest was counting the cats that stretched and played down in those ruins. There must have been two dozen cats visible amongst the pillars and stones. It’s hard to say what impressed Russell more — the number of cats or the incredibly small size of some of the Italian automobiles.

Our day ended with dinner at the restaurant next door and a slide show of our digital photography in the boys’ room. Now we need to figure out tomorrow’s itinerary, which I think will include the Vatican. I really can’t believe that I am in Rome, even as I write these words. What an interesting feeling, to walk the paths walked by Caesar and the Roman emperors and to witness more than 2000 years of living history. It makes you realize what a young country America is. I think every American should see Rome, to help put our nation’s current dominance into perspective. I am sure that the Romans of Augustus’ and Vespasian’s days thought the Empire was ever-lasting, and only a few centuries later the dust and debris was accumulating on the floor of the Forum.

Sledgehammer

Having talked about videos that suck, we need to talk about videos that are great. I admit, my knowledge of videos is pretty much limited to the 1980s — which is when MTV used to actually play videos, instead of broadcasting lame reality shows. This is my all-time favorite, and my favorite part of it is the dancing, plucked chickens. Great song, great video concept, interesting to watch — this video passed the 2 a.m. Alexandria rocker acid test.

Family Matters

In their house on Chamberlain Road, Gramma and Grampa Neal had a wall of black and white photos. Many of the photos were of long-dead relatives. Gramma particularly liked one picture, of a man sitting cross-legged at a desk, deep in thought, his chin cradled in his hand, as he read something on his lap. He wore checked pants — which Gramma found very humorous indeed — and small-lensed, wire-rimmed spectacles, like the “National Health” glasses that John Lennon wears in the photo included in the Beatles’ White Album. He sported long sideburns, a kind of frock coat and vest, and a watch chain. Unfortunately, Gramma did not know much about him, other than that he was a newpaperman and, from the looks of the photo, lived around the turn of the century. His name, what he was like, and other pertinent information was lost in the mists of time.

For that very reason, photos don’t have much appeal to me. They can capture what a person looked like at a particular point in time, but not much else. Was Mr. Checked Pants someone who had a good sense of humor? Did he have children and, if so, was he a good father? What were his political views? Was he a leader in his community? Did he follow a baseball team? Did he enjoy an adult beverage from time to time? What was he like to be around? All of these kinds of qualities and characteristics that make a person unique were not known to Gramma, and the only people who might have known were long since dead.

I don’t want that to happen with members of my family. It so happens that, as we get ready to move into March, we also are moving into the season of birthdays for members of my family. I therefore plan to post some information and recollections about members of my family on or around their birthdays, in hopes of providing some information that adds a bit of flesh and blood to the two-dimensional family photos. I would hate to think that my relatives might someday end up like Mr. Checked Pants — known only for his outlandish attire on a day when his photo happened to be taken, but not remembered for whatever qualities made him a memorable person.