John Isner, a 6’9” graduate of the University of Georgia, won the longest tennis match in history yesterday, a Wimbledon thriller that lasted just over 11 hours and spanned the course of three days.  In fact, the fifth set alone was the longest match in history.  According to the London Telegraph, he went through 40 bottles of water, 12 energy bars, seven racquets, and three bananas during that marathon fifth set against Nicolas Mahut of France.

Isner graduated from Georgia in 2007 and turned pro.  In early summer 2007, he was ranked around #900 in the world.  Within three months, he’d worked his way into the top 200, qualified for the U.S. Open, and made it to the third round before losing to Roger Federer.

I was at that match.  My kid and I were in New York City for the Open, with daytime tickets to the matches. When we found out that Isner, the boy who’d played for Georgia, was facing Federer in a third-round night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, I scrambled to find tickets to the match.  I vividly remember going to an ATM and withdrawing $400 to buy the tickets from a scalper.

It also cost me my reservation at Nobu.

But what a match.  This kid from Georgia took a set off the great Federer.  And he aced him 18 times.

Now, I can’t honestly claim to be a die-hard Georgia fan.  I grew up in Atlanta, and I love Georgia the state, but I’ve never actually yelled, “Gooooo Dawgs, Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! at any kind of sporting event.  Not even tennis.  Especially not tennis, and especially not after the unfortunate run-in my kid had with the son of UGA’s coach at the high school region tournament in April.  The kid, a senior who’s going to play for Georgia this fall, beat my kid, who’s a freshman, and promptly donned a plastic Burger King crown, thereby proclaiming himself “The King.”  Klassy with a K, right?

But even up to that point, I wasn’t the greatest Georgia fan.  Not even when I was at a Georgia Bulldogs game.   Not even in a suite as a guest of the most hard-core Georgia fans on the planet.

It was around 1999, and we were guests of some good friends who purchased a suite before they purchased season tickets to their own kid’s dance recitals.  This pair, neither of whom even went to Georgia, plans their calendar around Georgia football. Everyone was excited that night, of course, because the Bulldogs were playing well.  But adding to the thrill was the fact that John Rocker, then the star relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, was in the suite right next to us.

Jimmy, one of the guys in our suite, made his way next door and came back bragging that he’d talked to John Rocker.

“What’d you say?” my brother-in-law, Kevin, asked him.

Jimmy, who was slightly high on Bulldog Football and Budweiser, answered, “I said, ‘Hey, John, I’m a Georgia boy, too.’”

Poor Jimmy.  He’s never quite lived that one down.  But I, for one, completely understand.  I’m pretty sure I’d be tongue tied in the presence of a sports hero.

Lewis Grizzard, the late great syndicated columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the writer I’d most love to emulate, used to say this about his alma mater, “I’m Bulldog Born, Bulldog Bred, and When I Die, I’ll be -by God – Bulldog Dead.”  I’m not quite to that point, but  if I got the chance to meet John Isner tomorrow, after the incredible test of guts and endurance and nerves and determination he passed yesterday, even completely sober, I’d stumble all over myself and probably end up saying proudly, “Hey, John, I’m a Georgia girl.”

Cruises are great.  I love how everything is included in the price of a cruise.  Everything except drinks and the $900 in extras we managed to rack up in one week.

So after the wonderful week of lifting nothing heavier than a pina colada, I woke at 5 a.m. yesterday and dragged my own luggage off the Oasis of the Seas so that I could be home in time to check my pets out of their own magical vacation oasis.

They love their usual resort, a no-frills all-inclusive in Atlanta.  I mean, it’s not Beaches, the super  Caribbean all-inclusive where one might order a Salty Dog for each hand at no extra charge.  This place provides food and lots of love, and there are no surprise charges to the credit card on file at the end of the stay.  The dachshunds dance when I announce that they’re heading to this pet paradise for some down time.  Laverne particularly loves Miss Paula, who never fails to kiss her on the lips when she arrives.

But this was a different place.    It was a lovely 4-star B&B in a quaint beach town. The services were a la carte.

“Would you like to purchase extra play time for your pets?” was one question at check-in.


“Two walks per day are complimentary, as are room service and our standard pampering.  But for a charge of $2.50 per day, your pets will be taken outside for an extended period of play.”

I declined the extra play time, the pool time, the spa services, and the ice cream treat after dinner.  This resort was already nearly twice as expensive as the Hilton, but then again, the Hilton doesn’t have a pool.

So yesterday, when I checked them out two days early, I received a report card for each dog that included a picture of each pet during their stay.

Laverne looked old and tired.  She definitely was not tanned, rested, and ready after her week at the resort.  In fact, she showed symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And she was pissed.

“Oh, come on, Laverne, don’t tell me you’re angry about not getting pool time.  You tremble at the sight of water,” I said.

Laverne was angry because I saved $5 a night by arranging for her to room with Pancho, our three-legged Australian Shepherd.  It was a good plan, I thought, since I was declining the extra play time.  They could keep one another company.  It would be like the Couples Caribbean resort except for the all-inclusive part.

Apparently, Pancho spent the week picking her up by her collar.  It was noted by the B&B as both dogs “playing well with others.”

“While you were sitting on the pool deck sipping a Mango Tango, I was fighting for my life,” Laverne growled.    “Next trip, purchase the pool time for him and a massage with kisses for me.  Or just take us back to the old place.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who adores the all-inclusives.  I’m thinking about opening one for dogs and naming it Bitches.

Positano, Italy, might be the most beautiful place on the planet.  It’s certainly the prettiest place I’ve ever visited, and that’s saying something, given that I’ve been to Paris, Venice, Hawaii, Jamaica, Catalina Island, and Columbia, South Carolina.

Maybe I just have strong feelings for Positano because I almost didn’t live to see it.

I should explain that, accompanying my group was a guy named Rick Steves, the travel guru, in the form of his 8-pound guidebook.  In the section on Positano, Rick encouraged us to take the bus from Sorrento to Positano, and he specifically said to get off at the second Positano stop.

Positano, you see, is built on the side of a mountain.  It’s narrow streets wind back and forth down the side of that mountain to its gorgeous beach.  And on the way down to the beach, Rick Steves said, Positano has more women’s designer clothing stores per square foot than any other place on earth. And the Positano sandalmakers create custom-made sandals while you wait.  I had found my mothership.

After about thirty minutes, the bus stopped, and the driver yelled, “Positano!”  and people started getting off the bus.  Just to be sure we didn’t miss our stop, the SECOND STOP, someone in our group asked the driver.  “No, no, this is first.  You get off next stop,” he said.

We sat back down and gawked at the view from our bus seats.  And ninety seconds after the first stop, the bus stopped again.  We stood up and got off and watched as the bus pulled away.  A woman who had gotten off with us said, “Where are you going?  This is my house.  If you want the bus stop, you have to walk down the road.”

Holy hairpin turn, Batman!  We were on a narrow mountain road with a rock wall on one side and a sheer cliff on the other.  The shoulder on each side of the road was a good 18 inches deep.  We began walking single file, hugging the rock wall and cringing as cars whizzed by and the people in them pointed and laughed at the estupido Americanos.

We griped about the bus driver the whole rest of the afternoon.  Why hadn’t he stopped us from getting off when he did the woman a favor and let her out at her house?

Then again, why hadn’t we thought to look for the bus stop sign and the crowd of folks waiting to board our bus?  We got off at the wrong stop because of a rigid adherence to a guidebook.  Rather than looking around at the circumstances and thinking for ourselves, we were committed to getting off at the second stop because that’s what Rick Steves said to do.

That was the last day I read the Rick Steves guidebook.  I decided in Positano that I’m not going through life any longer with my nose so buried in a guidebook that I miss the view.

Raffaele Esposito was a chef in Naples, Italy, at the end of the 19th century.  He was asked to create a dish in honor of the Queen consort of Italy, a woman named Margherita.  Different versions of pizza – sauce on flat bread – had been around, oh, since the Neolithic Age.  But Esposito, who wanted to use the colors of the Italian flag (red, white, and green) garnished his bread with tomatoes and basil and — brilliantly — added cheese.

Cheese makes everything better, doesn’t it?

So Naples, Italy, is the birthplace of pizza as we know and love it.  Ten minutes after we got off the train in Naples, we were in a car headed to Pizzeria da Michele, purportedly the best pizza place in the place that invented pizza.  At least, that’s how Elizabeth Gilbert described it in her mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love.

The line was out the door.  Michele had a 45-minute wait, and we had a tour of the ruins of Pompeii in one hour.  We asked our driver, Franco, if Michele had carryout.

“Si, si,” he nodded, then elbowed his way through the crowd.  Ten minutes later, he emerged, carrying six large pizzas (a bargain at less than $6 each).

We were on the sidewalk of a crowded city street.   Cars and scooters were randomly parked up and down the street, three cars deep in some places.  Franco set the pizza boxes down on the back of a stranger’s Vespa, and we inhaled those pizzas while standing around that bike.

Yes, it was delicious.   And yes, it would have been worth the 45-minute wait.

And yes, we wiped the wayward sauce off the poor guy’s Vespa before we climbed back into our cars and headed to Pompeii.

After only 1 ½ days in the world’s most romantic city, our tour guide, Vania, a native of Venice, met us at our hotel and guided us, suitcases in tow, through the narrow cobblestone streets of Venice, over two bridges and through two campos, to a waiting water taxi, which took us to the Venice train station.

At the train station, Nathan’s lovely wife pulled the group train ticket out of her packet of travel documents and confirmed that we had 45 minutes until our train, the #10 to Florence, departed.

Thirty-five minutes later, Nathan’s lovely wife had every person in the group searching their bags for our ticket.  After I searched my bag, I sat down on my suitcase in the middle of the train station and began playing iPhone solitaire.

Five minutes after that, a panicked Vania went to the train office with a photocopy of our ticket and begged on our behalf for mercy.  She came back sadly shaking her head.  I could tell she was worried about having to take care of the stupid Americans for another day.

That was when a conductor for the #10 train, seeing the looks of dismay on our faces, approached us.  “Did you lose a ticket?” he asked.

“Si, si!”  we all yelled in unison.  “GRAZIE!”

He held up our ticket.  Apparently, someone had found our ticket on the ground and turned it in.  I turned to the relieved Vania and said, “You’ll have a good story to tell at Sunday dinner.”

She smiled for the first time all morning.

If Venice is the world’s most romantic city, Florence has to be the most artistically inspired city on the planet.   It’s the birthplace or chosen home of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Dante, Botticelli, and Galileo.

And for those impressed something a little more modern (and the architecture of today’s high heels), Florence is the birthplace of the great fashion designers Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Guccio Gucci.

It’s most famous resident, though, is a 17-foot marble statue named David.

The David’s story is interesting.  He was commissioned to a sculptor named Agostino in 1464, who hacked away at the legs for a year or so before losing the commission in 1466 when his master, Donatello, died.

A guy named Rossellino took over the job but quickly lost the contract.  The hunk of marble lay neglected and exposed to the elements for 25 years before a young Michelangelo beat out Leonardo da Vinci for the job of completing some kind of statue of David.

He got the commission on August 16, 1501.  And then the 26-year-old got up and started the job on a Monday morning.

Michelangelo famously worked under the premise that David – now the standard of artistic perfection — was in the stone all along.  The rough edges just had to be chipped away.  It’s a metaphor for us all.

And isn’t it great to know that inspiration is possible on a Monday?

What do you do when barbarians keep attacking your city, stealing your money, ravishing your women, and burning your houses?

If you’re a group of northern Italians who like to color outside the lines, you begin rebuilding the city on an island in the middle of a lagoon.  Then you build on the island next to it, and the one next to that, until you have almost 120 islands connected by bridges combining to form your city.

Somehow, that city evolves into one of the wealthiest republics in the world.  And hundred of years after that, it becomes known as the most romantic city on the planet.

The history of Venice, of course, has all the elements of a good story:  money, sex, religion, tons of conflict, and a little irony.

Every little island had, and still has, its own campo (our word for plaza) and its own church, which means Venice boasts nearly 120 churches.  Of course, the biggest and most famous of all the churches in Venice is St. Mark’s Basilica, also known as the “Gold Church” because its domes are inlaid with gilded mosaics.

Venice was an extremely wealthy republic until Napoleon conquered it in 1797. During his campaign, the four horses on St. Mark’s façade were taken as spoils of war (they were returned by France in 1815).  Interestingly, those four horses were booty taken from Constantinople during the Crusades, and the church itself was founded upon the remains of the Apostle Mark, which were stolen from Alexandria, Egypt.   Supposedly, his remains were smuggled past Muslim guards in barrels of pork.

Even the grandest cathedrals of the world have a slightly checkered past.  I love that.

As for the sex in Venice’s history, housed in the Venetian arsenal along with hundreds of swords, spears, guns, and shields, was a 16th century chastity belt.  And from the looks of that belt, the Venetians were obviously concerned about protecting every form of booty in their town.

That belt has to be the envy of every redneck dad who sits at the kitchen table cleaning his gun when his daughter gets picked up for a date.

The chastity belt made me wonder how Venice came to be known as the most romantic city in the world.  I was pondering that irony as we left the Doge’s Palace and headed for the famous Rialto Bridge.

Lenny Kravitz sings a song called “What Did I Do With My Life?”   The words of the chorus get me every time:

You can live any way you wanna
All you have to do is dance
Achieve anything you thought of
You just have to take the chance
You can fall in love with your life
‘Cause that truly is romance
What did I do with my life?

During my gondola ride in Venice — with a third-generation gondolier singing “O Sole Mio” and pointing out Casanova’s residence — I had this thought:  I freakin’ love my life.  I am, quite possibly, the happiest girl in the world.

Venice, I get it.

As the keeper of three incorrigible dachshunds, a three-legged Australian Shepherd, and a Bengal cat prone to STD’s, I was hardly surprised when my trip to Italy was jeopardized by a wayward pussy.

Since we live in the same neighborhood, my traveling companions offered to give me a ride to the airport.  Our flight was a 9 p.m., and they were to pick me up between 6:30 and 7.  Knowing my traveling companions, whom I’ll refer to as “Nathan” and his “lovely wife,” I knew my pickup would be somewhere around 7:10.

At 7:15, they pulled into the driveway, where I was sitting on my suitcase playing solitaire on my iPhone. As the mother of teenage daughters, I have learned to play solitaire when waiting to hear the clop-clop of their high heels on the stairwell, meaning they’re FINALLY ready to go.   Somehow, solitaire works for me.

Nathan and his lovely wife were late, by the way, because they couldn’t corral their cat.  They were having the hardwood floors in their home refinished during the trip to Europe, and the cat was discombobulated by the furniture moving and suitcase packing.  When it came time for them to leave and for kitty cat to go stay with the wife’s mom, kitty caused a ruckus.

My cousin, who happens to be a Delta pilot, drove us to the airport and got us to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport in record time.  Thankfully, efficient curbside check-in and light traffic in the security lanes on a Thursday evening had us at the gate with time to spare.

I’ve never been a huge fan of flying, and those overnight flights in economy class are the stuff of nightmares for me.  Well, they used to be.  On this trip, I discovered the magic combination of Ambien plus KLM’s complimentary glass of wine with dinner.

I woke up when the captain was saying the Dutch equivalent of “Put your seat backs up and store your shit.  It’s time to land.”

As a public service to my readers, I offer this advice:  Don’t EVER change planes in Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.  That’s the one the crotch bomber fooled back in December.  Now, they’re cavity searching all blonde-haired Americans to make up for that grave mistake.  Trust me, a direct flight to Italy is the better choice.

All the travel hassles were forgotten, however, when we landed in Venice.  A ten-minute walk took us to a water taxi that delivered us to a spot on the Grand Canal just a short walk to our hotel.

John Berendt, who wrote the bestselling Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, wrote a book about Venice called The City of Falling Angels.  The book opens with a devastating fire that destroyed the Fenice Opera House in Venice in 1996.  The Fenice has since been restored, and our hotel, the Fenice Hotel, was within steps of the Opera House.  I’d also picked up a book called A Thousand Nights in Venice by Marlena de Blasi.  It opens at a small wine bar called Vino Vino, which I spotted just steps away from our hotel.  Needless to say, I felt right at home while pulling my suitcase over two bridges and several cobblestone walkways on the way to the hotel.

Right at home, that is, until I got to my hotel room. The shower in my room was nothing more than a hose attached to a spigot, and it was not attached to the wall.  It had to be held by hand.  SinceI have as much hair as Chewbacca, it’s pretty much impossible to lather my hair with one hand.  And shaving in Venice?  Wasn’t. Going. To. Happen.  I now know why European women are legendary for not shaving their armpits.  They can’t.

Last winter, there were days that I thought I wouldn’t survive until summer. I did, though, and today my family leaves for Ft. Lauderdale to hop cruise aboard the Oasis of the Seas that leaves tomorrow.  The laziness is about to commence.  I will, most likely, achieve a legendary level of slothfulness.

One of the pitfalls of prolonged beach chair duty, though, is the potential to begin looking like an actual slug. Especially when I develop an intimate relationship with a roving cocktail waiter.  I mean, how great is it that a cute guy with a pleasant personality will bring me anything I want to eat or drink?

It reminds me of my week on Waikiki last December.

I spotted what I wanted to drink on my very first day in Honolulu. Duke’s, the famous Waikiki restaurant, makes a frozen concoction called a “Second Captain.” It’s Captain Morgan rum and banana liqueur blended with fresh bananas and a swirl of raspberry puree. Heaven in a souvenir cup, no?

Determined that I would NOT gain ten pounds during my week on Waikiki, I avoided eye contact with the cocktail waiters. “Tomorrow. I’ll have one tomorrow” was my mantra for the entire week. And guess what? It dawned on me during the plane ride home that I never had a Second Captain.

While we’re on the subject of captains, the first captain I ever knew in my life was my grandfather. He was a World War Two fighter pilot who, for more than thirty years, flew all over the world as a pilot for an international freight company. And sometime during the 1950s, he flew to Puerto Rico. I know that because after he died a few years ago, my grandmother gave me two bottles of Bacardi rum that he’d brought back from Puerto Rico in the late 1950s.

I put those bottles away. They would never be opened, I decided, not because they might be valuable, but because they were a cool reminder of my Pa.

I opened my cabinet the other day to find that one of the bottles is half gone. And I got upset. Someone had taken the only thing I had left from my grandfather. But then I remembered this quote, which has been attributed to various sources:

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini (or Second Captain) in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, ‘Holy Shit! What a ride!’”

So in that spirit, I’m going to blend some banana liqueur and fresh bananas with the rest of Pa’s rum and add a swirl of raspberry puree. And I’m going to toast Pa with those words and enjoy every last sip of what I call a “First Captain.”

And I’ll do it today.  Tomorrow, I’ll have a bucket of Coronas.  Or maybe a Miami Vice.  It’s going to be a fun ride.

(I almost forgot  — I will not leave you stranded, my dear readers, while I’m slothing around.  I’m going to leave you with stories from my recent trip to Italy while I’m cruising the Caribbean.  I know.  It sucks to be me.)

As the saying goes, you never know how many friends you have until you own a beach house. Back when I was married and owned a fancy-schmancy condo in Destin, Florida, friends came to spend a summer weekend. They very thoughtfully left me a hostess gift – an illustrated print titled “How To Be A Beach Woman.”

Back then, I appreciated the print because of its cosmetic appeal and because it made me laugh. I hadn’t mastered all of the print’s recommendations, but I had a few of them down pat.

For example, the very first recommendation is this: “Lose the Uncomfortable Shoes.” During those Destin days, two of my friends and I went down for a beached-whale weekend. In other words, we lay on the beach the whole weekend, only pausing in our talking and drinking to come up for air. At some point one evening, one of us suggested we take our pretty selves to a nice restaurant for dinner. Donna pulled her cellphone out of her beach bag and called the restaurant to make a reservation. When she hung up the phone, she took another swig of her margarita and announced, “Six o’clock, party of three, and no close-show-toos.”

“Close-show-toos?” I said. “What’s that?”

“I mean close-two-shows,” she said.

“They’re closed for two shows?” I asked, wildly confused.

“Closed-toe shoes!” Ann translated. “No flip flops allowed!”

We opted not to eat at that restaurant since the only closed-toe shoes in my condo were for playing tennis. Apparently, I was already well on my way to becoming a beach woman.

Next in the list of suggestions is “Come About.” When my friends gave me the print, I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I assumed it had something to do with, “Come About six for drinks. We’ll go out to eat around seven.” Since I’d mastered that concept, I checked that one off my beachy woman list.

The third ingredient for becoming a beach woman is “smell like a coconut.” Given that I could eat my weight in coconut pie and consider pina colada mix a pantry staple, I didn’t even need Hawaiian Tropic for my pores to ooze coconut. Coconut smell? Check.

Not long after the print came into my life, my life fell apart. I filed for divorce. My ex-husband got the gorgeous condo. I got, among other things, the “Beach Woman” print and the dachshunds and enough money to buy myself a beach house in St. Augustine. The print now hangs in my St. Augustine beach house, and more than ever, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in its simple instructions.

“Pretend that you forgot how to work the oven and that the vacuum broke” is another step in the beach-woman transformation process. My ex got the expensive German Miele vacuum I’d purchased for the condo. But in keeping with the Beach Woman advice, I turned the job over to an eight-pound black and tan dachshund. Technically, I still have a German vacuum cleaner, even if it’s one that only works in the kitchen. For me, that’s close enough to check off my beach-woman list.

There is one recommendation on the print that I always had trouble with, however. “Remember that the opposite of perfection is character” just sounded wrong to me. The opposite of perfection is chaos and disorder. It’s a middle-school field trip or a teenage daughter with a surreptitious tattoo.

And it’s also reality.

I’m slowly learning to ease my death’s grip insistence that life should be the way I think it should. Perfection, I’m realizing, is the opposite of character. And happiness.

And one more thing: I discovered that “Come About” is a sailing term. It means “to change course so as to be sailing at the same angle but with the wind on the other side,” which is kind of what my whole life has been about since I filed for divorce nearly five years ago.

Which brings me to the final piece of advice on my print: “Be Thankful.” Today, for all the changes that have brought me to this porch overlooking the beach, for the imperfections and the flip flops and for the beachy woman I’m becoming, I’m grateful.

Al and Tipper Gore told the world yesterday that they’re divorcing, and the world immediately asked, “Who’s cheating?”

That thought never crossed my mind.  I’m kind of worldly wise on the topic of cheating, and neither of them strikes me as the cheatin’ kind.  Tipper seems like a good girl who just wouldn’t screw things up by fooling around.  As for Al?  Trees can’t cheat.

In a way, it’s sad that people automatically assume an affair has caused the split.  But even sadder is the fact that after forty years together, their relationship ran its course.

At different milestones in my marriage, I often wondered if we’d made it over some imaginary hump.  Once a couple got past the ten or fifteen year mark, I fantasized back then, they’d officially made it, had been kind of grandfathered in and immunized against divorce.

I also hoped that when a couple successfully weathered a tough storm, it guaranteed success for the rest of the marriage.

Of course, I was wrong.  But how I wanted to believe things were that way.  I wanted to believe, after my husband’s first affair, that my love and forgiveness were a kind of superglue that would bond us forever. But nothing in life is that way.  The greatest bodybuilder in the world will lose his muscle if he stops working out.  The best tennis player in the world today can lose to an unranked player tomorrow with the slightest loss in focus.  And no marriage will ever stay happy and strong unless both parties work their asses off to keep it that way.

But here’s where I salute the Gores.  As sad as the demise of a forty-year marriage is, it would be worse for them to live out their lives in misery.  I hope Tipper meets someone not quite so boring as Al — although it will be hard to match the greatness of the man who supposedly invented in Internet.

And I hope Al meets a woman half as attractive to him as Mother Nature.

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