Running to Daylight: Christian McCaffrey and Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers

On November 24, 2015, I posted on this blog my impressions of a new star in the firmament of college football. His name: Christian McCaffrey who, at that time, was a sophomore running back on Stanford University’s nationally ranked football team.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Southern California                                                      Photo Credit: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

The previous evening, Linda and I were at Stanford Stadium to witness the annual “Big Game,” Stanford’s traditional contest with the University of California for local bragging rights. That evening, we witnessed McCaffrey compile a new, single-game school record for total all-purpose yards – three hundred eighty-nine, to be exact! The performance was memorable, to be sure. On display was a complete football player who could score in multiple ways: rushing, pass-receiving, throwing the football, and kick-off returns. I saw not only raw speed, toughness, and ability on display that evening, but a tangible sense of character and intelligence implicit in the way he carried himself on the field and off.

As for competitive toughness, he was and is the real deal. From an athletic family fathered by former Stanford All-American wide receiver Ed McCaffrey who went on to win three Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos, Christian learned about athletic competition at the elite level, first-hand, not only from his dad, but also from Lisa, his mother. Lisa Sime and Ed McCaffrey met during their school years at Stanford University in the late eighties. She was a star soccer player, there, and the daughter of former Duke sprinter and Olympian, Dave Sime who once held world records in both the 100 and 220 yard sprints. Dave Sime was the world’s fastest human in the mid-nineteen-fifties.

Recently, I heard stories about a youngster visiting the McCaffreys with his own family years ago who joined-in to play touch football with the McCaffrey kids. He later reported to his parents that “they were trying to kill each other, out there.” McCaffrey himself recently explained that along with competitiveness in the family came a sense of fair-play and balance. Should any of the clan start to become puffed-up over their own athletic prowess, they were soon whittled-down to size by the other family members. I paraphrase in the telling, but I believe the story says much about the McCaffrey athletic lineage. The story also recalls to mind anecdotes surrounding the spirited touch-football games played long ago by the Kennedy family out at Hyannis Port, Mass. – very competitive.

As for McCaffrey’s performance that night in 2015 against the University of California, I was not mistaken in my impressions. He later went on to be runner-up in the annual vote for the coveted Heisman Trophy signifying the year’s best collegiate football player. If the voting had weighted overall versatility somewhat higher, young McCaffrey would have been the obvious choice.

Christian McCaffrey’s initial stint in the National Football League was with the Carolina Panthers – on the other side of the country. I had hoped he would begin his NFL career with a team closer to us, here, on the west coast. Although he solidified expectations while at Carolina, the Panthers were not able to fully capitalize on McCaffrey’s capabilities during several seasons, and I always felt badly about that.

Then came the big surprise! In late October of last year, Linda and I were in Waco, Texas, at a pre-game tail-gate party for Baylor University’s homecoming game against Kansas; our grand-daughter, Megan, attends Baylor. While talking football with the party’s host, he mentioned, “Did you know that Christian McCaffrey has just been traded to the 49ers?” To which, we replied, “Fantastic: hard to believe!” He was indeed correct. The Niners were loaded with talent (when all were healthy), but the coaches and ownership felt early-on that they needed a “closer” to take the team to the Super Bowl. Their choice was Christian McCaffrey, and they traded important future draft picks to land him.

Since McCaffrey’s arrival and because of his contributions, the 49ers offense has risen to an obvious, new level. Opposing defensive coordinators now face a real problem playing the 49ers because of McCaffrey’s triple-threat capabilities in the backfield.

Brock Purdy…WHO?

Along with McCaffrey’s arrival early in the season, the abrupt rise of the Niner’s third-string rookie quarterback from the University of Iowa to the starting position in early December after season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo has further galvanized interest in the 49ers. Indeed, they have won their last eleven games and lead the NFL in the won-lost column. Brock Purdy, their twenty-three year old rookie, has displayed unbelievable ability and poise while leading the team to their last seven wins. Saturday’s convincing playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks truly cemented Purdy’s credentials after surviving a difficult first-half of play.

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 “Folks, this is not normal!”

Like McCaffrey, Brock Purdy brings something extra to the party. That special attribute is easily glimpsed watching him in the huddle and on the sidelines. Purdy’s demeanor is decidedly low-key and self-effacing – as is McCaffrey’s. Former quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to several Super Bowl titles years ago, knows best. As part of the familiar commentary round-table for major NFL games, he turned to the camera and the TV audience after the Niner’s playoff victory Saturday to say: “Folks, this is not normal!” I paraphrase here as he went on to explain that it is inconceivable and unprecedented that a rookie NFL third-string quarterback with no league experience would come off the bench mid-season to do what Brock Purdy has accomplished so far. Like McCaffrey, Purdy is a special player in any number of ways.

I leave you with this: Could not happen to two more deserving players!

Go Niners!!

The Best Things Often Come in Small Packages!

I recently celebrated my eighty-second birthday. My wife, Linda, and others, too, will readily attest to the fact that buying a gift for me is not an easy lift! Not that I am at all particular or lacking interests which might suggest buying opportunities – quite the contrary on both counts.

Flight_1At eighty-two years of age, I have had time to accumulate a lot of “stuff” – more than I have space for, anymore. My youngest daughter and her family surprised me at my family birthday celebration with a little jewel of a book on aviation, titled Flight Today & Tomorrow. As Ginny is well-aware, I have accumulated a significant library reflecting the long aviation legacy I inherited from my father, but she knows me well and immediately knew that she had stumbled upon the perfect gift for me. She, like my wife and I, loves to shop at B Street Books in downtown San Mateo for used book “finds.” There have been numerous of those over recent years, and this is one of them.

This little book was published in 1953 (at $2.75) and somehow managed to remain in mint condition (including the unprotected dust jacket) for all those years. That fact, alone, makes it an attractive and collectible “find.” More importantly, as the title suggests, this little book brims with aviation nostalgia – an early preview of where aviation and space flight were headed from the perspective of that early date. I was entering my teens in 1953, smitten with the joy of building model airplanes and anything to do with aviation. That enthusiasm for airplanes and aviation was my father’s special legacy to me, and this little book brings back many related, nostalgic memories.

In 1953, high-speed jet travel remained a dream for the public: the ultimate conveyances in luxury travel, at the time, were the venerable Lockheed Constellation as flown by TWA, the Douglas DC-7, and the double-decked Boeing Stratocruiser; the latter is pictured on the front cover of this little book along with the Navy’s Douglas Skyray jet fighter and the experimental rocket airplane, the Douglas Skyrocket. The airlines would not enter the jet age until the maiden international flight in October, 1958 of Pan American Airlines’ Boeing 707.

United Hawaii Stratocruiser_1This little book brings back three very vivid memories for me. The first took place at SFO (San Francisco), around 1953, the year of this book’s publication. My parents, sister, and I were at SFO to see family friends, Howie and Jean Larson, depart for a luxury Hawaiian vacation via United Airlines’ Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, the ultimate in air-travel across the Pacific. Both Howie and my father were long-time United employees. Financially, there was no way that my family of four could undertake such a luxury trip, and we were duly impressed as we accompanied the Larson’s out to the gate (literally a “garden gate” under a covered walkway out on the tarmac) and watched our friends climb the stairway to the big, blunt-nosed silver and blue United Stratocruiser. In those days, everyone was dressed in their finest apparel for such flights – what a departure from today! Any flight was an exciting adventure in those days, especially to a then-romantic, trans-oceanic destination like Hawaii. There were smiles and waves from the stairway leading up to the plane; soon the doors were closed, the stairway withdrawn, and the four big piston engines, one by one, coughed and belched to life right there in front of us. The pilot revved the engines, and the big silver and blue bird pulled away from the gate heading for the taxiway and wonderful adventure in the then still-pristine Hawaiian Islands – a memorable scene at SFO.

It would have required an extremely prescient imagination to have anticipated in 1953 what air-travel in 2022 would look like – a mere sixty-nine years later!

The second recollection inspired by my new little book was of a late afternoon in San Mateo, California, at the dawn of aviation’s jet-age. There, from my family’s own backyard, we could clearly identify the maiden American Airlines transcontinental flight of a Boeing 707 jet airliner on final approach to SFO! I believe that was in early1959 – the beginning of long-anticipated domestic jetliner operations for the nation’s airlines and, truly, the dawn of a new age. This little book anticipated all that was about to happen, and I vividly recall witnessing the exciting reality, first-hand, from my boyhood San Mateo backyard!

Flight_2Then, there is my third warm recollection this little book has engendered. On numerous occasions in the mid/late 1950’s, I would drive the several miles up the Bayshore Freeway, take the airport exit in Millbrae, wheel into the large, open-air parking lot (with lots of empty spaces) and commence a one-minute hike into SFO’s beautiful, spacious new terminal. In those days, there was only ONE main building – no tangled jumble of different domestic and international terminals like we have today. Into the terminal and up the stairs to the second-floor outdoor mezzanine deck, and I was set for an hour or so of watching airplanes come and go from the gate areas just below me – a time and place for a young lad to think thoughts and dream dreams, it was! In those simpler times, there were no security barriers impeding my way from the parking lot up to the outdoor mezzanine deck – imagine that!

The back cover of Flight Today & Tomorrow features a rendered vignette that conveys the excitement of aviation, back then. A nicely dressed young couple is pictured at an airport observation deck guard-rail enjoying the tarmac/runway spectacle spread-out before them. Yes, yes, that was me in my teen years doing what I loved to do at SFO’s new terminal – watching, from the spacious outdoor upper mezzanine deck, the big, graceful, triple-tailed TWA Connies (Lockheed Constellations), United Airlines’ big DC-7’s, and numerous smaller aircraft come and go from their gates on the tarmac below me. Often, I was the lone figure out there on that upper deck, just watching, to my heart’s content, the rhythms of the airport operations on display before me. Occasionally, another soul or two with time to pass between flight connections would linger on the deck for a while, and then disappear. On a few rare occasions, I would tack on to my observing pilgrimage to the mezzanine a visit to the terminal’s airport coffee shop. There, from a table by the large picture windows overlooking the field, I would order a slice of delicious lemon meringue pie and a cup of coffee (or two) as I watched the action on the outside tarmac. What a special outing that always was! Alas, such beautiful, uncrowded adventures are no longer available to today’s teen-agers.

This little book’s back-cover portrayal of a young couple enjoying the very same tarmac sights and sounds that so enthralled me in my youth resonates with me while generating a warm nostalgia. So much water under the bridge since the nineteen-fifties! So little remains of the conditions that enabled those happy SFO adventures and opportunities – a less hectic and uncrowded environment, for one.

My capstone on that wonderful SFO era came when I graduated from San Mateo High School in 1958. My good friend and fellow trackman, Jim Moorhead, and I each had dates for the big, all-night “Grad-Night” party scheduled at the swanky Peninsula Golf and Country Club. We double-dated to the party (I drove) and had a marvelous time at a first-class “final bash” for the SMHS graduating class of 1958! I distinctly recall the four of us wearily heading out to the parking lot around 5:00 am and seeing the bright sliver of a new moon hanging in a dark blue, but lightening, night sky. We felt obligated to take the girls straight home (parents always worry) after such a long day/night, and we did so. The excitement of the all-night party still lingered, however, as did the immense realization that we were all about to embark on a whole new existence involving college/university life. To decompress that morning from so much on our minds, Jim and I ended up on the mezzanine deck of SFO watching the airplanes come and go as well as a bright sun rising in the morning sky over the field – literally signaling the beginning “of a new dawn.” And so it was.

Flight Today & Tomorrow is an ambitious little book that tackles much having to do with aeronautics and flying, and it does so with numerous, hand-rendered illustrations that lend a “personal touch” to the subjects conveyed by its contents. I am very fond of this bright little fugitive from the dusty shelves of a used bookstore in San Mateo because it vividly recalls my youthful love of airplanes and aviation – enthusiasms that germinated and thrived right there, in San Mateo, where I grew-up. It now rests on a bookshelf surrounded by many other fine books on aviation. Thank you, Ginny, Scott, and boys for my birthday gift!

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SFO 1960

SFO (San Francisco International Airport) as it was back in 1960 – at the beginning of the jet-age. The same view would be unrecognizable, today. It’s called “progress.” Is unmitigated regional growth with its inevitable congestion truly progress?

A Victorian Beauty Discovered: Transcending Time and Place

VB_1Recently, I stumbled upon an item while routinely browsing E-Bay for interesting (and affordable) ephemera. E-Bay needs no introduction as the internet marketplace for all sorts of collectible objects – big and small. Often, interesting items materialize on the E-Bay site that are totally unrelated to one’s casual browsing.

That is precisely what happened a couple of weeks ago when a small, hand-tinted, vintage carte-de-visite photograph in a black oval frame suddenly caught my attention.

These small, personal “calling card photos,” known as carte-de-visites, are extremely common. Their popularity reigned from the 1850’s to the 1920’s. Most of these miniature personal portrait photos have a stereotypically “dated” look about them: rarely are they tinted, and the faces often appear “mask-like” and seem to belie the hardships of life in those earlier times. Stern and rather blank describe the facial expressions – almost devoid of personality, I would say.

The small, oval framed CDV that materialized on my computer screen recently was a glaring exception to the rule. The young woman pictured radiated a classic beauty, enhanced by her upswept Victorian hair style and fancy dress. The entire presentation immediately caught my eye because it was so unusual and striking. Further intrigue was provided by the E-bay seller’s photo of the backside of this little jewel.

VB_2A near-perfect label was still neatly affixed to the piece indicating that it came from Walter S. Bowen’s “Art Store” at 347 Wabasha Street, St. Paul, Minnesota. It was clear from the photos that this piece was in excellent, original condition – as was so stated by the seller.

As is my wont in such situations involving old photographs whose power of time and place always stirs my imagination, I wondered, “Who was this beautiful young woman, and whatever became of her?” The answer to those questions will most likely never become known to me, but I was able to stitch together some interesting and relevant information about her little framed photograph!

The seller’s description of the piece was unusually revealing and poetic:

Forever young and beautiful . . . wonderful hand-colored sepia tone carte de visite (CDV) portrait of unknown young Victorian woman framed under glass in satin finish black lacquered oval wood frame. Brass tone metal “O” ring for wall mount. Original frame shop sticker applied to back side, “Walter S. Bowen/Artistic Frames/Art Store/347 Wabasha St., St. Paul, Minn.” The young woman in photo has upswept hair entwined with blue flowers and tortoise hair-pick, rag-curl tendrils. Note the Victorian jewelry including simple black velvet ribbon choker around her neck. Blue dress and silk bow. Her portrait transcends time and place.

“Her portrait [and her beauty] transcends time and place” – indeed! What a fine (and perceptive) description from Denise, the seller from whom I did purchase this wonderful little piece of art. Denise’s description, along with some very nice photos on E-Bay coupled with the original art store label displayed on the back of the piece told me: “Do not let this collectible jewel that radiates such uncommon beauty and excellence, get away.” I did not, and I am glad I did not! The piece safely arrived here a few days ago, promptly sent by Denise from Minneapolis, and it looks even better in person than on the E-Bay website!

Even before entering the E-Bay auction-bidding on this piece, I decided to do what research I could. I was intrigued by the art shop sticker on the back of the frame and set out to Google “Wabasha Street, St. Paul.” Before long, I found some vintage postcards and photographic images of old Wabasha Street that clearly delineated it as a very fashionable St. Paul downtown thoroughfare around the turn of the twentieth century. An 8X10 glass plate negative photographic image taken in 1905 literally stunned me with its sweeping composition and fine, detailed resolution. There are many fashionable people strolling and standing around, there are horse-drawn wagons and streetcar tracks with a streetcar in the distance. There is also a dog running in the foreground toward the camera and a young boy, too, looking directly at the photographer – so much for the eye to behold in that image of a single instant in time – all captured for posterity!

Wabasha St. 1905_1 Trim

And there, down the street on the right-hand side, is a tall, old building with a high, peaked frontage and a hanging sign clearly visible over the sidewalk advertising, “Art Store,” precisely where Walter S. Bowen’s art/framing shop should have been at 347 Wabasha Street! That image is, indeed, the “Art Store” denoted on the backside label of this framed carte-de-visite.

This seemed almost too good to be true – that I would locate an image which pictures the actual art/framing shop from whence this Victorian beauty originated. The photographic image of Washaba Street from 1905 originally captured on a glass plate negative is, in-itself, a stunning item. More good news: a large format, high-resolution printed image of that scene is available at a very modest price!

I subsequently found out some information and references concerning Walter S. Bowen, the shop proprietor; I suspect there is still more to be uncovered.

And finally: can anyone shed light on the unknown Victorian young lady whose radiant and timeless beauty is the centerpiece, here? Her framed CDV came from a recent Minnesota estate sale according to seller Denise in response to my inquiry, but that is all I know. Please reply to this post should anyone have some information or worthy insight!

There is an image (from the back) of a fashionable and very slender (untypical in those days) young woman walking away from the camera (just behind the boy looking at the camera) and down the street toward the “Art Store.” Is it too great a stretch to surmise that she could be our Victorian beauty heading to Bowen’s “Art Store” to pick up her little just-framed picture? Normally, that would be too great a stretch, but in this case….?

Photographs have always fascinated me – the older the better. They have a latent power to provide perspective, to continually remind us of the transitory nature of our lives. They uniquely transcend time and place. The technology that allows us to recall someone at a precise instant of their lives long after they have perished from this life seems truly magical – almost mystical, to me. Less than two hundred years ago – before photography – an individual’s true essence was lost forever at death. Until recently, even film-based photographs were doomed to ultimate decay and destruction over time. In today’s digital age, we can (and we do) totally transcend time by preserving, in digital form, one’s essence forever – if we choose to do so!

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Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying,                                         And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.                                                 

“Summertime” and Magical Venice Revisited

My sister, Karen, occasionally sends me “snail-mail goodies” from Peachtree City, Georgia – news articles having to do with my multiple interests. Her most recent was a Wall Street Journal entertainment commentary on one of my all-time favorite motion pictures: director David Lean’s film masterpiece from 1955, Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi.

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This film is certainly one of my four top favorites and, without reservation, the most aesthetically beautiful of them all – in my opinion. Why? Although the cinematography captures the majesty of Venice far better than any travelogue ever made, that is only part of the equation. Cinematographer Jack Hildyard fully deserved the 1955 cinematography Oscar he won for his efforts. Then there is the musical score, featuring the lilting theme, Summertime, which deftly complements the visual beauty of the film throughout. Add to all of that, great acting by Hepburn and Brazzi and superb direction by David Lean, and you have ample justification for this film’s high standing.

However, what truly puts this film in a class of its own is its sensitive portrayal of the human condition – the delicate trade-off between the desire for personal independence/freedom and the conflicting need for human connections with all their attendant complications. In the simplest sense, the film beautifully portrays the human dread of loneliness coupled with the challenges of forming and maintaining meaningful and fulfilling long-term relationships.

Hepburn’s Jane Hudson is a middle-aged spinster and retired schoolteacher from Akron, Ohio, touring Venice with vague hopes of exploring a feeling “in the back of her mind” that her heretofore religiously-structured life has stifled something crucial to her happiness. The film opens with Jane’s arrival in Venice at Pensione Fiorini. After settling into her quarters, she finds herself on the pensione’s sun-drenched terrace along with Signorina Fiorini who owns the establishment and several other recently-arrived guests. The group’s conversation bubbles with excitement at the reality of being in beautiful, magical Venice! The company includes an elderly (and fully mid-western) retired couple from Kankakee, Illinois, and a more sophisticated young artist and his wife, Eddie and Phyl Yeager.

Talk quickly turns to everyone’s afternoon sightseeing itinerary – everyone’s except Jane’s, that is. Soon the two couples are off, and Signorina Fiorini must leave, too. Jane is now alone on the quiet terrace amid the glory and excitement of Venice – and there is no one with whom to share it.

It is at this point in the film that director David Lean begins to weave his magic spell. The viewer has suspected from the beginning that Jane Hudson’s vacation-of-a-lifetime would come to this: a confrontation with her heretofore lonely, scripted life as an unfulfilled spinster. The magic of Lean’s direction, the idyllic setting, and Hepburn’s portrayal of Jane’s nagging loneliness are set to engulf the viewer.

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The scenes of Jane on the terrace, feeling so alone and lonely in Venice, of all places, are beautifully portrayed. A spell is cast by the combined effects of Hepburn’s acting, the musical interlude of the lilting theme, Summertime, and the gently-lapping waters of the surrounding canals whose laconic sound is occasionally interrupted by the muffled voices of nearby gondoliers;  it all works magically to portray how alone one can feel in the most unlikely of circumstances.

As Hepburn’s character watches young couples stroll over the nearby canal bridge, hand-in-hand, playfully laughing – immersed in Venice and in each other, her loneliness suddenly seizes her. Now, the camera is following Jane as she briskly makes her way through throngs of people to Piazza San Marco, the focal point for all of Venice…and home to most of its pigeons. She is desperately in search of whatever Venice has to offer to relieve her anxiety and despair, feelings which spring from a late-in-life realization that she has missed-out on something essential to human happiness.

Jane soon emerges from the byway shadows of the buildings and corridors along her pathway into the bright daylight and bustling gaity of Piazza San Marco.

Seated alone at a small table amidst many busy small tables at an outdoor café on the Piazza, she is surrounded by a sea of people – all sorts of people from all sorts of places – mostly couples and small groups, all obviously enjoying the magic of Venice and Piazza San Marco…and each other. As she deeply breathes in the noisy exuberance of the crowd and the physical beauty of her surroundings, she becomes aware of a handsome, middle-aged, well-dressed Italian seated alone at a nearby table, somewhat behind her. He has been casually reading his newspaper while indulging in the familiar social scene all around him; he is a regular, there, in other words. Now, he has just become aware of this obviously American woman tourist whose features and palpable excitement immediately intrigue him. His bemused, male European stare and interested demeanor create an immediate flustered response from the uptight Miss Hudson who has felt his eyes upon her. A quick glance over her shoulder confirms her unease. She quickly and clumsily gathers her things and beats a hasty retreat to a solitary back-alley canal off the Piazza. There, she seats herself on the stone steps of a small canal and stares forlornly into its lapping waters. Scene ends. Jane Hudson has come face-to-face with her personal problems.

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Jane soon discovers in Brazzi’s character, Renato di Rossi, the antidote to her loneliness in Venice, all the while wrestling with the practical implications their resulting love affair might present for her, long-term. By all means, see the film!

Preserving this Iconic Film….Forever?

First, a disclaimer; As always, I have no financial or corporate interests in outside organizations and/or products that I mention in my blog posts.

The Wall Street Journal article on Summertime mentioned that a newly-restored 4K Blu-Ray DVD has been released by Criterion who is a leader in restoring and marketing classic films. That release was news to me! They had offered a nicely restored DVD several years ago. I now have both DVD versions and, in fact, the original VHS release of the film. The new Blu-Ray version is the best yet; in fact, in clarity and color, the movie looks like it could have been filmed last month!

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This film can remain as bright and alive for viewers one-hundred years from now as it is today, thanks to our earlier ability to digitize the original fragile and decaying 35 mm analog film stock from 1955. Thank goodness…and thank the engineering/technical specialists who have developed our digital technologies!

I also thank my sister for sending me the Wall Street Journal article on the timeless appeal of this film. The author emphasized the importance of Summertime which marked a transition between director Lean’s earlier cinematic efforts and his later epics which included Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago! In 1955, this was still only the second film ever to be filmed abroad, fully on location…and, thankfully, in living color. The first was another great film, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, back in 1952.

Appropriately, my sister visited us in California, last week, so she, my wife, and I devoted an evening to reliving Summertime on DVD. It just so happens to be one of her favorite films, too!

This post is aptly titled Summertime and Magical Venice Revisited given that I had released an earlier post titled Summertime in Magical Venice, back on March 23, 2014. 

The following is a direct link to that post:

https://reasonandreflection.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/summertime-in-magical-venice/