Everything in europe is either       
                                                                       endearing, historical or                  
                                                                       romantic. The old world does       
                                                                       have its pockmarks, generally in    
                                                                       the form of american                     
                                                                       intrusiveness such as Starbucks   
                                                                      or McDonald's. But aside from     
                                                                      mass marketed corporations still   
                                                                      trying to talk me into ordering a     
                                                                      big mac on the other side of the    
                                                                      world, europe is the constant
beautiful back drop to every shitty cinematic love story and awesome
action movie I've ever seen. As I walked through the streets and canals of
Venice, I came across the Rialto Bridge which stands out in it's beauty
even for Venice's standards. Everyone around me is in love. The area is
packed with couples and every couple was either kissing, laughing or
holding hands. I actually saw someone propose to somebody else. At that
point I hallucinated everyone around me dropping down to one knee and
rubbing in the fact that I was walking along one of the most romantic
places in the world by myself. A dog got on two legs and popped the
question to a cat. A homeless man asked a homeless woman to be with
him for worse or worser. Even the homeless people in europe have a bit of
romance to them. In the states, the closest thing that I ever saw to a
romantic homeless person was when I saw a homeless couple on the
streets of Chicago. As I passed I actually saw the woman nagging at her
partner while wiping something off his shirt. It made me wonder what
fights consisted of between homeless couples. Was she wiping things off
her shirt while yelling, "Dammit Phil, you got crack all over your good
holes!!"

While all homeless should awaken one's sense of charity, the feeling is
even more so in europe because they look exactly like the beggars you
would picture in the bible. They are all in robes and sandals, they're
drinking dirty water out of a rock cup, I think one guy even had leprosy.
Either that or I gave a spare buck to a rotting pile of orange peels.

I told someone in a bar that whenever a homeless person holds a can
filled with coins up to me and says, "Change?" I always say, "No thanks, I
have plenty." Except it was super loud in the bar and she kept asking "you
have what?"

I yelled back over the music, '"Plenty!"

She says, "You have pennies?"

I yelled back,"No, plenty! I have plenty!"

She said, "What?"

I belted back,"PLENTY!!!!", but not a split second before the music over
the dance floor cut out, leaving the only sound in the air of the whole bar
consisting of me yelling the word 'plenty' at the top of my lungs. I learned
that the punch line to an already insensitive joke loses something when it's
screamed fifteen times at full volume a half a centimeter from
somebody's ear.

Some of the dirtiest panhandling
moves I've encountered have
been in Egypt. Many times if you
take a picture of something, a guy
will come up and act as if either
owns or is responsible for
whatever you took a picture of
and try to charge you for it. In
Cairo we tried to take a picture
of ourselves in front of the
Sphinx but a man kept standing
right in front of the camera and said he wouldn't move until we paid him
a euro. I hadn't felt that kind of bullied since that egyptian kid used to
take my lunch money in community college. In Alexandria a guy walked up
to me and asked for some money. I told him no. He asked me again and I
ignored him. He proceeded to follow me for the next thirty minutes.
After the first five minutes I thought he would eventually grow bored
and walk away. He just kept walking alongside me. The good thing was
that while he was bugging me, all other beggars stayed away. I did
appreciate that he was kind of beggar cock blocking all the other beggars
in the area. What I learned though was that a lot of these guys will just
follow tourists around until they get so annoyed that they pay the local to
leave them alone. It 's as if the whole country is walking around with their
finger an inch away from your eyeball yelling, "Im not touching you, I'm
not touching you!" until you give them your vacation allowance.

After the first fifteen minutes, he started to act as if he was my guide to
the city. And by guide, he would just point in the direction that I was
already walking to get credit for where I was going. I walked down a
outdoor market filled with iced tubs of freshly caught seafood sitting on
the dirty Alexandria street. Butchers carved at the legs of vague animals
on tables lining the sidewalk. Ladies wrapped in clothes from head to toe
violently screamed arabic as a sales pitch to draw customers to their
crates of sand kissed ambiguous produce. Two chickens and a rooster
race across my path to solidify the knowledge that I was a long way from
the local Piggly Wiggly. My newly acquired companion continued to
accompany me. The length of our interaction now exceeded most
relationships I've ever had. He began to point at every seafood and
produce stand we passed while making a eating motion with his hand and
mouth. I believe since he self appointed himself as my guide, he was now
telling me which stands were places I could eat at. As if I didn't know
what food was, and he was showing me witch things were food. Although
I hadn't acknowledged him for about twenty minutes, he had presented
to me a fun game I was excited to play. I walked up to a leather stand,
grabbed a purse, looked at him and said,"Is this food?"

He shook his head, "No," and then pointed to a pomegranate stand. I
walked right pass the pomegranates to a table full of souvenirs. I picked
up a miniature pyramid and started putting it in my mouth. "Hey, this is
food, right?"

"No." Completely unphased, he points to some meat cooking on a grill
across the street. "Food!"

"Really? This tiny pyramid isn't food?" I walked to the next table and
grabbed a belt. "This surely has to be food. Right?"

Spending the next ten minutes picking up random objects and asking
whether or not it was food would have been the best euro I ever spent
had I not decided to ditch him via speed walking. I didn't want to break
out into a full run, I thought that would draw too much attention. But
for the first time in my life I thought the phrase, 'I bet I can out speed
walk this guy'. I broke out into a full speed ahead speed walk. As I finally
started to pull away from him while my hips disturbingly swayed back and
forth, the only thing separating me from a professional speed walker was a
fanny pack, way too short shorts, and a cause.

Sadly perhaps no matter what continent you're on, whether it's north
america, europe, or africa, no culture will ever be able to beat beggars.

But at least beggars can't beat speed walking.
BEG TO DIFFER
(whatever you do, get as little of the sphinx
and pyramids in the background as possible)