International flights, souvenirs, concerts -- and 1,000 emails waiting back in the office

I'm back from a 16-day trip to Italy with some fond memories, a few souvenirs -- wine, olive oil and olive wood kitchen utensils -- and a limp.

The limp is the result of a nightmarish experience in London Heathrow Airport, trying to catch a connecting flight to Rome on June 14. With just 30 minutes to clear security and board our plane, time was running out as airport security personnel slowly picked through our carry-on luggage, not at all sympathetic to our tight schedule. They seemed to revel in our anxiety and frustration.

This all happened in the bowels of Europe's largest airport -- not the regular security gate at Terminal 5. Once cleared we were then urged by a British Airways agent to run, run, run for what seemed like a mile down a long, underground corridor to an elevator that led to our departure gate.

Within minutes, my right Achilles tendon was barking at me, strained by the sudden extertion without proper warmup. It's slowly getting better, but still serves as a reminder that the pleasure of the travels within Italy were paid for with both Euros and the travails of international travel, both coming and going.

Coming home, we missed our non-stop flight from Heathrow to Seattle because the plane from Rome to London was delayed two hours. The reason: they had do find a backup captain because the scheduled one had used up his flight hours for the week. One good thing: the layover in London allowed us to eat fish and chips and drink Guiness beer in The Pheasant Inn, which opened in 1864.

I'll have more on the Italy experiences in upcoming columns, including a report on three stellar concerts by the Olympia Symphony's string quartet.

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Was Leonardo da Vinci a vegetarian? That was the headline on one of 997 emails that awaited me when I returned to work Monday after 26 days out of the office.

With a painting of the Italian Renaissance man on his death bed that I saw in Florence still fresh in my mind, the headline prompted me to open an email I would normally just delete.

Turns out this was a press release from Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, a Springville, Utah firm pitching a book called: "Everyday Vegetarian, Meat-Free Meals in Minutes," by Brenda Stanley.

Just how tenuous the da Vinci connection was quickly became apparent as the publicist answered the question: "I don't know, but he did say, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." OK, delete..

The next email to catch my eye came from ForestEthics, a Bellingham-based environmental group opposed to the shipment of highly flammable crude oil by rail.

They've fashioned a map that shows some 25 million Americans living within the blast zone of a potential oil train derailment and explosion. Type in your address and see for yourself. I did and I learned what I already know. Horsefeathers Farm, close to the railroad line in East Olympia, is in the blast zone.

Their web site also includes an online petition urging President Barack Obama and Congress to take action to eliminate crude oil train shipments, which have increased some 4,000 percent in the past five years, a reminder that energy independence comes with its own set of risks and prices.

Next I opened a June 27 email from the state Department of Ecology, announcing the state agency has signed a $250,000 contract with Environmental Research Consulting of New York to analyze the impacts of oil shipments by ships and trains moving through the state. The consultant's initial findings are due Oct. 1.

I opened perhaps 10 percent of the nearly 1,000 emails I received while I was away. One from Facebook told me I had 38 messages, three pokes, one friend request, 10 event invitations, one friend suggestion and eight new notifications. "A lot has happened on Facebook since you last logged in," the folks at Facebook said, prodding me to get back in the game.

Here are a few community-minded emails: