Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trains, Planes and Euro-mobile

Europe has those fast trains, budget flights and free bikes in the big cities. It has fancy eats and metrosexual men, the thinnest ladies and the most polite children. Europe has a declining population and accelerating immigration. And this past month it hosted the most foreign of elements - a couple of senior Hymans.

Lendog and Harlene arrived in Rome after a bumpy flight, ready to take on some Roman
history and complain about the dominance of flour-based nourishment. They were pleasantly surprised by how much the city had going on.

The Hymans went from Rome to Pompeii down south, then up to Bologna. They started with BC and worked their way through the Middle Ages with medieval Tuscan towns and on to the Renaissance in Florence. They kvetched their way around Florence and then traveled north to Verona and Venice where art, architecture, food and friendly Italians left them utterly charmed.

Two weeks of Italian discovery left me exhausted and ready for an escape. I headed to London thinking I'd visit friends there and in Brighton. After both friends cancelled on me, I met some new folks and caught up with a girl friend I'd met in Buenos Aires at a speakeasy birthday party in London. Spent a rainy weekend in Brixton with bands and no access to my bank account while I had to miss a flight waiting for Western Union to open. Two days of airport later I finally made it back home with a trip to Paris at the end of the week.

Paris and London are not shabby but not that different from NYC where you are excited about being there and at the same time terrified by how expensive every bit is. I got to a small town in Provence, outside Lyon, and was glad to get to relax without the $ stress. You feel me.

How was I in Beaujolais without worrying about budget? The family I lived with on a college exchange program moved to a town in wine country, right out of a fairy tale. If you've seen the movie Chocolat you know the setting. Stone walls and church bells and cobblestones, I only had a day there really but it left an impression. And the big house the Gannes bought and fixed up doubles as a B&B/ painter's retreat.

The last night of excellent eating was topped off by hours of wandering through Lyon's Festival de Lumieres, where the city's historic architecture becomes the screen for projections and soundscapes fill the squares. In France, I saw people I love whom I hadn't seen in more than a decade. The last time I saw Thierry from Paris, he was getting thrown out of Las Vegas strip clubs for not tipping. Now he has a wife and daughter and is president of this non-profit that brings French school children on trips to Africa.

Happy Holidays and goodbye Euroland. After final exams I sell my bike, say ciao to the guitar and the Italian guitar player and head to New York.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blues and other things Italian

Halloween in Bologna is surprisingly festive. The setting accommodates with winding medieval passageways laid in cobblestones. College students in vampire and zombie makeup pack bars and clubs in the town center Saturday night. I met a friend studying at Johns Hopkins' campus here and we biked through the city center to meet my boyfriend the Italian bluesman. The three of us went to a cafe where a garage band played Italian and American movie hits with surf guitar and an audience of Halloween freaks. It was the last of a full month of good live music in Central Italy.

Thursday night I played with my band of Argentines. We're called Super Turista, we played acoustic versions of dance hits from the 80s along with originals and Manu Chao favorites in French and Spanish. I played rhythm guitar and juggled languages during songs and with banter between.

It wasn't Super Turista's first public venture. We hit the main square, Piazza Maggiore, a couple weeks ago playing Billie Jean and What is Love to loiterers and shoppers on the steps of Neptune's fountain. I tried to disguise myself in my turista shame, donning scarf, sunglasses, and a beanie. The hat look was a keeper, we went with it on stage at Arteria, where the whole master's program showed up and then stayed on to dance to the Taranta band afterwards.

Thank You for the Drum Machine played the same spot a week earlier to a packed house blown away by fake Brit cool.
It was one in a series of good live music including shows by Italian Blues Brothers "Lazy Step" in Tuscan inns, restaurants and town squares. Who'd have thought Muddy Waters could sound so good with a foreign accent? Riding down back roads of the Emilia-Romagna region and listening to singer and guitarist bicker in Italian made for comedic moments while I got to see some countryside and pretend to be a local.

On a visit to Florence with my Argentine roommate we met this friendly family from Calabria. They adopted us for a dance and a photo on the Ponte Vecchio where Hari Krishnas took over the Sunday tourist parade. They were 3 generations traveling together and the grandparents were the rowdiest of the group. The toothless octogenarian grandfather twirled Fer around to Krishna drums and called her bella.

Italian hip hop cheered me up earlier in the month when I was overwhelmed by the language and general tight quarters in my grad school world here. Getting to study is a luxury but there was an adjustment phase when I wanted to snap. Lucky for me, I found out I could bike across the neighborhood to the local community center where live local hip hop happens. Giovanni, in the video below, is also from Calabria and is a big Boot Camp fan. He told me he moved to Bologna because it's a center of Italian rap.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Arriving in Italy with Argentines

The word for food in Italian is cibo, pronounced cheebo. Say it, "cheeboh," and you get the feel for what it's all about. There's a swallow, followed by an instant smile, then, with the aftertaste, an oh. Oh my.

The products themselves are why it's so delicious here - the cheese and produce and the right amount of seasoning in every wicked pizza slice. Do those products not travel well, when they make their way to Trader Joe's shelves? Or do they send us the lower quality of the batch? Is it something in the air here in the Emilia Romagna? It's way too tasty in this town.

People-watching on the streets is a similar experience. A look, a smile, an "oh my." The gall of it all - the matching, over-accessorized outfits, the patterns and colors and texture that scream for the attention. Attention the outfit owners so obviously gave in executing that look which, 9 times out of 10, is ridiculous enough to elicit an "oh my" the first few days you're in town. After, your eyes adjust a bit and your fashion tolerance augments to deal with the show of elegant grannies and fashion-forward little girls. Last week I went to the coast to hole up in a hostel. In Rimini, Italians jumped on the styles of recent immigrants from Central Africa - there were clusters of elderly Italian ladies strutting the beach boulevard in corn rows.

There's a silliness here that was missing in my world in Buenos Aires. You recognize Lady Gaga's Italian heritage in the fashion compositions of admin assistants walking through Bologna's city center to work. You enjoy the free buffet that comes with cocktail hour from 6:30pm to 9pm. You marvel at the Renaissance architecture in your daily life.

I got to Bologna one week ago and I'm settling in. School started last Monday, yesterday I went to a lecture by visiting MIT prof Richard Sennett. He's known for coming up with the 10,000-hour rule that appeared throughout Malcolm Gladwell's (The Tipping Point) recent bestseller, Outliers. Everything else is in Italian so it was fun to attend a lecture in the native tongue. By the time I leave I'll be the NYC master at ordering in Italian, waddling my way home from the plane.