Notes From Italy, Vol. 2: Italians & Their Tiny Vehicles

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So, remember what I said in my last Notes From Italy installment?

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could…

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

The one exception?

When Italians get on their lilliputian scooters or into their lilliputian cars — heck, even their trucks are lilliputian! —

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… they do so as if they are all facing a dire emergency; as if getting from Point A to Point B, even if Point A is home and Point B a grocery store, is a matter of life and death.

Tailgating and passing other vehicles whenever humanly and mechanically possible is of the utmost importance.

Traffic rules don’t seem to exist. I don’t think I saw a turn signal used the entire two weeks in the country, except for obvious fellow tourists in rental cars.

Italians drive like they speak, with great intensity of feeling. They are the Luciano Pavarottis of the road.

But then maybe these motoring tendencies are NOT actually an exception to the “artists of leisure” label I have applied to my Italian brothers and sisters.

Maybe, after all, Italians drive their tiny, tiny vehicles very, very fast because…

…it’s fun!

By that logic, then, driving, even for the most mundane of journeys, could be seen as a form of play, a form of leisure!

Molto bene!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

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My lovely wife and I, attempting to emulate Italian leisure.

On our very first day in Florence, the first destination of our 2-week visit to Italy, the very first thing that dramatically stood out to me was:

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could.

Put another way, it makes perfect sense that the same people who, for hundreds and hundreds of years, produced legendary artistic achievements — seen and heard around just about every corner, in the legendary art and architecture, in the very way, for instance, that Florence was sited on the banks of the Arno River, with it’s lovely string of bridges leading from the city center across the river to the Oltrarno District, where one can naturally start heading uphill to enjoy the perfect sunset view of the birthplace of the Renaissance from Piazzale Michelangelo — have made leisure an art form.

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

Back home in the U.S., most people seem to always be thinking about and concerned with where they aren’t or where they need to be next, constantly interacting with their mobile phones, even in the company of others, while in Florence there was hardly a phone in sight, and even then a brief glance and back into a pocket or purse it goes.

Of course, this does not in any way mean that Italians don’t work hard. They very much do, more times than not in less than desirable jobs, thanks to a weak economy.

It’s just that when they aren’t working, they REALLY know how to NOT work.

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Ciao!

A Dream Deferred: Thoughts On Dallas In Two Quotes

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

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Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!

Punk’s Legacy?

Punk-27947The conventional wisdom amongst many musicologists, music journalists, and music fans is that Punk Rock was a seachange, a musical and cultural revolt against highly-produced and highly popular Glam Rock, Prog Rock, Disco, and the music of aging 1960s rockers who didn’t heed The Who’s call to die before they got old.

Punk was raw, unpolished, occasionally violent, and yet strangely intimate, a stark contrast to the aloof prettiness and preciousness of its predecessors. And most importantly, Punk endured and spawned many variations, and its attitude and Lo-Fi sensibilities inspired musicians working in other genres to get back to basics, to shed excess, and to speak with courageous abandon.

The Noisey article I tweeted today puts forth the argument that Punk was, musically speaking, not very good, and that it did not ultimately change anything. It’s a flimsy-if-earnest attempt to make a point, spurious in its use of two lazy rhetorical tricks:

  1. The vast majority of the article is phrased in general terms, referring throughout to all Punk music, but with a buried qualification at one point stating that it’s really referring to only the first wave of British Punk.
  2. On the question of whether or not Punk actually changed anything, the article criticized Punk for not having spurred a wider and lasting political revolution, as if Punks ever really claimed that they were out to change the world — as opposed to venting their disdain for the state it was in — and ignoring the fact that the conventional wisdom narrative about the Punk seachange is almost entirely limited to the impact it had, not on politics, but on music, art, fashion, etc.

Anyway, its worth reading for the very fact that it so miserably failed to convince, and rather, ironically, strengthened my belief in Punk’s lasting, powerful legacy.

Death Of Dystopia?

I’m pretty proud of a post I wrote back in May 2013 on the topic of dystopian fiction, and that post will explain the opinion I express in my tweet today.

R.I.P., David Bowie: A Delayed Reaction

david-bowieOk, folks. This post really IS about the death of David Bowie, but I hope you’ll indulge my taking a scenic, time machine route to his obituary.

On a hot Los Angeles, California summer night, July 10, 1989, having just read the New York Times obituary for the famous voice of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, I emerged from my room in the 3-bedroom apartment I shared with my two longest-standing friends from back in New Jersey, slowly walked down the hallway, through the living room, and into the dining area, where my friends Mike & Keith were seated, and the following, two-line exchange happened:

Me: I can’t believe Mel Blanc is gone.

Keith: I can’t believe he was here.

Ever since, for over 25 years, whenever someone dies who inspired, influenced, entertained, or was otherwise meaningful to us, either by email or text one of us sends the first line of that dialogue, and it’s a race to see who will first respond with the second line.

And while it may seem strange to crack a joke upon the loss of someone meaningful to us, it was never a reflection of a lack of caring. We’re from New Jersey. It’s how we deal with loss.

So, what does this have to do David Bowie?

Well, of all the people we have eulogized in this manner, Bowie comes the closest to someone who I really can’t believe was ever here, hence my delayed reaction.

Employing another anecdote, recently a Facebook friend posted this:

OK, been a while since I’ve done one of my random musical questions. This time I want to hear something that you think of as just utterly unique and off the beaten track … stuff where you hear it and just think, “What just happened?”

To me, THAT was David Bowie.

I had that reaction the first time I heard Space Oddity, Fame, or Heroes, or the entire The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album, and if it wasn’t the entire song, it was specific lyrics:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash-back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking ’bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go, and everything tastes right

You’ve torn your dress, your face is a mess
You can’t get enough, but enough ain’t the test
You’ve got your transmission and your live wire
You got your cue line and a handful of ludes
You wanna be there when they count up the dudes

… or it was his constantly shifting appearance:

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So yeah, to paraphrase my friend, What the fuck just happened?! This doesn’t sound or look like anything I’ve heard, read, or seen before!

David Bowie was the ultimate artist-musician. I might not have liked everything he did, but I never doubted that he was constantly evolving and striking out for new ground, and his massive success and critical acclaim speak for themselves.

That Bowie accomplished all that while boldly and unapologetically challenging deeply embedded, narrow, and rigid gender identities is nothing short of heroic. He made millions of people feel less alone for not fitting neatly into one of two prevailing and accepted gender stereotypes. An incredible gift.

So, thank you David Bowie, for all of the music and courage. Rest in peace.