Movies: 2006

This is more for my own amusement than anything else; these are the movies that I saw in the theatre (versus on DVD, or watched on a plane, or some other non-movie-theatre option) in 2006.

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (01/01)
  2. Last Holiday (01/15)
  3. The Devil Wears Prada (06/30)
  4. Superman Returns (07/03)
  5. X-Men: The Last Stand (07/04)
  6. Snakes on a Plane (08/19)
  7. Feast (09/18)
  8. For Your Consideration (12/09)
  9. The Good Shepherd (12/23)

My Christmastime reading ritual

There are few pieces of writing so elegant and perfect to me as James Joyce’s The Dead. It’s funny, because with many writings by Joyce my immediate reaction is to make a face, but The Dead is the big exception to that rule. I re-read it every Christmas, and each year I honestly feel like I get more and more out of the experience. It’s one of those rare pieces of writing where I admire everything about it; both the sentiment and ideas behind it, as well as the wordsmithing itself and Joyce’s usage of language.

If you’ve never read it before, I do invite you to do so at this link. It’s not terribly long and it’s a genuine treasure of the English language. It’s about a holiday party, and politics, and desire, and love, and being both at home and out of place with one’s own family. Do take a look for yourself if you have the time; consider it a gift, as you will.

It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Why I Hate Naples

(originally written Wednesday, November 29th 2006)

Naples is a shithole of a city.

There, I said it. I should have learned my lesson much earlier but I was seduced this morning by a first class seat from Rome on the Eurostar. Everyone was classy and smooth-looking, so it didn’t hit me that I should take advantage of the amenities that were being offered. You know, things like a fully functioning bathroom. Instead I waited until our arrival, and by then it mean hovering over a seatless toilet, and realizing that a lack of toilet paper would make the entire experience end badly. At least I’d kept the wet-wipe the train stewardess had handed out to the first-class passengers, which kept the trip from being an utter disaster. And so, vowing to burn my boxers when I got home, and listening to broadcasted warnings about pickpockets every thirty seconds, my Naples experience began.

Boarding the Circumvesuviana commuter train that connects Naples and Sorrento (with 34 stops between them), it was a different world than any other train or subway that I’d visited in Italy. On the ride down I’d snapped numerous pictures of the countryside, marveling at the various sights. Here, I was afraid to take my camera out of my pocket for fear of exposure as a tourist. At least with dark buzzed hair, leather jacket, and a Firenze Marathon bag, I could come across as a fellow countryman in a crowd so long as I kept my mouth shut, thus not revealing myself as prey.

On board the train, I watched young toughs with a vague sneer of disinterest on my face, kept half an eye on the hordes of wandering beggars, and desperately wished I could covertly snap a picture of the ever-looming Mount Vesuvius. The two Asian women sitting across from me looked fairly nervous as the Circumvesuviana lurched from station to station, their facial features and skin color making them stand apart from everyone else. I half-expected to see them exit the train with me at Pompei Scavi, or perhaps the lesser attraction of Ercolano Scavi (Herculaneum), but instead I left them to their fate as they rode on the filthy, run-down rail car after I made my escape.

When I returned to the Pompei Scavi station quite a few hours later, I strode up to the ticket seller and firmly stated, “Sorrento.” I had known before I went to the station that Sorrento was the opposite direction of my return trip, but somehow, subconsciously, I couldn’t ask to return to Naples. It wasn’t until I’d sat on the platform for almost 15 minutes that I realized my error. Rather than buy another (correct) ticket and admit my mistake, I merely hopped across the tracks to the other platform and boarded the eventual train to Naples. I therefore cheated the Circumvesuviana of about half a euro, but somehow I didn’t feel so bad about that. After all, I was returning to Naples, that was punishment enough.

Once more in Naples, for several minutes I couldn’t find where the train station’s automated ticket machines were located. “Clearly,” I thought to myself amidst the return of the pickpocket warnings on the intercom system, “this is because someone stole the machines.” It finally turned out that the machines were located in an off-the-beaten-path room, where I discovered I had the choice of leaving Naples immediately for a two-and-a-half hour rain ride (with stops along the way) back to Rome, or I could wait an hour and then take a direct hour-and-a-half train ride back. That’s when I made my second, really bad ticketing mistake of the day. I decided to take the later train and kill an hour by wandering the streets of Naples.

Now I know that it is perhaps not fair to judge an entire city based on one neighborhood. That said? Yuck. What I saw of Naples was run down, filthy, infested with dubious-looking businesses, and—this is the kicker—populated by unhappy-looking Italians. No one wants to be here, it seems. Everyone seems sad about their lot in life, which involves being in Naples.

Naples street sceneHow depressing must it be to be perpetually surrounded by over a million people who hate where they are? And that, really, is the Naples experience. Nowhere are people standing on the corner and talking, or laughing, or getting a bite to eat. Instead people are charging forward with perpetual scowls on their faces, looking like they’d just seem someone killed in front of them. After a while, it begins to get to you, if the dirt and grime and poor conditions of the buildings hasn’t already.

I was walking by a newsstand and there was a kitten huddled next to it, mewing sadly while everyone ignored it. Now I’d like to say I brought it with me back to Rome and found it a home, but of course I didn’t. The lack of caring, or joy, or basic happiness that permeates Naples had rubbed off onto me. It took me about five minutes to even walk back to the newsstand to get a gift for a friend, because Naples made me hate life.

I ended up only taking one picture of Naples itself. I didn’t really want to remember my trip here, I had told myself. That, and taking out my camera seemed like a quick way to lose it. But alone in a relatively calm section of the city, I ended up snapping my single shot. Looking at the picture now, it’s as I remember it. Featureless, soulless, slightly dirty. Welcome to Naples.

By the time I got on my train I was relieved. I’d left all the garbage and grunge and disdain behind. I ended up closing my eyes and napping for much of the trip. When I stepped off the train and onto the platform at Rome’s Termini station, everything seemed so different. Was it the physical structure of the station? No, it was more than that, I quickly realized. It was that the people in Rome were happy to be there. And so was I.

Why I Cannot Be Trusted

It’s a strange thing; last night while out at dinner I ran into an ex-roommate, best known for being a pathological liar and thief. And this afternoon, I discovered, the encounter had rubbed off on me just enough in that brief (yet too long) encounter.

I was at Crate & Barrel, playing the eternal game of, “Do I really need this?” The answer to that question is always no, of course, but it’s not to be confused with the “Do I really want this?” game where the answer is always yes. I’d finally put down all the items I didn’t really need and was down to a singular gift to purchase for someone else. And then I made a big mistake: I got in line based on how hot the cashiers were.

There are a lot of good looking people who work at Crate & Barrel, and I’m still not sure if it is or is not a job qualification. (Sort of like needing a large chest to work at Hooters.) Today’s winner was working the middle register in the check-out station near the main entrance; tall, blond, and his short-sleeved shirt revealed a pretty nice upper body. Enough of a winner that I figured even though there was only a one-in-three chance of him actually waiting on me, just watching him pack other people’s purchases was more than enough.

Apparently luck was on my side for once, and suddenly I was face-to-face with my idle fantasies. This was good, because now I knew his name was Jed (a nice strapping name), and he had that sort of smile that close-up would dazzle your senses. Which, apparently, was exactly what was about to happen.

“Is this a gift?” he asked, taking the intended-gift out of my hands.

“Oh no,” I smiled back. A second later I realized what I’d just said and wanted to kick myself, but Jed flashed another smile and by the time I regained my ability to speak, it was too late to backtrack and admit my bold-faced lie. Suddenly I understood how Ralphie couldn’t tell the truth around Santa Claus in A Christmas Story, because I was experiencing the same thing.

“This is really nice,” Jed said, ringing up the gift. “They’re great to have.”

I think I managed an, “Uh huh,” by way of response but I’m not entirely sure. I do know that his telling me how much was left on my gift card was one of the most interesting things I’d heard all day, and that I managed to actually leave without walking into someone else. And then, once outside and the cool air began to circulate to my brain, my bizarre lie began to bewilder me.

Why had I told him otherwise? Afraid to be looking non-single? Too adrift in fantasies of after-hour trips to the furniture department? Guys I like bring out the liar in me? Or am I just plain stupid? (I suspect it’s the last one, but that makes for a boring story. So bear with me.) If I was a character on a sitcom, this is how I’d end up with the wrong name attached to me, or perhaps he’d now think I was a neurosurgeon. At least in this case all I got wrong was the kind of receipt I was handed with my purchase. But really, if a good body and nice smile is all it takes for me to sell myself out (or perhaps everyone else around me!), it’s probably just as well I’ve never actually met one of the major objects of my fantasies, like Matt Damon. At absolute best, I don’t want to have to legally change my name in order to keep from ever admitting I’d told him the wrong one.

Then again, that’s a small price to pay for meeting Matt Damon. I think I could deal with that.

And hey, at least I didn’t end up shoplifting the gift. It’s nice to know not everything rubbed off on me last night.

Desperately Seeking Sex in Pompeii

(Originally written November 30th, 2006)

I understand that sex and death go hand in hand, but I really didn’t think that there would be so much dick in Pompeii.

Prostitution frescoesI’d arrived around 10am on a Wednesday morning in Pompeii, and in the off-season this means almost the entire site is yours. I was alone in the main forum area, staring at my guidebook when I heard a cough. And then another. And then quite a few more.

It was an older gentleman, probably mid-to-late 50s, dressed in a blazer and pants. He coughed one more time, then motioned his head at me before jerking it off to one side. Was he trying to drum up business for a tour? (I knew that in the busy months the area is fairly crawling with tour guides.) No, he didn’t look the part. Trying to motion me away from something that I shouldn’t be near? And then it hit me. He really just wanted to get into my pants.

Continue reading Desperately Seeking Sex in Pompeii

Ghost Train

(originally written Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 8:00am)

Train ride, Rome to NaplesI’m in Eurostar 9601, first class cabin #4 traveling from Rome to Naples. Outside the world is shrouded in fog, something that has been our companion as soon as we left the city limits. It’s wonderfully soothing to journey through it, as somehow the on-and-off patches of cloud are not so much shrouding the world from us, but rather us from the world. A ghost train, which is perfect for a trip my trip to a city of ghosts—Pompeii.

Inside the train, it’s very quiet. I think I’ve slowly gained the grudging respect of the older gentleman across the aisle from me. We were originally facing each other, but he quickly moved to a vacant seat upon seeing a young man with a shaved head, leather jacket, and a t-shirt clutching a chocolate muffin. “This is an idiot American,” his face read, “and if I can avoid him, I should.”

Since then, though, I’ve been listening to the Italian announcements (and re-applying headphones before the English translations), and holding very simple conversations with the ticket collector and the woman running the refreshments cart—none of them in English. Now when I glance over and catch his eye, the look has changed. “You’re trying,” it says to me, “and your accent and grammar are sub par. But you know that you are in Italy, not America.”

And the truth of the matter is, while it’s an artificial kinship, I feel more and more at home in Italy with every day that I am here. I can feel myself falling into local patterns (even while still being a tourist), and the idea of some day living in Rome is immensely appealing, even as it is as distant a possibility as my actual home is from here.

For now, I’m content to be a visitor in a land that several generations back from me called home. I understand the siren call of ancestral lands so much more at 33 than I did at 26, my first trip to Italy. I’m at a such a different place I my life now that it seems to fill a niche in me that I didn’t know was empty.

Meanwhile I’ll just look out the window of the train and marvel at the true blue dream of a sky that has suddenly appeared before me, the fog gone, and await both my arrival in Naples and then Pompeii, but more importantly my next trip to Italy.

What you will (and will not) find here.

I already have a blog. I have a lot of blogs, in fact. So why start a new one? What sets this apart from everything else? Well, let me try and explain.

For quite a few years now I’ve been posting all sorts of things primarily onto a LiveJournal account. Day-to-day chatter and updates going side-by-side with slightly more formalized writing. And while I don’t mind all of that hanging out together, I thought it would be nice to have the option of a slight division, such as it is, between me buying a videogame and presenting a travelogue on a trip that meant a lot to me.

So, for now this is a bit of an experiment. Writings that I think can stand somewhat on their own will be posted here (as well as on the LiveJournal). The less formal, more “hey, I set my kitchen on fire again” posts will exclusively be on the LiveJournal. If you’re looking for an “all of the above” option, you’ll find it over there. But for the casual visitor, this slightly more focused site may be a bit more up their alley.

We’ll see how it goes. Won’t you stick around and find out?