Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome Back, Asshole

After two continuous days of travel, I am greeted by United States Customs Officials with a less than gracious tone. It started as I left Alessandria, took a train to Milano, then a bus to the airport, (but not before I had eaten a fantastic Taglitele alla Bolognese) then a plane to London where I hopped another bus to the center of London. Here I had about two hours to down two pints of Kronenbourg in a fantastically authentic looking British Pub (run by French folks) and eat a plate of fish and chips at the Italian restaurant around the corner. For some reason, after 10 PM, the only eating establishments I could find were Italian. Then it is off to another train to the Gatwick Airport where I arrive at 1 AM, 10 hours before my flight, and proceed to "sleep" on the floor until 7am, when I get up and begin the gruelling 14 hour process of going home.

The real fun begins as I land in Charlotte, NC, and get to get off the plane, go through customs where they take our bags off the plane, make us go through security to a thing that puts our bags back on the plane. THE SAME PLANE. From there (security checkpoint), I get to walk directly to the main security checkpoint, to be flagged for a more in depth security checkpoint. Let Freedom Ring!

Even being back in the states, I feel all of the parts of my real life creeping back in. The petty things, like what kind of music people like, or how they dress begins to influence me. Maybe since my level of communication was so low overseas these things never occur to me, but here, they hang on me like a cloud that I cannot shake. I don't really give a shit about this stuff anymore, but it's as though an infection creeps up from American soil and permeates my brain.

Over the last week since being home, this fog has not lifted, but the memory of who I was when all of these unimportant concerns was not a part of my personality has been quickly dying. I could feel it slipping away as I waited to board the plane in London. Amongst friends in Italy, or strangers in Spain, I was happy. Here, I have to go to fucking therapy to try and figure out how to be happy. It's a sad, disgusting and powerful realization that I have known for years by the name of all of it's obscure manifestations, that are only made clear with the sharp contrast of a different life so clear in my memory. I really hate it here.

Dramatic I know, but it's true, and it has been for a long time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lower the Heavens

My last night in Italy is spent amidst a tempest the likes of which I have yet to witness. The friends that are in town; Max, his brother, Lucca, Fabio (the Kyuss) and his lady all meet at the Gnocci Palace (this is not it's real name, but the name given to it by Craig from Inside, nine years ago) for a last meal of pizza and an appetizer of proscuitto with a large ball of Buffalo Mozzarella. Everyone is run down after last night, where there was much drinking and pizza eating. I lost count of my beers after the two glasses of Knob Creek bourbon that could be found at the pizza place. All I know of last night is that "The Captain", a friend of Max's who is in fact a Captain in the Italian Army, drove me home at two or so, and I proceeded to feel aweful all night long. I awoke to find Max outside, eager to drive his brother and I to Chinese food, which was fantastic but my body was in no mood. I had them bring me back to Paolo's house where I laid around the rest of the day.

Which brings me to the end of dinner, as we all stand outside, the rain pouring down as movie magic thunder and lightning illuminate the sky and rip open the air. I always thought that the storms shown in horror movies from Europe were exaggerating, but no, one flash after another of lightning made me feel as though I was at risk of being knocked out of my shoes and left half braindead due to the metal keys in my pocket. To supress the fretting, I smoke my new pipe, bought in Alessandria yesterday. I think it suits me more than my previous pipe.

Then it's time to make the mad dash to the car, where everyone piles in to take me home and say goodbye. After another two weeks spent in this country, and this town, the goodbyes are more solem, more heartfelt, and more intent on not showing how much we all wish it could go on, and how much we feel for each other.

And upstairs, from Paolo's apartment balcony, I watch as the heavens are indeed lowered.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Quick One While He's Away

Before I forget the events that comprised the night, I should record them.

It was said that Kyuss (real name Fabio, cousin of Lucca and local awesome dude) had a fix on a restaurant that would serve the local delicacy, donkey ravioli, if given advanced notice. Two days ago, in Brescia, we gave said notice and I thought little else of it.

I spent my last hours in Brescia walking the streets, eating a fantastic home-made meal of pasta noodles with peccarino cheese and home made olive oil from Sicily. Then it was off to the train station, for a three and a half hour ride back to Alessandria, where I will spend my last few days in Italy.

Upon arriving, we are picked up by Max and his apparent life partner (or rather, assigned drinking buddy) and Tommaso, Max, Drinking Buddy and I meet Kyuss, his girlfriend and Lucca in the city square of Alessandria. I am thinking we are going to a place in Alessandria, but it turns out, we take an hour long drive out into the country, amidst vineyards, sunflower groves and stop next to a castle at a quaint little place owned by an elderly couple. Kyuss's girlfriend has arranged all of this, so we sit back and relax (with her hound dog) while the restaurant, which we have to ourselves, prepares the table. I knew that the old woman cooked all the food, and I knew that they bought and prepared donkey especially for us, but i had no idea what was in store. Let me list off the courses:

- Pork Sausage that was unbelievably good.
- Omlette with some kind of greens, served cold, also fantastic.
- Carpachio (raw beef, sliced paper thin) with olive oil and parmessian reggiano cheese.
- Pulpo (Octopus) salad. Fantastic.
- Grilled red and yellow peppers topped with olive oil.
- Sardines with vinegar.
- Some kind of fish in Manyonaise (which the Italians make with lemon, giving it a wholly different flavor than in the states.)
- Home Made ravioli stuffed with stewed donkey meat, and tossed with a ragu of donkey. The meat is lean and tender and rich, I can't believe we don't eat this in the states. The ravioli pasta was every bit as good as the filling.
- Local cheese served with local honey.
- Donkey loin stuffed with parma ham. Also fantastic but by this time I thought I was going to explode.
- A plate full of grilled shrimp and fried calamari.
- Grilled zuchinni.
- Followed with a cake that was similar to pound cake, one plain, one with apples.

This was all accompanied by local wine from the vineyards outside, both red and white, of which I had both, two different liquors and a cup of cafe at the end. By the end of the night, I was drunk on food and wine, and teary eyed at the hospitality I was shown while in Italy. I met these folks ten years ago, and here we are, with a special evening arranged for me. It was humbling, beautiful and filled with laughter and love.

As we drove home, I spent the little time i had left with Tommaso before he leaves for a wedding tomorrow engrossed in conversation, while Max drove wildly through the woods listening to George Michael, Abba and Lil' John. What a day, what a life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Meal Out

Since in Italy, I have passed streets named Galileo Galilei, Amerigo Vespuci, and last night I ate at a restaurant named Vasco De Gama. I had spotted this place the first day that I walked through Brescia, and it caught my eye because the inside was old exposed brick, heavy wooden exposed beams in the ceilings, and simple wooden chairs and tables. Tommaso had not been here, so we went to eat there.

Tommaso had a first pasta course, that consisted of a meat and local cheese filled tortelini that was mind blowing delicious. I passed up the horse steak and had hand made pasta tossed with a ragu of ground pork. While this was cooked fantastically, and tasted every bit as good as it was crafted, my main course of pork loin medallions that were covered in a locally crafted cheese crust made almost die in extacy. I have NEVER had pork as good as the stuff I have eaten in Spain and Italy. Simply phenomenal food, and good company marked my one fancy dining out experience in Brescia.

Tonight I will cook Steak and Tommaso will make Risoto. While I am looking forward to this last meal in Brescia, I must admit that I am very excited about tomorrow night, where the clan from Alessandria has been hard at work securing a local eatery that makes the donkey ravioli. Apparently, they had to make a reservation so that the old woman who cooks the food here has enough time to purchase and prepare the donkey. I'm half excited to eat, and half heart-broken at the lengths these people will go to please me, when all it takes is a glass of beer and a simple pasta al pesto.

I have to go explore the rest of the castle now and talk to my old friend, the bird.


The city of Venezia is absolutely indescribable. While I have been reluctant to visit tourist laden cities (with good reason, you get the worst food, pay the most for it and are often treated poorly to boot), Tommaso had a point when he says there is nothing like this city in all the world. And he's right.

You step off of the train and walk outside and immediately you stand before the canals of Venezia. From here the stream of tourists wisks you down the street, over countless bridges that cross the ever narrowing canals, all the while the three story buildings seem to close in above you as the streets become as narrow as the canals. The effect on the senses is stunning. If you can get past the crowds and the merchants eager to cheat you out of whatever may lie in your pockets, the city itself is a time portal. The irony is that the crowds have facilitated this upkeep, while deminishing the charm of the city at the same time.

Still, I must say, that Venezia is a place worth visiting, as it is indeed, one of a kind.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Slip Slidin' Away - Paul Simon

I know a man
He came from my home town
He wore his passion for his woman
Like a thorny crown
He said Delores
I live in fear
My love for you's so overpowering
I'm afraid that I will disappear

I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life
She said a good day
Ain't got no rain
She said a bad day's when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been

And I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he'd done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information's unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we're gliding down the highway
When in fact we're slip slidin' away

Slip slidin' away
Slip slidin' away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you're slip slidin' away

Why Don't You Stay Home Where You're Loved - Nina Nastasia

It's high time to make a move
Things might not get better
There, I said it
The last time you were feeling like this
You left with a light coat and near froze to death

Why don't you stay home where you're loved
Where you'll never be hungry or lost - no stranger, we

Not much I can think of
We cut down the oak last year
I know you can't stay very long
But why do you run and run
The children you won't recognize
They're growing so fast
I can't keep up, keep up

Why don't you stay home where you're loved
No danger here left to feel

Why don't you stay home where you're loved
Where you'll never be hungry or lost - no stranger, me


Today I ventured a little trip by bus and train* to Verona, the city with Roman ruins where Romeo and Juliette takes place. It was a nice train ride, merely an hour from Brescia, and a short walk into the center of town that is surrounded by a Roman wall, and the city center itself is build around the ruins of a Roman Arena that still functions as an Opera and concert hall. I spent only a few hours in the city before heading back, but not before drinking a beer and having a bit of pizza.

I had time on the train back to reflect on music that I have been moved by during my trip, and I began to formulate my mix that will be put up once I am back in the states. Paul Simon and Nina Nastasia still make me weep, but now they do so as I sit on a stone, centuries old that is the remenant of a wall that surrounds Verona. I realized that the question has never been am I running, the question has been am I running to, or am I running from?

* I have found over and again that the simplest tasks in a country where you do not speak the language are incredibly difficult, and ones that are taken for granted everyday. When I first arrived in Madrid, I would set small goals for myself, such as "today I must buy soap" and so on. In this way I was able to keep myself from being completely overwhelmed. Mastering the Metro system in Madrid was a breeze, but even that was done in small increments. The Italian train system is COMPLETELY different, and quite confusing to me. So the fact that I negotiated both train and bus in one day on my own, is something that I will hold close to me as I fall asleep tonight. Simple yes, but important.


The last few days have found me in the small town of Brescia with my friend Tommaso. This town is fantastically beautiful, with cobblestone streets that wind tightly to and from the different plazas, all under the shadow of a castle that sits atop the hill overlooking the entire area. There is a monestary from the 6th Century, a vineyard at the castle that produces a very specific and unique wine due to the stones that the castle is made of decomposing and leaving nutrients in the soil that are found in no other vineyards.

I have eaten fantastic pizza here and even better meals prepared by my professional translator friend. I spent an afternoon up at the castle exploring the stone paths which overlook the entire city. I purposefully left areas unexplored so that I may go back and see them another day. I sat on a bench for an hour and let the wind blow around me, and set about the business of thinking as a verb.

On my way out of the castle grounds, I overheard a bird making a particular call. It was a simple whistle that went up in pitch right at the end. I found that I could easily imitate the call and I spent about a half an hour "talking" with this bird, who never left his perch of the iron railing that surrounds the castle, a mere two meters from me. Every day should be spent in such a lovely fashion, and for me, every day in Brescia is spent this way.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

So What?

For an unknow reason, this phrase triggers giggles and outright laughs from my Italian friends whenever I utter it. Thusly, I utter it often.

I feel that my writing has not been just to my time in Italy. Now I sit listening to muxtapes (on which I will post a choronological musical account of my travels when I return to the states) and reflecting on what might have been a perfect day to top off a near perfect previous three days.

Since arriving here on Wednesday, Paolo and I sleep until about 1 pm every day, make some sort of pasta meal and beer for lunch, then generally take a nap in the near 100 degree heat. I am sleeping in Paolo's room while he sleeps in his roommate's in her absence. Then when it begins to cool down, we shuffle off to the center of town, which I remember in snippits from my trip here ten years ago. We have eaten pizza every night for dinner, which makes me so happy I can hardly find the words to express my emotion. Then it's off to the Four Bears Pub to drink until we stumble home, ready to do it again.

However, last night was different in that it reunited me with another longtime friend of Alessandria, Tommaso. We met up after dinner at the pub (dinner was at the new pizza place owned by a co-worker of Paolo's who he refers to as the "Pizza Master", and it's true. If his pizza is lacking anything, it is the use of a seasoned oven as his place has been open a mere two weeks, and he was so excited to have an American present. I will dream of this place when I return stateside.) Seeing Tommaso again brought back a flood of emotions, as he is one of the kindest people I have ever met. We talked at the pub, drank too many beers and I smoked one of his hand-rolled cigarrettes, which made me feel like dying.

Today, Poalo, Tommaso, Chiara (Tommi's girlfriend) and two friends, one of which is an Italian actor and his French girlfriend Marion all went out to see another of my old friends Lucca, who lives in the country with his wife and new baby boy. Lucca's "new" house is what you would call a fixer-upper, and he has been fixin her upper for 2 years now, but it is still nowhere near ready to be inhabited. We sat outside on the grass, had a picnic of meats and bread and ice cream and beer for what seemed like hours that I drank in as preciously as the warming beer. I held a crying baby as Lucca looked ready to tear up, and talked with Marion about California as she manufactured a bracelet out of the weeds in the grass.

When you have no place you need to be, it becomes much easier to appreciate what is right in front of you. Friends, who emminate love regardless of language barriers, sunrays hiding behind an Italian villa, waiting for you to change the position of your looking so that they can jump out and blind you, the smell of the breeze, and a sense of belonging that cannot be explained by words. My conversations with Pielu ( "the actor") were precious. As we left the country to head into the nearest province for dinner, my conversations with Tommaso turned to the heavy sort of political\philosophical sort that make you appreciate people who can do so in a language not their own, and make me feel slightly embarrassed that I have such a poor grasp of any language save that of my mother country. My talks with Tommaso over the last two days have left me with the realization that my disdain towards my fellow countrymen and my reluctance to consider myself a tourist are perhaps overinflated and not as important as I believe them to be.

Dinner consists of: Pasta with truffles, white wine, salad with thin slices of meat, cheese and greens with lettuce and olive oil, bread, another cheese platter with fresh honey to dip the cheese into (never would have thought of this, but I could kiss whoever came up with it), thin slices of roast beef and a finisher of ice cream and coffee.

All of this occurred between Lucca and I telling each other how much we loved each other and how happy we were to see each other, with Tommaso as the translator. It sounds so silly, but was completely genuine. Each conversation with these people seems better than the last. We make plans for their visit to California, our for future business ventures that rely upon my relocating to Italy. While I enjoyed my time in Madrid more than I probably even realize, these last few days have been some of the most precious I can remember.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things made at home in Italy

Linguini with Pesto Sauce

Gnocci with Four Cheese Sauce

Spaghetti ala Carbonara (Panchetta cooked in olive oil, then added to spaghetti noodles with butter and put back over the fire with two eggs cracked into the mixture) and Peccarino Cheese.

So far, the Pesto wins, but the Carbonara is a close second and will be attempted back home. It's like Italian ham and eggs, with pasta.


You know, just so you know

Peperoni in Italian is nowhere near what it is in English. I thought last night I would branch out a little and get one topping on my pizza. Sure, let's see what Italian peperoni is. Well, turns out it is red pepper. It took me ten minutes to explain what it was in English and they couldn't get past how ridiculous this was because the word peperoni in Italian means exactly one thing, and that is a red pepper.

For as much as I hate those little buggers, once I had peeled them off my pie, I found that the flavor of Italian peppers is much more subtle, and left a nice hint of pepper on my cheese pizza.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Food to break your heart

I have been in Alessandria for 2 hours before Paolo and I walk to the grocery store where we purchase: pasta, gnocci, pesto sauce, bread, peccarino cheese, eggs, beer and wine. We get back to his place and make the pasta and prepackaged pesto sauce. The first bite was pure bliss. In all honesty, the packaged stuff you can buy at the grocery store here is better than what you could pay 20 dollars for in the best restaurant in the states. I inquired about this and was told that it is because the food, even if sold packaged, is made from quality, regional ingredients.

After my pasta induced nap and a shower where your only option is to sit in the bottom of the tub and hose yourself off with a ridiculously short hose (thus the sitting), we walked to the center of town, which immediately brought me back to 1998. We ate pizza at the same place I had ten years ago, and it was also heartbreakingly fantastic. The combination of cheese and olive oil is indecribable. I walked into the bathroom to face my old nemesis, the skid plate toilet. I was told later this was called a "Turkish Style" toilet, that consists of a porcelin basin set into the ground, with skidplates to place your feet upon as you lean back against the wall with your hand and let the bombs fly. Were I a military bomber pilot, I would have taken out Los Angeles trying to hit San Francisco. Sure in one case you destroy the wrong city, but in the other case you completely miss the hole in the ground with stinky results that you then have to clean up after yourself. SO I guess in that regard I am nothing like a military bomber.

Having slain the old beast that is the Turkish Toilet, it was time to begin drinking in the local bar. After a few beers a terrible Blues Hammer cover band started up, and I forced Paolo to leave. Speaking of Paolo, let me introduce my Italian host. He's about may stature and unshaven, and he's played in emo, indie, hardcore, metal and grind bands, as well as doing solo hip hop for over ten years. Walking around town with Paolo one would think that he is a god. Every young person in this city is in a band or fucking someone in a band, and Paolo knows them all.

And, they were all at the pub. Where after our drinks we had cafe, a horrible idea at one in the morning. We stumbled home and I enjoyed several hours of non sleepy cafe induced nothingness. It was nice because I had time to reflect on the local dish that I had inquired about, which I was told is a sort of ravioli made with donkey meat stewed in wine. Bring it. You bring me that donkey and I will eat it.

Adios Espana, Pronto Italia!

My last night in Spain was fairly uneventful. I walked with some girls from my hostel dorm down to the ocean and sat on the pier watching lightning flashes rip across the sky. I smoked my pipe, then ate Chinese food, then went to bed. When I awoke for my last few hours in Barcelona and Spain, I was completely unmotivated, so I lay in bed as long as I could stand it. When I finally roused myself I headed for the port where the Aquarium is located.

The aquarium was fantastic. It wasn't so much what they had as it was the ways in which they displayed their treasures of the sea. I saw the garden eels that Katie and I like so much back in Long Beach, I saw the most beautiful fish I have ever laid eyes on, the Ornate Wrasse, and I hung out and watched penguins swim around for an hour. I made sketches of guitar fish, and I saw the coolest interactive exhibit, a huge sperm whale whose mouth is the opening to an underwater cave where you are met with a horrifying giant squid who is about to eat your face off. This portion didn't make much sense, and I cannot adequately describe it, but it was done in the style of the Injun Joe's Cave at disneyland. As you walk through the winding cave, you encounter other deep sea creatures that are equally fascinating. But I will not soon forget going from the mouth of the cave\whale and seeing a tentacle at eye level, then turning the corner to come face to face with the giant open beak of a the Architeuthis.

Leaving Barcelona was a chore as I got lost going to the train station. I wound up taking a cab after foolishly walking the wrong way out of the metro for blocks with about a half hour to spare before the train left. I had enough time to sit in the train station bar and have two beers and my last pork bocadillo (sandwich) in Spain. I made it onto the train and met my elderly Italian compartment mates before heading off to the train bar. I met a man, who was quite possibly the most attractive guy I have ever seen. He was from Mexico, working in Switzerland. We shared 4 beers and talked about Mexican, American and California history before I teeter tottered my way back to my bunk, where I proceeded to not sleep until 4 am.

At Torino it was time to transfer trains. A new country, a new language I don't speak. Without the kindnes of strangers, I would not only have missed my connecting train, but I wouldn't even have realized I had a connecting train. But finally, I arrived in Alessandria.