Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Kaleidescope of phlegm September 25, 2008

Let’s talk about eating AND gross bodily emissions, shall we?

Well, there are a lot of different kinds of Italian food and they change up rather dramatically depending upon the region. However, where I’ve been, it all seems to center around the four basic food groups: milk, cheese, oil, and wheat. As near as I can tell, most Italian recipes evolved from the concept of, “I wonder if I could stuff cheese in this?” As in, “Hey, here’s a tube-like pasta, I wonder if I could stuff cheese in it?”

Check out these big squash blossoms, I wonder if I could stuff cheese in them and then deep fat fry them?”

Hey, look at this spare tire I found abandoned on the freeway, what do you say we coat it in oil, stuff cheese in it, and bathe it in a cream sauce?”

Not to say they don’t do it with a lot of panache. One of my favorite offerings was the artichoke Roman style – they take a whole artichoke, dip it in batter, and deep fry it. It’s like the “awesome blossom” of artichokes. Sounds like a good idea, but it leaves you feeling like you’ve gone swimming in the wake of the Exxon Valdez.

Anyway, whether you love or hate the super rich food is probably more a matter of one’s own palette and mucous situation. And right now, thanks to the southerly progression of my cold, I have a pretty serious phlegm crisis playing out in my chest right now. You don’t need a medical degree to figure that all this dairy ain’t helping…although it has introduced some interesting forms and color variations that someone out there may want to document and study, if only they knew how to find me.

As for the Big G – GELATO – I have sampled. I figured you can’t come here and not eat gelato, so I have had two smallish cups with two flavors each time. For these samples I sought out the (alleged) two best purveyors in Florence, the birthplace of getato. First off, it’s high quality and impressive and the first bite is beyond amazing, and your head swims a little…but, for me anyway, it’s all downhill from there. It’s just too much. Frankly, it’s like eating a bowl of cold batter. And while there’s nothing wrong with a finger scoop of batter, I draw the line at a quarter cup.

So at the risk of offending all the sugar junkies, sweet tooths, and chocoholics out there, I offer up my own translation guide on the gelato flavors I tried:

  • cioccolato mousse – cold brownie batter enriched with melted chocolate bars

  • nocciolo – the beige side of those Nutella-like spreads where the chocolate and hazelnut are separate, only higher quality…and cold

  • cioccolato arancia – cold brownie batter with melted chocolate bars and orange liqueur

  • crema – cold yellow cake batter made with plenty of yolks and loads of butter

I tell you what, I wish they offered a painter’s palette where they would give you a taste of each flavor. Like two mini-gelato spoon’s worth. Enough that you can try them all, and get an impression, but no more. That would get me in the door. When they start selling that – even if it’s at an unfair and clearly inflated price – I’ll be the first in line.

That stated, my hands down favorite thing I’ve had thus far in six days in Italy? Bruchette. little grilled toast rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil with a heap of fresh chopped tomatoes and arugula or olives or anchovies or basil or some other fresh and wonderful thing piled on top. If only I could have one with a nice plate of sashimi or maybe some oysters and a gin martini, a little tiny bit dirty… (Now I remember why i don’t talk about food. Not that I’m starving to death or anything, but it makes me hungry for things that aren’t available or out of my budget if they were! This is the same reason I never mention dogs.)

As for my time in Florence, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am an un-tourist. In fact, rather than criticize, I’m suggesting we celebrate it I am not the person whose giant head is blocking your photo of Boticellis Birth of Venus. that’s because what I like to do is walk around, people watch, see the architecture, and get the feel for a place. If there’s something amazingly ancient (as in thousands of years old) or a particularly good zoo or aquarium, then I’m probably in. I love modern art, and I get sick of the ‘church art’ pretty quickly. I’m starting to resent the zombified tour groups as much as – or more than – the locals do.

Similarly, there’s a certain march of cities that everyone seems to follow, and once there, they all flood to the same three or five or ten places. At times, I’ve been as guilty as the next guy, but the other day it occurred to me: It’s not (at all) like this is the only trip I will ever take. It’s not like these places are going anywhere. I should do what I want to do (or not), and see what I care to see (or not) and whatever with the status quo. That’s the clearest upside to traveling alone – you can go to China and not see the Great Wall if that’s your prerogative.

Thus, as I’ve seen both the Accademia and the Uffizi before, and the wait for each was two hours and three hours, respectively, and I had a killer migraine headache…screw it. I went to the Museo di Storia Della Scienza (science museum with Galileo’s tools and telescopes), hiked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and took in the view, and then found a place to hang out and observe the spectacle of it all.

And that’s why, despite all the old art and old churches and old buildings to see in Venice, and provided I can figure out how to get there in this maze of a city – you will find me this afternoon at the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim looking at the Pollocks and happy as a clam.

 

Arreverdici, Riga September 19, 2008

I’m blowing this frozen pop stand. Thanks for the memories of torture, apathy, hostels only sightly less worse than the one in the movie ‘Hostel’, and sub-par customer service! If I ever decide to write horror films of my own, you’ve provided plenty of mental imagery for the cause.

Speaking of which, it’s a sure sign you’ve been to too many torture museums when you look out the window of the plane, see the propellers start up, and imagine what a mess it would make if a Soviet soldier or Nazi policeman forced someone into it. It could happen. Hell, it probably did happen. That was likely detailed in the parts of all the museums where I finally and inevitably decide I’ve seen enough photographs of bloated dead bodies and head for the nearest exit.

Anywho, I flew from Latvia to Lithuania and Lithuania to Italy this morning in the pre-dawn hours. I am really not a morning person, so this was harder on me than I’m making it sound. Plus, the Baltics and their hostel-dwelling homeless got their head cold/flu claws into me, and I’m fighting something that’s making my throat sore and my ears hurt and my shoulders ache and my skin sensitive. And my ears hurt. Did I mention that? Ah, yes I did. (something tells me this blog is not going to be as sharp as some of the others…)

However, despite the seemingly mundane circumstances of getting the hell out of Dodge, there were still many puzzles presented as I bid my adieu. For instance, the announcements by the airline staff in “English.” I first got an earful of this on the flight from Warsaw to Vilnius. It was as if I were to construct a sentence of the ten words I know in Italian and string them together with a babble of sound that I think kind of sounds like the language.

“Signore e signori blahblahBLAHblahBLAHBLAHblah BIGLIETTO blah blah AUTOBUS PREGO SCUZI blah blah blah blah GRAZI!” In Poland, that means you’re fluent.

Anyway, I don’t understand a word of any of them, but I imagine that Polish, Lithuanian, and Latvian are spoken very, very rapidly . I base this hypothesis upon their slander of my mother tongue: Fast, slurred, and incomprehensible. It’s as if Bullwinkle’s Boris and Natasha got jobs as auctioneers.

Meanwhile, I’ve had two weird (one was more alarming than weird, actually) run-ins with old ladies in the last few days. I’d be open to your input here (particularly advice on how to avoid future-such incidents):

  1. Lost in Riga with backpack in tow and searching for my boondocks hotel. I had been wandering suburban streets for about fifteen minutes. I turned the corner and came upon three goats tied to one another (and struggling in a three-way goat tug-of-war) on the sidewalk. One was eating some grass in the area between the street and sidewalk, and on the other side of the sidewalk was a school playground where children were playing. All was normal but for the bondage goat menage a trois.

    It was so gosh darn weird, that I put down my messenger bag and began rifling through in search of my camera. Then I noticed a shadow fall on me, and looked up to see a 110-year old woman – straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But the kicker was, she was looking at me as though I’d just stepped off a spaceship. Seriously, I could not have been a bigger oddity had I been dressed as a member of Kiss and levitating three feet off the ground with fire coming out of my eyeballs. Here I thought these goats (and their ancient caretaker) were a sight to behold, but it seems – as always – the joke was on me. Stranger in a strange land, for sure.

  2. Then, late this morning in Rome, I was marching down the street in search of my hostel (notice a common theme? Alas, it’s true, a lot of time is spent looking for stuff – mentally, physically, metaphysically – and great weight is carried while these searches occur. Hmmmm…). Anyway, I’m tramping down the street minding my own business, and I jump about a foot as my mind tries to process the sight of this older woman coming at me with her mouth open like she’s going to bite my messenger bag (that I carry in front). Seriously, this scared the living SH*T out of me. I cannot accurately convey how truly alarming a sight this was. It was a massive adrenaline punch, and I felt immediately poised to start running. It was so random and bizarre, and it totally brought to mind imagery from that movie “The Grudge”. Her mouth seemed so BLACK. This photo is not quite as scary: http://www.allmoviephoto.com/photo/2004_the_grudge_011_big.html Then she screamed at me in Italian until I got far enough away that I couldn’t hear it anymore. Probably a good thing I don’t really speak Italian, or this might give me bad dreams or something???

Seriously though, when has THAT ever happened to you????

Do you think when we die all the answers to these WTF moments are cleared up?

Speaking of WTF, on the back of my seat on the first flight was this cartoon picture of two pilots saluting. They were both overweight, one notably so. The fat one (it amused me that they took the care to give them both love handles) had a Hitler-esque (Hitler in need of a trim shall we say) mustache and was holding an ice cream cone with three scoops in the hand that wasn’t saluting. The thinner, younger-looking one was holding an apple, but staring at the ice cream. Wha…..?????

To the left, it said a bunch of stuff I don’t understand in Latvian or Lithuanian or the like. I will say, my favorite words (I jotted them down) were nesunegaluotu (do you think that means ‘glutton’?) and papasakok (I just like saying that).

Now you, too, can share in the confusion and speculation...

Now you, too, can share in the confusion and speculation...

This raises many possible interpretations. I posit to you a few of my own, but seeing before you the picture, feel free to share your own:

  • Ice cream makes you fat

  • Lithuanians have apples, but gelato (like the Italians have) is better

  • Hitler liked ice cream. A lot.

  • You, passenger, are in back hungry, while we – the pilots – are in front gorging

  • We salute you, but we also salute the four food groups – minus meat (unless you count my pudgy coworker here)

  • I would kill this guy with just an apple to get my hands on his ice cream

  • Ain’t dadaism grand?

Oh, and I finally figured out how to get soap out of the Lithuanian soap dispensers – they’re like MILKING A COW (funny that this should NOT occur to me, as I have exactly zero cow milking experience). Actually, everywhere you go, there are little mysteries to figure out like turning on the lights, flushing the toilets, and getting to the soap. In America, so much is automated. In Europe, it’s like an IQ test. You do things like pulverize a bar of soap in the spirit of an organ grinder’s monkey – Germany, utilize a “soap on a pole” (like soap on a rope, but on a big metal nail thing) – France, and, as previously mentioned, work an udder.

I remember when I was working as a banking consultant I went to this one credit union where they had all this hand washing propaganda in the bathroom about how there are more germs on your hands than there are people in London. And about how some horrifyingly low amount of people wash their hands after using the bathroom (and it’s DEFINITELY lower in these parts – people crap on a cookie sheet and go out and get themselves a Big Mac without pause), and – most importantly – that’s how you get sick.

Basically, that credit union gave me Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that afternoon. The whole bathroom was one big scare tactic – and it worked. On me, anyway. I still do all of it:

  1. Soap up and scrub for at least 30 seconds

  2. If you have any rings, take them off or slide them around and get under them with the soap.

  3. Rinse with hot water

  4. Don’t touch anything once you’re clean! Hang onto your paper towel when you’re done drying and use it to open the door to get out.

#4 poses a particular challenge in a land of heated hand dryers and the “infinity towel”. That’s when (I suspect) there’s like three feet of towel turning over and over everyone uses it. I thought these things went extinct in the 1980s along with the Dorothy Hamil haircut and Nehru jackets, but apparently they were just shipped to Italy and Minneapolis.

In those circumstances, I dry my hands on my pants and use my elbows to open the doors. I’m like a veritable Christy Brown.

However, perhaps the most unusual thing I saw on my way out of the Baltics was a beautiful, happy, laughing little girl on plane. In stark contrast to her parents, she was friendly and sweet and full of smiles. Their younger child was an angry little man, so they plopped her out in the aisle while they attended to him, and as I was in the row behind them, she promptly gravitated my way. I mixed up some Emergen-C in front of her eyes like it was a magic trick. She looked at me with as much wonderment as the goat lady, Only a lot friendlier.

I have all these different colored pens in my bag, and I got them out and she was coloring with me (I was in the aisle seat). At one point, her mother got up, looked at us, made a face, and then just sat back down. I’ll throw down that any American (British? Australian? Irish? Swiss? Scottish? German? Canadian? etc. etc.) mother would chat and be slightly friendly to a woman entertaining the child she’d tossed in the aisle. Maybe at least smile?

Anyway, whatever with her. I was just hoping to leave a positive impression on the next generation so maybe they can learn to be a little less cold.

Thus, I hope my re-education efforts don’t cause any trouble. Hopefully that little girl isn’t thrown in the gulag wherever she’s going.. At two and-a-half or three years old, she’s too young to have been fully programmed with the official sneer, or maybe just doesn’t understand yet that smiling is illegal in the Balkans? 😉

What a strange world, my friends…

But nothing I will figure out tonight or while feeling so whipped. Ciao bellas and bellos! Sleep tight and wish me luck fighting off this cold!!!