Wide Awake in Wonderland

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

So, are the Village People even alive anymore? September 26, 2008

Or the bulk of them anyway?

I mean, with a bunch of gay guys enjoying their heyday during the carefree early 80’s, you kind of worry a little about AIDS and untimely deaths. BUT, that aside, and in the hopes that the cop and the Indian and the construction worker and the other leather-heavy guy (?) will soon be performing at your local Indian casino, I can attest that they must be living LARGE off their European royalties. I swear, if Europe has single, unifying anthem, it is “YMCA”. Followed, as a very close runner up, by “Go West.”

You cannot turn around without hearing these songs. At first I thought it was me. Then I thought maybe it was a conspiracy against me. Then I thought I had a malfunctioning alien implant. Now I realize they all just really, really love the Village People. White, hot burning passion LOVE. You hear the Village People (or just “The Peeps”, as I’ve taken to calling them), pouring out of storefronts, while in cafes, during Vodaphone commercials, in the subway, in the bus station bathroom. You name it. Nothing is above or beyond the Peeps.

Did you know that “YMCA” had a video? Neither did I. But – despite the fact the song is from the time before they invented “talkies” – it does…and it’s in regular rotation here on European MTV. Go figure.

Speaking of European MTV, I’m still quite sick and getting tired of it. So tonight I’m taking it easy and watching a little Italian programming. Let me tell you, they’ve got some strange ideas of entertainment. To be frank, and not to offend, but they’ve got more weird variety show than the Mexicans. If you’ve ever seen Sabado Domingo, you ain’t seen nothing. I offer up my own TV Guide as assistance:

  • On “Il Falso magro,” a gorgeous skinny girl laboriously measures the bellies of about twenty fat guys. It’s relatively unfathomable. I watched in silence for about five minutes with a girl from New Zealand who eventually said, “I have no idea what is going on.”

  • On Canale Italia, a pretty teen girl in just a thong bikini and a big sash dances awkwardly while a sleazy dude and middle-aged woman sing a song to the tune of Joe Cocker’s “We’ve Got Tonight.” The camera moves amateurishly between the singers and the feet of the teen girl, shuffling like a nervous horse in her four-inch heels.

  • And, if you’re more of a ‘Lawrence Welk meets Benny Hill’ sort, you’ll be happy to learn that “TAM” features old ladies in peasant garb beating the crap out of an old guy using nothing but the biceps the good lord gave them and some wicker baskets. Enough said.

However, and perhaps most importantly, it appears Italy produces no actual (non-variety) programming of their own. This is because the bulk of their production talent goes toward dubbing the living daylights out of American TV shows and movies. They leave no dubbable stone unturned. Advertisements for new movies – dubbed. Crappy shows (like Stargate) no one even watches in the US – dubbed. Two year-old reality shows starring Puff Daddy – dubbed. Ancient Looney Toons cartoons – dubbed. Voice over actors must be worth their weight in gold in this country.

Otherwise, and in all honesty, I cannot seem to shake this darn cold. I’m still sneezing and coughing and – god help me – blowing my nose into any scrap of fibrous material I can find every 15 seconds. Thus, I’m going to call it a night a little early, and fill you in further in the morning. Sleep tight!

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Where the streets have no name September 25, 2008

Sorry for the silencio yesterday, kids. No internet access to be had in Venice…at least without an act of God.

I tried. The super nice guy who owns the hostel gave me a hot tip on a cafe with free wifi (so long as you buy a drink). However, he was a little cloudy on the exact whereabouts of said cafe. As with any oasis, you’ve gotta in search with nothing but hope, instincts, and desperation.

Thus, with only the name of a Campo (like a square) in the general vicinity, I went in search of the Cafe Blue. This is a tough game-show worthy challenge in any European country. In Venice, you need a cartographer and a psychic. I’m neither, but I actually found the Campo de Frari pretty easily. Actually, if you’ve ever been here, you’ll find this as weird as I do: It must be the wacko way my mind works, but I’m really good at zipping around Venice. I look at a map, make some vague plan like “go right, cross a bridge, go left for a while, cross a bridge, go left” and this things keep working out. Part of it is my reliance on ‘un-maps’. Since losing my guidebook, I keep ending up with these maps where only about a third of the streets are identified. I have a so-so sense of direction innately, but this lack of information – although initially wildly frustrating – seems to be helping me somehow.

Basically, I only have major landmarks at my disposal, so I just identify the primary direction and start my wandering. I’ve learned the hard way that getting home (sans map) can be a trick, so powers of observation and recall are also relatively crucial. Thankfully, I’m pretty good (and getting better every day) at noticing little details, so although I couldn’t tell you the name of a single calle, via, or campo name in all of Venice (except Calle Zen where my hostel is), I could explain to you how to navigate to the main sights or the one grocery store or the Guggenheim museum. Granted, these ‘directions’ would require navigation based on the position of the sun (and I’m useless at high noon), but that kind of advice is are arguably more useful here than actual street names.

Anyway, I get myself to Campo de Frari, and no Cafe Blue. So then I thought I’d see if anyone left their wireless access unplugged and wandered around with my computer open, hitting ‘refresh’. Nothing. I finally gave up and started to head back, when I came upon a “Blues Bar.” Could this be it!? Unfortunately, I’ll never know, because it was shut down due to a ‘problemi idreci’. By then it was pretty late by my ‘wandering around at night alone’ standards (21:30), so I headed back.

Today, I was hell bent on getting a blog up. I went in the heavy duty tourist area o the train station, and I’m now at “Ae Oche” waiting on my artichoke pizza, prosecco (I’m digging the prosecco. Champagne for no reason feels like a party!) and paying 8 euro (food and drink excluded) to post this. Oh well! Such is breathtakingly expensive Venice! It’s kind of a magical place, provided you can not worry about how much you’re paying for the basics and get away from the two zillion tourists. On the other hand, if it weren’t for the tourists, there would be no Venice.

You see, virtually no one lives here (on the island. All the residents are on Mestre – the mainland). This is because (according to the Italians I’ve talked to) it’s crowded and hard to get around and super expensive. And sinking. Lots of the homes are abandoned. So those who do live here, do so more or less do so because they are involved somehow in tourism (‘or very, very old’ one guy added). So in that sense, the whole place is a venture in make-believe. Welcome to the REAL magic kingdom!

As you walk around in the evenings and people are out on the gondola rides, there are two men that accompanies three or four of them in their own boat, singing Italian love songs (quite well, in fact). However, in all actuality no one really lives this way. There aren’t any native Venetians out on the boats for an evening sojourn or anything! You realize that the whole island is sort of an idea of the ancient Venice mixed with some tourist-based moneymaking ideas that stuck.

That doesn’t bother me. We could all use a little magic – real or fabricated, and there is no denying it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous city. I kind of like the confusing labyrinth of streets. It reminds me of a big hedge maze – and people pay good money to wander through those! Moreover, if you have any need for a photo of a stunning or quaint or spellbinding Venetian canal, drop me a line, because I’ve taken at least 50 of them!

As for today, I’m off to the islands of Lido, Murano, and Burano. Talk to you tomorrow from Trieste (hopefully!)

(p.s. HOT TIP: If you want to attract skads of attention in a Venetian cafe [from people speaking Italian, predominately] bust out a mini computer and work on your blog. I just had a small crowd gathered here. Who’d a thunk? You’d think I was demonstrating a time machine or something!)