In Rome, one tag on a bathroom stall read: "Bush = un pezzo di merda."
In Las Vegas's McCarran airport, one stall wall included the following line: "Jews runs the media." Directly underneath that line was another pearl: "That's because people have bad sense of grammar."
Posted on June 25, 2008 at 08:18 PM | Permalink
Yvette Siegert, the young and exceedingly talented Columbia instructor, poet, and New Yorker editorial staff member, has finally been given a public forum in the form of, yes, a blog. New Yorker blogs may be obvious references, but what you should know about Siegert, the author of The Book Bench, is that she's not only a voracious and reliable book-scene correspondent; she's eminently qualified to tell us the backstories behind the books while remaining highly literate in the world literature field and so damn likable that you would never go wrong following her advice about what to read. Way to go, New Yorker! You've got a blogger who will literally change the way the magazine reaches the online book world and the readers to whom it caters. See The Book Bench as soon as possible, and watch for much, much more from Shallot friend Siegert.
Posted on June 23, 2008 at 09:11 PM | Permalink
Posted on June 23, 2008 at 01:58 AM | Permalink
Upon my return from Italy, the one thing I am sure of is that I currently dislike watching American dance reality shows (not that I ever did), reading tabs, seeing really bad movies (bad-good movies are still fine), even more than before. The leniency for crap that I acquired in LA after years of curmudgeon life in NY is gone, even after just returning from a foreign country where the music and television, at least the popular forms of it, are funnier (stupider, potentially, more sexist, etc.) than anything in America. Truth is: I cannot stand to see the way certain people live in this country that I can luckily call home in the current tense international climate. But the more I see Americans and our need and love to consume, lack of organic pleasure, the urgency and intensity with which we communicate via e-mail, phone, and even in person...it's overwhelming, and it's sad. I wasn't away very long. 30 days is hardly a long tour away from one's culture, but it was just long enough for me to slip into, as I had said, a more natural mode of existence, and these weren't on days gazing out over the Mediterranean. I experienced as much or more of this new internal pace and attitude at Autostrade-side Autogrills and in smoky Rome buses, bad gelaterias and even dangerous neighborhoods and boring Sardinia cellphone stores, as I did in restful medieval villages in the Abruzzi mountains. For it isn't rest that Italy provides. Italy doesn't provide anything, in fact, and that's why it's great; it doesn't try too hard, doesn't want to. Plus, there's a frenetic pace in the Italian world, too--especially in a city like Rome, which is hardly a groundbreaking observation, as kids reheat more frozen meals than ever while moms and dads still jump over each other and ditch their jobs to watch their children take swimming lessons. But what's different about it all is that to my mind Italians don't want to work more: they don't like it, they don't get a high from it. They don't have openings, in large part, in the little portal in our minds that the allows the urgency, devote-your-life-to-nonsense and anticipatory stress addiction that reaches and controls many American psyches. And if some Italians do not feel this urgency, if they do devote their lives to nonsense, well, they don't really feel as if they're living while mourning the loss of their lives simultaneously in that distinctly American way. A Naples advertising executive who doesn't really believe in the mission of his account, therefore, just waits for work to end to really enjoy his life--what most people in America *say* they do but rarely accomplish. He doesn't force an attempt at or quest for enjoyment into his every moment and then wince when he can't find any "quality time" for it; maybe he'll have some moments of joy throughout the day but they will come whether or not he creates an "action plan" to "achieve" them. For instance, Italy is currently looking into increasing the work week hours; as dangerous as it is to us, the Euro is killing too many people in Italy, too. But there remains a lovingly selfish-cum-socialist-y, "let the government take care of it" type of attitude--we don't like our president, but what the hell?--that even lets the overworked feel free, regardless of what's required of them. And maybe that's what I saw most obviously on my mini-trip. Not any sort of "la dolce vita" fiction. But the fact that most Italians feel free from expectation and big-brother ownership--especially state and corporate ownership, even when it's written into law--except for when it comes to family. Which is more an ownership of love and something all of us should applaud. More in the coming weeks. This is part of the book project...
Posted on June 22, 2008 at 02:30 AM | Permalink
1. People can't really debone fish here. And the cuisine is made of more pig than you would think.
2. The best beaches aren't sandy but rocky (see Cala Mariolu, up top), and they often require a boat trip.
3. Ocean currents go in the opposite direction you think they should. Say, towards wherever you happen to be swimming.
4. There is happiness that the US military has left the Maddelena archipelago but now everyone's complaining that the US has left them with no means for economic stimulation. (I say, just be glad Bush is gone. Berlusconi's still up your behind.)
5. Everything's eco here, but those horses on the side of the road? They may end up in a ragu. For real.
6. A man came up to me on the beach, not selling Fanta or chips or even a panino. He was selling pecorino. Cheese! On the beach! For a snack!
7. The rich people here may pop their collars and sail superyachts but when you question them privately about the success of the Port Cervo marina, they tell you they fear it's becoming too much like New Jersey.
8. The wind blows everywhere you don't want it to, but when the lights come on (what some people call the sun coming out), it can stop dead in its tracks.
9. The "strange" black-clad ladies of the Barbaggia mountains happily sell bus tours to their lifestyle not unlike the Amish. Score one for taking dumb tourists to hand.
10. You actually swim with sardines here, among other interesting fish. Put on a snorkel mask, remove your makeup, and stop just lying on the sand looking at everyone else's D&G swimsuit while you considering buying fake Breitling watches from those Senegalese souvenirsmen.
*This is weird and beautiful place. Beautiful because of its oddities (the wild horses, Catalan-Arabic influences, ancient civilization ruins, the pirate-like flag), not the pretty coastlines. Stay atuned to that fact and you won't fall into the chasm of "whydidn't I follow cheesy American pop stars to Capri, (which, btw, is terribly overpriced and currently in a state of classless ruin by the onslaught of modern tourism)?"
Posted on June 10, 2008 at 10:35 PM | Permalink
Having been here for a week, for the fourth time in my life, it's pretty easy for me to confirm how much Rome and my adopted hometown of Los Angeles are alike. In Rome, everyone immediately looks you up and down, even the cheesy bridge-and-tunnel kids with the badly gelled hair who live miles from Cinecitta; everyone's pazzo, doing something unusually complicated on unusually expensive cellphones, especially when driving; and style trumps all (addendum: most Romans, outside your immediate family and favorite Hugo Boss salesman, will be nice to your face and speak crap behind your back). Tired of these inescapable Hollywoodisms as well as the tourists in every corner of the city (and every Dior, D&G, and Armani store)--even in the small, unusually good dining rooms and bars of the former slaughterhouse district, Testaccio--I recently sought refuge in my father-in-law's alpine region of Abruzzi (home as well to half of Madonna's family). Good thing, too, because aside from the best saffron, game, sheep's milk cheese, and mountainous national parkland in Italy, Abruzzi (though it's been called "The Next Toscana," think more Colorado than Napa) also benefits from a lack of tourism. Which doesn't mean you won't find great restaurants and hotels here; just that they won't be overrun with tacky, in-your-face, fanny-pack-waisted Rick Stevesians and the guidebooks that they love--or worse, B-level American celebrities. After a fast two hour jaunt east from Rome, last week, I arrived in the small, rustic town of Campo di Giove, set deep under the imposing Majella mountains and just minutes from the medeival city of Sulmona, birthplace of Ovid and that Confetti (candied almonds) your significant other will likely adore as much as L. Locals, and there are plenty of young, single ragazzi still hanging in their hometowns--make sure not to say you are single as one friend did; you will get an invitation to a family dinner for the wrong reasons). Inadvertently stylish in 80's threads they don't care about (unlike some of the chic-geeks in Sulmona), these kids may win you over with genuine friendliness as quickly as, say, the freshly made annelini with speck and ricotta (which would no doubt be on tomorrow's Babbo menu if Batali ever scootered himself over), at the no-frills La Scarpetta di Venere. At this thin-aired pine-perfumed spot, on a recent night, the young locals gathered to watch Rome play Inter in soccer while scarfing down pizze (I recommend the local prosciutto as a topping; it's deeper in color and richer in flavor, with more substance, than the overbought Parma stuff you can find in any Dean and Deluca), taking turns saying hello to our Zia (yes, young people, in certain places still have respect for elders). In the morning, you might want to follow my lead and dodge a brown bear, a few wild boars, and a wolf (if I was kidding, this would be mentioned with some degree of whimsy), while riding the funicular up to Gran Sasso d'Italia (the rock of Italy), the highest mountain in the country, for fantastic hiking and even a look at a hotel built by Mussolini in Campo Imperatore. It's true: I have a home here--in the city you see above--and thank god there's no Wi-Fi. I, however, never mind a night at the albergo diffuso Sextantio, a recently finished preservation-minded design hotel built out of the intact medeival Abruzzese town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, right in the national park, where Philippe Starck bathroom fixtures sit in restored cave-like brick rooms for the socially conscious yet aesthetically driven travelers some of us know we have become. I'm OK with this kind of tourism; the place was purchased over ten years ago and painstakingly restored with natural materials allowing locals (those who remained) to enjoy a better quality of life each month. As the manager, Giovanni, tells me, it's not for everyone. You have "niche" clienti, I tell him. Yes, he says, nich-a. Like the philosopher? Not exactly, I say, but hotel managers who think philosophy at the drop of an Abruzzese wool cap definitely are a niche group. Ho capito, he replies: I GET you. Then we eat a few chunks of local pecorino, talking soccer, while an American in a rented Alfa drives by, almost hitting a deer, he is so focused on the combination of his G.P.S. system and the panino he bought at an Auogrill on the autostrade. Oh, Abruzzi, am I hurting you--and hence slowly poisoning my escape--with such a post? I will have to care for you as I introduce you around.--A.B.
Posted on June 08, 2008 at 08:40 AM | Permalink