Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lightning over the skies of Milan

The air suddenly gets cooler, and I sense that the flashes that fill the edge of my vision aren't the usual TV rays seeping through the windows of my neighbors in front, or the lights from the one "skyscraper" of Milan that can be seen from our front windows. It's a natural phenomenon, more majestic than simple artificial lights. Two air masses are colliding over the skies of Milan.

Lightning storms always make me mad happy. I am fascinated and excited by them. So I run to the balcony and start to observe, oooh-ing and aaah-ing at each flash. One mass is straight in front of me. I realize that the other one is coming from behind my building, so it's still out of sight. All I see are flashes reflected around and on the windows of the tall building.

Lightning arches behind the clouds and creates stark outlines of the plump cotton-like fluffs, heavy with rain, and quickly pushed around by the wind. Once in a while, the angry tail slash of a lightning outreaches beyond the outline and peeks at me, creating images of angry battles between giant electric iguanas.

I sense a rhythm. Flashes on one side. Answering flash from the other. Two flashes. One. One. Two. One. One two three! One. Half. Hi. Hey. You're in my way. No, *you* are in *my* way. Oh yeah? Wanna fight? Look at this! Ha! Take that! What do you have to say to that?!

And then I start humming the tune from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". It actually fits nicely. I wondered if Steven Spielberg had taken a hint from nature for his inspiration.

So after I take a few pictures and decide to write about this, I check IMDB. It turns out I wasn't so off the mark. According to their trivia on the movie, he was "[...] partly inspired by an experience from [his] childhood where without warning his parents rushed the family into their car, drove to an area where many others were gathered, and watched a spectacular meteor shower."

Nature is cool :) And the little lightning animation I posted here doesn't do it justice. But I wanted to share ^_^

Sunday, July 20, 2008

what street people want

I often start to write a blog entry offline, take off with it, then kill it abruptly feeling unhappy with it and thinking I just started ranting, so I shouldn't post it. Or it's way too long and I know most people have ADD and won't read through the whole thing.

I then read them again at a later date and find they weren't so terrible after all, and there was at least one good core idea in it. This bit is from one such un-posted entries.

In the city jungle, it becomes second-nature and a survival skill to develop a sense of what the person approaching you wants. I am against stereotypes in theory, but I find I apply them in practice a lot. I know that not all black people in Italy are those french-speaking africans that gather at the corner of my neighborhood every weekend to be loud, obnoxious, drunk, drug smugglers, and in general up to no good... but in such a segregated society (Italy is quite different from NY!) the first thought and reaction if I see a black guy on my street will be based on that. Having grown up overseas, I reason against it, but instinct is an indomitable bitch.

So far I've developed this database of Milan fauna: if the person approaching you smells of alcohol and is dirty, he's a hobo and will ask for money. If you are smoking, someone will ask for a cigarette. If you just bought your ticket, they'll ask for the extra change. Many stick around the ticket vending areas all day just to do that. Some offer help first--the automated machines can be difficult to navigate the first times--but in the end you know what they are after, so you don't even want to accept the help. If he looks decent enough but latino, he'll whisper obscenities or try to grope you (ok, this one maybe ain't that common in Milan, it happened only once or twice, but it's a small trauma of mine from the Central American countries, let me be). If he's a dirty child, he'll try to pick your pocket. If he carries an instrument on the subway, he's walking each subway wagon playing the same tune over and over, often without much soul, and will ask for money at the end. If she has long skirt, tanned skin, and sandals, she's a gypsy who will mostly try to steal something/beg. If they try to push a book or a bracelet in your hand pretending they're giving you a gift, they will then ask your name, try to get you to stop, to talk, engage in conversation. I haven't actually stopped long enough to hear the full pitch, but I imagine it ends in a "I'm poor I need money" line.

The pronouns I'm using are based on observation. There are certain demographics for each group [insert some deep conclusion here]. Of course, not all are potentially dangerous. You also have the tourist, italian or foreign, who might ask you for directions; the asian sellers of seasonal wares (do they all have a central warehouse with a person who decides "today you peddle this!"?? they all have the same things around the city!), just sitting in strategic places hoping to make a sale, and running away quickly as soon as they see a cop. Or the black sellers of counterfeit bags.

Once in a blue moon there are promoters, who actually give you free stuff. Although by now people are so wary, they often refuse even the really free stuff, afraid of a gimmick. Although the advertisement surrounding them helps their image. If you're dressed up in a huge chicken costume giving away samples of cereal, it's a pretty safe bet it's free.

Tired and wary most of the time, I have developed the "no thanks" flat answer to just about anything and anyone approaching. I figure there's only about 1% chance of getting it wrong. To those who do not look like any of the above, I actually give a chance and listen. Unfortunately many have discovered my database as well, and have learned to get around it by not looking like their stereotype, approaching you as if they were just happening to ask the time, but they end up asking for money as well.

A while ago a dude on a busy road caught me as I was trying to cross the street, just off the tram and on my way to the supermarket. He was Italian, clean, looked like an average middle-aged blue collar. He started by asking if I was Italian. "What is it, it's all foreigners that live in this neighborhood now? Do you live here? I need some help, my car broke down, I can't even call my coworkers, they all went home already, no one is answering and I have to get back home... I left my atm card in the car. I got locked out. I can't buy gas... Don't you have some money I could borrow for a train? I can leave you with my address, I promise I'll pay you back..." I quickly remembered an evening 10 years ago, different country, different culture, same story... the guy I was with was easily convinced and had given him a big bill. Even if I protested. The story had later ended up in the papers, a guy was going around presenting a difficult but credible situation in which he was lost and needed help... and had scammed so many people out of more money than your average beggar. If this dude I had in front of me had needed real help he'd have asked for a police station, or would have gone to a store, to a guy, not to a young-ish looking girl all alone in the middle of the street, don't you think?

I have lived on the kindness of strangers most of my life. People have taken me into their homes, offered help, sometimes without even knowing me. I have always been amazed by that. Also, why am I willing to help a clean-looking person who asks for money or help, but not a dirty-looking person who asks for the same thing? Doesn't the latter need the help most?

I wonder what stereotype I fit into. It probably changes in each country, in each culture, just like the stereotype of the black person is different between Italy and NY. You can be a king in your own country, and a beggar in another. You are the same person, but people see you differently, and it's hard to change people's minds.

Sometimes I think that loosing your naivete does make you smarter and a better survivor... but it also makes for a pretty depressing life. When you expect everyone approaching you to be out of wanting to scam you, it hardens your heart not only to the scammers, but to those who appreciate you for who you actually are.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two months later...

So it's been a while since my last post. I guess I feel that if I'm not traveling, I'm not really doing much. Nor do I take pictures. Plus before I had no job, so I could dedicate lots of time to the blog. Now, on the other hand, even though I still don't have a regular 9-to-5 gig, I'm involved in enough jobs to make up for the continuity, and the time I have off I just want to slack. Or study Japanese.

Actually, most of my free time does revolve around studying Japanese. I've been lucky and found a coworker who's just as interested in it as I am, and we found a Japanese lady who's amused enough to listen to our stupid questions on how to say or write basic sentences... so every Sunday for the past few months has been dedicated to that. Every time I commute anywhere, I have books and mp3 player with me and I listen, repeat, and write... I'm amazed myself on how much dedication I've put into this. Still can't say or understand much, but I keep at it ^_^

One interesting thing that has happened is that I found out that Milan has a huge Buddhist society. Every other person I meet lately seems to be involved in it... and when I mention it, people I already knew say "oh yeah, I do that, too..." Quite odd. So I've decided to check it out. Make it part of my "let's explore Japanese culture" effort.

I am mesmerized by the chanting. I know only a little of its philosophy, but I understand and like the idea that it's quite self-centered. Or, at least, that all things start within yourself, and that's the way to make the world a better place. Plus any peaceful philosophy is cool with me. I'm not keen on the religious aspect of it, and perhaps I've met very young believers who give it a bit too much of a fanatic spin... but I am still curious. I keep it as a conversational topic on my "nothing better to do" moments.

The only other good news I can think of sharing is that I finally have a savings account again! The month of May was crazy with work. I often traveled to 3 or 4 different locations for lessons, with days starting at 8am and ending at 9 pm, only to come home and work on the computer. On top of the hours I work for the school (which aren't all that many actually) I've managed to round up a few private students, do random translations, and update a couple of websites from home. It amazingly doesn't add up to much, especially if I have to factor in the fact that I'm supposed to give 25% to the government next year (on top of the 20% they already take off before giving me my paycheck...) but I've decided to just enter denial on that and ignore it 'til they come after me. I'm happy to finally have a few euros to my name again. Will let ya know how that works out...

Ok, I think that works for a quick update. I apologize to those of ya who have written wondering what the hell had happened to me, and to whom I haven't replied. Will try to post a bit more, even if it's just to say "Hi, I'm alive".

Now off to some slacking and them more website updates... tomorrow it's Japanese day!!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trip to Venice

The first week of April I had my second NY visitor! Char decided to spend her hard-earned tax refund on a trip to the yet-unseen Italy... and invited me along to a trip to Venice. Having never been there, but knowing it was one of those places that *have* to be visited, I immediately took two days off from work and off we went!

Venice is an island. From above, it looks like someone took a messy, shallow bite off of Italy, leaving only a few remnants behind. On the biggest one, they built the city. The train takes you there, passing over a 3Km bridge, and then just heads back. There is a car park at the very beginning, but the only transportation once there is either on foot, through the most confusing and extensive alley network I've seen so far, or by boat. Boat buses, boat police, boat ambulances, boat postal service... it was a little surreal.

Overall, it was awesome. We skirted all of the major tourist places, choosing instead to loose ourselves into every dead-end alley we could find. After watching several people disappear in what looked like the corner of a plaza, we became expert alley-sighters. "There's a shadow! Those buildings aren't touching! There's a street there!" Sometimes it'd literally be a 3-feet gap but it seemed a common route for locals.

We did pass by the major sights, the Rialto Bridge, the Piazza San Marco, and even Murano, but those were the lowest points. I can't imagine how crowded they are during peak season... we took naps in the gardens, breathed fresh air, and just relaxed. The hotel Char found was really cheap but clean, on the opposing island of Lido, just a short boat ride from Piazza San Marco.

We stayed two days and one night. We almost remained an extra night, just because we didn't know that the last train to leave was at 7:50pm! Right before finding a restaurant to eat, we figured we'd get the tickets for our return trip, and realized we only had 20 minutes before it left! The ride home was long but uneventful and we continued our touristing in Milan.

And that is a story for another time. For now, enjoy some new pictures. Finally! ;)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

election day

Today was the first time in my life that I got to vote. Living overseas for all of my adult life, I never had voting rights in the countries I lived in. While Italy has an overseas voting system, I never followed any Italian politics so I never knew who to vote for, nor did I care.

I have now lived in Italy for a year, and while here I finally learned a bit about what has been going on. When the government "fell" a couple of months ago, and they called for new elections, I knew it was going to be my first chance to be part of the democratic system.

It was pretty anti-climactic. Urns today were open from 8am 'til 10pm. Someone just yesterday night suggested that dinner time was going to be the best time to go, so I waited until then. My district was holding the voting 2 blocks away, so I left my cell phone home, walked up, went straight to the wrong room, was told to go two rooms down, handed my fancy voting registration card (a piece of paper) and my ID, and off I went behind the curtain to carefully put my X in the box. No wait, no questions, nothing. An inch worth of graphite marks on a paper was all that it took for this momentous moment...

I barely watch tv, so I wasn't too familiar with the candidates and the parties. While the election form had 17 parties, giving an illusion of choice, the truth lies in a bi-polar party system. From far-right parties that promote the expulsion of all immigrants and the division of northern Italy from the southern part, to the far-left, communists and socialists, and everything in between.

2 minor parties are "allied" with the major ones. So voting for one of those gives the final vote to the leader of the bigger party. The only difference lies in the senate and parliament, where the people of the minor party can bring their own people if they won.

The little knowledge I have was gathered purely through conversations among friends and acquaintances. My roommate explained to me why he'd vote for a certain guy, and it sounded good. Many other people I respect and trust on an intellectual level were also going to vote for him. So my choice was based on that. I couldn't follow any of the political talks on tv or the confusing snippets of news on the internet.

Does that count as democracy? The right to vote while being ignorant of its participants and its system? I still do not understand how politics work here. All I gathered is that even after being voted for, politicians can change parties, corruption is paramount, and the economy sucks.

This felt just like Bush vs Kerry. Most people simply voted against the worst evil, even though the opposing party sucks.

I'm curious to see how things will turn out now...

And I'm still pretty sure that Italy will not be my home for much longer.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

you know you're in italy when...

It's just about midnight. I've spent the past hour listening to English phonetics for my job, practicing Japanese hiragana (I've finally decided to pick that up again!) and one of my roommates has a friend staying overnight. While I'm in my room surfing the net, they are in the living room. Suddenly, mid-sentence on a blog update read, I hear some porn-like moans. Since we dont have any special TV channels, no cable or satellite service, it's local TV.

Amid English phonetics and Japanese alphabet... that's when you know you're in Italy ;)

Monday, February 18, 2008

The archaic side of Italian business, and general lack of shame.

Monday in Milan. With one half hour lesson of English at 10 am, and then nothing until 4:20pm, when I had to take a train to Bergamo to substitute a teacher, I was looking at a free stretch of time to catch up on things.

Upon exiting the building from the center of Milan, I figured I'd walk the mile home, since I knew I'd be passing through one of the most commercial streets in Milan, which would have the hardware store I needed to purchase odds and ends for my room upgrade.

I had forgotten just one tiny detail: Monday mornings do not exists for Italian business owners. Everything is closed until 3pm. I passed in front of at least 5 hardware stores. Nothing. Most shops were closed, with only the main chain stores or some small food suppliers open, although they were pretty deserted inside.

Mildly annoyed, I headed home, and I knew I wouldn't have time to head out again before my train. I spent the rest of the day eating and watching Bones (just "discovered" this series, it was pointed out to me years ago but I never watched it. It's pretty amusing!) until I had to head to the train station.

Then I went to Bergamo. The first time I had ever been there. Getting to the branch was easy enough, within walking distance from the train station. They were doing some remodeling themselves, so it was pretty chaotic. I managed to teach two phonetics lessons and carry conversations over the sound of drills and the random shouts of the work crew. I was amazed that not one student complained.

At 8:30pm I headed towards the train station again. The next train was going to be at 9:30pm. Whoop-dee-doo. I bought my ticket with my debit card, I had only some coins on me and figured I should keep them to buy something to drink. 45 minutes wait. Inside the station, a cafeteria was still open. I purchased a can of coke for the absurd amount of €2.00. I should have checked the vending machines by the tracks, a whole bottle was "only" €1.50. Never leave your home without something to drink if you visit the center of a city. They will charge only €3.00 for a sandwich, but the price of coke and water invariably spikes anywhere near a traveling hub, or near touristy areas.

The past few days have been cold in Milan, but I hadn't seen any waiting room, the cafeteria had no chairs, so I figured I'd tough it out on the tracks and hang out, smoking a cigarette and playing with my DS, with gloved hands and ear-muffs.

The train was on the track 25 minutes before it had to leave. Thanking the god I do not believe in for small favors, I got on, after checking about 3 times that the electronic board did indeed say it was the train for Milan and not some other train I shouldn't get on. I settled down in a deserted area at the head of a car, and kept playing my game (anyone into Picross? It's like sudoku for pixel artists...). At 9:35, as scheduled, the train left the station. I was enthralled by the videogame and figured the hour would go by quickly.

Then the controller came by. I paused my game, grabbed the ticket from my bag, handed it over, smiled politely, and waited for him to hand it back. He looked at it, turned it over, read it again. Then he said:"You didn't validate it." I had a moment of hesitation. Crap. That's right, in Italy you have to punch every ticket you purchase, even if it was just stamped by the machine at the station, at another machine which puts the date and station on the edge of it. I was too concerned with finding sustenance and shelter to remember that stupid detail. It had been a while since I had last forgotten about it, too. Although nothing much had ever happened from me not punching the ticket.

He coldly continued:"That'll be €5.00." I paused. I knew I had no bills in my wallet. I had some coins in my bag, but I guessed they didn't amount to much. I proceeded to explain that to him, while I fished around for anything I had. I showed him my empty wallet, and pulled out a handful of coins littered with an eraser, a paper clip, and the measurements for my screws. I counted. €4.54. I showed him that's all I had. I also kept mumbling about not having been paid at work yet and how I had gotten the ticket with my debit card, and I could pay with that, if it worked. Of course he wasn't equipped for it.

He paused, perhaps considering the option to let it go. But he didn't. He suggested I go around the train asking people to lend me the 50 cents I was missing. I looked at him baffled. I wasn't going to go around asking for money! I told him that, but he just said he'd be back later and to find the money.

I didn't manage to get too concerned. I figured he'd actually meant he would close an eye and not come back. I put the ticket back, put all the coins in my pocket, and continued playing.

20 minutes later he was back, asking for tickets to the newcomers. He looked at me, then turned to the guy on the opposite seat. I figured if I played dumb, we'd play the game together and he would move along. And that's when he turned to me. I told him I hadn't found the extra coins. I also thought if I kept the conversation generic enough, he might move along, without losing face. I offered again the €4.54 I had. He said I had to find the rest. I asked him why didn't *he* lend that to me. He didn't even acknowledge my sentence. Instead, he turned to the guy opposite, and said "Don't you have 50 cents to lend to this lady?"


Besides the absolute rudeness, and the fact that I was feeling (or was supposed to feel) like absolute crap for that, he had just spoken to a middle-aged guy, who seemed of quite modest means, and definitely wouldn't say no. He mumbled a humble "yeah, sure", fished around his pocket and pulled out the money, handing it over to the controller, who put it into my hand. I had just been forced to panhandle...

I do have to say, somehow I felt quite detached from it all. I didn't blush nor was I feeling any true shame which I rationalized would be the appropriate response... I started to dig into my bag and pulled out a crappy pen from my work, and handed it over to the guy, who didn't want it, but I made him take it anyways, feeling at least it was *some* kind of exchange rather than a forced act of charity. The controller, without batting an eyelash, wrote up the ticket, took the coins, and moved along.

I then felt like I had to enter into some small talk with the guy, apologize again, explain what happened, and thank him one more time. Although I did kinda do what I though was rational rather than what I felt... He agreed the guy had been an ass and after a few sentences we returned to our own worlds.

He got off a couple of stops before me and I didn't even look up.

At the train station, I debated stopping at the grocery shop which is extraordinarily opened until 11pm with only a 60% price spike on products, to get beer and forget the night away. I then remembered I only had 4 cents in my pocket, and the nearest ATM was too far away to be worth it. I could have paid with the debit card there, but somehow I felt it'd be wrong. I had some left-over wine from the un-valentine's dinner. That would work.

So here I am, a couple of hours later, none the worse for the experience, but it certainly made me think. When I filed for a refund a year and a half ago for a delayed train, I never heard from them. And yet I was readily fined for forgetting to put a double time stamp on the ticket I had just printed from their machines...

What a stupid ass backwards country this is.

Friday, February 15, 2008

happy un-valentine's day!

From plans for a night out with a couple of girls, it quickly became a dinner party with 8 friends at my place. Tonight the roommates chipped in and we had a nice time hanging out, eating good food (home-made lasagna from one of the roommies, and home-made fruit tarts by yours truly, with a heart-shaped strawberry in the middle... aawww) and just laughing about random Italian and American movies and culture things... from football to rugby, which I've recently taken a shine to with the 6-nations cup being shown on local TV. That is one amazing sport to look at!! I love Oscar Wilde's quote: "Soccer is a gentleman's game played by beasts. Rugby is a beasts' game played by gentleman". Right on the target with that observation!

Previous to this dinner night, last weekend it was Carnevale in Italy, and I went to a random party hosted by a friend of a friend of a friend... A loft crammed with way too many people having tons of fun. Extremely cheap beer and random fun contributed to a very lousy Sunday afternoon spent at work in the bookstore, 5 hours in which I kept wondering when I'd puke my brains out... which finally happened a half hour before I had to get out of there... a mad dash to the bathroom with the cash register's keys in my pocket and hoping no one would grab any books while I was gone a whole of five minutes...

Besides that, I've been working my usual random shifts teaching English, with a few interesting encounters along the way, which I might blog about later on. Right now I'm ready for bed, having managed to clean up the worst of the party, and being lucky that my shift for tomorrow starts at 4pm.

Happy un-valentine's day to everyone!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Italian Government Has Fallen.

This afternoon my usual oblivion of the world and its politics was shattered, as I happened to have to work at the bookstore for the afternoon, in the day when Italy's Prime Minister was up against a voting session that would decide whether he'd continue at his post or not.

I had heard that some big wig had resigned a couple of days back, but hadn't paid attention to what was actually going on, nor did I know what it meant. I was just given a crash-course in the matter, and can now explain it like this:

Italy is a republic, with a president who's just a figurehead, much like the Queen in Britain, and a Prime Minister, who actually does all the work and manages things. When a Minister resigns, the Prime Minister's leadership is up for questioning. The Senate has to decide whether they support him on not, by doing a "confidence vote". As the power is pretty evenly divided between the prime minister's party and the opposition, it's usually up to a few neutrals to decide matters. Kinda stupid if you ask me. Give 6 people the power to decide whether the guy stays in or not. Knowing the corruptibility of Italian politicians, it feels much like a scam to me.

Anyways, if they vote against, which just happened, 156 votes for vs. 161 against him, the Government "falls"... so a temporary administrative government comes into play to hold things together until they can organize new elections. Not sure how long that takes. Nor do I know yet who'd be up for running, but it sounds like Berlusconi, a rich guy who owns most of the media in the country and who has already been Prime Minister before, thinks he'll get the post again.

I checked the website of one of the main Italian newspapers, to get more info. I expected to read about impending doom, crisis, madness, hysteria... Instead, I found a video clip of the announcement of the vote. The caption read "Mastella announces the vote quoting Neruda". I click on the link. A movie trailer comes up. After a momentary "wtf?" I realized it was the ads before the clip. Not quite appropriate, you'd think. I didn't manage to get through the whole thing. I managed to make out something about people who don't travel or read... and figured it wasn't worth it.

Click on the next link. A picture of Berlusconi, with a bottle of champagne opened and spewing foam all over. He only lacks the racing suit, he looks like a driver on the podium after the award ceremony...

Quite embarrassing, in my opinion.

Italy has got some serious management problems. Feels like I never left the USA after all...

If only an entrepeneur would be allowed to buy the whole thing off, kick out all the stupid mafia guys and politicians, and run this place like the idyllic art paradise it should be...

It might be the champagne, but...

For any geek who's also into art, like me, this is an *awesome* Flikr set: Understanding Art for Geeks.

I laughed out loud at most of the pictures... which says a lot!


midnight rants

It's 12:40am.

I'm wondering what the alcohol percentage of the (cheap?) champagne I got for Xmas is. I finally opened it on an anxious night, while my roommates are watching some random tv show, and I'm in my room, after finishing 3 hours of work updating a website's database...

It's one of those moments where there is no meaning. Everything is up in the air, ready to be grabbed and given a thought.

Until that happens, it just is. It exists, with no judgement or moral attached to it. No consequences. No past, no future.

It's only when we start to think about it and give it a meaning that it occupies our minds and becomes a presence.

A faucet pours water into a pot. The stove is clicked clicked clicked until it turns on. I'm guessing tea. And I'm guessing it's the "hippy-est" of my roommates preparing it.

Funny how you can read so much from one sound. While, sometimes, you can't figure out what's in front of you even though you are given multiple clues.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Battle Royale - randomness galore

The bookstore I part-time at sells magazines. Unlike books, which are returned to the publisher if they're not sold, old issues of magazines get thrown away as soon as the new issues come in. All they have to do is tear away the cover and send that in as proof that it wasn't sold.

So about once a month they have a pile of magazines that are put into the garbage, to be pilfered by any of the employees who cares to take them home.

At the beginning of January I was there for the new stock, so I had a first pick of the throw-aways. I've always been a fan of Japanese culture, so I picked up, among others, a UK magazines about Japanese culture.

One of the articles reviewed the Japanese film business. There have been several movies that have come out of Japan that have made an international impact. The article had a top-20 list, and, being a fan of anime and Japan, I looked into them.

The top movie listed was "Battle Royale". A brutal movie based on a book by Koushun Takami, it tells of a futuristic Japan where the socio-economical structure collapses, and a new law comes into effect: every year, at random, a class of students is selected to be exterminated. It's too costly to raise children, so those deemed trouble are put on an island, given 3 days, and told they have to kill each other, or they will all be blown up. The last one to survive within the 3 days wins, and gets to get out. That alone, made in the year 2000, was a very strong topic. What with so many high-schoolers around the USA killing their classmates.

I also looked up the sequel. Knowing that sequels are often weaker than the originals, I didn't expect much. But this one took a different turn. It focused on terrorism, and the fight for freedom. Children vs. adults... mirrored in the USA vs the world scenario that has been playing throughout the last decade.

Witty and deep, both movies are worth watching. Not for the squeamish, but for the deep thinkers and open-minded.

ps) The main character, the boy who later becomes leader of the revolution, is the same actor (Tatsuya Fujiwara) that played the lead role in the action movie "Death Note", based on an awesome anime. I have to admit I don't care much for him, he has a weird retarded look that didn't do the anime's character justice, but I guess he's famous in Japan, since he starred in both movies. The point being, Death Note is another cool story to look into. :)

Friday, January 11, 2008

more teacher fun

While the average age of those attending is between 20 and 40, either students that have to pass the English exam at university, or company employees that require a minimum of proficiency to deal with their international colleagues, there are a few over-the-hill people... and some children.

I had 5 hours of teaching ahead of me today. The first one up was a teenage girl. I had already had an experience with not one, but two girls, and it had been a small nightmare that had lasted an hour. One kept doodling and interrupting, and decided she had to tell us the latest jokes she had learned. I had made the mistake of interrupting their Italian conversations, showing I understood, so she quickly stopped trying to say things in English. The other, only a year older and only slightly more serious, was easily dragged by the younger tsunami.

Today it was a different teenager, a little older, and alone, which was a plus. But she was the typical apathetic youngster, and I don't know how she had gotten all the way to level 20. She ended up not even doing her regular lesson, and I just tried to coach her through some basic grammar.

By the end of the 30 minutes I smiled and got ready for my next student. When I first get to the office, I just find a list of times and last names, preceded by either Mr or Ms. I'm also given cards that track each student's progress, to know what level they are at and what the lesson I'm supposed to cover. Today I hadn't had time to look at them closely. When I called out the name of my next student, "Mr. Rossi", looking towards the only middle-aged man in the room, I heard a small "here" from behind me. I turned around. He couldn't have been much older than 12. Drats.

He was just as happy as I was to go over his lesson, but at least he was smart and we got over it quickly enough, with even a few laughters while correcting some pronunciation mistakes. I have figured out a few tricks to teach key sounds, like comparing the voices of some British-Italian comedians to a phonetic symbol, or drawing a sheep over another symbol so they would remember that the "a" in "cat" is an "open" sound, like the bleating of a sheep...

Two out of two. That was my children quota of the day! I had a few random people after that, easy lessons, nothing much out of the ordinary. Some discussions over newspaper articles with women my own age, with whom I had many memories in common, of shows or music we used to listen to when we were children...

And then I saw her. The nightmare doodle/joke girl. Alone, even though it was the same one-hour schedule as last time. I swore silently, joked with the receptionist about it, and then called her in. If she was alone, I could handle her better. But a whole hour... ugh.

Unfortunately the other girl showed up, only 10 minutes late. I managed to keep a serious lesson going while we went over the tests, and the beginning of the oral exercises. I think it was a record 40 minutes. Then doodle girl just started telling jokes again. Last time I had managed to exchange some funny doodles. This time I wanted to play more serious... but I still let her tell me a joke. And I couldn't help it. I truly laughed at one of them. I can only say that at least I tried to have them tell the jokes in English. So, today, *I* learned some new one-liners.

"What animal is blue with 2 red stripes down his chest?"
A chicken whose suspenders are too tight.

wah wah wah waaaaaah

And this other one merits a mention:"What animal is yellow, fast, and very dangerous?"
A chicken running around with a gun.

The universe rewarded my patience with 2 no-shows right after that, giving me a whole hour of respite. And the last student was a very nervous geek who shouted and twitched throughout his whole lesson. At the end, when he went to the receptionist to schedule his next lesson, he wasn't shouting anymore. I had to chuckle at that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

teaching fun

Teaching English to Italians can be fun. There are a lot of words that are labeled "false-friends". Words that sound the same in the two languages, but have very different meanings. For example, in Italian a "company" is called a "societa`", so students often mis-translate it as "society". Or, even funnier, is a "preservative" translated as "preservativo"... which in Italian means "condom" :)

Today I had three in a row! I think it was a first, actually. Usually they just blank out and don't know what to say, so I have to prompt them. But today I had some spontaneous, self-confident mis-translations that made me laugh.

Grammar exercise for phrasal verbs:
Teacher: If a cop tells you to pull over, what does he mean?
Student: He wants me to take off my sweater!
(pullover = sweater in Italian...)

Written translation test
Teacher: Are you thirsty?
Student: Yes, can I please have a bear?
(misspelling of "beer")

I am blanking out on the third one... which reminds me of what they say about Einstein... he always kept a notepad in his pocket to jot down ideas as they came to him. I do keep a notebook on me all the time, the famous "Moleskin" notebooks, btw, but I didn't manage to find the time between one student and the next to write down their funnies...

And another teacher smiley for the day: one of my students today was a famous Italian writer. I didn't know of him, but he mentioned that he wrote for a living, and when I stopped by the bookstore I part-time at, I looked up his name, and he wrote dozens of books!! I'm continuing the "rubbing elbows with famous people while being a poor fuck" streak... but I managed to take it lightly today :)

The rest of the day was also fairly up-beat. It's funny how some days people just respond to you very nicely, while others they just ignore ya completely. I walked into the bookstore today, and an older man who works there actually stopped to talk to me for a whole 10 minutes about his life and personal goals... while he usually barely notices I'm there.

Then on my way to the train station I randomly met on the street a receptionist for the school I teach English at, and he also seemed happy to see me (no... not in *that* sense.. you perverts!). I worked in two locations teaching English today, and several people were very friendly and helpful...

I'm not sure what makes the difference between one day and another, how some days you just manage to have everything work for ya, while others it's a fight for every little thing... but I have to say, I enjoyed today! And I will try to keep that memory and cherish it over the worse ones!

Here's to all of ya managing a brighter attitude in everything you do every day!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy New Year!

A little late in coming, but I did send out all of my email wishes already...

Here's my desktop background for the new year, for anyone who cares to download it

I spent the ringing of the new year at yet another family's reunion... I thought I had gotten away from it at Xmas, but it seems I'm doomed to spend time with families. I was in Genova and had a nice, mellow time with a group of people of all ages, mostly playing cards with an 11-years-old girl, and seeing grown-ups setting fire to some home-sized fireworks. It felt like the 4th of July in New York. Only legal ;)

The 31st was an amazingly gorgeous day. Nice enough to go walking without a jacket! Clear skies and warm weather! The last effort of a crappy year to show it had some good inside after all. Then the 1st came back with a vengeance, pretty gloomy and cold. And yesterday we even had some snow. Today it turned to slush, with rain watering it all down... and it's supposed to last through the weekend.

I started the first week of January working at the bookstore. Will get back to English teaching the 2nd week of January. Had a couple of job offers with a contract that I really do not care about, but it makes me feel good to have options. Apparently I still manage to give a good working impression when people give me a chance. It's funny, though; looking back, it seems my first impression to people is still a "wrong" one... I just turn out to be a good apple if only given a chance. I like giving life-lessons to old people. Make them re-evaluate their thoughts on people and their appearances. I've yet to give up on coloring my hair, showing off my piercings, and henna-tattooing my body!

I still have more of an optimistic outlook on things, even though I have yet to find my thing. I decided to make small improvements on my life... Now that I think of it, most of them are geared towards impressions, unfortunately... I bought a hair flattening device that seems to manage to get my hair under control... and everyone has been complimenting me on it. And I'm working on my wardrobe. And my voice. But they are making a difference. ...Food for thought.

More to come, soon. :) Happy New Year to all, and:

"Rays of sun to shine on you this upcoming year.
May they warm your soul, your heart, your body."

(That's from the desktop pic.)

I'll get back to all the emails soon. Been working on a side-project for my very own agenda/diary and it's been sucking up my free time. But I'm happy with the results :) I'll post it online when I'm completely elated with it.