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.