Bobby (name changed to preserve anonymity) has a secret. Although it’s a secret shared by a large portion of the population, the shame is too great to admit out loud. His family suspects the truth, but is happy to hold onto the idea that Bobby is “normal”. Bobby does his best to appear like his friends and the rest of society, but keeping up the image is exhausting. What he can’t express is that he is different. The norms of everyday life that are accepted by the mainstream, don’t feel right for him. He feels alone. He wonders if there’s anyone like him out there. Bobby is a Night Person. On days off he sleeps past noon and if he wouldn’t be considered a freak he would be comfortable sleeping until 5PM. Bobby has endured years of being called hurtful words like “lazy”, “narcoleptic”, and even “slacker” with a hard “R”. Bobby is a pariah, whose natural tendencies are “wrong” to the rest of the world. Until now.
I too suffer the stigma of being a Night Person. I’m an ex-raver, which inherently requires all nighters. My college job was the over-night shift at a hotel, and now I primarily work as part of the late night crew on reality TV shows. I am perfectly comfortable with waking up at 4 in the afternoon, going for a run, working my shift and hitting the sack at 6AM. I’m not even on drugs I swear, its just natural. I think the time is right for us Night People to raise our fist proudly, and declare “Fuck 9AM!”. In this post-agricultural, post-industrial, Internet society we are free to be awake whenever we want. The time is now to take up our cause and fight for our rights.
Since the dawn of human kind and until very recently, we’ve depended on hunting, gathering, farming or going to a job as means of survival/making a living. The “9 to 5” is an anachronistic relic from our past. It may be one of the deepest ingrained since being awake in the day has seriously helped our success as a species. The time for that practice has passed. Sleeping when predators are sleeping, getting up at dawn to take care of the crops, and by extension; heading to the office by 9AM don’t matter in the modern age. The whole world isn’t quite there yet, but as a New York City resident, I can easily take care of any day-to-day business at any hour of my choosing. And with the Internet, Night People all around the world have a tool to let their freak flag wave. This idea will be very alien to a day-walker, but I have research (aka Google) to prove my point.
Most day-walkers will say, “Only being awake at night is bad for your health, silly”. I’ll tell you what’s silly, waking up at dawn for no reason. Actually a quick search through the interwebs finds many, many more references to the adverse affects of sunlight. Page after page will teach you ways to avoid getting too much sun. We have a whole industry of creams to protect us against the sun. A Night Person ain’t worried ‘bout no sunscreen. According to an article from health.usnews.com, a fair skinned person needs 10 minutes of direct sunlight to get the daily value needed that doesn’t come from food sources. Plus if anyone lives “north of Atlanta” none of us get ANY vitamin D from the sun all winter long because “the sun never gets high enough in the sky for it’s ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere”. What do you say now, day walkers? You got no vitamin D from your precious sun. In your face!
Another argument for the norm is that lack of sunlight affects mood. That’s a tough one to explain away. Science says we have circadian rhythms and they naturally guide us to the daylight much like plants, which need sun to survive. They say disrupting these rhythms lead to depression. If these species wide rhythms exist and come from our place in nature, why are they considered so important? Equality should extend to everyone’s circadian rhythms. Humans don’t migrate seasonally to mate. We don’t kill and eat the closest thing to us when hungry. Plus, do you think a raccoon is chronically depressed because he happens to be nocturnal? Here, I’ll have to break from “scientific findings” and use some empirical observations. Night People march to the beat of their own circadian rhythms. I’m happier on my schedule. If the stigma were lifted from NOS (night owl syndrome) maybe the nocturnal leaning human won’t feel so ashamed of their snoozing.
One thing is certain; lack of sleep is terrible for the mental and physical state of a body, and this is exactly what is harming my people. Every time a Night Person naturally stays up watching Hulu until 4AM and has to be at work at 9AM he or she is forced into an unhealthy lifestyle. Forced into physical harm by the establishment! The Man is keeping us down with shame tactics, and literally weakening our numbers with their old fashioned day time activities. It’s time to break the shackles of the old guard sleep schedule. Night People unite! We must tell our stories. We must show the world that our lifestyle might be different from theirs, but we are still human beings. We must proudly do our laundry at 1AM and shop at the bodega for groceries in the wee hours of the morning without shame. Hit the snooze button in solidarity Night People. New York City is our promised land! Let the revolution start here. Equal sleeping rights FOR ALL!
<Whew> Was in Philly for a couple days for Jon and Jen’s wedding and turned out to a pretty heavy trip. The weight of missed beginnings of love, families and ghosts of the past make my stomp through Midtown to the F Train a bit more weighed down with thoughts than usual. I’m backed up on thoughts, so here goes a bit about the city I thought was the best a week ago. San Francisco.
My month in SF was too short lived. The immediate love for the grit and ornery nature remained, and with every passing day I found a new thing to obsess over. One of SF’s nicknames is Fog City and as odd as it sounds, my favorite past-time became watching the fog roll in and out over the Twin Peaks hill. You probably don’t believe me, but this is a thing that would happen always. Constantly changing, and better every second. A unique NorCal version of a sunset, everyday occurrence, but constantly changing and always impressive. My humble abode at Fox Plaza in the lower Tenderloin had a fucking wood burning stove, so obviously I spent a lot of my free time at home, burning wood and watching fog (and catching up on Breaking Bad). If you get a chance try it, its pretty dope.
“How amazingly sublime it is to spend a night on the couch craft beer in hand, the fog drifting in and out through my window. And a flickering fire in the fireplace. My ode to San Francisco.”
I’ll cut to the good stuff; food. To make a long, gluttonous, food stained story short, these are my favorite joints in San Fran.
My first moments on the ground and off of work, I was told to go to Swan’s. There is always a line outside of Swan’s, and seemingly foodie/tourist types abound but it is a commitment one must make. Anchor Steam on tap, counter bar service only, and when they run out of shit they are done. Closed. Thank you come again. We were lucky enough to grab a couple stools, down a bunch of oysters, smoked salmon and a couple beers before work.
I think the place that stuck out the most was Tommy’s Joynt. On “Historic Rt 101″ aka Van Ness St, this place remains a bastion of frontier food. Its like a “joynt” you’d see on Rt 66, but still alive and well in the heart of a metropolis. Cheap plates of gut busting fare are served up until last calling time, and my first night out Kelly dragged me out of the bar to go freshen up there. The building itself stands out, and inside they have a raucous, Mom and Pop feeling grub line where they scoop out heaps of deliciousness for CHEAP! The buffalo chili is my favorite (and at least 5 pounds an order).
During my incessant walking about I discovered a little place called Canto do Brasil. Mexican (Taqueria Can-Cun), Chinese (Uhh SF Chinatown), and Middle Eastern food (I’m sworn to secrecy on this one place) spots always impressed and made sense in San Fran, but this little spot near Hayes Valley was a great little catch. I walked past, ravenous on a Friday night, and they were packed so came back the next day for lunch. Thank Deus. Besides the awesome caipirinhas, the food was amazing, and I feel like a good Brazilian place is a rarity in any city I’ve been before. We all have our clutch sushi, mexican, and thai, but damn I wish I had a clutch brazilian joint on Seamless.com. Besides the barrage of appetizers, I got the feijoada and that shit was awesome. Tudo bem.
A week later I find myself back in New York City after a brief stint back “home” to Philly. San Fran was awesome, Philly is the best, and the show goes on.
“Tears well up in the corners of my eyes as my train pulls away from the jagged underbite skyline that retains the weight and familiarity of ‘home’. Philly J’taime.”
I’ve been to San Fran for a family trip a million years ago, when I was 14 or 15, so Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Lombard St. check, check, check. Happily work has brought me back to this bastion of maritime/transient history. I had heard bad things from my comrades on the ground. ”San Fran is dirty”, “Get ready for homeless people shitting on your stoop”, “Bring a hoodie and a switchblade”. As most of these folks were Los Angelenos, I brashly assumed “I’m a New Yorker, these pussies are getting a dose of reality”. Welp, turns out SF is gnarly. They weren’t kidding. As a Philadelphian, and relatively new New Yorker, I have to report that San Francisco has the balls and bite that we wish we had. I’ve only been here a week, and staying in the Tenderloin. These seedy blocks feel like an era long gone. Obviously danger is bad, but at the same time it gives a city character. My first walk from my hotel (Hotel Carlton, aka Hot Carl I’m told when the sign doesn’t work) to set as I dosey doe’d past a gaggle of junkies things got real when I saw a meth or horse junkie about to smash someone in the head with a sharpened hammer. At this moment I embraced the realness. I can’t think of a block in NYC that I feel fear. From LES to Jamaica, I figure if you stay cool nobodies gonna fuck with you. I love the Tenderloin for the fact that I’m on my toes walking home. Gentrification hasn’t whitewashed this world! Thank God. Cut to notes.
San Fran retains a rough authenticity. More Puck than Pedro. Even to this day which is surprising and and refreshing. NYC before Guilianni for better or worse. Still true to its maritime roots. In my brief experience, more diversity per block than any place I’ve ever been. Blessed with the pungent Pacific air. Tough town. Murderous Homeless Zombies aside, Viva la Tenderloin.
Also there are more tranny hookers on my block then I’ve ever seen in my life.
Can’t photograph the scene properly, but hysterical to walk past a group of scantily dressed amazons, only to hear their deep voices speaking spanish with a mexican accent. They look like Serena Williams but sound like Antonio Banderas. Needless to say, those dudes are hot.
Arrived in Munich today. Super weary. Almost a month on the road now. The intense work and my growingly annoying habit of enjoying the nightlife between longs bouts of shooting has me on fumes. Some bullshit with lost bags and air travel began my time here, but spirits perked when we stopped at the Weihenstephan brewery and beirgarten. Thanks to a snarl of traffic, our bus driver, Claus (who I ended up spending a lot of time with randomly over the next few days), had the foresight (and thirst I assume) to take a detour and stop at the abbey for lunch. The monks set up shop here in 725 AD to be close to a miraculous water source (the natural fountain still bubbles away in a cave below the grounds). Open since 1040 AD, Weihenstephan is the oldest continually producing brewery on earth. Arriving at my first true Bavarian biergarten, I gorged on the usually brots and kraut, and of course had a liter. The Kristallweisbier (unique filtered hefeweissen) was an amazingly refreshing and pretty beer. Back on the bus, everyone is stuffed and exhausted, but we plod onward. Excited for my first glimpses of Munich!
Munich is a nice change of pace. The city is just plain pleasant, thoroughly driving home that I really enjoy Germany. I learned here that Germany has been a contested and divided area for most of its history. The country we know today is historically a bunch of regions cobbled together by outside forces, and each region retains its distinct culture and traditions. Bavaria is a lot like Catalonia, North Ireland and Texas in the respect that the citizens identify more with being Bavarian than being German. People really wear lederhosin here, and they have a distinctly different variation on the language that even my ignorant ears could detect. Between our ever awesome tour director, Alex (a native of Bavaria), and the language barrier hindered chats with Claus, I learned a lot about the everyday life in this part of Germany. Alex taught me the word used for the Bavarian fondness for the simple pleasures in life. ”Gemütlichkeit” is the state of being content, comfortable, relaxed. I cracked myself internally thinking back to my initial shock going from Italy to German. Turns out Germans have a decidedly less sexy sounding word for “La dolce vita”, but the sentiment is the same. Here in Bavaria they definitely enjoy the good life, say it with me : ga-MOO-licksh-kite.
Beer is undeniably a staple down here. Obviously being the home of Octoberfest adds a touristy element to the abundance of beer and biergartens, but many of the most recognized German breweries have existed here for centuries (Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Hofbrau, Hacker Pschorr to name a few). Pretty much any down time we had, we spent at an amazing biergarten or bierhaus. Yes, a lot were touristy, but all fantastic places to drink huge beers and socialize. Obviously I’ve been to beer-gardens in the States that try to replicate the German standard, but the sheer immensity of these places in Munich caught me off guard. Football field sized outdoor arenas for enjoying one brewery’s selection of brews. My new BFF Claus told me early on that Augustiner was the best and preferred brew for locals so that was my go too, and on our last night we ventured out to the Augustiner Biergarten. Of all the places we checked out the Augustiner is my favorite. I had an attachment to the brand thanks to Claus, but this place stood out. All bavarian biergartens seem to have the same elements; rows of outdoor picnic tables, cafeteria style food serving, and a constant flow of beer to be picked up from a kiosk. The Augustiner took the cake. It was packed with a sea of beer drinkers, seemingly bigger than the others (which is saying something because they are all huge), and not for nothing it was the first place I took an entire liter in one pull. No standing ovation sadly…
7/19_Back to NYC
It feels weird to be going home. I’m exhausted, but as the last days ticked by I developed an urge to keep going. Germany turned out so amazing that I find myself wishing I could keep exploring. It feels like I’ve been gone a hefty chunk of time, not just a month. Florence, Venice, Lido, Verona, Milan, Berlin, Munich. Mostly work, but a lot of reflection and experience. The people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, and self discovery I’ve contemplated add up to an unforgettable little journey. It’s as if I’ve grown so accustomed to life on tour that “homecoming” is weird. It’s not the anonymous hotel rooms, shlepping bags of gear, long days of working/walking/seeing, but the oddity is the return to “normalcy”. The added layer of weirdness at the moment is that through some lucky accident on my transfer in Amsterdam I was upgraded to first class. I’ve never been and this shit is awesome! I’m trying to pretend I’ve been here before, but every time the stewardess comes over and offers me something awesome (as I recline in my fucking massage chair of a seat!), I feel like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. The stewardesses are nice, they took my dinner ORDER, and they keep giving me champagne…for FREE! I’m pretty sure I could go fly the plane for a bit if I asked. ”Flight attendants please take you seats…”, about to land back in New York. Back to reality, stewing in my thoughts and memories. The beauty of travel.
Berlin ended up growing on me a great deal. Walking amongst the living history was amazing, just needed a little help pointing it all out. Our local guide Alex is the man, and an incredible wealth of knowledge. To paraphrase one of the first things he said to the kids when the tour started; Berlin is unlike most world-class capitols of Europe or elsewhere. You look at Paris and the beauty is immedietaly striking. Spend five minute in New York City and the energy is undeniable. The history and allure of Rome is unavoidable. But Berlin takes some effort. You need to look deep. Notice the artillery holes still dotting major landmarks. Think about who shot them/who defended them, and for what. You need to stop for a minute, use your imagination, and picture what the street you are on must’ve been like when a wall ran along it dividing a city, a country, and a globe in two. The stories of life here a mere 20 years ago, let alone 70, are inevitably equal parts heart-wrenching, humorous and inspiring.
On the flip side, finding the amazing Alice and Wonderland/Adult play ground/Squatter art spaces that make up the nightlife was like something out of an urban fairy tale. Our first night out we stumbled across Katerholzig. This place is an outdoor Shoots and Ladders-esque ramshackle collection of “areas” patched together next to the Spree river. Reminded me of the Fakehaus in West Philly late 90′s, if anyone remembers it, but this place is 50 times bigger. The seemingly abandoned building the “club” seems based around has a huge rocking cat sculpture as the Jester holding court dangling from the roof. First night we went was swing night, and the people were fucking swinging! The other night nights seemed more techno-y, but place doesn’t really even start to get good until 2AM (way past our bed times). We always had fun wandering the compound, finding new nooks and dance floors. Another favorite find was Clarchens Ballhaus. The building goes back to 1913, and there is definitely an old school vibe here (especially with the grumpy staff). Cool outdoor beirgarten and another labyrinth of a watering hole. Apparently some scene from Inglorious Bastards (which I still have to see!!!) was shot there. For me, the kicker was the rockabilly band jamming out in the sweaty main hall. We were on our way out but the music literally stopped us in our tracks. We joined the geriatric crowd to twist and jitterbug the night away (really just about 20 minutes before we had to go, but still fun…). Berlin is definitely a place I would like to come back to and party all night, before I get too old…
The sausage-fest here was certainly a departure from the Mediterranean diet of a week ago. I shit you not, I had at least one sausage a day for my entire stay in Germany. And it was fantastic. Between the steady diet of tubed meat, pretzels and liters of beer, I was in a perpetual state of flatulent, bloated happiness. Bratwurst, pig knuckle, snitzel, pretzels the size of a bike wheel, spetzel, mustard, and beers as big as waste baskets. I happily ticked years of my life every night around dinner time. To be honest, my former veggie self found the sauerkraut the tastiest part of the meal. Perfect for being mopped up with pretzel. One of the last days we ended up eating lunch at a farmers market, and all of Hackeschen Markt smelled amazing. The Turkish influence I had learned about was representing WAY better here than just the questionable curry-wurst. I picked the stand that smelled the best (although tough decision), and ordered the thing the lady was handing out. The sign said “KOFTEDURUM- Lecker (delicious)!”, and she was obviously fixing some fresh ass grub. What I was handed was a few of hand rolled balls of meat and peppers, seasoned with middle eastern tastiness and wrapped up in a thin pita-like flatbread. The kofte and couscous salad were like nothing I’d had before (even though I’ve tried to make kofte from internet recipes) exactly, in a great way. The exotic spices were slow cooked into the ground meat balls, and the tomatoes, lettuce and lemon cut through with every bite. Delish, and a nice change from long, phallic meat meals.
I’m fully taken by Germany at this point. Berlin was a place of much thought for me. Life, love and the pursuit of happiness. The heavy, intellectual zeitgeist of the city is an apt setting for this activity, especially if you have to work and can’t just party for three days straight (which is an enticing option). With the back drop of Germany’s difficult past, I kept finding myself draw to make comparisons to my own country. Such tragedies could never happen again. Right? Look up the Reischtag Fire Decree and what it caused, and then re-think the Patriot Act. Just saying. An interesting look at our current history at the very least. Anyway. Next, and last stop is Munich. Looking forward to seeing “rural” Germany, although I know Munich is a vibrant city. That said, I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing some lederhosen and true beirgartens in the near future (can’t help but say that in Stimpy’s voice…).
I landed in Berlin groggy. The day at the beach in Lido, steady flow of adult beverages to dull the incredible annoyance of flying out of Venice on Easy Jet, and general fatigue had me on the ropes. Don’t know if this caused my shell shock after landing in Germany, or just magnified it. Holy shit, can you go from two different states of mind (or at least so I thought at the time). I dragged myself into my first trip into Germany, and immediately became brutally aware how little I know about the country. All ignorance on my part (I’m sorry!), but my knowledge of German culture amounted to the Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live, 90′s industrial music and a swiss cheese version of German history. I expected a sterile and efficient land. What I found was obviously neither to any extreme, and I soon learned that Germany was a quirky and fascinating place. I had heard from multiple travelers that Berlin is one the most fun cities in Europe so I was curious how this jived with my preconceived ideas.
The extent of my German language skills are from 8th grade when my friend bought a tape called “Dirty German” at Spencers. It was an “educational” language tape that only had the translations for slang and curse words. Pretty damn cool when you’re 13, and tellingly some of it stuck.
scheisse = shit
fich dich = fuck you
elle grossen balcon = she has big boobs (literally big balcony)
OBVIOUSLY this wasn’t going to get me very far, at least with out getting punched in the face first, and I quickly became aware of how alien the language felt to me. Off the plane, walk to customs and on the floor is “Bitte Abstand Halten!”. I felt like the floor was yelling at me. I now know that it simply means “Please keep distance”, and very soon all my notions of German harshness fell to the wayside.
07/08_Berlin Day 1
Having my first bier at Georgebrau in a cute little “old town” in Berlin. I think it’s called Nikolaiviertel. Nice pocket next to the Spree river, but judging by all the English being spoken around me, a true biergarten this ain’t. I am completely a stranger in a strange land. For the first time in a while, I don’t get SHIT! I can’t read or say any of the words, and to be honest it makes me feel like a douchebag. I want to have polite, basic conversation skills, but just…don’t. Walked around today, and learning Berlin’s history from the street level was cool (went to the Berlin wall and Checkpoint Charlie), but still don’t quite get it. An interesting thing I learned from my informative cabbie from the airport last night was that Berlin has the highest Turkish population outside of Istanbul (not a fact, just cabbie speak). Sebastian (I think that was what he told me his name was) said after the War most of the men in Germany had been killed. So the fragile Soviet and Allied compromise know as Germany for the decades after the mid 1940′s invited folks from friendly nations to emigrate in. Tax free and dreamy (heard this before). The influx was heavily Italian but mostly Turkish due to an age old relationship with the Ottaman empire (“like the relationship between Massachusetts with England” in the words of Sebastian). Apparently Berlin is the birthplace of the doner kebab, and the new regional dish is the curry-wurst (basically a hot dog with a slathering of ketchup, little bun and drizzle of curry powder). Who would’ve thunk it.
Pretty much walked around aimlessly today. My first experience was walking past a half mile stretch of squats. (This became a theme but…) I was surprised. I have no idea what the story of Engeldamm Strasse is (across the bridge from our hotel), but it felt like Y2K era west Philly. A good 20 minute walk past vans, cars and cabins that were obviously squatter’s homes. To the left were brick buildings which seemed in disrepair but inevitably had beautiful gardens all around. There was a makeshift sign outside one of the buildings that read “Tourists. No pictures, no problems”. This was my first clue that the Berlin young cool class are squatters. I hate the word hipsters, but the young hip in Berlin seem to express themselves with tattered black denim, “stray” dogs and living in abandoned buildings. At first I thought that this was an unbelievable residue from the punishments placed on Germany after WWII, but eventually I figured Berlin chic is Squatter Style.
Anyway, saw Check Point Charlie and the longest stretch of the Berlin wall today. Started to awaken my curiosity about the times before the Wall fell. Walking passed the Berlin Wall has a certain weight to it. Heavy with history. Looking forward to learning more about life here.
First part of the shoot over, I have 7 days to get from Venice to Berlin. Freedom to what ever the hell I want in between. At this point I just want to drop my bags in some fishing village and spend the time sunbathing, drinking local wine and eating the catch of the day. Renting a car and driving to the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia seems like the jam. Alexa got in today, and we charged into vacation life. After a balcony picnic overlooking the Adriatic, we hit the beach. In Lido they have this thing I’ve never seen before. Its fucking awesome, especially for a man-child like myself. For 15 Euro an hour you can rent these paddle boats WITH A SLIDE BUILT ON TOP! So you just paddlepaddlepaddle past the small breakers and have your own person water slide into the sea. Add a bottle of prosecco, and you got yourself a hot date.
Finished the night by taking the vaporetto over the lagoon to Venice proper. Dinner over looking the Grand Canal, an evening stroll in San Marco Square, and we were feeling the full charm of La Serrisima. San Marco square is one the more breathtaking places I know. Yes there is an unavoidable Disney aspect to it, with hawkers selling their weird light up “toys”, hordes of tourists and over priced cafes, but it was easy to imagine the hub bub around me must have the same energy its had since the hey-day of Venetian culture way back when. I’m sure even when Napolean came here to conquer and fell in love, there were guys selling crap, victorian visitors dressed in their finest holiday-wear, and certainly the competing mini-orchestras were battling for the open air audience.
Make a long story short, we never got to Croatia. Or Cinque Terre. Or got a car. Or had that relaxing week. Amidst financial woes between the two of us, the reality of being in Venice (or Lido for that matter) during the high season was an expensive and difficult trial. No cars to rent for less than a fortune and few hotel rooms to be had. After a couple days trying to escape via car, we had to accept the fact that we were “trapped” in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Bums in paradise. We ended up spending the next couple nights on Lido but in a different hotel, Villa Edera. It was closer to the port (to avoid the 15 Euro cab from the port to Hotel Petit Palais), in the main part of “town”. Still over priced, but a cute building seemingly attempting to be in the french style. They have a good breakfast (from which we would poach enough bread and cold cuts to feed us for the day), and outdoor patio that is a nice place to have a beer, stress about what to do the next day, or simply people watch in the warm evening air.
We took turns cheering each other up, and did a good job of making the best of things. In the end, we were still in Venice, and didn’t need to have money to enjoy it. Pictures are free, strolling is free and window shopping is free. Prosseco was cheap, and luckily we enjoy sharing food. A gem of the time, and something I would highly recommend to anyone, was the sunset we watched from the Lido dock. It’s up there with a sunset ride of the Staten Island Ferry for top cheap dates on earth (if you don’t know fellas, you should find out). We got a bottle of $5 prosecco, grabbed our cameras and watched the sun dip down over the Venice skyline. Lido looks back directly west over Venice proper and with the bubbley wine, orange glow and lapping waves its a pretty damn pleasant time.
We eventually decided we had to get the fuck out of Venice. It was sucking dry our already meager savings no matter how basic we lived, and we’d pretty much reached our fill of what Venice had to offer on the cheap. A bartender acquaintance back in NYC told me once he went to Verona on a trip and found it was his favorite city in Italy. So we decided that was the next stop. Short train ride from Venice, and I hoped off the expensive tourism grid. We were only there for a short time, but Verona was indeed a nice place. Best city in Italy….ummm I don’t think so. But quaint nonetheless. It was almost equally packed with tourists, and pretty much as expensive as Venice (goddamn high-season!!), but at night the medieval streets go silent aside from small groups of voices ricocheting off the brick and cobble stone, and the orange light draped in patches over the narrow walkways is idyllic. Being the home town of Juliet and having the historic basis for Shakespeare’s ode to star crossed lovers is the major draw here and you can wedge yourself amongst the crowd in the very courtyard under the balcony that Juliet famously implored “Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo…”. Again my favorite moment comes out of the Poor Man’s Guide to Romance. Verona is home to the third largest Roman colosseum remaining, and one of the best preserved. It is still the venue for many big concerts, and in the summer they still do an opera ever couple of days. We walked passed around sunset, and seeing the dressed-up opera goers asked a scalper how much tickets were on a whim. They were more than free obviously, and therefore out of our budget, but we found a little cafe tucked just under the colosseum walls. Over wine and pasta we chilled in the outside area listening to the opera’s beautiful lyrics echoing up and out of the open air arena. The best seats not in the house.
I was determined to get to Milan. Alexa wanted to go see the fashion center, and it was basically the next stop after Verona, so I figured I could make it happen. Honestly I had low expectations of Milan. I figured it would be like Soho in New York at best or Rome minus the history at worst. The “hour and a half” train ride on the local Trenitalia shit-box version of a locomotive ended up taking over three hours, so our short trip was cut even shorter. I think we were in Milan for 3 hours, and we both agreed that was enough. It was actually surprisingly cool in parts, but not a place I was looking to stay in at that point in my journey. The Duomo there is awesome. Like a Notre Dame on crack. And the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest/coolest mall around. One whirlwind circle, and Milan…check.
Just like that, and a week goes by before you have time to savour it’s highlights. My flight to Berlin was out of Venice Sunday night, so we made our way back to Lido Saturday night, and stayed in our old standby Villa Edera. It was bittersweet since I had to fly out that night, but in those last hours during my Italy stint we did the only thing that had been missing all along. We relaxed. That Sunday afternoon, we stopped by the local market. Grabbed prosciutto, bread, melon, a bottle of prosecco, and headed to the beach. You have to pay to sit on most of the beaches in Lido (a la Jersey Shore), but the piers are free, so we joined the other locals on the cement strip and set up camp. At about $13 we shared a picturesque brunch I’ll never forget for its simple perfectness, and spent the rest of the afternoon laying out on the warm rocks. Heaven.
Arrivederci Italy. As I write this (didn’t take many notes at the time, so from memory), its funny how the stress and anxiety of a vacation gone awry shlep off. As with most things in life, in hindsight the bullshit sheds with time, and the good times rise to the top. I’d say if I was in Venice with a fortune to blow, I don’t think I’d do it much different. Maybe splurge on a gondola ride. Each voyage has its own unique learning experiences. Anyway, next stop Berlin. Up, up and away.
As our ferry from the bus depot churned past Venice on the way to our hotel, I instantly fell in love. From afar the island is gorgeous collection of ancient buildings cobbled together on an enchanting, albeit fragile, land-raft in the sea. A Venetian on the ferry told me the buildings were different colors because back in the day the fisher men would return home from the day’s hunt wasted and need to know which house was theirs. Venice is obviously millennia past it’s time as a fishing village, but maybe I’ve finally found my answer to the difference in colors of houses in the third world to the grey-ness of most major metropolises. Passing Palazzo Ducale, I got my first glimpse of the crushing hordes of tourists as even from a few hundred feet I could see the wandering herd of sight seers taking in the Doge’s Palace exterior. Even so, I was drawn in. The view from the ferry reminded me of an establishing shot from Star Wars. An alien city with decaying beauty in the background and a myriad of ships zooming or chugging about around us. Vessels from paddle-powered rafts to sleek yachts shared the waterway in some mysterious synchronicity. For all it’s Disneyworld-esque annoyances, Venice is an ancient example of my favorite kind of towns. Crossroad of the world (in it’s heyday), nexus of cultures, port-o-call extraordinaire.
6/28_Lido di Venizia
Our hotel is on a separate island from Venice proper, and I have found my haven for the next time I’m back in the area. Lido is a narrow strip of land separating Venice and the surrounding islands from the Adriatic Sea. At points you can look to your right to the Adriatic and to your left the lagoon that surrounds Venice. The 5 mile long stretch of beaches are covered in a grid of peculiarly uniform cabanas, eliminating any sense of seclusion, but even that creates a feeling of nostalgia. Between the cabanas, lack of english spoken, and common ages being the retired or high-school aged, I get the vibe that this is the Jersey Shore of northeast Italy. Not the “Jersey Shore” of Seaside Heights, but the Shore of my childhood. More like Avalon than Wildwood. This sleepy oceanside stretch seems to be where middle class families go in the summer for a week with all the kids and have vacation. There isn’t much going on here, at least not near our hotel, Hotel Petit Palais, but I like it. At night after the last restaurant shuts, all there is to do is enjoy the waves lapping up, cool darkness and which ever company you happen to have. I love my room over looking the Adriatic, and have consistently had happy moments when I turn over in bed at dawn and see the big sun bubbling up from the water outside my window. I keep meaning to take pictures, but fuck it. To watch the sun breach the horizon of an infinite sea, and then curl back to sleep is one of the finest pleasures on earth.
6/29_Last days in Venice
The short week in Venice/Lido has been pretty damn cool. As much as I hate crowds and cheesy tourists spots, Venice is undeniably magical. We’ve been shooting in the most heavily trafficked parts of La Serenissima, and I’m consistently surprised by the little pockets of dreamlike beauty. It’s a running joke, but every time we come to a bridge (which is about every 20 feet), it’s another picture-esqe view. Gondolas drifting past, couples kissing, ramshackle buildings perched precariously on the little canals’ edge. It’s high season and all, and I shouldn’t be surprised, but the lack of real estate and expense of living on this island creates a vacuum for a chill, cheap place to eat drink or be merry. Don’t get me wrong, you will eat, drink and be merry, it just won’t be cheap. I think my favorite spot was Osteria Doge Morosini in Campo Santo Stephano . Don’t know why. Just another place we had lunch at, had a spritz and seafood salad. Probably not there for more than 45 minutes. It had personality that other places on the island didn’t. Can’t explain it, but will go back if I return to Venice. I hope to.
Venice’s history and the architecture/art that comes with it is mesmerizing. Home port to Marco Polo, major stop for the lucrative spice trade, home turf for the insanely rich and a unique culture for a time. An ancient power house that controlled trade for a few centuries and reveled in its greatness long after world trends had passed her by. Venice danced herself into decay. I can’t help but think about the fact that all great civilizations decline, and wonder how much longer the US of A has at the head of the table. I suppose I can only hope our prestige is equally preserved and revered as it is here in La Serenissima.
Tomorrow starts our off week before Berlin. I’m honestly exhausted. Looking forward to Alexa landing, good cheap meals, romantic days and thoroughly enjoying La Dulce Vida.
Thanks to another assignment with EF, I am being shipped to Florence, Italy. This work trip will be more epic than normal, as I’m facing a month abroad with the added weight (literally and figuratively) of lugging my work crap through 5 or 6 cities, and 2 countries. I am incredibly excited on a personal level, but have no small amount of anxiety about the trials I might face work wise.
6/24 (I think…)_Florence
Amidst the flurry of the shoot, I’ve found time to sit in the park across the street from our Hotel (Mediterraneo). I’m at what has become our favorite spot, the “Snack Bar”. Its pretty simple. A little purpose built, octagon kiosk along a park path, with the Arno river flowing down an embankment. They have snacks (I think), ice cream cones maybe, but most importantly a full bar. The birra grande are cheap and flows from the taps pretty late into the evenings. After a day working in Tuscany’s summer heat, nothing feels better than plopping into one the surrounding plastic patio chairs, and taking that first sip of Nastro Azzurro off the tap. As usual the work is long and physical, but the company is great and Florence’s sites are charming as ever.
Had an interesting conversation with our local guide last night. We were lucky enough to be in Florence for the night of the celebrations for San Giovanni, Florence’s patron saint. The firework display was hands down the best I’ve ever seen, but the guide lamented to herself that this was such a waste. Even in their difficult financial times, she told me that Italy consistently and stubbornly displays it’s glory in the form of firework competitions. I had no idea that there was such of thing. She assured me that there were major, international fireworks battles every year, and Italy makes an annual showing. The country is always a front runner, but for all it’s effort inevitably takes second place behind China. Thanks to political and economic controversy, Italia has been battling to stay in the EU over the past few years, but the government makes sure they put on a world-class fire cracker show any chance they can. We laughed about the a poignant metaphor. The simple, hard to articulate observations of travel.
A rain storm as vibrant and passionate as the italians themselves just rolled in and everyone scurried for the closest shelter. Beers, cigarettes and espressos expertly swept up in the melee, and after an instant of panic, everyone resumes their relaxed air of “la dolce vida” under a tree or overhang. I like Florence. Cosmopolitan and distinctly urban Italia without the abrasive aspects of downtown Rome. Unfortunately, the rain has kicked up the mosquitos, which apparently LOVE me, so I’ll have to cut this short and flee to the hotel. The 20 minutes of “vacation” much appreciated, but back to work.
6/25_Osteria Santo Spirito
A fun round-about, spontaneous coincidence occurred tonight. I’ve been to Florence before in ’06, on my first, life altering backpacking trip through Europe. Florence was pretty much a layover for me, between Barcelona and Rome, and I remember being less than enamored with Italy (sacrilege I now know). The highlight of Florence way back then was the first meal I had in Italy. Dinner at a small place, in a lively piazza, where I remember vividly my first experience with “al dente”. ”So this is what pasta is supposed to be like!”, I remember thinking. It was sublime. Tonight, as we wandering the winding streets south of the Arno, I began to develop a feeling of familiarity. I had had this feeling before during this trip, but never truly believed I would stumble back to this spot, especially since I didn’t really remember exactly where it was. In one of those kismet moments of rambling, we came down a construction torn street, and into a tucked away piazza. I looked up and had a rush of nostalgia. Piazza Santo Spirito was in front of me, the setting for my first night in Italy. It was like seeing an old friend. The osteria was still there, and business must have been kind to them. The formally sleepy little joint was bustling with patrons. We sat upstairs, and had an amazing meal. I went for the rabbit, a noted difference from my strict veggie diet last time I was here. Everyone left stuffed and happy. We grabbed a few beers, drank them on the fountain in the square and enjoyed the ambiance of an italian piazza during la sera. Reunited! Glad it’s still here.
Day trip to Siena. Cool town. On paper touristy, but even now in the high season, don’t feel inundated. We are here a couple days before Il Palio, and I feel stupid for never hearing about it. It happens twice a year (July 2 and August 16th), and sounds like the craziest and most unorthodox horse race on earth. Something like 50,000 people pack into the piazza and watch this few minute, maniacal race. Its pretty fucking crazy, look it up. Need to jot down La Torre. Just off the tourist epicenter of the Campo, is this unassuming trattoria. No frills, seemingly run by one extended family, simple and amazing. The hole in the wall room has a woman in front cranking out hand made pastas in what looks like a normal grandma’s kitchen. The male members of the team scurry about the small dining area and take pasta orders. There was a menu outside, but the waiter pretty much told us what we were having, and I’m not sad about that. After an onslaught of thick, fresh cut prosciutto and melon, the tagliatelle that landed in front of me was unforgettable. I was (and still am) amazed that there is a place so close to the tourism center but so authentic and simply marvelous. In all aspects it felt like I was getting a home cooked meal, and fucking delicious at that. In the midst of the souvenir kiosks, kids on school trips and overpriced cafes, to be taken to a place like this was an incredible treat. I’ll never forget La Torre.
Enjoyed the time in Florence. Exhausted on a bus northbound. Port of call; Venice. Stoked. Never been, but looks pretty. All I know is what I’ve heard. Tourist hell, but stunningly beautiful. We shall see. Florence done, nap time.
Ok, maybe a little over dramatic in that title, but I can prove travel lets you live LONGER. No one in their right mind would argue against the countless positive effects of travel. Vacation, exploration, a healthy broadening of one’s world view. All great things for the soul. Like having a dog, these things improve lifestyle, but are intangible and won’t tell you how many minutes of extra life you get. I believe the Theory of Relativity proves bouncing around as much as possible literally slows down your life clock, adding a countable amount of time to your life.
I’ll try to get through the boring stuff quick. Ok, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is obviously confusing for us mortals, but after reading some books from Brian Greene a while back, certain aspects kind-of stuck. The one I’m talking about deals with the idea that time is relative (aka personal). He says everyone, and everything, experiences time slightly different.
Remember when Doc talked about the “space-time continuum” in Back to the Future, whelp turns out its a real “thing”. One of Einstein’s breakthrough thoughts was that Time and Space are one connected thing, with inverse affects on each other. Basically, Time and Space are having a tug of war and Energy is the rope. The more Energy-rope Space has on it’s side, the less Time does, and vice versa. Specifically, Einstein said the faster you move through Space (the more energy Space gets), the slower Time will go by (the less energy Time gets). He theorized that if a guy and girl synchronize their Swatches on earth, and the girl blasts off at the speed of light for a round trip around the earth, the girl will return to the guy her Swatch considerably behind the guy’s.
I know what you’re thinking. ”Ok asshole, ‘traveling speed of light’, blasting off into outer space? You are a bored nerd, and that has nothing to do with real life.”. But here’s the fucked up part. After Einstein was dead, we starting developing more technology to test this stuff. In ’71 two guys flew atomic clocks around the world that were synced with other atomic clocks on the ground, in commercial airplanes like the ones at JFK. When they checked the clocks after the flight the eastbound clocks had ticked by slower, adding time to anything on the flight (the stupid spin of the earth makes this not work as well going westbound). Another thing this experiment proved was that the higher up one is (less gravitational pull), the slower time went. Here’s an article from just 2010, where they prove the height part, and mention the plane tests.
SO! Enough of that. Here is my thought experiment. The more you travel, the more and faster you move through space. Just walking down the block, according to the theory, your time is moving a slight bit slower that someone standing still. Of course these are SUPER tiny portions of time, but I say what the hell. Every time you get on a plane and fly you just earned maybe a fraction of a portion of a bit of a nanosecond, but a fraction saved is a fraction earned right? All things being equal, the Rambling Man gets more time than the Stagnant Fuck, no matter if it’s arguably small. Every flight, train ride, road trip, adds to your “Time Account”. You climb a mountain? You get the benefit of moving through space, AND being higher up from the gravitational pull for a bit; both time-slower-downers. Hop a flight to the moon with Branson, and you’ll get Direct TV and WiFi, plus you’ll be gaining serious minutes in your life. That beats Frequent Flyer points for sure. Not only is traveling the world fun, but turns out it slows down your clock, literally. If you never stop moving, and the faster you move, I believe you are earning more Time according to Einstein. And if Einstein said so, it must be true.
Ponce de Leon famously searched the New World for some abstract “Fountain of Youth”. He died without success, but if only he had been born a few hundred years later he would’ve found what he was looking for. All he needed was to travel at the speed of light. Dummy.
Meet me at the bar and we’ll talk about it.
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