Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prague Pub Crawl

Put together a middle-aged English couple, two American college men, and a young Irishman. Throw them into the heart of Prague and introduce them to Ivan, a sex-crazed, beer-loving Czech tour guide. Allow him to take them off the beaten path, to the authentic pubs in the furthest corners of the longest alleys. Serve them the real beers for a cheap price, watch them get merry with no other foreigners around.
This may not be E=MC squared, but it’s certainly an equation for prime memories in the heart of East Central Europe. Braeden and I hopped aboard the pub crawl with low expectations—a guided beer tour, on a Tuesday night… mehh, this could go either way. But appropriately enough, it has been the peak of this entire 7-week experience, right at the halfway point of my Studying Abroad.
With Ivan leading the way, spitting quips such as “Ireland’s weather is like a woman. Every 30 minutes, it changes its mind. Four seasons in one night.” His eye followed every girl who passed, ensuring us that the age of consent was 15. But it was his youthful personality that really broke the initial awkwardness of the six strangers coming together.
In all, we took the back roads to five bars, trying something new at each stop. We began with a 3-course Czech meal chased with Pilsner-Urquell, the most common Czech beer. The conversation was a highlight of the evening as well, because we all have different backgrounds and perspectives. Kevin from the UK elaborated on the British royal family, I told them about Barack vs. Hillary, John from Ireland spoke about the Northern Ireland conflict. Oh, and Kevin may have made up my mind about traveling to Barcelona. He’s been a lot of places, and Barcelona is his favorite (or favourite, as the bloke himself would say). Their accents were bloody brilliant. Maybe that’s actually what convinced me to pursue Barcelona.
Not before long, we ventured to an Absinth bar. I’ll allow these visuals to tell the story.

Here’s the group, minus John from Dublin. Ivan’s at center, Lisa and Kevin from Bristol, England at right.


The bartender prepares our fiery absinth shots.


I am actually going to put that into my body.

This seems like a good idea… John, Braeden, and me.


Post shot, sucking on the sugar. Thank God for sugar.


The licorice flavor is nice, but I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION.


Kevin and Lisa even had a shot apiece, but cold rather than hot. Lisa, who only drinks wine, loved hers but still needed some water to rinse the flavor.


I didn’t see any green fairies, but afterwards I had to get traditional Czech street vendor food. It’s exactly like Wheel Pizza back home, served by busty and beautiful women. And damn, is it ever delicious.



On the walk home, we got surrounded by tiny prostitutes, offering themselves annoyingly and not backing down. “But I have a girlfriend,” I lied. “She would be so upset with me.” “Girlfriend, pthbb! No girlfriend!” The rest of the conversation reminded me of “Full Metal Jacket”. You know… “Me love you long time! Me so horny!” except slightly more unique and offensive; these girls definitely own an English thesaurus. I actually paid the girl 20 crowns (less than 1 Euro) to disappear. Funny enough, that was her asking price to begin with. So yes, I drank hot absinth and paid a prostitute in the same night. She even forced a kiss on me before running off. Maybe she can buy a street hot dog with it.

Three nights ago, our English friend Anneka asked me to instinctively tell her my favourite city that I’ve ever experienced. Don’t take two seconds to think. I said Seattle.

Two nights later, that has changed. Prague by a landslide.

In one more night, it may change again. Amsterdam, anyone?

We stink

We stink. It’s no surprise. But with five days to go, it’ll be curious just how rank we smell upon rolling into Paris. Stupid me, I didn’t pack soap or shampoo, only face wash. My mentality is that wherever I stay, a fun-sized shampoo bottle or miniature soap has my name. But not hostels. Fortunately I mooched off Amy in Switzerland, and Braeden and I share a bathroom with a young couple in these apartments, so unbeknownst to the girl across the hall, I’m stealing a dollop of shampoo for each shower. Hand soap works just fine as a soap substitute. Thankfully, my face is cleaner than Rudy Giuliani’s Mayoral agenda.
This scenario reminds me of soccer camp in seventh grade. Kevin and I both forgot soap and shampoo for an entire week of physical, aggressive, sweaty activity. Three practices a day, 90-degree heat, and only the dorm water to rinse us off. And that was puberty… imagine the stench.
But, our present situation hasn’t stopped the women here from Czeching us out. Seriously, women love making eye contact here. I think they’re all hoping “Maybe he’s the one…” as they walk to school or work. “Are you my soul mate?” their eyes ask. It’s like that picture book “Are you my mother?” with the little bird asking each animal if he or she was its mother.
I believe at the end of that book, the bird found its mother. Mom, I’d love to find you. If you come looking for me, can you bring some shampoo and soap? Kthanks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dilemma

Traveling country to country has been a treat thus far; once we're in Paris I plan to stay relatively still. I have already axed the idea of going to London, both for financial and time constraints. Still, however, I was hoping to make it to Barcelona.
So here's the debacle: I still may be strapped for time and money. But I can probably squeeze a 3 day weekend into a Barcelona excursion. The cons are that I come home with next to nothing, or have to limit myself a just a bit more in Paris (which is fine). I also would love to spend lots of time just relaxing in Paris, but as of now, only one whole weekend is dedicated to leaving, and that's for a class trip to Brittany and Normandy.
The pros of Barcelona are that I get to use my Spanish (and even experience the real Barcelona dialect, Catalonian. And I feel as if saving Barcelona for the future--if I ever get there-- my Spanish would be somewhat lost. The investment is that I'm already on this side of the pond, and it may only cost 200, 250 dollars to see it now. In the future, it could mean thousands of dollars to puddle jump for the experience.
I guess any advice is predictable. It's likely that I'll wait until Paris to make the decision, plot out my weekends a bit more, and see how much time I anticipate with that behemoth city. OK, back to Prague. I've got a pub crawl to attend.

The Devil Loves Praha. I do, too.



Well, we haven't wasted any time here. Shortly after last night's entry, we met up with the 5 other KU students at their hostel for a quick rendezvous; they're onward to Berlin now.
Today has been exhaustingly satisfactory. Prague is gorgeous; when it opens up to the river across the various bridges, it has this Manhattan feeling, but this transforms as you encounter each individual neighborhood. It's got a marvelous big city air, but isn't congested or closed off, nor blocked away by skyscrapers. There are parks, commercial districts, historic districts, everything. We explored the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town, New Town, Mala Strana--we did good! Tonight we plan on an organized pub crawl, and tomorrow a potential Ghost Tour. There's still a lot on our checklist to see.
Everyone is friendly, and I might go as far as saying Czech women > Swiss women > Italian women > American women. Some Czech women have that serious, hard Slavic look--a few can pull it off--, but others are completely breathtaking and aware of themselves; it's a shame the language is so difficult to comprehend. The words sound like a cranking engine, and they pronounce consonant patterns differently than we. Gross. I like the Latin languages better.
But I must admit; I love this city. It's a shame my time here is nearly half used up.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Wasted Day

As yesterday hinted to us, we should have left Geneva a day earlier. Essentially, an entire day was lost footing it around the city, seeing nothing new but a large open park or attempting to feed orange rinds to water fowl. What a waste! Back at the hostel, we passed time with foosball and watched every single global news story on CNN, before switching it to a French-dubbed “My Super Sweet 16” on MTV.
The remaining day’s theme was “getting lost and waiting”, but not the kind of lost that I enjoy getting. First we checked into the wrong terminal, but it also meant saying farewell to Geneva, which covered for our misdirection.
Upon arrival in Prague, we took the 119 bus straight into the city, as per our hostel’s directions. Immediately exiting the bus, we knew that little time separated our tram’s departure, so we skirted down the stairs along with the three dozen other patrons. Seneca and his Stoics would be upset; we should not have followed the crowd. As it would turn out, we were getting on the metro, not the tram. We figured this out 5 minutes into the ride, jumped off, and headed back to the first stop. Thirty minutes lost.
Then we found the correct tram station, hopped on when it arrived, but found ourselves going the wrong direction from our hostel once again. When we came to the final stop (22 stops away from our destination), the driver kicked us off, propped his feet up, and let us back on 15 minutes later. By the time we came to our real stop, we had lost another hour.
So, here we are, just checked in, and the hostel is amazing. It’s actually a studio apartment, with complementary beer, a dishwasher, a washer/drier, a double bed and pull-out couch… everything. Things are already looking up. But it’s 11:30 at night, and perhaps the best thing is to get lost in a good night’s slumber before departing upon this supposed gem of a city first thing tomorrow. It has been a long, pointless day—frustrating at that—but I’ll leave it to Prague to butter me up.

Oscars


15 for 24... not bad. However, 8 of 8 in the main categories, including 2 or 3 very up in the air races. And I could have copped out at chosen Ratatouille for Best Animated Pic, when it was the clear favorite, despite not holding a candle to Persepolis. Sorry, I'll avoid getting political on ya'll. However, I'm very thrilled for Marion, Tilda, and Diablo especially. Wish I could have seen the show, but YouTube will be a help.
Talk to you in or after Prague.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Real Characters

Anneka tugged on my shirt sleeve as I boiled noodles in the hostel kitchen. Freshly checked in, she couldn't get her door unlocked, a problem we encountered upon our own arrival. This is actually ironic for Anneka, as she has spent the past two years backpacking around Europe, living in hostels; this is her first time in Switzerland, however. She thrives on traveling alone, meeting strangers in hostels and sharing stories or perceptions. She couldn't believe that i've never visited either US coast. I couldn't convince her that traveling our one country is very different than traveling her entire continent.
Anneka is from Manchester, UK and is 22. She hates having her photo taken (case in point), and loves Americans. She has never been to America, but dreams of going to New York, Boston, LA, and San Francisco. Americans are her favorite people, and she's actually kind of annoyed about being English. It's tragic, because she hates her amazing accent, marveling at our own dialect. I'd trade accents with her any day of the week.
We spoke at length about her perceptions of Americans, our perceptions of the Brits, correcting stereotypes, basically shifting the conversation from random strangers to long-lost friends. Things got a little awkward after Anneka went into tipsy mode, so we sent her on her way. But it wasn't before I felt grateful for having met her. I actually like this hostel thing. It'd be different-- more odd-- if we had random roommates, like how Anneka was rooming with a 40-year old Chilean man. But then again, she lives for this. When she runs out of money, she returns home for a month, working toward her next excursion. Then... she's off. Her favorite place? Barcelona. She's convinced she'll move there when she's ready to settle down. But she seems remarkably addicted to this lifestyle, so I'm not sure even she herself sees that day on the horizon.

If life were a Swatch, ours would be stalled

OK, Geneva. You're really pretty, you have a great personality, and you're also kind of rich. But things aren't working out.
I'm totally happy that we came here, but we're definitely overstaying. Today was good, as we saw the International Red Cross Museum and took a boat cruise around Lake Geneva, but Braeden and I still have most of tomorrow to kill time. Geneva is stunning, very opulent--too much for us--and completely clean and friendly. But we all feel stagnant, like we could have gone to Prague a day earlier--tonight would have been perfect. I don't envy the other crew for leaving so early, but I think we're leaving too late. Prague will be a nonstop site seeing trip, whereas Geneva has been about winding down. And all shops, banks, groceries... they're closed on Sunday! This town, excepting tourism functions, was essentially dead today.
My legs feel dead, too, for all the walking we've done. I'm a fool if I live near campus and get a parking pass next year.
We may have to find these Italian kids tomorrow and ask to pass time with them. Looks like they're creative with makeshift games. This went on for about 20 minutes as we waited for our boat.



Oscars tonight. I'm feeling blessed for this Internet connection, as it'll tell me first thing in the morning who walked home victorious.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Geneva Conventions

Today was a speed-tour of Geneva, as 5 of our 8 had only this afternoon to explore before flying to Prague. Having made our way past to the UN headquarters (second most important after New York… so not actually the headquarters?) where we took a photo with some friendly Filipinos, and the botanical gardens (in full February bloom, not) we at long last found the Jet D’eau shooting blissfully into the pure Swiss sky. In fact, it shot off all afternoon, so we captured it from nearly every angle.
We all indulged in some marvelous Swiss chocolate and crepes, moseyed toward Old Town and climbed atop St. Peter’s church for an overhead perspective, and I often got caught staring at the numerous Swiss beauties waltzing the neighborhoods. Honestly, Swiss women put their Italian counterparts to shame. Their stony blue eyes are hauntingly hypnotic, matching the cloudless sky.
Those of us remaining—Braeden, Amy, myself—are looking to catch a boat tour or rent bikes in the coming two days. We’ll have to be a bit creative since we saw so much already, but it will be a refreshing pace at which to tread.




Friday, February 22, 2008

Feeling Neutral in Switzerland

Bonjour! No more Italy. It's a sad, strange thought. As soon as I am finally used to the general phrases, customs, people of one place, it's time to pack up and move.
I promised few summary posts, but since I'm stealing a wireless signal from my hostel and will be moving around so frequently, I figure any update is worth it.
The train ride through the alps was neat. iTunes movie rentals let me watch "The Day After Tomorrow", which made the 7 hour ride a bit more tolerable.
But Geneva is neat. We have a lot to see and do yet, but it's only been a few hours. We had some delicious Swiss fondue for dinner and sat out by Lake Leman hoping the fountain would shoot off. No luck tonight. But we know it's running, so we'll have to save the world's largest fountain for an upcoming day.
Sitting by the river was reminiscent of last night. A few of us went out for a nice last meal in Florence, and then drank wine while dangling our feet over the Arno River. It's sad to leave such a warm place, but the time was right. We even stole a view from atop the duomo yesterday, pointing out all the sites we have experienced within Florence's boundaries. What a terrific perspective.


My first hostel experience is alright. Everyone is so friendly; I worry my Midwest politeness isn't even up to par. It's odd sharing a bathroom with women and men. I felt awkward after going #2 and emerging to find women washing their faces. Oh.
Sorry for that blunt honesty. I feel that's how the Swiss would say it, too. They seem very abrupt. But also passive. We made a guy stop his car as we crossed the street today, and he waited until we were all across the street to honk angrily. Quite passive, no? But predictable, I feel.
I'm able to practice some French, of which my knowledge is "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?", which might actually make me some friends in the Red Light District here. Imagine my reaction when I see this young girl, thinking "she's really cute, but she looks trampy wearing that pink corset thingy"... and then noticing that she's standing by a building labeled "Sex Center". Oh.
But, everything else here is alright. Neutral, I suppose, as the Swiss like it. We're going to be creative with our remaining days. I enjoy getting to know a place over a few days, like we did in Sardinia. We're here a few days with little agenda, which is the complete opposite of Prague. Hoping this wireless internet signal holds strong the entire duration... my stomach may have a harder time holding, with all this chocolate and fondue floating inside. The ladies in the bathroom had better get used to me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Done first, and first, again?

Wow, I was done with both tests first, before any classmates. Reiterating that this does not mean I knew the material best, but rather I wasn't as ill-prepared as I originally thought. I'm positive I secured my B in Western Civ. I could not have pulled off an A regardless. And since I'm on track for a B in Art History, I'm content with my standing in that class as well. Having received a high A on my equally-weighted presentation, I think I'll be A-OK. Or B-OK, rather. Certainly glad I only studied for 2 hours cumulatively rather than 10 or 20. Glad it's all in the past.
Time to say goodbye to Florence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The real final exam

Well, aren’t I quite the procrastinator? Things I did today instead of studying for the two most rigorous tests of my college career (which take place consecutively tomorrow morning):

-Said goodbye to Heather this afternoon. We ate lunch at the Oil Shoppe, which I have put off all semester. It was delicious, as promised. Then she took me to a hidden gelato shop, which was the best I’ve had locally. How we overlooked it, I do not know. Saying goodbye to Heather was pretty hard for me, as it’s been a blessing that she’s here, and that we can escape our programs together. Part of me feels as though I’m abandoning her. But she’s fortunate to do more traveling, and to spread it out over more weeks. I’ll miss you, HeathBar.
-Cleaned the bathroom. I took the shower curtain down, and went to town on the 6 weeks’ culmination of mold and mildew. I scrubbed at the tub, removing evidence of our 5 daily showers. Ciao, grime.
-Distracted the girls upstairs with my homemade popcorn. Going upstairs to their apartment makes me feel like Ross, Joey, or Chandler visiting Phoebe, Rachel, and Monica (“Friends” reference for all you lame ducks). I pop in, we make a few funnies, and I bounce out when I’ve distracted them too much. I’ll miss that uniqueness in Paris.
-Made this sweet collage detailing only a few of my Italian accomplishments:

-Complained about studying to my roommates for a good hour, without actually having studied. But they expect us to study for these killer exams (we took one today), move out of our huge apartment, clean said apartment, pack all of our belongings by 230 tomorrow to ship our large bags, and then be out of town by Friday morning at 9 for 10 days of travels? Plenty to complain about, thank you.
-Got a kebab from Darvish next door. Darvish has compensated Wheel pizza for me as of late. And kebabs are so sinful. They’re cheap, they fill you up, and they have practically every food group! Makes me miss Pita Pit.
-Read two Paris guidebooks, and began plotting my triumph over that European epicenter. Also scanned some Prague, Amsterdam, and Geneva travel tips. Gotta make the next 10 days count!
-Fell asleep with my legs in the air for a few hours. Man, this week really caught up to me.

I just can’t justify cramming as much information into my head as they have expected us to do. There’s been a serious lack of communication between the teachers, Accent program, and the students. I’m going to perform very poorly tomorrow, and for some reason I do not care. It’s sort of an internal protest, one that will cause my teachers to shake their heads when they look at my test results.
Regardless of my grades, I still saw thousands of Renaissance masterpieces this semester. I still traveled to the coasts of the Mediterranean, navigated the Grand Canal of Venice, got lost in the Eternal City, lived in the cultural hub of Europe. No B or C on my transcript can change that. What parts of this trip will I remember for the rest of my life? Saying goodbye to Florence is the real test here, and I honestly believe my peers are failing at that. I pity the fool who wastes his final hours with note cards.
I’m going to go finish the Juno script. Oscars are coming up, and I’ll be a failure if I haven’t read the frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay.

Happy Golden

Happy Birthday, Caitlin. I have loved our long skype conversations, and wish I could be there to celebrate with you. I'd even pay for your movie ticket.



Miss you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Insignificant Tests

It's kind of stupid how our last days in Florence are spent as the most rigorous days possible. Couldn't we have a few days after our exams to pack up and move away, go out for one last hurrah? I haven't been paying attention in class this week. My mind wanders for personal reasons, but I also see the absurdity in everyone cramming for the tests.
First, let me ask you this: is it important to your life if you have to slam all that information onto note cards, sacrifice your waning Italian hours memorizing it, only to forget it two days after you take the exam? No.
Second, what do you want to do with your life? Unless you say "teach art history, western civ, or european studies", then the majority of this material is crap. You take what you need. You remember what is significant to you. Cramming and taking a test doesn't better your outlook on life or even your job outlook. NO EMPLOYER PAST YOUR FIRST ONE (save professional schools) WILL EVER CARE ABOUT YOUR COLLEGE GPA. When I was a film major, I struggled with most of the classes because they weren't providing me with practical, useful information. That's why, even though I don't dream of going into the PR field, I love my journalism classes much more. There are few tests, and much more emphasis is put on application and integration for projects. You remember things that way, and have something to show for it.
I don't give a moldy turnip what Galileo or Machiavelli or Aristotle said. I have loved many portions of this class, primarily because of the professors, but lately the subject matter is unaffecting. Busy work. Same with art history. I loved giving my presentation on David and Michelangelo, and seeing all this history and culture is a thrill. But why test me on the last names, mediums, dates, eras of dozens of sculptures and paintings? It's garbage to me. And frankly, if I walk out of Europe with all B's, or even a C, I won't once regret it. I'm here to enjoy my time, to find myself in a foreign land, to remember noteworthy things. If it's important, I'll remember it without writing it down, without drilling it into my head 40 times from a flash card.
So, ladies and germs, 99% of life is unimportant.

Alone in a country catering to the pair

Italy is a very romantic country, and I imagine France won’t slack in that department either. Everyone seems to be wrapped around a significant other; people don’t shy away from displaying their affections, be it walking arm in arm or sucking major face publicly.
This experience would be entirely different if it were spent with one special person. I see couples traveling everywhere, perhaps on honeymoons or weeklong getaways, and I grow a little green on the inside. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the 24 people with whom I make company, but it’s a different story when we’re essentially forced to occupy the same schedule. I don’t find it conducive to healthy traveling, trying to accommodate 7 or 8 preferences in a weekend excursion. I have few complaints about the camaraderie, but there is no denying the appeal of doing this with one other person—somebody who doesn’t play it by the book but still has an agenda.
I remember back to Seattle 2005, and how that trip was almost ruined because the five of us couldn’t decide on touristy things. Sometimes our group here must split up to accommodate everyone, lest the day be ruined by indecision. Traveling aside, I can’t help but wish I had that companionship more often than I do. I have never had what I call a serious girlfriend, although I do feel well educated in that arena, having so many female friends to fill the void.
Seeing so much shared love here just makes me ponder the future. It’s always been a challenge for me to commit myself to that bond, because I fear for the sacrifices it would lead to with other bonds, to other opportunities. But eventually, I’ll need to make that sacrifice, and trust it will pay off. A bigger piece of me, though, fears for my loss of alone time. I enjoy being alone, because I am not lonely. It’s comforting to depend solely on myself, and something holding me back from any true relationship is that it means depending on another person, and being depended on. It’s frightening for me, that my actions and decisions are so important to another human being—that I can hurt her, help her, redirect her life. Obviously I read into things too deeply, but I’m incapable of reprogramming that feature. I just feel that I have it most together when I am alone, thus why I cower away from any affections—even the clearly transient ones.
Here’s to hoping somebody, sometime, somewhere in my destined road knocks me off the beaten path. She had better be a master of her craft, because it’s going to take a lot. And she had better want to make out ferociously in public, because I’m going to rub it in your face when I finally have it.

Real Characters

Daniela is one of the Accent program coordinators at our study facilities. Her job title is “Housing Coordinator”, but she does so much more.
Daniela is a lifelong Florentine, loyal to her home base. She accompanies our group on daytrips, rolling her eyes behind the tour guides who knock Florence. Seriously, every Tuscan town hates Florence, which goes way back to the Renaissance. Florence has lots of political and cultural influence, which is why it has blossomed into such a treasure. But in Pisa and Siena both, our tour guides would rag on Florence, nudging Daniela in the side. She won’t be convinced, though. To Daniela, Florence is the greatest place on earth.

Daniela seems to know everything. She helped us purchase train tickets for the first time, answered interview questions for our presentation on European Family Evolutions, and points us in the right direction any time we’re lost searching for a new discovery. Daniela is boisterous, and a little restless. She hates being late, or dealing with such large groups (we’re easily distracted as a whole). But her loud, Italian voice rings in your ears when she addresses you, and you can’t help but feel lucky to have this jovial, authentic resource at your fingertips.
I’ll miss seeing Daniela biking around Florence, or shrugging her shoulders at the ridiculously American things we manage to do. As we itch and scratch to go on spring break and leave Florence, Daniela is content being here for the rest of her days. She is a loyal soul, ever proud of her roots. I admire her dedication to the community and to the students. It’s made a large difference in our enjoying this place, and I can’t help but think that if Daniela is on the Florentine side of this “which city is superior” debacle, then the answer is obvious. Firenze!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oscar predix

This is mainly for Caitlin. Hopefully I don't get last place this year? Do I actually have "Transformers" winning as many awards as "No Country for Old Men"? Wow. I love years like this... like last year. Lots of unpredictable, close races. Particularly in the two actress categories, and adapted screenplay. I don't know that the "No Country" screenplay was that spectacular; instead the follow-through was amazing. "Juno" should be an original screenplay lock, as well as Day-Lewis and Bardem in the acting categories. "No Country" should be OK in Pic and director. But Actress is a 3-way between Christie, Cotillard, and Page. My gut says that Christie, the frontrunner, won't get it, although I loved her. Cotillard's seems the most demanding.
Additionally, supporting actress is a 5-way race. Blanchett started with momentum, but Ryan and Swinton gained steam, Dee won the SAG, and Ronan could pull off the Marisa Tomei surprise.
So, these aren't all the frontrunners, but rather my gut choices.

BEST PICTURE
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

BEST DIRECTOR
Anderson -There Will Be Blood
Coen Bros -No Country For Old Men
Gilroy -Michael Clayton
Reitman -Juno
Schnabel -Diving Bell and Butterfly

BEST ACTOR
Clooney -Michael Clayton
Day-Lewis -There Will Be Blood
Depp -Sweeney Todd
Jones -In the Valley of Elah
Mortensen -Eastern Promises

BEST ACTRESS
Blanchett -Elizabeth the Golden Age
Christie -Away From Her
Cotillard -La Vie En Rose
Linney -The Savages
Page -Juno

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Affleck -Assasssination of Jesse James
Bardem -NoCountry For Old Men
Hoffman -Charlie Wilsons War
Holbrook -Into the Wild
Wilkinson -Michael Clayton

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Blanchett -I'm Not There
Dee -American Gangster
Ronan -Atonement
Ryan -Gone Baby Gone
Swinton -Michael Clayton

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Juno
Lars and the Real Girl
Michael Clayton
Ratatouille
The Savages

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Atonement
Away From Her
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Beaufort -Israel
The Counterfeiters -Austria
Katyn -Poland
Mongol -Kazakshtan
"12" -Russia

ANIMATED FILM
Persepolis
Ratatouille
Surf's Up

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Assassination of Jesse James -Deakins
Atonement -Garvey
Diving Bell and Butterfly -Kaminski
No Country For Old Men -Deakins
There Will Be Blood -Elswit

ART DIRECTION
American Gangster -Max
Atonement -Greenwood
The Golden Compass -Gassner
Sweeney Todd -Ferretti
There Will Be Blood -Fisk

COSTUME DESIGN
Across the Universe -Wolsky
Atonement -Durran
Elizabeth the Golden Age -Byrne
Sweeney Todd -Atwood
La Vie En Rose -Marit Allen

MAKEUP
La Vie En Rose
Norbit
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

FILM EDITING
The Bourne Ultimatum -Rouse
Into the Wild -Cassidy
No Country For Old Men -"Roderick Jaynes" (i.e. The Coen Bros)
There Will Be Blood -Riegel & Tichenor

VISUAL EFFECTS
The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Transformers

ORIGINAL SCORE
3:10 To Yuma -Beltrami
Atonement -Marianelli
The Kite Runner -Iglesias
Michael Clayton -Howard
Ratatouille -Giacchino

SOUND MIXING
Bourne Ultimatum
3:10 to Yuma
Ratatouille
No Country For Old Men
Transformers

SOUND EDITING
Bourne Ultimatum
Ratatouille
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Transformers

SONG
"Falling Slowly" Once
"Happy Working Song" Enchanted
"So Close" Enchanted
"That's How You Know" Enchanted
"Raise It Up" August Rush

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
No End in Sight
Operation: Homecoming
Sicko
Taxi to the Dark Side
War/Dance

DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Freeheld
La Corona
Salim Baba
Sari's Mother

LIVE ACTION SHORT
At Night
The Substitute
The Mozart of Pickpockets
Tanghi Argentini
The Tonto Woman

ANIMATED SHORT
I met the Walrus
Madame Tutli Putli
Even Pigeons Go To Heaven
My Love
Peter & The Wolf

Gifting

My anticipation has ceased. Tracy's package arrived in the mail, just as I was worried I'd miss it. A few weeks back, she surprised me, saying that I should watch the post for something special.
Ripping into the large envelope revealed an "I Spy" book. Tracy has a knack for things like that... she knows what kind of reminders a person needs. Whenever we're both home in Sioux Falls, Tracy and I escape to Barnes and Noble for an "I Spy" race. This entails silently scanning each page to find all the hidden clues. The first one finished gets a point, and must prove where each thing is hidden. At the end of the book, the one with the most points wins. Usually, it's her.
It arrived at the perfect time, too--right when I needed a spirit boost. It's ironic that I wrote about being disconnected from the rest of the world in my previous post, because yesterday I needed to contact home more than anything and never got through. This whole excursion to Europe has been a gift from another blessed person, one whom I feel I don't contact enough or thank enough. It has made me think about gift-giving in general. I'm not sure any birthday present or Christmas gift has ever made me more happy than a spontaneous, unpredictable gift. Actually, I abhor buying presents for obligatory reasons. They're hardly personal, and most often impractical. We're reading about Martin Luther in Western Civ, and I was asked to observe the part where he suggests abolishing all feast days and festivals. He thinks that they ask for unnecessary celebrations, and that they detract from the Sabbath. I think birthdays, Christmas (the commercial element), Velntine's day... they're all silly. We don't need one day or one designation to make us grateful. Why should we celebrate life's offerings once a year, and always at the same time?
This "I Spy" book is probably one of the best gifts I've received. And I know this trip to Europe is undeniably the greatest gifts ever given to me. I need to seriously reconstruct my outlook on giving gifts, because I'm not sure I've ever given somebody that warm feeling that both of these individuals--Tracy and Gramma--have provided me. And all from sharing a selfless gift. Bless you both.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Changing pace, and changing my name

Being away from the Internet for three days is a challenge. I come to rely on email for communication, particularly when I don’t have a cell phone. But this weekend was a vacation, even from stressing about my worldly disconnect. No studying, no art history tours, no western civ. Just Kelley, Jill, Braeden, me, and the Sardinian coast of Alghero.
Alghero looks a lot like Florida. There are palm trees reminiscent of giant pineapples, white sandy beaches with joggers, dog walkers, divers. Little hairy dust balls collect against the coast; they were foreign to us, but looked like kiwis. Everything was different, especially from the Italy that we have inhabited.
Even in February, we found it desirable to sunbathe on the beach. The 60-degree weather was slightly chillier than ideal, but the sun still poured down, no cloud in sight. People walked by in fur coats and jeans, staring at us as we crept into the cold water. Hey, we’re from Kansas, so 60 degrees and sun means beach time. People may also have been staring as Jill and Kelley attempted tri-pods and handstands in the sand, or as we drank Morettis and cocktails watching the sunset, but this was our break. This week, we will hit the ground running with midterms, one final, cleaning, moving, more travels. It didn’t matter that we turned a few heads; we were there to relax.
And everyone was so polite! Traffic stops to let pedestrians cross; Florence drivers wouldn’t spare a second for foot traffic. Restaurant owners bend over backwards for their customers, our hotel was more than generous to us, friendly passersby stop for small talk, and dozens of canines come to your feet for a cheerful greeting.
The most unique part was climbing down the hundreds of steps into Neptune’s Cave, seeing one of our planet’s beautiful, natural creations. Stalactites everywhere, water-filled caverns, and a sea-level view of every shade of blue… it was the icing on a cake of a weekend.
And how dare I forget the bowling alley we found on the first night? Bowling! Dad, I think I’ll be up for a few games when I’m home; it was more fun than I remember. The funniest part was telling the owner our names as he programmed them into the system. “Adam”, I said. This resulted in him typing “Erold”. And Erold it was. Braeden has had difficulty sharing his name with Italians, so he simply said “Bob”. This became “Pab”. Kelley shortened her name to “Kel”, which he mistook for “Kal”. But he redeemed himself with “Jill”, perhaps because she was laughing too hard and he made her type in her own name. So there we are, bowling next to a group of Vicenzias, Allesandros, Valentinas, Paolos, and Fabrizios… just Erold, Pab, Kal, and Jill—Americans on vacation, making fun of it all.




















"Kiwis"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The La Chat burn

So the La Chat guy's name isn't Vince. Nor is it Ismot, which we swore he introduced himself as. In fact, it is Imran (like the book in the Koran). And I am very very upset with him.
Paying for Internet as I go has not been a treat. Especially because Imran is so terribly bad at math. I have now lost about 5 hours worth of money to him, because he always subtracts my hours from the wrong column.
And last night, I actually yelled at Imran. I lost my cool, because I am fed up. Screw the language barrier, screw his jovial "Ciao, Adam" every time I walk in the door. He is taking my money, I will take him. He has been OK about not making us pay on the spot; instead we can accrue some debt and we always get him his payment upon our next visit. Next week though, I am running up a tab, and running out the door on Thursday. He owes me a good 10 euro, and my blowing up at him last night did not make the matter any better. If anything, I showed the other Americans that they need to watch out for scam, but I was also proud of myself for defending my wallet. Usually I am so passive, and frown on people who are aggressive with money or space. I have seen hundreds of demanding people like this, having worked at a nice restaurant for four years. But there is a time and a place, and when I am being scammed out of my money, the time and place is at La Chat in Florence, Italy, cerca February 2008.
Another perk to this: Imran aways looks over our shoulders while we surf the Internet, trying to be part of our lives as we skype our parents and friends, or he makes us watch obscure YouTube videos of cricket games and (un)funny animals. At least now he knows not to bother me. Can you tell how perturbed I am?

Off to Sardinia for the weekend... and the forecast is sunny! Updates may be spotty next week, with midterms, packing, cleaning, and moving. But I promise I won't disappear, unless Imran sends his mafioso after me for stealing precious Internets.

Prefer Mapquest?

Google Maps really is the best. They have this thing called "street view", where you can look at your destination from the street's perspective. They're slowly adding destinations so I can't yet spy on my Sioux Falls home, but I did spot my old house in Lawrence, and even checked in to my summer residence in San Francisco.
Type in an address of a big city or metro, and if a photo comes up on the map, you can click it for a 360 perspective. This could help creepy cat burglars, but I still find it fascinating. I think Lawrence has been documented because the creator of Google Earth went to KU. According to Google Earth, Lawrence is the center of the world. Fitting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Incite-ful banners

In a distant post I explained the meaning of my blog title. “The Inciting Incident” is a term in story writing that describes the moment the real plot unfolds. Generally, the first half hour of a film is background material. It builds to the inciting incident, which sets the story in motion. A character introduction, the death of a loved one, anything dramatic or contextually relevant… there is always an inciting incident.
One of my favorite parts of this blog is designing the banner across the top. I try capturing scenes that may serve as inciting incidents in my own life—essentially this entire study abroad experience is an inciting incident. Telluride was an inciting incident. College is an inciting incident. San Francisco will be an inciting incident. Sometimes I may stray from this—it used to be a painted picture of a fish eating a pizza—but imagine the story behind that visual? I bet it’s an inciting incident in a fantastic tale. I can't justify the Lindsay Lohan one, nor the black and white eyesore. But I had fun making them... maybe their creation was some sort of inciting incident in itself? One that taught me to create more relevant banners in the future?

At any rate, feel free to leave feedback on the banners as they come and go. Here’s some upcoming ones, as well as those previous used.
I’ll keep an eye out for some good shots, so keep refreshing your browser. You never know when you'll be hit by an inciting incident (generally, in real life, it takes more than 30 minutes of waiting).







Old ones:







My entourage



Who doesn’t want a friend like Carmen Sandiego? She travels the world, she travels through time, she’s a complete mystery. We know little about her youth; her pillaging has minute justification, but I’m certain it’s there. I have always wanted a Carmen Sandiego movie series to pop up... a female James Bond franchise, if you will. Imagine it: we see her in her childhood, discovering where she picked up her skills to steal things so adeptly, and why she’s always on the run. It’d be a character study, not an action movie a la National Treasure. And who could play Carmen? Cate Blanchett? Tilda Swinton? Kate Beckinsale? Mmm, endless options. Somebody option this franchise, please.
My generation grew up with Carmen. There were board games, tv shows, computer games, Rockapella CDs. Not only was it educational and fun—history and geography lessons interspersed with crime, a sexy villainess, and evil henchmen—but it was phenomenal how Carmen could steal so much and always get away with it. I asked a few friends at the Tower of Pisa, “How do you think Carmen Sandiego got away with stealing that thing?” Or Mount Rushmore? Or the Grand Canyon? And where does she hide it all? How does she transport it? So mysterious, so wily, so many questions unanswered. For this, I must have Carmen in my entourage. She’s definitely someone I’d want on my good side, but because she’s such a puzzle, I’d like to get to know her. You know, fill the missing spaces, and discover who the beautiful human being is underneath that giant red hat.

The song that defined it all:



Posse talk:
Me (on the phone): Carmen, are you coming to Billy’s birthday party?
Carmen: I’ll probably be late. I’m getting him something big. He’ll love it.
Me: What are you getting him? Carmen, where are we going to put it? Tell me what it is. Where in the world are you?
Carmen: You don’t think Peggy would mind if I brought a piece of her family to Billy’s party?
Me: OK, for reals, Carmen, you cannot steal the Guggenheim. Get your candy ass back here and stop trying to show up the rest of us. I got Billy a bottle of wine, Peggy got him a writer’s kit, and Mika is performing at the party. Why not get him something less conspicuous?
Carmen: Like Ellis Island?
Me: (click)

Previous inductees: Mika, Billy Collins, Peggy Guggenheim

Meet the cast

Collectively they are Kill, or some days Jelley, but every day Kelley and Jill make life just slightly more interesting than the norm.
A little background: they met in the dorms freshman year, and have been best friends since then. To help us get acquainted better over our first weekend, the girls presented one another’s “10-minute histories”. This proved how well they know each other, and gave us some very insightful facts: we learned that Kelley’s dad loves her very much, or that Jill used to iron her hair (with a real iron) until she got a burn on her neck.
It’s crucial to understand that Jill and Kelley have history, or else you’ll think they’re flat out weird. Their twin beds are pushed together; they sleep separately, but literally right next to one another. They never divulge personal information about themselves, but rather about one another. You can’t predict when the one’s tongue will slip, giving everyone else collateral on the other. And oh, we have collateral.
So many stories accumulate when you hang out with Jill and Kelley, and they’re all accidental. Like how we’ll be on a train, and some creepy woman is sitting next to Kelley, staring at her. Kelley says audibly “this creepy woman is staring at me!” We have to remind her later that the creepy woman may very easily know English, and that the angry glares she continued may have had something to do with that. A week later, at a restaurant, Kelley asked the waiter for sparkling wine. “Sparkling, you know, sparkles” (insert glittery hand movements). We had to remind Kelley that the waiter did not likely speak English, and if he did, “sparkling” was probably not in his vernacular. “With gas?” he spit out after a minute of Kelley’s jazz hands. “Yes!”
They don’t look at things inside the box. If a hot girl walks by, Jill will ask you “If I’m a 10, what is she?” I love that. Or “On a scale of 1-32, how good am I at being a human? Or with fashion sense?”
The two truly define selfless friendship. To me, that’s what stands out most. For only having two and a half years together, they go to every length to help one another. Money, food, sickness, school, anything. One asks, the other gives, always reciprocated. Even with the larger group, Kelley and Jill are very open about sharing belongings, helping people out. They ask you questions, and are genuinely interested in the response. A lot of people on this trip struggle to get past small talk, but Jill and Kelley skip right over those insignificances. They’re in your face, divulging details, eliciting details. That makes it easy to travel with them; passing time is never difficult, although getting a nap on the train can be, with all their boundless, infectious energy floating around.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Group photo

I'll write about Jill and Kelley soon enough in the "Meet the Cast" segment, but one of their funny quirks is their constant banter they give one another. When Kelley struggles to get out of bed each morning, Jill jumps into this little pose that throws Kelley into a giggling fit, forcing her on her feet.
It has now become the obligatory group photo whenever we travel together. Strangers have actually stopped to take pictures of us as we pose for our own photo.
Ta-da!