Sunday, April 25, 2010

Parliamo Italiano? Espanol? Deutsch?

Question: if you were fluent in 5 different languages (and we’re talkin' totally fluent), what would determine which language you would speak in at a given time? With the Swiss, they are all proficient in a number of languages, so I am wondering which ones they choose to speak in, and why? I overheard a couple of different conversations when I was there, and it seemed like they switched through languages at random. As I really have no idea what it would be like to be so amazingly multi-lingual, I’m curious as a kitten about how it works. What language do they think in, dream in? How are they taught so many languages as babies? Jeez, how do their parents do it? Hmm, tricky business, these childhood geniuses.

Italian trucks

Every time I pass an Italian truck I can’t help but giggle. Anyone who has seen one knows what I’m talking about: they are so tiny that they don’t even need 4 wheels. So I feel justified in saying that they should not be referred to as trucks so much as covered tricycles. Seriously, my 10 speed mountain bike is bigger than one of them. And taller, too. I don't think that I could fit into one to save my life, but it must be possible. Maybe I could special order one with a sun roof that I could stick my head out of. It's something to ponder, in any case...

Thursday, April 15, 2010


At first, my spur-of-the-moment trip to Parma was a bit of a disappointment: I was hoping to catch a Parma Panthers game, tour a Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese factory, or watch an Italian 'football' game at the very least. But when I showed up at the tourist information booth I was doomed to failure: apparently it was the off season for football Americano, there were no football Italiano games scheduled that weekend, and you needed to schedule a cheese tour 4-8 weeks in advance. 4-8 weeks! That one caught me off-guard: isn't Italy famous for last-minute adventuring, I wondered?

It turns out that there's more planning involved in Italian touristing than I'd anticipated. However, being the resourceful young sprite that I am, I decided to make my own tour. I started by gorging myself on Parmesian cheese straight from a street market that I discovered, to be quickly followed by handmade ravioli in a cute little riverside ristaurante. After that lovely heart-attack inducing morning, I happened to pass by a sign pointing me towards a theater (the Theatre Farnese, which the tourist guide had suggested in an attempt to ward off my crushed expression). I changed course and headed towards it, taking the sign for what it was: a sign.

And oh, what fun times were had! There is one inarguable perk to traveling in the off-season: I was the one and only tourist inside the theater that day. Little did the smarmy receptionist know that it was a huge mistake to give me free reign over the place. Did they really think that a little portable fence would keep me out? OH no, that only made me more determined to go into the rafters and check the view from there. Of course, you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that I’m a complete thieving troublemaker: my heart was pounding from the moment that I decided to jump the fence to the moment I returned to the right side of it. Sure, it wasn’t enough to stop me, but it’s got to count for something, right?

Slowly I realized that although this was an originally an ancient theater (as I'd assumed it would still be), it was rebuilt in the 1950s. Which is of course a detail that the receptionist neglected to tell me before I paid my five euros to see it. In fact, I didn’t get around to reading the little informational plaques until well after I’d decided to break all the rules. I spent the first 20 minutes wondering at how new everything looked, and suspiciously eyeing the wooden rafters.

At first I assumed that they still held events in the theater, but after hopping the fence and treading along through an inch of accumulated dust I realized that I was the first to walk down those aisles in a long time. At some point I decided, "screw it, I’m already breaking the rules: I might as well go all the way up!" So I jumped up the curiously steep stairs, finally reaching the first tier of balconies. I spied a rickety wooden staircase along the back wall, so I headed up it quickly, before I lost my nerve. It was not at all the kind of staircase that I would expect to see in a famous theater; it looked like it would be more at home leading up to a hayloft in an old barn in the Midwest. The stairs were again very steep (a fact which I failed to fully appreciate until I came back down them), and were made of plain unfinished wooden planks. I reached the top, glanced around the dusty floor, then walked up the very last set of narrow wooden steps to the top balcony of the theater.

There was absolutely no furnishings on this floor, further solidifying my impression of an empty hay loft. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but this was not it. I almost just turned and walked back down, but then impulsively walked to the edge and looked down. It was amazing. The rebuilt wooden areas gave the room a warm feel, and the original stone walls and floor added that mysterious aura that seems to pervade Europe like a fog. I could almost see the ghosts of figures dancing and singing up on the which point I realized it was time to get out of there before I rounded the last bend into insanity.

The return trip to ground level was no easy feat: there were no hand rails on the wooden staircases, and what had seemed “a bit steep” on the way up now looked like a suicidal descent for an established klutz such as I. My mind briefly revisited my trip down from the highest temple in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the last time that my legs actually refused to follow the instructions from my head. Somehow I made it down without acquiring too many more bruises, and I was back on the main floor innocently reading an informational plaque when the receptionist popped his head around the corner to check up on me.

The moral of my story? There's nothing like a rich, dairy gut-bomb and a little rule-breaking to spice up a mini-adventure.


Don’t you hate it when you've just sat down and gotten nice and comfortable, and then you realize that you need something that happens to be on the other side of the room? Then there's the eye-twitchingly irritating outcome when you finally muster the energy to drag your ass over to get it, only to find that what you needed was actually right next to you the whole time. Yeah, that’s my life. In my humble opinion, lazyasses just aren't shown enough sympathy these days.

An Interesting Night at the Opera

During my last week in Torino I decided to hit up the opera. I'd wanted to go at some point during my trip, but that point kept getting pushed further and further off, until my last week came around and I had yet to go. Unfortunately I couldn't convince any of my friends to join in the fun, but I wasn't too worried. Even with my dubious Italian skills I figured I could muddle my way though the plot of a slow-moving play. It's all in the visuals anyway, right?

Well, it was not exactly what I pictured it to be to say the least. The name of the play was Idomeneo, and all I knew of it going in was that it was going to be performed with Mozart. I figured, you can’t go wrong with a Greek play and classic music, right? Well, the old Teatro Regio got very creative with the plot of the original story. The opening scene was of an older man leaning over a fairly large fish tank, then throwing several objects into it. In the next scene I assume we were now looking at the perspective from inside the tank (judging by the air bubbles on the walls and enlarged objects). The objects thrown in were a car, a TV, a bed, and a Greek column. Lying on the floor were about 20 people wearing togas. Then in walked the main characters; a woman wearing a rhinestone-studded dress and a man with a plastic-covered suit. That’s right: the suit was covered in a giant, thick, plastic-bag-like layer. Why? Even long after the opera has ended I still have no clue. All I know is that they sure didn’t break the bank with the clothing budget in this one: everyone was either wearing bedsheets or plastic bags.

The first 30 minutes or so looked more or less like your average Greek tragedy: two people fall in love, but can’t be together for some Italian reason unknown to me, so they each threaten to kill themselves. The bubbles certainly mixed it up a bit, I have to say. The crowning glory was when what looked suspiciously like a 1970s Chevy was lowered onto the stage full of togas. I've always said that the opera could use a little horsepower to spice things up. (And who says the world doesn't value American-made cars?) After that a TV was added to the fray, complete with bunny ears. What these two things had to do with a Greek story evolving in a fish tank I cannot even begin to fathom. It was quite entertaining to speculate, though. My final analysis is that the director of the Teatro Regio was on mushrooms when he interpreted this play.

Of course, I had about a snowball's chance in hell at figuring out what was going on, but at least I wasn’t alone. One of the little old ladies sitting next to me (the place was chocked full of them) said more than once that it was “Impossibile! Troppo strano!” Whew- it's always good to know that I’m not insane, or have been slipped some kind of psychedelic drug.

At the end of the opera I still had no idea what I had just watched for 3 hours. So naturally I was a bit curious. As soon as I got home I looked up a synopsis of Idomeneo online, and what do you know? It actually was a greek tragedy. There was no mention of fish tanks, chevies, or TVs at all, which only goes to show that one should never indulge in illegal substances on the job. Che strano!