This week, I started an Italian language course which has really been helping me settle in. My pidgin Italian is starting to develop some structure (for 'structure' read 'actual verbs instead of grunts where verbs should be') and I'm a lot more confident in dealing with people now that I have a better idea of what they're saying.
Something I'm discovering is just how much you can learn a lot about a country from its insults. For example, one of the worst insults you can throw at someone in Italian is Cornuto, which means "cuckold". You'll hear this a lot in football games, Arbitore Cornuto! ("The Referee is a Cuckold!"). The other major insults include "ugly" and "homosexual". There are loads of other, smaller ones, but these three - 'cuckold', 'ugly', 'homosexual' - are the ones that are likely to send an Italian into a rage and are usually saved for when someone has really pissed you off.
Maybe it's the armchair psychologist in me, but I think this says a lot about the insecurities of Italian people.
Similarly, you can also learn a lot about a country from its advertisements. From what I've seen here, most ads seem to revolve around crime. For the most part, the 'crimes' are innocent enough. Like the TV ad that has a woman driver pleading with male driver to let her take his parking spot. She shows him her broken shoes, puts on her best puppy-dog face and the guy lets her in. Once she's parked, she gets out of the car in - wouldn't you know it? - perfect shoes.
But they're not all so cute and cheerful. Adidas recently launched a shoe that has interchangeable gel pads in the soles. These come in all sorts of designs and aren't really taking off here. The print ad shows a guy hiding from the police while quickly swapping his gel pads for ones of a different design.
And of course, there's the other major source of advertising inspiration: sex. At worst, back home, these hover around the 'saucy' end of the scale. Here, they're positively explicit. Here's an example:
It's for a water park in Rome, but it took me ages to realise there was a water park in the picture too. The caption says "Slide with me" although, to me, it will always say "Come to aquapiper and you'll get to have sex with me!"
(My favourite part of the ad is the "Bambini Gratis!" down the bottom, because the rest of the ad doesn't make it look like somewhere I'd want to bring a child.)
For a nation that loves its carby, starchy foods, they really don't have a great handle on the whole 'bread' situation. They've got the giant loaves sorted out, which is fine when you want something big and crusty to dip into soup or for mopping up the tasty, tasty juices on your plate, but average day-to-day bread is a mess. These guys are the cornerstone of western civilization yet they haven't figured out that a loaf of batch is like manna from heaven? And normal sandwich bread isn't much better, far too small and far too sweet to be of any use to anyone. I'm feeling like Nigel Tufnell in Spinal Tap.
Back home, street-sellers have posters of things like Scarface, Trainspotting and Bob Marley. Which gives us a good glimpse into the mindset of youth culture in Dublin - fascinated by drugs and trashy drug-related movies. Here, they sell posters of uh... Bud Spencer movies. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the Bud Spencer/Terrence Hill movies and when I was younger, I loved The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid, so I'm not really complaining. Just confused.
Granted, I haven't looked very hard, and I'm sure that over the next three years, I'll eventually find some Italian music that I love but right now I've had it up to my fuckin' harbls with crappy power-ballads. Less Zucchero, more Jovanotti thx.
I've never lived somewhere that had people actually still promoting fascism as a viable political option. Before I came here, I never heard anyone proudly describe themselves as a fascist. All the other things - the bread, the music, the pictures of Bud Spencer's giant face grinning out at me from the side of the street - I can get used to these, with enough time. I hope I never, ever get used to hearing someone proudly describe themselves as a fascist.
On my first trip here, I experienced what I guess I'd call a sort of temporal dissonance. I was in a taxi, heading up the Gianicolo towards my hotel. The Gianicolo is a hill that sits in the south-west part of the city, meaning that from the top, you have a perfect view of historical Rome on the one side, and a fantastic view of the Vatican from the other. Now, maybe it was just the jetlag, but sitting back in that taxi, I had an of out-of-body experience: I realised that I would soon be living in Rome, a place I always thought of as almost fictional, a mythic place where all the history happened. The rational part of my brain decided this was my only chance to feel overwhelmed by the city before I would have to get on with day-to-day life, and so I sat back, reeling at the weight of it all.
Strangely, this is the only time I have felt this way. Now, I'm cutting across St. Peter's Square - a magnificently opulent, overwhelming place - on a daily basis and only when I'm halfway across do I gain any sort of awareness; holy fuck! I'm cutting across St. Peter's Square!
I'm blaming this on everyone's favourite scapegoat: videogames. When we first visited the Pantheon, I wondered what was up on the second level of the building. In my imagination, I saw a dark place, filled with wooden crates, lever-puzzles and bad guys with Uzis. But hang on a second... Wooden crates don't actually exist in the real world, not really. They only exist in videogames as containers for ammo and/or health. And bad guys with Uzis? Jesus. Then I realised, I had seen the inside of the upper levels of the Pantheon. Or, at least, a Pantheon. In a videogame. (Tomb Raider perhaps?) And in the end, a tiny part of me was disappointed by the actual Pantheon because I didn't get to go exploring all its dark corners.
Gears of War has affected my experience of Rome more than any other videogame. The look of the game, the so-called "Destroyed Beauty", was heavily influenced by Romanesque architecture. For the most part, the game takes place in wide streets flanked by marvelous, oppressive buildings and everything in a massive state of disrepair. Well, this being Rome, there's no shortage of Romanesque architecture. Or wide streets. Or marvelous, oppressive buildings. But there's more to this than simple generalities. On Via Nazionale, there's a building whose long, winding entrance I would swear is the direct inspiration for the Fenix Mansion part of Gears of War.
A couple of minor breakdowns aside, I think I'm finally starting to get a handle on life in Rome. I'm not exactly homesick, just finding some things really hard. The language barrier has been a lot more of an obstacle than I was expecting. And combined with the distinctly unique Italian way of doing things (which I'm sure I'll complain blog about in due course), I've found myself struggling just to get some stability.
But the stability is slowly arriving. I'm learning my way around, and I finally know where the essentials are, like the supermarket and launderette. I'm even starting to cope with the weather. At the beginning, I would head out and arrive home in a horrible, sweaty mess. Now... well, it's not as bad. I've just been observing the Italians and seeing all the little things they do to deal with the weather. Like not leaving the house between the hours of 12pm and 4pm. Under any circumstances. And always walking in the shade, even if you have to cross a busy street to do this.
There's another huge factor in coping with the heat: pace. Last week, I was out walking when Toots and the Maytals started playing on my iPod. With this, my pace dropped to a slow, relaxed strut (I challenge anyone to listen to Broadway Jungle and not feel like the baddest motherfucker on the planet). Strangely enough, this change of pace helped a lot, the heat wasn't as much of an issue. That's when I noticed that the Italians walk at a similar pace, and with a similar strut although theirs seems to come naturally.
Did you know that, despite being on the north side of the Liffey (where the odd numbered post-codes live), the Phoenix Park is actually in Dublin 8? And it's not for the reason you might think. Thus spoke Wikipedia:
"There is a very simple, practical reason why the Phoenix Park is in Dublin 8 and it has nothing whatever to do with snobbery but with practicality.
Long before there were postal codes the James's St Postal Sorting Office looked after the Phoenix Park because it was considered to be closer and more convenient than Phibsborough (Dublin 7). James's St continued in this role when the postal codes were introduced so Dublin 8 it had to be."
This interesting fact courtesy of a 20-minute argument in Morelli's chipper on Thomas Street that almost ended in a fist-fight.
Some things are still up in the air. When we land in Rome on Sunday, we'll be going into temporary accommodation until we can find somewhere to live. This means that when the movers come on Friday, they will be taking all of our stuff and putting it into storage until we give them a call and say "Yes, we are living at this address now, please bring all our worldly possessions to us." And since we don't know when we'll actually have a place to live, this means that we might not see our stuff for anywhere between two weeks and six months.
So right now, I'm hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
What does that mean? Well, it means that I'm reassessing everything I own and think "can I live without this for six months?" While everyday clothes are cheap and easy to replace, I have to think about all the possibilities. I should bring formal clothes, because there will inevitably be some function where I will be required to scrub up nice. So that's a no-brainer.
But what about the other stuff? Movies and games? There's no way I can live without those.
This is a tough decision. I'm totally addicted to my Xbox 360 now, and what better way to keep in touch with my nerdy Irish friends than by kerb-stomping them over Xbox Live? And what better way to maintain a sense of accomplishment than increasing my gamer score? But as much as I love the 360, it's far too heavy and takes up far too much space for me to bring on my own. It will have to come with the movers.
I've decided to only take my PlayStation 2 with me. I've dumped the boxes for the games so that the actual disks are in a couple of CD wallets and I'm bringing my PlayStation 2 in my carry-on luggage. This means that I'll at least have a couple of games to play when I get there (Final Fantasy XII, God of War 2).
We're taking a Macbook, so we'll have something to watch DVDs on. But what DVDs? I've got a CD wallet especially for movies, and now I have to decide what I should fill it with. This isn't an easy task. I mean, how do I decide what movies to bring? How do I predict my tastes and moods for the next six months? I realise that there are people who could fit their entire DVD collection in one of these 72-disc wallets, but there's a reason I have as many DVDs as I do - I'm a fussy, temperamental little shit.
And this leaves us with a little thought-experiment: if you were moving to a foreign country and you could only bring one DVD, one game, one book and one CD with you, what would you bring?
I have to say, I'm more than a little disappointed by this news. Double-crazy double-K was always always good for an entertaining quote. Almost everything out of his mouth was like something from a megalomaniacal supervillian - things you can almost imagine Ming the Merciless shouting at people. The best Kaz Hirai has given us so far is the embarassing "RIIIIIIIIDGE RACERRRRRRRR!"
So here are some of my favourite Ken Kutaragi quotes:
_"It will be expensive ... for consumers to think to themselves 'I will work more hours to buy one'. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else"
_"If processors of high performance and wide bandwidth like the Cell were linked together without sufficient security, a worldwide system crash could occur with one attack."
_"The PS3 will instill discipline in our children and adults alike. Everyone will know discipline."
Well, apart from the high-definition graphics (very important in a game like this) and the way it's an easy 500 achievement points, there's one very big reason why I got it: the Guitar. It plays beautifully, it's based on an Explorer and it's USB.
Naturally, I plugged it into my Macbook before it even went near the 360. OS X recognised it, but the 360 controller drivers from Pref360 didn't work. No worries, it was only a matter of time. Well, the new version of the Pref360 drivers adds support for the Guitar Hero controller.
So now I can play Frets on Fire on my Macbook, which is fantastic. But I really want to see if this can be used as an input controller for Max/MSP or Processing. Then the fun can really begin.