Friday, March 11, 2011

Gondoliers, Venice

So I don't care how touristy gondoliers are considered to be, but I love the aesthetics that they add to the city with their striped shirts and hats. 

Carnivale di Venezia (part two)

On Saturday morning at about 5:20  I got up to  meet my friend Edith at 6:15, Romolo station, from there we took the metro to  Central Station, to catch our train to Venice departing at 7:25 with the rest of our friends. The plan was to spend the day and party through the night and return on the train which departed the next morning at five.

We were informed to be there early to find seats, and good advise it was.  By 7:00 the train was full but there was still passengers entering. By departure most coaches were filled with people standing, and as we stopped at other cities on the way, it filled up more. Like sardines in a tin people stood together as more passengers squeesed in making it impossible for anyone to move anywhere. 

As the train filled up, people eyed us lucky ones with seats with discontent, the levels of discontent rising as the corridors of the train gets fuller and fuller, making the air smell like toilet. It also became particularly uncomfortable when the ones who ended up standing next to us in the corridor were two young couples who continuously made out with each other during the three hour trip.

I became particularly greatful for our seats as the trip continued and it became apparent that I should not have had that cup of tea to wake me up.   Not being able to get up and go to the toilet, I accepted my fate that I will have to just bite my upperlip for another hour and 40 minutes.  At least I could convince myself that sitting with bladder discomfort is way better than to stand while trying to keep it together and inside.   

Eventually we arrived and the first thing we needed to find was a bathroom, the bathroom wasn’t so hard to find but it had a cue almost as long as the Great Wall of China, this made me dash back into one of the empty trains to find  a toilet. I found one with only four people cueing, only to get inside to realise that it must be the most disgusting place I’ve been in.  This I realised required some planning, one does not want to touch anything, thus it requires lifting your coat, while squating over the toilet and concentrating on (and I stress this) not touching anything.  By then four people were waiting outside the door with the same urgency, and if there is one thing I can’t do is pee under pressure. It is hard enough as it is relaxing one’s bladder muscles (I have no idea how one would call that) while squating, relaxing while someone is knocking on the door every few seconds makes it pretty much impossible.

So without relief I gave up and hoped that we will find a descent bar very soon.  Finding a bar quickly during carnival in Venice was another thing. There were so many people all concentrated into the narrow streets of Venice that we moved like a herd of cattle huddled together very slowly. So even if the bar seemed quite close in sight it still took at least 20 minutes to get to it. I cannot expres the happiness I felt when we finally arived at the bar and I could use a descent quite clean toilet. That feeling of relief, well it is priceless.

This wasn’t the only time when we experienced bladder discomfort, with tons of people at the carnival finding a bathroom became quite the ordeal. It became a mission finding a balance between the amount of liquids taken and the calculation of available bathrooms.

At some point during the night (it think it might have been at around one the next morning perhaps) we were walking from the big square to another square, by then most bars were closed and the available public bathrooms seemed non existent. One becomes quite desperate while roaming through the tiny streets and corners of Venice in the dark.  It was in such a desperate moment that our one friend winked us into an isolated side street, she found a bathroom, or that was what our happy minds thought... No, it was not a bathroom, but just a tiny little isolated street, so armed with a tissue we prepared ourselves for the unthinkable: squatting in the street.

While the rest stood guard we took turns to go. Peeing without a toilet for girls has never been the easiest of tasks and doesn’t go fast and care free like with men. One has to plan it carefully to avoid accidently urinating on your own shoes. The tension caused by our knowledge of our crime was enhanced with the continuous muttering of our one friend “Oh I am so sorry Venice, you are beautiful, I can’t believe I just did that!” I was the last to go, and not being a natural camper in general found the task at hand difficult. Just as I got my mind wrapped around the concept and ready to undo my pants men walked by on the far distant side, forcing me to look for a darker corner.

With my darker corner found I took a deep breath and as I loosened the button of my jean, all of a sudden from the top of a balcony, a woman cursed out words at me while almost throwing an entire bucket of water on me. I had to dash. The moment has past I fastened my button again and gave up, feeling somehow relieved that I did not get my chance. Eventually I did find an available bathroom, but we are forever stained with the memory of our intentions...

More to come in next post...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Carnivale di Venezia (part one)

The train on our return from Venice to Milan was silent only buzzing with a few snores and drunken half asleep slurs.  Some passengers slept with their heads bobbing up and down or sidewards, some with their mouths wide open, too exhausted to care about appearances. Some still carried the trails of the past 24 hours;  coriandoli (confetti) in their hair and clothes, a stranger still hanging on their arm or a mask dangling from their bags. Everyone relieved to be able sit down and close their eyes, all utterly exhausted.

At some point during this three and half hour trip however we were abruptly wakened by loud shouting that came like a storm into the coach. I was one of the first to wake up in fright by the shouting coming from the seats behind me.  An ominous looking man with long black dreadlocks shouted at the girl behind me about his bag which he then placed on the seat next to her, saying something about how people wants to steal his bag, the poor girl rattled out of her sleep, trying to explain to him that she really just wants to sleep and wants no trouble. Out of shear shock I hopped up and asked him if he could please keep his voice down to which he replied something in Italian which meant something like going into your ass, but really I was was too tired to really understand his insult.  

The fact that some people were now dissaprovingly looking at him and rolling there eyes only seemed to be like fuel to his fire as he now walked up and down the coach ranting insults to us all. He said something like “you are all asleep, but you are racists and thieves and slaves of arabs” inserting the word “motherfuckers”  after every statement and any other open space left to use the word. He then proceeded to an open seat opposite an Asian man.  The fact that he was Asian immediately made the man adres him. “Where are you from?” he asked with the loudest tone of voice one can possibly immagine, the poor man replied that he is Vietnamese, which didn’t really seem to sink in with the rebel here as he almost started assaulting the poor guy by shouting at him for the capitalism of the Chinese and other wrong doings, calling him ignorant and spoiled and all kinds of other names. He then started frantically looking for his bag, blaming everyone of stealing it, as it was still lying where he left it next to the other girl. He then realised it, grabbed his bag and placed it opposite the Vietnamese man, shouting about how he can not trust him, then repeated his earlier rantings about his disgust in the east.  He then continued to rant at the rest of the bus, calling the Spanish thieves, the Italians corrupt and basically every other existing nation as something negative and always using the word “motherfuckers” repeating it like a mantra.

It took my two friends to walk over 10 coaches to report the matter to the conductor. When the conductors arrived they observed him as he was now doing kicks and slamming the seats with hands.  I have no idea what the conductor said to him, but he managed to talk to the man in calmest of ways and made him leave the train at the next stop. Silence at last.

We could finally return to our numb states. This radical scene seemed almost the appropriate end to one of the crazier days I’ve come by in my life. What an adventure it has been, the carnival of Venice held up to the reputation of carnival offering chaos, absurdity and spectacle... 

To be continued...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A day in fashion week - Piccioni

The inhabitants of the Piazza del Duomo, I am to believe that pigeons might one day take over control of European cities. The centre really seemed extra busy and filled with photographers who I guess was hoping to snap some fashionables and models in the fashion week. The pigeons were quite active too.

Tears for Africa

Goodness gracious* I was so homesick the last couple of days that almost any situation could push the tears to burst out in a frenzy. The thing that I’ve now discovered is when one experiences these emotions it is best if not entertained too much. In fact it is probably better to just adopt a zero tolerance policy too such feelings.  Because once you start it can completely get out of hand, you end up doubting your decision of coming to this place, and feel guilty all at the same time for being so ungrateful for such a great opportunity. The next thing you know is that you are walking in the street crying shamelessly. These tears seems to come in great big drops which could fill up the Naviglio **, and its random break out can be triggered by almost anything.

Yesterday was just such a day and I’ve been trying my best to just hold it all together. The fact that my internet has not been functioning properly -  thus leaving  me without skype and my weekly dossage of Big Bang Theory and  Gossip Girl***-  contributed greatly to my disposition.  To top of all of it, yesterday we had once again the intense lecture of a certain professor who is originally from Naples****.   His lectures always have a strong political undertone and he gets terribly passionate about what he is saying so that he starts speaking faster and faster.  This of course ends up that apart from it requiring the most intense concentration to understand him, it requires an even deeper level of energy to digest some of the heavy stuff he is uttering and of course ignoring the completely insulting things he sometimes say about religous people (albeit more directed to the Cathololic christians of Italy, I still am a christian and feel it quite a rude way stereotyping).  At some points I don’t understand a thing.  His voice raises an octave higher and the words role out fast sounding more like the coins falling from one those gambling machines then words. This professor has very strong ideas about the importance of democracy and seems to completely glorify these revolutions. He also has strong tendency to seem lean towards the ideas of conspiracies of power, and shows great interest in ideas such as surveilance etc. 

 It was intense and I was already pretty out of it, but I needed to speak to him about our project we need to do. Our project has the theme “La fine del mondo (the end of the world)” which on itself is pretty heavy, but with what I have gathered leans more towards a political inclination of representing the end of control systems such as the revolutions going on in Tunisie at the moment.  I had to tell him that I’ve have not yet send him a text (we had to send a text / book that we read that represents the  end of the world to us) as I seem to be in general a little overwhelmed with all the information, and secondly that I generally don’t have an inclination to make political art, and that if I were to send him for example a text such as Animal farm or Chinua Achebe’s  Things fall apart, that it would fall in his ideas but would be for me completely pretentious and trendy of me, since I come from the background of the other side of having never been oppressed in anyway  really.  Well, now on screen it sounds perfect but in this moment with my head clouded with emotions and my general inability to talk to authoritive figures it came out more in the line like this: “Political art is pretentious”. Him being a political photographer took immediate offence to this, and then felt nothing to offend me.  Then it continued with him constantly putting words in my mouth, telling me that I cannot be a good artist if I have no interest in politics (which is not what I said), asking me questions of the history of things and my country in specific, then putting more words in my mouth, making me look like an idiot and then  telling me that if people have to die for democracy then that is what it takes.Democracy comes with cost which is necesary, blaming me for promoting dictatorship and somewhere he ended up by saying that the white people who die in South Africa should just deal with it as it is one of those things, we have to pay for the sins of our fathers.

Well after that of course I could barely hold my tears in front of him, I walked away feeling slightly sick and swearing at him (to my friends of course) using words my mother would be very ashamed of. The last hour of this class before lunch was so overbearing for me that I left and did not return for the afternoon class. I walked home from school crying shamelessly and by the time my friend Carlo who missed the morning’s class called me to hear what happened, the tap opened again, and when he came to see me, once again. All of a sudden the fact that this has been the longest time I have ever been away from home, the fact that my head wants to explode from all the italian that I do not understand, the fact that I have no idea for my projects yet and my desire for chutney all came at once and the emotions were just too much for me to handle. It took soaking my dear friends shirt in tears, a cup of tea and a long endearing hug for me to finally come to my senses.  

Today I am much better, and this weekend I am escaping Milano for the carnival in Venice. I also finally got my permit of stay yesterday. One thing I’ve realised though, good friends are an absolute neccesity, thank God for the friends I found here in Italy.  Thanks Leah (also for the regular dossage of chocolate), Edith, Wei-Ning and Carlo (oh and also Stefano, who has cooked many a meal for me with my regular visits and sending me regular links on facebook) oh and Sibi and all the rest.

* Aparently I say this a lot and it has now become a joke between Carlo and his roommate Stefano to say “Goodness gracious” for everything.
** Naviglio the canal which I walk past everyday to school.
*** I know what you are thinking, watching series and trash like Gossip Girl while I am in Milan, well a girl is allowed a moment of indulgence in superficial and less intelligent love, sex ,fashion and drama.
****Here in Italy there seems to be a preoccupation with where you originally come from, in fact Di dove sei? (Where are you from?) is one the first sentences I've learnt when I started to learn Italian.