Saturday, August 15, 2009

why president's obama's health care campaign is foundering


1. Apathy. Obama's supporters are still suffering from campaign burnout. Grassroots organizing for health care--oh man, do I have to do that all over again? Or many of them are the one-time-only political supporters who believe once they get their candidate in office, they can sit back and relax and the world will take care of itself.

2. Bi-partisan opposition. Has anyone paid attention to the NY Times articles linking Republicans and Democrats to insurance company money? Is it any surprise that Congress won't ever pass a bill that would make these companies earn less?

3. Health care was never a real issue. If you listened to Obama supporters during the presidential campaign, you'd have noticed that most of them didn't really think universal health care was a prime issue. Why? Because most of them already had it, and could afford it. The issue was Iraq, man, not your health benefits. War is sexy. Health care ain't.

4. Media. The conservative spin. "Death panel"? Socialism? Give me a break. But the media loves to play fair, right? "Equal" airtime for all sides of the issue.

5. Idiocy. Most Americans believe what they hear. They don't fact-check. They've probably never read a single work on socialism. They probably have no clue. So when they say they don't want the country to turn into Russia but demand that the government do something to give them affordable health care, you know the culture of idiocy is at work again.

6. Irrational fear. Universal health care will open the floodgates of other mortal sins. What next? Abortion? Gay rights? More freaking immigrants?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

italia, day 10, or what happened when I missed my flight


I must have said "ho mancato il volo" ten times today, not to mention once in English to an Australian tourist coming in on the Leonardo Express who's in Rome because he's just converted to Catholicism. Say wha?

La Casa di Amy was nice enough to tell me "maybe we can find you a room," and turns out they had no vacancy but referred me to another B&B in the same building, Hotel Malu. Not as chic as Amy, I must say; the decor seems to have never recovered from the seventies. Still, the room has a floor to ceiling window and a terrace that looks out on the courtyard, which means no traffic noise tonight. Also, the receptionist is kinda cute... (via Principe Amadeo, 85/A)

Well, since I now had a full day in Rome, what else to do but continue my research, no? So here's what I did during my extra day in Italia:

Visited Bernini's grave again; sat there for like 30 minutes. Luckily, the Capella Paolina was also open (not sure about this, but I know he designed one of the chapels, and this seemed like the most likely that he worked on). Also found out that the statue of Philip IV at the doorway was also his work.

Here is what's written on his grave: IOANNIS LAVRENTIVS BERNINI / DEVUS ARTIVM ET VRBIS / HIC HVMILITER QVIESCIT. Makes you wanna cry.

I also found my way to Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, the church that he designed. This is known as the Pearl of the Baroque era, and it's easy to see why. As soon as you walk in you're overwhelmed by the lavish magnificence of the place. Bernini kicked Michelangelo a notch by turning art three-dimensional, fusing painting, sculpture and architecture. Have I said he's the first multimedia artist? With Bernini, you don't just look at a flat surface, you see clouds and angels and metallic light bursting out of the walls. And when you look up at the cupola, it feels like the heavens raining down on you. Can't tell you what it feels like. You must be there to experience it, because Bernini is not just about looking at his work: you have to be there and experience it.

Passed by the Tritone fountain, one of his weird (and in my opinion, whimsical) works. Then, since I've run out of clothes to wear (unless I wore a really sweaty t-shirt tomorrow and stink up the plane), I got a Juventus polo shirt at the open market off Villa Borghese. It's so cheap it's probably fake, but who cares (it's made in Torino...does that mean anything?).

On to Villa Borghese, where I was able to book a 5PM ticket this morning. One more chance to look at all the Berninis there. Finally saw all the works in my catalogue, but of course I spent most of my time studying his David, the subject of my novel. Probably spent a good 45 minutes looking at the statue, until the staff started closing the windows (and looking suspiciously at me).

Next stop: dinner at Hostaria I Buoni Amici way down at the Mazzini stop of the metro. Got this info again from Let's Go. Had the spaghetti ala vongole and 2 glasses of wine, a little apprehensive because the owner wouldn't let me know what the price of the wine would be. In the end, the vongole was really good and the bill was a real bargain (2 euros for the wine!). Next table were a couple of African American ladies from Maryland and New Jersey, who I chatted up and who were thankful I told them which way to get to the Termini station from their hotel. (I Buoni Amici, via Aleandro Aleardi 4.)

Finally, a little walk around the Coloseo, where I decided to hop on the bus and check out one more Bernini: the Palazzo Montecitorio. With the help of some carabinieri, I did find the place at Chigi (kept mispronouncing this and giving the guys a hard time -- it's KEY-gee). Turns out I've been to this place the first time I was in Rome, way back in '92. Or was it '91? In fact, I've been inside it -- I interviewed the then labor minister during my apprenticeship at IPS.

Satisfied with my full day, I headed back to my neighborhood where I just had to have another Orso Bianco (sesame/miel, melone, orso bianco -- some kind of vanilla with lots of biscotti in it). And one last glimpse of Santa Maria Maggiore and its spooky belfry, where the love-crazed Gianlorenzo once chased his brother Luigi up and down with a sword -- the scandal of all Rome.

Good night, Gianlorenzo. Tomorrow I really, really have to go home. Pero credo che ritornaro subito, solo per ti, il mio amico pazzo. Ciao.

Friday, August 7, 2009

italia, day 9


My last morning in Venice, the cappucino in the monastery's vending machine wasn't all that bad; a brief walk around Campo Santa Maria Formosa, mostly to find an ATM; then off to the Ferrovia on the vaporetto, taking lots of pics, and finding a few minutes to check out the nearby Chiesa degli Scalzi before hopping on the Eurostar to Rome. Got a single seat to myself, trip took less than 4 hours; had a tramezzino bought at Suve in Venice for lunch and finished Baldunacci's biography of Bernini. View from Florence to Rome was spectacular.

Been getting a lot of luck with B&B's in Rome. La Casa di Amy (Amy being the acronym of the owners' three kids' first names) is tucked away in the crazy Termini district, a hop away from the station (convenient for me, as I catch an early flight tomorrow). The room is elegantly furnished, and looks out on the street below. The B&B is an apartment in an old, elegant building with an interior garden. There's a small but efficient bathroom, and a nicely furnished breakfast area, and when I asked to have my breakfast an hour earlier, they offered to deliver it to my room by tonight, with a water heater. Only catch: what's with Italians and instant coffee? They think everyone from America loves this Nescafe shit. But as though to make up for it, I also got a basket of stuff, from yogurt to juice, fresh fruit, crostata and biscotti, a croissant, Nutella and honey, and nice Ikea cutlery. Gee, and all I wanted was an espresso.... (Via Principe Amadeo 85/A, 00185 Roma.)

Since I only had an afternoon in Rome, quickly did my Bernini research:

Santa Bibiana, where I walked like 2 miles along via Giolitti's seediest quarters only to find it gated and closed (and scrawled all over with graffiti.)

Santa Maria della Vittoria, to take a look at the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa again. Okay, can I take it home with me now?

Santa Maria di Popolo, where as my luck would have it, the Chigi Chapel was closed for restoration. I do remember coming here the last time though, and touching the feet of Bernini's Daniel. Also had a chance to check out Caravaggio's totally homoerotic Conversion of Saint Paul again.

Passed through a bunch of churches designed by Rainaldi, who was influenced by Bernini; you almost couldn't tell it wasn't Bernini until you looked closer--Rainaldi didn't have the master's touch with detail.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, to check out Bernini's elephant and Michelangelo's Savior, possibly the most buff Christ ever created. And this is where all my freaking batteries finally ran out, and where my pic album ends.

Brief stop at the Pantheon. Crowds freaked me out, and I fled. Found a Punto (a supermarket), got myself some Segafreddo to take home. Yey.

Wanted to go back to Cacia e Pepe for carbonara, epecially after last night's disappointing version at Al Nonno, but my feet were hurting (damn these Superga -- they're useless on Rome's cobbled streets) so decided to just have porchetta at Campo di Fiori. Which of course took me forever to find. Last time I was here, Ristocampo had excellent porchetta. Now the place has totally gone commercial, they give you a pinch of pork and tons of add-on stuff, and the girls who serve are just a bunch of young little bitches who probably couldn't find better work for the summer (and who spoke absolutely no English). If you want wine, you have to order it next door, which is their sister bar. There the girls are much nicer. Which goes to show, if you do pork, it's just work; if you do wine, you're fine. Whatever. Word of warning: it's not OK to have picante salsa with your porchetta. I asked for "un pochino solo" but the little bitch slathered it all over like mayo on a Big Mac, and I could barely taste the porchetta until the last bite, when I finally got to the crispy skin. Still a good bargain: porchetta, 5 euros, glass of red wine, 3 euros.

Grabbed the bus back to Giolitti; couldn't bear to stay up; decided to just watch Italian TV at the B&B. But since the stop is just a block away from my fave gelato place, Orso Bianco -- perche no? Had sesame/miel, hazelnut and pistachio while the Santa Maria Maggiore tolled the hour.

Sleep, Gianlorenzo, while I stay by your side.

last day in venice


According to a gondolier, there are about 500 gondole in Venice.


My last night in Venice.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

italia, day 8



While waiting for the vaporetto to Torcello, checked out the Moroccan exhibit of the Biennale. Fathiya Tahiri and Mahi Binebine have some very strong work at the Chiesa Santa Maria della Pieta (riva degli Schiavoni, Castelo). I especially found the blurring of borders between the illicit erotic and pure affection intriguing. Fathiya and Mahi, you guys rock....

Whereas the Ireland and Northern Ireland exhibits were totally bland: what the f? Yeah, I know, the sterile life of capitalism yadda yadda yadda. But minimalism doesn't mean you must be deliberately boring, you know....

Torcello. Mamma, that's the longest ferry ride ever. But when I got there, the visit to Santa Maria Assunta was worth it. Veneto-Byzantine church (11-12th centuries). Took lots of notes for my novel. Otherwise uneventful trip, save for a brief stop at Burano, where I took lots of pictures. Sono stanco morto. Pics later.

On the way to Canaregio, got waylaid by a megasale at Gas and splurged on a new pair of jeans and a fall muffler. Oh well. 

Last dinner at Al Nonno Risorto, tried their carbonara, got a little disappointed. Well, carbonara is a Roman specialty after all. Should have known. The waiter also remembered me, and sat me at the same table. They added a coperto this time. Maybe I looked like a tourist with my Gas shopping bag?

Vaporetto to San Stae, then to San Marcuola. Found my way to the Ghetto Vecchio. Passed Rizzo Pane along the way and tried their famous Casanova gelato. Took pics of the ghetto. Strong military presence (3 cops in 1 piazza). Paranoia even in Venezia?

Sat at a Molo, a docking area for gondole at San Marco, all by myself, watching the full moon rise over the Grand Canal. Great way to end my time in Venice. I am so freaking lucky.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

day 7, continued


After trying to look for the post office at Rialto (an entire palazzo, hard to miss, duh), took the vaporetto to Giardini, found the Biennale closed for the day, walked around sestiere Sant' Elena (nice nabe, quiet streets, no tourists, large mansions and full of old people), found a jungle gym in the park and did a few chin ups and roman chair leg raises (yeah right, 5 chin ups and 10 leg raises), took the vaporetto again to Accademia where I shot an instant short film, saw that my fave cicceta place is closed for the summer, and so is Trattoria San Trovaso, another fave, but found a nice bar called Cantine del Vino (via Schiavi 992). I swear I must have seen this place in Globetrekker. It's the one with the Vini al Botegon sign over it. Caveat: I noticed I was the only non-European in the bar and the bartenders were pointedly ignoring me. So all you colored people of the world, run don't walk to this place (because it really has awesome cicceta and good wine), but you MUST insist that you be freaking served. Teach these freaking Venetians a thing or two about diversity. Remind them we're living in the freaking 21st century. Oh well, can't really blame them, Dorsoduro after all is practically the boondocks. And after a glass of rose wine, campari soda, and five cicceta (baccala mantecado, anchovy with pickled onion, ham and pepper, etc.), I really didn't give a fuck.

There's a new Hard Rock Cafe and Burger King in piazza San Marco, aside from the MacDonalds that opened several years ago. What next, a MacDoge? And is this because Americans are so xenophobic and afraid to try new food and get stupidly homesick if they so much as not see a Hard Rock Cafe that they had to freaking open these stupid places here?

venezia senza i turisti






italia, day 7


Racommendata di giovanni nel Instituto: per colazione, Forno di Italo Didovich in Campo San Marino: buon espresso e buonissimo dolci Veneziana.

Photographed Venice before the tourists came. Garbage collectors, construction people, delivery boys, etc.: the real people behind the glamour.

Had to buy Italian shoes, no? Ho comprato Superga -- in rosso. Yey.

Checked out a lot of places where tourists don't go. More pics for album. Checked out a Taiwan exhibit for the Biennale, an exhibit of comic superheroes as Buddhist gods. Clever but boring.

Where in blazes does one find a bubble envelope? (Finally found one though. Must mail maille to Diego.)

Discovered Libreria Acqua Alta, which describes itself as "the most beautiful bookshop in the world." Which it probably is. Imagine a real gondola filled with books, and, in another room, a bathtub filled with comics. And a back door that leads out to a canal. And a bed and breakfast. Calle Longa S.M. Formosa 5176, Castello. Owner is Frizzo Luigi, a most charming Venetian.

Finally found Cip Ciap (La Bottega della Pizza). And yes, Let's Go Italy, the pizza was awesome. Had the cinque formaggi -- formidable. Tip: this place is easy to miss as they have no sign. Go towards the Ponte di Mondo Novo but do not cross the bridge: the pizzeria is on your right.

Home for siesta. Yey.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

day 6, continued


What the f's with Venice in summer? You have to pay at least 2 euros to get inside the church, which is why "Posso entrare solo per preghare?" is now my favorite line. Preghare my foot. Thing is, you can't even photograph anything anymore -- they want to make sure you spend every euro on their kitsch postcards and souvenirs. 

Walked miles and miles trying to recall where my favorite restaurant is. Turns out all I had to do was ask. Al Nonno Risorto (Santa Croce, near Campo San Cassiano) has the best spaghetti al seppia di nero, and with the house prosecco it's divine. Soon as I got in, the place got packed (not because of me) -- they actually had to add more tables in the garden.

Checked out where to go to see Biennale art tomorrow. Took lots of pics for an album I will call "Venezia senza i turisti." Wishful thinking.

The freaking espesso vending machine in the monastery ate my euro. Damn. 11 PM curfew. Double damn.


italia, days 5 and 6


Rain all day! Nicer, cooler weather though. F's mom again cooked up a storm, gnocchi and stewed chicken and lamb and veggies, plus her home-made biscotti and cherry wine. Later this evening we head out to Ancona to look for amaro tartuffo (no luck) but find incredibly cheap brunello to take to Umberto and Gemma's home for dinner. Stopped by the duomo, got chased by the rain into the nearby bar, where I had my second Americano in Italy (campari, vermouth, orange -- getting a strong liking to this aperitif). Later at U and G's house, Gemma filled us up with her signature spaghetti a la scampi, plus mussels and seafood kebabs, followed by the Sicilian cake we bought at Tavernelle (kind of like a humongous canolli) and G's apple strudel. Came back after midnight to pack for this morning's train ride to Venice.

Am now at Instituto Giuseppe, a monastery right in the heart of San Marco, awesome palazzo with supercomfortable rooms and, blessed be, wi fi. Had quick lunch of prepared sandwiches bought at the supermercati (too lazy and spoiled now to even think of lunch...). Gotta take a quick nap before I explore my favorite city. More later.

Monday, August 3, 2009

italia, day 4


At Mezzavalle all day, swimming and getting sunburned; Fausto's mamma baked about a dozen kinds of pizza for everyone, and we had dinner with the entire family (babbo, zio, zie, and various friends, including Luglio, who brought a bottle of his own artisanal wine), followed by 3 kinds of liquers -- limoncello, cream limoncello and "applecello"; jazz concert at Offagna (town was interesting, concert was not), met up with Ubaldo and Betti, then packed off the kids to the stazione where we checked skeds for the next leg of their tour (Firenze); brought the kids back to Betti's parents' gorgeous house by the Pasetto; then with the kids gone, Gina, Ken, Ubaldo, Betti and myself hunted around Ancona for a place open after 1 AM (Lazaretto Bar, by the pier); had an Americano (vermouth, campari, soda). So far, learned 3 words for "drunk": ubriacco, mbriago, chucca.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

italia, day 3


Fausto's mamma cooked us lunch, which was possibly the best meal we've had so far. Penne with broiled cherry tomatoes for primi; stewed mussels, bruschetta and pickled sardines for secondi; and year-old cherry wine and melon for dessert.

Over lunch, had an interesting conversation (entirely in Italian) with Fausto's babbo and zio on the pros and cons of organic insecticide on the farm, and how it attracted new species of pests and increased resistance of the older ones. And on how to make cherry wine, preserve cherries, the normal number of siblings in Italy, the "gift economy" between neighbors (they give them fruit and vegetables, the neighbors give them tons of fish), and so many other topics I don't remember bow after all the vino.

Afternoon in Osimo: exploring the underground caves, the "Vestu Auximon."

Picked up Stazie and her pals at the station in Ancona; dinner at La Forte, where we waited for over an hour (this is, after all, Saturday in Ancona) and finally had our pasta (mine was Taggliatette Mare Bianco).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

on cory aquino


Cory Aquino was the most revered and most maligned leader in Philippine history. All through her presidency, Filipinos kept the infantile belief that she – one person alone – could bring the country back to normalcy. Right after the “people power” revolution, we wanted to get back to our normal, post-Marcos lives, while we expected her to keep house, make peace with all the warring factions, bring the economy up to speed, “make us proud again,” etc., in other words, to create a heaven out of our hell. When that didn’t happen overnight, the far left and the far right took advantage of the situation to say I told you so. To this day, they blame her, and her alone, for not having solved the country’s problems. Which, as we can all see, has always been their way of diverting attention from their own romantic visions of revolution. The left, with its hopelessly idiotic (and paranoid) leadership, has devoured itself, while clinging to its na├»ve hope of replicating a petrified ideology within a social and cultural landscape so unfit for it. The right, dazed by their idealistic notion that they can re-create a better, improved banana-republic dictatorship, continued to rumble against a social structure so unwilling to try another Marcos-style military democracy. And in the center is the country’s pervasive corruption and moral decadence, where no system, no matter how efficiently conceptualized, can survive.

Cory Aquino misunderstood all this – she herself just wanted to get back to normalcy, i.e. bring things back to where they were before the Marcoses looted the country – just as we all misunderstood her. She was no politician, thank goodness. She was, possibly, a yurodivyi in the Dostoevsky sense, until we told her to be smart, and she tried. For despite her stubbornness, she was a political blank slate. Every faction knew this and wrote its own self-serving agenda on her. When she began speaking on behalf of one or the other, we blamed it on her, not on the people who were using and re-creating her.

We wanted Cory Aquino to be strong so we could remain passive. We wanted her to save us so we could refuse to save ourselves. She was there so we could continue the infantile neurosis that has always sustained the Philippines’ need for a “guiding” power – God or a dictator, choose your daddy – and has always justified its corruption and poverty. She was, as so many predicted during the heyday of the people power revolution, our Joan of Arc. We knew we would burn her for allowing us to corrupt the vision we wanted her to sustain. We forgot so soon that she had achieved what no man in our supremely machismo-obsessed country had done – to get rid of the Marcoses. For that alone, we should be grateful. If the Philippines never rose from the “long nightmare” after she took over the presidency, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

italia, day 3


Walking around Ancona; a taste to caffe il nonno at Rosa (sort of like a coffee milk shake); lunch at Il Vigolo, the city's best kept secret (only local stevedores come for the incredibly cheap and hearty 3-course lunch, with 2-euro-carafes of wine); shopping at all the saldi; a little swim at Pasetto, underneath the Mussolini monument and the poetry graffiti; a quick zip down to the stazione for my Venice tix; a short stop for a shower at home and then dinner at Il Belvedere overlooking the town and coastline of Sirolo, where we had grillata misto, pickled garlic and anchovy-stuffed peppers, Rosso Conero, and cherry wine with biscotti and tiramisu. What a life.