Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ho voglia di pattinare con te

I don't know what I have been doing with my time. When Ballando con le stelle ended on January 6, I sadly contemplated life without a weekly hit of Milly Carlucci, without wondering if her ponytail was fake, without a supertight close-up on Antonio Cupo as he recited poetry to le donne (that's right, Antonio, on Italian TV you can be who you are). I felt the joy of Fiona May and Raimondo Todaro's victory, and nodded smugly as Hoara Borselli was relegated to fourth place.

And Notte sul ghiaccio, the Italian version of Stars on Ice or whatever it's called in the U.S., has been on this whole time? I was alerted to it, finally, while watching an episode of Prova del cuoco in which the two contestants in gara were from the show. Listening to Antonella Clerici has never steered me wrong, why do I ever turn away?

[...phew...I just checked the official website and I've only missed a week. Oh, and there was Milly with skates casually slung over her shoulder...on the same set, it appears, as Ballando.]

Well, it's on, and my DVR is set for the next 2 Saturdays, so maybe between this and the upcoming San Remo festival I can really start blogging to an audience of one about Italian TV.

And there's always Prova del cuoco, if nothing else. The insufferable, unrelenting sapientone attitude of Beppe Bigazzi, the self-satisfied squeal of Anna Moroni's voice, marvelling at Antonella's fashion choices, bless her. And that segment where viewers guessed her weight sure didn't last long, did it? To do it at all, she deserves...something.

And why do the contestants always choose a bunch of tiny fish, like sardines, as their ingredient in the competition? Do people really eat those all the time? What is their appeal? You have to gut twelve of them and you end up with little more than a visceral pile of fish flaps.

Monday, November 13, 2006


When I was a student in Italy in 1996, my American friend and I used to say that in Italy, it was 1993. They had all mod cons, there, sure, but in certain ways, in trends, and technology, there were ever so slightly behind. Except for cell phones. In Italy, everyone there was yakking away all over town on their telefonini before they really caught on in America.

Nowadays, I've found their behind in the way of blogs, and perhaps this a good thing, but it is really beginning to affect my life in a negative way. Because I have an unsatiable desire to read about Ballando con le stelle, and I have no outlet for it. So I guess I'll start blogging about it here. I don't know where to begin. It's so good. I think about it all day long.

This is the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars. Since I've started watching it, I have forsaken the American version. Sure, the American stars are much better dancers, but the Italian version is superior in every other conceivable way.

First of all, Ballando, as it shall henceforth be called, is three and a half hours long. At least. Not because they have that much hoofing to do, but because they have to devote so much time to arguing about it that they can barely squeeze the dancing in.

What's their to argue about? Everything. Starting with the judging. The Italian judges, of which there are five, all disagree and none are afraid to call a stinker a stinker. Grades of 3 and 4 are commonplace, when on the American version an 8 is a practically a bad score.

Two of the judges are "technical" judges, one is a celebrity "president of the jury" and then there are the two best judges, who judge on style: the famous Italian director Lina Wertmuller, and I can't for the life of me figure out why she is there but she hates everyone and can hardly give a reason why, and then there this fantastic catty gay Gugliermo Mariotto, who just likes the mess with the dancers and give them horrible scores based on what he feels in his heart is wrong with their dancing. And the dancers have, from week to week, gone after him, at length, because of their scores. Which is awesome.

But there is one dancer that Mariotto always sides with, and always understand, even when her dancing is not great and her behavior off the floor, or "pista" is atrocious. She is a total trainwreck - Eva Grimaldi. I don't even know where to start with her. She is some sort of sexy actress who is past her prime and clearly insecure about it, with her plump, fish-like lips and tightly stretched eyes. She clearly thinks her legs are her best asset because she never wears a long dress, even when the dance calls for it. She does have the best outfits out of all the women though, even if they hint slightly of desperation.

So one week, the producers decide to try to incite her and the other dancers by requiring them to switch partners - and each was assigned the instructor of another. No one was happy about it, and they all carried on to a certain extent. But La Grimaldi went nuts. The producers lied to the dancers and told them this twist would last for the rest of the competition, but it was only really for one episode. Under this mistaken impression, Eva takes herself out of the competition. She quits on the spot and she runs off in tears. The drama!

One of the dancers who had already been eliminated (and that is another good thing about this show, the people who are eliminated stay in the audience and comment, and sometimes go after the dancers that are still in it) goes off after her. But she won't dance. Everyone else manages to do it, although they aren't happy about it, but she doesn't do it. And it turns out she would have been paired with Umberto Gaudino, who is 15 and the weirdest looking kid I have ever seen. He is bright orange with fake tan, and dances like a couple of rubber bands. He's very creepy. So she is clearly trying to avoid embarassment by dancing with this kid who is a third her age.

But guess what? When she finds out that this switch was just a conceit for one episode, she's back in the competition! She'll just take a zero, thanks. Welcome back, Eva. So glad that you have decided to join us. Feel free to sit out of whatever in future. It was a dirty trick on the producers' part, sure, but if you're going to go out on a ledge like that, you have to stick with your decision. And her defender in the audience even says so, and calls her on it. She shrugs. But Mariotto thinks she's fabulous. And Eva says that only women can understand her decision. Whatever that means. What does that mean? That she is faithful to her partner? She might think this Simone character with the gel-frozen curls is her boyfriend, but that ain't the case. Once in rehearsals he called her spoiled and she was so pissed that she stomped off crying, saying "uffa." So.

More later.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Thought a Day - Day One

I will use this blog to write unedited thoughts outside of essays that I am currently working on.

I saw The Queen - and I watched it like a royal watcher. The Royal Family was in Balmoral at the time of Diana's death, and stayed there, hiding in the heather, and (according to the film) hunting stags - and I couldn't help but recall (or recalling someone else recall, as I wasn't born) how the royal family stayed in London during the Blitz, as to not separate themselves from the country in a great time of need. I wonder why the writers did not bring this up to present a counterpoint to the royal family's more recent behavior.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Spalmare, col dito.

My favorite Italian commercial is as follows. In soft filter was an Italian family enjoying a meal. Smiles were being exchanged, plates passed, Nonna dumped dish after dish on the table, eliciting more and more smiles. Smiling and dishes, smiling and dishes.

Finally the camera shot clued the viewer in on the foodstuff on choice. It was Philadelphia cream cheese. These Italians were enjoying it sliced on bread. With tomatoes and possibly basil leaves. I didn’t know that slicing Philly was an approved serving suggestion, or that you could slice cream cheese at all, but there you go. There it was, on my RAI. In America, where the cheese was invented, it has very specific uses, for a schmear, particularly in the northeast, elsewhere, for yucky cheese dips and desserts. I didn’t think the land that gave the world parmigiano reggiano, provolone, mozzarella and gorgonzola would have any need for the stuff in the silver wrapper, until I turned on the television.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

So here's what not to get me for Christmas.

Or mud masks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Vietato Fumare.

I went to a breakfast this morning to benefit a health advocacy group that I work with, and they brought Anna Devere Smith in to entertain us, to give us our money's worth. I had never heard her perform before. She adopted the voice and persona of people she interviewed, and told their stories in their own voices, which I thought was interesting considering my own attempts at writing.

She started with Studs Terkel, who had told her about an experience he had on the monorail at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, how a couple had held up the train, prompting the disembodied voice to announce that the train would be delayed for 30 seconds because of this late entry. No one on the train said anything, Studs Terkel/Anna Devere Smith said, they just glowered. They just let it happen, while a woman impersonating a robot did all the necessary admonishing. The couple was sheepish. I remember something similar that happened to me on that very monorail at Hartsfield.

People were coming from Disney World, heading to Paris, or Dallas, or Chicago--everyone looked so prepared and expectant. A man came on, very ruddy, all in denim, disheveled. And he took out a cigarette and started smoking in. He stared straight ahead, not at anyone, but fixated. His eyes were blue and glassy, and he seemed to dare anyone one of us earnest travelers to say something. He was standing right underneath the No Smoking sign. I am telling you, I could not have been more shocked if he had come on the train and killed three people, a whole family back from Orlando. At least they had gotten to see Disney World before they died.

My God. I thought. He is smoking on a train! In a public place! Beneath a No Smoking sign, flourishing, flaunting his dastardly act in all of our faces! And he knew, not one of us would say a word. If he smokes on a train, we all thought, think of what else he could be capable of. Think of what he could do to us if we spoke up and asked him to put it out. I shuddered to think.

But then, was he really bothering anyone? Would the smell even stick to our traveling clothes during our five minutes with this madman? Yet you could see eyes darting around, hoping share a look of shock and fear with another doomed passenger. The ride seemed to last forever. Will he ever get off? He did. There was a nervous laugh, and the hostage crisis was over.

I guess this is what we're like, Americans, I thought. Easily shocked, easily ruffled. Sticklers for the rules, too polite to take action, to engage in a spectacle. Newspaper violence wraps oily fish without a second thought, but smoking in a public place can shake our cores.

Then it happened again. In New York. On the F train in Brooklyn on my way to work. We were elevated in an arc of track above the Gowanus Canal, the Statue of Liberty far to the left. The steeples on the Slope behind us, murk below. Smith and 9th Street. This was before Smith and 9th was fashionable and if there was ever a stop for dubious characters, this was it. A man got on and sat on the two-seater bench next to the door, at the end of the car. He pulled out a cigarette. He smoked. The stare was the same as the Atlanta man's. Middle-distance, he bored a hole in the floor with his eyes. But this time, the eyes were like black holes.

The Gen-Xers coughed nervously, looking to share their surprise with tiny glances. Will I smell like smoke now when I get to my dot-com job? What do I do? Will Jay Street never come? But one lady, bless her, was not having it.

"Ex-ca-use me."
She said something to him! She's a madwoman!
She said it again.
And again.
No response, the stare just got more and more determined.
She made a move. Her hand went into her purse. We all watched, we gasped.
She took out a bottle of perfume. She GOT OUT OF HER SEAT, went over to the guy. Still no response from him. She sprayed the perfume in his fame.
Maniacal laugh! He still didn't look at anyone.
She sat down again. She was the most courageous person we had ever seen.
We went back underground. He stubbed out the smoke on the floor and got off at Carroll Street.
That's New York for you.
Not so different from other places, but there's always a few gutsy nuts in the crowd.

Next week, I'm going to Italy. There, the sign "Vietato Fumare" is practically an invitation to smoke. Nonne, signore, everyone, at the airport baggage claim, in a hospital, on a train. That's telling them. That's living.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Commonwealth Avenue.

At lunchtime I will often walk Newbury Street. Up one side to the Public Garden, back down the other. I register minor changes in store window displays, the colors of the falling leaves, tourist demographics. Walking Newbury is like watching television while walking. There is enough there to keep my mind occupied while I get my air-taking out of the way.

Then sometimes, like today, I get wistful. "It's New England in the fall," I say to myself. "At this time of year, it's one of the lovliest places in the world." So I decided to walk with my head up, and forward, for once. I skipped my look-ins at Marc Jacobs and Camper, and I walked back to the office via Commonwealth Avenue.

Supposedly Commonwealth Avenue was, in a city that looks mostly like a shrunken version of a London high street, inspired by Paris. Beaux-Arts rowhouses succomb to ivy and American-style potted gardens on the stairs. In the middle of the road, dogs romp past statuary, under elms. The boughs lean over the wide road, couching its grandeur with coziness, and the shutters on the windows hide fires inside. And I was met with a police cordon.

I hadn't forgotten it was Veteran's Day, but I did not expect the parade. There was no buzz on Newbury that suggested a sweep of people was moving one block toward the river. Four horses shook themselves out into an orderly row, and behind them, flags, and pipers.

I'm not Irish. But somehow the Celtic wails of a bagpipe speak to my soul and I cannot help but get drawn in to their mauldlin wailing. The sound makes me feel somehow more American, which, in my first-generation, Blue state world, is a feeling I have started to lose touch with.

And then the soldiers came, from the USS Constitution, the Air National Guard, the Marines. There were years behind this feeling, I thought as I grew more melancholy. As my family sat on schooner decks or in chestnut groves, in the old country, my identity was simultaneously being grown here. Here, by these people who I was never related to and would never meet. Although my blood was in Italy when the old Constitution was built, my soul was looking to these coasts for what I was to become.

The uniforms, the flags, the determined stride, the Celtic drum caught me--it was mine, it was part of me, and I felt proud.

I looked at faces, as they glided by. It became easier to look at their backs as they walked past me rather than meet their gazes as they approached. I watch soldier after soldier walk away. And I started to cry. And the more soldiers I saw, the more I cried. I cried for them, their fates, their families. I cried for us, and our fate, and our families, and our past, and future, and our place in the world.

Then came the World War II veterans, and tears became sobs. My grandfather was a veteran, and in him I could pinpoint when my family and my country's history crossed, and became one and the same. When we became American, when what happened to America also happened to us. And what is going to happen to us?