Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spin Cycle

Washing clothes in Italy is a little different than in the States. I have a washer and dryer, but both are considerably smaller than any I've ever seen before. What I could normally fit in one load, I have to split up into at least two. The cycles are quite a bit longer, as well. A normal load takes 76 minutes in the washer. And I think whomever designed the machines tried to make it easy by using little pictures to indicate the setting, but they look like hieroglyphics to me. One button has a little sun next to it, and another has what looks like a television. Honestly, I don't know what either of those things has to do with getting my clothes clean. I just use the same setting for everything, and it's been working okay so far.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Comfy Cozy

Since it's cooled off somewhat over the past few weeks, the days have been pleasant and mild, but the nights have been a little chilly. Yesterday, I put my flannel sheets on my bed, and added an extra blanket. I'm trying to delay turning on my heat as much as possible.
I'm working swings this week, meaning I don't have to go in until 1 PM. It's nice to sleep in a little later, and even nicer with the flannel sheets. When my alarm goes off in the morning, my problem is not waking up--it's actually leaving the warmth of my bed and putting my feet on the cold, hard floor. I'll get away with staying in bed this week, but the real challenge will come next week when I have to go back to getting up at the crack of dawn.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I could totally kick Rachel Ray's ass!

I've been feeling very homemakery this weekend, and I've spent a lot of time at All Recipes. Yesterday, I made enough veggie wraps for lunch and dinner every day this week. And this afternoon, I'm attempting to make a cheesecake. It's a chocolate cheesecake with a layer of caramel in the centre. It's in the oven right now, and after cooling for an hour and chilling for five, it won't be totally ready until 9 PM tonight. I almost don't even want to cut into it, as it took quite an effort to assemble. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Three Sheets To The Wind

Originally uploaded by currtdawg
Joann and Corey went up to Munich this week for Oktoberfest. They only spent three days up there, but had tons of stories to tell. So last night, Johnny, Corey and I went to Joann and Jake's house to hang out and toss back a few.

Johnny, Corey, & Jake
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
"Tossing back a few" quickly turned into "all five of us getting smashed," which was aided by some strange alcohol Jake brought back from his recent trip to Romania. I was surprised Joann and Corey were drinking at all after the amount of beer they consumed in Germany.

Johnny & Jake
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
We somehow made our way to the basement where Johnny and Jake played a few tunes for us. Even more miraculous, we actually made it up the stairs, too.

Johnny & Corey
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
As the wee hours of the morning approached, Johnny, Corey, and I decided to walk to Johnny's house and crash. It wasn't too far of a walk, but Johnny and Corey kept wrestling in the middle of the street and inciting all the dogs to bark. None of us were feeling too wonderful this morning, but I'm sure we'll all be ready to do it again by next weekend. Thanks to Johnny for letting us crash on his couch. By the way, I love this picture of him. You can practically see the alcohol in his expression. Priceless.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Up In The Air

I'm one of the few people that is still completely undecided about my choice of Presidential Candidate. This evenings debates will be interesting, for sure. I won't be able to catch it live, so I'm hoping to avoid any spin when searching for the transcript online tomorrow.
Earlier this week, I read a very interesting interview with Ralph Nader. He mentioned how even in NCAA basketball, the 60th seed gets a chance to go to the Final Four, but in Presidential Debates, only two get the chance to participate. It's an interesting perspective, and it makes me want to vote for third party candidates more often.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Much Ado About Two Things

I've been working the early shift this week, so it's still dark outside when I get to work. This morning, I was driving around base, and as the sun came up, I noticed the first trace of snow on top of the mountain. I let out a squeal like a little girl and almost ran off the road.
But the excitement didn't end there.
After work and the gym, I went to check my mailbox. There was only one thing inside--my absentee ballot. I let out another squeal, and caught a few strange looks. It's probably a little sad how excited I get about voting, but I don't care. I just wish everyone did.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Unfortunately, nothing I sampled caused hallucinations.

Festa dei Funghi
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
You know how every small town has its own festival every year? Morganfield, the town where I grew up, had its annual Corn Festival this past weekend. I guess it's the closest thing to Redneck Festival they could come up with and still get people to come.
Coincidentally, Budoia, the equally small town where I currently live, had its 41st Festa dei Funghi (Mushroom Festival) this weekend.

Originally uploaded by currtdawg
The festival went on all weekend long, but yesterday was the biggest day. I walked downtown around 5:30, and it was packed. It was a typical small town festival, with games and booths full of food, crafts, wine, and, of course, mushrooms. I've never been a huge fan of mushrooms, but because the whole festival is held to celebrate them, I decided to purchase a small bag. I don't know how they were prepared, but they sure were good.

Budoia Band
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
They even had a little band. I didn't recognise any of the tunes, but the Italians were all singing along and clapping.

Festa dei Funghi
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
Booths lined all of the narrow streets selling crafts, soap, honey, nativity scenes, jewellery, and lots of sacred art. One street had mostly cheese vendors, and the smell was so strong, I almost had to turn around. But I guess that's what good cheese is supposed to smell like.

Festa dei Funghi
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
Then, last night, there was a singer named Loretta Giorgi performing in the pavilion. I'd never heard of her, but the locals sure loved her. Everyone was eating and singing and dancing. I managed to strike up a few small conversations, but didn't get too far. Still, it's stuff like this that makes me feel even more at home here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Luckily, nobody lost control of their bowels.

This morning was the 2nd Annual Aviano Marathon. No, I didn't run the full marathon, but there were options to run a half-marathon, 10K, or 5K. Thursday afternoon, Joann, Corey, Johnny, and I decided to sign up for the 10K. I mean, who wouldn't want to pay $18 to run around the base? Joann and I finished in 56:44--pretty decent, I think. My goal is to run the half-marathon next year, if I'm not deployed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Right To Bare Arms - Mad Props #9

Saturday afternoon, a storm blew across northern Italy, and since then, the temperatures have dropped quite a bit. I've closed up my windows and even put an extra blanket on my bed. Instead of wearing shorts and t-shirts, I'm wearing jeans and sweaters. I figured the autumn weather would be coming, but I didn't think it would be so abrupt.
I've also pulled my long-sleeved t-shirts out of my drawer. LSTSs are among my favourite articles of clothing because they're so versatile. When there's a chill in the air, LSTSs give you a little extra warmth; and if things heat up later in the day, they're not so heavy as to make you die of heat exhaustion. So, Mad Props to long-sleeved t-shirts, for keeping me at just the right temperature.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

For Levi, For Everyone

For those of you with some extra money lying around, go here. I promise you'll be doing some good.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Puttin' My Foot Down

I hate being the disciplinarian. I'm often desperate to be friends with my subordinates, and I'm prone to let them walk all over me. Today, though, I successfully carried out a punishment I consider fair and just. It was almost a rush, which I guess I should guard myself against, as well. I don't want to go on a power trip or anything.
By the way, this is totally unrelated, but I wanted to post it anyway:

I rarely get to see episodes live, but I sometimes watch skits online. It's good to know that SNL is still relevant after 34 years.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Crash Pad

I guess I've had my couch for about five or six years now. It used to be at the Hospitality House in Japan, and when Jean-Marie decided to buy new sofas, they gave away all the old ones. There was a certain one I was chronically susceptible to napping on, so Don let me have dibs on it.
Since then, several people have slept on it. In fact, sometimes I even prefer it over my bed. There's nothing like curling up on it beneath a thick blanket and watching a movie when it's cold outside.
In a related move, I've decided to sign up for CouchSurfing. My house isn't in exactly the most touristy part of Italy, but I'm happy to help out anyone who might be passing through who needs a roof over his or her head. Plus, I'm getting familiar enough with the area so I can show people around, too. And I have a guest room, meaning I can accommodate even more.
I've already had a few friends come through, and more coming in the next couple months. Now I can open up my house to strangers who want to see the world, as well as help me find a place to stay wherever I might travel. If only I would have known about this before I went to Germany last week.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It Tolls For Me

Budoia is a pretty quiet little community. It's far enough from the base where I don't have to hear F-16s flying all the time, so about the only thing I hear is the occasional dog barking and church bells. The bells, however, are pretty consistent. I assume this would be a problem in any town in Italy, as every town has a church in the middle. But really, I wouldn't even call it a problem, because it doesn't bother me at all. It's just something I notice. They ring on the hour, every hour, just to let everyone know what time it is. Plus, they chime a few other times during the day, but I don't know why. For instance, at 5:30 PM, they go absolutely crazy. My guess is that it's to signal the end of the work day or something. Sometimes they seem to go on forever, but still, I don't care. In a way, it's kind of comforting, like the presence of God.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crossing Paths

Ben & Me
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
Wednesday night, I got to see my good friend Ben. While we were stationed in Misawa together, we were damn near inseparable. Though we've kept in casual contact, I haven't seen him in over four years. He's currently stationed in Ramstein, about an hour away from my hotel in Frankfurt. He and Jacob drove down and we went to dinner. The conversation didn't stop and it was almost like no time had passed at all. Luckily, he's planning a trip to Italy in November, so it looks like we'll have more time to hang out in a couple months. I can't wait.

A Special Confection

It's no secret I've been a lifelong fan of Madonna. I'm not proud of it, but not ashamed, either. Part of the reason I bought a VIP ticket to Tuesday night's stop on the Sticky & Sweet Tour in Frankfurt was the hope I might actually get to see her up close. And, oh, how I hoped. I hoped so hard I nearly busted blood vessels is my eyes.
Things didn't exactly work out that way, but I'm okay with that. What I'm here to talk about is the show--the two-hour spectacle orchestrated by Madonna herself, who has no signs of slowing down, even though she just turned 50.
But first, the opener. Madonna hasn't had an opening act in any of her stateside shows since 1993, and only occasionally has openers on overseas dates. Luckily, Frankfurt got the added bonus of Swedish pop star Robyn. You might remember her from her late-90s hit "Show Me Love." She continued to record in Sweden, but has gained new popularity in the States with her recently released self-titled album. It's full of dirty pop hooks and slicked-out beats. I don't know what it is about the Swedes, but they sure know how to write a catchy tune. Her performance was minimal, but energetic. She took the stage with her two drummers and a synth player, and didn't stop dancing the whole time. She looked so tiny and cute, and her vocals were spot on. She even threw in a brief cover of Nenah Cherry's "Buffalo Stance." Yeah, it was pretty sweet.
After Robyn's 45-minute set, there was a brief set change. The seats that had been empty quickly filled, and there wasn't an inch of free space on the floor. While I was walking through the train station earlier in the evening, I overheard several people talking about how Madonna was in town. A big deal? You bet.

Madonna in Frankfurt
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
When the lights went down, everyone went wild. After a lengthy video screen intro, Madonna emerged at the top of the stage on a giant pink throne, dressed in a black 1920s art-deco costume, and singing "Candy Shop." It was good to see her on stage again, as she's a natural performer with a mesmerising stage presence. She went all out (again) with video screens moving all over, elevating platforms, and more lights than Las Vegas; and still, it's hard to take your eyes off her.
As this tour is in support of "Hard Candy," nine of the twenty songs performed were from that album; and they were mostly very well-done. She's been doing this for a while now, and knows how to play down her weaknesses and accentuate her strengths. Since this album was more of a collaborative effort than previous ones, there were a lot of video screen appearances from the likes of Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, and, of course, Justin Timberlake. Plus, there was the much-discussed video of Britney Spears during "Human Nature," which was almost an anti-event. My favourite part of the night was the second act, when Madonna retraced her 80s New York days and featured artwork by Keith Haring. And I don't care how many times I hear it, I'll never get sick of "Into The Groove."
But the show wasn't without its flaws. I prefer Madonna when her persona is a little darker, so I tend to roll my eyes a bit when things get a little cheesy, such as when she battled her doppelgangers during "She's Not Me." The wig she wore in the fourth act had horrible bangs and made her look like a drag queen. "Ray of Light" was almost an exact repeat from the last tour. And I can understand her desire to play guitar on a few songs in order to prove herself, but does she really have to put the extra-long distorted rock-show ending on all of them? Plus, she had 16 dancers--twice as many as she normally brings. But I guess debating excessiveness at a Madonna show is rather futile.
Despite all that, there were also moments of pure brilliance. She was at her best when she took old songs and put a new spin on them, like an electrified "Like A Prayer," the celebratory "La Isla Bonita," and the punk rock version of "Borderline," a song she hasn't performed since 1984. Equally inventive were the mash-ups, such as infusing "4 Minutes" with "Vogue" and "Rain" with the Eurythmics' "Here Comes The Rain Again." At the end of the third act, she came centre stage with her acoustic guitar and sang "You Must Love Me." Now, Madonna has never been the most gifted singer in the world, but this bare version really highlighted her skills. It makes me wonder what would happen if she decided to forego the big, high-production show and play a few stripped-down sets in small clubs. It might not be what people expect, but I bet she'd gain some street cred.
Maybe it was because this wasn't my first time to see her, or maybe it was because I didn't like the "Hard Candy" album as much; but I just couldn't get as excited about seeing her this time like I was two years ago. But all that excitement came rushing back when I saw her up on the stage. True, the evening didn't go as well as planned, but seeing Madonna live is an event that should never be missed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poor Planning On My Part

The big show was last night, and, as promised, a full review will be posted after I've had time to process it all. However, there are a few things about last night not directly related to the show itself on which I'd like to comment.
The show was scheduled to start at 8 PM, and my VIP ticket included a two-hour pre-show party. I left my hotel at 5 PM, but grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to get to the venue. I took the hotel shuttle to the airport to hop a train to the venue. It was only a three-minute ride, but it still cost 7 Euro. I had to pick up my ticket package at the box office, which was on the opposite side of the stadium. Finally, after all the walking and getting directions and more walking, I made it into the stadium at 7:30. So, no pre-show party. No food. No free drinks. No mingling with people I couldn't understand anyway. Big deal.
When I picked up my ticket, I was delighted to see I was sitting in the front row. I was looking forward to dancers gyrating above me and drops of sweat falling on my head. But when I walked inside, the VIP section was a reserved seating area to the side--not down front, which was all standing general admission. It was still a great seat, and I could see everything fine. But if I would have known there was a GA floor section, I would have gone for it.
Also included in my ticket package was access to a post-show party. However, in order to catch the last train, I had to leave immediately after the show ended, lest I risk paying 80 Euro for a taxi. So, no post-show party.
Needless to say, the VIP package was a waste of a few hundred dollars. It's something I'd consider again only if I were familiar with the area and not going by myself. Lesson learned.
Oh, and one other thing--it seems Germans, when given the choice, would rather sit through a concert instead of standing up and dancing. As soon as the lights went down, I stood up, but soon felt a tap on my shoulder. The girl behind me yelled at me to sit down, or at least I think that's what she said. It was gibberish to me, but she looked angry and kept moving her hand in a downward motion. So for the rest of the evening, I sat on the edge of my seat and subtly grooved to the beat. It was a little constricting, but didn't stop me from enjoying the show entirely.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Excitement Is Building

This afternoon, I'm flying up to Frankfurt for what will hopefully be a repeat of one of the most exciting nights of my entire life. I splurged for a VIP ticket for tomorrow night's show, which includes pre- and post-concert parties. I'm going by myself and I don't speak a lick of German, so it could turn out to be a huge exercise in awkwardness. A full report will be posted when I return on Thursday.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Round Trip

Johnny, the guy who flew over to Texas with me, took some leave en route after his class ended, and flew back into Venice this morning. He asked if either Corey or I could pick him up from the airport. Corey was already dropping off Jeremiah this morning, so he said he'd pick up Johnny (even though Jeremiah's flight left five hours before Johnny's came in).
Last night, several of us went to dinner and a movie. After that, I decided to hit up the bar just to see if anyone was out. When I walked in the door, the first person I saw was Corey, and he was obviously very inebriated.
"C.W.!" he says. (That's what he calls me, for some reason.) "I think you might have to make the airport trip. I'm not gonna be sober in time. Don't worry, though--I'll come along, too."
I should probably mention that, by this time, it was nearly 1 AM, and Corey told Jeremiah he'd pick him up at 4 AM. So I told Corey I'd be at his house (which is right down the street from the bar) at 3:45. Then I headed home to try and get a little sleep.
I woke up at 3 AM, showered, had some coffee, and drove to Corey's place. Just as I was coming up on his house, I saw him walking along the road. Apparently, he had just left the bar. So he hops in my truck, we pick up Jeremiah, and head to the airport.
After we dropped off Jeremiah, we found a free parking area, laid back our seats, and took a nice four-hour nap. As soon as I shut off the car, Corey was out. It took me a little longer because Corey reeked of beer and cigarettes, and he kept putting his arm on me. At 9 AM, we headed back to the airport, and downed a couple cappuccinos. Luckily, Johnny's flight came in on time, and we drove back to Aviano.
I'm not sure what's going on tonight, but before I do anything, I need a nap.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bachelor Number Two

A lot of my single friends have concerns about finding a wife (or husband). They wonder why I'm in my mid-30s and still single, and why finding a significant other isn't a big priority for me. Well, I don't really know why. It's just not. I'm sure when the right person comes along, I'll know it. I'm not going to stress over something that's totally out of my control.
Besides, I'm not really even sure I'm meant to ever get married. I've been single so long, I probably don't even know how to be in a relationship. I doubt I'd be any good at making compromises. I'm insanely selfish; I have commitment issues; and I have difficulty with intimacy. It's hard to know me, and just as hard to put up with me. The last serious relationship I had ended over ten years ago, and I seem to be doing pretty well so far.
I just try to concentrate on all the positives, like independence, spending time with friends, focusing on personal goals, etc. In fact, the only drawback I can see is that it would sometimes be nice to have someone with whom to play Scrabble.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hunting The Leone d'Oro

Originally uploaded by currtdawg
Yesterday afternoon, Shaun and I headed to Venice. I'd been doing some research online, and I was hoping we could get into a screening at the Venice Film Festival, which is going on until Saturday. It's the oldest film festival in the world, and is being attended this year by some really famous people like Brad Pitt and Anne Hathaway.

Originally uploaded by currtdawg
The directions I found online weren't very specific, so after walking around for a while, we asked directions and found out we had to take the water taxi to Lido, a whole other island. Neither of us had taken the water taxi before, but it was pretty cool.

Water Taxi
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
This was taken on the water taxi. I was just going to take a candid shot of Shaun, but by chance, caught the couple in the background kissing. I thought it was really sweet, and just affirms what a romantic city Venice is.

Venice Film Festival
Originally uploaded by currtdawg
After more walking, we finally found the main venue. There were tons of people and photographers gathered, so we figured there must be something big going on. It was the debut of an Italian film called Birdwatchers - La terra degli uomini rossi (The land of the red men). We saw the entire cast come up the red carpet. All the Italians were going crazy, but Shaun and I didn't really know who these people were.

Originally uploaded by currtdawg
A couple minutes later, everyone started really freaking out, but we couldn't see too much. All the photographers were screaming "Natalie!" Then we saw her...

Originally uploaded by currtdawg
That's right. It was Natalie Portman, there for the screening of her short film Eve. She was making her way down the line, signing autographs. Unfortunately, she got about five feet from us before turning to walk inside. She was absolutely gorgeous, and we were happy to get to see someone famous so close.
After that, the crowd broke up, so Shaun and I decided to head back. This time, we took the water taxi all the way to the train station. Venice in the evening is truly breathtaking. I think I might start taking more random trips there.