Saturday, December 31, 2011
Narrowing down my Top 10 for 2011 was a bit of a chore, even more so because I bought a ton of music in the past few weeks, and I’ve been trying to listen to it as much as possible to see if it compares to the stuff I bought earlier, which was already impressive. I wish I had a better system, possibly something more quantitative, like points for catchiness or number of total listens or something; but no, I just kinda look back at all the music I bought this year and pick out my favourites. Anyway, in no particular order, here goes:
• PJ Harvey – “Let England Shake”
Polly Jean has crafted an album about war and politics, but it’s also a dark love letter to her homeland.
• Real Estate – “Days”
This is what lazy Sunday afternoons sound like.
• Washed Out – “Within and Without”
• Wye Oak – “Civilian”
• St. Vincent – “Strange Mercy”
Expert guitarist, emotional singer, gifted songwriter, and not too bad to look at, Annie Clark never fails to bewilder me. This set of songs straddles the line between weird and weirder, but they’re so catchy, it’s almost like a pop album.
• Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”
• James Blake – “James Blake”
• tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l”
Merrill Garbus’s violent, chilling lyrics are hidden by wacky, exhilarating music. Thinly produced but somehow richly textured, it’s more fun than it has any right to be.
• Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
The best punk album I’ve heard in a long time. Back in 2008, they released “The Chemistry of Common Life,” and even though I heard such great things about it, I resisted. For some reason, I picked up DCtL, and I can’t get enough. Yes, it’s somewhat of a rock opera concept album, but get past all the pretentiousness that entails and you’ll find a record full of love and regret that breaks all the rules and doesn’t look back. I’ve since bought TCoCL, and now I understand what all the fuss was about.
• Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”
A little piece of me died the day Sleater-Kinney decided to go on indefinite hiatus back in 2006. Corin Tucker’s 2010 solo album was good stuff, but nothing has been able to fill the SK-sized hole in my heart until Wild Flag. Made up of Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss (the other 2/3 of S-K), Mary Timony (of Helium), and Rebecca Cole (of Elephant Six and the Minders), WF takes punk, indie rock, 60s girl-group, and psychedelic influences and blends it all to create their own sound. It’s a tense record, with Carrie and Mary trading off vocals to keep you guessing. Yet it’s still amazing fun, the kind of music you can hear in a dive bar or at a beach party, making you want to raise your hands and sing along. If I had a dollar for every time I almost ran off the road dance-driving to “Romance,” I’d take that money and buy this album again.
So, that’s my top ten, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t give honourable mention to The Weeknd. (Sounds like “the weakened.”) The Weeknd is the musical project of Abel Tesfaye, who released a suite of free (!) mixtapes this year via his website. It’s ambient alt-R&B that I can only listen to at night, preferably while drinking wine, and even more preferably when I have someone to make out with. Not only is the music phenomenal, but I appreciate how he’s taking advantage of the internet, not fighting the inevitability of free music. Radiohead proved that an established act would have no problem operating like this, but The Weeknd is proof that one doesn’t need a big, faceless record company to distribute his art to the masses. The fact that it’s such a quality product is an added bonus.
As a post script, I’d also like to talk about Sufjan Stevens. Like Fucked Up, Sufjan is someone I’ve heard about for years, mostly because of “Illinois,” his 2005 album that put him on the indie map. I’m one of those people who can’t be told about new music; I have to discover it on my own. (I guess it’s a pride issue.) But something came over me late last year when I was browsing in an independent record store in Baltimore with my friend Dan. I saw “The Age of Adz,” and I just had to pick it up. I knew it was sonically different from his earlier records, and even though I wasn’t hooked right away, something about it kept me queuing it up on my iPod every few days. Since then, I’ve purchased the greater part of his back catalogue, and I now understand the draw of “Illinois.” Few singers can make me tear up with sadness with songs like “John Wayne Gacy Jr.,” and then shed tears of joy three songs later on “Chicago.” Equally impressive is how he handles everything so delicately, creating songs with gorgeous melodies and story-telling lyrics, the depth of which is rare in any genre. I still feel like I’m catching up to those who have known about Mr. Stevens from the get-go, but I’m loving the experience.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Since yesterday was technically a holiday, and I'd done enough laying around all weekend, Robert, Nick, and I decided to head to Verona for the day. I hadn't been to Verona in over three years, and I'd forgotten what a great city it is to just walk around in.
I work with Robert, and Nick lives in Germany, but is visiting for a couple weeks. He and Robert have been friends since they were five. My whole goal for Nick's visit was to get him hooked on wine. Mission: accomplished.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Anyway, today, I don’t really have much going on. I’ve been invited several places for food and games, but honestly, I’d rather just hang out, lay on my couch, watch movies, and eat the aforementioned cookies. All. Day. Long. This year, it’s just another day.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Last night was our Christmas Party, and I have to say, it was pretty kickin'. We do a lot of fundraisers over the course of the year, and the Christmas Party is the reward for everyone's hard work. We sold over 400 tickets, even though capacity for the building was only 300. These are the benefits of working with the fire marshall.
It's also one of the few times everyone gets to see everyone else dressed up. I don't really remember all the details, though, because I made it a point to have two glasses of Wild Turkey in my hands at all times.
After the program, speeches, and prizes, the DJ went from playing to holiday music to dance music, and everyone was just toasted enough to get on the floor. They had to ask everyone to leave so they could close down the building. Unfortunately, there was no after party, as everyone was all danced out. Luckily, though, I was hangover-free this morning. A Christmas miracle, indeed!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Now I have a few weeks off of school, but when classes start back, I think I'm going to limit myself to one class per term. Six credit hours on top of working full time is just a bit too much. Of course, I've said this in the past, then get ambitious and end up way over my head with papers, quizzes, and projects. But it all seems to work out somehow. I was just lucky that it worked out this semester with a 3.75 GPA.
Monday, December 19, 2011
I made an appointment at the clinic today, and the doctor tested my flexibility and reflexes. He said I somehow sprained a muscle in my lower back. He also used the term "sciatic nerve." Now I'm on bed rest for two days, which is a little frustrating because I was using this week as a catch-up week at work. The good news is he gave me Percocet AND Valium. (Score!) So, I'm feeling pretty loopy right now, possibly because I downed the Percocet with Makers Mark. Just kidding! (It was tequila.)
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Recently, they started charging a monthly fee, and though I resisted at first, I decided I couldn't survive on NPR, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC alone. So, since I'm paying $15 a month for the NYT, by golly, I'm gonna read the NYT. (You can read up to 20 articles a month for free, but that's just a tease.)
This week, I read two articles concerning Italy/Italians, and they both hit me pretty hard. The first was this essay by Frank Bruni about noticing the beautiful details of things we see every day, which is exactly what I'm trying to do in the year or so I have left here in Italy.
The second was this story by Jeff Gordinier about an Italian restaurateur in Manhattan who flies his mother over from Bologna several times a year just to make pasta. It's a charming, quirky little story, but what I took away from it is how passionate the Italians are. For family. For food. For life. I hope I don't ever lose that.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I considered abandoning this blog altogether and starting a different one, but I didn't want to leave this one the way it was, all cut off like that. Plus, I figured I'd rather be able to look back on this whole thing when I'm old and decrepit and not have to search all over the internet for my stuff. You know, if we still even have the internet by then.
I also thought about taking this in a whole different direction, possibly turning it into more of a music blog or a collection of political rants; but there's really nothing stopping me from just adding those things whenever I feel like it, I guess. I'm not going to make any promises about frequency of posts, either. I'd rather it just develop organically, not feeling obligated or forcing myself to write anything. I mean, that's kinda why I stopped in the first place.
That said, you didn't really miss much. There was a month in Sicily, a new job, moving offices, a birthday trip around northern Europe (which can be seen here), moving offices again, new bedroom furniture, a weekend in London, a ton of school, and a helluva lot of cheesecakes. Oh, and my washer broke, but it's fixed now. Yep, that's about it.
Also, I figured I'd change the look of this thing, too. Why not?
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I spent the past week in Spain and had a blast. Alex was a great tour guide, taking us all over Madrid, Malaga, and even up into the mountains for a couple days.
The weather wasn't perfect, but we still got some beach time in.
We also took some trips further inland, one of which was to a town called Ronda, which featured this amazing medieval bridge.
The social scene in Spain was wonderful. Everything operates so late there, so most people don't even go out to dinner until 9 or 10 PM, which turns nearly every night into an event.
The rest of the guys are hanging out in Spain until the end of the week, but I had to come back early for work. It was a great vacation with some amazing friends, and I can't wait until they come back to Europe for round two.
Friday, April 22, 2011
We're in Spain now, staying at Alex's apartment in Malaga. We arrived late last night after flying to Madrid for the day. Even though we only had one day there, I kinda fell in love with it. The Reina Sofia alone is worth a trip, but maybe I say that because I'm a Picasso lover.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Yesterday morning, we took the opportunity to sleep in a bit and recover from all the travelling from the past week.
We took a late-morning train to Venice to explore the main sites, as well as hit a few I've never seen before, including the Scala Contarini del Bovolo.
We made a trip to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection, which was well worth our time, and took a different route back to Piazza San Marco, passing some beautiful churches I'd never seen up close before.
We took the train back in time to have a late dinner with Eric, where Colin had his first taste of grappa. I doubt he'll ever forget the experience.
Monday, April 18, 2011
It would be an injustice to have visitors and not take them to the Cinque Terre. I've always said it's my favourite place in Italy, and even though it's starting to get really crowded in the summer, spring and autumn there are spectacular.
We stayed in the same apartment I've stayed in a few other times. It met our needs perfectly.
The Cinque Terre is best enjoyed at leisure, so we stayed two nights, taking the middle day to hike. This allowed for lots of wine consumption. Notice how there's no judgement whatsoever in Nick's expression.
Believe it or not, we were sober for this shot. I think.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Over the past couple of days, Rob, Alex, Colin, Nick, and I have travelled through Ravenna and Florence. I'd never been to Ravenna before and wasn't aware of its significance. There were gorgeous mosaics everywhere, making the whole city look like a big museum. It's crazy how cities that were so important years ago are hardly even heard of today.
I showed them my favourite spots in Florence as we chatted and strolled through the narrow streets. We took in food and wine, adopting the Italian lifestyle.
We passed the train time with books and games on Rob's iPad. It's definitely the best way to check out Italy.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Colin and Nick flew in yesterday morning, and since Rob and Alex weren't due to arrive until last night, we decided to do a quick tour of Venice to hit some minor sites the other guys wouldn't care to miss.
Colin really wanted to see the Isola di San Michele, an island once used as a prison but is now the cemetery island. We took the water bus and then hiked around the whole island.
There were tons of statues, giving the whole island a beautiful and somber tone.
We also saw the graves of Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound. People are still buried there today. It's something I didn't even know existed, so thanks to Colin for bringing up the idea.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
But the rest of my day will be spent cleaning. It's been too long since my house had a thorough scrubbing, top to bottom, so it's way overdue. Plus, my friends Rob, Colin, Nick, and Alex are arriving on Wednesday. We'll be spending a week in Italy and then a week in Spain. This vacation is well-deserved, and I can't wait.
Friday, April 08, 2011
Back in January, I went with Fred (one of our Italians) to Ghedi, a small base in central-north Italy. Their chow hall didn't have potable water, so it was my job to design a system to improve their water quality. All the parts came in while I was in Germany, so yesterday, Fred, Travis, and I went back to Ghedi to install it. I was kinda nervous about everything working out, since sometimes jobs don't always go as planned, but somehow, all the filters went it as planned. Thanks so much to Fred and Travis for all their help and expertise.
We stayed overnight at a hotel on Lake Garda, which is a beautiful area. After we finished the job, we checked in at our hotel, showered, and then Travis and I walked around the town.
I went crazy with the Hipstamatic yet again.
Walking around this little Italian town somehow ended up at an Irish pub with bartenders from Brazil. The rest of the night was a little fuzzy. Needless to say, Travis and I didn't make much noise on the ride back to Aviano this morning.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
The size of my shop nearly doubled while I was gone because there are a bunch of guys here from other bases in Europe. Since we've been working so much and are finally getting some time off, I volunteered to take some of them to Venice yesterday. It would be a shame to spend time in Italy and not get to see at least one of the major sights. While showing them around, I experimented with my favourite photography app, the Hipstamatic.
This was the crew from Spangdahlem, and they were all really cool guys. They appreciated the time away from work and the tour of Venice. Also, we drank lots of beer.
Thanks for a great time away from work, fellas. And next time you find yourself in Italy, you have a place to crash (other than a big, smelly bay with 23 other guys). Safe travels back to Germany!
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
I went in there, did my best, and scored a 90.7. Even though my run time was a little slower, my push-ups and sit-ups were a lot higher and it was the highest score I've ever gotten. Plus, since I scored above a 90, I don't have to test again for another year, instead of in six months. And the added bonus is that I get a day off.
So, yeah, this was one of two major stress factors for me this week and it's a huge load off my shoulders. My other major stress factor is a project I'll write more about once it's finished. Keep your fingers crossed.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Still, it's great to be back home and see everyone and stuff. And seriously, when I got into my own bed last night, I thought I might just die right there. That's how great it felt.
Friday, April 01, 2011
After six weeks, three speeches, two memorandums, eight multiple choice tests, two interpersonal meetings, and multiple facepunches, we graduated. Congratulations to Dennie and Pettaway for winning Distinguished Graduate Awards.
After the ceremony, a few of us headed to the club for some after-party drinks. It was great to have some fun without any deadlines looming over our heads.
The past six weeks weren't easy, but I made some great friends, and thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I hope we'll all keep in touch for a long time. Congratulations and thanks to everyone in Mustang Flight!
Sunday, March 27, 2011
This is our last weekend together as a class before graduation, so we decided to get together for a little cook-out today. The weather has been gorgeous, and as luck would have it, as soon as we lit the grill, it started raining.
Still, we made the best of it and ate tons of food and drank even more beer...which gave way to whiskey...which gave way to childish antics which will never be spoken of in a public forum.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Last night, a bunch of classmates and I went to a popular restaurant known as "Big Emma's." I'd heard stories about it before, but was totally unprepared for the amount of food I was given. You know the expression, "I barely made a dent in it?" Well, that was truly the case with the mound of kasespatzle that was laid before me.
I was the DD, so I was limited to only one beer, which left more room for the kasespatzle. I think I'm still running it off.
Monday, March 21, 2011
For our class project, we went up to Belgium yesterday to help restore an old WWII fort called Neufchateau. It was a really interesting place with tons of stories.
There were two miles of tunnels beneath the fort, some as far underground as 35 meters. Our part consisted mainly of moving a bunch of heavy stuff from one area to another, but it was still fun, mostly because the guy running the program kept giving us beer.
Unfortunately, Sarah was talking and thinking too much, so Ike had to put her in her place.
It was a great day, and I thought Belgium was a beautiful country. Thanks to Sarah for organising the whole thing.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Regardless, when all this is over, I'll definitely be ready to get back to Italy. I miss the weather, the food, the wine, and just the general temperament of that country. And the feeling when I finally slide back into my own bed will be heavenly.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
People may think the NCO Academy is all work and no play, but this is the kind of shenanigans we engage in on a daily basis.
I don't really want to go into what this project was, but rest assured, there's a reason we look like thieves. Thieves of AWESOME!
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Sunday, March 06, 2011
The next two weeks are going to be particularly difficult with three major tests, a speech, and a case study. But I know there are less competent people than me that have made it through this course, and I have faith I'll make it through.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
The ceremony took place at the top of the water tower on the flightline, and my friend Casey Bustamante did the honour of giving me the oath. I brought my Grandfather's flag, which made it even more special.