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The Real Moulin Rouge in Paris (The second duck, to love and to be loved) December 27, 2007

Posted by rengawman in humor, Humor with a point, life, travel.
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5 comments

A Humorous Story :

A few years ago, of of my favorite movies came to the big screen: Moulin Rouge.  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, and even that short guy that plays the creepy clown in Spawn was in it.  Man, as if clowns weren’t creepy enough, he had to go and play an even creepier clown in that Spawn movie.  Frankly, I just find John Leguizamo creepy, whether he is dressed as a clown or not.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Moulin Rouge is about a burlesque house in Paris, France, near Mon Martres.  Mon Martres was famous, and still is, for many things, amoung the most notable are the artists.  Like many houses of ill repute, Moulin Rouge enjoyed a considerable amount of success for its time, which was about the turn of the 20th century.  The movie itself was about a particularly famous actress falling in love with a penniless writer.  There was a lot of singing involved, particularly of songs by Sting.

Anyway, I loved the movie, and around the time Moulin Rouge (the movie) was reaching the heights of its own popularity, I was taking a trip to France to see Paris.  We saw all the sites in that fair city, including the top of Mon Martres, and the glorious Sacre Coeur church that sits on top of it.  We ate a nice lunch, and saw some of the artists that hung around doing portraits of people.


Sacre Coeur, Paris

I was with my friend, lets call him Mitch (to protect the innocent).  Mitch had been having a tough week as they had lost his luggage in our trip from Rome to Paris.  All he had to wear was the clothes that he traveled in.  The airline was nice enough to give him a toothbrush though.

So Mitch and I finished lunch and looked into the guide book for the next thing to see.  It turns out that St. Ignatius of Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus on that very mountain, so we strolled down Mon Martres, faithfully following our guide book to the street where the church was built. Since we both attended a Jesuit school in Rome, we figured that we had to pay our respects. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon so it was locked.

Disappointed we looked into our guide book for something else to do, and lo and behold, the Moulin Rouge was just down the street and around the corner!  I told Mitch that we had to go since I was rather enamored by the movie Moulin Rouge, and it would be silly to miss.  He seemed hesitant.  He never told me why but I was about to find out.

Now, something should have told me this was a bad idea, but images of Nicole Kidman were dancing through my head.  That something was that two older gentlemen, dressed as two older women, were standing at the end of the street waving at us.  Their faces looked like melted candles.  I pointed at them and said to Mitch, “hey look at those two.”  They waved back, and said hello to us.  I thought it was funny.  Mitch did not. 


I think we may have seen Dame Edna- melty face

That didn’t deter me though, as we took a left at the elderly cross dressers and went further down the mountain.  My face was buried in the book trying to make sure we were going the right direction.  We got to the bottom of the hill and turned right.  Mitch immediately let out a rather loud, oh no!  I looked up, and there it was.  More neon than I had ever seen in my life: we were in the red light district of Paris.

Mitch was scared.  I was frankly scared.  I have never been in a more disturbing place in my life.  It was all around us, like we had walked through the closet in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but instead of appearing in Narnia, we appeared in a much scarier place.  Mitch told me that we should get out of here… I tried to act calm and I told him that there was a subway stop about a block ahead, conveniently placed right in front of the Moulin Rouge.

As we walked, there were people (fully clothed) standing in front of the various… establishments… trying to get us into the door.  I was trying to play it off as if it wasn’t disturbing, but Mitch wasn’t doing so well.  I said to him, “Mitch, they aren’t going to attack us!”  At that very moment, one of the door people grabbed Mitch by the arm, dragging him toward the door, and said- “You come with me sweety!”

Mitch let out a groan of terror.  I started laughing.  It was too much really.

So I fought off the door person, and we shuffled down what seemed to be the never ending block toward the Moulin Rouge.  I looked up, and there it was.  No Nicole Kidman, no Ewan McGregor- no creepy John Leguizamo.  Just a neon covered Red Windmill spinning in the afternoon sun.  It was still a burlesque house.  The guide book seemed to leave that whole part off of its description.

Mitch was ready to go, as was I.  The subway entrance was just a few feet away when I saw it- a candy stand.  I walked over and bought some gummy bears.  I got a bag full and then we got on the subway to whereever we ended up next.  I came to find Mitch wasn’t real happy with our adventure, but he eventually forgave me, as it was an honest mistake.

The Point:

There was a constant theme that went through the entire movie of Moulin Rouge- the Penniless writer, played by Ewan McGregor, came to Paris, not only to write, but to fall in love.  The constant theme throughout the movie was that there is nothing greater in this world, than to love and to be loved.  That brings us to the second duck that my spiritual director told me about last week.  It is absolutely on the money.  Of course, once Ewan McGregor expresses publicly his love for Nicole Kidman’s character, she dies of teburculosis.  I am sorry if I spoiled the ending for you… you had 7 years to watch it.

This is a fundamental human need that we have though- to love and to be loved.  Some people have a hard time with some aspects of this “duck” for various reasons. 

There are some people that are easy to love.  Some people that when we see them, it brightens our day, and it makes us feel good.  There are others, however, that are not so easy to love- sometimes it is a friend, or a co-worker, or a member of the family.  Love is not always an easy thing to do, but love is what we are made for.  As I have said in other posts, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that we have free will, and second, we have the ability to enter into relationships.  These culminate in love- love is the choice of willing the good of another person.

Sometimes willing the good of another person means that we have to give them up.  Sometimes it means doing something, or not doing something, that we might not want to do in order that we do what is best for our neighbor.  Love is very very difficult, but we have a need to love because it takes us out of ourselves, and is the basis for every relationship that we have, from friendship to family or even co-workers.  Love at least should be the basis for those relationships.  Love turns us away from ourselves, and improves the other person by letting them become the best that they can be.  Love hurts sometimes too- real love does, because it involved risk and sacrifice.  Risk that our gift of self may be rejected or mis-understood, and sacrifice, which is at the core of loving others- doing what is right for them and best for them, even if it is tough to do.

Believe it or not though, I believe that loving others is the harder of the two.  Accepting love is really hard for some people to do, because they don’t think they are worthy, or they have never really been loved.  Accepting love means admitting that you need love- it also involves risk- the risk of letting someone know you, and exposing what is in the deepest parts of your heart.  See, you can’t love what you don’t know, so often we reject love to protect those things in our hearts that we think are unlovable. 

This is what shame is- our whole culture is based around shame for a good part- shame is the belief that there is something unlovable about me- something we are embarrassed to show.   People who are abused often feel this- not only do they not let other people love them, but they have a hard time loving themselves.  Being loved involves even more of a risk than loving someone else, simply because in order to be loved you have to be open and honest with yourself and others in order for them to love you.

That is where God comes into the picture.  He loves us unconditionally.  There is nothing we can do to lose that lose, and nothing we need do to earn it.  God knows us better than we know ourselves, and always does what is best for us.  Sometimes that means saying no to us as well.  The key and the goal is to begin to see ourselves as God sees us- to let Him love us, so that we might imitate that toward ourselves and others.

There is no amount of shame that God cannot love away if we let Him.  Then we ourselves can be loved, and in turn, go out and love others- finding out what they need and their greatest good and willing that.  This fulfills who we are as human beings, allowing us to freely enter into a loving relationship with God, ourselves, and other human beings.

CryptoZoology (Is it Yeti, Yet?) December 13, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, travel.
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Shhh…. be very quiet… we are hunting Sasquatch.

I am writing this post from the great city of Charleston, West Virginia- the great home of… well… Um… Charleston Chew? I am here visiting my friend Doug, with my other friend Dave, two guys I went to school at.

 

As I am writing this, Doug is over my shoulder, judging my every word, and making sure that I get all the facts right. The first question I asked is, what is Charleston famous for… his answer… Charleston Chew. Is that like Big League chew Deek?

 

Deek is what we have called ol Douger since we knew him- he is now living the hi life in the heart of Charleston- we started calling him Deek because the Dean of Men in our college had an Uncle named Oscar Aloysius Umberg- AKA Deek. That name was ceremoniously passed on to Doug in my Sophomore year in memory of the original Deek.

Deek has many redeeming qualities- he is well studied and educated- a hard worker- intelligent and hilarious. OK none of that is really true, but he was standing over my shoulder as I typed that last sentence and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

 Of all the things that impress me about ol’ Deek is his love for the sciences. Doug is not a scholar of your traditional sciences though, like chemistry or biology. Nope. He is a student of the niche science of “cryptozoology.”

Yea I didn’t know what that was either.

Last night, once Dave and I arrived, we all settled down for a feast of cheeses, olives, and wheat thins. Those are something like a cracker, but more like a snack. We settled in for some conversation since we hadn’t seen ol’ Deek in a year. I decided to check out the selection on his DVR (digital video recorder), and all I saw was a show called Monster Hunter. I had never heard of that before, but it was on the Discovery channel, so I suspected that it was nothing but the highest quality science. It was all that was on his DVR.

I shrugged my shoulders and went on with the evening. Flipping through the channels, a live episode of the affore mentioned show came on and we watched it. They were searching for the lockness monster.

Excited, Doug ran to his room to return with a veritible library of books about many cryptozoology topics such as Bigfoot (AKA yeti, AKA Sasquatch, AKA that guy I saw at the gym last week). Cryptozoology for us laymen, is the search for the strange beasts and creatures that clandestinely live among us without us know it. My friend Doug is a Cryptozoologist.

I was about to pack up my bags to go once he came out with all those books. I am not sure what I was more afraid of- the actual idea of Bigfoot, or the fact that my buddy believed that he was lurking about the streets of Charleston ready to strike us. (Turned out it was just a guy named Wade by the way).


Not Yeti… just Wade

Apparently there is a big industry for this stuff- books upon books have been written about creatures that apparently are smart enough to only have been filmed once in the whole last 75 years of film. From Lockness, to Yeti, to the dreaded “Mothman” there are all sorts of scarey creatures that must be lurking just behind my back, ready to pester me.

 
Mothman… the Plush Toy.  Never give this to a child.  Please think of the children!

Still I have to say, sometimes there are people that I know exist and I never see them. It is good to know my friend Doug continues to exist, even if we haven’t seen each other in over a year.


I should have believed Doug… Bigfoot does exist.  I need to get tires like that for Lucy (My Car)

It is funny, the three of us only get together sporadically, and yet, when we do get together it is like time never passes- we just pick up where we left off- same jokes and everything. I guess that is what true friendship is really all about- it will have a timeless quality that lets you not only accept the weird and quirky things about them (like being a certified cryptozoologist and searching for Bigfoot… weirdo) as well as the good things.

The ancient Greeks, specifically Aristotle believed that friendship is the highest form of relationship. There is nothing selfish about it- rather it is for the mutual up-building of each party involved. Friendship is also never exclusive- as CS Lewis says, it is always ready to bring more people into the fold.

So I guess since I am friends with these guys, I will put up with a little hunt for Yeti (which we actually did last December in the woods of Ohio) since I know they will sleep better at night knowing that Sasquatch is safely held in the mystical forest that he lives in with the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy.


My pal Doug AKA  Deek

Hospitable Hotels December 11, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, travel.
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2 comments

In yesterday’s blog, I made mention of one of my harrowing experiences in a hostel in the middle of Gallway City, Ireland.  Every single time you walked into a hostel, you never knew what to expect.  Once in a hostel in Bologna, (mmm… bologna) I got into an argument with a fellow about the nature of Jesus Christ (the fellow was a Muslim by the way) which ended up getting him very upset by the end of the conversation.  Seems he had some opposition to the fact that I held Jesus was the Son of God, and not simply a prophet as their religion believes.  He got so angry that he got up, stormed out of room and went upstairs to his bed.  I just sort of sat there and was glad that he left.  About 20 minutes later, it was time for me to go to bed as well… I was somewhat concerned when I got up to my room, and saw that the guy sleeping across from me was my Muslim friend from downstairs.  He gave me the ol’ stink eye, he did. 


An example of the ol’ “stink eye.”  I think he looks like a muppet.

I don’t remember sleeping much that night.  (That is not to say Muslims are bad folks by the way… one of my good friends in the city of Rome was a Moroccan named Habib, who took pictures of tourists around town with his Polaroid camera and sold them for 5 bucks.)


I slept with one eye opened that night… gripping my pillow tight….

That was pretty much the end of my hostel career (although I believe there may have been one more in Sicily, which was a great wonderful experience altogether), as I began to graduate to hotels.

I enjoy hotels quite a bit actually… always have.  Dateline, NBC almost ruined them for me when they started taking black lights through all the rooms and showing how clean (or not clean) nice hotels sometimes are.  Makes me feel extra good about the murky waters of the hostels I stayed in.  Maybe that is why my feet itch so bad sometimes.  Um… anywho…

There are three points of traveling that I absolutely love, no matter where I am going or how long I will be gone.  The first is the departure- there is that euphoria of adventure that is right around the corner- you never know what is going to happen- sure you have plans, but you are leaving behind your old world- all your “baggage,” and escaping to a wonderful, unknown place, to meet new and exciting people.  There is always a sense of having the weight lifted off of your shoulders as you leave it all behind.

The second point is actually arriving in a new hotel.  The whole universe is in order when you get to a new hotel room.  The beds are made, glasses are cleaned, the towels are hung perfectly on the rack.  There is a sweet smell in the air- this is your little space in the world that is perfect and orderly.  Plus there is a brand new set of channels to learn on the TV.  Sure I have all the same channels at home on cable or satellite or whatever, but part of the adventure is figuring out where they are now.  I will watch shows that I would otherwise just flip past when I am in a hotel room. 

Then there is the heating and cooling system- another advantage over hostels.  (Hostels are always cold.  Summer, winter, fall… always cold.)  In a hotel you can put the AC to sub freezing temperatures, or hot enough that the Devil himself couldn’t stand it.  I think there is nothing better than putting the AC on “frozen tundra” setting, and then getting under the piles of covers, surrounded by pillows.  (Actually, a lot of hotels cover the beds with tons of pillows now, making fort building a real possibility in most hotels.)

Hotels are always new too- no matter how long you stay in one, when you leave, it is all magically back in order when you get back.  There is always something to look forward to when you are staying a hotel.  They clean up your life for you- all you have to do is enjoy the mint.

It is fun to get away every so often.  I believe putting yourself into a new environment gives you a great idea of who you truly are.  It is uncomfortable in its new comforts- you get to see how you really react in new situations.  Hotels are a little break too from the usual rhythm of life.  It would be nice to be able to live a life where all you do is move around to clean and orderly rooms, never letting your problems catch up with you.  Plenty of people try to do that, by the way, with all sorts of things.  There is no such thing as a geographic solution to a spiritual problem.  They always catch up with you.  Still, the break is nice every so often.

It gets tiring to run from your problems all the time though- because no matter how much you run from room to room, no matter how many times the cleaning staff comes in to turn down the bed, or how many TV’s you learn the channels to, life will always catch up with us, and we will again have to deal with it.

That is the third most favorite part of any trip that I like to take- going home.  When I am done with a trip, all I want to do is to get home.  It is a different sort of anticipation from the feeling when you are leaving.  As much as it is fun to get away and see new surroundings, it is always nice to go home where people, places, and things are familiar.  When you come back though, you come back re-invigorated, and ready to take on those challenges of life.

It would be nice to stay on the mountain all the time, free from the rigors of life, but that isn’t life.  We can’t hide from it- rather we have to take it head on.   I think I would get tired really quick of having to learn a new set of TV channels every single day, but every once in a while it helps me to appreciate the ones I already know.

Hostile Hostels December 10, 2007

Posted by rengawman in humor, life, travel.
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Man do I love to travel.  Traveling, no matter if it is far or near is always a learning experience.  I love going to new exotic locations, or re-visiting old ones that I have been to… it doesn’t matter.

I always meet new and exciting people on my voyages, and thanks to years of experience living and traveling through Europe, I have a lot of know-how on how to make a traveling experience fulfilling, fun, and most importantly cheap.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, I used to stay in Hostels.  Oh hostels.  One step up from a Maytag refrigerator box really.  The only hostel that I ever really liked was the hostel in Naples, Italy, ironically in the city that I liked the least.  The best part of Naples was the hostel where you basically got your own room (with the exception of the other stranger living in there, but it was better than most.)

Once in Ireland I got stuck in Gallway City, and so I went to a hostel.

Most hostels were just communal rooms with racks and racks of bunk beds, and smelled faintly (or not so faintly) of feet and body odor.  Then there were the showers.  You would think that as much as the showers were obviously used, the smell of feet and body odor would have been all but eliminated, but somehow it lingered.  The showers, no matter what hostel you were in, were always covered in mildew, and always had about an inch of standing water.  It didn’t matter if you let it drain or not, or if you let the water run all morning, there was always an inch of murky white water, mixed with soap, shampoo, and whatever.


Typical Hostel Shower

Sleeping in the communal hostel rooms was always fun too- it was always cold (and did I mention smelly?)  I was always afraid of getting my stuff stolen (because who wouldn’t want a collection of solid colored giant polo shirts from JC Penny?) so I slept in the rack with all my stuff pulled next to me.

  Hostels were nice in the fact that they were ALWAYS cheap- less than 20 bucks a night, and you always met interesting people… and they became your best friends for about 3 days.  You would eat together, travel together, then get mutually tired of each other, find another group to travel with, and go your separate ways, never to talk again. (Actually I did stay friends with a couple of people I traveled with for awhile).

Once in Gallway City Ireland, I was supposed to meet some friends from school that I was going to travel with for the rest of the week.  Unfortunately, my train from Dublin to Gallway, which crosses the whole island, caught fire, making me about 6 hours late.  (By the way… buses in Ireland folks, not trains.)  So upon arrival I mosied my way up to a nice looking hostel and I checked in.  I was shown to my room, a smaller communal room with about 4 bunk beds.  Relative paradise to the huge communal hostels I had stayed in before.

I was tired and needed a shower, so I began to prepare.  All of a sudden a pretty girl walked into the room I was staying in.  Usually in the smaller hostels, they would separate men from women, so I thought this was an odd occurrence that she was in my room.  We exchanged pleasantries, and I learned that she would be occupying the top bunk in the bed I had chosen.  Perplexed, I asked her if I was in the wrong place, and she casually said no.  I believe she was Canadian.  Maybe Canadians are cool with that sort of stuff.

So I got my shower gear together, and walked over to the shower room- the girl was right behind me, and again I was perplexed that she followed me in. (A little flattered, mostly nervous…)  I casually checked the door, which simply said “shower.”  I went into one stall, she into the other.  Again, maybe Canadians are cool with that.

With a sense of propriety I got ready for my shower in the little ante-chamber which was about 4 foot by 4 foot.  I am a big guy- it was sort of like that scene from Tommy Boy when he is trying to change clothes in the airplane lavatory.  I was terrified that I was going to fly out of there in front of everyone, and all I could think of was the uncomfortable showering situation that I had unwittingly found myself.  I was nervous to say the least.  I was also nervous to see my pal “one inch of murky water,” waiting for me in the shower.

I got done with my bid-ness and got completely dressed in the shower, socks, shoes, everything, before I went out.  If I had a burka, I would have worn it.  I decided to go for a walk, where, thank goodness, I ended up running into my friends.  I checked out of the most liberal hostel in the universe, thankful that I didn’t have to sleep in some weird co-ed situation.

 While hostels would not suit me anymore, I have to say that they were always an interesting part of my traveling experience.  You would meet people from all over the world, with different beliefs and ethnicities, backgrounds and stories, and then you would shower with them.  If the world were like a hostel, maybe it would be a better place.  Nah… I would just prefer to have my own shower.

Piazza Navona’s Craptacular Festival December 5, 2007

Posted by rengawman in humor, travel.
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As I have mentioned in other posts, and in my bio, and well, every time I talk to someone just because I can, I like to talk about the fact that I lived in Rome for four years where I did all of my graduate work.

There are many many lessons to be learned in the Eternal City, which is a teacher all to herself.  Many of the things I learned about life I learned outside of the classroom in the streets of Rome.  One of my favorite things to do was to walk through the city and meet whoever I could speak to.  Once, I helped some Germans lift a Fiat 500 car a la that Mentos Commercial.  It is too bad I don’t have a photo of that great event.


That guy was a jerk in this commercial…

Walking through Rome was one of my favorite things to do- I never got tired of her streets or her people.  Everybody there remembered me, simply because there aren’t a heck of a lot of 6’3″ blond haired guys that regularly walk around Rome for 3 hours.  I would make my rounds, and say hello to Franco and Georgio, as well as my favorite coffee bars, and certainly, the sites of Rome.

I had hang outs that I like to go to where I could sit and watch the people, have a cup of Cappuccino, and meet the tourists and drink in the sights.  As I mentioned above, the city never lost that magic that it has from the first day that I arrived in August of 2000.

One of my favorite hang outs was the Piazza Navona.  It is one of the major sites of Rome- a huge elliptical shaped Piazza in the western part of the center of town.  There are great sculptures there by Bernini, most notably, the statue of the 4 fountains, as well as the Moor at the southern end of the Piazza.  There is also a church designed by Boromini called St. Agnes in Agnoy, which is also world famous.  (There is actually a great story that I used to tell about the relationship of these two artists and their rivalry which is expressed in their artwork in the Piazza.) (Some other time maybe).

Piazza Navona is elliptical shaped because in ancient times it was a circus, or race track.  As the level of Rome rose due to wind blowing dust up from Africa over the centuries, the track eventually got buried, while the shape stayed the same, and the Romans just did what they always did, and built on top of the remnants of the old circus producing for us the neat piazza that stands there today.


I know these guys

Piazza Navona was always filled with artists and characters.  The one that always comes to my mind was Marcello, the finger puppet man.  Literally, he did a show with finger puppets where his fingers served as the legs for such memorable characters as Can-Can dancers, Michael Jackson (where his fingers moon-walked), and even a sad Charlie Chaplain.  For four years I hung out in that piazza and watched his show.  It never changed.  Ever.  In four years.  He was there almost every day but Sundays.  I am sure that he is a millionaire by now.  I did get a copy of his comic book, called in Italian “The Hair Brush,” which featured his own adventures as a finger puppeteer.  Who knew they lead such active and interesting lives?  Why was the comic called “The Hair Brush,” and not something like “Finger Puppet Guy?”  Incidentally, here in Columbus I found a place that sells finger puppets at really great prices.  It is called the Global Gallery- located in German Village, Easton Town Center, and the Short North.  They are Bolivian Finger puppets.  They do not dance.


Umm… Ok I realize how creepy this thing looks, but it is a good example of Marcello’s Finger Puppets.  I think that puppet needs a diuretic.

Every year though, around this time of year (December), the Piazza Navona would undergo a horrific change.  The wide open expanses, the beautiful fountains, and wonderful church facades would be overrun by tents and stands, and a bazaar.  The whole Piazza would be filled with Santas with horrible Santa suits, passing out really bad candy.  There would be pigs roasting at the porchetta’s that would be set up, and tent after tent of the most craptacular kitch in the whole wide world. 


Crap-tacular

I hated the “Crap-Fest,” as I liked to call it, as it was basically a big excuse for the Italians to bring out all the crappiest of merchandise and ruin the whole Piazza Navona until the 6th of January.  Even the Finger Puppet man didn’t show his face for that month, he was so embarrassed. What was worse was just after Christmas, all the kitchy items for Christmas would be replaced by Befana, the Christmas witch who brings the little girls and boys presents on January 6th.  That’s right folks… a witch brings kids gifts in Italy.  Not Santa.  I know.


Creep-tacular… I would never want presents if that was who delivered them.

It was always a breath of fresh air when the Crap-Fest folded up instantly on the 7th of January, and the Piazza went back to its normal wonderful glory.  I did miss the fact that the only place you could buy “carbone” wouldn’t return for another year.  (Carbone was a lump of burned sugar that resembled a lump of coal.  It wasn’t bad actually.)

 The only good thing about the festival, which I guess was a trade off, was the fact that it was always open and full of people no matter what day or what hour.  If there is one thing I like it is a good crowd!

The Best Meal… Ever! (Legendary Meals- Conclusion) September 22, 2007

Posted by rengawman in food, travel.
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For the last few days, I have been reminiscing about three of the four “Legendary Meals” that I was fortunate enough to partake in during my time in Europe.  From that first one on the beach in Pescara, to the memorable Roman fare that Sunday in December, the sights and the sounds of each one of those meals, including topics of conversation, are as vivid as if they had happened yesterday.  I will take that Bolognese until the day I die!

For the last installment in this series (and you are either starving or tired of hearing me talk about food) I will tell you of the best and most memorable meal I ever had in my life.  Truly, the Legendary Meal.  I wish I could accurately put into words how wonderful this experience was, but there is simply no way to even approximate what happened that wonderful day.

It was just after Easter, and my best friend Tony and I decided that a little trip to Paris was in order.  Paris is a lovely city, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  The Parisians always helped me out if they thought I looked lost (possibly because I look German and maybe they thought I was trying to conquer them) (I had several simply surrendeder to me out of habit).  The city is clean and efficient- the people friendly (unless you butcher the language0 if you go just speak English)- the sights are breathtaking and the food is of course superb.

There are a lot of great stories about this particular trip, as it certainly had its ups and downs during the course of the week.  It turns out that another group of Americans from our college were also travling in Paris, and were staying in the same place we were.  So our groups melded and we ended up spending the week together touring the “City of Lights.”

Whether we ate baguettes from the store with some cheese, enjoyed the big bowls of coffee at the place we were staying for breakfast, or ate in a nice restaurant the food was always good. 

We did have to watch our budgets so we saved the nice place until the end.  One of the guys from the other group, Eric- a good man who once helped to save my life- said he knew of a place near the Church of St. Germain du Sulpisce.

We trusted him and went over- the night was cool as it was spring, and even a bit heavy with moisture.  When we walked into the restaurant it was like going to a whole new world.  It was like a little chalet in the middle of the bustling city of Paris.  It sort of reminded me of Frodo Baggins’ house in the first scene of Lord of the Rings

It was pristine in its decoration- it felt like we were eating at someone’s house.  Moreover, it felt like we were home!  That is how welcoming the people who owned and operated this place made us feel.  They treated us like kings, and Tony, Stephen, Eric, and myself all sat around this giant wooden table that you might see in some royal dining hall.  The sweet smell of the food cooking in the back filled the air.  There was only one other group of people there- a group of Parisians- so we knew we were in for a treat.

One of the things that made the dinner were, as I mentioned, the people who ran the establishment.  I really never got their names because of the accents, but they spoke wonderful english.  She was just so proud of the place that they had run for the past few years.  He was a rather tall and large man, not fat, just large.  They laughed a lot during our conversations- they were joyous people who loved each other and what they did for a living.  It came out in the food the served and the fact that they took some time to talk to us “ugly Americans.”

The food.

Oh the food.

There is no way to tell you what it was like.  We took the menu that they had prepared which turned out to be about a 5 course meal with appetizers salad and desert.  Really, there are two things worth mentioning specifically about this meal.

First was the fois gras- the patee.  Now perhaps the idea of goose liver doesn’t exactly make you salivate, but that just means you haven’t had the good stuff.  It came out on a little plate with three versions- each was so powerful and potenet in taste that it fill my entire head with flavor.  This is the hard part to describe- it seemed that rather than the flavor being in my mouth, I entered into the flavor.  It was sweet and sour in a perfect combination of the honey and the spices and the patee.

The other thing worth specifically mentioning was the steak.  The sauce on the steak again filled my head with flavor- it seemed that I entered into the experience of the steak itself.  The steak was tender and juicy and fell apart in my mouth.  It is as if the steak was making it easy for me to eat it!  Every bite was an experience.  (It was during this time that mad cow was being reported through France by the way, which may be the reason why I am why I am.  It was worth mad cow for this experience though.)

The wine was a deep red Cabernet that complimented the steak perfectly.  Our conversation was lively because of the fellowship we had from traveling together for the last week, and the fact this was our last night in Paris.  There was magic in the air that night- an unquenchable energy that is really indescribable.

Then from the other table of Parisians- a large group of about 20 or so, came over to our table.  It turns out that he was a professor from my university in Rome, the Gregorian University.  All of a sudden we were all in one large party of friends- the energy being contageous, the conversation fueled by good food, friendship, and of course wine.  The Parisians all spoke very nice English and were happy to converse with us.

It was so beautiful that one of us (not me, but I felt this way myself) began to tear up a little.  We didn’t deserve this, and we knew that what was going on was special.  I remember everything from that night- except the names of the people that owed the place- and the NAME of the restaurant.  I guess it is going to be like Brigadoon- something that only happens every few decades.

I am not sure any meal will ever come as close to this one- I entered flavor.  I still close my eyes and taste the fois gras and the honey.  I wish there were words to desribe this evening, but they have all fallen short of the true beauty that a dinner like this can bring.

Legendary Meal part 3 September 21, 2007

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All this talk about food is making me hungry.  I ate whole box of pasta last night just thinking about yesterday’s post.  Maybe tonight, I’ll even cook it.  Crunchy.

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Franco    

As I write about these Legendary Meals, I realized that I am writing them in order of lowest to highest quality.  That is sort of like testing a low end Mercedes, and then testing a high end Mercedes.  Really, it only gets better from here.

Of course living in Rome for as long as I did, I had some fantastic and memorable meals.  In fact, I can safely say that I only had two bad meals my whole time in Rome.  Even the Burger King was great. (Yes… I ate Burger King on occasion because it made me feel like I was home, well, except for the mayonnaise on the french fries.  Plus, it made me appreciate the Italian food even more.)  It will be fun to tell you about those two bad meals some time because I remember them as well.

Because there were so many good meals out in the city of Rome, to say that I had a meal of “Legendary” status is saying a lot.

It was a Sunday morning in late December, and we had mozied over to see the noon “Angelus” with Pope John Paul II.  That is still a tradition where the Pope comes to his window, says some things in a couple of languages, gives a blessing and says a prayer.  This happens every Sunday, unless the Pope is on vacation. (I hear he likes the Grand Canyon!)

I usually didn’t go to these audiences because you had to fight 10,000 other people who also wanted to see the pope from hundreds of yards away, but I had some friends over from the States, and everybody needs to see the Pope.  It is sort of like going to Disney World and not seeing Mickey… it is just something you have to do.

Because it was Sunday we were all dressed up in our best attire, and after the Angelus, we got hungry.  At the bottom of the Janiculum Hill (where I lived in Rome) was a little restaurant that I had been to many many times called Sor’eva. (Corner of Via Gregorio Settimo and Lungo Tevere if you are ever in Rome.  Tell Franco I said hello).

It is your typical trattoria with great food and great fellows working there.  We walked in and the Roman families had already filled the place up.  It was raucous and loud with all the families in there which added to the usually tranquil atmosphere of Sor’Eva.  There was an energy there because it was Sunday and because the Italians still have retained the utter importance of family.

The food that day was superb- it was always good, but this day there was something special.  The cannelloni was spectacular.  It melted in your mouth and had a bit of ginger or something in it to give it a little kick.  There was actually a sort of mixed pasta plate that was being served to everyone there that day.  The cook really outdid himself.  If I close my eyes, I can still taste the cannelloni.  That is one of the requirements for a Legendary Meal if you recall.

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The atmosphere got louder as the wine was consumed.  Us being poor students, we could only afford the house wine, which of course was great, but the Romans were either drinking the good stuff, or actually brought their own! 

That is where the fun started- we weren’t the only ones dressed up- The Romans are fashionable people from birth to death and this day was no different.  All of a sudden all the tables began to talk to each other, whether they knew each other or not, and they didn’t leave us out of it.  We were all of a sudden being invited to share the good wine with the other tables- there was a mix of Italian and English being spoken, as the wine loosened everyone’s inhibition for language.  The whole restaurant- mostly Romans and us four Americans began to have lunch together in one huge party!  Even the waiters joined in!  The energy level in the room, already hightened by the families and the kids, good food and wine, rose exponetially!  You could have powered a small city!

Again, as all Legendary Meals, it was a timeless moment- a furious exchange of laughs and the clinking of glasses.  The Romans loved us and we loved them!  I was able to participate even more than my friends as my Italian by this point (with the help of some wine) was perfect.  We felt like Romans that day!

I have eaten at Sor’Eva a dozen times (or more) since that day in December of 2002.  I am friends with the staff, and they have some great and wonderful food and atmosphere.  If you are ever in Rome and near the Vatican looking for a place to eat, it is worth the extra couple of minutes of walking- go, especially if it is on a Sunday! 

Ask for Franco.

Legendary Meal part 2 September 20, 2007

Posted by rengawman in food, travel.
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In yesterday’s post I talked a little about my first legendary meal, on the beach in Pescara Italy.

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Another legendary meal that I had was also in Italy.  A couple of friends of mine and I were traveling together through Bologna, Italy.  Bologna is known as the Citta’ Grassa, or “Fat City.”  I will tell you that I can understand why: it is some of the best food in Italy.  If I lived in Bologna, I would be dead in 2 weeks from over eating.

I had been staying in hostels and met up with my two friends who were coming from another part of Italy.  It was agreed that we would meet up in Bologna and have a little lunch then move on together with our travel plans.  I had stayed the previous couple of nights in a hostel that was one step above a maytag refrigerator box, so my dinner the night before consisted of newspaper clippings and some jelly.  I was ready for a good meal.

The three of us met in La Citta’ Grassa on a Sunday morning in front of the Duomo, which is what they call the Cathedral.  It was a beautiful day, even more so because it had rained the previous couple of days.  The sun was out, and it was bright but not overpowering.  It sort of felt like taking something out of the dryer and immediately putting it on.  It was a soothing warmth, like a constant embrace.

We decided after a couple of hours of walking around we would stop in somewhere and have a nice Sunday meal.  The stale roll from the hostel wasn’t holding me over ver well and I agreed.

We picked some place at random- and we won.  We sat there, 3 Americans in the middle of this side street restaurant. (Actually, the side street places always have better food.  Another little tip is to go where all the customers are speaking the native language.  That means it’s good.  If it is packed with Americans or other tourists… well it’s a touristy place.)

We sat and had the most delightful plate of antipasto- a mix of fresh meats and olives- the wine came out- a beautiful red from the region just outside of Bologna.  The mushrooms were potent and tasty- a delight. 

These two fellows were two of my best friends in seminary, and the conversation quickly ramped up.  The other great part was that by this point we all spoke Italian, so we brought the owners and staff into our conversation- there was always something strange about my Italian in Bologna by the way- I always spoke it impeccably there.  I don’t know why- I always spoke my best Italian in Bologna.

The first plate came out- a beautiful Bolognese sauce- not like what you get here- but full of meat, thick enough to stand a fork in.  The pasta was “al dente” and cooked to perfection.  I have never had a Bolognese sauce like it since… of course we were in Bologna after all!

In Italy, you can never sit for a quick meal, and as the Saltimbocca came out, then the salad (I think it was 6 courses in all) we realized that time had passed and we had been there for four hours!  We outlasted the Italians! Even the staff was ready to go home and enjoy their Sunday meal with their families- I am sure we were a nuissance after awhile.

We didn’t care though- there we were best friends enjoying a wonderful meal with great atmosphere- conversing, laughing, and bringing others into our celebration.  It was one of those timeless moments that I love to re-visit in my memory again and again- I can still taste the mushrooms and the Bolognase sauce…

Legendary Meal part 1 September 19, 2007

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While I was living in Europe I discovered that food is a big part of the culture in just about every country.  Why was that such a discovery?  Food is important here too, but not like it is in Europe, especially in Italy where I lived.

In this country we have fast food restaurants, where they get you in and out, and it is more about getting something in the gullet than actually savouring the meal.  Even in the nicer restaurants they try to get you in and out as fast as they can, simply because they want to free the table up so they can make more money.  Food is important here, but I can say that in the 4 years I lived in Europe, I can only remember a handful of meals that weren’t always good.  I will say that when I get invited over to someone’s house for dinner it is always a great honor- that is where we usually get it right.

Then there are the “Legendary Meals.”  “Legendary Meals” are those meals that you will remember for a lifetime.  I have eaten a lot of meals in the states, and possibly only one ever fell into that category. (The Old James Tavern in Worthington, I had the best Prime Rib ever, May the James Tavern rest in Peace.)  Even though the food was good, the atmosphere and the company disqualifies it as a LM.

The qualifications of the Legendary Meal were very high.  The food had to be succulent.  The conversation and the company had to be memorable, and the atmosphere had to be perfect.  It has to be so memorable that I can close my eyes and remember the smells and the tastes as if it were yesterday.  I had 4 such meals while I lived in Europe.  Three in Italy and one in France.

The first legendary meal was wonderful.  Well, alright, they were all wonderful by definition!  It was the end of our first month in Italy, and we had the weekend to travel wherever time and money would allow us.  We decided to rent a car and drive to the east coast of Italy from Rome.

Three of my best friends and I drove to the town of Pescara which is right on the Adriatic Sea.  It was a nice little town- a resort in the summer, although all the tourists were now gone as it was October.

We looked for a place to eat, and we found only one of the many restaurants opened.  So we went in, and in our best broken Italian asked for a table.  He led us outside to a little platform on the beach where there was a table fully set waiting for us.

The wind was light, and there were only a few clouds giving some character to the sky.  The sun was bright and warm, and the temperature was perfect.  We literally sat just a few feet from the waves gently crashing into the shore.  I still remember the salt air and the sound of the surf.

A fellow named Georgio came out who was our waiter, and it turned out that he spoke perfect english as he had lived in Toronto, Canada for many years.  He regailed us with stories about Italy and living on the coast.  He offered us the special which was a huge pile of the most delicious fish I had every tasted.  Georgio pointed to a boat and said, “That is where the fish come from.”  Talk about market fresh!  The white wine was crisp and cool, and the banter between my friends was perfect.

I think we sat there for 3 or 4 hours.  It was a timeless moment. 

It is great how food can bring people together- I remember that day as if it were yesterday, and I can still taste the delightful mixture of fish, wine,  salt, sun, and friends, old and new.

Traveling… September 6, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, philosophy, travel.
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“The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recongize you as a tourist.”

Russel Baker, “Summer in Florida,” All Things Considered (1962)

During my studies in Europe, a few of us from school got together and went on a little trip to France.  We had all been together for over two weeks (15 days!)  Our trip was coming to an end, and while we were all still getting along, it was time to get home and spend some time by ourselves.

We had been coming from Lyons by train, and had to change trains at Chambert, France to get to Milan and finally back to Rome.  We were all standing on the platform when a train pulled up.  Certainly it was a little bit early, maybe 5 minutes, but the sign clearly said Milan.  So I jumped on the train with my backpack and my giant fuzzy Russian hat and made myself comfortable.  I threw my bag up into the storage bin, and sat down to enjoy the baggette and coke that I had recently aquire in the train station.  I was happy as a lark!

 My three other friends decided to stay on the platform and finish their cigarettes, since the train wasn’t supposed to leave for another 5 minutes or so.  As they enjoyed their cigarettes, I tore into my bagette.  All of a sudden the train started moving, my friends still on the platform.  You have to imagine a big pasty white guy (me) in a jet black Russian babushka hat (flaps down) pressing his face against the glass in horror, gazing at the equally horrified looks of his companions as he pulled away.

Immediately I sprang into action and threw open the train door, and threw my backpack out on to the platform which was passing by.  I intended to follow suit, but the conductor came back and yelled, “STOP!”  I stepped back, considering the severe injury I would have sustained.  Turns out I am not Indiana Jones.

 So I was in for a ride, all alone on this train.  The conductor didn’t speak a lot of English, but he told me I would be on the train at least another hour or so.  I sat down, and enjoyed my bagette and Coke.  When the train stopped next, an hour and a half later (it was one of those fast bullet type trains) I emerged in a wonderful place: Albertville, France, where the winter Olympics were held in the 90’s.  The mountains shot up into the sky, and the air was so crips and clean.  It was like stepping into a postard!  It was one of the best mistakes I had made in my life!

Luckily all I did have on me was my cell phone, and it began to ring once I got off the train.  My three friends in Chambert wanted to know what happend, and the only thing I could say was : “You guys need to get on a train and see this!”  They persueded me to come back- reluctantly.  It was so beautiful there that despite the fact that I hate snow, I could have stayed there forever.  I think it was like Narnia in the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  (I did eat some turkish delight, and saw Mr Tumblis… hooves and all!)

I guess this goes to show that even mistakes can lead us to something great!