Friday, September 10, 2004

beauty in the breakdown

Recently I saw "Garden State," a movie written, directed, and starring Zach Braff, the guy in that Scrubs show on television. Turns out the movie, or rather Zach himself, has a blog and an official web site for the movie.

I had really high expectations for the film. The buzz has been pretty loud and reviews have been quite positive. Then I heard an interview with the director on NPR. He mentioned this book, The Quarter Life Crisis, that's been in the back of my head since graduation. It was published that same summer and a very dear friend and I spent numerous hours around tea cups or late night ice creams talking about what I thought might be one of the themes of the book: how frustrating it was to try and answer the endlessly repeating questions, all basically versions of "What do you want to do with your life and why haven't you started doing it yet?"

I didn't read the book that summer, but after seeing the movie and hearing the director mention it during his interview, I did check it out of the library. My first reaction is the same as my last: give me a break! I'm no psychologist, but I'm guessing the last thing "Garden State's" main character (or any individual who's wrapping up the first quarter of life) wants to hear is example after example of how "Susie" chose personal fulfillment over big bucks or big hunks and so ultimately achieved true happiness. Gag me!

Beside the great soundtrack, the movie hints at success without absolving challenges or ignoring difficulties. It's simple, in a complex kind of way.

In the end, I'd still suggest the cups of tea, the late night ice creams, and investing in a movie ticket, not a book sale. "Good luck exploring the infinite abyss."


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Genova Per Noi

"[It] abounds in the strangest contrasts; things that are picturesque, ugly, mean, magnificent, delightful and offensive, break upon the view at every turn."

-Charles Dickens (as quoted by my Rough Guide to Italy)

In the midst of a very busy August, Antonello and I decided to take off for Genova. We left on the 20th of August to head up north, all the way north practically, to the city of Genova (Genoa) in the region of Liguria. The area--known for its exceptional beaches of sandy coves, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque towns (Le Cinque Terre, Portofino)-claims Genova as its capital port city. Genova is rich in history (its maritime tradition includes Christopher Columbus as one of its favorite sons), but it has always been relatively overlooked as a tourist city.

But this year, Genova gets to shine in the spotlight as a European Capital of Culture. Since January, I have been seeing magazine articles, newspaper extras, and television clips all bragging about a cleaned-up, beautiful Genova. With special museum exhibits and other attractions, I have been bugging Antonello for months: "This year, we go to Genova, right?" So finally, two weeks ago, we made the trek.

The trek was a little longer than I thought it would be. Although we did stop along the way at the city of Lucca, in Tuscany, to appease our friend Eric's claim that it is the most beautiful city in the world (Antonello wasn't completely convinced, Eric, but he did like the city quite a bit), that still shouldn't account for the 10 hours it took us to get to Genova. But the trip went by quickly--staring out the window at the marble-mined mountains to our right and the quick glimpses of beach to our left, and singing along to Antonello's prized greatest hits collection of Supertramp (who ARE they?).

We arrived in Genova at night, and after reading in my guidebook about the danger of the old city after dark, I held on tightly to my purse and followed Antonello, shooting paranoid glances behind us every few feet. Genova was already intimidating--crazy traffic, a big city feel, and something else. I didn't know what. We found our hotel after fifteen minutes of driving in circles in the newer section of town. Our hotel, instead, was on the main street that headed into the historic center--Via XX Settembre.

The hotel was creepy, and it didn't help much with my initial impressions of Genova. Our hotel room helped even less--peeling wallpaper from the 1930s, a stain on the wall that resembled a spooky woman's face, and a door that wouldn't quite lock. Needless-to-say, that night I slept horribly. Amidst fears of being robbed and my constant suspicion of that weird-looking stain on the wall (did I see it move?), Genova wasn't starting out so great.

But luckily that changed the next day. I opened the window and found that the sun was out and Genova was awake, streets glowing, and the noise of life and movement tore me away from my scary hotel bedroom. We walked into the center of town and were immediately greeted with gothic, striped porticoed sidewalks and gorgeous Ligurian-style palaces. This was a completely different city than what I'd seen thus far in Italy. We arrived, after making our way down Via XX Settembre, at Piazza Ferrari, which sung with fountains and ornate palaces, the sun shining upon us like a smile on Genova's face. I felt at ease. We took pictures of ourselves dancing among the fountains.

And that day was our day in Genova. We explored the famous caruggi--Genova's tiny streets in the city center which wind endlessly among the skinniest palaces and churches, an ornate shrine to some saint nestled into each street corner. We visited the duomo--striped like a candy cane except black and white, with decadent curly cues and friendly-looking stone lions framing it. We made our way to the port, thought about paying 13 euros each for tickets to the aquarium, but decided on a boat tour of the port instead (it was a good choice, I think), and gazed at Genova's stacks of pastel palaces and water filled with boats.

We visited the Palazzo Reale for a baroque art exhibit, peeked into various churches, and headed back toward our hotel. On our way, we passed by magnificent palaces--a whole street closed off to traffic, lined with palace after palace, each decorated abundantly. One hid a splendid fountain in its courtyard, others dazzled passers-by with their ornate facades. It felt like a completely different city--this huge Parisian-style boulevard in front of us after we had twisted our way around the tiny caruggi streets earlier. And later we would eat a starlit dinner in what seemed like a Roman piazza. What was this city? Genova was made of many different things.

As we left Genova the next day, I couldn't get that feeling out of my system: that this city was different, really different, than other Italian cities I had seen. There was something oddly enchanting about it--a city rough, yet polished at the same time, creeping with beauty. Were port cities in Italy all this way? Fantastical mixes of elegance and charm, tiny mysterious streets and opulent boulevards? Were they all this intriguing?

Hmm. I think Antonello and I will have to go to Naples to find out. Let the planning begin.