Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rimini out of season

Down at the beach there are regimented rows of changing huts and folded deckchairs – it is grim to imagine the place sizzling with sun worshipping holiday-makers in season. The Italian mod website suggests it is the best place to organise a mod rally at the end of summer. I wouldn’t know about that. Now it has an off-peak melancholy familiar to all seaside resorts.

I am reminded of Morrisey’s ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’, although I’m not advocating bombs or Armageddon unlike the King of Glum. A quick browse of the lyrics corrects my assumption of stray dogs licking at your hand and face – apparently the proper words are, ‘Trudging back over pebbles and sand/ And a strange dust lands on your hands/ And on your face’. I think I actually prefer my version.

Men fish on the quay all bundled up in jackets in scarves – in our sandals and short sleeves we look out of place, not to mention grimly desperate. Hardy souls plunge and rear through the waves as they leave the safety of the harbour. A couple of fishing boats are moored to the quay and people flock to buy fresh fish from their decks. My sister says it is sad to see all these dead sea creatures caught in the nets – collateral casualties of trawling. I think this style of fishing is outlawed in the UK and NZ (unless you’re Maori).

We head to the old town, which is very old indeed with a triumphal archway from 27BC – a great ancestor of the Arc de Triomphe – piazzas, fountains, statues, castles, churches, campaniles, excavations of Roman streets, and a very old arched bridge. People cycle around the narrow streets and wide open squares of the old town on bright red commuter bikes; there are no vehicles, but you have to dodge out of the way of the approaching bicycles.

Borgo San Giuliano is just over the Tiberius Bridge but it’s like another world. The pastel houses huddle together in shades of yellow, pink, blue and green, hiding behind their shutters and pots of geraniums on the window ledge. Many of the walls are decorated with murals, mainly depicting sea scenes.

The lazy, sleepy atmosphere is broken only by old women in headscarves as they pedal their bikes – baskets laden – back from the market, wheel their shopping trolleys or sweep their yards, calling out ‘Ciao Maria’ to their neighbours, all of whom appear to be called Maria for ease of memory.

Back over the bridge I get trapped in the bustle of the market at Piazza Malatesta where leather goods (vera pelle) and fresh produce are everywhere. I walk around the stalls skirting the cathedral for about an hour looking for comfortable leather sandals (like the ones they sell in NZ, made in Italy, for about $150). There aren’t any – they must export them all.

I suspect the Italians don’t do comfort, eschewing it for pure style. One must suffer pain for fashion it seems. The shoe repair shop in the centre of the old town has window displays of the various stiletto heels that can be re-fixed to your shoes after you have wrecked them among the cobbles and doubtless twisted your ankle.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Travels and Tribulations

LAX is a nightmare as usual. Why do you have to pick up the bags anyway? If they don’t enter the terminal, they can’t do any harm; they’re checked right through! We were supposed to be able to check the bags through transfer, but the bike is too big and we have to take it to our airline to check it back in – no time; spectacularly unhelpful staff; running around changing terminals; hot and sweaty; no signage or information; lengthy queues. I am checked for explosives and the woman in the row ahead on the flight is sick – all in all, a terrible experience.

Frankfurt airport, by contrast, is clean, bright, grey, efficient and tidy – everything you would expect from Germany. There are glamorous shops selling beer steins and Steiff bears (a lion on wheels will set you back a mere 700 euros). I have a laugenbrezen mit sonnenblumenkernen (sunflower seed Bavarian soft pretzel) and Him Outdoors a nusshornschen (praline croissant). Suddenly I feel grubby and dowdy around all these immaculately dressed, shod and coiffured Europeans. Men cycle about the terminal on sit-up-and-beg bikes. A bus takes us to the plane and the captain announces ‘Take of in 30 seconds’ and we do.

How wonderful to be surrounded by foreign accents and languages – immersed in a continental sea of French, German and Italian, the sharp tones of Kiwi and American are gradually fading away. On the train from Bologna, racing through the countryside it is dry and flat with rolling hills in the distance. Blue sky with some fluffy white clouds. Rows of overgrown vines and olive trees interspersed with tumbledown farmhouses and quintessential villas – dots of cream, faded pink or golden yellow with genteel green or brown wooden shutters and terracotta tiled roofs.

The boys on the train have white shirts tucked into jeans and soulful brown eyes. Cell phones ring and are answered with rapid fire Italian – ‘Ok, ok, ciao Mama.’ Not having validated our tickets at the station we are reprimanded by the stern conductor who writes an essay on our tickets while the doe-eyed boy looks serene. The women are in tight white trousers, high heels, lots of gold jewellery and boxy white leather jackets, looking immaculate and so clean – how do they not get dirty?

We walk the kilometre from the station to our hotel through the promenading throng. Families are out on post-prandial perambulations; mother pushing pram and father with infant atop his shoulders. Folk weave crazily on bicycles along the pavement, calling out ‘buonjiorno’ and ringing their bell. Men stroll casually with smouldering eyes and cigarettes; women in killer heels and wicked make-up totter along the cobblestones with miniature dogs – tiny terriers, poodles, Pomeranians and one with three pugs, each with an individual plastic bag tied to its leash in the shape of a bow: a stylish poop collector Italian style.

At the Grand Hotel, Rimini the fountains are lit and the tables are spread with white linen cloths and glassware. There is some kind of car rally and the square is full of Lamborghinis, Porsches, MGs and Jaguars – all vintage models and some looking as though they have come directly from the Wacky Races. They are stunning machines and spectators admire and murmur as the smell of leaded petrol hangs in the air.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

What's in a Name?

I know, I know, ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, but I think this really matters when it comes to books, film, and plays, and the box office gurus would appear to agree.

Would Bladerunner have achieved the same box office success if it were called after the book on which it was based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Apocalypse Now is a funkier title than Heart of Darkness, and I had a friend who once saw Miss Saigon and said it reminded them a bit of Madame Butterfly.

There are plenty of examples of adaptations of Shakespeare plays being given different names: My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV, Part I); 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew); Prospero’s Books (The Tempest); The Lion King (Hamlet); She’s the Man (Twelfth Night); A Thousand Acres (King Lear) to name but six recent examples.

As a film, Schindler's Ark was renamed Schindler's List, for no apparent reason other than to annoy lift engineers everywhere who work for Schindler (yes, they have heard the ‘joke’ before). I saw Leon in France and spent ages wondering why none of my friends in England had heard of it, until I realised it was released there under the title of The Professional and was also called The Cleaner.

Last month I went to see a production of the user-unfriendly-named On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as her Young Lover at Downstage Theatre. I have seen this ludicrously long (and deliberately precise) title abbreviated to OTCAPOHCTMAHYL, which I originally thought was some new variety of wonder drug. Anyway, it was a good play and you can read my review on Lumiere.

So, what are your thoughts on the best or worst titles changes or abbreviations of books to films or films or plays that are released under different titles in different places?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand

Well, I have been away travelling for the last four weeks through Italy and America, and now I am back. I have a head full of memories and a camera full of photographs, the results of which will soon be flooding onto these blog pages, so don’t say you haven’t been warned. In the meantime I’ve read books, seen films, perused newspapers, watched television, listened to radio programmes, and talked to people about issues and current events.

Because of the places I have visited, it is no surprise that the main topics concern violence and rioting near Naples from the drug-related Camorra, the rescue mission of European governments to bail out banks and halt the freefalling economy, fires in California, and the US election campaign, and the great Stevie G scores his 100th goal for the mighty Liverpool. Honestly, they refer to him as Capitan Fantastico in the Italian press.

I haven’t heard New Zealand mentioned once in the past month; proof of the island’s isolation. So we bought a paper to see what has been happening while we’ve been away. Nothing, in a word, which could also be viewed as life continuing (or not) as usual.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t altogether bad. Who wants to live in a land of crime, pollution, overpopulation and the constant threat of terrorism? Not I. I love the beaches and coves of the Bay of Islands; the forests of Fiordland; the mountains and clear light of Otago; the vineyards and peaceful culture of Marlborough; the wide open spaces and the laid-back attitude to life. That’s why I live here, but it is true to say that not a lot happens.

The tedious wheel of predictable fortune is confirmed by the front page which announces that five people ‘win’ $6 million each, while two teenagers die in a modified 4WD, another hits and kills a cyclist from behind, and another two folk are involved in a head-on collision on North Canterbury Roads – how’s that for the lottery of life?

Meanwhile, Helen Clark bests John Key in a debate but he still climbs ahead in the polls – it’s all about the tax cuts, people. The financial market crashes but house prices remain relatively stable – at least you can see a house while your shares vanish into the ether. New Zealand beat England at netball (this is news?) and the Greens seem to be reverting to Chinese strategies and promoting a one-child policy.

Speaking of children, the first thing I noticed on arriving back in this country (besides the generally appalling dress-sense) was the proliferation of squealing children throwing tantrums. I’ve not heard that sound for a blessed four weeks and I can’t say I’ve missed it. New Zealand seems inordinately obsessed with children – to you they may be expressing themselves; to me they are disruptive and irritating to everyone in the vicinity.

Sure, they have children in other parts of the world, but they don’t pander to their every whim and elevate them above all normal social expectations. They are in restaurants (no ‘kids menus’ in Italy – they eat what adults eat; just less of it), on public transport, in museums and art galleries, in parks and everywhere we have been. But they are polite and well-behaved so you don’t have to notice them unless you choose.

Children: they are a part of life, but they are not the sole reason for it. As Him Outdoors puts it, ‘They may be the future, but they are not the now, now, now!’