“What have I been doing for the last month?” and My Thoughts on Everything Else

My Italian experience has continued it’s slide into the depths of mundanity – along the lines of go to class, go to work, eat, go to sleep. That isn’t really much to blog about, sadly. However, it has been a freaking month since my last post. Hopefully, if I can find interesting things, I can get back into once-a-week blogging, or better. Interesting things have happened. Work has also been happening. But screw apologizing or rationalizing, this is my blog, and this is my new post, so enjoy it.

In the weeks since my bike was stolen, I have indeed walked a great deal. It’s forty-five minutes from the campus to the mall on foot, and I’ve now walked that at least half a dozen times. This also has put a serious cramp on trying to see the weekly attractions the city puts on in the middle of town on weekends. I walked to another street fair a week or two ago specifically because the signs I found advertising it mentioned America, in terms of American goods or American-style goods or some such. Of course, at the bottom of the sign, literally in ellipses, it said something like, ‘along with normal goods of local origin.’ I walked to this street fair and found nothing particularly American at all, so I didn’t venture further. If there were American clothes or cars or whatever, I didn’t find them, and my backpack was loaded down with groceries. Besides that, the entire 1st world wears American clothes anyhow. I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.

Unless your vision of American clothing is embodied by “Why you so trashy? – Northern Carolina University.” Seriously, my father caught that on a shirt on display at the mall, as well as a guy wearing a shirt that said “Shut the F*ck Up,” asterisk and all. Combine this crap with punks tagging everything in Engrish, and one is reminded that America dominates the world culturally, if not militarily. I can live with that.

What I can’t live with is crap like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have you seen the rain?” sung by somebody with a freaking British accent. How can something like that even happen? Seriously, I felt saved when I found Virgin Radio’s all-English station up here. It took a couple of days for me to realize I actually felt insulted. A quarter of the songs on that station are horrible covers of American classics. Half of them are songs that are musically okay and lyrically stupid. Maybe twenty percent are original, radio-worthy American songs, a high proportion of those being from the Red Hot Chili Peppers for whatever reason. And the other five percent? Well, the other five percent is Christian Rock. And I don’t mean the odd P.O.D. “Youth of the Nation.” I mean people who can barely sing preaching about how God and Jesus saved them from eternal damnation.

Holy crap, I will never listen to that station again. I guess it makes sense when you take into account the fact that no-one here speaks English, but why even have that station at all? I don’t get it. I am so glad Morgantown’s WCLG finally got a working internet stream some time before last summer. I listen to that a lot. Like whenever I can. I don’t care that the different time zones mean that Lex and Terry are on noon-to-five Italian time. I don’t care that associates of mine have called them everything from misogynists to smut dealers. I love ’em. And I love the music twice as much.

You never know what you have until you lose it.

Another example of this great truism for me is football. When I lived four tenths of a mile from the stadium, I went to most every home game, mainly because my parents came into town to see them. It was always a good time, and I still want to know where else I can get kettle-cooked popcorn like that, but the game itself was always secondary to the atmosphere. I didn’t watch many away games, and when I did, it was usually on in the background. Now that I’m a third the world away, I’ve been listening to every game I can through Mountaineer Sports Network radio affiliates’ streams. Of course, some of this is also due to added interest from the changes in the coaching staff and the disintegration of the Big East.

Other things I miss:

  • Big juicy hamburgers. Italian hamburgers I’ve had include McDonalds-style flat-patty bull crap, and an interesting concoction of hamburger meat and sautéed onions and peppers in a hoagie bun. Honestly, the second was very good and I’m going to have to try something similar when I get back to my grill in America.
  • Beef jerky. Oh god, do I need jerky. Italian meat is delicate, thinly-sliced, well-aged delight, and I can basically go to the mall and pick out sandwich meats at random and have something different and delicious every evening, but sometimes, I just want dried meat I can shove in my back pocket and eat throughout the day.
  • Clothes-driers. This is more an issue of the University at the moment, but it is really pissing me off. Back when I could just bike through town for the heck of it, I noticed that a lot of apartments had clothes hanging outside to dry. Well, despite the fact that Italy is the 7th-largest economy (by nominal GDP) in the world, that’s really how a lot of people still do it here. They have these little racks that unfold and you can hang your clothes on them to dry. My floor of the dorm does have one clothes-drier. However, it’s some energy-efficient silliness that takes two hours and fifteen minutes to dry a load of laundry. So yeah, it doesn’t get particularly hot. Combine this with the endless barrage of people opening the windows so they can have a breeze of outside air, in the fifties, blow over their drying clothes, and two hours and fifteen minutes in the clothes-drier accomplishes next to nothing. So, I’m basically forced to dry my clothes the way they do. And the hallway is always cold. I’m contemplating gluing the window shut.

One thing that I’m surprised to have found here: kettle-style chips. They are apparently considered to be Scandinavian-style. I’m going to stop my weight loss in it’s tracks. Also, there are pickles here, but only one variety in the store. It’s brine has a tinge of sweetness, but I like that.

I don’t know much Italian yet. I am able to read signs, labels and et cetera simply because of the mass of Italian words that have close cognates in English, along with words with obvious Latin roots. I can usually make out the meaning of at least half of any given written sentence. And no, I don’t know Latin, but if you look for it, Latin is everywhere. Stuff to do with the sun – solar. The Italian word for sun – sole (so-lay). Boom. Done.

Of course, listening to spoken Italian is another story altogether. God darnit do these guys talk fast. I can pick out a word I know every now and then, but man. The few guys who speak English sometimes have to remind me to speak more slowly. When I know enough Italian, I’m gonna spring that bull crap on them, so much.

I will be moving faster in that direction pretty soon, too. I just got a copy of Rosetta Stone software from my father. His college buddy lent it to him, but we only got some small supplemental part originally, which was shipped to me for $130. I figured out what happened, and received another $130 package about a week ago. What’s even better is that I got taxed €45 for the last one, due to Italian protectionism. Apparently, the Italian customs people thought I was receiving new merchandise from abroad, so I must be cheating them. Thank God they didn’t get ahold of the list price for Rosetta Stone, or I would have been screwed. The tax was about 20% of the price of whatever they thought I got, which was probably the bar-code scanner whose box the software was shipped in.

One thing I never said explicitly here is just how lucky I am that my bike was stolen after I moved to campus. I live right next to my class and my office, so I don’t really need my bike as much as I did when I lived at the Seminary. It was 4 km (2.5 miles) from the Seminary to school and work. Doing that on foot every day just wasn’t going to happen. And using buses would have literally involved three separate bus routes. (Maybe two, I don’t really remember.) So I needed a bike. Now I just really want one. My bike was actually stolen the weekend after I moved into the campus. It must be a conspiracy.

Speaking of that move, remember the guy I met at the Seminary who was in my class and could speak English well? He was still living in the Seminary the last time I talked to him. I would have thought the housing people took care of everybody at the same time. Nope. He mentioned that the Seminary told him he basically had to leave pretty soon. I keep hearing that the issue with these idiots is so rare. Never happened before. Somebody got changed out and everything got jumbled, and it’s some wild coincidence that this happened the same year I am here. I’m sorry, but that kind of crap is just unacceptable. How could it have gone that wrong?

Another interesting story, I guess, is the Pole-turned-Irishman international trucker I met at the food shack near the campus. He had moved to Ireland some years ago and had a job there as a transport professional. (He actually had a very strong Irish accent, to the point where I had some trouble understanding him.) With the international economic downturn, he had had to move to continental Europe to continue his trade, and has been driving all over Europe for a while now. With the 23 official languages of the European Union, not all of which even use the Latin alphabet, I had to ask how he gets around. Well, a lot of people in his industry, at least, know some English.

On this same occasion at the food stand, where I eat pretty often, the husband-and-wife team who runs it, along with a customer, made the effort to try and talk to me with what little English they knew. It was a relatively enjoyable conversation, despite the fact that they could barely understand anything I said, and vice versa. This only really became an issue when they asked me what I thought of Obama. I answered honestly, saying I didn’t really like him, and was immediately accused of racism by the husband, who up to that point hadn’t really said much. After my shock at the geographical reach of this baseless accusation, I tried to defend my position. Of course, they could barely understand what I was saying, which presented a nuanced contrast to the willful ignorance I have been faced with in similar situations in the past. (Don’t hate, I know political parties have almost become the equivalent of extended high school cliques and few people give a crap about real issues and policies. I get it.)

Of course, the economic downturn and the consequent European sovereign debt crisis have continued to weigh on my mind. I’ve read up on a lot of it, thinking mainly in terms of its impact on the Euro, and it’s seriously a mess. Monetary union without fiscal union was a big mistake, and the apparent response from Germany and France is to push for more fiscal union, with the obvious result of declining national sovereignty throughout the EU. Of course, a lot of countries are balking at that. Then you have onerous regulation from unelected bureaucrats. No-one in the EU governing body is actually elected, and it shows.

London is the most competitive financial center in the world, and the EU will soon be implementing a financial transaction tax. Put away your politics for a minute and think about what that does to London. Switzerland isn’t actually in the EU, and oh look, there’s Zurich and Geneva being the second- and third-most competitive financial centers in Europe. Guess where all those Londoner bankers go. These kinds of regulations are everywhere here.

The EU and the Euro are broken systems and the EU is attempting to accelerate the centralization of its own power in response, rather than simply backing the Euro with some commodity. The debtor nations may put up with some loss of sovereignty in order to avoid default, but the more fiscally-sound countries don’t want to be punished for what they didn’t do. There have already been rumors of some sort of split in the EU.

At the same time, many in the EU claim that it’s breakup would allow for new European wars. I’m not sure how an overbearing transnational bureaucracy is going to help it. If Romania and Hungary, for instance, had some dispute that turned into a military confrontation, I fail to see what the EU could do to stop it. I can see them endlessly calling for diplomacy, but when the crap hits the fan, bullets still fly. Even in the case that Germany or somebody else steps in and slaps them both down militarily, or arbitrarily chooses a winner and slaps down the other, Balkans-style, people still die.

I was originally worried about Italy’s fiscal stability in relation to the research going on here, and my fears were allayed by the fact that it is actually the EU who pays the bills. Now, I’m not so sure that I like that either.

(In good news from politics of the Big Boot, Italy’s 75-year-old Horndog-in-Chief, Silvio Berlusconi, is now gone. His government has been replaced by one with literally no politicians in it. This can only be a good thing.)

Having done research at Morgantown’s NETL over two summers, I was able to observe the quick transition from having money to not having money that came with continuing budget idiocy in Washington. Money that was set aside for paying my way in Italy went from something with four figures to nothing at all, mainly because more pertinent things had to be paid for. I was reminded that the professor who brought me in there in the first place didn’t get his contract renewed when I couldn’t get into my NETL email account a couple weeks ago. If I run into similar crap out here, I may just lose my mind. My first and only payment so far was actually in cash, so we’ll see what happens.

In any case, I sure hope a legally-blind guy can find a job as a mechanical engineer in the private sector, because I would really rather avoid working for a government after all the wonderful experiences I’ve had doing that so far.

I just typed more than 2500 words. If you’re still here, you deserve some pictures. Here ya go:

That is exactly what it looks like, and I got a good chuckle out of it when I saw it.

The post office in the mall, where I will be paying my rent today. Yeah; figure that one out.

Are these guys serious?

I cracked the door open to see if anybody was inside. A guy answered the door, and I lifted my camera to show what I was doing. Of course, he closed the door, but I got a good look at their red plastic chairs in what appeared to be a meeting hall. I assume most everything else in there was also red. I don’t know what the deal is with these guys and red, but when politics supercedes even basic aesthetics, you’ve gone too far.

Note the red.

This party was completely disbanded in 1994, after a huge bribery scandal. So who knows why the sign is still there?

I haven’t actually found much of anything else political just walking around. Maybe the other Italian political parties have names that I don’t understand.

I tried to get a little artsy with this dawn at the train station thing.

Why was I at the train station at dawn? Because I had to enroll as a student in Genova. All the paperwork and everything at WVU apparently didn’t really count for anything. I only found out about this when I realized I didn’t have credentials for the wi-fi network on campus. So I was going to class and living on campus without technically being a student at all until last Monday. Of course, the office that I needed to go to was the same office I tried and failed to find over two days spent in Genova earlier this semester. Luckily, the guy who I’m working for came there to vouch for me, speak Italian, and guide me through the architecture. I had actually been in the right building on my second try. I had simply become confused by the arrangement of the building.

The credentials I was given there don’t work.

Oh, Italy! Or whatever.



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