Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hotel Panorama, SudTirol, “Italy”

We’re in a super comfortable lodge perched just above the northern Italian town of Tschars, just below two stupendous, snowy ridges of the Alps. It’s more Austrian then it is Italian, the whole of this region having been part of Austria until the end of the first World War. So that means that the hotel restaurant plays alpine schlager hits and the female hotel staff wears Dirndls. Yesterday, we took a cable car way-the-fuck-up these steep mountain walls, then hiked back down. For six hours. We have mountain goats for daughters.

It helps that we’re here with our favorite other Ethiopian-Austrian family. Adinah and V. probably never would have hiked like they did without their pals Teresa and Emily. But still: V. is just 3 ½ years old. And even though she cried and whined at times, she walked almost the whole way down by herself. For a kiddo who probably sees no point at all in clambering down a near-vertical slab of rock and scrub brush, that’s six hours of heroic effort.

Last night at the dinner table, in an effort to summarize her day, V. took a skewer and jabbed it into a giant chunk of her schnitzel, turned it upside down and started flying it around the room. “Look,” she laffed, “I’m a cable car.”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Top Ten Ill-Advised Facebook Status Updates

1) I think I'm getting a raise!

2) Initiating launch sequence in 5...4...3...2...1-.

3) Joey's wife is hot!

4) Joey's brother is a douche lord!

5) What *is* the difference between irony and sarcasm, anyway?

6) Music sounds so great when you're high.

7) Underneath my clothes, I'm naked.

8) Look, tracheotomies are easy and fun. You just cut through this stuff here and-oh. Wait.

9) That's it, I'm quitting this stupid job.

10) These people are fools! They'll never suspect it was I, Colonel Mustard, in the Ballroom, with a Candlestick!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

dead again

I'm all about zombies lately. And that is not just because I'm reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or because the folks in Wienertown shuffle down the street like the walking dead. I’ve come to realize that I quite like zombies. Or: I quite like zombie movies. Or, at least, I like one zombie movie: Dawn of the Dead.

The best horror movie about consumerism ever. Plus, it’s got a really great exploding head scene.

So I finally got around to seeing the 2004 remake of Dawn. Until now, I’ve avoided it, along with the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Pink Panther. But then I succumbed to this zombie fever of mine, and I found out that the remake stars Sarah Polley, and Ving Rhames. They have talent, right?

Anyway, I watched the damn thing.

It’s got its moments, like the bit where the heroine stumbles out into her front yard to discover that, overnight, the planet has descended into mayhem. Or the spot where the redneck mall security cop takes a break from wasting manky dreadfuls to bob his head along with the mall Muzak version of “All Lost in Love” and he says, “I like this song.”

But that’s all it’s got: moments. The suspense and humor of the original are AWOL. It's tense but undramatic. It made me nervous, but it didn't disturb me. Who cares about these characters in a mall? Not me.

Dawn of the Dead 2004 includes a scene where a hillbilly grandma, gun in hand, finishes a cigarette before she goes into a dark room. Extreme Close-Up of the cherry on the tip of the cigarette, sound of the tobacco and paper crinkling with fire. She drops the stogey and steps on it--another Extreme Close-Up. Why are we seeing these filmic flourishes? How do they advance the story or tell us something we don't already know? They don't. These shots are just close-ups, and they only cue us to the fact that something may or may not be about to happen.

It amazes me that young filmakers--in this case, one Zack Snyder, who went on to "direct" 300--can take a story about braineaters in a shopping mall and fashion a movie that is long on style and really short on well, guts.

And it amazes , and delights me even more that this thought leads me back to the greatness of George Romero's 1976 film. Dawn of the Dead is ridiculous, a comic book. I mean the zombies are blue, for gawd's sake. Check these shots of both Dawns for comparison--which look more like real zombies?!

And yet, it's a complete and disturbing artistic statement about life, death, the world, hell, mortality, humanity, disease, and brains. For me, that's genius: a cheesy movie that's really about something, that is funny and horrible and deep and dumb, all at the same time.

For me, that's cinema.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

so long, AC

I'm sad to learn that Alex Chilton has passed. His music changed my life. It was sad and very troubled, but there was also a lot of beauty and joy in it. If you have never heard it, start with the record Sister Lovers/3rd by his band, Big Star.

Chilton played the Continental Club in Austin, Texas, in 1985 or so. He played with Rene somebody and a drummer, and they did songs that were mostly from the albums High Priest and Feudalist Tarts. A lot of us in the audience wanted to hear some Big Star song, any Big Star song, or anything by Chilton's teen Top 40 band, the Box Tops, but we were too "respectful," too aware of that tradition where an artist shouldn't be badgered into playing their great old stuff. But one guy in the back of the club wasn't respectful: this was Dino Lee, the singer, emcee and perpetrator of the White Trash Revue, which was actually considered entertaining by some in Austin in 1985. Dino Lee was standing by the door, bellowing the names of various Box Tops songs. I was a little embarrassed that he was heckling the great Alex Chilton. But Chilton laffed, made a semi-snide remark, and then, to his great credit, played the Box Tops' biggest hit, "The Letter."

Most musicians are proud, but only the really great ones are understanding and forgiving too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

it began in Africa

Currently, V. knows two things about Africa. It is (1) where her biological father comes from, and (2) it's where Barbapapa goes to set free all those animals he rescues from the zoo. Barbapapa being the large pink blob creature who can form himself into any shape, who always helps other creatures out, and who had his own cartoon show here in Europa in the seventies--still beloved by children of all colors.

So we do occasionally try to broaden our girls ideas about the Continent. This afternoon, we took them to a blowout organized by the local African Womens' Coalition today. It was advertised as an event celebrating Black History Month (which was last month, wasn't it?), but actually it was just a party for kids of color. Which was fine, thank you.

There was face-painting and some delicious chicken and rice, but mostly the party consisted of two very sweet (and patient) young men with dreads leading a gaggle of black, brown and caramel-colored kids in a series of games for close to five hours without a break. Including ours, the kids numbered about twenty-five at the height of the party, and ranged in age from two to twelve. Meanwhile, the parents--black, white, adoptive and/or bio--sat on the sidelines as the wild rumpus raged.

It was nice.

I think I've learned to (mostly) check my cynicism when I observe other parents, especially other white adoptive parents of brown and black kids. I try not to play Who's the Most Perfect Parent in the Room (Answer: ME!) I try not to be too over protective, nor too involved in the proceedings. I try to remember that even when the kids are dancing, nobody in the room wants to see me get funky. That would be wrong.

But still, parties like this are pretty intense. You can't make any assumptions about which language anyone does or does not speak, and it's always dicey trying to figure out which kid belongs to which big person. If you see, as I did today, a tomboyish ten year old girl who's slightly heavy, and seems to want to disappear inside her baggy clothes, and her mom, a tiny, nervous, slightly pinched and blonde woman who doesn't seem to be paying much attention to her daughter, you can't think, 'Oh, yeah, I know what's going on in their house.' But obviously, I still do.

And I have to try to set aside all sorts of self-loathing and racist poison in my brain. It's still there. Maybe it's inside of most people. All I know is I'm still working on it.

And that's nice work if you can get it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The English Cinema Haydn

A subterranean theatre in the basement of what is probably a pretty shabby hotel. Two of the three screens are small compared to US multiplex screens, but hey, the concession stand sells beer.

Last night, I got there early, sat down, opened my computer, and continued trying to figure out how to add my own artwork to songs on my iPod. Around me, other English speakers (not all American) discussed their current projects at their various NGOs and IGOs, or tried to convince the ticket seller that they know the theatre owner.

A tv monitor in one corner is perpetually tuned to CNN--last night it was blabbering on about the three richest men in the world. Fascinating.

I shut the computer a few minutes before my movie was set to start, and got in line up at the snack bar. I usually order the Haydn Menu 2, which is the second hugest popcorn and a "large" drink. But, hey, caveat emptor, this large drink is barely a thimblefull compared to US multiplex drinks. And to add insult to injury, the snack bar staff never even fill the cup to the top! I'm wanting for cola, here! I see them over there, futzing around with my drink, as if they were topping it off, but no. When they slide it across the counter to me, without even taking off the lid, I can see it's, you know, only about two thirds full!!

Before entering the auditorium, I loiter around the place, deriding the posters and advertising materials for the upcoming atrocities, most of which I will eventually pay to see. "Is Sandra Bullock blind now? Wha-?" "Oh my god, another Shrek?!"To think some Hollywood imbecile was paid--highly--to 'develop' this retread of a remake of a film version of an old tv show?!"

Sometimes the movie is good.

And around 11 pm, I scuttle out and down the street to my awaiting subway train. Clutching half a bag of movie theatre popcorn.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

bar talk

Stopped in at our former neighborhood bar last night. Stephan was working, though he told me he only works there on Monday nights these days. He’s a big handsome gym queen, and he always asks about Adinah. First he always asks, ‘What’s your daughter’s name again?’ Last night, when I walked in, he stopped talking to the young man sitting at the bar, immediately switched to English, and pumped me with so many questions about our family that I had to remind him that I had also come for a drink.

Stephan has always wanted to have a kid. Or at least, whenever he sees me, he likes to think and talk about having a kid. He seems like a sweet man. It’s probably been two years since I’ve seen him.

So last night he had lots of questions about V. ‘So she’s your foster kid?’ ‘How is that different from an adopted kid?’ ‘Is it expensive?’ ‘Is there a lot of paperwork to do?’ ‘How long did it take to get her?’ And so forth. Culminating with the last question, the one he always returns to when I return to his bar, ‘Do you think I could have a foster kid, even though I don’t have a partner?’

I told him, ‘Yes, I think you could. We know a lesbian couple who have two foster kids.’

His young friend at the bar disagreed. ‘Surely not, Stephan,” he said in German. “No way.” He said a single gay man could never become a foster father in this super Catholic country. But I began to doubt this character’s judgement over the next hour plus as I listened to him see-saw between complaining about Austrian provincialism and exhibiting it.

Mostly I was struck again by the fact that some people just want to have kids, whether or not it’s practical or even possible. Even without a boyfriend or a husband, some men think, ‘I want to be a papa.’ Women too: our friend K was like this—she was determined to adopt or become a foster parent, and when she met her girlfriend, she said, ‘Think twice before you get involved with me—I’m pregnant.’

I know this is accepted, or explained away as a ‘parenting urge’ or some such, but still I find it remarkable. In Stephan’s case, maybe it’s just a fantasy, nothing serious, not something he will ever make happen. Still, isn’t it amazing that even in these completely crazy times, some folks just want to step up to the plate and take on all this work and joy and heartbreak and other stuff?

I’m muttering again, I know, but I think that’s amazing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Subjects for Further Research: the Top Ten Community College Degrees I would attain If I were Stinking Rich

Research Question:
Why do we keep fucking up?

Research Question:
Is it still possible to make a good film with both subtexts and blowjobs?

Research Question:
How do we stop the hurting?

Research Question:
Why are teachers who can't listen to students allowed into the classroom?

International Relations
Research Question:
How can democracy defeat capitalism and save the world?

Graphic Design
Research Question:
In the age of iTunes and Pirate Bay, what will replace triple gatefold record album art?

Research Question:
After Facebook, does anyone under 30 understand the concept of privacy?

Cultural Criticism
Research Question:
The Inuit have sixty words for snow-why do rock critics only know one way to say "knarly guitar solo"?

Social Work
Research Question:
In a world of rootless cosmopolitans, how can any of us remember who we are or where we came from?

Music Theory
Research Question:
What is the most ecstatic chord in existence?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Springtime for Österreich

Ahh, the snowbells are in bloom, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the snapping and cracking of half a million Viennese frowns, floating away like ice on the Danube.

It's not that the winters here are so cold, just long, and gray. It's meant a bit of adjusting for me. In Texas, winter comes on a Wednesday (though I hear they've had a few snowflakes this year.) And the skies above Manhattan can be the deepest blue, even on a blisteringly cold February afternoon.

In Vienna, Anette and I will be out for a walk in September, and when she sees her first brown leave of fall, she casts her eyes downward and groans, 'It has begun.'

Fall is nice, but this year we got snow in November. Winter sometimes lasts into April. And while we're at it, June is rainy as hell--hardly a summer month at all. I want a refund! This is very Euro of Me: winter is a great conversational placeholder here, and even the most frozen Austrians come alive when they complain about the weather.

But this year really has been schön okay. Here it is, the dawn of March, and we just had a full weekend of sun. Well, almost a full weekend. It's almost light in the morning when the kids crawl into bed with us, and it's still light when I leave the office in the evening.

I'm getting old and easy to please. Throw me a little light and spring air and I think, 'Maybe my life is really alright for now.'