In a Child’s Eyes

 

September, 2012 San Diego

I am standing in front of forty teenagers – old enough to have acne but not licenses – who bustle about with the sort of unbridled irresponsibility one expects from hyperglycemic adolecscents.  As they drool upon their antiquated desks, I recount a story, one involving a moral dilemma and a transforming decision, and one which causes inquisitive head tilts, as though this was a room full of puppies.

They are the future – Honors students – presumably blessed with some genetic advantage, now given over to six 50-minute daily academic periods in hopes of activating some of that advanced neurology.  I am presenting hypotheticals – would you turn your best friend/brother/ mother in for murder, for rape, for selling drugs, for driving drunk, for stealing a nickel?  I’m suggesting an intellectual imperative versus a virulent emotional inclination.  Cerebral cortex vs. limbic system.

They struggle to rationalize their positions, swayed by the pressures of peers, parents, religion, and the various voices of a dogmatic society.  To date, none of them have ever stripped themselves of external influence and delved into their own beliefs – a notion which scares the hell out of me, since these kids will be taking care of my generation when we’re clad in fecal-protecting cloth.

Science says these young brains are not well-formed enough to make moral judgments, that adolescents are selfish and not integrated with the global picture, that they see themselves as part of a small group of one, rather than a piece of the whole.  Consequently, science says they struggle to empathize with others, and can only think from their own personal perspective.  I call bullshit.

And so…

I am standing here…listening to brilliant young minds piece together their own opinions about the world, about how allegiance to law might be more important than allegiance to friendship, how the Darwinian rules of the Amazon jungle might not be applicable to a greater society.  These are children doing this….making sense of the world because someone dares to stand in front of them and ask them to think, without giving them the answers.

Perhaps there is hope.  Maybe they will suppress their amygdala and will allow their cerebral cortex to hold dominion over the actions.  Maybe the future will raise up a generation of leaders who have done some profound thinking early enough in their existence to make good decisions later in life.  Sometimes when I stare into these blank faces, I see a twinkle of activity, as if something is being considered, as if they are deciding something for themselves, for the first time.

Yes, perhaps there is hope….

 

 

Advertisements
By ccxander

Some Pretty Badass Thoughts on My Trip to Italy

Traveling Tuscany and roaming Rome has the ability to alter one’s DNA.  Italy’s center is a cultural convergence, where electric cars cross cobblestone streets and Roman descendants dine with foreigners whose ancestors once lived under Roman Empirical rule.  On a long walk through the city, one can almost see the evolution of civilization.

      

It is said your average adolescent develops his sense of society around age 15 – until then, they are self-centered and unaware of their role in the greater world.  International travel provides opportunity for similar transformation.  One gains cultural perspective – the joy of a four-hour dinner, immediate intimacy amongst strangers, the universality of humor, a smile’s seductiveness – and absorbs the commonalities among cultures.  In the face of international interaction, mundane differences evaporate.  It can be a lesson in humility.

    

What I’m driving at – and probably not very successfully – is awareness.  Whether we go back two thousand years or trek along the more recently paved streets of an ancient city, people haven’t really changed.  Journeying to foreign lands means sitting at dinner tables with folks who may not speak your language or preach to your God.  They may eat things wholly repulsive to you and they may perform odd cultural rituals, which seem antithetical to your more ethnocentric interests. But, in the end, they are people of the planet and they succumb to the same influences of parents and peers and policies.

    

I have returned to the States now, fallen back upon my cozy pillow after a solitary dinner of Third World take-out.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve gained a better sense of the benefits of embracing a stranger, of dropping my personal walls and being willing to appear fragile for the chance at cultural connection, of history’s place in foreign lands.  I’ve learned how critical American diplomacy is, and how a simple smile can breach otherwise impenetrable walls.

  (The Egyptians)

I’ve often heard the phrase “find your place in the world.”  After the past few weeks, it seems that may prove more difficult than I imagined.  There are many places for me, lands inhabited by people who can teach me their ways, and who can endow me with the gift of greater empathy for my fellow man.  As the autumn of my life approaches, I can stare at the changing leaves and know that each season offers a different beauty.  Regardless of their colors or shapes, it is like that with mankind.

By ccxander

ROME A FIRENZE

Finished Rome today…the final walking tour with our Italian friends, accomplished pianist Marco Clavora Braulin and the brilliant Francesco Morettini.  Though thoroughly non-religious, we spent the day shuffling through 2,000 year-old churches and dipping into enough gelato shops to walk the border of insulin shock.

Sacreligelato (def) the act of consuming Italian ice cream in church

Then, in an homage to Pinocchio, we told the story of Signore Craig, the man who traveled across the world to achieve his lifelong dream of one day seeing the inside of the Rome Opera House, where even Pavarotti felt a little quiver in his plump knees.  This was right after we’d been told the place was absolutely closed! Here’s the result:

Ninety-minute train ride to Tuscany.

When they invented the word quaint, they were looking at Florence, birthplace of Michelangelo and home to Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

Exit train to garlic scents.  Even at 7:00 am, a lonely accordion echoing through cobblestone streets can transport a man to another era.  The Medici bankers lived here six-hundred years ago and the yellow faded plaster buildings and crenellated porticos are the type of antiquated touch you’d pay some serious Ben Franklins for on the other side of the pond.

Outside Il Duomo, long tourist lines lift limp chins and ogle at the massive white Church.  Once you’ve seen the Vatican though, few things can impress.  It’s sort of like winning the lottery and then finding a hundred grand on the ground.  Still, it is gorgeous, original, and if you feel the urge to drop to your knees for something other than a good time, not a bad place to have a go.

Passed through Florentine streets and took photos of Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Museum where Botticelli sets his paintbrush’s sights at Renaissance porn.  Hit the Ponte Vecchio – old and famous bridge where lovers lock locks in adherence to the legend that locking a lock here will keep them together – and made our way to Palazzo Pitti where four American athletes could be found placing fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and tomatoes on just-baked bread before falling asleep on the ground in the middle of Florence.  In American this would be the equivalent of passing out in front of the Library of Congress, only here, no one kicks you and steals your wallet.

Fate is fickle friend, but tonight she proved generous.  Vogue magazine hosts its annual fashion show throughout the city, which means thousands of gorgeous and well-dressed people wander the feudal streets in search of fun.  DJ’s send modern verse down dark passageways as runway models snap high heels against stone and sport fabrics sheer enough to make Jenna Jameson blush.

Had a few Paparrazi moments when my travel mates decided to “leak” to the crowd that I was a famous designer, but rumor has it those photos are now headed to a vault somewhere North of the Swiss border.

Final thoughts on Italy tomorrow….

By ccxander

Rome-anticism.

 

Clouds like swollen marshmellows drift around an azure sky. With faces like they’re playing with a baby across the room, foreign tourists gawk and drool at Castel St. Angelo and Trajan’s market.  Meanwhile, Italian men say things like “Why the hell are they looking at that?” with enough vowels and romanticism to make even old English women get a little sweaty in the thighs.

 

…Atop the Bridge of Angels, seven sweaty Americans stride across the Tiber River in search of Tuscan nourishment.  Sunlight bounces of the water and one can almost imagine ancient Roman slaves transporting goods beneath the bridge’s arches.  The river is Irish-piss green and there’s a smell that hints at something digestive.

 

 

…In Trastevere, deep-rooted trees cast artistic shadows along cobblestone streets as restaurant employees tempt youthful crowds into their establishments, the sautéing garlic and baked mozzarella scents seducing ravenous travelers.  Trastevere is popular for its nightlife, the smoky alleyways and unlit walkways playing host to young Italians searching for happiness beneath the belt-line.

 

….At Campo di Fiori, adolescent pickpockets dip dirty hands and purge unaware sightseers….With its three famous fountains and enough street performers to make Cirque de Soleil hold down its skirt, Piazza Navona resembles an LA freeway at rush hour.  Laughter fuses with accordion music to create an authentic ambience. By the middle fountain, Gelato attacks a child’s face and several overweight males rub their chins in a way that makes you just know they are thinking uncomfortable thoughts about a strolling runway model.

 

…The ruined Roman Forums resemble a child’s room after a Tinkertoys fight.  Fallen columns and stray brick litter the grounds as unused condom packages blight two-thousand years of history – and suggest someone may have been thinking of putting someone on a pedestal.

 

…531…The number of steps it takes to climb to the top of the Vatican,

albeit with three litres of lost sweat , brief but life-saving pauses for oxygen, and the uncompassionate duck and swerve around an older woman who couldn’t seem to un-wedge herself from between the walls, not to mention the totally inappropriate word plays of  “Jesus Christ this is high!” “Holy shit”  and Vaticant (def) see photo below

 

…Views from St. Peter’s Cupola stretch from the Mediterranean to Northern Italy and include Vatican City, a country defended by Swiss Guards who dress with the sort of over-enthusiastic fashion one might expect in a “very gay” parade.

…After fifteen miles of walking, two home-cooked plates of Fettucini Bolognese followed by pizza bianco – imagine two slices of pizza bread placed on top of each other with a large swath of nutella in between and covered by enough powdered sugar to cause a diabetic episode – with new Italian friends.

 

…Lying upon a soft pillow wondering how I am going to survive at home knowing life like this exists.

 

 

 

 

By ccxander

All Roads Lead to…

When originally built, the city was designed in the shape of a circle, with entrances strategically located for purposes of maximum defensibility. Like spikes, roads stuck out from Rome’s circular highway and all roads led back to this main circle, thus the phrase – All roads lead to Rome.

It was as though the Romans understood the world’s population would eventually centralize into one civilization. Two thousand years later, we are still on that path.

I am sitting in a café sipping a cappuccino listening to a Polish woman translate a conversation between an Englishman and an Italian, as her Japanese and Korean bosses await her explanation.   Outside the Vatican, the world’s citizens queue for a stroll through St, Peter’s Basilica and a glance at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  Chopped Asian accents and Eastern European “est’s” merge with South American “o’s and a’s” as if several radio stations were playing at once.  From slender arms, jeweled African women dangle Gucci purses and an overweight Cambodian businessman doffs a Yankees cap while his French wife displays a red dragon tattoo above her sacral vertebrae – tramp-stamped vamp.

Call it what you will – enhanced transportation, the Internet, Twitter – but the Earth is significantly flatter these days and through Facebook connections, six degrees of separation is now testable.  America’s melting-pot mentality is global, and humanity, through interaction with other cultures and a progressive mindset, is becoming more empathetic toward their fellow world-citizens.  Surely, unity of mankind cannot be far off.

But what is the cost here?  Do ideas of nationalism and transcendent idealism disappear? As we teeter on the precipice of a homogenized world, where do nations like America stand?  I can only report form experience so:

Over the past twenty years, I’ve found myself in thousands of conversations with people of different nations.  At player parties and sporting events, in cafes and conferences, amidst tourist attractions and inside host homes, the message is always the same. They wish America would be more socialist. They wish we would open our borders to easier entry.  They wish America would veer from imperialistic tendencies and apply the fruits of its labors in more humanitarian ways.  They wish we would lose our ethnocentric view of the world and understand the concept of “one world.”

But then, too, we are the first ones to applaud at others’ sporting achievements.  We are always the dinner table at which people come to take photos and converse.  We are the people other countries’ citizens watch and copy and admire.  We are the culture recognized by our initial smiles and openness.  We are the nation representing freedom and opportunity and possibility and “coolness.”

Regardless of their verbalized contempt for our systems, international folks respect and admire our ideals and want to spend time in our country.  In spite of the media’s attempts to criticize our ways, America’s shining beacon remains bright – which brings me back to Rome.

I am still here, wandering around ruined remains of civilization’s foundation.  The burned out torches and crumbling stadiums betray the fall of a once-mighty empire.  As I pace the cobblestone streets and eavesdrop upon the economic woes of a city struggling to regain its international identity, I feel a sense of patriotism for America.  Yes, we are hurting. Yes, we sense threats from outside forces.  But, like the Romans, we’ll draw the circle around Lady Liberty and defend ourselves.  Because, though all roads lead to Rome, all hearts lead to America.

 

By ccxander

Rain again, as though the ancient aqueducts are overflowing and Mother Nature is hoping we will drop competition and get back to our roots.  Multinational futbol game of Japan, Italy and USA vs, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary,  Seconds  of competition interspersed with moments of unparalleled sportsmanship.  A twelve year-old dribbles through nine forgiving foreigners to score, while a Japanese comedian ducks and weaves into the hearts of the international community.  Joie de vivre with cross-cultural cheerfulness and a soccer ball.

Summary of the day:

Visit the modern architectural marvel of commercial capitalism where Japanese athletes have a go at McDonald’s burgers and Korean beauties stroll beneath two tons of leather purses. Italians even do shopping malls better!

St. Peter’s Square – the once-in-a-lifetime trek for religious folk, with a large glut of Americans who all seem to be from somewhere in the San Fernando valley and who show no shame while jumping up and down and cheering when they see other Americans.

Inside the Vatican – Pope was apparently in the bathroom all morning.  Poor guy.  Probably took a bender with the wine and had it out with the porcelain goddess.  Snapped photos of Michelangelo sculptures while resting hands on heads of Asian athletes and Polish diplomats.  Surrealism means little until you are inside the globe’s greatest church, while Ave Maria plays on the world’s largest organ during a morning mass, with five thousand silent photo-snapping tourists, and surrounded by homages to dead Popes, as apostles and angels stare down beneath several representations of God, and an old Italian woman grabs your ass and winks.

Piazza de Espana – hard to imagine better moments than pulling at the rim of a wine glass while watching colorfully-skirted Italian woman wander cobblestone streets during Sunset as you perch upon the Spanish Steps. Maybe only doing so with an East meets West gathering could add to the moment…

Quintessential Italian experience – accordion music echoes through narrow streets….two tank-topped men make suggestive hand-gestures in hopes of luring belladonnas into their grasp….an aproned twenty-something steps out of the kitchen for a quick smoke….four joyful Americans bump into a stunning and famous Sicilian actress who recommends a local eatery….absurdly smooth red wine, pestos and alfredos and putanescas top pappardelle pastas and large plates of vegetables all set the stage for a dessert of flan and tiramisu that nearly brings them to tears

….a stroll through Rome’s back alleys with no destination and the Fontana di Trevi’s misty spray cooling the night air…spirited photos with diplomacy-seeking Egyptians  while foreign embassies quell riots somewhere in Cairo…

…a thirty minute taxi ride home along the first road ever built, followed by the realization that Caesars and soldiers passed this route two millennia ago…a soft pillow’s comfort as old men clink cappuccino cups outside the hotel room door….

…sleep seems so wasteful these days.

By ccxander

The Last Days of an Athletic Career

Beneath my tennis shoes, a gravel trail crunches out the final steps of my athletic career.  Inside, my chest beats like a helicopter. For the last three minutes, my vision has bordered on blindness, the blurring edges compressing my sight until I can only see a few feet in front of me.  All smell is absent.

Before me lies a crimson battlefield, the dusty clay of Italian lore, its flat surface now baking beneath a Tuscan sun.  Already inside the fence, my Japanese opponent performs calisthenics with the sort of unrestricted freedom one expects from twenty-year olds whose uncomplicated lives are devoted to professional sport.

Here to represent my country for the final time, I am consumed by an old sentiment, the absolute belief that I will win, but then, carved by the serrated edge of doubt that one fashions as he passes into the inescapable winter of a diminishing career.  I pass through the gate.  The sun shimmers off the flipping face of some Italian hero and I elect to serve.   The walk back to the baseline and feel a surge in my helicopter heartbeat’s cardiac chop.

Memories of past matches flow like a river through the canyons of my memory.  I am feeling the ball lift from my fingers as I toss it skyward and then the old focused feeling returns.  The sound is a whap of gut on orb.  Time accelerates and my legs are moving to the old rhythms of a younger day.  Over the next thirty-two seconds, the ball passes across the net seventeen times and I’m subconsciously calculating angles and spins and speeds, vectors and arcs, plotting offensives and defenses, telling myself to move faster, to position properly, to swing aggressively, and a thousand other superlatives that interrupt what should be a still mind.  This is the mental wrath of an athlete who has not competed in years.  The opponent offers little resistance compared to the battle against oneself.

In an hour, it is over.  I am walking to the net to shake hands with my young adversary.

He is smiling.  Already I am suffering the “should have dones” and “why didn’t I-s?” of a competitive loss.  In truth, the conclusion was foregone.  At forty-two, chances to win are infrequent. But there is a takeaway here.  I found that competitive spirit inside me again – the burn and pull of a will that struggles to find other outlets.  It is there, dormant, waiting for another venue to express itself.  And I have touched a part of my character that I cherish.  To do so within a few miles of a place where gladiators fought lions and fights to the death were a daily occurrence, makes it that much more special.  Veni vidi vici!

By ccxander

Still Roamin’…

The Pantheon is a former courthouse with an open hole at the top of it’s dome.  Legend has it, even in pouring rain, the inside never gets wet as the warm air inside pushes upward and keeps the water at bay.   This architectural masterpiece is filled   with international tourists, some of whom jump into pictures and act like they know you.

Palace Venezia is the original version of Vegas’ Caesar’s  Palace.  Vegas doesn’t compare.

From the top of the stairs, one can see all of the domes of Rome, spread out across the entire city.  Getting up stairs after two hard hours of practice, however, is a bitch.

Thence to Boca della Veritas – The mouth of truth.  Sticking your hand in the mouth would result in nothing if you would simply tell the truth. Should you choose to lie, however, you’d lose your hand.  Apparently, every so often the Emporer would have someone stationed behind the statue and take a hand off just to keep the public wary.  Sure, it sounds primitive, but let’s be honest, those little advisories from the parentals about always telling the truth never really carried much weight.  This takes Pavlovian to a whole new level. 

I’ll skip the Circus Maximus for now, because the one-mile circle for chariot races and sporting events looks like a running track replete with bottle caps, firework remains and the rampant used condom – Romans certainly know how to treat their ruins!

Sometimes people say the Colosseum isn’t all that special.  It’s not.  It’s better.  Maybe it’s the thought of having to use the imagination to picture 50,000 cheering Romans watching gladiators and lions duel to the death, or chariot races recreating the old wars. Perhaps more recent generations have enough technology that imagination is no longer important, because we have stopped playing with dirt and boards and fabrics and now spend most of our down time on the internet or battling it out on an XBox.  Truth be told, the structure is dilapidated to the nth degree, but then, at 2000 years old, think about what your skin would look like.  I had a little East meets West experience with a Japanese girl and punctuated it with this photo:

and then joined the squad for a group pose that had some of the locals laughing at the Americans who shot their picture on the wrong side of the building.  Alas, there are not a lot of directions in this place unless you are a Latin major.

So between yesterday’s and today’s blog, I’ve covered one day in Rome and about a thousand years of history.  Sort of makes me a little pissed off at my schoolteachers for stretching all this out over nine months or so.  Then again, with those crazy salaries they are getting, I guess I understand why they don’t push too hard.

More to come tomorrow about how I scored the golden goal in an eight-nation soccer game, during a downpour.   For now, I’m sucking down a cappuccino and trying to decide between the Rigatoni Bolognese and the Pizza Quattro Formaggio.  Hope the local clothing store is stocking up on plus sizes because my ass and I will be in there shortly.

By ccxander

ROMEING…

 It is 7am and dawn lifts off its grey blanket.  Breakfast consists of fruits fresh enough to make you pucker and Eggs Carbonara – essentially a heart attack on a plate that Romans perform exceedingly well.

The tennis courts are clay –

–thick red brick that seizes your shoes and puffs into crimson clouds when you try to stop.  We put in two hard hours this morning, sliding, grinding, flailing away like drunken fencers.   To your average non-Mason, brick types probably seem relatively limited, but for anyone who’s performed semi-athletic feats on the grainy dust of American clay, the pleasure of sliding on this pillowy, moon-like surface is a whole different hedonistic experience.

And then the day began…

Via Appia is a cobblestone street built in 312 B.C. that runs from Rome to Southern Italy and played host to Caesars and Roman traders, not to mention the soldiers and rural folk that traipsed its surface.

Walking along the well-placed square stones, one gets a sense of power, of history , along with a strong urge to urinate—damn thing goes on forever!

Throughout Rome, water fountains abound, spitting out the purest form of liquid on Earth, its history of traveling through the aqueducts merely a footnote in the wellspring of architectural innovation.  If this thing were in L.A., we’d probably turn up a nose, but here, you drop to a knee and imbibe like an AA attendee on a bender.

Two trains later, the Spanish Steps loom before us.  Imagine three thousand people squeezing into a Mini-Cooper and you get the idea of sitting for a photo-op here.  Not to say deodorant is absent here, but I’m willing to toss an extra fifty Euro into the pot if we can spread the word about its benefits.  138 steps to the peak can tire a weary athlete’s legs, but then, when in Rome….

Ten more minutes to Fontana di Trevi.  The whole coin over the shoulder toss is too cliché to relate, but learning that dipping an aggressive hand into the water can generate some seriously nasty looks from nearby police officers (even if one’s intention was to feel the water and possible take a drink and not to pick up any loose coins– which amasses over 1,000,000 Euro annually – and certainly not to steal from the Roman public slush fund, and definitely without trying to piss off the local police force, and clearly not intending to stir any bad feelings from all of the bad-smelling French tourists and snap-happy Asian photographers and over-boisterous Americans and local Italians who just like to stare sadistically at anyone who dares to touch their precious fountain).  Ok, yes I tossed a coin.  Yes, I will be back to Rome as a result.  Yes, the water is cold.  No, I did not get arrested, but only because I can run really fast.

Plus, the two French ladies that bought me a rose in return for a photo with what I am assuming they thought was an American celebrity, didn’t hurt the ego.

It’s 5:30 am out here and the rest of this city is awakening to old-dime colored skies and a rain infused with thousands of years of Roman sweat.  More about today’s walk through history tomorrow.   A dopo!

By ccxander

Day one via Roma.

8:00 a.m–Excessive greenery interrupted by a snake line of cars weaving through the streets, all headed toward the circle that is Rome.  With streets like wheel spokes, the Romans built their city with an interior circle, attached to outward pointing spikes, such that any road taken would eventually lead to Rome.   We arrived to a hotel with about as much curbside appeal as that guy from the movie Ghost who screams out “Get of my train!”

Inside though, the olive oil-dipped veggies and platefuls of pasta are absurdly tasty.  Room one apparently had a mosquito problem and the maid got a little loose with the RAID bottle, leaving us coughing and rubbing our eyes as we staggered back to the front desk for a room change.  Room two offers a big screen television for Italian soccer games and the sort of beds one might expect Snow White to offer her ax-wielding friends.

Halfway through the afternoon, after thirty hours of no sleep, we hit the tennis courts for a light practice, which ended up a four-hour headlong dash into lactic acid hell when the Italian team showed up and wanted to play against us.  Though exhausting, Italian fans applaud and smile with the regularity of a hospital enema wing.

An hour after finishing, Mamma Vittorio fetched out the results of three days of hard labor in her Roman kitchen—three thin-crust pizzas with just grated mozzarella.  With hungry players lapping at her counter, they disappeared in less than sixty seconds to near porn star moans.

Writing this at ten thirty now, eyes below half-mast and showing obsidian circles, Roman ruins in the distance. Practice tomorrow at ten and then off to see history….

By ccxander