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So I am still around, but the picture above is the reason why I disappeared from this space for three months now…

Musically, a lot of things are happening, or at least I am taking as much time as I can to make those things happen, and we shall see what will turn out from there. So, keep posted, tune in, and drop by!

Pictures of an imminent romantic vacation to come in a short while too, I believe…sounds-like.jpginfluences.jpgamberhaze-duo.jpg

We’ve been back for a month already, and once again I have no idea where the time went… The holiday has been good, very good, and very long. I still have to post pictures about that, but the task is really daunting at the moment, so procrastination, once again, prevails. Besides, most of you readers have probably seen us during the holidays, right?

But for you Giedre and Kaj, I will do something about the pictures, I promise. There are quite a few meals and sunny adventures to document.

So, back again…

I must say that having been away for more than a month was a good thing at this point. I really did forget almost everything about Seem City, and especially what I really dislike about it. I forgot about work and the useless waste of time whenever you need to do something. I forgot about the general narrowmindedness of the people…only to realise that things aren’t that much better in Italy. People are pretty narrowminded too, and when it comes to losing time between one office and the next, Italy is pretty high on the list as well.

Except that we have more babes on TV, and we don’t stress out all the time. Cause and consequence?

There is this unshakable feeling of decay though, and as an Italian living abroad, I don’t find it quaint or endearing when I go back. I find it irritating and depressing. Italy as a whole does not have to look like the set of Under the Tuscan Sun, because that’s very nice and dandy for rich American retirees, but that’s demoralising for a family of four barely making it to the end of the month. We can thank 5 years of absurd non-government by Berlusconi for that. The way he managed to screw things up, I don’t think many people could match it. No wonder Prodi said that ‘Italians have gone mad’ the other day when he explained that we refuse to think of the future and make the necessary sacrifices for it… menefreghismo prevails.

Talking about sacrifices, the government is raising the GST from 5 to 7% over here. Obviously, a lot of people are going to complain about it, especially about the way they are sugarcoating the move, saying that it comes at a period of unprecedented growth and economic well-being.

Now my views are probably biased since I have always been raised in socialist governments by law-abiding civil servant parents who actually pay taxes, and this is pretty much how my grandmothers can afford to stay on their own and get around and buy their food and not beg or be forced to sell tissues on the street at 75. However, it seems that a lot of dissenting voices are now criticising the welfare state left right and centre, saying how it’s not sustainable and how the ageing population won’t be able to keep up with the funding of pensions, and so on… while I find the argument specious (northern Europe is still doing fine all things considered) I find the situation worrying here.

The other day I was waiting for the bus when a lady sat next to me. She was dressed like any woman in her late fifties, well-spoken and quite articulate. In fact she reminded me of my mother in law, in the sense that you don’t meet that many people in Seem City who are actually able to speak English properly, and she did.

Next thing i know the lady asked me for some money because she didn’t have any and she was hungry. I only had a 50 dollar bill and my loose change, so I gave it to her, and she asked me again if I had a fiver or something, so I smiled at her and told her that I could only give her my change.

‘What happened to you?’ I asked.

‘I’m 59, and I lost my job, and people won’t want me for a waitress because I’m too old and they want young like you’, she said.

We talked a bit and it turned out that she knew French and Italian, and was learning Hindi for fun from a Lonely Planet phrasebook, and that basically she was pretty much on her own now. If you had seen her on the street you would never had guessed that she needed money that badly.

J. says that this generation is putting everyone in a difficult position. Selfish by nature after having been raised in the 80’s and 90’s, fewer and fewer people want to support their parents, which is the way things work in Asia so far. And since people are quite happy to pay little or no income tax, it would be impossible to impose a semi-welfare state on the working population.

So if you’re old, you’d better hope that your kids will want to spare more than some loose change, or else you’d better stock on tissues and start selling in your neighbourhood.

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I have been considered a source of concern of late at the office. Let’s just say that my anger is not always managed as well as my superiors would like it to be.

Let’s also say that over here, the moment you raise your voice abve 40 dB sends shivers down every seemcitian’s spine, reminding them of their days in the Army or their constant childhood abuse, or I don’t know what else. It leaves both me and Luca very, very puzzled.

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Yes, I have become angrier ever since I have been here. Yes, I do sometimes lose my cool and start shouting (not at people, but around people, big difference). Yes, I come from another culture, one in which dialogue is welcome and encouraged, even when it includes the occasional curse word. No, I am not going ballistic, and no, I will not come back in the office tomorrow with a swiss army knife and hack my way through rows of cubicles.

It seems that people are also scared of me, this coming from various sources above me. I don’t really know what to think of this. Is there something really wrong about the way I have changed these past three years in Seem City? Or is it that I am fundamentally different from the norm here, and no matter how I try to conform, there will always be a side of me that will never fit the resilient and subservient profile of the perfect civil servant?

Whatever it is, there is much more to feel violently happy about. Luca is now walking all alone at great length, and his curiosity about the world gives me hope that things don’t always have to be the way they are here.

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And even in Seem City, there are moments where things are nice, moments spent in the park listening to the symphonic orchestra, improvising a picnic and just watching a sunny Sunday afternoon go by.

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And this, my friends is the antidote.

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And these, my friends, are the active ingredients.

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Think of a world in which the continuum between Beethoven and the Pixies had been left unbroken. Think of a world in which instrumental power jazz would be free of Jamie Cullum. Think of a world where modern classical vamps would contain 0% clayderman fat and where innocent boppy pop tunes would not spell b-r-i-t-n-e-y.

Now think of the Bad Plus.

 

I don’t know if they would be happy reading this introduction, but something tells me they would not disagree so much. I mean, how many times do you come across a traditional piano trio combo sounding like both Schubert and Soul Coughing at the same time?

It amazes me how much music there is out there that is still unknown to a lot of people, how even the Bad Plus (which, if one goes by their presence in the international festival circuits and their contract to Sony, is not an obscure group) were unknown to me until a month ago. You’ve got to thank the people who go through my orders at amazon.com for suggesting them to me…

And you’ve got to thank Pandora. The best thing since wonderbra (or was it wonderbread, I’m not sure…)

 

Suspicious activity is their latest, and probably best, album, because it features more long tunes from Reid Anderson, the bassist. His sense for the intrinsic beauty of melody is brutally honest, in a time where music has never been so redundant and inward-looking. Listen to Prehensile dream or lost of love and try to be cynical about it: there is not a hint of misplaced sentimentalism, not a note that should not be where it is. It speaks the truth, pure and simple.

 

But the Bad Plus are more than that, and they’re more than the sum of its brilliant parts. Dave King is the beefiest non-straight-rock drummer that jazz is seeing right now, and Ethan Iverson’s left hand is scary. His right hand is scarier.

 

The Bad Plus have a myspace site here.

 

And when you thought it was all over, there is also Happy Apple, but that’s another story…

This is the best story of the day, hands down.

I was writing to J. in reply to something really funny that she had sent to me previously, something that Seem City number 1 said during his speech the other day which has been rehashed into a famous Black Eyed Peas song, when the following emailed was returned to me: (click on the picture for a clearer view of the pornographic content)

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It is, as they refuse to admit it, fucking hilarious…

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So this is the busiest time of the year at work. Every semester, like clockwork, they all start freaking out, just because they have to. No more classes, so you’ve gotta find a way to keep churning all the work, any possible way. Considering that I’m leaving in three weeks, let’s just say that they are giving me an extra-particular hard time…

Luckily for us, Changi Village is not too far from here. I think it has become my favourite spot in the island over time, and for good reasons.

1 it’s far away from town, and it’s not ‘happening’. At all.

2 it’s reputedly ‘seedy’. Not that I actively seek the dirt and the grime in southeast Asia like a good old orientalist westerner, but the surgically clean side of Seem City leaves me cold, and skeptical. When you see what the fines are when you litter or behave just a little bit like you would in your own house, I am enclined to believe that the people in Changi Village are a little more human…

3 it’s one of the ‘hot’ spots of Seem City. I am not interested in the sex industry per se, but then again, it’s good to be reminded that people still have needs, even in Seem City. Even trannies, which is what Changi Village is apparently famous for.

4 Charlie’s corner. Tucked in a corner of the Changi village hawker centre, there is this pub with an impressive beer list. I don’t know where else they serve Maredsous legere, moyenne and forte in the island…the best antidote to civil service ennui.

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It felt really good to just get away for a few hours, at the end of the day, and let Luca get his feet wet and sandy.

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After all, this is what he will get in Sicily, very very soon.

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The music from the telescreen stopped and a voice took over. Winston raised his head to listen. No bulletin from the front, however. It was merely a brief announcement from the Ministry of Plenty. In the preceding quarter, it appeared, the Tenth Three-year-plan’s quota for bootlaces had been overfulfilled by ninety-eight per cent…

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He had been appointed to a sub-committee of a sub-committee which had sprouted from one of the innumerable committees dealing with minor difficulties that arose in the compilation of the Eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. They were engaged in producing something called an interim report, but what it was that they were reporting on he had never deiniftely found out. It was something to do with the question of whether commas should be placed inside brackets, or outside…

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The trumpet-call had let loose an enormous volume of noise. Already an excited voice was gabbling from the telescreen, but even as it started it was almost drowned by a roar of cheering from outside…Under the table Winston’s feet made convulsive movements. He had not stirred from his seat, but in his mind he was running, swiftly running, he was with the crowds outside, cheering himself deaf…

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He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

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From 1984, George Orwell.

Luca had a few birthday parties last week, and he was very happy, of course. You can imagine all the attention he received, along with an excessive showering of toys and ang baos (ok no one is supposed to tell him, but mum and dad are not too unhappy about the ang baos either…)

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We had a lot of cake too, here at J’s parents’:

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…and here downstairs, with most of J’s family and relatives gathered for a barbeque, heroically prepared by yours truly, with much help and guidance from his father in law, and long-distance good vibes from nonno Daniele.

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Luca’s little sailor outfit: with a face like that, how hard is it to charm everybody?

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Tonton Jerome
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Uncle Linus (or is it Pius? damnit, the twins really look alike…)

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‘you talkin’ to me?’ notice the red white and green ribbons on the side of the handlebar.

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auntie Angie

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the great-grandmother (one of 4 that this lucky boy has)

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These teeth are made for chewing

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Buon compleanno Luca 🙂

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So after nearly three years spent in Seem City, I finally attended my first non-classical concert. This coming from someone who used to spend his meagre stipend in London to watch bands on a weekly basis, you can understand how getting my ears roughed up a bit came as a relief, at long last.

Not that we’ve had no choice: Nana Mouskouri and Kenny G came a few months back, Clayderman is a regular, Coldplay played their earnest ‘we need to save the earth’ stadium-friendly tunes for the socialist-minded sum of 180 bucks (seem city money, but still), and about 2000 15 year-old-schoolgirls convened when Franz Ferdinand stopped over.

But Mogwai now, that’s another matter. They played at the Esplanade theatre, which is one of the Classical venues of choice: good acoustics, comfortable seating, no mosh pit. Not that you need one with Mogwai, mind you… but it was interesting to see how the usual uppity crowd of well-to-do educated Seem citians had morphed into the national convention of indie kids. I suspect it was all their children anyway… seriously, how many dark thick-rimmed glasses can you have in an ‘alt rock’ concert? But nevermind the sociological rant.

At least the usual Mogwai crowd is well behaved to the point of not talking within the tracks, and since Mogwai played their set almost straight, the crowd didn’t say much. That reminded me of the black sessions on France Inter some 8 or 9 years ago, when they were still a relatively unknown Scottish outfit. The same earshattering drive, the same ethereal melodies, and somehow what works is the combination of both. It is actually a harrowing experience live, which is why I don’t think you can talk so much.

My problem with Mogwai is that I can’t remember the title of the songs, but the highlight of the gig was the last 20 minutes of the first set, when they segued the opening of happy songs for happy people into Mogwai fear Satan from the young team album, and then, just when you had sunk in the trancelike motive of that track, they played Glasgow megasnake (correct title? See, I don’t remember and I can’t be bothered to check amazon whether I’m right). Awesome. J. wished she had taken up the offer for free earplugs at the entrance though…

Whatever it is, listening to a band like that always gives me directions for my own music, and at the same time thoroughly frustrates me a bit too. Same old same old. But it’s getting there, slowly…

Last Sunday we were walking around after a particularly succulent Japanese meal, and this is what I saw in the basement of a shopping centre:

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I was kind of curious to go and check out their modus operandi, like the good skeptic nerd that I am, but I was pushing the pram so…

But it’s the first time that I’ve seen a shop like this, and come to think of it, there must be quite a few more around. Now that we are entering the infamous hungry ghost month soon, I bet they must be making tons of money.

The truth is definitely out there.