Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dan, you're killing me!

I woke up this morning (4 minutes ago) with a fresh message in my Facebook inbox from my good friend Dan Officer...

Hola Steve,

I am taking a break from my paper and surfing the internet and I just stumbled across sidneymorsels.com to read what is new in the life of Steve. Anyway, I appreciate the site at the end of your article on leaving Norwich. But, more to the point, I saw that you mentioned trying to get in touch with Bill Bryson but failed. Too bad that you didn't tell me this a week or so ago as I personally know Bill Bryson as he used to live in Hanover and, in high school, I ran cross country with his daughter and his son used to be best friends with my youngest brother. Anyway, yeah he lives like 10 miles from here, just outside of Wyndomham (or however it is spelled. We could have chilled with him and the fam for a night.

Anyway, I hope that London and Spain are fun. Be sure to get in touch when you are planning to come to New Hampshire. It will be real.

Talk to you soon and goodbye.

Dan



I must admit though, now that I see how EASY it would have been to befriend Bill Bryson, it makes my adventure to try to track him down much less exciting!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Farewell Tribute to Norwich

Since I arrived in Norwich 8 months ago, I've definitely voiced my fair share of complaints about the place. However, days like today make me really appreciate this most livable city. There was no summer here last year, but there was no winter either. For me this is amazing as extreme temperatures irk me like no other. It snowed exactly twice, and on one of those occasions I was away. And yes, it does rain for at least thirty minutes most days, but it is important to note that Norfolk experiences more sun than anywhere else in England. It's crazy how one minute it will be cloudy and rainy, and then out of nowhere it will be a perfectly sunny day. (The reverse scenario is also true) Some of my most priceless moments have been riding from the city centre to campus down The Avenue in the rain only for perfectly sunny skies (with rain droplets still falling) to appear around me. The occasional rainbow is good eye candy too...specifically Skittles.

As I left the house this morning, I decided to walk to town rather than ride my bike. Wearing a t-shirt, light sweater and jeans (my ideal getup as I wish fall and spring were the only two seasons), I played my friend Johnny Walker's Asheville Sessions on my I-Pod. I met Johnny in September, soon after my arrival here. He was busking in town, beside the Norwich Market, where some of the best people watching of my life has taken place. I was a bit sad on my walk, knowing that Johnny, who lives in Liverpool and has only come to Norwich a few times to busk wouldn't be there for one last round of acoustic rock on this perfect day. In his place was a Siberian brass trio playing classical favorites, and I realized, this is the Norwich Circle of Life. One busker leaves and some more take his place. And there are thousands of people out and about on a Tuesday morning to enjoy these tunes. (Those people under the age of 60 who stroll along all day are probably collecting benefits at tax-payers' expense, but oh well!)

As a pedestrian/cyclist, the Norwich City Centre is fantastic, because you can ride/walk anywhere within fifteen minutes. I'm glad I never bought a bus pass, as there is no direct route from my house to school, and the daily ride is a great time to think, relax, and plan for the upcoming day. (The fact that my route goes along side streets for 80% of the way and the rest of the trip has sidewalks with cycle lanes makes it even better!) Having to rely on others for transportation (ie bus drivers) is painful at times, especially when you can be stuck for 45 minutes at a bus stop with no word as to when the next vehicle will arrive.

As for shopping, Norwich has numerous supermarkets, Primark, a few malls that have everything you need, and the longest-running open-air market in the UK. What more could you ask for? Well, for starters you could ask for better affordable restaurants. I love Torero, an authentic Spanish Tapas place, and there are some decent sandwich shops and fish & chip shops, but overall, unless you want to fork out a week's worth of wages, there is very little mid-range decent dining. The exception here is Indian/Thai food, as there are many places to find these cuisines, though one inevitable becomes sick of them after a while.

And there's Cinema City, the shining light on my world. A city without a theatre that focuses on showing independent films is not worth living in! The fact that there's a bar and restaurant attached to the cinema makes this experience incredible.

That's my life. It's only been 8 months, but it seems like I know this town inside and out - except for the one way streets in town, but that's because I don't drive here. Yes Norwich, for all my complaining, I will miss you, and I understand why, as my friend Dan told me last night, some 80% of graduates of the University of East Anglia never leave the area!

Stay tuned for my farewell tribute to the UK.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Things to do and not to do in life...

Quick Observation about the UK: Don't so many foods sound like sexual acts? Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick? Might as well be Rusty Trombone and Dirty Sanchez...

Update: Still no correspondence from Bill Bryson...not many days left for him to make it happen.

To do in life:

1. Go to Pompeii. The quantity of ruins is utterly incredible and dwarfs any other site of ancient ruins on earth. Note: Say you are from the European Union and under 25 for a 50% discount on your admission ticket. I learned this the hard way by answering that American was my nationality.

2. Road trip with three cougars through Sicily, so long as they're paying for the car rental...Actual incident: "Don't worry I've been taking oxy-contin for nine months now, I'll be OK to drive, " said Cougar #3. No less than ten seconds later a crazy Italian motorcyclist slams into the rear view mirror.

*To those who don't know what a cougar is, look it up at urbandictionary.com

3. Go to Malta. The Malta Experience and The Wartime Experience are two films shown that depict the island and are the best way to get an introduction to the people and the complex history of the place. Also, don't take taxis, use the old 1950s buses that still operate and cost about 70 cents to ride.

Not to do in life:

1. Don't go to Tunisia. There's seriously nothing there, at least in the Tunis/Carthage area. Everyone is scary and corrupt. If you do go, where nothing that identifies your home country. Don't pay taxi drivers until they've taken you on your complete journey. Negotiate like hell when buying ANYTHING. You can buy anything in the world for under five bucks.

2. Don't rely on Italians to get you ANYWHERE on time. Time means NOTHING in Italy...it's a guesstimate at best.

3. Don't go to Livorno. It's just a silly industrial town. It may be located in Tuscany, but there is nothing Tuscan or unique about it. It's just a working class crap-hole.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Age of Berlusconi: No right-winger can cure laziness!

Having spent a considerable amount of time in Italy, I say with certainty that Italians are lazy. Coming from a family that's 50% Italian-American, I'm allowed to say that without being considered a racist. In many ways Italy is a third world country compared to its European counterparts, and when I become frustrated there (as I often do) I blurt things out in Italian like "all the smart Italians immigrated to America a hundred years ago leaving only the bottom of the barrel left."

Though Italians are expected to WORK just like everyone else in this world, half the time they are on smoking breaks, sometimes they don't even show up for work, they take four hour long afternoon siestas, and when they are "working" it's at a snail's pace. This is a major difference between Italy and Spain. Spain has a reputation for being a lazy country, but I think it's unwarranted, especially relative to Italy. In Spain shops and other workplaces may only be open from 10-2 and again from 4:00-6:00, but during that time the people actually do work!

Today, Silvio Berlusconi won the election to be Italy's Prime Minister, but I guarantee you he won't be able to change very much, because Italians of working age care about only the FOUR F'S: FASHION, FAMILY, FOOD AND FUCKING. I assure you Italians spend disgustingly high proportion of their income on clothing (most of it weird and horrid) and this absolutely revolts me.

Also, for all the Rico Sauve type men out there who pray on any American females (sizes and looks don't matter) who wash up on Italian shores, and there are literally millions of them out there, most of these dudes still live with their mothers! How pathetic! Seriously, every Italian you meet lives with their parents until they're like 40!

Because Italy is a nightmare of a country, they reduce train fares for about three weeks prior to any election, which allowed me to accrue loads of savings last week, but I can only imagine the economic losses that such a policy results in! Would America ever think of reducing nationwide travel costs for three weeks prior to November 5?

Yesterday, I went to Cinema City to see the film Mio Fratello e Figlio Unico (My Brother Is An Only Child) that discusses so many of the issues that currently plague Italy, but the thing is that this movie was set in the damn 1960s and very little has changed since then! The film received amazing reviews, and I think it's good for someone unfamiliar with the Italian way of life, but I wouldn't say that it's something to write home about...well, maybe I will write home to my mother because she speaks Italian and loves Italian cinema, but that's the exception.

Monday, April 14, 2008

All around the world (or the myth of fingerprints)

EMBARKATION

Immediately before we hopped aboard the ship, Travis and I had to make our dinner arrangements. We asked to be seated at a large table with young English-speaking people for the late dinner seating each night. Since we were surrounded by throngs of European geriatrics in the departure terminal, the odds of success looked were on par with the odds that one could be in England for ten straight days without any precipitation.

After gorging ourselves at the lunch buffet and roaming the ship, we curled up pool side with books and our respective hats that we'd purchased at H&M the previous evening. My head covering gave off the aura of a lazy German tourist (made of straw) while Travis looked like a mafioso kingpin (white top hat with a black pin-stripe). I removed both hat and shirt and drew some looks from the few bikini clad 15-year-old females across the deck. Perhaps this was because when I removed my hat they saw the horns of a Jew for the first time? I had little time to ponder this possibility, because out of nowhere, a hundred Neapolitan 18-22 year old males swarmed upon us. They wore g-strings as bathing suits, if you could even call them that. It was pretty much like sexy female nighttime apparel with benefits...and yes, I'm talking about the GUYS here. For them wearing a mere Speedo would have been like wearing a fur coat in the Sahara...it was THAT bad. Travis and I really couldn't tell what was going on. I'm under the impression that the ancient roman aura of bisexuality still is prevalent in Italy, but in such mass quantities? Wow.

At this juncture some might say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, but this never crossed our minds, so we remained fully clad in our shorts. When the Italians became too rowdy, we settled in for our first of many naps. Having an interior windowless room has advantages and disadvantages. The pitch blackness surely makes naps worthwhile, but each morning we found that we'd be dressed for a summer day and it would be freezing cold with rain showers or we'd dress for a rainy day only to find ourselves under a tropical morning sun. It all worked out in the end. The copious amounts of quality naps were definitely worth it, when our only losses were the daily wardrobe miscalculations.

Notes from Cruising the Med (I've always wanted to say that!)

While scouring travel web sites a month or so ago, I found a cruise to 7 locales I'd never before visited. The price was right. The dates were superb. I was trigger happy, so I booked, taking one well-mannered Minnesotan named Travis with me along for the ride.

I am fond of cruises, there is no doubt. My two previous experiences have been on Royal Caribbean, and both were filled with many highs like...getting religious bible college girls drunk for the first time and trying to take their virginities, wearing neon technicolor suits not intended for caucasians, smoking whatever our Mexican first mate rolled in wax paper and lit up on a fishing trip, nearly getting walloped by a sting-ray in the aftermath of the Steve Irwin tragedy (RIP), convincing Lenny Welch to come back to our room for a private show, and gambling 'till the sun comes up.

In Italy, things run a bit differently (Read: life is chaos and you can't believe this unless you've been there for a while), hence why I swore I'd never return when I left my study abroad program two years ago. However, it may have been the smell of the Fusilli al Tonno but something drew me back to this dysfunctional nightmare of collective regions that have somehow been unified as one nation, under Berlusconi, indivisible, with mullets and oversized sunglasses for all.

I figured, how bad could a cruise ship flying under the Tricolore (Italian flag) be?

In general, I find that the farther one gets from Rome, the better everything is. The people are nicer, the food is better, things are more efficient (if only mildly)...thus, I started this journey in Genoa, the land that birthed Christopher Columbus and pesto sauce, the latter being far more important as a day without pesto is a day not worth living.

In a short time, Genoa became my favorite Italian city...one reason for this is a man named Giorgio who plays the guitar and sings nightly (except Sunday) at a restaurant called I Calabresi Trattoria and Wine Bar. I knew the place was great when I saw an imprint of Marlon Brando on the back of each of the staff's shirts. Besides the three euro plates of pasta and equally inexpensive jugs of wine, the place is authentic not only because it's hidden on a tiny alley, but because Giorgio engages patrons like no other. Within minutes I went from being a shy guy saying "Nah, I don't sing" to belting out everything from "Country Roads" to "I want to be Americano" to Italian classics I didn't even know prior to this evening.

One thing is for sure: My Italian language skills (I dare say that I am fluent) vastly improve with each alcoholic beverage I consume. In a matter of minutes, I felt like I was part of the Calabrese family.

Nonetheless, please visit:

I Calabresi (owned by Ro & Gio) and starring Giorgio
Vico Dietro il Coro delle Vigne 15E
Piazza Lavagna - 16123 Genova
Tel: 010255602

One thing I've learned from my prior cruise ship experiences is that once you're on board, alcohol becomes a premium commodity because of it's relative rarity. You don't need to be Alan Greenspan to realize that on a ship the liquor prices skyrocket. This is why I take to the black market and pre-pack such beverages.

When waiting to board the ship I noticed the men behind me were all wearing Yankees jackets and it turns out that they were Long Islanders of the Italian-American variety. Before long, it felt like I'd taken a cruise to Jones Beach or Nathan's or the East Bay Diner or something and we were all dear friends...but this isn't what you came to read. You came to read about sex, drugs, and all the other dirty happenings that can possibly take place on a cruise ship. And that is precisely what the following posts will focus on.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Interlude: Excursion to Bill Bryson's house, total cost £2

So, I'm back from my failed attempt to meet Bill Bryson. At 10:44 this morning, I hopped on my bike armed with a notebook, pen, camera, phone, wallet, and hat - the bear necessities to ride the 5 (that turned out to be 8) miles to Bill Bryson's place. When at home on Long Island, I frequently ride my bike to the beach, but I feel out of place, because the only people who ride bikes in America are A. Latin American immigrants B. Hipsters C. Kids D. Cops and E. Hardcore Cyclists. I fit into none of the above categories.

In two weeks, I'll miss my old school Raleigh superstar when I'll be forced to sell her or let her get stolen by local chavs.

The road to Bryson's house was scary as hell - a busy country rode that nearly saw me get squashed by an 18-wheeler driven by some Mario Andretti wannabe. I don't wear a helmet but for 99% of this ride I wish I did. When I reached Bryson's tiny village, I asked a dog-walking woman where his house was, she told me up the road. Then, after I snapped some photos of a lake and a peacock, I asked another dog-walker where Bryson's house was. She said it was behind an electric fence and she couldn't tell me where it was to respect his privacy. (Aren't people with dogs supposed to be friendly? What gives?)

Well, lucky for me only one house in the small village has an electric fence. I wasn't sure if it was the type of electric fence that actually electrocutes you with 10,000 volts (no sign indicated this) or a fence that merely opened and closed with the aid of some sort of electronic device, so I didn't pee on it. Either way, the fence was very locked, and the house was very uninhabited at this time. I was surprised to learn that Bill owns a Jeep, because I'd see him more as a Prius or SmartCar kind of guy. Though I temporarily failed in my mission, I got some great photos of a perfectly picturesque village, and tomorrow I'll send a letter to Mr. Bryson to let him know that we must urgently meet before my time in England expires.

I pressed on through quieter and less hazardous country roads to the village of Wymondham (obviously pronounced Windham). It was there in the center of town that I spotted an overweight man with a beard. From the three headshots I've seen of Mr. Bryson and many self-descriptions I've read, I figured it could be him, but I didn't want to look like a fool if it wasn't (stereotyping chunky men with facial hair might warrant death by stoning in a small English village) so I figured I'd be on my way back to Norwich - via train of course, to avoid the perils of the Norfolk Grand Prix Circuit.

I had 55 minutes to kill before the train, so I popped into a pub for a pint. It was there that I met some elderly men who clearly had money to blow by buying me pints. The key to securing pints from British people is as follows: When they bring up American politics, you must first ask the potential pint-buyer whom they support in the upcoming election. And then when they reveal this name, you go on a stint about how you are voting absentee for this person and why they are the only person who can rectify the evils of George Bush. Then, to ensure you obtain your free drink you praise the power of the Sterling, say you love both football and rugby (hedging your bets), have learned to really appreciate British cuisine - especially Sunday roasts and chutney (which Americans don't eat), and then continue to whine about how you left America so you could return to a Bush-free nation. Then you will be the recipient of multiple free drinks.

For £2 I hopped back on the train to Norwich and arrived twenty minutes later...

1 thing I will miss about England: No ATM fees. You can use any ATM anywhere without a fee - it's like the World is your WaWa (Philadelphia's favorite convenience store/hoagie shop that offers a NO ATM FEES policy regardless of what bank you belong to).

1 thing I will not miss about England: Though I am generally attracted to the stockings with a skirt on top look that's quite prevalent over here, when large thunder-thighed beasts rock this style it grosses me out. Twice in two days I've seen the entire asses of two girls who could qualify as amateur sumo-wrestlers...jeez!

Morsifer's Travels Part 2: Notes from Portugal, a Mediterannean Cruise and now England

The KEY incident: I must warn you this could have happened to anyone, not just Kate. While I was taking a power nap in the room, Kate returned from a a photography/tile shopping outing and asked the man at the hotel's reception desk for a train schedule to Porto (Portugal's second major city) for the following morning. After they conversed, he asked Kate if she wanted her room key, she said sure and she asked for the key to Room 305. Now, the problems is that I was already in our room, which was Room 310. When Kate arrived, she simply opened the door I'd left open for her without using the key and placed the unused mistaken key on the nightstand. In Europe, hotel keys tend to be large metal objects with humongous keychains - not the kind of things you'd want to take on spelunking expeditions or even a trip to a Transportation Museum because of their size and bulkiness. Kate then tried to nap as I went for a walk. Well, Kate couldn't sleep because a large family was making a huge racket in the hall. I was surprised to find her wide awake when I returned from my successful therapeutic walk to find my mother a collectible guitar pin from Lisbon's Hard Rock Cafe. Upon us setting off for dinner there was a new receptionist at the hotel, and when Kate and I went down to pick up the train information, we each handed in a key. The receptionist said there was no train information for the occupants of Room 310. That's when the chaos began...Only then did we and the receptionist realize that Kate had the wrong key and the family making the racket that kept Kate awake was doing such because they were told they lost their key to room 305 and would have to pay for the locks to be changed and for a new ginourmous gold nugget sized key to be constructed if they didn't find it. Needless to say, the new hotel receptionist wasn't too pleased with young Kate (I'm being fecetious, she's 27) even though it was clearly a harmless mistake.

This was Curb Your Enthusiasm material to say the least...

To solve this problem: 1. Use electronic key-cards (duh!) 2. Hotels: Make sure you give keys to the right people as asking for the wrong room number isn't that absurd as not everyone remembers every little detail of a three-digit number! What's to prevent some bum off the street from coming in and asking for a key to any room?

Things with young Kate and I got no better. Over dinner, something wasn't right. We were those people who were dining with each other but barely saying a word. Isn't that depressing when you see couples out at dinner and they just sit there and make mountains out of mashed potatoes and build Lincoln Log Houses out of carrot shreddings?

By the time nightfall came (after I made a solo journey to the insanely cool Port Wine Institute - where you can try about 9000 Ports and hundreds of them are super inexpensive), Kate and I had two different itineraries in mind. Kate wanted to head as far North as possible to Porto, where we'd spend the next evening, and I wanted to make a pit stop in Coimbra - a picturesque mountain-top town that is home to Portugal's finest university and is considered the Oxford of Portugal....that's probably like saying you're a a Johnny Rocket's in a sea of McDonalds.

After a mildly tumultuous morning, we embarked on the same train, with my seat in plebeian class and Kate amongst her patrician allies of the 1st class. She remained on board to head to a land of more tiles and photography when I stepped out of the train at Coimbra to be amongst my higher-educated peers...

(Note: I questioned how smart the Porguese are twice during this journey. I speak one word of Portuegese, and that is Obrigado which means thank you. I deduced from my nominal romance language skills tha my ticket indicated I was in coach 23, seat 66. During my journey the two individuals who were supposed to occupy coach 22, seat 66 and coach 21, seat 66 both adamantly told me I was in the wrong seat...they took me for an ignorant foreigner, just as I thought they were dumb natives...turns out I was right on both occasions and I was met with enthusiastic apologies.)

Morsifer's Travels Part 1: Notes from Portugal, a Mediterannean Cruise and now England

The following post is dedicated to author Bill Bryson. Mr. Bryson lives less than 5 miles away from me in a small village in Norfolk, England - and as soon as I publish this post, I'm going to ride my bicycle to his house to try to meet him in person and discuss my upcoming return to America. I have no scheduled interview and he doesn't know I'm coming, but I'm determined to find him before I leave the UK.

Quick tangent:

When I re-entered the UK yesterday, the Customs/Border official who examined my passport gave me a hard time about it because it has a small tear on the front page. This tear has been there since 2005 (when I accidentally let my passport go in the laundry upon returning from Jamaica) and since that time I have entered and re-entered countries dozens upon dozens of times. Yet this jerkface had a bone to pick because apparently when he was in America a few weeks ago, his passport was toughly examined by American Customs officials...what a bastard.

The real deal:

Two weeks ago I departed with my ginger-haired darling travel partner Kate for Lisbon, Portugal. I must admit, I visited Lisbon two years ago for a debaucherous couple of nights with my friend Mike (I was working for MTV in Italy at the time and the occasion was the MTV Euro Awards). Our trip consisted of very little sleep and lots of partying with everyone from The Pussycat Dolls to The Black Eyed Peas to Sean Paul and Shaggy who each let me perform with them after I was about 15 drinks in (there is photographic proof of this)...but the city of Lisbon itself seemed shabby and run-down to me. However, I am one for second chances, so I agreed to return with Kate.

(Kate recently informed me that redheads are considered minorities in England for job-hiring purposes because they are frequently discriminated against - I personally adore redheads and they can ALL come work for me when I set up shop in the UK one day, and I will discriminate against non-redheads.)

Upon arrival after a Ryanair flight in which Kate and I successfully kept a full row of seats for ourselves, we were met with one of those taxi drivers who tries to rip you off...I hate when this happens, and it sucks when they try to do it. A bad taste in your mouth from the get-go is never a good sign. Kate was tired and I was hungry, the first of our many itineraric (made-up word) differences on this sojourn. I headed off in search of a Portuguese delicacy - Pork with Clams. And I returned an hour later having found such a dish but within 90 minutes I was barfing my brains out, explaining why even in my radical pork-shellfish-bacon cheeseburger-loving sect of Judaism this dish has NEVER caught on and will NEVER spread beyond Portugal.

After an early wakeup in a tiny and overcrowded breakfast room with Europeans from all countries - it was kind of like we were hostages at a NATO Summit or something - Kate and I set off...Kate's a baller so rather than wait for a trolley she financed a taxi ride to the old port area of town where our sightseeing differences began. Kate's a photographer, I'm a snap-and-go kind of guy. The differences in these two styles are apparent in our subsequent sets of pictures that vary greatly in quality, hers being far superior to mine.

A lovers' tryst (read: argument among friends) ensued and my rapid-pacing was no match for her meticulous photography skills. Thus, we parted ways, each seeking the thrills and adventure of a city with a 2:1 pickpocketting citizen to non-pickpocketting citizen ratio.

I soon found myself in an all-you-can-eat sushi bar alone with one of Kate's many guidebooks as my only companion. I know the tricks of all-you-can-eat sushi bars better than Harri Houdini knew how to escape from underwater torture chambers, so when I'm given only bits of fish in proportion to the size of rice-balls, I surely leave the rice to be taken away by unsuspecting waiters and waitresses...after about 25 rounds of pursuing this trick of the trade, I was offered a Sashimi menu...now why would I want to pay additional money for straight-up sashimi when I could just remove the excess rice from other bits of sushi? the world may never know...