Archives for posts with tag: Peace Corps

I am behind on this since obviously we are in May. I was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of wrapping up two years of life in Albania and start thinking about the future.  The movies have kept me grounded.  I forget the name of the professor, but in a coursera class he described how through fiction we live out other possible lives and scenarios, testing ourselves and possibilities from a safe distance.  In this review I’ve enjoyed being a smuggler, conflicted, a sperm donor restauranteur, a drag queen undercover cop and a hundreds year old vampire polymath.

Smokey and the Bandit

I saw this because Jen insisted. Jason liked it for the car stunts, and it’s enjoyable if you don’t think about how very little there is to an absurd plot.

C.O.G.

Based on the life and essays of David Sedaris, Jonathan Groff shines as a young intelligent and well-educated man, who goes out into the world and finds he knows very little about it.  A journey of self-discovery, it feel like a collection of Sedaris work rather than a single story line, with multiple situations rolling from one to another and levels of characters revealing themselves to show that people are not black and white.

The Kids are All Right

This movie is not all right.

Tacones Lejanos

This film is true Almodovar fashion, a high melodrama concerned with transformation of character and the relationship between parents and their children. Rebeca goes to pick up her actress/singer mother Becky del Páramo from whom she has been estranged, after the latter, freed conveniently by the death of an overbearing husband (supplied by her daughter), returns to Spain after 20 years abroad.  Like most Almodovar films the plots are convoluted, as are the relationships between characters.  Love is a messy business, and sometimes deadly we find, when Rebeca (who works as a news anchor), confesses on live television to murdering her husband (a former lover of her mother).

[THERE BE SPOILERS]

Recriminations and blame run rampant, but what intrigued me most about this film is the Oedipal/Elektra nature of it.  Rebeca is so in love with her mother that she kills her father (or at least, the father figure) to be closer. Of course this doesn’t work, and early on when mother daughter are reunited, Rebeca admits to both loving and hating her daughter.  The nature of her complex also is found in her attachment to a drag performer “Femme Letal” (Miguel Bosé) who mimics the early work of del Páramo, who transforms in the film from mother substitute to lover, and fathers a child with Rebeca.

Guilt, love, and absolution are sought by the two lead characters, who both yearn to return to the home. Becky comes back to her childhood home, and in her final act, releases her daughter to transform herself into a mother and create a new home and life.

Only Loves Left Alive

Esther Perel discusses the human need for security and surprise in relationship.

I think her discussion sets up my thoughts on Only Lovers Left Alive quote nicely.  She says in her conversation with Guy Raz, that love is an all encompassing experience, leaving no part of ourselves untouched, but when couples enter relationship, at least in Western society, there is a tendency to conflate “partnership” and “friendship”, “stability” and “adventure”. We ask too much of the other and drive them away.

In her talk, she gives insight into how this paradox of love can be managed, and there is no better example I can think of, for a couple that has maintained love and desire, than Adam and Eve, the long-time lovers and protagonist of the film.  Their names are evocative of the first couple and this lends to their tale of two people who individually are wonderfully complete characters with passions, and interests, beauty and wisdom that is each their own, living on opposite ends of the world when the film begins, yet even when apart and they complete each other. During an early scene, while in the throes of blood ecstasy, a spinning record fades to an overhead spinning shot of Adam and then of Eve. Like yin and yang (also depicted by Adam’s full black dress to Eve’s pure white).

These two persevere throughout time, maintaing beautiful ritual until interrupted by the chaotic entrance of Eve’s sister Eva, whose actions toss their world into a tizzy.  The main crux of the film rests on restoring the balance to their relationship and world, and the audience wonders will they survive and endure.  In the final scenes I think there is hope they will.

8 Minutes Idle

It’s cute, quirky and British, but there’s not much else going for this odd little rom-com.  Dan (Tom Hughes) is kicked out of his house by his mother, played by a splendid Pippa Haywood who you need to see in Green Wings and in this little clip. Home and work life fuse when Dan secretly moves into the office storeroom with his cat.  His interactions with office mates unfold in a series of subplots: a tyrant boss who essentially rapes him, a dj co-worker who is seemingly the only one to genuinely care for and help him, a shy goof who can’t talk to girls but knows how to dance, and of course the pixie love interest, Teri.  None can escape the doldrums of this office interplay of relationships and sex, until an outside force changes everything, and the concerns and established hierarchies of the job are rendered moot and so is any chance of Dan becoming a character her drives his own change rather than just being a likable character and nice guy who is pushed around.  We can now focus on the relationship – which cute as it is, doesn’t carry the film.

 

Simon Amstell: Numb

I psychoanalyze vicariously through Simon Amstell. His style of story telling and self-reflection is painfully (hilariously) honest, admitting things to himself (and an audience) that others out of embarrassment and shame would hide away. He says what we think and that adds value.

This clip from his life and mine:

Watch Simon Amstell Numb Online Free Putlocker.

I Am Number Four

This movie is bad and the creators should feel bad.

Maniac

This remake avoids the gross obvious creepiness of the original 1988 main character, by casting Elijah Wood as Frank and he is exceptional.  Wood physically comes off as demure, soft-spoken and seemingly passive, but does perfectly in building up the unseen tension until he explodes in his moments of rage.  Done entirely from the point of view of Frank, we only see glimpses of him mostly through reflections, except for in his imagination when he pictures the ideal life and romance with Anna, a beautiful French photographer.  In those scenes the camera pans around and we see both characters undistorted, together, and picture perfect.  Frank, however is terribly broken by a traumatic past which manifests in migraines and visions that torment him and drive his mania. His brutality is unique and merciless, but at the same time the viewer (at least me) comes to care for this tortured artist character, even when he’s putting a butcher knife through someone’s face, or scalping his latest victim and mother figure stand-in.  In part because he does it out of love.  That kind of love proves deadly.

One scene I particularly enjoyed takes place in a cinema where we get a glimpse of the film, a b&w silent film, where a man is waking and preparing to kill a young woman. This mise-en-abîme mirrors beautifully Frank, and foreshadows what is to come between he and Anna.  Seconds after the glimpse, he feels the onset of another attack and the screen blurs and vibrates as his head throbs in pain. Exquisite.

Carnage
“I am glad our son kicked the shit out of your son
and I wipe my ass with your human rights!”
Nancy Cowan, Carnage

Years ago on one of my first trips to New York City, my friend Maureen and I saw the theatrical version of this film, written by Yazmin Reza and titled, God of Carnage, with Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis playing Alan and Nancy Cowan, and Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini playing Penelope and Michael Longstreet. It’s difficult not to make the comparisons, and I think what made the original theatrical version for me was the script and the actor’s ability to really cut loose in that claustrophobic New York apartment.
Over the course of an afternoon two couples meet to discuss an incident between their two sons, but the veneer of politeness begins to crack and chip away.  There are great moments that expose these characters for who they are, in particular one scene towards the end when Alan (played by Cristoph Waltz) who I think understands best the social breakdown, says, “Yes Doodle, we do care, in a hysterical way, not like heroic figures in a social movement.” At once exposing the hypocrisy of politeness, yuppie causes, white girls in Africa, and freaking out because boys were being boys.

While it gets the point across, the film missed the explosive energy and decent into madness and absolute nihilism  of the theatrical version I saw, and ends less with a bang and more with a whimper.

Filth

Another film with great promise but that doesn’t deliver 100% is Filth, based on the Irvine Welsh novel and starring a fantastic cast led by James McAvoy (who you should watch in Trance).  While I liked the movie for its style, grit and humor, there are plot gaps that are important to the overall story and helping us understand crazed Detective Bruce Robertson’s motivations.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS.

Robertson has these occasional visions of a boy, covered in soot and obviously dead.  Towards the end we discover that this was his younger and higher achieving brother for whose death Robertson feels responsible despite screams and protestations at an imaginary psychiatrist that it was an accident.

We assume this guilt has messed him up, but is it the sole thing that has been responsible for his fall into chaos?  We also get that his wife and daughter have left him, but when was this? What was the cause? Admittedly he doesn’t know, saying,
“I think they’ve left me. I think my family have left me. I don’t know how. I can’t remember why. You see, there’s something wrong with me. There is something seriously wrong with me.” but what is it?!

All that being said, there are some great performances by Shirley Henderson, Eddie Marsan (who’s really been coming up in the world since Happy-Go-Lucky) and others, as well as a fantastic car scene sing-along to Silver Lady. The lyrics for which say a lot,

“Tired of drifting, searching, shifting through town to town
Every time I slip and slide a little further down
I can’t blame you if you won’t take me back
After everything I put you through
But honey you’re my last hope
And who else can I turn to

Come on Silver Lady take my word
I won’t run out on you again believe me”

Reconsideration
Thinking a bit more, there are scenes that take on a film noirish style where we hear short monologues by his wife Carole, regarding their marriage. Perhaps these scenes (which we later find out are him in drag, acting out his wife to feel close to her), reflect not only his interpretation of her perspective of their relationship, but a deluded version of it that fits perfectly in his world and desires, but obviously did not match up with hers.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

More than once while we watched this movie, Jen asked “Why was this made?” Disturbed acts of sadism, based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade takes place in fascist Italy and meant to resemble Dante’s Inferno, but reminded me also of Boccacio’s Decameron, with each day devoted to storytelling with a particular thematic (and usually sexual) nature.
All I know of the meaning and metaphor behind this film I had to glean from Wikipedia, and while the images are terrible and cruel I think it was made to depict the baseness of the fascist ideology and life under the regime.
I’m glad I was finally able to watch it and highly recommend for cinephiles. It certainly merits a viewing and further study.

Watch a REALLY toned down trailer HERE.

Continuing to keep tabs on the films I watch (so much downtime in Peace Corps) and share my thoughts for those interested.

Philomena

Beautifully adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena, is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an elderly Irish woman who with the help of Martin Sixsmith, a journalist and recently fired government press advisor, tracks down the son taken from her.  That summary doesn’t do it justice – check out the trailer.

The two characters come very different places and social classes, yet so many times despite her seeming small town ignorance, Philomena shows herself to be more worldly than Martin would expect.  Despite his growing respect for her, however, Martin continues to return to her religion, disturbed by what he feels is blind adherence to an organization that has abused her trust.  There’s one particular scene that I enjoyed where Philomena asks Martin to take her to a church so she can confess.  He pokes at her and her religion saying “It’s the Catholic church that should go to confession, not you…”

Philomena – “I just hope God isn’t listening to you.”
Martin – “Well I don’t believe in God. Look. No thunderbolt.”
P – “What are you trying to prove?”
M – “Nothing. That you don’t need religion to live a happy and balanced life.
P – “You’re happy and balanced are you?”
M – “I’m a journalist, Philomena. We ask questions. We don’t believe something because we’re told it’s the truth. What does the Bible say, ‘Happy are those who do not see and believe’ Hooray for blind faith and ignorance.”
P – “And what do you believe in? Picking holes in everyone else? Being a smart aleck?”

The film sparked some serious controversy, and while the Roman Catholic church in Ireland comes under scrutiny, it is not religion to which Philomena turns, but her faith. Faith gives her the strength to love, to live a life without judgement of others, and most importantly, to forgive.

Dallas Buyers Club

It was good, not great, and the ending fell flat.

In Their Skin

So, I’ve been really wanting to watch a good horror film where the antagonist either so completely owns the situation that the brutality is almost godlike (a la Funny Games) or has the rug pulled right out from under him and quickly find himself the hapless victim (a la You’re Next – so I’ve heard. I still haven’t seen it.).  In Their Skin, was neither and was as flat as its monochromatic color palette.

The film starts off well – a man panicked and running before headlights until he can go no further is brutally executed by a figure who emerges off camera.  We then cut to the brooding, affluent Hughes family heading to their vacation home in a secluded mountain area, after the tragic loss of their daughter.  Up to now it’s a classic set up, with Josh Close and Selma Blair as the estranged couple and parents to surviving child Brendon (the only one seemingly unaffected by the death). Close and Blair do a great job of creating characters who are still shell-shocked and on edge, and it’s best apparent when the strange Sakowskis (led by James D’Arcy) show up.  The Sakowskis are a family un-used to riches trying a little to hard to ingratiate themselves and it creates a wonderful creepiness with tensions on both sides, which peaks in a moment when Mark (Close) suddenly yanks Bobby (D’Arcy) off the steps with barely restrained violence.

From this I felt led to believe that there’s more to Hughes than we know and I’m titillated by the prospects which never actualize.  From here the film goes bland.  The Sakowskis get violent and take the Hughes hostage with standard horror film panache.  James D’Arcy I enjoyed in his role as a crazy person, but there are awkward situations, especially towards the end which felt out of character, or just lazy.  In the meantime the viewer is left with a “twist” that lacks real drama, and I’m left still wanting a good horror film.

W.E.

I struggle with Madonna’s much maligned movie.  There are fragments of the film that I enjoy, but overall feel it deserves the criticism for the vision it attempts and fails to attain.  The story shifts back and forth between Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) the famous American who had the indecency to love and be loved by the heir to the British crown, Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), and Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) a woman enthralled by the aforementioned celebrity romance who is struggling in the cage of her own disastrous fairytale.

Stylistically it is a beautiful film and D’Arcy and Riseborough are wonderful.  Polished and glossy, it visually jumps off the screen like a fashion magazine.  Sets, props and costumes are so well placed in their perfection that it is distracting.  And therein lies my main problem with W.E..  It is so perfectly smooth but at the same time fragmented and disjointed with many small elements jarringly pulling you out of the moment, taking away from the overall story.  For example Abel Korzeniowski’s score, stunning as it is, is far too reminiscent of his composition for A Single Man, with some sections feeling directly lifted.  Then during a party scene, which in itself felt unnecessary, guests go wild to the tune of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant”, which would be interesting if the anachronism had served a purpose other than being “cool”.

The story is expansive, and Madonna and co-writer Alex Keshishian use the juxtaposition of the two relationships to bringing a new perspective to the Wallis and Edward,  focusing not just on the romance but the sacrifices that Simpson made.  This might have worked, if both women’s stories were equally interesting and dynamic, but the modern tale is banal. The Wallis and Edward story is rich enough without adding an unnecessary and distracting storyline

In fact, it may have been too rich and too big for Madonna’s sophomore foray into directing.

Excited about…

Zero Theorum

Return of Hannibal and Bates Motel

We came down the monument of Shumen, still giddy from the impression of standing in the artistic presence of Bulgaria’s past but we had to hurry. The city choked in fog and chill, and thriller movie-esque night was descending.  We went to our next destination, Veliko Tarnovo – the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire and the “city of tsars”.

We barely arrived in our hostel, having gotten lost in the winding streets of the ancient city, when the reception guy herded us back out to a main plaza.  In the fog and moonlight we could see across the Yantra River, high up on the Tsarevets hill the old imperial fortress and castle. Other international and national tourist and locals milled about when the lights of local businesses and the surrounding hills cut out.  Embalmed in darkness, silence and anticipation spread when the show began.

The next day, I explored on my own and visited the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God.  According to wiki, it was the seat of Bulgarian Orthodox church during the 11th and 13th centuries until it was destroyed in 1393 by conquering Ottoman Turks.  Reconstructed in the 1970’s and 80’s it features one of the most amazing frescoes I have ever seen.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Winding Down
“Now… there are two kinds of movies: those
with an ending, and those that don’t have an ending.
This movie needs an ending.”
Enzo, CQ (2001)

That afternoon we found ourselves back on the misty mountain roads heading towards Sofia, the culmination of our trip where Joe and I would bring in the new year in a freezing square with hundreds of delighted strangers, clutching hot greyano vino (mulled wine) and counting down the final seconds of 2013.

For the past few months since my trip back to the US I was feeling a little lost.  I had thought about extending my Peace Corps service for a third year, but recent events had left me exhausted and weary and I was ready for a change but every option looked the same with the same flat gray of the misty landscape we had only recently escaped.

3 min and 28 seconds away.  Joe and I, exhausted of conversation are entertained to look at those around us who gather tighter in the final minutes. I remember advice from multiple sources and conversations I’ve had about finding your personal passions and making the most of them.  2 min 50 seconds.  I think  that at the end of the day the thing that really gets me excited is film and storytelling and that I am known among my friends as a walking film database. 1 min 13 seconds. I think this is crazy to suddenly change directions in my life to pursue something so different from anything I’ve trained for. 56 seconds. I think I need to not be afraid and to embrace love and a new beginning …because death is coming. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  It’s 2014. Joe and I congratulate each other on being alive as fireworks burst and circle dancing begins.  We start heading back to the hostel hours later, turned around by yet another new city and a few glasses of mulled wine.  It matters not.  I may not know where I’m going but at least I have a direction.

I watch way too many movies and sometimes get asked for recommendations. Here’s what I’ve seen in February (thus far).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) has a crush he can’t talk to, a new boss he can’t stand, and a life he can’t seem to change.  A compulsive day-dreamer he’s finally called to action when negative 25, the cover shot for the final print of Life Magazine, goes missing and he has to track down friend and idol, professional adventure photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). So many things I like about this movie.  Mitty’s day-dreams are incredibly visceral and bizarre but then, so becomes his reality.  Trailer says it all and Ben Stiller’s return to directing is pretty great.

August: Osage County

A plains family melodrama depicts a family falling apart…and it is stunning. The drama kicks off shortly after the suicide of patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd) and at the eye of the twister is surviving wife and drug addict Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) and their three daughters.  It’s a beautiful film for a sadist and what I like most about the story is that there is no satisfaction for anyone.  In the hellish heat of the house, family gathers and the tumult begins as truths are spoken and secrets revealed and characters run away to save themselves.  Based on the play by Tracy Letts, who also adapted the screenplay, the following is a section of one of my favorite bits in the third Act.

“BARBARA/BEN. She smuggled Darvocet into the psych ward … in her vagina. There’s your  ‘Greatest Generation’ for you. She made this speech to us while she was clenching a bottle of pills in her cooch, for God’s sake.
IVY/IKE. God, I’ve never heard that story. Did you just say “cooch”?
BARBARA/BEN. The phrase “Mom’s pussy” seems a bit gauche.”

This trailer cut is a bit of misleading horseshit, but here it is.

Short Term 12

It is amazing and the perfect thing to watch after August: Osage County.  The former watches a family fall apart and into ruin, Short Term 12 brings us back from that ruin and depicts how young people who grew up in desperate situations can rebuild their lives, come to peace with the past and move forward.  Beautifully led by Brie Larson as Grace, with so many other great performances.  Here’s a clip. Marcus is turning 18 and is about to “graduate” from the facility.  He’s having a hard time.

Thor: The Dark World

Really it’s just an excuse to watch Tom Hiddleston, who I’m really excited to see in Jim Jarmusch’s film, Only Lovers Left Alivewhich premiered at Cannes last summer and will finally have its USA release April 11, 2014.   It lacks the gravitas and Shakespearean overtones of the first film, but still a good plot and of course fantastic action flick from Marvel. And Benicio del Toro shines in his bit role as “the Collector”, but what is with that hairdo?

the-collector

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I have nothing to say about this film.  It was enjoyable cinematic candy and I always love seeing Amanda Plummer in any role she can get.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

I laid low the warriors of old
and their like is not in the world today.”
-Smaug

I watched it for the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thranduil (Lee Pace).  One of these did not disappoint the other however is blameless.

DSC_0122

I am haunted, mesmerized and transfixed by the bizarre diaphonic sounds and dissonant harmonies of Bulgarian folk music.  A rich tradition of singing going back over a thousand years (for more click HERE) the music is as complex as the country and its history – of which I still know next to nothing.  Over the new year holiday, I took up once again with my friend, peace corps colleague, and travel companion, Joe, to explore strange old ruins and monuments, to seek out old vestiges of a communist eastern European past, to boldly go to Bulgaria.

Our journey took us to Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Burgas, Varna, Shumen, Vasiliko Tornovo, and back to Sofia.

The Monuments
“You have to talk about dead people all the time?
There’s nothin’ in this whole city but dead people.”
Robert Winters, Houseboat (1958)

At the center of Balkans, Bulgaria, like much of the area, was highly trafficked by diverse conquerors throughout time. Thracians, Greeks, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgar, Ottoman… and nowhere is this more apparent than Plovdiv, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe.  Ages have passed here and the city continues to grow around ruins as old as 4,000 BC.  New and old melt into one another as you walk down one of the 6 remaining hills of the city into a modern urban setting. Reminding me a bit of Sarajevo, this city formerly known as Philippopolis (City of Philip) among the many other names it collected, offered our first taste of the variety of cultures that have shaped the country…and it’s humor.

We took the required tour group photo with Milio “the Mad” in the background.  Milio caught meningitis as a youth and was afterwards simple, hard of hearing, and loved by citizens. Teased by men and adored by women, he was purportedly gifted with a large penis.  The statue depicts him fondling an impressive bulge in his pocket.  To reverse the adage, “the lord taketh, and the lord giveth.”

1513716_701975129847085_846802197_n

Moving along we visited a Thracian necropolis and saw a replica of the Tomb of Kazanlak, and for a little while I could imagine having a similar something prepared for me when I die.  I dare not imagine what images would decorate the domed ceiling or the stories they would tell.

Thracian Tomb

High above Stara Zagora (most of these monuments were “high above”) was the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party.  I know very little of its actual history, but I can tell you of its present.  A massive dilapidated building, it stands majestically as a reminder of a past that many Bulgarians would sooner forget.  Like the bulking saucer section of the starship, Enterprise, the monument was a symbol leading the people to their future.

Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party

From the state inside, people didn’t like where that future was going.

DSC_0105 DSC_0111 DSC_0148

Unfortunately many communist era monuments throughout the Balkans, are abandoned to the whimsy of visitors. While there one family walked away each holding a small piece of one of the many fantastic mosaics that decorated the inner and outer rings.  It’s not exactly the happiest of histories, but as a piece of art these monuments still have their place in Bulgaria’s past and present, and deserve some level of protection and preservation.

The next pictures are not my own (I left my camera – whoops) but by far one of the most impressive stops was the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria (visit HERE for more pics from the photographer.
FOUNDERS OF THE BULGARIAN STATE MONUMENT IN SHUMEN BULGARIA

And this is why I will never be a travel writer.  Next blog – Bulgaria II (or “Lost and Found”).

Over the past many months since I arrived in Albania I have been collecting my dreams and sharing them on Facebook, but I have the urge to compile them here to share with all of you.  These are normally typed poorly into my phone somewhere between 1 and 3 am.  They will be in chronological order starting with the most recent. Enjoy.

5th of July, 2013

Dreamt that Kermit the Frog was in Gjirokastër and he is huffing and puffing up this hill, even though he should turn around and go home, because he needs a bathroom (sounds like my life) when he comes across a lady who looks a bit like Janelle Monae, who asks him, “Kermit, why don’t you go home?” and he says, “But the good cookie store is this way.” and then they break into song in a big field.

Kermit4

26th of June, 2013

Just dreamt I was walking along H Street DC, only it looked like Albania (I know it’s DC because I recognize a guy from my former gym) and I head into this fancy, but really nice store and go straight to the cheese section but all they have is Jarlsberg and while expecting more I am not disappointed.

14th of March, 2013

Dreamt I was driving with Matt & Kim and they wanted to me to take the lead on some Bonnie Raitt song.  I don’t know any Bonnie Raitt songs.

7th of March, 2013

Last night I dreamt life in Albania was like a Euro produced film from the 60’s and that Alain Delon was a barber and wouldn’t cut my hair like his.

31st of January, 2013

woke up around 4:43 am. this is what I dreamt and typed into my phone:

Sitting on a bench near a fast flowing river w brown water and rows of little beggar children were pacing slowly towards us, begging but very subtle and creepy, and I was using a short sword to scare them off but they showed no emotion. One told me he was thirsty so I told him to dig a hole near the river and let the water seep in, but to wait for the dirt to settle.

Then the river was everywhere and people were swimming between the trees and wading in the few shallow parts. I was worried about drowning so I sat with a group. One man read to his little girl from a book and someone else commented that the french were dying out.

Then I was at a little house, with water even with the porch where there were three little boats and two piglets on the porch. The boats were yellow. Someone was narrating about how most piglets are born dead or malformed. I was trying to get the piglets into the boat, but they hopped to another, and mine kept tipping and taking on water.

I was maneuvering along a fence trying to keep out of the water because there were things in there that I couldn’t see and as if to prove the point, I looked up and there was a big, old python, with a rotten tail wrapped in the fence, not far from where I had been. I think I’ve seen it before.

It starts moving and it’s going for the piglets which are now baby rabbits and I go to look for something to kill it and I’m in my parents bedroom and tell my dad about the python while getting a machete. He says calmly for me to kill it with a machete and I get annoyed and wake up.

5th of December, 2012

Not a dream, but I thought it amusing.

This morning the crowing of a rooster woke me up. The first hints of grey dawn started to light up the room, grey and cold. The water bottle at my feet had lost all its heat and I curled tighter bringing the blankets in trying to stay warm. Cat nestled in the crook of my knees and I realized – I’m the little spoon.

14th of October, 2012

Dreamt I left work early and went to a shop with Mich (sister) and we were looking for a suit for Mike (her husband) and a cat and Ervin followed. Shop was like Sisley brand and this younger british kid like Stephen Fry w bright blue eyes and his assistant or trainee was helping. Some ugly finnish girl asked if he was american and then told her stupid life story.

23rd of August, 2012

Woke up sometime in the early AM to noises in the kitchen to find another cat had slipped into my house. Then reality and dreamland had a baby – in it, the cat that currently sleeps in my dresser attacked the other cat.  Then an old lady came into my house and started speaking to me in shqip but I couldn’t understand her and thought she was a cleaning lady so I left but realizing I might have forgotten my wallet I came back and the house was not only rearranged but was a completely different house.  Then a dude was outside my guest bedroom where a fellow PCV was sleeping but she wouldn’t let him in (with good reason – who knocks on the window at that hour) and he walked away forlorn, leaving one of two red back packs on the street corner.

27th of July, 2012

Just dreamt that I was in a store in Tirana and I had to choose between a NPR or a WNYX coffee mug. These are the tough decisions you have to make in the Peace Corps.  The NPR mug was damaged so I went with WNYX, which is what I really wanted anyway.

12th of July, 2012

I had the craziest dream which was like a comedy mystery (wherein I will live with Zooey Deschanel, Jason Segal, and be played by Elijah Wood for the film version) And we were in this sort of old bunker and seemingly stumped but I noticed the ladies gloves were from the 50’s but the hat clearly had Spongebob Squarepants on it, so it must have been recently used and this guy shows us this screen where it has spelled backwards “you’re going to fall asleep now and wake up with no pants” and then shows diagrams on how to find a secret bunker/lab in a DC metro station and then we wake up in the apartment with no pants on, which seems to be a running gag.  Oh and there was a giant underground pool and a lecture about Puerto Rico and then somebody asked a REALLY stupid question about evolution. Kind of insulting too.

Albania is proud of its traditions and especially its populore. A slightly modernized version of the music that has been in the region for, without doing any research or fact-checking, a very long while.

This entire video is set in ELBASAN, my home.

And now, some general updates:

Elbasan Youth Council

This week our Elbasan Youth Council graduates.  During the last many months we’ve met to learn about Elbasan and the different city structures and services offered, about project planning and development, about leadership, and all that other good stuff.  Working with both the youth and staff has been a real learning process, but nothing has pleased me more than seeing the group come together to complete their community projects.

While Melia and I managed the EYC, the community projects and issue areas were selected, defined, planned and executed by the youth with some small help from staff.  A quick summary of their accomplishments:

  • Environment group held a successful community clean up day.  We had a small group of 17 volunteers pick up trash, and they received praise from gyshi and gyshja alike.
  • Youth Spaces held a fundraiser and collected upwards of 50,000 lek to purchase books for the public library. They have also found a university student who will donate time to create a digital catalogue.
  • Social Services partnered with a drug clinic here in Elbasan and in Tirane to prepare informational brochures on the dangers of drug use and how to seek help. They had 5 presentations at local high school and university classrooms.
  • Arts and Culture organized the first ever Elbasan photography competition “Elbasan in Focus.”  Check out the entries here.  They sought local support from businesses for prizes and printing, and tomorrow evening will announce the winners of the competition with much fanfare.

More than the projects themselves, it has been about seeing the youth empowered and realize that they can make a difference.

SONY DSC

Cat
“Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business,”
– “From the Irish of Pangur Ban,” Eaven Boland

After my heartfelt blog post about Cat, the brazen hussy moved out and took the kittens with her. She still pops in for a rub and demands to be fed. I relent. I’m a soft touch.

The Kids are Alright
“Your actions, and your action alone, determines your worth.”
– Evelyn Waugh

For the past 2 months or so (the time, it does fly, doesn’t it?) I and many of my PCV colleagues have been working with the Group 16 of trainees.  As I write, they are on Site Visit, visiting the communities they will be living in, meeting the counterparts with whom they will be working, fingers crossed, seeing the houses/apartments they will be living in, and heaven help them, getting pumped for the journey that lay ahead.  I was in their place a year ago. I spent my site visit going around different offices imagining projects that never happened, picturing myself in my soon to be place, and watching Dexter with my PCV host, Kyle.

My friend Aaron came to visit a few weeks ago, during a very busy weekend in Elbasan.  There was an Outdoor Ambassadors leadership training, a Flash Freeze for the Environment, and training activities for the 16ers.  He saw us at a peak of activity and met volunteers at each stage service, beginning, middle and end.  It was nice to hear from someone who lives abroad and works in development that we’re doing good work, we’re not crazy, and yes, things will be alright after Peace Corps.

Welcome group 16 and good luck. Goodbye group 14 and good luck.  Hello year 2 Albania.  In the coming year: EYC Summer program, EYC school year, more gender/human rights, more travel (?) more culinary madness (gazpacho season is back!) and who knows what else I come up with.

London Calling
“I’ve been to the east and I’ve been out west
and I’ve been the world around
but I ain’t seen no one anywhere near
a girl from London town”
-“London Girls,” Tori Amos

I’m going on vacation! I have not been to London since I was a senior in university so that’s… a while ago.  I love Albania, but there are certain things lacking in ready availability that I crave.  I’ve got plans to see a few concerts, catch a show (maybe 2), visit an art museum, have a crazy-good cocktail, see hipsters, and whatever else strikes my fancy.  Get ready London. I am coming.

The Epilogue
Gloria: You’re his family now and that means only one thing: you be the wind in his back, not the spit in his face.
Jay: What?
Gloria: Something my mom always says. Its gorgeous in Spanish.
-Modern Family, Pilot Episode  1.1

My office and most of the people I work with speak a degree of English that for the past year I have been able to work in pretty decent shqiplish and with the occasional aid of a translator. More people would rather practice their English with me, than listen to me struggle and butcher their language.

So, my shqip has stymied (a becalmed shqip), but I get along well enough, until someone lacking in tact tries to correct me. It’s not that I don’t need the correction, or welcome it, but some days when a non-native speaker, like me, say pullë (stamp) and not pulë (chicken) and clearly at a restaurant would order the latter (true story), then yeah, it’s annoying.

I remember a lesson I learned from my mom, who said when people made fun of her accent,  “Well if you don’t understand me, mejor te hablo en español para ver si me entiendes…pendejo.

Aquí tienen, para que se rían.

Afterthoughts

I made cherry pie. It was delicious. Clearly, I’m proud of myself.

DSC_0274 DSC_0280 DSC_0285 DSC_0290DSC_0297
I was contacted by a lovely young woman who reads the blog. This might be a bit too late to be of any good, but she has a project that you can read about here. It’s about travel and storytelling which are all things I love.

Honey Baked Chicken (from More-with-Less)

Honey Baked Chicken

Every now and again I feel the call of a culinary challenge.  This time it took the form of a whole chicken.  Normally I’m a chicken breast man, but I felt adventurous. Also the recipe called for a 3 lb chicken, cut up.

Now I have cleaned chickens before thanks to volunteer time with Scott and Tony at Pleasant Hill Farm in Rixeyville, VA and thought, if I can handle that, this should be a breeze.  Let me tell you friends and acquaintances – there is no bigger pain in the ass than having to de-feather a chicken, and surprisingly it gets even more annoying when it is mostly done and you still have the fine feathers and left over stubs prickling over a deceptively smooth skin.  If I were a more patient person, I would have no problem plucking said feathers with pliers in one hand and cocktail in the other on a coolish spring day, but in the dark, dead of winter and feeling more than a little starved, I wasn’t ready to have a Peace Corps experience (developed world problems, wah-wah).  After a half hour of scouring the chicken with, by then, numb hands, I thought to hell with it, I’ll eat the damn feathers (or just peel the skin off, but it doesn’t have the same dramatic flurry).  Then of course came the chopping.  If you plan on joining the Peace Corps, invest in a sharp knife, or knives.  I recommend a 12 in. (30 cm.) cleaver, and a whetstone.  Dull is just dull and chickens, even in death, are ornery creatures.

All that being said feel free to tinker with the following recipe.  The wise person knows when to face a challenge and when to substitute for 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Serves 6
350ºF (176ºC)
1 1/4 hrs

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Arrange in shallow baking pan, skin side up: one 3-lb. (1.4 kilo) fryer, cut up.

Combine and pour over:

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
2 T mustard
1 t salt
1 t curry powder

Bake for 1 1/4 hour, basting every 15 minutes, until chicken is tender and nicely browned.  Serve with rice.

Aloo Curry – Curried Potatoes (from here)

Curried Potatoes

Quick easy recipe for the new year when nothing is open, you have no food left, kids are shooting off firecrackers like it’s a war-zone and maybe you’re still slightly hungover or simply dazzled by the fact that you’ve just celebrated the New Year in Albania when last year you were in Virginia. ¡Buen provecho!

Ingredients
4 large potatoes
1 T cumin seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper, minced (or use 1/2 tsp chili powder)
1/4 cup fine chopped onion
1 t curry powder
1 t turmeric
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 cup chicken or veggie broth (or substitute for beer)

Instructions:

  1. Peel 4 large potatoes and cut into 1/2 in. cubes
  2. In a large pot, sauté the cumin seeds in veggie (or olive) oil for about 2 minutes. (If no seeds – no worries)
  3. Add minced garlic, onion, and pepper and cook until soft (about medium low so you don’t burn the garlic)
  4. Add potatoes, broth (or beer) and spices and stir occasionally until the potatoes begin to soften.  If it’s taking too long, cover pot with lid.  Also monitor liquid, and add water if need be, so the potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of your pan.

With mercurial delight I pulled from the depths of my boredom a one minute ode to Snake Xenzia and Dune.  It comes from the limitless limited creativity common with having too much free time on my hands.  Not the most well executed of creations (unlike my fantastic ciabatta bread which was also birthed from a fit of boredom and an obstinate nature and position of not paying for things that I can just as easily bake myself) it was however, an exercise in a few of my favorite things (i.e. video, pop culture reference, something, something, etc.)

Over the course of the two years, Peace Corps Volunteers will take on a number of hobbies and skills, attempting to fill their free time by:

  • Learning culinary wizardry (or just wizardry);
  • Taking on arts and crafts [or as I sometimes call them, “arts and crap” (thanks Dolly)] like weaving plastic bags into what-not;
  • Making their own music video covers of popular music (i.e. “Can I Smell Yo’ D***?);
  • Learning a new language beyond the one they already have to (or at least aspire to);
  • Keeping an amusing and charming blog to rattle out their inane musings (read earlier posts of ¡PermisoAlbania!)

But on the subject of hobbies and filling ones times, Irish comedian, and one of my favorites, Dylan Moran said on chat show, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross:

“Hobbies are a bit sinister I think, because what are you going to do, you know? Are you going to get a tractor tire and cover it in shells? Or get a lump of wood and chisel it for nine hours because you’re not happy with your life? That’s what a hobby is. […] How does anyone fill their day?  I think the truth is you fill your day, most of the time, by being in the washing machine of your own mind thinking, ‘What’s this? When does it stop?  Am I enjoying it?  I don’t know. Oh, it’s time to go to sleep. I can’t. I’m worried.’ And then you wake up and smear jam on your family’s face and your own. But at times it is an enormous pleasure to be alive.”

It is a pleasure, and if someone, anyone, can find some modicum of something meaningful or enjoyable in any of it, well that’s just icing on the cake.  And I love cake.

Heading to Pogradec this weekend.