Hug a Tree

As I was walking home today I saw a man riding his motorino, transporting with him a tall potted tree, which he was holding close with one arm. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘hug a tree’!

Speaking of giggling on my walk home, once I also saw – in the same exact piazza where the nun had been juggling before that – a friar in a long white habit, who was rollerblading! Hehe.

And to end, two more Gene Kelly videos, just because I can’t resist:

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Surprising beauty

A few weeks ago, I made it to Bologna for a brief day trip. One thing it’s known for is the way that most of the streets downtown are lined by arched walkways, so you can go through almost the entire city centre while remaining underneath them. Pretty handy, especially on drizzly days like the one when I was there.

I stumbled upon an exhibit in Bologna being held in one of the museum’s courtyards. It displayed different front pages of Bologna’s daily paper of many of the biggest events of the 20th century. Was pretty cool to see the progression of modern history presented in such an ornately beautiful atmosphere from so much further back in time.

My uncle celebrated his 70th birthday the other weekend with a gathering of about 40 of his closest friends and colleagues in their house in Chianti. They somehow managed to fit enough seats in the dining room and patio (snazzed up all elegantly for the occasion… new word?).  It was catered by a hotel on the seaside, so the almost completely fish menu was to die for. There were a few surprises thrown in as well.

One was a poem his friend had written to make fun of/commemorate him, which my aunt and cousin also contributed to (I know Dad, preposition at the end of the sentence – someday I”ll learn).

The other was the live music. A singer/keys player started playing halfway through dinner, and (astonishingly, especially considering how particular Italians are about the process of dining) we took a dance break so my uncle could discover the unexpected guest, who was hiding in the family room for the first half of the meal.

He was also quite the comic, and narrated the gift unwrapping as he played songs related to whatever my uncle had received. (That was definitely the biggest relief. I can’t say I was looking forward to watching 40 presents being opened after a huge meal). We danced until 3 and, notably, the younger people at the party were definitely not the main ones still going at the end!  The whole thing kind of reminded me of a quainter Tuscan version of Anthony Hopkin’s character’s birthday party in Meet Joe Black.

While I was in Florence, we went to go see the Italian film Mine Vaganti (International title: Loose Cannons). Very artistic, abstract and well-acted. Nothing to list among my favorite films, because it was also a bit predictable, but it was still worth watching.

One thing that really struck me was just how beautiful the actress who played the grandmother is. Her name is Ilaria Occhini and she’s over 75 (at right in photo). Below is a shot of her back in ’53, when she would have been under 20. The site where I found the photo has a pretty cool collection of very elegant vintage fashion photos.

I also saw Shutter Island on Easter. Not the most Eastery of films by a long shot! Pretty disturbing really, but as a brain-bending psychological thriller, it’s good. Between that and the pouring rain in St Peter’s Square, it turned out to be a gloomy day in some respects, but a happy one all the same. It was heartening to see so many people – many of them youth – sticking it out in the rain at the Vatican, what with everything going on in the media these days.

A crucial discovery

My salad-making life will never be the same. Today, without realizing it, I bought a bottle of balsamic vinegar that has a thoughtfully designed spray top. Works like a charm!

Breaking records and electing teddy bears

Oxford Today magazine had quite a few interesting tidbits in the latest issue.

One was about Sarah Outen, an alumna of St Hugh’s, who rowed all the way across the Indian Ocean on her own. She’s the first woman to ever accomplish the feat. It took her 124 days and she arrived about 30 lb. lighter, having traveled 3,100 miles. When she was still in school, her father, who had rheumatoid arthritis, died unexpectedly. So she undertook this trip in his memory and to raise money for the charity Arthritis Care. Now she’s writing a book about the experience. What I found interesting was how she’s found it hard to adjust to normal life again: “Sea life is a simple life,” she said. “Time ends up having no meaning and days become just a figure of speech”.

At Queen’s College, which is where they filmed some of The Golden Compass, the JCR (undergraduate student government body) has voted a teddy bear as its next president. The students did it in rebellion, as a response to the college asking their former president to step down because of poor grades.

At Magdalen College, the JCR has decided to rename itself completely, taking on the name Gryffindor. And that’s not even the college where they filmed Harry Potter!

There’s also an interview with Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who said he was always ‘hopeless at languages’. His room at Teddy Hall has been turned into a lavatory, he discovered on his last visit. Jones also recounts having attended a lecture by JRR Tolkien on Beowulf. “The room was packed. He started reading with great animation, and then he stopped, pulled out his handkerchief, and – amid a great laugh – put his false teeth in!”

In the Letters to the Editor section, several people had gotten stirred up about a recent article they published called “Woe, Superman?”. In it the author had discussed human enhancement and the possibility of significantly elongating lifespan. One person’s response, which criticized the prospect, quoted a verse from Swinburne’s Garden of Proserpine that I found interesting:

From too much love of living,

From hope and fear set free,

We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be

That no life lives for ever;

That dead men rise up never;

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Free refills

I love my apartment for a lot of reasons.  The most recent one, though, is that the guy who lives across the hall from me owns his own vineyard and olive grove, and therefore has barrels of his own delicious olive oil stored at his place. We’ve recently started up a system (which was his idea, mind – I’m not being a moocher!) It works like this. If I run out of the bottle he’s given me, I just set it outside his door. Soon after – voilà! – I find a refilled bottle of fresh olive oil sitting in front of my own door. I was starting to miss free drink refills at restaurants, but this more than makes up for it. I win!

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