Life In Subtitles

My mom’s alternative to taking big international trips was exposing me to foreign language cinema. Thursday nights were always a window to the world. We were living in Riverside, CA at the time & the legendary Fox theatre always showcased a foreign film series every Thursday.

Gone with the wind first premiered at the Fox in the late 30’s. It has history & looked utterly majestic. However, in the dead of summer, it was quite warm. The amazing films from France, Mexico & Italy made one forget about the heat, which felt just like the devil’s oven.

Going to the Fox wet my appetite for more foreign language cinema. Till this day, I’m huge fan of Pedro Almodovar’s quirky films. Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films are worth the lengthy period it takes to watch them. The French new wave movement with Paris showered in black & white cinematography also captures my fancy.

At fourteen, I kept a list of films I wanted to see. However, I just didn’t want to watch these films, but travel to the countries they were filmed in. Throughout my teenage & adult life, I traveled all over. I speak a bit of Spanish, which helped me greatly in Buenos Aires & Madrid.

Although, I read Spanish, better than I speak it (have a heavy American accent), I still managed to smile afterwards & pull it off. Here are some of my favorite phrases from my trips to Spain & Argentina.

“yo quiero una empanada, por favor” I want an empanada, please

“adonde esta la farmacia?” where is the pharmacy? (I caught an awful cold in Spain)

Here’s the most important phrase “adonde esta la cafeteria?” where is the coffee house?

I survived the obvious languages in both nations. In Buenos Aires, I even had a full conversation with the cab driver in Espanol regarding Argentinian cinema. Yes, it was more like Spanglish, but it worked.

However, there are those places in the world, where the language is completely foreign to me. Tokyo & Paris were two such places. I’ve watched many Japanese & French films. The subtitles were always there like a life vest in a sea of foreign languages.

My index finger helped especially while using the metro. Although Tokyo has signs in English & Japanese, there was the rare occasion where a station would have the entire map in Japanese. I felt lost in translation (just like the movie). I would ask someone next to me “Ginza station?” use my index finger to point to the map & they showed me exactly where to go.

In Paris, I did the same routine. Only, I learned a few key French terms (the very basic) before my trip to France. When I went anywhere from museums to shops, I simply smiled & said bonjour/bonsoir. Parisians were very respective to this. Good manners go a long way in Paris, like anywhere else in the world.

In Sydney & London, I heard all these phrases & words that weren’t very common in American English. On the streets of Sydney, “no worries” is still a very common phrase. I thought it sounded adorable. Of course, I had export it stateside. While British euphemisms like the loo, bloke, knickers & cutlery, I use on a rare occasion.

I haven’t lost my curiosity of the world. In fact, I’m not that different from the kid at the Fox theatre mesmerized by the subtitles on the screen. I still love travel & foreign films. Before, I started traveling, foreign films were my window to the world. It was a wonderful way to learn about culture.

So, I say watch “La Dolce Vita” & learn about the Italian glitterati in the 60s. Watch a Pedro Almodovar film & have an understanding of La Movida (Post Franco Spain where music, film, art & sex were all very liberated after being under a dictatorship). Luis Bunuel’s films are surrealist/artistic gems. He directed cinema in Spain, Mexico & France.

Jet setting the world commences at your couch or the movie house. No English to French/Japanese/Spanish dictionary required.

The East Village

The East Village is one of my favorite slices of the New York pizza pie. I love the history behind it. Knowing that everyone from authors Allen Ginsberg to William S. Burroughs walked its many architecturally distinctive streets amazes me. Although, it’s becoming gentrification central with its big fancy hotels, exorbitant rents & the presence of a certain large university, the neighborhood still has some of its characters & quirks.

On any given day one can see the Talking Heads front man David Byrne riding his bike on First Ave. Village Voice columnist Michael Musto hanging out with bevy of quirky fashionistas on Second Ave. Somewhere on Avenue A, Amanda Lepore (transvestite extradonaire) hides in a hoodie, while walking into an independent boutique.

It’s also my favorite place to grab a cup of coffee & people watch. One chilly December morning, I woke up at my apartment in Queens & desperately wanted a dirty chai latte. Only issue is the only place, which made them, was down in the East Village.

I also had my clothes in the cleaners & my jeans at the laundry mat. Anyone who knows me is aware that I love to dress up. I won’t walk out of my apartment unless my outfit is quite proper. Rare is the day; I’d go out in sweat pants or even a t-shirt.

However, the craving for that dirty chai latte persisted. I did the unthinkable & put on a pair of sweats, hoodie & disguised it all with a pea coat. While, it looked sunny outside, the weather was 20 degrees & my long johns were also at the laundry mat.

So, I took the N train into Midtown & switched trains at 59th & Lex. Feeling naked in sweats didn’t faze me. I was determined to get my coffee craving filled. Everyone looked fashion week cool on the 6 train downtown to Astor Place.

When I walked out of that subway into the chilly East Village air, I had never been colder. However, I pressed on. The funky 1/2 off sushi restaurants, pizzerias & kabob shops of Saint Mark’s Place distracted me from the obvious fashion faux paux & cold weather. Even though I was shivering, the city felt magical.

I reached First Avenue & walked into the coffee house. Seeing the dirty chai latte on the menu was like seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time. I had to come from a bit of ways to have this amazing experience & it felt euphoric.

I received my drink. However, the cigarette craving kicked in (back when I smoked). The blood in my legs was practically frozen over. Did I really want to smoke in the bitter cold? Cravings persisted & I went outside. Luckily the coffee house had an outdoor bench, ideal for people watching.

I drank my coffee & smoked a cigarette. Trying to play it cool in the freezing cold was a challenge. The dirty chai tasted amazing. I was like a car running on premium gasoline after that chai latte. I made my way back to Queens, one happy boy.

Walking in my sweats around the East Village was liberating. I felt naked, especially in fashion conscious Manhattan. However, the chai latte was well worth it. I love cold weather, but next time I won’t go out without my long knickers

The Road Trippin Beatnik

Driving in through the Arizona desert in a 50’s Chevrolet while Buddy Holly’s voice echoing through the rugged terrain. Dressed in all black with cigarette smoke drifting into the bright blue skies. Destination: New York City. The penance for taking such a trip is driving through endless scenery of great boredom. Pressing on, means I’ll soon be trading in the desert, cornfields & waffle houses for Greenwich Village.

This is how a road trip fantasy plays out in my head. It’s a bohemian expedition, which exposes one to fly over state America also known as those on the fringe of New York & San Francisco culture. Sure, it’s a fantasy of mine to see those unexpectedly on the fringe places. Jack Kerouac’s ” On the Road” & Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” are two of my favorite books. Though some language is outdated, the stories haven’t lost what makes them interesting.

I love the beat movement in literature. Sure, it could be translated as the hipsters of the late 50’s/early 60’s. Unlike hipsters, the movement gave way to boat loads of wonderful modern literature.

I’m no beatnik. However, the idea of driving across country has always tickled my fancy. Honestly, driving is not one of my favorite forms of transportation. That’s why I loved living in New York. I could take the subway, read my paper & listen to the iPOD sans the stress of looking for a parking spot or sitting in gridlock.

In California, I’m no stranger to the car culture. As a youngster, my family & I took magnificent trips up the Central coast. We visited such charming places as Solvang, a Danish inspired town close to Santa Barbara. Cambria is the most memorable destination for our family. I haven’t been in seventeen years, but remember it well.

The pebbles on the beach, chicken fried steak with mash potatoes for lunch & the struggle to find cassette tapes that weren’t Country music still make me smile. After Cambria, we didn’t road trip much. I learned to drive, but hated it even feared it for a while.

When I moved back from New York, the moment of truth presented itself. I had to drive a car again. At first it was quite terrifying after being a subway & bus kind of guy. Back on the East Coast, my road trips revolved around the Chinatown bus, which took me from Manhattan to D.C., which were fun, but long.

To my surprise, I picked up driving again rather quickly. I drove my car from home to office without an issue. My various trips to such exotic destinations as Riverside & Palm Springs felt bohemian thanks to my very coffee house friendly iPod playlists. My favorite for road trips to Palm Springs include music by Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, Simon & Garfunkel, Rufus Wainwright, just to name a few.

If it’s an early morning trip back to the city, I love new wave 80’s music, which wakes me up like black coffee. I like to make my driving experience euphoric. Finding street parking, getting tail gated & sitting in gridlock are pitfalls of living in car centric California.

I wouldn’t call myself a beatnik, although being around the East Village during that time seems fascinating. I do love wearing black & especially interested in our country’s collage of different cultures. Driving is a fear, I’ve overcome thanks to making it a creative experience. Listening to cool tunes, reading the funny billboards & admiring architecture + nature along the way make it a Polaroid photo for my eyes.

Pea Coat Wonderland

Pea coat season, also known as “soup season” is the only season that makes me want to moon walk for joy. Technically, it’s winter, but chilly days also occur in the autumn. During this most lovely time period, peacoats come out to play. Whether it’s the tube in London, New York’s Madison Square Park or Tokyo’s neon playground, the peacoat is synonymous with the cold & staying chic.

Of course, observing the different variations is what I adore. Thanks to the art of people watching, I can see the same grey pea coats look bohemian on one person & business like on another. People watching is both a skill & leisure activity. It’s more entertaining than an opera. The characters are more enticing than a book & it rarely gets boring.

I have many fond memories of just enjoying a bench or sidewalk cafe, while being immersed in people watching. I also take much inspiration from this activity. Seeing how other socialize & studying mannerisms sculpts my thinking & perception of the world. Here are some of my favorite memories & places when people watching seemed more interesting than ever.

Madrid’s La Zarzuela is Spain’s very old comedy opera. It’s performed in the lovely Teatro de La Zarzuela. In the Spanish capital, it’s freezing in the wintertime. Outside the opera house, it’s a sea of fur coats. In Madrid, fur coats are not only very fashionable, but highly desired especially for the winter. Castilian accents accentuate the Madrid fashion staple outside the opera house. Also, it’s lovely seeing all the young people intermingling with the old people. Everyone there has a common goal, to see a Spanish operatic tradition.

In New York, I adore taking the 86th street/crosstown during the day. The old people taking the bus are adorable, all dressed up, going to the market & lunch. It’s amazing & shows people can be stylish regardless of age. I love Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet city with its mix of homeless, wannabe hipsters & yuppies. There’s always a crowd gathered to watch a musician or a magician.

However, nothing beats the gay pier also known as Christopher Street pier in the spring. It’s a gathering place for gay guys. Everyone having a great time, lots of speedos & some kitsch added. The gay pier also feels like a small retreat in the middle of Downtown. Hanging out on the deck, watching the Hudson is euphoric. Seeing the New Jersey skyline reminds one that yeah this is nowhere near a vacation spot.

Paris’ cafes, it’s a French institution, which made people watching into an art form. Sure, the most cliché way to watch people is in a Parisian cafe. Even I’ve been guilty of watching people traffic from a cafe in the Champs Elysees (doesn’t say tourist at all). Le Marais, which is an eclectic mix of Jewish families, gays & tourists is my favorite place to people watch in the city.

Palm Springs, this is a special mention. Yes, I go to places, which aren’t covered in fog & clam chowder, sometimes. I love driving into Palm Springs with its very distinctive white windmills & mountains, which rise like skyscrapers from the ground up. Watching the world go by at the pool is entertaining. Poolside is not the catwalks of Paris or New York. It’s interesting to see the body art. Lots of tattoos, body types & loud music blaring, served with Jameson on the rocks & it’s wonderful free entertainment.

The Ginza district & Harajuku both in fashion forward Tokyo. Ginza is moneyed. All the Japanese ladies in their finest black designer outfits sip coffee. Some even stroll around in kimonos. While men in very expensive looking suits & ties play on smart phones.

Harajuku is the youthful funky, fun loving cousin to Ginza. Musically Ginza is Pavarotti, while Velvet Underground & Bowie symbolize Harajuku. Lots of crepe stands & everyone wants to rebel against the system in Harajuku, the fashion is more over the top than anywhere else. Grab a crepe & watch a different kind of neon parade go by.

People are like pea coats. Similar styles, sometimes matching colors, but regardless that exact look is different on people. Six continents & living in two coasts has been a blessing. I’ve been exposed to a social hotchpotch of cultures & best of all amazing opportunities to people watch.

Coffee & Electronic Cigarettes

Cigarettes are chic, arty & make one more interesting. Everything from French New Wave Cinema to indie films from the 90’s feature characters who love themselves a good ciggie. There is something aesthetically pleasing from observing someone smoking.

For example, French women love their Paris cafes. Their art of sipping a cafe au lait & then smoking a cigarette is surprisingly chic. Watching the air blow into the (almost) perpetually grey Paris sky is almost a work of art.

Not so glamorous, were my times smoking cigarettes behind the 7-11 in my school uniform. However, cigarettes were not so much about sophistication but rebellion. It was an escape from my right winged school atmosphere.

Fast forward into my adulthood, I was living in New York City & traveling. Cigarettes were expensive (still are). However, I found a way to budget them into my already tight budget. Some of my fondest memories were hanging out on the stoop with my neighbors. We’d smoke a couple cigarettes, talk & even put on a play or two.

There were plenty of perks with being a smoker. When I was in Tokyo, they still had smoking sections both outside & in restaurants + cafes. I loved the smoking sections in the coffee shops. It was nice & quiet. It enhanced the coffee tasting experience. The outdoors smoking section (the Japanese don’t want you to walk & smoke) was as much as a bonding experience as my stoop.

It’s an unexpected subculture for Tokyo. Tokyoites who ignore anti-smoking campaigns, love it. Businessmen, chic ladies who do lunch, Harajuku girls, punks & other Tokyo subcultures gather in that one spot with a common goal, which is to smoke an awesome cigarette. The smoking sections are set aside all over the Japanese capital (along busy sidewalks), distinguishing the smokers from the non-smokers.

On a trip to London, I bought a pack of Pall Malls. They sounded very English & proper. So, I smoked one while walking in Camden & yuck. It tasted rancid. Not even a gourmet coffee could diminish that flavor. Did I enjoy a few ciggies? duh. It was delightful having a drink at the pub & then going outside, feeling wide awake from the chilly London winter & smoking a ciggie.

Returning to the States, something odd happened. I began hating the taste of cigarettes. Every time I lit one, inhaled & blew the smoke out, the sensation remained, but I quickly wanted a mint. Two months after London, I stopped smoking. However, it didn’t take me long to start over again. My brain still loved the sensation. In June of last year, I decided to quit cold turkey. No patches, no gum, I just stopped.

Amazingly, I wasn’t craving it. Of course, I’ve snuck in a cigarette or two, since quitting. Also, every once in a while, I’ll get a craving. I tried smoking. However, this time I had difficulties inhaling the smoke. When I walk around, my fingers are still in cigarette smoking mode.

Recently, my friend Melinda introduced me to the electronic cigarette (some have nicotine, some do not). I took a couple puffs. It felt euphoric. Driving around, I could smoke my electronic cigarette in the car with the windows up. It could be smoked anywhere, which makes it great for not having to go out in shit weather.

Tokyo, New York & even the 7-11 back parking lot made for great cigarette smoking memories. London was my last hurrah when it came to chain smoking. Now, modern technology has revolutionized cigarettes quenching the craving sans the nicotine. As always, it still pairs up great with a big cup of coffee.

Where the Seine meets the Thames

In a sea of coffee, there’s a tiny boat made out of popsicle sticks. The sea captain is wearing a tie with a distinctive rouge hue. While his tweed coat keeps him warm from the chilly air. His obstacle is steering the boat & not drink all the coffee.

Although, he’s in the middle of nowhere, the path leads to the excitement of Paris & the grandure of London. Rowing the boat towards the horizon; Big Ben on one side, while the Eiffel Tower is in the other creates bliss. Suddenly, the boat tips over in a highly caffeinated sea. No fears arise, since it’s all gourmet coffee & not seawater.

The fog rolls towards the sea captain, he awakens to find himself in a most ordinary of settings. What is the shocking reality? I’m sitting at home watching the fireplace. Daydreaming was a cardinal sin, growing up. My mom complained about my daydreaming.

Shockingly enough, my teachers also complained. Science & math are such riveting subjects. I don’t know why anybody would want to drift to a land of imagination & excitement. There were eight deadly sins as opposed to seven. The most guilt ridden was daydreaming. My mom put it best, ” you’re drifting into la la land again.”

Growing into adulthood, I attended film school. Rather than having guilt about daydreaming for the first time, it was a requirement like textbooks & watching Woody Allen movies. Utilizing my imagination, I delved into different worlds & cultures. After graduating from school, I still felt a wanderlust for my own imagination land. It was an escape from the realities of an adulthood land with it’s many obstacles & pressures.

In my head, I revisited some of my favorite places (such as London, Tokyo, Paris & Buenos Aires), wandered around 1950’s America, experienced Elizabethan England, sat through a bullfight, saw some very wild shows at CBGB’s, rode into the sunset with Don Quixote & had a three course dinner with some of the world’s most interesting dead people. All these experiences have always formed nice escapisms without paying for an expensive getaway.

Daydreaming is what my society always told me was wrong at one time. Don’t daydream, just focus on science & math & the joys of puberty. As an adult, I figured out breaking the rules & thinking outside of society’s social norms is more fucking fun.

Especially in the career path I’m taking as an adult, floating into fairy tale land/daydream jungle is where my finest ideas come from. If you’ll excuse me, my plane is landing in some fog & must get ready to venture into the land where the Seine meets the Thames.

My Own Private Igloo

Not long ago in the frozen tundra of New York City lived a boy who loved the cold & grey. While New Yorkers dreamed of Florida & grumpily walked to work on the ice skating rings known as sidewalks, he reveled in all that winter had to offer.

From the ice capped peaks of Central Park to the cliche but charming images of brownstones with snow covering the classic stoop, it was magical. He adored winter with swell coffee, heavy fog, lack of sun, superb soups, gorgeous fashion (especially pea coats) & the feeling of one’s face freezing over from Manhattan’s very prominent wind tunnel effect (the skyscrapers create this effect making it colder in the city than the outer boroughs).

I’ve always loved the cold. In fact, my nickname is the urban eskimo. Where did I garner such a nickname? It’s from my love of Arctic style weather. I like to think of my house as my own private igloo. It’s always chilly, perfect for the sweater loving crowd & also the ideal setting for soup consumption. The igloo effect extends to my car. After moving back to California from New York, my car a/c died. So I quickly, fixed it. Thanks to my car’s high tech a/c, I can wear nifty sweaters, drink hot java & find peace in a sea of sunshine + traffic jams.

I also find inspiration from the grey old sky. It stirs a nostalgia, which compares to watching an old black & white film, since they remind me of a long gone era. Some of my best memories take place in the grey. Therefore, it’s my most favorite time to sit down & write about these experiences. No harsh sun causing gridlock in my brain, just the soothing sounds of wind & rain dancing along the characters I develop for school & creative endeavors.

I see too many sunny days now. It makes me appreciate the June gloom, which covers the coastal areas of California. It is also an excuse to dress up in my favorite sweaters, enjoy a most delicious cappuccino & soup du jour.

espresso meet latte

Gimme coffee with that sweet aroma & instant stimulation brought about via the precious brew. Each morning, I wake up to a delicious latte. Although, very satisfying that latte can be quite a bore. Obviously, I can’t add whisky to my caffeinated drink first thing in the morning. The kicks are adding extra strong espresso. It makes me want to run a marathon (need to take up jogging for that one). Life is a latte. Everything can be normal, bland, predictable tasting & the milk used could determine a good or bad day (hint gas-x). However, adding that espresso shot spices up the blandness.

Life is a similar equation. You can work, hit the gym, eat & sleep +party on the weekends. However, I advise spicing things up from the everyday routine. Here we go:

-sleep

-work

-eat

-build magical space ship

-take the homemade space ship & launch yourself out of this planet

-discover if aliens exist

-also find out if these supposed extra-terestrials get CNN, listen to iPODs & sip Dunkin Donuts coffee up there

Living a life less ordinary via thinking outside the box & not fearing life is the way to be. Now drink your latte & ponder the question. “How can I make my espresso liven up my caffeine experience (or life)?”