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.

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.