Fellini, Where Are You?

Federico Fellini’s films captured Rome’s quirk & glamour. La Dolce Vita & 8 1/2 were two films, which most inspired me to study his work in film school. The glamorous world of Rome’s glitterati was a far cry from my humble American life. However, Fellini’s Rome would wet my appetite for a strong dose of Italian culture. Therefore, I took the plunge and booked my plane ticket to Rome one winter.

I didn’t just want eat pasta and flirt with Italian fellas. My trip to Rome would be more cinematic and relevant. Not only did I want to see the sites, but also see the world, which inspired “La Dolce Vita.” So I set off looking for cinematic inspiration in the eternal city.

There were the quintessential Roman sites. The Coliseum was grand and imposing. Sitting on the Spanish steps watching vespas and tourists stroll by was stimulating. The Pizza Navona provided a quintessentially Roman square. However, nothing felt completely cinematic. Then, I galloped into a most peculiar place, Vatican City.

I make an art form out of skipping church on Sunday. In fact, spending my formative years in a Catholic school made me quite rebellious. Hence, it was interesting flying overseas to Rome to visit religious sites. I stood in the middle of St. Peter’s square. Then, I remembered that if I stood at a certain part of the square, the arches surrounding St. Peter’s basilica would look as one arch (as opposed to several).

I tried every angle. Still it didn’t produce one massive arch. “Was this a myth?” I thought to myself. I plugged away, but didn’t receive that cool effect I wanted. Like a frustrated filmmaker, I left the St. Peter’s Square without the memory I wanted to capture.

Roaming in Rome during Christmas my lack of inspiration didn’t last long. Rain poured from the sky as fogged rolled from the sidewalks. Surprisingly, Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” blasted from a local skating rink. As I crossed a bridge over the Tiber River glancing at the basilica from the other side created the cinematic moment I was seeking.

I continued my journey through Central Rome. The imposing buildings and monuments took a back seat to Romans. The men in long black trenched coats waiting for the bus, groups of nuns touring the city, women in fur coats carrying shopping bags and the overall Italian chic oozing from the sidewalks created the grand epiphany of my mind. The Romans truly inspired Federico Fellini from the outrageous to the religious.

Pizza For Breakfast

Weekend mornings, I love to eat pizza for breakfast. I don’t have leftovers, but simply put some fresh cheese and tomato sauce on pita bread. After toasting it, I have a cup of coffee and watch TV. The Italian tastes wake me up instantly.

Eating pizza in the morning is a habit, which I inherited in Rome. Each morning my dad and I would wake up and crave a slice. There was a wonderful pizzeria around the corner from our hotel. Each morning they would have freshly baked pizza. The lady behind the counter would greet us with a very enthusiastic ” Bongiorno.” We ordered two Pizza Marghertias and sodas.

It was always a triumphant way to commence days of exploring old Rome. I never worried once about my boyish figure. With days spent going up and down the Spanish steps and exploring the Roman Forum, I worked off my daily pizza intake.

I even snuck it in a few more times during the day. It’s my favorite food and a way to bond. I’ve had surprisingly good pizza in Paris and traditional, but delicious slices in Buenos Aires. However, New York is the pizza capital of the world.

One of my favorite memories happened in the Bronx. My friend Linda was born and bred in the borough. She said to me one day ” Come to the Bronx, I wanna show you borough.” I excitedly accepted her offer. Most people would think it more logical to go to Italy than the Bronx for pizza. However, traveling to the borough greatly interested me.

The images of urban decay, hip-hop and Yankees stadium were more fascinating than visiting some suburb. I took the 2 from the city to the Bronx. As the train elevated, the Bronx looked like my borough, Queens. It had the same reddish apartment blocks, old New York style tenement buildings and a street life. There were Puerto Rican flags all over, which displayed the borough’s pride.

When my train arrived at the station, I hurried down and met Linda. It was a lovely ride and my iPod didn’t run out of battery. She walked me around. Everything was peaceful and unlike the classic images of the borough from the 70’s.

We were both starving and she invited me for a slice of pizza. The pizzeria was across from the projects. Unlike most pizzerias, which claim to be authentic, this was a hit. We then went to the Latino market for a Malta drink (licorice soda). I had the most authentic New York meal. It was some of the best pizza I had.

Moving back to California didn’t deter my love of good pizza. I love it for breakfast, lunch and if possible dinner. I’ve many good slices, but nothing beats my Bronx pizza experience. Sharing pizza with family and friends makes it most memorable.

The Frugal Jet Setter

Old travel films from the 50’s reminds us of a time when life was in Technicolor. Beautifully dressed men and women, board Pan Am flights. On board they drink magnificent cocktails & eat gourmet prime rib & desserts. With the magic of film, this is the quintessential fantasy, which airlines wanted to portray.

Air travel is really a lack of legroom, long lines & germs flowing freely in a capsule. However, I love every minute. Airport & airplanes are some of the most exciting places for me. I love getting all dolled up like in the 50’s reels & checking in. The feeling that new adventures await never gets old.

Throughout my air travel, I’ve flirted with Mt. Fuji while landing in Tokyo. I’ve seen dazzling villages & the green rolling hills of Ireland en route to London & Paris. While on a flight home to New York, I met eyes with the Grand Canyon, which looked like nature’s interpretation of the Manhattan skyline. All of these sights were seen from my luxurious window seat.

I’ve never actually flown first or business class. Therefore, the densely populated economy class has always been home. Champagne, caviar & seats, which morph into beds, is a highly novel idea for me. I compensate by sitting at the window.

Taking off is the exciting part. Then comes the middle part of the flight. I usually combat boredom by watching long films on the airplane. I’ve seen Gandhi, Gone with the Wind & The Godfather on one of my many flights. Turbulence is something I rather enjoy. This is a mainstay of flights, which hover over Alaska. Often times, there is so much turbulence, it’s becomes a commercial break from the three & a half hours of Gandhi magic.

Plane food is usually terrible. It always comes with thick gravy, hard roll & an exotic pudding. After a bevy of gastronomic plane creations, bathrooms, which shake in madness & plenty of people coughing, comes the landing. Suddenly hours in the sardine can has produced beauty.

Landing is my favorite part of the trip. I adore landing in heavy fog & the sensation of flying through the cotton balls. Rome, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Madrid & Tokyo look like a toy display at F.A.O. Schwartz from up above. As the plane descends, the rush of excitement builds. I love hearing the flight attendant announce “ladies & gentleman welcome to London, where the current local time is etc, etc.” Even the airline music in the background is romanticized. Various 747 planes from the U.S., France, Japan & Israel pass by.

Life is no longer in technicolor. However, airline travel is still a most euphoric experience. Although economy isn’t the lap of luxury, seeing the world from the window seat is worth every penny. Traveling is like brain candy & will always provide a lifetime of stimulation.

Eating With Chopsticks

My holidays haven’t revolved around a Christmas tree in almost twenty years. Changing planes at airports for such exciting destinations as Tokyo, Buenos Aires & California were the norm in more recent years. Forget freshly roasted turkey, yams & a pecan pie, my Christmas dinner centered on Panda Express. Chopsticks, orange chicken & chow mien were the Christmas staple.

Sure, it’s not a proper New York Chinese eatery, but when you’re starving at Atlanta airport & changing planes it tastes as gourmet as Joe’s Shanghai’s (New York’s best Chinese eatery, in my opinion). There were the holidays where even having a loaf of bread was a blessing.

My father & I spent Christmas in Rome one year & couldn’t find any open restaurants. Therefore, we kindly asked the hotel to give us whatever they could find. That Christmas, we ate stale bread, while watching CNN International.

Italy proved a whole different animal from our family Christmases in the late 80’s & early 90s. My family, the Alas’ love Palm Springs. My grandparents had a beautiful vacation house in nearby Cathedral City.  We would all gather there & have family time. I always found a way to sneak a peek at my gifts & complained every time; someone gave me clothes as opposed to action figures.

There were truckloads of food. Everyone found a spot to pass out from food coma. My grandma’s famous turkey graced the table. A variety of apple desserts made everyone smile. The Alas family loves apple pie. Sometimes, the reunions felt as humorous as a Neil Simon play, other times they would’ve inspired a Shakespearean style production. However, those were fond memories.

As an adult, I experienced a very foreign concept, spending holidays by myself. New York is the holiday’s capital of the world. Fifth Avenue is decked in flashy Christmas decorations. As always there are remarkable window displays at tony department stores Bergdorf Goodman’s & Barney’s. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center sparkles with holiday delight. It’s the epicenter of holiday cheer.

This didn’t deter from missing my dad during thanksgiving. I moped around the Village, not feeling super upbeat. When I returned to my modest apartment, there was a special phone call.

My friend Rebecca called. I told her, I’m feeling awfully lonely. She goes ” that’s too bad, I’m at LAX right now waiting for my flight to JFK.” I jumped in excitement; my bitter mood transformed into sweetness only butterscotch could match.

The next day, I woke up in a very enthusiastic mood. Although, Rebecca couldn’t hang out with me till the weekend, I made the best of Manhattan holiday cheer. I went to Central Park that day & walked toward the edge facing Central Park West.  That day was my first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Of course, I watched it on TV. I’m not really impressed by parades. However, I love the artistry that went behind the floats, the music & just the cheer excitement. My jaded card flew out the window as the Harajuku girls, snoopy & superman floats passed by.

After the parade, I walked around the East Village & noticed many other people were alone too. I didn’t feel so bad. I didn’t enjoy my grandma’s famous turkey recipe that year; instead I had a burger at the diner for lunch. Then, my big thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese delights. Like my many Christmases at the airport, I utilized my chopstick skills & made it a great day.

I met up with my buddy Rebecca & we had an amazing holiday weekend of walking around Midtown & enjoying dinner in the West Village. The following year, felt less lonely. My roommate & I hosted a wonderful thanksgiving dinner at our apartment. However, nobody bought a turkey. Our innovative alternative, tacos, enchiladas & other Mexican delights for the big day.

These days, it’s less plane travel on holidays. My dad & I usually hang out by the fireplace. In the past year, we traded chopsticks & turkey for steaks. In the tradition of the Alas family, there’s always a big apple pie & plenty of wine. Even though, I do love having my family close by. The magic of New York during the holidays is truly missed.