6.23.2015

rating the world: Italy


I traveled to Italy to finally attend a World's Fair and because I love giallo films. What resulted was a sort of reverse-Paisan tour.

BEST OF ITALY

Duomos: No matter the city, every duomo cathedral is an architectural marvel. The highlight might be the one in Bologna, whose sides were never finished and covered up in a charmingly obvious manner.

Florence: Just generally one of the most spectacular cities in the world. A highlight is the Palazzo Vecchio with its iconic statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa and a gallery of 16th-century world maps.

Lipari: The most accessible of the Aeolian islands, it hosts a Gilmore Girls-y small-town atmosphere where bus drivers stop in the middle of the road to chat with familiar passersby.

Odeon Cinehall: One of the innumerable aspects of what makes Florence so great, this 94-year old cinema with its own dome in the auditorium deserves its own spot. It was also where I realized that theatrical films in Italy tend to be given random intermissions.

Palermo: This bustling city's position in Northwest Sicily has resulted in a lovely amalgam of Norman-Arab-Byzantine architecture and North African-inspired street markets.

Pinocchio Park: Collodi pays homage to its hometown author Carlo Collodi with this lo-fi theme park. Reminiscent of the documentary Osadne, where a town pulls together a delightfully bizarre attraction to bring in tourism.

Sant'Erasmo: A curious agricultural island just north of Venice with a very Hayao Miyazaki vibe. Locals drive around the scarcely-populated area in little three-wheeled trucks, one of the three restaurants on the island lies dark, abandoned, and completely open to visitors, and airbnb cabins leave out a VCD of Tarzan and the Lost City for guests.

Solfatara: A volcanic crater and the notorious entrance to Roman hell. Sulfur steam continuously rises from the earth, giving it a wholly otherworldly feel.

Valley of the Mills: Sunken forest-covered ruins are always awesome, but this one lies directly in the center of the city of Sorrento.

Yang Yongliang: This Chinese artist currently has his work showcased as part of Venice's Biennale, presented by the Shanghai Himalayas Museum, and it's some of the most stunning work I've ever seen.

BEST FOOD OF ITALY

Panzerotti: Savory fried donut thing filled with meat, tomatoes, and/or mozzarella
Pasta alla Norma: Sicilian dish with eggplant, ricotta, tomatoes, and basil
Steak w/ Balsamic Creme: Best steak I've ever had
Salami: Just fantastic in general (same thing goes for their tomatoes)
Sicilian Cannoli: I don't know what they do to it to make it so delicious here, but it is

WORST OF ITALY

Closing Times: closing stores/restaurants between 3 and 7:30 is miserable to deal with
Drinking Water: Not thirst-quenching in the slightest
Getting a Waiter's Attention: Ignoring you is an artform here
Naples: A total dump of a city with the worst traffic I've ever encountered
Pompeii: Unmemorable, save for its depressingly large stray dog population
Public Transportation: Unnamed stops, lots of no-shows, and unreliable destination times
Rome Airport: Hell on earth
Venice Tourism: Those people are the worst

6.22.2015

2015 World Expo


The 1964 New York World's Fair is arguably the last time the event mattered. While impressive innovations did make appearances in the decade afterward (electric cars in 1970 Osaka, IMAX in 1974 Spokane), 1964 was the final moment when the expo truly felt like a one-of-a-kind spectacle.

It makes sense, then, that Disney's Tomorrowland picked this moment as the catalyst for George Clooney's character, a fascinating facet of a flawed, awkward movie. His furious nature represents a generation - hell, generations - who were presented an optimistic vision of the future only to never have it materialize.

What Tomorrowland fails to mention is that this 1964 Fair was the beginning of its own downfall. This year was the first time that the event lost money in America, a trend that culminated in 1984 New Orleans when a declaration of bankruptcy was made while it was still going on. This would be the Fair's last appearance in the country, relegated instead to being portrayed in pop culture as crumbling ruins in the likes of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Simpsons, and season 10 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Partly to blame for this monetary loss was Disney itself, as Disneyland was basically a 24/7 World's Fair. But also, the event was out of touch. Instead of presenting a true visionary look into the future (such as the 1939 NY Fair practically inventing the suburbs), it failed to acknowledge the rampant civil rights issues raging on literally right outside its doors.

My hope was high that, despite the U.S. no longer wanting any part in hosting the World's Fair, that other parts of the world were continuing to provide hope and optimism through the event. Milan's 2015 World Expo, for instance, had a theme of 'Feeding the Planet, Energy For Life,' focusing on how to sustain an ever-growing world population that is projected to reach nine billion by 2050.

Unfortunately, the trend from 1964 was found to be alive and well. Any look to the future was highly obscured by the fact that no country would admit that they had a problem. Pavilion after pavilion listed how they've handled the sustainable food issue just fine, thank you very much, and the rare acknowledgements that something still has to be done was presented in vague and childish ways such as Brazil's 'net' and England's 'beehive,' both with the message of 'working together' without actually stating how.

The underwhelming presented centerpiece of 'the future' was a supermarket that merely lists nutritional information on computer screens above the actual item and has little robots place apples in bags. Perhaps this would have been more impressive had it been the result of a collaboration, but instead was a big advertisement for Italy-based Coop.

The only real new invention in sight was actually located in the Coca-Cola pavilion - and it was those touch-screen fountain machines already prevalent around the U.S., but making their first appearance in Italy. To be fair, this pavilion was one of the highlights, as the company presented their history, how they've worked towards a more sustainable future, and how they plan to continue. Plus, they handed out free bottles of Coke, and European Coca-Cola is delicious. This was all an enormous leap forward from the McDonalds pavilion, which was just a big McDonalds that didn't even bother to explain what they're doing for the future of food, opting instead to hand out Happy Meal balloons.

So I don't know. The frustration portrayed by Clooney throughout Tomorrowland is very prevalent in my mind right now. All in all, the 2015 World Expo just generally fell flat, with no true, optimistic look to the future in sight. But this truth is fascinating in itself, so I suppose that's something.