Thursday, May 31, 2012

7months after ayahuasca, my me is better and stronger

i went into my experience with ayahuasca with big expectations. Many of my friends raved about how positively it effected their lives. So i went for it just about 7months ago. It was very expensive, required 12hours of travel each way, intense preparation...and it was still SO WORTH IT.

i prepared, as recommended, for 10 days during which i ate no red meat, no spices, very little oil, no refined sugar, very little salt, had no alcohol, caffeine or any other medicines or drugs of any kind (giving up my allergy medicine was rough. Giving up caffeine sucked bad, but i later found the shamans actually don't think this is necessary, i had misinterpreted the directions) and refrained from sex of any kind.

There were three Peruvian shamans of the Shipibo tribe that had been brought to Europe by an Austrian/American woman. i wrote extensively about the experience here in this blog.

i had three stated reasons (given in more detail here) for going through all this and partaking in the ceremonies:

1. To increase my understanding and connection with the divine.

2. To develop a healthier, more balanced view towards recreational drugs.

3. To understand my place and purpose in the world.

Now, more than a half a year later, i am willing to say that i feel successful improvement in all three areas. Some of the improvement was immediate and obvious, especially about the divine.

i came away from the ceremonies so happy! i had learned things that took away my worries and fears. It's difficult to explain how i learned them. i am willing to chalk them up to intuition - but what i learned certainly feels like knowledge to me: There is a God. We do have souls. Our souls live longer than our bodies. We are all, very literally, connected. We humans have greater powers than we generally grasp. Every one of us is the same, and every one of us is going through exactly what we should be going through, in each moment. Etc. These lessons really changed my outlook on life.

And it helped me understand my place and purpose as well, partially by increasing my motivation continue studying my favorite spiritual teachers (among them, the Dalai Lama, Mike DooleyNeale Donald WalschSN GoenkaThich Nhat Hanh). With their help, i am coming to understand that i fulfill my purpose on the planet with every beat of my heart.

Do you know how liberating and relieving that is?? Even i can't fahk that up! So here i sit, in this moment typing, in another walking, in another working, but always fulfilling my purpose, just by living my life.

What this means to me is that everything else i do is icing on the cake!! Then in my good moments i start getting excited about the possibility of making really good icing, and frosting to add over it, or candles to light, to stick with the metaphor. Basically, the relaxed spiritual outlook that i developed partially as a result of my work with ayahuasca has given me more ambition to live well.

And i mean well in every sense - to maintain the health and strength and attractiveness of my body, to keep my mind clear, strong, and full, to open my heart a) to increase my own happiness and b) to benefit others.

And this ambition is heavily influential on goal #2. In the past i was the guy that, after having a great time partying or drinking socially with friends, would not only suggest but also drive the campaign to have one last shot before going home. Such a bad idea, i realize now. i would have an alcoholic drink during the day because everyone else was, or because i thought i was supposed to. i know now those things never matter. i would also use mood alterers to drive away stress, or difficulty of any kind. But with this other improvements of goals #1 and #3, i feel less stressed and know that even if i did feel it, the solution is in me, not in a bottle or a spliff. i no longer feel the need to drink too much to know i had fun. Granted, sometimes i still do. But less often, and it feels different when i do. It feels like reckless fun instead of lame distraction or desperation.

i am very thankful for the weird bunch of coincidences that lead me to finding the help of these wonderful South American Shipibo shamans and their wise plant.

These lessons and improvements have stuck with me this half year, and i have every reason to believe that they will in the future as well.

i am aware that some of the shamans i worked with on tour here in Europe again now through Traditional Plant Medicine, and if i have the money and ability to travel away from work, i'd love to go again - because it is fun. And because the preparation period is so healthy, as is the cleansing that you experience during the ceremony. So yea, if i get the opportunity to take ayahuasca with trusted shamans again, i'd be all over it. But i don't feel the need for it.

Come to think of it, i don't feel the need for any sort of substance anymore, or for anything or anyone else for that matter. And it feels really good:-)

This video is of Maestra Celestina, singing the icaro she used when i was working with her. i love it, it brings back the memories and even some of the feelings of the ceremony. i don't expect you'll understand the power of it without having been through the ceremonies, but i think it's a pretty damn cool song worth hearing anyway:-)

Photos by the author.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My international Hunger Games experience: disturbed but very impressed

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
My experience of The Hunger Games begins in Waterbury, Connecticut, USA, the town where i grew up. My best friend there told me he had recently read and very much liked The Hunger Games. i was impressed because this friend had, in the past year, acquired a wife, a daughter, and bought his first home, a house that he was remodelling. With all that on his plate he had still found time to enjoy this book! He told me that it was a very quick read and that he thought i'd like it.

In the Tampa International Airport, on my way back from 3months in the States here to Rome, i saw The Hunger Games in the airport bookstore. i didn't know anything about it except my friend's recommendation, but i went for it.

Reading it on the plane, i was enthralled. The pacing, and the author's ability to convey amazing amounts of informational about complex situations and relationships in a small number of pages was dazzling.

i was confused for the first couple of chapters as it is written in the first person point of view, and there is a male character of some unclear status of romantic interest or buddy that is the one significant friend of the main character. It wasn't until the 3rd chapter i realized (humblingly) that i was confused because the main character, whose point of view we get, is female, and i hadn't been able to imagine that. That character, Katniss Everdeen, is definitely among the most powerful and well developed female characters i can think of.

Here's the basic premise:

In post-United States North America, there is a country called Panem. The capital is in or near the Rocky Mountains. 74years before the beginning of the story, the 13 districts that, with the capital, make up Panem, had all revolted against the capital but were defeated. The capital destroyed district 13 completely and exercised tight control over each of the other remaining 12 remaining districts. They were fenced in, the citizens not allowed to leave the perimeter of their own district, and had no contact with the other districts, were pushed to work and be productive to the needs of the capital while themselves being kept in a state of constant near-crushing poverty for the majority of the citizens. Most of the story takes place in District 12, which is where Appalachia is now.

In order to remind the districts of their defeat in the revolt, the capital holds an annual event called The Hunger Games, for which one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen from each of the districts to go to the capital and be put in an enormous faux-wilderness arena in a highly televised competition of mortal combat, from which only 1 person is allowed to emerge alive. This victor then will be showered with wealth for themselves and their district as well.

During that flight from Tampa to Rome, i read about 2/3 of the 374page first book of the trilogy. The next morning in Rome i popped up ridiculously early at like 7am and couldn't sleep anymore. So i decided to go out to the grocery store. But it wouldn't be open yet, so i went to a little cafe across the street from the grocery store and figured i would read for the 45minutes or so until the grocery store opened. 3hours later, still there in that cafe, i finished the book.

i have never read a non fiction work so quickly. Just two sittings!!

i was amazed (if repulsed) by the action of the story, and entirely gripped by the romantic, emotional, and political relationships that developed among the characters! The effect of the setting and plot was deliciously subversive.

Catching Fire, 2nd book of The Hunger Games Trilogy,
by Suzanne Collins
A few weeks later i had a gig as a traveling tour guide around Italy with a group of high school kids from Texas, so i bought the 2nd book, Catching Fire, here in Rome to bring along and read in the evenings before bed. i did this for a couple of nights, but found that the story was giving me very uncomfortable nightmares of the personal insecurity, political intrigue, and physical hunter/prey feelings of the story in this second book. i found this to be the most interesting book in many ways (being careful not to give any real spoilers here..)

 In gigs like this, there are sometimes long, multi-hour bus rides. Wanting to get more of the story, but not wanting to ruin my sleep, i decided to try to read a little during one of these long bus transfers. This is the first time i have ever read like that while working, instead always finding some way to be productive, either by interacting with the clients, taking care of chores that needed to be done, or even simply planning or thinking about upcoming events and activities. That's how remarkably hooked i was to the storyline! But the experiment went badly - i read just one chapter and was so psychologically disturbed by it that it ruined my mood and made me feel uncomfortable. i was really feeling the events of the book along with the characters! So, i ended up stopping to read for the entire rest of the 10day tour.

i told the teacher of this group about my difficulty reading the book, though i really liked it. i was surprised to find that not only had she already read the whole trilogy, but that she had done so because all of her kids had done so and were talking about it. i find it a bit horrifying to learn that this book had been marketed to teenagers! The level of violence, of the first book especially, is beyond anything i'd ever seen. It really set a new standard for how violent we allow our pop culture to be - and it had all been aimed at still-developing minds. i think the violence works in the books because nearly all of the main characters basically hate the violence, and partake in it only grudgingly, as the lesser of 2 awfuls. But because it is easy to miss that subtle point, i found the amount and nature of the violence significantly disturbing.

After that tour, back home in Rome again, i read the rest of the book and was again impressed. The ending was unbelievable, really pretty well shocking and crazy, i sure never saw it coming!

Mockingjay, 3rd book of the The Hunger Games Trilogy,
by Suzanne Collins
The third book, Mockingjay, i bought in Milan for a train ride from there to Rome. It is really fascinating in its themes of right and wrong in rebellion, and how these shift with time. i read maybe the first third of this book pretty quickly, but then found myself putting the book down for days at a time. i realized i didn't want to finish it, i didn't want it to be over! In the end, the day before the movie was to be released here in Italy (3months or so after it had been running in the States), i finished it in hopes of immediately going to see the film.

i can't say too much here without giving things away, but what i can tell you is that the story turned out basically as i'd have hoped - which might tip off some of you that know me well, but maybe not too.

So i loved the whole story and was looking forward to seeing the movie. But then the opening day in Italy arrived and it turned out that no theater here was running the original English version of it! They were all playing the dubbed version. Italy has the (quite provincial) habit of watching mostly non-Italian films with an Italian-language voice over. i find this amazingly irritating - it is simply not the same work of art. And the voice actors are terrible. Italians often say the opposite - but really they just have three voices: silly, melodramatic, and very melodramatic.

There are occasionally original language version of foreigner films shown here, usually the big hits, but for reasons i have not figured out, The Hunger Games is not being shown here in English. It is all over the city in Italian, as American films here are usually a vast majority of the top selling films, but nobody here is hearing it in its original language.

Italian advertisement for Hunger Games, the movie.
But i really wanted to see what the film adaptation of this great trilogy. So i broke down and went to go see it dubbed into Italian.

i guess it's a bit trite to mention that the book was better, but i actually thought the movie was crap. It looked like Fellini had read the cliff notes of the book and then, while working through a mute translator and rolling on acid and speed, made a movie that was then repackaged, adjusted and Hollywoodized by a studio. The incredible density of story that Suzanne Collins managed to put into the books just does not come through well in Hollywood format. The devents follow the book pretty closely, with some exception, but character development, social commentary and even story development all fell victim to the director's editing.

Overall i found the story (speaking of the book now, as it remains to be seen if the film trilogy will develop into much), to be powerful, fascinating and even beautiful. Katniss Everdeen will go down as a classic character, but also Peeta, Dale, Haymitch, President Snow and other characters went through real, genuine development and/or transformation.

i completely do not think that The Hunger Games is appropriate reading pre-high school, and it even seems to me a difficult fit for high school students, as it would be easy to lose all of the powerful and beautiful aspects and simply relish the disturbing violence.

Perhaps most pungent reaction, is a fascination with the fact that it takes place post-United States and deals so intimately with rebellion of the people against the capital., especially because i saw the same themes (post-United States, problems of social inequality, etc.) in Justin Timberlake's recent movie In The Nick of Time. These portrayals of the post shit-hits-the-fan-scenarios that i found being discussed so widely in America this winter are intriguing even just in their existence, but also then in their pro-people bent and, more importantly, in their subversive, relativistic and love-of-life themes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Great book on village life in Italy: Tim Parks' Italian Neighbors

Tim Parks' Italian Neighbors: An Englishman in Verona
i just spent the 2nd half of an unusually rainy May Sunday in Rome reading a fantastic book about village life in Italy. It was written by my 2nd favorite writer-about-Italy-with-the-last-name Parks, Tim Parks, an Englishman who has expatriated to Italy. (2nd, of course, to Tiffany Parks of The Pines of Rome and Where Magazine.)

Tim Parks tells the story of his and his wife's integration into the community of Montecchio, a village near Verona, in the Veneto region of Italy, over the course of just more than a year. The book is pretty fantastic. It takes us right into the lives of people (and types of people) that i would otherwise surely never come to know.

i was a little struck at first to think that. i mean, i also am an English-speaking foreigner living in Italy. But, i am in Rome, the capital. i am surrounded mostly by non-Italians most of the time. Parks instead gets right down into it, living in a small, apparently not-quite-remarkable village, surrounded entirely by not just Italians, but small town Italians - quite a different animal than the ones i encounter in the capital. These people in the book will also not resemble any Italian you have ever met anywhere else in the world - these are the Italians that don't emigrate and that mostly don't travel (as described in the book.)

In fact, after a couple early chapters made it seem almost, though not quite, as if he was really hating on the whole region and community, Parks sums up the love-hate relationship a foreigner is likely to have with Italy while living here like this:
"Am I giving the impression that I don't like the Veneto? It's not true. I love it. I'm going to tell you some wonderful things about it. When I've finished, I hope you'll be wishing you'd been here too, at least for a little while. But like any place that's become home, I hate it too. And, of course, you can't separate the things you love and hate: you can't say, let's move to so and so where they have the cappuccini, the wines, the lasagna, the marvellous peaches, the handsome people in handsome clothes, the fine buildings, the close-knit, friendly secretiveness of village life, but not, please, the howling maltreated hunting dogs, the spoilt adolescents on their motorini, the hopeless postal service, the afa. You can't do it. It's a package deal."       (p. 18)
i relate to this very much living in Rome, even if the objectss of the love and hate are very different.

Parks is showing us here the real Italia that exists, physically on the planet, instead of the Italy that exists only in our foreigners' minds (to borrow a delineation from Beppe Sevegnerini), and it is fascinating and entertaining. Specifically, Parks does the best job of any writer i've read at describing two very Italian phenomenon:

1. The incredible, glaring "profound schizophrenia, which is also the charm, of all matters Italian: the Pope adored and ignored, the law admired and flouted, politicians despised and reelected." (p. 310) He indicates that Italians are culturally Catholic, no matter what their actual religion or spiritual beliefs are:
"There is a magical duplicity about Italians. I'll never get used to it. You think they're superstitious bigots, but then they're more open-minded than you are. None of them would ever have criticized Christ for plucking his ears of corn on the Sabbath. It's as if they're a nation of Protestants, or even free-thinkers, who just happen to be deeply attached, for reasons of style and aesthetics, to the Catholic way of worship. Because they appreciate its richness. It fills their lives." (p. 237)
(Though i disagree with him a bit here - many Italians would have criticized Christ for working necessarily on the Sabbath, BUT the vast majority of them would have done so themselves. That's key - just because something is criticized in others does not at all mean the critics won't do it!)

This is a country that typically has both Fascists and Socialists (and Communists) represented in their Parliament! Etc. There really is a constant self-contradiction here and Parks did a great job describing it throughout the book.

2. Our foreign inability to understand whether what we observe here is pathetic and backwards or actually wise and reasoned. One amusing example is when he describes a tv news broadcast of Italian sailors being sent to a UN mission in Beirut. The camera zooms on one adult sailors face and we see him cry and yell for his mother. "In a way it's wonderful, this lack of shame." (p. 293) Also, at the beginning of the book he describes the ridiculous fuss and importance surrounding bottling one's own prosecco, but by the end of the book he's learned more about it, is doing it himself, and suddenly appreciates what he'd ridiculed in the past..

The writing throughout is strong and lucid. In fact today as i read i paused a moment to try to remember which movie a scene i had in my mind had come from. Then i realized it was actually a mental image i had created about a week earlier, conjured from Parks' writing - quite impressive from any writer, but especially one working in on fiction.

His description of his neighbors and their customs was fascinating and gripping, his understanding of Italian bureaucracy and laws is, i am very confident, unparalleled among non-Italian,s and he gives it all to us in a tone that is absolutely pleasant and engaging.

Also, the book is certainly not at all bilingual, but there is more than a small smattering of Italian words and phrases throughout it, only some of which is translated, which makes it especially pleasing for those of us that are bilingual:-)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In Italy, never ask permission: a roof party

About a month ago i moved into a great new apartment with an entrance near Piazza Risorgimento, in Rome, and a view into Vatican City from my room, the bathroom, and our roof terrace. That roof terrace is pretty fantastic, except for the weird culture and rules around it. No Italians ever use it. Except for the purpose of hanging laundry out. But i thought this would be a great place for a party.

My view at night. That's the wall of Vaticany City and the dome of Saint Peter's Basillica.
So me and my buddy Mike threw together a little party, me for my Inaugurazione or House Warming and him for his final birthday before his 40!

Fifty or sixty people showed up. We had about 10 chairs clustered together around the roof, a 60foot extension chord running electricity from our kitchen on the 4th floor to the roof about the 5th floor, to a CD player that, with my limited number of commercially bought CDs (this was an ooold CD player), had us playing Led Zepplin, Janis Joplin, and Santana till after 1am! We had two twin mattress laid down with sheets and sleeping bags over them, a bar area where we drank many gallons of yummy red win sfuso, which means never been bottled. And there was another area where Kristen The Shit had made a massive and delicious bowl of pasta and veggies, there was a huge salad, and we bought an entire pizza al taglio from the excellent pizza by the slice place on Risorgimento. Plus there were olives and cherries and chips and peanuts and cookies, etc.

The bathroom was on the 4th floor, so all those people were clopping down the stairs to the bathroom, probably slamming the door shut again. In order for anyone to get in that had to hit a buzzer which has to be opened from a telephone-looking aparatus in the entryway, which meant after about 10:30 or so when everybody went up stairs, somebody had to come down to buzz them in, and back up the stairs again. At 4am 5 of us were hanging out in the stairwell, talking and laughing. i tried to limit the noise, thought for sure we'd get a noise complaint. But it never happened.

Many people, mostly Italians, asked as they arrived if i had asked permission to have the party. "Of course not," i told them. That would be the stupidest possible move - it would have given them the opportunity to say no. Never ask a question you don't want to know the answer to;-) We just waited for the last people to get their clothes for the day, set up after that, had the party, went to bed, no problem.

At at about 11:15am i hear the door bell ring. And then a 2nd time. i get up, still dressed in my party clothes, bed head hair, belt unbuckled, and open the door to a Signore and a Signora of two different families in their mid 60s, well dressed up for Sunday morning, and a third Signora maybe in her forties, dressed in gray sweats with her died blond hair up on an electrified palm tree impression on her head. The man asks me, "Siete voi che avete fatto un festa sulla terraza," Was it you who had the party on the roof? Si, i told him. And then he launches into this diatribe about, Non si puo.. "You can't do that." or something like that. It's like the French "ce n'ĂȘtre pas possible." He goes about how it's a question of if you can or if you can't, and in his opinion, Non si puo.

i was intensely curious what their motivation was, why did the blond lady look angry, arms tightly folded over he chest, biting her nails.

"We've been living here for more than 30years," the older lady told me. Then they told me which apartments they were from and exactly how many years and we all smiled, except for the blond, who bit her nails.

Oh, and they mention that it's a mess.

Now imagine how much stuff there is from 5dozen people partying for 2-5hours! But we (and by we i mean the several super hero souls that helped out with the clean up, thank you very much everybody!:-) But we got everything off the roof...except, i found out in the morning, maybe 6yellow (NOT red solo!) plastic cups, 1 orange plate, and a bunch of cigarette buts and corks. We had gotten ALL of the furniture, big garbage, and any other trace we'd been there except for this small stuff.

i was very curious what their motivation was to be so upset. The guy was saying that it's "un spazio commune per un uso specifico." "a common space for a specific use." Hanging your clothes, barked the blond.

Some old ladies' clothes on the terrace that held a 60person party the night before.
You  can see just about all of your mess there in the background.
Then we got to the nut of the problem: "Also we have tried to put some furniture up there," the old man told me, "in the summer when it was very hot. This was not for a party like yours, for heaven's sake. This was just to take some air in the summer. And even that the apartment council said we couldn't."

This is why they were upset. None of them indicated that they were from this apartment council, but they had been told they couldn't use that space for anything other than hanging their clothes, so we couldn't either.

Now what happens next shows the sort of psyche we have to deal with living here. i tell them that i didn't mean to cause any problems and will get it all cleaned up and i begged their pardon. Immediately they all let up, the guy said, "Ok allora, ci siamo tesi," "Ok then, we've understood each other." They asked me how long i'd been there and where i was from, and responded by telling me how beautiful America is and we parted wishing each other, "buone cose" "good things" and things like that.

Then, being a little bit hung over, i went down to the bar and had an espresso and a danish, and then went up to the roof to survey they situation. While looking around i picked up the yellow cups and went back downstairs to take a shower, but really just buying myself some time for my hangover to relax. As i'm just getting in the shower, so maybe just 20minutes after the guy has talked to me amicably, he rings the door again. My roomate answers and he yells at her! Exclaims that that i've only just picked the cups, there's still al the cigarette butts etc. When i get out of the shower, my roomate is (understandably) annoyed that she's been yelled at by this manic old man who has always been so nice the past. So go up there and it takes me maybe 20minutes to have the whole place cleaner than it had been before the party!

So, what's the moral, what's the point? Two of them:

1. Thank you to everyone who made it a great party! i had a really great time, got to meet up with a lot of people i don't get to see very often and chat with some new friends as well. i was actually really surprised by how many (awesome and wonderful people, especially cool, hot women - i appreciate my friends!;-) people showed up, and how thin i ended up spreading myself because of it.

2. In Italy especially, but in life in general:

Never ask a question you don't want to know the answer to.

So, will there be future parties on the roof? Not any time soon. And probably not anymore big ones like that. But if the whim should ever arrive to do anything of any form that is completely removeable and damageless on the roof, i'm sure not going to ask permission if i want to do it!;-) :-)

Friday, May 4, 2012

New crazy/dancing puppy music video!

Max the Circles Dog
So i spent the May 1st holiday weekend with at a friend's awesome country house in Umbria. It was good times, good company, fantastic food and a bit of city-free peace and quiet.

My friend Lauren brought her dog, Max. 
Little did i know, Max is the star of his own viral youtube video! 
It's pretty cool and funny, check it out now and see it before all your friends already have: 

'Max, Squared ("I am not an ambiturner" - Derek Zoolander)'

Enjoy it, pass it on to your friends - remember, spam is NOT made of puppies!;-)
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