Tag Archives: Italy

“Hip Hop…Hooray.”

(Note: Webster defines Hip Hop as ‘rap music; also : the culture associated with rap music’.)

“When I first arrived to the U.S., Hip Hop quickly became my favorite genre of music. I had grown up in Germany and Italy and was therefore naive to most of it, American music was hard to come by overseas. I had also just entered my teenage years and could relate to most of the lyrics in most of the songs. Although I hadn’t grown up in the lifestyle that was often rapped about (drugs, violence, drug-use and life in an urban city), I could associate with the culture of it…fun, freedom, non-conformity and the expression of oneself through music and other forms of art. For many years recently, however, I’ve felt as if Hip Hop has changed into something that I no longer understand. It seems to be flooded with money, exorbitant living, disrespect to opposite sexes and races, and a bevy of one-time, one-hit, one-good-song artists. Not only has the music scene changed completely, but the culture associated with that music has also become unrecognizable.”

“I used to wonder why my parents (and the generation they belong to) still listened to music from fifty years ago when so much more has been released since then…I understand now. To continue enjoying the culture that I found so dear to me, I find myself holding onto the music, clothing styles and social scenes that I was a fan of years and years ago. As a New Yorker, that was easy to do…I simply had to look up the music or crowd I wanted to mingle with and then go to that location. Now that I live in Italy…it’s not so simple. Most of the city (and the country, for that matter) doesn’t listen to Hip Hop. It’s true that there is a very large selection of American music around, in locales as well as on the radio, but for the most part it’s music that I don’t listen to. In the rare instances that I do find a place where they’re playing the music that I enjoy, the culture of that music is missing. The crowd remains completely, well, Italian. The Italy of today is exactly like the Italy I grew up in 30 years ago; Hip Hop-less. Or so I thought…”

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(photo: Samuele Storari)

“Two weeks ago I stumbled upon an event here in town. It was billed as ‘the newest Hip Hop night to hit Verona’ and cleverly titled ‘Hipology’. I was asked to be the night’s photographer, and I was looking forward to it because I was told ahead of time that my favorite local DJ (my good friend Carletto) would be there. So even though I could trust the music would be solid, I wasn’t truly aware of what the scene would be until I got there. Some of the nights out I had experienced during my first year here in Verona were filled with my kind of music, but as I mentioned before, the environments had been different. I wasn’t entirely prepared for what was in store for me, but I can safely say that I wasn’t disappointed in the least!”

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“It was as if walking through the doors of the establishment was the same as jumping in a DeLorean and going back to 1995. Not only was the music exactly what I knew it would be, but he ambiance fit the bill as well. The attire was a recipe of 90’s dress code and NYC/LA outfits, with a pinch of the stuff ‘kids wear today’ thrown on top. Hairstyles, accessories and shoes were picked to match…with the occasional gold tooth and nighttime sunglass-wearer thrown into the mix.”

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“Everything about the place screamed Hip Hop! The dance floor was packed, and counting the number of dance battles took two hands instead of one. Three separate DJ’s spun a never-ending supply of ‘that’s my jam!’ songs, interrupted only by a mid-party pause featuring a handpicked selection of some of the local b-boys and fly girls. The line outside was long, the bouncers were big and the VIP tables were perfectly typical: at first too empty, then before you could say ‘I’m on the list’, too few.”

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“Finding Hipology not only proved that there is in fact a Hip Hop scene in Verona, but it gave me a taste of an Italy I had never seen. Black, white and mixed people were everywhere…there were no groupings of different creeds, colors or races. And even though Italian and English were the main languages spoken, many others had come out to play…giving it that NYC, melting pot feeling. I was happy to see a room full of multiracial friends, as well as multiracial couples, enjoying the night carefree…it made my job as a photographer not only easier, but more enjoyable personally. I’m certain it’s a bias, preferring to shoot environments filled with mixed race individuals, but I can’t help it…I am one myself.”

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“Like the party flier said, the entire event mirrored the Hip Hop culture that I had adopted and made my own while in New York for fifteen years. No one was afraid to flaunt their own style, and those that were afraid flaunted it anyway…even as far as the race of friends you hung with or the person they called their own. Their people were their people, and their music was their music…period.”

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“The only thing that mattered was Hip Hop.”

– F

* All photos by me, except the first *

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Filed under La Bella Italia, New York City, Nightlife

“To Be Human…”

I was seated at a restaurant in the center of Verona one day, enjoying a meal alone in Piazza Bra, when a middle-aged man quietly approached my table. He was dressed in plain clothes; a short-sleeved shirt tucked into his workman’s pants, black boots on his feet, an old ball cap lazily placed atop his head. He began speaking in a language I could not understand, all the while pointing at the tiny, customarily-served ramekin of Italian olives on my table. I presumed he was asking for permission to eat them. I passed them over and watched as he began to place them into his mouth one by one, savoring them. My mood that day was pleasant, and seeing how I had some time to kill and no company to keep, I pushed the chair across from me out from under the table and pointed at it, offering him a place to sit. He looked at it, sat, and resumed eating…slowly, methodically.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

 

Somehow I felt very natural having him there at the table with me. I felt as if we had been friends for years. I felt as if we had made an appointment earlier in the week to have lunch together and he had just now arrived to join me. I felt as if the logical next stop should be to call my waitress over and order him something to eat…so I did. A few minutes later she returned with the bottle of water and dish I had asked for and placed it on the table. His gaze fell to the plate before him and his eyes narrowed. He looked at me, his face showing signs of confusion. I made a “for you” gesture towards his meal and smiled slightly. He looked down at his plate again and suddenly began to cry. He covered his mouth as if to hold in emotions that had been longing to burst free for hours, days, months. I looked away for a moment, giving him time to experience those emotions…not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

 

He then began to eat. As he ate he told me of his past, his troubles, his worries, his present situation. He shared his life with me. He poured his soul out to me. A stranger, but not a stranger. A friend, but not a friend. I didn’t understand a word he said…but I understood every word he said. As if understanding that I understood, he stopped sharing. For the next ten minutes we sat in silence. For the next ten minutes we were simply two people enjoying a meal, enjoying each other’s quiet company.

After a while the waitress returned and I asked her for the bill, adding a little extra so ‘my friend’ could enjoy dessert when he finished his meal. I gathered my things and stood to leave. He looked up from his meal and raised an eyebrow, curious. I told him that I had to go. He seemed ready to object, as if asking for me to stay so he could thank me in some way. I told him he didn’t need to…my God was good to me, so when I could I returned the favor to others. He stretched out his hand, so I did as well. We shared a handshake. We exchanged foreign goodbyes, then I left.

I left because I wanted him to enjoy a few moments to himself, because I wanted him to savor the rest of his meal in peace, because I didn’t want him to feel obligated to thank me for the dessert that I knew was coming, because I wanted him to take his time, because I wanted him to be human again…

 

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

 

– F

(I’m not sure why I stole a few photos of him during this experience. Probably because it’s what I do. Or more likely because I don’t ever want to forget that day…or him)

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Filed under Diary Of A Traveling Photog, The Good In Mankind

“An AmerItalian’s Guide To Italy.”

Note to the American reader:

(photo: Rehana Meghani)

My first taste of Italy came over 30 years ago. I was barely old enough to talk, barely old enough to walk, and nowhere near old enough to comprehend the fact that I was in a country few would ever get the chance to visit, let alone live in. Being the product of an Italian mother and an American father (both multi-continental, multi-career parents), I was fortunate enough to live there for nearly a decade before moving away in my early teen years. Even after leaving I was able to go back and visit on several occasions, including a few weeks ago. I speak Italian fluently and have Italian-born friends and family residing in several cities there. It is because of this past history that the views, experiences, connections and insights I have formed in Italy may not be as easily obtainable for the average American reader. However, to maximize your chances of achieving the best possible experience while there (whether it be a vacation or a transfer), I’ve put together this guideline for you. Well, it’s not so much a guideline as my thoughts poured out on paper in no order whatsoever…in either case, I hope it will help you to gather a sense of how to enjoy Italy…and how not to.

– F

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Leave the United States in America

Photo by: Fidel Amos

As simple as this may sound, as easy as it is for you to believe that this is something you won’t do, many Americans often forget this one important rule: every other country in the world isn’t the U.S.! There are many commodities, comforts and freedoms that we enjoy on a day-to-day basis that simply don’t exist in other countries. Assuming that they do exist, or getting upset once you find out they don’t is both foolish and, well, a totally American thing to do. I could stand here and tell you that the U.S. is the world leader in technology, science, political agendas and civil liberties. I could rant that we have more CD’s, DVD’s, barber shops, nightclubs, open gun laws, buffet lines, workout craze’s, fashion designers and movie theaters than anyone else out there. I would be half boasting…but I would also be half correct.

Photo by: Fidel Amos

In my thirty-three years of life I’ve travelled to nearly two-dozen countries, including South Korea, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, Austria, France and Canada…and yes, we are ahead of the game in more ways than one when compared to the rest of the world. We’re also way behind in more ways than one in several of those afore-mentioned areas…but I’ll save that discussion for another article. One advantage, however, that I’ve noticed most other countries have is the ability to accept the fact that the country they’re visiting will most likely be entirely different than where they’re from. This allows them to not only appreciate the sights, sounds and cultures of different nations, but to appreciate their own even more. This is something that you the average American reader should do as well before you even set foot on the airplane flying out of the U.S. You’ll be able to soak up Italy for what it is on the outside, while maintaining that proud, red-white-and-blue mushiness on the inside.

Phone Cards, The Celly, Textorama, Monster Bills

Photo by: Fidel Amos

In this day and age we’re more than likely to have three main items on our person at all times when visiting other countries: our passport, our wallet (or purse), and our cell phone. I won’t go into detail on the first two, as they’re simple to use, easy to carry, and shouldn’t need much instruction other than the fact that you shouldn’t lose them! The cell phone, however, can be a pretty tricky thing to use when you’re not making a call from inside the good ole US-of-A. If you only plan on visiting for a few days, don’t bother with your cell phone. Turn it off and keep it in your pocket so you can still turn it on and access your contact list when you need to, then buy a phone card. You’re on vacation for crying out loud, you’re not going to need your stupid phone! Catch some rays, catch some z’s, catch a lover…do something. You’re in Italy…enjoy it!

Many American cell phone companies offer overseas plans for those of you who will be traveling/living outside of the U.S. for extended periods of time. But be warned, these overseas plans can easily turn your average phone bill into a money-munching nightmare. This isn’t because your phone company is out to screw you (ok, maybe they are), it is simply because they have to raise the cost per minute, cost per text, and cost per megabyte you use according to whichever country you’ll be traveling too. I can’t tell you which plan and which country will cost you more or less, but I can tell you to find out before you leave. Getting your phone ready to use will be a hundred times easier to do stateside than it will be once you get to Italy. Another way to avoid the “bill of doom” is to buy an inexpensive phone for use while you’re there. You’ll be able to get a SIM card from a local phone company (TIM, Wind, Vodafone, etc.), and this will give you not only a local number, but also the ability to use that phone on pay-as-you-go credit. Several American cell phones also allow you to simply open up your phone, remove the SIM card you currently have inside (from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) and replace it with the SIM card you just purchased from a local Italian company.

A word of caution however, this does not work with every phone! Again, do some research on the phone you own before you leave. You should be able to easily find that information on the Internet, you’ll find that it’s good for so many other things than just looking up porn.

The American Look, The Suit, The Dinner Outfit

Photo by: Fidel Amos

So…now you’re in Italy. You’re soaking up the culture, your cell phone is working, and you’re not sticking out like a soar thumb American. Or are you? Look at yourself. How are you dressed? Are you wearing your New England Patriots jersey? Are you wearing your Air Jordan’s and your backwards Abercrombie & Fitch baseball hat? Take them off. As a matter of fact, take everything off, sit down on the edge of the bed, and read the rest of this guideline before standing up to get dressed again. There’s nothing wrong with representing your favorite football team, and there’s nothing wrong with representing arguably the greatest player to ever pick up a basketball. But representing them in Italy might not be the best thing to do. Sure, sure, we could sit here all day and discuss pride of country and style of dress. Sure, you could decide that you want to look American, and that you’re going to wear whatever you feel like wearing because doggone it; it’s your God-given right as an American to do so. If that’s the way you see things, then there’s nothing more I can say. Put your clothes back on, and go have fun.

If, however, you decide to do in Rome as the Romans do, but aren’t exactly sure how to go about doing so, then get up off the edge of the bed and go look out the window of your hotel. Spend a few moments observing the people outside. Not the other tourists like you…the locals. As you can see, most Italian men and women dress with a certain flare that sets them apart from the men and women of other countries. I’m not saying that they walk around in tuxedos and Versace dresses all day while cooking breakfast and cleaning the house, but their day-to-day outfits are, well, more Italian. See how they tuck in their button-down shirts? See how they often wear ties, or jackets, or nicer shoes…even when they’re just out eating lunch? See how the women have on full dresses, oversized sun hats, not daisy dukes, short, tight mini skirts, and a plain tight T that says, “I ‘heart’ Me”? Good. Now go back to your suitcase, dress like they dress, and go have fun.

Photo by: Fidel Amos

You might be wondering why I’m so adamant about this. Why would I take so much time to talk about something as simple as the attire that one should wear while vacationing in Italy, when I could be teaching you how to cook Spaghetti Carbonara or telling you how to say, “where is the restroom” in Italian? It’s because having lived in Italy, I’m privy to a few reasons that have inspired me to caution you as I am…and I will dispense with those reasons now.

A) Just like the rest of the world, Italy has its share of pickpockets, thieves, and various other forms of low life’s. Sending out an “I’m American” signal will only paint you as a bigger target than the average European tourist, and that will cause them to want your belongings more than theirs. This is not something I can explain. It’s something that just is. It’d be like sitting next to a woman on a city bus full of men just because you’re a woman, or getting the back of a random Yankee fan in a bar full of Red Sox fans just because you’re from New York. People are more likely to bond with one of their own, and less likely to hurt someone they can relate to directly.

B) There are certain establishments that will treat someone dressed like a tourist, well, more like a tourist. And that’s something that you simply don’t want. Waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and bouncers are more likely to spend more time speaking with a local then they are speaking to someone who takes ten minutes to order an appetizer or figure out whose name they’re trying to drop at the door because they can’t speak the language. Again, this is something that’s hard to explain, but take my word for it…it happens.

C) Some folks that are more than likely to want to hassle you more if they think you’re American: the police, beggars, hari Krishna, drunks, and the guys that sell fake purses on the corner out of a folded up sheet. True, they may only hound you for a minute or two, but when it happens ten times a day that can add up to precious minutes cut from your sun tanning on those topless beaches you’ve been hearing about.

Photo by: Fidel Amos

– F

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* This blog is also a featured article in Contraband Magazine (Contrabandmag.com)



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“360 Degrees Of Mania”: A World Cup Blog.

I find myself amongst a multitude gathered outside of a small restaurant in a small square in a small country in Europe. There are men, women, children: at least a hundred of them staring in the same direction, at the same television, watching the same soccer match.

There are flags flying, bandannas wrapped around wrists, ankles and necks and jerseys with the names of players past and present on the backs. Hands are clasped together in silent prayer and cigarettes are being smoked with nervous fingers. Eyes are closed in disbelief and mouths are open, spewing forth curses and praise.

The volume on the television is at maximum…pleasantly deafening to those in front, barely audible to those in back. Waitresses squeeze in and out of the gaps between tables, chairs and bodies delivering liquor, beer, snacks and checks as heads bob up and down, back and forth, trying to see around them.

I calmly move from the area near the television to a place towards the rear to give a better view to those more in tune to the game than myself. I am from neither country involved in today’s competition and I care not who wins. My country’s resting now, their match is not for another three days. It is then that I know I too will be clasping my hands together…mouth open…prayers at the ready. Today, however, I’m merely here for the love of “the beautiful game”.

Today I am a neutral.

I slowly glance across the piazza at several other restaurants, bars and hotels. Each has a television of its own, in front of which are more fans, seated and standing, mirror images of the hopeful, praying, cursing, colorful multitude I am a part of. Together we are hundreds, if not thousands of followers, in dozens of establishments, watching the same two teams in the same game.

It is 360 degrees of pure, fantastic, uninhibited World Cup mania.

“Who is winning?” asks an elderly man to my immediate left. He is late arriving to the fray but quick to seek an update as to what is going on.

“Switzerland,” answers a teenager in front of us, his eyes glued to the television, a disgruntled look on his face.

“Switzerland…?”, the elderly gentleman asks again, confused, yet somehow cheerful to hear this news.

“Yeah, Switzerland,” the boy answers again.

“HA!” the elderly man says, half in shock, half in delight.

The teen finally turns to see who is speaking to him. He notices the gentleman, then he notices the Swiss emblem on the gentleman’s 3-button Polo shirt. As he turns back toward the television the gentleman notices the writing on the back of the jersey the boy is wearing…Spain.

These are the last words they speak to each other.

The referee blows the final whistle.

The game is over.

Switzerland, the 250-1 underdog, is the victor.

-F

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“We Need To Try Harder America…”

We used to be the best.

By “we” I mean “us” and by “us” I mean “U.S.”

When I was younger (not younger partying myself stupid in college, younger as in I still carried lunch in a lunch box) I was moved a lot, as my father and mother were in the military and the military has its ways of sending you wherever the military needs you. Some would consider this a curse, us Army brats just considered this standard operating procedure. Before I was ten years old I had lived in South Korea, the U.S.A., Germany and Italy, and had visited at least a dozen cities in three of those countries.

Most of the memories I have of that part of my life are here and there, topsy turvy, spare the moment type flashbacks. ONE constant I DO remember however, no matter which country I was in or what city I was passing through, was the fact that America was #1.

When I was a kid the U.S. had the best music, the newest television shows, the hippest clothes, the biggest budget movies, and the baddest-a** military. America had Michael Jackson, Luke Skywalker, Tron, The Police, the A-Team, Knight Rider, Madonna, and MTV. I saw this first hand growing up in countries OTHER than the U.S. They were wearing our styles, singing our lyrics, and calling us on the phone when their countries were going to war with someone and they thought they’d need backup.

If you were from here, you were American.

And if you were American you were GOLDEN.

Somewhere along the way all of that changed. Somehow we became less cool, less dependable, less original…less trust-worthy. The rest of the world began to move ahead of us, one by one, staring at us with that “get outta the way” look as their country passed ours on the global highway.

They began to advance technologically. They started making bigger blockbusters with smaller budgets. They began buying all the oil and all the gold and all the land. Their leaders started making OUR leaders look incompetent, when merely ONE World War ago they were asking “how high?” whenever our Commander in Chief said “jump”.

My concern lies not with the fact that the rest of the world keeps trying to surpass us. We’re the Big Dog…and all puppies want to be like the Big Dog.

The real problem begins when even WE know we’re slacking, but still don’t seem to care enough to change.

How can we once again be the forerunners? What do we have to do to change our current “U…S…A” chant back to the ever-popular, vanity-based “We’re number ONE…we’re number ONE”..?

Maybe we could stop the greedy overtakings of our smaller companies by the corrupt, cynical practices of our larger corporations. Maybe we could provide jobs instead of firing them, laying them off and outsourcing them to Lord KNOWS where simply because it saves half a buck. Maybe we could come up with original screenplays and original movies, instead of RE-MAKING everything because it worked the first time…or 2 times…or 3 times. Maybe we could go out and LIVE reality instead of watching it on television every day, and perhaps change our wardrobes, slang, and hairstyles into something other than the “vintage” ones we were using 30 years ago. Maybe we could prevent the California fires, Oklahoma City bombings, Katrina hurricanes, Michael Jackson overdoses, and 9/11’s here in our own front yard instead of going over to help our neighbors with theirs first because, ya know, they EXPECT us to.

And IF NOTHING ELSE…maybe we could rank higher than EIGHTEENTH in Education among the World’s top thirty six industrial nations.

Whatever it is America…it needs to stop NOW.

We need to put our foot on the gas pedal and pull back in front. We need to help “us”, help “U.S.”

We need to give the rest of the world some competition again for crying out loud.

We need to try harder…

– F

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Filed under Hear Me Roar, Really America?