Molto Bene

Really feelin’ it. That demand to get out of here, a taste of escape.

There’s a pair of screens in my office, on the wall directly facing me. One shows a dashboard of down servers. The other screen is hooked up to a Chromecast device, and as a screensaver, it shows an endless stream of pictures of all these amazing places that I would rather be instead of my office.

Some of those pictures catch my attention.

Manarola SP, Italy – Photo by Aaron Choi

Manarola SP, Italy, is a seaside village, on the cliffs between the wine mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, nestled in a river valley. It’s one of five townships along that section of coastline called the Cinque Terre, all mostly isolated fishing and tourism villages, notable for the lack of corporate meddling. Most are accessible only by boat and rail. To me, it looks like heaven.

But it’s not for me. It’s someone else’s heaven right now. Round trip airfare from Austin, Texas to Genoa, Italy in June is $1600. Nothing cheap at all.

My wanderlust doesn’t give a shit about seasonal variations.

Am I going to Italy? No. But damn, I gotta get out. But what would I find?

Fresh air.

Stumptown Thoughts

I’ve been asked to cobble together my thoughts on my trip to Portland, to give my impression on the city, the state, and its people. It’s taken me a while to digest and put it into words, because the city doesn’t exactly have a strong flavor. In my five days of taste-testing, there’s just no singular flavor note on the palate that I can mark down in my notebook.

If pressed to find something, it’s this: Portland is a city of abrasive contrasts. That’s the biggest takeaway I have.

From the lips, it’s warm and inviting; from the eyes, it’s paranoid of everyone it doesn’t recognize. The people there will smile and are friendly to the end of the transaction, but behind it is a distrust. You have to be there long enough, as a neighborhood resident, as a frequent customer, to be welcomed and embraced, to be pulled into a long conversation about nothing. Otherwise, you’re just some guy from the street. The homeless problem there is so bad, the housing situation is so exclusionary, that as a tourist, walking around with my black hoodie and black backpack, I felt the side glances, the silent judgments, from those wondering if I was a danger or if I was going to ask someone for weed or bus fare.

The city is caught up in the act of change, like a film scene of a man painfully turning into a werewolf. Once upon a time, it was a manufacturing and shipping town, but with the decline of those industries, Portland’s manual labor workforce is hungry and bored, and all the warehouses, grain silos, docks, railyards, are slowly being emptied out and taken over by land developers. That’s a universal story at this point, but it’s strongly marked there in Portland.

So you have all these areas that are decaying, oily, dirty, fenced off, disused, or otherwise vacated. Contrast that with the verdant beauty of the place; the constant humidity and frequent rainfall means the botanical landscape is always exploding with everything green and orange. It’s a fantastic place if you like forests, hills, mountains, streams, rivers. I wish I could’ve taken more pictures that captured just how beautiful the place is. But in the big middle of it all is this gentrifying grease pit of iron and brick.

I guess with all the paranoia, hope, helplessness, overcast skies, furious growth, middle-class delusions, and distrust in everyone and everything despite all evidence, the city of Portland is me. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that I have no desire to move there. It would consume me before I could ever take it all in. My life here in Austin is just as cold and distant as anywhere else I’ve ever lived, but at least Austin has warm days to help me ignore all that.

I could move there, I guess, but why? I dunno. That’s why my vacation there was more an expedition. I needed to know what it was about, and my five days there showed me, at least on the surface, what was there and gave me a peek at what was underneath. I could be completely wrong; I could find the greatest friends and the most wonderful loves of my life in that weird bond of shared meteorological and financial hardships, but I won’t know without enduring at least a year and a day in its city limits.

And that opens up an existential question that I should ask myself daily.

Portland

Unless some people told you, you’d never know they’d been on vacation.

AUS → SLC → PDX
Lights and sights on Monday nights
Mt. Tabor and its distant neighbor.
Blue to the zoo
Otter under wotter
Trunk punk slunk through his bunk.
Praise for the fallen
Eastbound, drawbridges down.
View in Lan Su
Heaven is a city named Powell
Strong breeze pacifies me.
Goonies never say Die.

To Do Is To Be

Constant existential nagging.
Feeling it pretty bad lately.
The stable half that pushes for self-sufficiency
Is in a lockstep battle with
The unstable half that pushes for self-agency.

I don’t think I’ll ever be fully settled in my life,
One of those lives lived in
A permanent state of temporality.

I think it’s a side effect of moving a lot while growing up,
Never having much time to put down roots
And grow from that.
Ever since moving to Austin,
I’ve always felt itinerant,
Like I’m always two paychecks from disaster
And will have to move out in an emergency.
That’s certainly not the case anymore,
But nothing really feels like it lasts forever.

Some things, I’m grateful that they don’t last forever.

What doesn’t last forever is
My youth and agency.
I need to punch Eject and go wander.
The wanderlust is strong.
But I don’t need to,
I want to,
I desire to.

But then what?
Do I return back home,
Return to zero,
Lose concrete resources
And gain ephemeral experiences?
Lose personal capital and
Gain a camera roll?

I don’t think Nietzsche and Sartre ever had a proper answer.
Did they?

Until the End

In 1991, German director Wim Wenders released his magnum opus “Until the End of the World“. It is the penultimate road movie. It follows this young woman Claire on her journey from self destruction to finding her purpose to being a saving angel. It shows that we really are connected. The scale of this film is breathtaking. Although it had critical acclaim, it never had a wide audience.

I finally saw it a month ago. After hearing about it over coffee, yet knowing about it for a few years, I rented it. The only copy available anywhere in town was on VHS, so I had to dig my VCR out of storage. Even then it was at almost 3 hours long. On the first viewing, I was blown away. But there are more edits of this film than for Blade Runner.

Today, I took the opportunity to see the film in its original director’s cut, remastered, on the big screen, weighing in at 295 minutes (almost 5 hours). It was amazing. So beautiful. It’s so long that it truly is two movies in one. It shifts gears just before intermission. The first half is a globe-trotting chase of intrigue and exploration. The second half takes place almost completely in an aboriginal cultural preservation center in the Australian outback. It went from “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” to “Johnny Mnemonic”-gone-native. It went from an expansive examination of the human condition on a broad scale, to an intimate examination of the human condition on a deep scale.

What the 5-hour cut had over the 3-hour cut was a lot of backstory, sidelines, and asides. We see the reason behind the character actions, such as why Claire was on a path to self-destruction. So much is explained, so much is explored. In watching the 3-hour cut, the characters go from one thing to another, and in the awkward jumps you can tell that there were some assumptions the viewer had to make. Those are fleshed out in the full cut.

It didn’t exactly have a happy ending, but it didn’t need to. It had a satisfying aftertaste. I was absolutely blown away, and I felt the connection to the characters and to the world more deeply. I feel like I’ve been on a vacation. I’m still savoring the flavor, texture, and aroma; it’s that good. I don’t have any life choices hanging in the balance, no actions to take, no resolutions. It’s not life changing, but I see things differently. Just like a road movie, my life is a string of events and episodes with motion but no direction; a ship under power with no captain at the wheel. Maybe, somewhere in the self destruction, I can find a transoceanic current to draw me toward making the world better. Who knows the sea?