Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Vici -- Venice

So. Though I adore Bellagio and Lake Como, too much time spent there as a single gal can get stifling. So you'd think that while feeling hyper-aware of my single status, Venice would be a particularly poor choice to recover. Wrong! There are many happy couples strolling the alleys and riding through the canals in Venice. But there's also a whole lot more potential to, uh, exploit one of the primary advantages of not being a couple. In case you don't get the picture, here's the picture.

Venice (and this particular gondolier) loved American Cool (and me). And I loved them right back.

But let's step back for just a second to give you a better view of the city. Here's my book enjoying a sunny day, entering the city on a water taxi.

Baroque, Byzantine, and Gothic are most definitely the words for Venice. Not only for the nearly outlandish island/canal structure of the city, but also the architecture of the buildings. Truly, it's breathtaking at first sight.

For most people, the main landmark in Venice is St. Mark's Square. Me? Harry's Bar. Possibly best known as a virtual home for Hemingway, Harry's Bar is a Venice landmark and inventor of the delicious Bellini. (That's prosecco and peach puree.) However, it should also be stated that Harry's Bar is now primarily a tourist destination, which means you can expect to pay about 15 euro for a Bellini. And if you want to eat? Be prepared to pay more than you'd pay for a pair of designer sunglasses, and my book can tell you how steep that can be. And you will be tested in Venice if you have a weakness for shopping, as the main walkway to St. Mark's Square (and also Harry's) is crowded with ALL the Italian designer stores. But one Bellini, though pricey, isn't a bank breaker, and you can say you've been to Harry's.

And you will most certainly enjoy the surreal sights of Venice with a Bellini buzz going.

And how cool are Venetians? Cool enough to show off my book!

Book enjoying a view of the Grand Canal, a vaporetto, and across the canal, the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute.

As a notoriously bad picture taker, I'm considerably smitten with these next two shots, taken at sunset while riding the vaporetto.

Venice also hosts the world's oldest casino. I could only get a picture of the outside, because they're pretty strict with the security inside. It's a fancy affair, but also pretty small. But you get a free drink.

After the excitement of the casino and Piazza San Marco, my book decided to relax at night, not with a Bellini, but vodka.

After the success of the sunset pictures, a casino visit, and a couple vodkas, my book and I were inspired to try for some sparkly nighttime photography. The results were much less successful.

Much, much less successful.

Though this picture is a typical DiPlacido disaster, it does adequately capture the elements that would bring my melancholy about being single back to the surface. The vodkas, the full moon, the romantic setting. The scene left my book and me longing for some company.

Luckily, we knew where to find it. La bella luna! Vidi, Vici, Veni, indeed, in Venezia!

From Venice we (my book and I, not the gondolier) moved south to the Amalfi coast: Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi -- the setting for The Talented Mr. Ripley and home of the world's best Limoncello.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Feeling Good!

By all rights, this season of Idol should have had less suspense than I had walking into the movie Titanic. The same as I knew that boat was going down, it was pretty obvious from the first show of this season who would be the final two would be. But like James Cameron concocting all sorts of fun ways for Jack and Rose to swish and splash around that sinking vessel while others get creatively offed, I sat around to hear what Simon would say to the drowning, waited to see who'd they throw a lifeline to, and am utterly rapt, every week, waiting to see what Adam Lambert's going to do next.

I liked the kid anyhow, but by the time he busted out "Ring of Fire" I was willing to proclaim him one of the best (and by best, I mean most overall entertaining) contestants this show has had ever had. I missed a few weeks while away, but rickey.orged his doings, so I'm all caught up. And now, after his sateen take on the Travolta suit and, I'm convinced, breaking the "Feelin' Good" curse, I have no trouble saying that he's thee best contestant ever. I mean, I can't stand it! I wait, and I wonder, and then he comes out and does it again! Randy has his idiotic "too theatrical" comments. But let's face it, the unpreened performances of the "pure rock" era of the early 90's are so long dead, and we haven't had an over-the-top, theatrical performer with a set of chops like this since Freddie Mercury. And it's about fucking time we did!

Naturally, I was all stoked for Rat Pack week, and I got in the mood by making sure I was feeling good with a generous glass of vodka. (I need to do this, because I'm still a little sore about missing the whole Tarantino episode. That just pisses me off. Could someone at least tell me what his interaction with Lambert was like?) Things immediately took a very pleasant, incongruous turn when they trotted out Jaime Foxx as the mentor for this week. I, uh, I didn't even bother questioning it, because I figured Foxx would be interesting. He was. He was also nearly salaciously nice to everyone, but I don't really have a problem with that. Out came Kris doing "The Way You Look Tonight" and I thought he did fine but I was confused by the arrangement. I've heard this song done slow and swinging, and even with a slow opening that ended up swinging, but never slow and quiet for so long before a strange segue into a mildly uptempo section. It was just odd, to me. But Kris was okay. But, when I first watched Titanic and saw Rose being given a tour of the ship and a lecture by her mother. I found myself antsy and wondering when we'd first see that iceberg. This was the same effect here. As the judges were talking, I was already drifting off, wondering what Lambert would be singing.

Allison was next, and I kind of feel bad for her. She's got such a unique voice, and she's so likable, but she's just simply overshadowed this year. She did "Someone To Watch Over Me" and, frankly, she kicked ass with it. But Simon questioned her confidence, and though I don't know if that's exactly it, but she doesn't have a shot at winning anyhow. But, much like Jack drawing the nudie picture of Rose, even though she's not the main event, she gets my attention. Then there's Giraud; doing "My Funny Valentine" and this is sort of like Billy Zane as the villain. He's good, you know. Does the job, and everything works. But Billy Zane never parlayed that role into big success and Giraud just isn't really going to parlay his lifeline save into a win, either. It's decent entertainment, but I'm still waiting for that iceberg.

Gokey, is, definitely, my iceberg of the season. I watch him with as much interest as I watch Lambert, because he's the only one who could sink this gorgeous, outrageous ship named Adam. He comes out with that gravelly voice that I admittedly like and does "Come Rain or Come Shine," which is one of my all-time favorite songs. He's wearing his standard glasses, nothing too fancy for the evening. The best part was watching Foxx fearlessly get in his face (in his grill), like, RIGHT up in his face and making him sing. That moment right there was like that brief scene in Titanic when the ship first turns perpendicular, and Jack and Rose are holding on to the railing and that one poor guy doesn't get over the railing, so he falls and then bounces into the propeller. Shocking, cringe-worthy, and totally fucking awesome! That's a replay moment, for sure. He's going to get "bluesy" with it and ends up strutting and ducking and suddenly his movements are deemed to be no longer cheezy and cornball but confident.

Idiot Kara has a lovely line critiquing this by telling him that he was lacking swagger and suddenly tonight he came out full of swag. So...what? He attended a pre-show party and picked up a goody bag of expensive aftershave and a Swatch and he was wearing both and that was the swag? Personally, I love that she's there to make Paula look amazingly insightful this year. Because Paula HAS been the most insightful judge. Make fun of her shopping in the ladies' department comments but I knew what she meant. She's been coherent and entertaining and hasn't really lost her shit once that I've seen. All that is, of course, a bad thing. But it just shows that she's reached a higher level of functionality during intoxication -- choreographing those group dances and all that shit. Good for her! But it just makes Kara's sober stupidity seem that much more annoying.

Anyhow, by the time Gokey finished, it had been a decent show, even though I was wondering why they dubbed it "Rat Pack" night instead of just "Sinatra" night, because all four songs so far had been done by him. So I knew either Dean or Sammy was gonna take the shaft. (I guess we can consider Pauler to be Joey Bishop as the comic relief, and Lawford, who gives a fuck about him anyhow. Oh! Okay, Randy can be Peter Lawford.) Anyhow, the iceberg had hit, but there was still a whole WORLD of crazy shenanigans to come!

Enter Adam Lambert. Foxx is funny, telling him that Adam just doesn't even care who he is. And, just like Jack and Rose, running the opposite way of the crowd, he represents Sammy instead of Sinatra and does "Feeling Good" -- a song that sunk at least two other contestants that I know of. But, you know, they weren't LAMBERT. Out he comes in that shiny white suit, descending those stairs like a predatory Norma Desmond, ready for her close-up, hitting that crazy high note he's got. As this goes on, I'm like Kathy Bates in the lifeboat, watching the ship in its unbelievably, spectacularly dramatic death throws -- cracking and splashing and throwing off sparks before sucking under the waves as I sit there and say, "Dear God!" Except, in this case, Adam's not suffering a tragic death -- he's just being Adam. I just mean that the correlation, which I've now beat to death, is that I knew it was coming; I'd ended up waiting for it in anticipation; and it still managed to delight me with its extravagant showiness.

Randy had to assert his jerkwad heterosexuality by saying it was too theatrical for him. Fuck him, you know? Like Billy Zane and the Coeur de la Mer, he just doesn't get it. I'm sure there are others who agree with him. But for the rest of us? We know that Adam Lambert is, for this season at least, the king of the Idol world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Pearl of the Lake

Bellagio is the crown jewel of Lake Como. The lake is shaped in an upside down Y, and Bellagio is nestled in the middle of that Y, which affords it the most spectacular views of both the lake and Alps. The highest peaks, still snow covered, are visible; the water is a deep blue, and you can clearly see neighboring villages across the narrow lake. One of the most traditional hotels is the Villa Serbelloni, favored not only for its location, but its beautiful facilities. My book loves to swim, and appreciated the palm trees with the snow-capped mountain backdrop.

The outside of the Villa is also quintessential Bellagio architecture and decoration/landscaping.

Though the gardens aren't as extensive as they are at Villa D'Este, they're lovely and well tended.

And if it gets rainy or chilly, there's also an indoor pool where you can relax. My book is as much of a pool slut as I am, so it utilized this area. A swim is particularly enjoyable after spending a day expoloring the town of Bellagio, because you do have to keep in mind that these towns are built into the mountains, so there's always a lot of uphill walking involved. And steps. You walk up and down a lot of steps in Bellagio.

But it is, ultimately, all about the lake views. And since my book and I were there in the slow season, we were able to enjoy a lakeview room.

If you've ever been to the Bellagio in Vegas, you can easily see where Wynn drew his inspiration, not only from the lake out front and the structure/appearance of the hotel and gardens, but also the smaller details such as the railings and decorations. He was unable, however, to duplicate the Alps.

The whole town is almost unbelievably romantic and pretty looking, as though it was intentionally designed to be a lover's haven.

The convenient, and relaxing, ferry which'll get you all around the lake.

And, just across the lake, yet another lovely village, Tremezzo.

For all its charm, relaxation, and splendor, if you happen to be a single gal, Bellagio does have one problem -- all that romance billowing about can get a little depressing after a few days. So, feeling a need for a break from all that, my book and I decided that an escape to Venice would be in order. You know, Venice, the it destination for honeymooners and happy couples.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Book Tours Italy -- Lake Como

I have not been gone away on an Italian book tour. However, my book, American Cool, did recently tour all around Italy. I'll be posting the highlights in photos here over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy it, as my book thought it was all bellissimo!

Lake Como in northern Italy is one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. The charming, pastel colored buildings are carved into the Alps, which frame the temperate, fresh water lake. Here is my book arriving in the town of Como.

Here's a shot of the view from the main town square in Como.

And here's a view of the main town road in Como. On the left is the boat and ferry dock where you can catch fast or slow boats to other towns around the lake, and on the right leads into the town.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you. The town of Como isn't exactly a hotbed of excitement, but it's just north of Milan, and my book came prepared to do some serious shopping in the fashion capital of Italy.

Uh, my book is much more adjusted to Target prices, and the Italian labels and tanked dollar compared to the Euro took a quick and nearly fatal toll upon my book's bankroll. One fancy pair of shades, and my book was damn near broke with three weeks of travel left.

Luckily, just a 35 minute drive from Como is the Casino de Campione on the adjacent Lake Lugano. Situated in an Italian enclave within Switzerland, Casino de Campione was recently rebuilt into a very large facility featuring European games such as Chemin de Fer (the Euro version of Baccarat) and, even better, American games such as Black Jack. If you know anything about my book, you know that Black Jack is its sweet spot. So, faced with perilously low funds, my book made the trek to the casino to take a chance.

Things worked out well. Very, very well.

My book shares many of my passions, including sport. My love for the Italian National Soccer (Calcio) team -- the Azzurri, is unwavering. However, when my book visited, it was in the middle of club season. Luckily, the club Juventus stars a few of the Azzurri's players, too. Alessandro Del Piero, Mauro Camoranesi, and, of course, my beloved goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon!
So, we decided to celebrate the gambling good fortune with a train ride to Turin to catch a Juventus match. Bianconeri!

It's been said that money won is twice as sweet as money earned. True. But there's something even sweeter -- and that's going ahead and totally fucking blowing that won money on ridiculous and luxurious things. Just up the lake from the town of Como is the small town of Cernobbio, where George Clooney makes his home in Italy. Cernobbio also hosts, just about five minutes from Giorgio's villa, the world famous and, until now, famously exclusive Villa D'Este. With the sudden influx of cash, riding a high from a Juventus victory, and feeling incredibly chic with its new Italian eyewear, my book decided to forever deglamorize D'Este with its presence and see what all the fuss is about.
Here's a view of the lake from the room.

Inside, the Villa D'Este boasts a stunning art collection, featuring a sculpture of Eros and Psyche from the School of Canova. But the outside gardens are truly beathtaking, featuring beautiful walking paths and 16th century mosaic paths and walls and a "nympheum."

The Villa features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and the outdoor one floats in the lake.

The Villa is actually composed of two buildings, linked by an underground corridor. There's the main building, the Cardinal's building, along with the trompe l'oeil Queen's Pavilion.

Lake Como's Villa D'Este shouldn't be confused with Tivoli's Villa D'Este, which features hundreds of fountains and is a cool destination also.
But this Villa D'Este has some pretty nifty fountains of its own.

And, of course, a lovely lakeside setting.

And amazing gardens.

And mosaic.

When you take a closer look at the intricate mosaic work, it becomes apparent why it's called the "nympheum". My book was very pleased to see so many examples of erotic on display.

After all the walking around the gardens, the pages of my book were getting pretty frayed so they decided to go relax in the room in luxury.

But for all the lushness of the gardens and plushness of the hotel, it is still, ultimately, the views of the lake that remain the most spectacular feature.

Now, this following portion of my travelogue should be read and viewed with the understanding that I am a fiction writer, and so therefore may have taken a couple of liberties with the facts here. I, maybe, played fast and loose with the truth, or, perhaps, it is even pushing the boundaries of a complete fabrication, aided and abetted by crappy Photoshop skills. Nevertheless.

As I mentioned before, George Clooney is a Lake Como inhabitant. While riding the ferry one day, I happened to pass by his villa, and my book lost its fucking mind and made a dash for it. It leapt overboard, and made a hasty swim toward the shores of Giorgio's beach. Perhaps, of course, if my book were telling you this tale, it might be tempted to imply that its mad dash toward Villa GoodLooking was, in fact, initiated by myself, with a rather forceful overhand throw, hurling it toward shore while I screamed "TI AMO DANNY OCEAN!"

Anyhow, while those details remain fuzzy, here's the kicker. Imagine my surprise, when, later that evening, I found myself in a charming local trattoria and as I glanced across the room I was amazed by the sight of Signor Sexy himself, showing off his latest find, telling Brad Pitt to back the fuck off, as Clooney himself was already claiming an option on the material. The scene may have resembled this:

Then again, that may have never happened. But let's just assume that it did happen and that I felt compelled to march up to ComoClooney and take back my book and inform him that, while I appreciated his interest, I definitely preferred to remain a struggling unknown writer, wallowing in obscurity, before bidding him Arrivaderla. And then my book and I moved along to Bellagio. I will subject you to those pictures soon enough.

Stayin' Alive -- and in touch

Did you miss me? While I was away I guess all you Idol watchers got to experience awesome Adam doing mad interpretations like "Mad World" and did I hear something about Tarantino on the show? How could I be allowed to miss this? Can someone fill me in on some details? Meanwhile I was experiencing a 6.3 earthquake and its aftershocks, but no worries, I was about 90 miles away from the epicenter, though it was enough to shake my bed in the middle of the night -- and not in the good way. I watched German Idol a few times as a substitute. I made it back for disco night tonight, but don't have much to say about it, but I'll hopefully get back in the swing by next week.

Also while I was gone, my book, American Cool got a really insightful, generous review by Steven Hart at Erotica Revealed. Many thanks to ER and Mr. Hart.

And don't think I'm going to keep you in the dark about my goings on. More on that in the next, and several future, posts.