Thursday, July 28, 2005

"What I did this summer", by Chris Warner (High atop Broad Peak) Posted by Picasa

The "snow hole": a room for two at 26,000 feet Posted by Picasa

Dispatch from above planet earth

My brother -- the interesting Warner brother -- is spending another summer in the Karakorum of Pakistan climbing some of the tallest and most forbidding peaks in the world. Here's his latest heart-stopping dispatch about the ascent of Broad Peak, an 8,047 meter warm-up to K2. My favorite description:

Believe it or not, something about spending the night crammed into a double wide coffin at 26,000 feet, with no room to wiggle and the top inches from my face, while super-cooled, oxygen depleted air poured over me from a manhole sized exit slightly above me, through which blowing snow could cover my face and slowly but surely suffocated me, made me a bit
over anxious.

Good luck, fratello!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

When love sours

Spring, I realized last night, is over. The harbinger came in the form of a woman walking the back streets of Rome. She was in a foul mood, spitting venomous comments about her snake of a man who was walking a few steps ahead. He was bent forward, head down, as verbal bullets were fired at his skull. This woman, wearing an I-could-spit-nails look, was informing the rest of us (as we walked hand-in-hand beside this car wreck of a relationship) that her man was the worst person she'd ever met. Not the coldest. Not the most selfish. Simply, the worst. On cue, a cold front seemed to whip through the narrow alleys and crooked streets of Rome.

I don't understand the Italian obsession with public break-ups. I have seen more couples decoupling on a Roman street corner or in a piazza in the last six months than in all my years in New York or London combined. These are usually incredibly awkward moments. Smeary eye makeup, hysterical barks, inappropriate revelations. And that's just him... None of us are any good at saying this just isn't working out. That's why it's best to choose a forum far away from the public eye. In e-mail, for example.

This morning, the second harbinger landed in my gym. This young woman seemed perflectly pleasant at first glance. Dressed in office attire, she circled the gym with great interest asking those of us without headphones where the manager was. The manager is a lanky character who drives a dirt bike to the gym and works out in shorts that are far too small. But otherwise, he's a very nice guy, always greeting me with a "ciao" and "come stai?" The manager was somewhere in the gym, but couldn't be found. So, the woman waited.

Finally, he appeared and a small confrontation ensued. It was interrupted by a clueless older woman who needed help with the weights. The manager took this as his cue to extricate himself from the heated discussion and, seeing as he was handling a few weights now, to teach the old nonna how to benchpress. We were all impressed. All of us that is but the aggrieved woman who hovered around the weight bench trying to kickstart the stalled discussion topic of the manager's creepyness. While she hovered she lit a cigarette, and then a second. Of course, the guys (me included) working out wanted her to stop smoking in the hot, stuffy gym, but we knew better than to cross this woman. So, me and the other gym rats (some of us wearing weight belts) shot pleading looks to the manager to take it/her outside.

Mercifully, after about 10 mins and 2.5 cigarettes, they did. Outside, the fireworks started. We couldn't hear much through the glass, but the wild hand gestures said it all. From his body language, he had initiated the break-up and she was not pleased. I could imagine him explaining she was too volatile for him. As her hysteria grew, her hands reached higher and higher in the sky as if blindly feeling around for something to club him with. He stood in the ready position as if wanting to dart away.

Inside, the mood in the gym was the most subdued I'd ever experienced. The normally chatty gym rats barely made eye contact with one another. One by one, we cleared out of the gym and cautiously past the arguing ex-couple. On cue, another cold breeze blew down the street.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Merlot on the tracks

Bob Dylan has teamed with Marchigiani vintner Fattoria Le Terrazze, near Ancona, to produce a red wine debuting this fall in the U.S. It's named after Dylan's 1974 album, "Planet Waves". Dylan's red, at $65 a bottle, is a mix of montepulciano (a workhorse grape in Central Italy) and Merlot. Yes, Sideways fans, Merlot. Patoohey!

Actually, this part of Le Marche, a region best known for its Verdicchio whites, makes some very nice reds, though typically not enough to export in any significant quantity outside of the region. Hence, 65 smackers for a bottle of vintage Dylan. My favorite red from Le Marche is the La Crima di Morro, made from a very rare vine of the same name in the same basic area. It's cultivated, as far as I know, only on in select valleys along the Adriatic, namely Le Marche and the Veneto regions.

Back to Bob's brew. From the Web site here's a description. Oh, and a link on where to buy.

Organoleptic qualities: Colour: deep ruby with purple tinge. Bouquet:deep and elegant; ripe fruit. Flavour: Full bodied, velvety with a good balance between fruit and tannins.

I'm a bit skeptical. My advice is, if you are ever in this part of Le Marche, save your 65 bucks and have a nice fish meal instead in nearby Sirolo overlooking the white cliffs of Monte Conero and the Adriatic. Then pick up a bottle of the La Crima di Morro for 8 euros and pop in a Dylan CD.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Joisey Pinot

According to the NYT, New Jersey is the fifth biggest wine-producing state in the U.S. And by next year, 40 vineyards will be in operation. Aside from wine snobs who dismiss the harvest as "Parkway Reds" and "Turnpike Whites," Jersey vintners are encountering problems with late springs, hungry deer and root-killing louse. But I say bravo! Even sparsely producing vineyards are a vast improvement over the Wal-Mart-Applebees-Jiffy Lube sprawl that has destroyed much of the state... "Bottled in New Jersey." It's got a certain ring to it. (as long as you keep the brown paper bag over the label)

And, closer to Rome, Italian winemakers are predicting a good year in volume terms for wines from the southern tip of the boot. That means Puglia and Sicilian reds will be in abundant supply, the best since 2001. But sadly, wine volume from the Veneto and Friuli (home to my favorite whites) will be down, while Le Marche will see no change in volume. No word yet on quality, I'm afraid. It's still too early.

The truth about water

I've had a few -- ok, one question -- about the Italian's 4-hour bathing rule. It requires some explanation. I warn you: it is sound biology, but taken to an Italian extreme.

But first, 4 hours is like the high end of the national standard. Apparently, as you travel north, presumably where more reckless Italians bathe, 3 and even 2.5 hours is sufficient.

Anyhow, here goes: Blood concentrates in the stomach during digestion as the muscles go to work to break down the food. No argument there. This, my friends, is when you are most vulnerable. Because the blood leaves other parts of your body during this biological process, one should take care to avoid shocks to the system. This would include, but is not exclusive to, cold water. A surge of cold water on say the legs during digestion has the effect of drawing more blood away from, say, the head to the lower extremities. This could lead to dizzy spells or a paralyzing stomach ache. Capite?

I believe they call this phenomenon "constriction". It was explained to me last summer when I was reprimanded for chugging ice water in the morning. I have never seen a chart, report nor any official evidence from the wider medical community that cold water is a silent killer in our midst. I have found scant references to this online though. Amici, constriction is a killer. See for yourself:

The prey asphyxiates, and the snake then begins to feed. The entire process is suprisingly rapid, with prey often succumbing as quickly as a minute after being struck.

As quickly as a minute! The sheer rapidness of one's demise, plus the fact a snake mysteriously appears to finish off the prey, is no doubt why Italians swear by it. As a result, Italian vigilance has resulted in the *lowest constriction fatality rate in the developed world.

*Unofficially of course as the World Health Organisation has been slow to warn the rest of us, a cover-up no doubt.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A day at the beach

If you're like me and you've long wondered why is it that some grandmothers get breast implants? or, where in the developed world do parents still smack their bratty kids? then you'll be relieved to know that enlightment, and overpriced gelato, can be found at the beach. Italian beaches that is.

After a two week break, the searing heat of summer has returned to the boot. And so, the wisely heeded call most every Saturday and Sunday is tutti al mare. Everyone to the beach. On Saturday, Xtina and I took the 40-min train journey to Santa Marinella, a lovely beach near the Tuscan border. Its relative proximity to Roma, however, makes it a Roman colony. Thus the scarier city elements are out in full force behaving as they would on the streets of Rome. Xtina is convinced Romans have arms that are disproportionately long and thus some (the ones with stubby little legs, anyhow) remind one of a zoo attraction. I think that's a tad unfair and certainly statistically inaccurate.

But Romans at the sea have some noteworthy attributes. For one, they gather in packs at the water's edge, cigarettes in hand, and agitate over some topic that is bound to draw an even larger crowd. Teenage girls, all vamped up, strut up and down practicing their catwalk gait. Teenage boys kick soccer balls at one another, ignoring the girls, leaving the older men to nod distractedly at their wives while these nymphs pass by.

I have described the universal beach experience. Right? Wait. There's more. For a country blessed with beaches, Italy has a population that seems completely mistrustful of water. Depending on which Italian you ask, one should wait no less than 4 hours before entering the sea after nibbling on a snack. It doesn't matter if it's a baking hot 40 degree (105 F) day. Four hours is the rule. Anything less is suicidal. Also, Italians won't enter the sea unless the water temperature is a bath-like 25 degrees (77 F). This is why packs of Italians stand at the water's edge, checking their watches (counting down the hours) and toe-testing for appropriate warmth. It's only those Viking stranieri like me who barrel into the cool waves, sounding a victory belch while chewing gamely.

On land, distractions abound too. It's admittedly hard to read something when you are the only person sitting still. Few Italians -- Ok, to be fair, few Romans -- read in public. Basta! I have seen a few leaf through the pages of a magazine with lots of pictures, but I don't think you can count this as reading when they are simultaneously on the telefonino, cooing their boyfriend/husband/lover and threatening to beat any child that again kicks sand on them. Even when one can read, the relative calm is invariably interrupted by a toddler getting wacked by a grownup. I'm not saying these kids don't deserve it, but I thought a welting rap on the coolo was outlawed in the '70s. Judging by the number of smacks dealt out, my guess is some childless adults were getting in a few opportune wacks where they could.

But the scariest scene of all is the leathery, chain-smoking grandmother with the red velvet mane, perilously bejeweled so close to the water's edge. She prowls the sands hoping to turn heads towards, as opposed to away from, her. Now picture this creature with breast implants.

I warned you. This is a unique beach experience.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Love thy neighbor

Italy is in its slow(er) season at the moment. Yeah, there's terror sweeps, bank-rigged M&A deals, unsubstantiated claims the recession is over, but this seems a big yawn when compared to news France and the UK are bickering again. French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday in a Bastille Day interview rattled off all the reasons France is better than Britain, nah nah nah nah nah. Yeah, the UK may have the Frenchies beat on unemployment, economic prosperity and the 2012 Olympic Games, but zee French are clearly ahead in cuisine, the birth rate and spending on scientific research.

For those of you unfamiliar with the French-English rivalry, the spat began in 1066 when some blokes named Norman crossed the channel and took over. Ever since then, the Anglo Saxon and Gallic peoples have been re-crossing the channel to do some plundering on the other guy's turf; the French in search of jobs and the English, cheap wine. As a result, they are pretty familiar with one another and are prone to bicker like, well, nextdoor neighbors. Only neighbors who know each other so well could be so ruthless. Perhaps the most damaging blow came in 1963 when "The Pink Panther" made its cinematic debut.

The Italians don't really have a similar rival whom they love to hate. Italians hate the government, but that's no fun. Everybody everywhere hates their own government. I think this is just what Italy needs right now: A country to hate. Any suggestions? (And don't say the U.S.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Securing the Games

In case you're an Olympic athlete and you wanted to bring your posse along to the Winter Games in Turin next February, the Italian govt has issued the following statement: Vietate portare. Apparently, the Italians are more than capable of handling the security.

That's because the Italian military has a crack team of security specialists for the region. They are called the Alpini. I'd advise you not to mess with them, particularly when they play "When the saints go marchin' in."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Piatto secondo

For food gourmands, Italy is a world-class destination. For centuries, Italian chefs have been making wondrous dishes from the simple ingredients plucked from the land or snagged from the sea.

But the chefs in many of your fine Italian food establishments are absolutely flummoxed by one breed of diner, the vegetarian. In much of central Italy, the chef's answer to the vegetarian menu is to serve lamb. And so, dining with a vegetarian in Italy is always an enormous sense of amusement for me, the unapologetic omnivore. Last month, I was at a wedding in the foothills of the Alps. I was seated at a table full of vegans. A perplexed wait staff decided the best thing to do was to send the entire table heaping plates of seafood all day. It was one of the happiest days of my life. At my next Italian wedding, I may try this vegan trick.

But if you are a vegeterian traveling through the inland, mountainous regions, you're out of luck. The only dish guaranteed to be senza carne is the dolce. This was the experience last weekend at Da Priori, a local favorite in the hilltop town of Monte San Martino. They specialise in gut-busting meals of pasta and meats cooked over wood. The portions are always Flintstone size. Luckily, for our vegan guest we were able to convince the kitchen to whip up a second round of their signature pasta, Pasta Ortica, a green tagliatelle dish made of Marchigiani weeds and nettles.

But the sad fact for vegans is that much of central Italy's incredible cuisine is based on good old fashioned red meat. And thus, the vegan would either have to be spiritually converted on the spot or miss out on such delicacies as the stinco (leg of lamb), cinghiale (boar meet), rabbit, pigeon, deer and veal, not to mention the sausages, prosciutto, capocollo and porco. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

A device so powerful

I am back from Perugia (pop. 150,000), city of the future.

While there, I received a breathless report from a reliable Perugina source. Apparently, one of the hi-fi shops in town now sells a pocket-sized device capable of storing thousands of songs. Imagine, your entire CD collection in the palm of your hand. This wonder device is called Ipod (pronounced "EEE-poad" by the local cognoscenti). If it sells in Perugia, it may just arrive in your town some day. Remember: You heard it hear first.

Friday, July 08, 2005


...And the London bombing in pix, from the people who were there.

Humanity at its best

The Beeb, a standout news organisation in an industry flailing in mediocrity, has put together heartbreakingly poignant coverage of the London bomb blasts. Take a look:

From the words of bystanders, well-wishers, the outraged and baffled.

The Reporters Log.

What was it like crawling out of those tube tunnels? Photos here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Humanity at its worst

What can you say about a person who is strapped to the gills with explosives and boards a bus or subway car bent on killing and maiming as many as he can? He may be legitimately aggrieved, he may have seen countless acts of brutality perpetrated on his neighbors, friends and relatives. But the moment he pulls the cord, any rational dialogue or debate ends. He would prefer to make his point through fear than persuasion.

The shocking bit is seeing the images and hearing the stories of the victims, who by the fickle winds of fate, are caught up in the devastation. My heart goes out to those Londoners. Londoners are a tough breed. I have made so many dear friends in that city. I pray for them all.

For over a year, I used to walk past Tavistock Square on the way to work at Reuters. To see it again this morning on the TV was jarring. The scene of those Georgian style buildings splattered with blood and the roof of the bus ripped off, sardine can style, was jarring to the bone. A year ago I covered a bus bombing in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. It was a shocking sight to behold. Jews and Arabs alike were among the dead and injured. It was one of those moments in which I saw humanity at its most senseless. It will live with me forever. I wrote this in an email to a friend several days after the event:

I sneaked out to Tel Aviv last week to do some simple tech reporting over Bank Holiday weekend and wound up in Beersheba covering a bus bombing. I was the closest reporter to the blast so I commandeered a cab and sped across the desert. I went into Home News mode when I arrived, interviewing hysterical Israelis (well, the ones who spoke English). I interviewed two teenage survivors. 18-years-old.They were spending their last day together before he shoves off for the army and she goes back to school. In a puppy love fog they grab seats in the back of the bus -- the last two seats on the right. Oblivious to everybody but themselves, a bomber pulls a cord. They hear something explode and look forward. "I saw pieces of people coming at me," he told me. At that point I realised his appearance. He was caked in...well, you get the picture. She was a zombie through the whole interview, just listening with a vacant stare as if she didn't recognise anything he was saying. Her jeans were streaked with dried blood. After relaying this story, they just collapsed into each other. They were sobbing uncontrollably. Not wailing. It was almost subdued, like they couldn’t muster the lung power to free the dark emotions trapped in their chests. I just left them there in a sobbing heap. They're just kids, but they had that look -- that look as if nothing will ever be the same again: their budding relationship, the outside world, a simple bus journey.

The Jerusalem buro was thankful for the anecdote -- liberally using my quotes and color and even deputising me as an honorary member of the team. But it was a deeply affecting thing to behold. I couldn't sleep that last night so I cabbed it into the old town Jerusalem and watched the spectical that is the Temple Wall. I was hoping I could find even a partial explanation for the world's madness amid the bobbing heads and chants. The tension and the mistrustfulness of the place is profound. The day I left they began construction on a wall -- a giant concrete barrier to seal off the Palestinians. That's the most profound solution they could come up with -- put a wall between you and the people who've wronged you.

Un giorno nero

Seldom does a day pass that I read the news from the U.S. and wonder what happened to my home, the country I left five years ago. Today's news sickens me. The jailing of NY Times reporter Judith Miller is a moral outrage, a truly dark day for a country that prizes freedom of speech and accountable governance. It is not difficult to see that the Bush Administration has waged war on pesky journalists that question its decisions. But jailing journalists is a step right out of the ruling pamphlets of the Taliban or the fundamentalist clerics of Iran or the panicky Saudi Arabian oil barons. History shows it is done when a ruling elite, with a disproportionate lock on government, wants to silence all critics. In this case, the targets are those who question the gaping flaws in the Bush administration's dubious rationale for waging war in Iraq.

Taking journalists to court and insisting they name sources has two chilling effects: the government can defang the investigative journalists, and if that news outlet capitulates, they succeed in defanging the entire publication. For this reason, journalists stay loyal to their sources. It is a principled stance (to be sure, it is a lonely decision), but one that is essential to a true democracy.

And, it is not just journalists who feel this way. In 1972, Justice William O. Douglas wrote: "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring to fulfillment the public's right to know." Today, the NYT in a poignant editorial discusses this principled fight. In this case, the big loser in this fight is not Judith Miller, but the American people.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Google-watching (above Amandola) Posted by Picasa

Life on earth, according to Google

For the past week, I've been trying, without luck, to see the planet Earth. Well, Google Earth anyhow. If you are not familiar with Google's latest app, it's an aerial-style map viewer of the entire planet. Just type in an address and voila the eye in the sky brings you there with a top-down view.

You can't get much geekier than mapping software, which may explain its popularity. For the past week, I've been frustrated in my every attempt to download the software as a logjam of my fellow geeks has beaten me to the queue. Well, this morning, bright and early, I got on and downloaded it.
First stop, my hometown: Bergenfield, NJ. I visited Cooper's Pond, my old elementary school, my old house. Next stop, Roma. And then, Amandola. (Sadly, I could fly only as low as 1,621 feet above Amandola).

Then I flew over to Pakistan to visit my brother Chris. Oddly, it took a bit of guesswork to find K2, the second tallest peak in the world. But I found Broad Peak, it's smaller neighbor, right away. Good luck, Chris! We geeks will be watching!