Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm here.

For those who were wondering, I made it to St. Louis safely yesterday after a long boring flight. Arrived to my hotel last night around 9:30pm and, as it was about 4am to me, went to sleep. I'm actually staying in a Drury Inn in Fairview Heights and this place is impressive. Free internet in the rooms, free hot breakfast, free hour of long distance calling per day, free use of the workout room, free whirpool/spa, free soft drinks and popcorn in the lobby daily, free cable (including HBO! Sopranos baby!) in the rooms, and one of the coolest things - they have a free happy hour reception in the lobby every evening from 5:30 - 7pm where you are allowed three free alcoholic beverages. Most likely I'll be working until about 7 every night so I doubt I'll get to take advantage of the last one but it's still pretty cool. The Drury Inn definitely has game.

The flight sucked of course and reminded me of why I absolutely hate flying, especially on Iternational flights. But more about that later. It's still kind of weird being in the US. I think I've been in Europe so long that coming to the States feels almost like coming to a foreign country sometimes. It takes a little getting used to. I only wish I wouldn't be working so much so I could have time to enjoy it a little more.

By the way, the Red Sox won again and the Yank-me's lost...14.5 games up and it's not even June...I'm giddy!

Friday, May 25, 2007

On the Road Again...

Well, I've got one more weekend of freedom before I jump on a plane for the conference in St Louis. I'm still pissed at the jerkoff who screwed me into having to go but what the hell, I'll just make the best of it. By the way, while I'm spending the weekend doing laundry, cleaning and packing, he'll be down in Garmisch enjoying a nice holiday with his girlfriend in the Alps. Did I mention that he never even apologized? Or that he hasn't even bothered to thank me for going in his stead? Prick.

The last time I had to go to one of these conferences was back in 2004 while I was still in the Army. I kind of enjoyed it back then because I had to go to the pre-conference in Atlanta first and in between conferences I went down to visit my brother in New Orleans. So in a three week span, I was able to see three major US cities that I had never seen, and the 3 days spent in New Orleans with my brother is, to this day, one of my favorite memories. I had such a great time, I got to experience Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, got an bunch of Mardi Gras beads, had a crawfish boil, went to JazzFest, the works. I'm sure Eric misses New Orleans quite a bit and after only 3 days there I can understand why.

Eric and I outside the French Market in N'Awlins, May, 2004.

One interesting side note to my last trip there was that I was able to take in a Cardinals game. It was their last year in the old Busch Stadium before they tore it down and compared to Fenway Park, it was HUGE. The Cardinal fans are great and pretty knowledgeable but the atmosphere doesn't even come close to a game at Fenway. There was also a disappointing lack of sports bars outside the stadium. What's so interesting about seeing a baseball game you ask? Well, as I mentioned, it was 2004. And a mere 5 months after attending a game at the old Busch Stadium, I would sit on my couch at 4 am back in Caldogno, Italy and watch my beloved Boston Red Sox break the 86 year old Curse of the Bambino in that very same stadium against the very same Cardinals team. Needless to say I'm definitely going to try and catch another game this time. Hopefully history will repeat itself...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Reflections on The Sopranos.

Those of you who know me and/or read this blog regularly know of my love affair with Italy and all things Italian. So it should come as no surprise that I am avid fan of the tv show "The Sopranos". With the show ending it's historic run soon, I thought it'd be a good time to talk about why I love(d) it so much.

I had heard about a show on HBO called "The Sopranos" for a while, I hadn't seen it and all I knew about it was that it was about the mob. It didn't sound like anything that interested me all that much. I kept noticing that it was receiving all kinds of accolades and critical acclaim but since I was overseas it wasn't like I could just tune in anytime I wanted. So I just ignored the hype. Sometimes around 2002 or 2003 my brother Eric came to visit and he was a big fan of the show. We happened to be talking about the show and I was asking him if it was really that good. He seemed surprised that I had never seen the show and since he had the first 2 seasons on DVD he suggested watching them. Well, needless to say, I was hooked after the first episode. It helped a lot to watch it with Eric as he was able to sort of give me the rundown on things as they were happening. The one thing I remember most about watching the first episode with Eric was when Tony went to his mother's house. Eric muttered under his breath, "here comes the queen...". He was absolutely right. The character of Livia Soprano was one of the first things that attracted me to the show. It's really a shame she passed away after the second season.

Speaking of the second season, that was the one that got me hooked for good. To this day the second season remains my favorite of them all. It also contains my favorite "Sopranos" episode of all time; "Commendatore". That was the episode where they go back to "the old country" (Napoli/Naples), for those who don't remember. I guess what I love most about the show is that whole American/Italian connection. Living in Italy gave me a different view of things than I would have had in the US. It was always fascinating to contrast the Italian-American aspect of the show against what Italy was really like. One of my favortie lines was the episode where Tony and his crew were asked to deal with the problem of a Jewish man. They put him in a room and beat the crap out of him to get him to do what they want. He is defiant and at one point relates a story of how thousands of years ago a small Jewish group held thier own against the storied Roman army of vastly superior numbers. He finishes by asking Tony and Sylvio "The Romans...where are they now?". For a second you almost start to agree with his point of view until Tony utters the perfect reply; "You're looking at 'em asshole".

For me personally, one of the things I loved most about the show was the authenticity of the whole Italian part of it. The language, the references, the stories, even the names were right on and connected with me on a personal level. For example, the guy who played Tony's lifelong friend Artie is named John Ventimiglia; Ventimiglia is the name of the Italian town right on the border with the French Riviera. I first drove by it in the summer of 2002 so when I saw the credits I was like "hey, that's the town near the Riviera that I drove through!". Tony Soprano's neighbor's name is Bob Cusimano; Cusimano is also the name of my preferred brand of Nero d'Avola, one of my favorite wines from Sicily. Tony's family comes from a city called Avellino; Avellino is a team that my local team of Vicenza played twice a year in the second division of Italian professional soccer.

More Sopranos reflections in the next post...

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Saw Steffi Graf. I Think.

The Heidelberg area is home to a few famous people. For one, Chaka Kahn lives here. Tennis star Boris Becker is from the area as well. But the two most famous residents are tennis uber-couple Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. They have a house in Neunheim, right across the river from where I live.

As you may recall, my new favorite hobby lately is hiking up and down the mountain across the river. This past weekend I was on my down the mountain and I noticed a woman running up the hill in black spandex. As soon as I noticed her my first thought was "Damn, she looks exactly like Steffi Graf", followed closely by my second thought, "Wait, she lives right at the bottom of the hill! It IS Steffi Graf!". I tried to play it cool and didn't ogle her as she ran by but she made eye contact, gave me a smile and said something in German that I can only guess was hello. I smiled back and said hello and then immediately looked around to see if Andre was behind her but no such luck.

Steffi Graf said hello to me. Awesome.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mothers Day Judy

You were forced to raise us basically by yourself mom and I know it was tough. We didn't make it any easier on you but what did we know, we were kids. I used to get upset in high school because the other kids had parents that would give them rides to and from practice and games but you were always working so I was on my own. I used to get upset in college because most of the other people there didn't have to worry about paying tuition and could concentrate on their studies and not worry about where the money would come from next semester. Only years later did I realize that you took an assembly job while I was in high school because you knew I hated sharing my life with the kids you were babysitting to make living and that's why you weren't able to give me rides to and from soccer practice. And in college, not only did you pay more than you could afford towards my tuition but you gave me a car that you could have easily sold for a couple thousand bucks that you really could have used.

I always knew when you didn't like a particular girl I was dating or when you thought I was making a big mistake with some life decision I made but you never discouraged me or had a negative word to say. You knew that I had to experience life and discover things for myself. I'd like to think that I've done a good job but sometimes I don't know.

One time after I screwed up really bad you said that you were ashamed to call me your son. I've never told you this but that hurt me more than anything anyone has ever said to me. I have so much love and respect for you and to hear you say that cut me deep. But no matter what, you will always be my mother and I love you more than anything. I know how much you have sacrificed for me, Tracy and Eric these many years and I will always be grateful.

Happy Mothers Day mom. I love you.

-Rik...your baby.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


It's been about 2 weeks or so since the wife and kid left so I thought I'd give an update on how I've been spending my latest parole. Unfortunately I don't really have much to report. Things sure have changed since the last time they went to visit her family in the Philippines. Last time I spent my weekends in places like Rome, Geneva, Amsterdam and Venice. This time I've spent every weekend right here in Heidelberg. Mostly it's because I really want to get back in shape a bit which means mountain climbing. So a typical weekend is; wake up Saturday, hike up the mountain, come home, take a shower, then go out and walk around town. Sometimes I'll pop into the pub to watch a match if there's a good one on. I usually grab a Gazetto dello Sport which is the Italian sports paper I used to read religiously in Italy, and relax in one of my preferred restaurants, cafes or pubs. A couple weeks ago I discovered a pool hall in the Altstadt so sometimes I go shoot some stick. I try to do a hike on Sunday as well if I'm not too sore (or hungover!). I squeeze my errands into the weekends wherever I can find the time as well.

So as you can see, my parole has been very dull and anti-climactic thus far. I'm sorry to disappoint those of you who were looking forward to tales of voyages to far away and exotic places but this is my life now. But don't feel sorry for me, I've actually been enjoying the opportunity to spend some time alone doing nothing but relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet. And for those of you who have never been here, Heidelberg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe so there's plenty to do here and always something to keep me occupied. I've got a couple more weeks here then I jump on a plane for the conference in St. Louis that my coworker screwed me into having to go to.

The way I look at it, my last parole was a chance to go crazy, galavant around Europe and get fat and out of shape. My current parole is a chance to undo some of that, lose some weight and get back in shape. So far so good...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I'm losing weight.

For those who care, as of this morning I am officially down 20 pounds since last summer. I've still got about 15-20 more to go but I am kicking ass. I feel great and am starting to look a bit like my old self again. When the wife gets home in June she ain't gonna be able to keep her hands off me...