The Monolith and I Are Home

Burgess returns and begins unpacking his monstrous suitcase.

By Steve Burgess 14 Jul 2005 |

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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I’m choking up a little right now. I’m halfway through the last bag of that great trail mix I found in Spain. And the little blood blister I got from pinching my finger on the train to Barcelona has almost healed. I get a little emotional when these long journeys end.

Six weeks on the road and at last I am ready to enjoy that collateral benefit of travel--the simple joy of being back home.

These trips offer too much at once. There’s an onslaught of experience that would more profitably be spread out over the entire year. As it is, some of the imagery and the interaction ends up on the slag heap due to simple lack of processing capacity. (I could use an upgrade, but cruel medical science suggests that I am headed inexorably in the other direction.)

Some general observations though:

Italian TV really is odd. In Naples I saw a documentary about Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer hero--not surprising since Maradona has been a Neapolitan deity ever since his days playing on the local squad. But why did the filmmakers use the soundtrack from A Clockwork Orange? After hearing “Singin’ in the Rain” I wondered when they would get around to a little ditty from the film titled “I Wanna Marry a Lighthouse Keeper.” Sure enough, there was Maradona dancing through the opposition while a ukulele player chirped, “I’d polish his lamp by the light of day so ships at night could find their way…”

Maybe you have to be from Naples.

On French channels you see movies in French, with subtitles--also in French. Now that’s arrogance.

As for American TV, well, not to pile onto an easy target or anything but CNN is quite a jolt when you haven’t been exposed to it for a while. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that it is secretly operated out of the White House.

The Italian Matrix

Meanwhile I watched Black Hawk Down dubbed into Spanish and it worked pretty much the same. Predator in Italian was also unchanged. The Matrix in Italian was definitely an improvement, and after seeing Keanu Reeves speak Italian in Dracula I suggest he should demand dubbing in every contract.

Some people like to travel light. I travel with a bag that could have its own Member of Parliament. Traveling with a huge suitcase has pros and cons. “It’s a refrigerator,” muttered one hotel employee tasked with moving it. And a kind American who helped me lift it into an overhead luggage rack commented, “Hey, you gotta grab a bargain on lead bricks wherever you find ‘em, right?”

But at least the Monolith had wheels, which made it easier than a backpack most times. And the benefits could be surprising. Those American tourists and I had a pleasant time starting a little betting pool on who would be killed when the bag plunged off the overhead rack (the poodle in the nearby carrying case was a favorite long-shot). One time on an overnight train, I was slated to share sleeping quarters with five other travelers. But thanks to the massive volume of my bag they gave me my own compartment where I was free to pass gas to my heart’s content. And as for that time at the Milan train station when the escalator was broken and the staircase was higher than the Grouse Grind--well, my arm returned to its shoulder socket eventually.

Supply side shoe-nomics

A traveler must expect some privation when it comes to bathroom facilities. Squat-style fixtures are not uncommon. But there’s one thing I don’t understand about Europe--what’s the point of toilets without seats? Do people bring their own? Even the women’s facilities are often seatless (I snuck in and looked once out of horrified sympathy).

I met lots of Canadians on the trip and it was always a pleasure. But the desperation of Canadian travelers to be identified as such, sewing maple leafs on every visible surface, may be a little overdone. Perhaps it truly is better for a traveler to be known as a Canuck rather than a Yank. But Yankee is as Yankee does, and the Americans I met were perfectly lovely, well-behaved individuals. Moreover they were treated very well by foreigners who seemed perfectly capable of understanding that America is not one thing, but many. And finally, while it is true that George W. Bush is the symbol of America right now, my informal research suggests that the current international symbols of Canada are Celine Dion and SARS. Stars and Stripes decal, anyone?

As usual, I spent too much on this journey. That’s why The Tyee will soon be offering information about my new Adopt-an-Italian-Shoe program. If each of you contribute these trips can become self-sustaining, and that’s good for all of us. (Really. It works on the same principle as Premier Campbell’s tax cuts--my excess consumption benefits you, the non-recipient, in some strange way I don’t have time to explain right now).

Thanks for reading. It’s nice to be home.

Tyee at-large critic Steve Burgess is back in BC from Spain, Morocco and Italy, and this his last postcard to trickle in.

The rest of them:

Burgess Braves Italy’s Grunge City
Going it Alone in Cinque Terre
This Barcelona Place is Great!
Stalked, the Casbah
Burgess in Tangier: Fresh Prey
Burgess in Rolling Purgatory
Granada, End of the Hippie Trail
Tapas? Tricked Ya!
Burgess Skips Town Again

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