Sunday, May 15, 2011

Put On Your Best Lycra, It's Eurovision Time!

Eurovision. Yes, we are going there. Much easier to ignore in Australia when the competition is only broadcast on SBS, at least 12 hours after all the glitter’s been swept from the stage. Whole other matter when you’re in the UK and Blue is representing. Don’t know who Blue is? They’re the boy band referenced in Love Actually, the one that Billy Mack tried to knock out of the number one spot in the charts by gettting himself naked. I know, I thought they were fictional too.

Of course, there was the office sweep. I drew Ireland, which landed me with The X Factor winners Jedward. Not sure if you will have heard of Jedward in Australia. I hope not, for your sakes. Picture a yappy, hyperactive Chihuahua whose sad, lonely owner distastefully groomed with an overabundance of hairspray. Now picture that morphed into a human form. Then times the image by two. That’s Jedward. But, you know, I paid my one quid and naturally wanted to see a return so, for one night only, I got behind Jedward. I have no morals.

So, sitting at my (Australian) friend’s place last night with Indian takeaway and chocolate, we joined Dusseldorf and the rest of the EU and wondered whether we were about to witness the beginnings of another ABBA. I wasn’t hopeful. It also dawned on us that for the first time in our lives, we could actually legitimately vote in Eurovision. We didn’t. But it was nice to know we could.

Right from the beginning of the broadcast, I was on the edge of my seat. As the hosts welcomed viewers, and barely a minute into the show, Australian viewers got a special shout out by the hosts. Surely this qualifies us for an honorary entry in next year’s competition???

And then came the outrageous costumes, questionable lyrics and synchronised dancing. Here are my highlights for 2011.

Lithuania’s song ‘C’est Ma Vie’ was not only sung in French and English but also incorporated sign language. Any tri-lingual performance gets my tick of approval. Although, let’s pause to consider the hearing impaired community who, for the past fifty odd years, thought they had been spared the delight that is Eurovision. There’s no hiding now, friends.

I can’t tell you whether Ukraine’s song ‘Angels’ was any good. I wasn’t listening. But I was completely enthralled by the sand painting that was happening in the background. Expressive faces, birds and scenes of mother nature expertly crafted by hand on a projector screen while the singer, adorned in far too many feathers, performed her piece. There was a moment where the idea of a finger painter winning Eurovision 2011 was a real possibility.

Russia’s Alex and his posse of male dancers ticked all the necessary boxes – lycra, cheese factor, male dancers, winking to camera – and undoubtedly won the hearts of girls and boys alike.

France’s entry was a puzzle. That’s to say, I enjoyed it very much. The operatic Corsican piece ‘Sognu’, reminiscent of a revolutionary Les Mis musical number, far exceeded the quality required for a Eurovision entry. I think they may have walked onto the wrong stage.

Then came the process of calling through each participating country’s votes. How eccentric/psychotic are some of the hosts? I mean, where do they find them?? It’s like that 30 second spot is the first time on television for some of them. Compliment the host city? Fine. Compliment the lead host? Also fine. Belting out a few bars of your own ‘hit’ from yesteryear? Not cool.

So Blue didn’t win. Nor Jedward. I’m crushed. Mariah Carey look-a-like Nikki Jamal led Azerbaijan to victory with a pretty but not exactly memorable duet with a pretty boy. Here’s hoping they achieve half the success of ABBA.

Danke schoen Dusseldorf. Auf Wiedersehen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Un Gelato, Per Favore

Every time I find myself in Italy I get a little smug. Because, you know, I can say a whole 5 phrases in Italian. Actually, I can usually quite successfully buy train tickets, order food and ask for the bill, ask for and get directions and did I mention order food? So long as none of these prompt follow up questions. Italians speak fast, really fast. And they generally don't tend to phrase all their sentences in the present tense for my sole benefit. They like to use the conditional and past historic and future and subjunctive and what's the subjunctive again? No, I wasn't listening in that class either.

I do remember, "Dario e` sempre in ritardo" though, as everyone who did even two weeks of Italian using Avanti would too. This brought back fond memories for some when I posted the line on Facebook as we all recalled how Dario was always late in every bloody chapter. Not so useless it seems when the Italian trains decide to run late and only announce this in Italian. Thank you, Dario, for your selfless tardiness.

So, anyway, I've just spent 9 days in Italy, eating my way through Rome, Florence and Venice, and hoping to improve my high school learnt Italian. Early into the trip, I got some great advice from a waiter, who was learning English himself. He said to me, "Just speak. Don't think about it, don't rehearse it, and definitely don't worry about making mistakes. Just speak." As his four years of English far exceeded my four years of Italian, I listened... and spoke. And I got better. I now know about 20 new nouns, all gelati flavours. 'Mele verde' is green apple by the way, and delicious. I did get pesce (fish) and pesca (peach) mixed up once. That was embarrassing.

As anyone who has learnt another language can attest, when you're trying to gain confidence in conversation, there's often a lot of self-talk going on, conversations whirling around inside the head as you determine whether you have all the words to form that sentence. Or whether you can avoid using the conditional tense even though you probably should. Then, building up the confidence to try it out. Then by the time you open your mouth, the moment's passed and the person you were talking to has already handed you the change and is looking to the person behind you in the queue. And as you walk away, it dawns on you then that the third person singular future tense for the verb 'to be' is sara`. I have a love-hate relationship with my self-talk. I will try to figure problems out in my head. But when I do, it usually surfaces like a weird case of turrets. Like when it started raining in Rome and I couldn't for the life of me remember the word for rain. I wracked my brain for 20 minutes, when it suddenly hit me. "E` piove!" I said aloud to Mary, our hotel owner, while we were mid conversation. And it had already been raining a good 20 minutes by this point.

I was so inspired to get better at Italian that I even bought myself a couple of kids' novels to read. I'm starting on Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale. Ok, it's taken me a week to read 50 pages but has proved to be really useful in forming more interesting sentences and learning figures of speech. I am curious though to see if I'll ever need to use Muggle or You-Know-Who in a sentence but I remain hopeful. Babbani and Lei-Sa-Chi, if you were wondering. I sense that this drive to learn is already waning as I return to London. Unless, maybe, I can find an Italian speaking job that desires expert knowledge in wizardry and fruity gelati. If you hear of something, please let me know.