Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Travelling to Venice + Day One (so far)

I have never been abroad before now. Well, with the exception of a school ski trip over a decade ago. Nor have I been on an aeroplane. So it is no wonder I am excited – even by the short monorail journey to Gatwick airport's Terminal N. As I tuck into some scrambled egg on toast at the terminal's branch of Weatherspoon's, I feel like this is somehow the perfect wave goodbye to England. If only it were goodbye. I finish my meal to find my flight is delayed by an hour. Welcome to air travel, I guess.

When it is finally time to board the plane, a BA flight to Venice and the film festival, I glimpse the unfashionable lounges which feel like a frozen piece of the 1980's. They are in stark contrast to the sterile, modern mall above – where I was able to purchase a copy of Murakami's Norwegian Wood, in anticipation of the adaptation screening the next day. The deeper I go into the airport, the less “special” I feel. On the train from Brighton I was thinking “these people don't know I'm going to Venice.” When I first entered the airport, I though “sure, these people are going somewhere, but it won't be as good as Venice.” But now, waiting to board the plane, I am all to aware that everyone is going to Venice. Irrationally, I start to resent everyone around me.

More so when they act as if it's entirely normal to hurtle 33,000 feet into the air in a metal cylinder. I'm looking out my window at the right wing, praying it doesn't explode, and then within minutes I am above the English channel, with the coasts of England and France within view. Yet the man in the seat in front hasn't looked up from The Spectator since we boarded the plane.

From the air, all Northern Europe looks identical: patchwork configurations of lush, green agricultural land, broken up by roads and the occasional river system. But it's spectacular. The pilot informs us of our course, saying we are flying over Luxembourg, heading towards Frankfurt, where we will make a right and head to Venice, passing over Stuttgart and Innsbruck and Verona. The the while, I am glued to the window and getting none of my reading done. Over Frankfurt, I can see what looks like a nuclear power station and a long, wide and winding river stretching off southwards as far as the eye can see, whilst over Stuttgart, the mighty football stadium is rendered laughably small, as are the autobahns. I feel like I bought tickets to a show called “Google Earth – LIVE!” and it's the best show I've ever seen.

Living in the city, you can come to imagine that we (humans) have destroyed the better part of our environment – paving it with concrete. When you travel by air you are reassuringly shown that this isn't the case. Which is not to say the landscapes were anything “natural” - obviously, the patches of farmland owe everything to the interference of man – but it is a comfort to know an aerial view of Europe is not yet grey. In fact, as things are, it is always a welcome sight to glimpse a city below.

Of course, capitalism does its best to ruin things – even this high above the clouds. British Airway's “High Life Shop” trolley comes around, offering the chance of duty free shopping whilst you fly (as if that time marooned at the airport, surrounded by digital cameras, perfume and cigarettes, wasn't enough). Quite why anyone would fancy buying a bottle of Channel No.5 or Grouse Whiskey from a cart on the plane, is anyone's guess. Sure, the alps are coming into view below, the majestic peaks of the mountains, breaching the clouds in a way I can only describe as painfully beautiful, but sure. Go shopping.

The alps are genuinely magnificent. Especially when we pass over a green, forested valley, with a lake at its center and now atop its peaks. For a time over the mountains, nothing is visible but the thickest clouds. But even this has its own beauty to it.

Landing in Venice, I was surprised to find how comforted I was by familiarity. Upon leaving the airport, I was greeted by a huge banner with the Barcelona football team – comprised of South Americans, Africans and Europeans - on it (advertising a Turkish airline in Italian – if ever there was a better example of internationalism: I haven't seen it). I saw a BMW dealership, a bus advertising Camp Rock 2 and, later in my hotel room, saw Maroon 5 on Italian MTV.

The overall theme seemed to be “we're all the same”. Of course, I'd always known that in a glib, liberal, humanist sort of way – but I was struck by how true it really is. Seeing everywhere from Kent to Venice, more or less looking the same from the air, was both disappointing and reassuring. As was seeing that Italian roadsides are no more glamorous than British ones and that Italian infants are no less annoying on public transport then our own. It was all curiously life affirming. I have a theory that if everyone was sent into space for ten minutes to look at, and contemplate, the earth: it would end all conflict. Maybe that's bullshit, but the farther you zoom out, surely the more trivial disputes come to seem and differences come to seem smaller too.

Anyway, enough sanctimonious preaching. After landing in Venice I was struck by the fact that in every direction and round every corner is something beautiful. Ridiculously beautiful. Take the most amazing building you've seen in London and surround it with a thousand more just as nice or nicer: this is Venice. I took a lot of photos at first (which annoyingly this notebook I am borrowing won't let me upload) but I had to stop. I realised, if I take pictures of every thing of beauty I encounter: I won't have time to do anything else.

So, first evening in Venice, thanks to the delay of the flight I missed the early showing of the new Donnie Yen movie, which I said I might try to see (though the next day I saw the man himself). Instead I caught up with Jon (Splendor Cinema) and drank strange and potent Lithuanian liquors with a array of beautiful people from all over Europe (I was the only Brit and the only person with only one language, among over 100 people). I took several Vaparetto rides around the city and saw the sunset over the domed skyline. Wonderful already.

I will now go downstairs and have my first Italian breakfast at my hotel. Which is run by an Indian bloke called Roy, who is fluent in Indian, Italian, English, German, Spanish and French, no less....

... that was this morning's entry, but I couldn't post it (no internet for me unless I'm in the press area at the Lidocasino). Since then I have seen the amazing 'Black Swan' - the new film by Darren Aronofsky's new film. It blew me away totally. I wrote a quick-fire first impression on my blackberry and sent it to my editor at Obsessed with Film and he put it up. It then got quoted by another site pretty soon afterwards! Anyway, full review to follow. I then went to the press conference with the director and stars Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel, which I will also write up later for OWF.

After that: the perfect antidote for 'Black Swan'. A really naff Chinese comedy called 'Showtime'. It was a light-hearted film with one eye on the 'Step Up'/'Street Dance' audience, an obvious influence in the direction and choreography. Very weird, involving time travel and super powers of some kind. I really didn't understand it, I guess. But most people seemed to share that feeling, with a packed auditorium being way under half full by the film's end, with walk outs visible throughout. I hope director, Stanley Kwan, wasn't there!

Now I'm off to see if I can score some 'Machete' tickets for midnight's world premiere. Wish me luck!

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