Saturday, March 8, 2014

No. 89 – Really Want to Know You / Fear of a Blank Planet

Performer: Gary Wright
Songwriters: Gary Wright, Ali Thomson
Original Release: The Right Place
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: None.


Performer: Porcupine Tree
Songwriter: Steven Wilson
Original Release: Fear of a Blank Planet
Year: 2007
Definitive Version: The studio version, although there’s a lot to like about the version that’s on Atlanta.

I make no apologies for my love of Gary Wright. That said, this entry is going to be more about the other Johnny-come-very-lately-but-very-greatly song.

I discovered Fear of a Blank Planet, the album, in 2012, well after this here blog was underway. I knew on first listen that it was incredible: It’s Porcupine Tree’s best in my opinion, even better than Deadwing. And this song …

If Fear of a Blank Planet existed, and I had found it, back when I was a teenager, the song probably would be top 50, maybe even top 25. I guess this is as high as I could justify it considering I’ve known it for less than 2 years. Only one other song this high on my list is something that I heard for the first time less than five years ago.

I know I run the risk that, say, five years from now, I’ll look at this list and wonder what I was thinking to have Fear of a Blank Planet rated this high. It’s possible, but more likely I think if I were to do this here list again in 5 years—and I won’t—this song would be rated even higher. I know what I like.

I bought Fear of a Blank Planet in August 2012 and then Atlanta a month later, because, as I mentioned a while ago, I wanted something new to listen to during the flight to Italy. I played Fear of a Blank Planet maybe every day over there but certainly every day Laurie and I were in Florence.

The primary focus of our second full day in Florence was the Uffizi Gallery, which if isn’t the largest collection of Medieval and Renaissance paintings in the world, it has to be in the top five. By the end of our tour, Laurie was saying that Uffizi was Italian for torturous, and I wasn’t about to argue.

Our incredibly long day started with lining up to get tickets. We bought ahead, so our line, like the one the day before to see David (good ol’ No. 123), was shorter than the line for those who bought tickets the day of (why anyone would want to do that is beyond me). Unfortunately, a computer snafu just as it was time to start doling out tickets made it so our line didn’t move at all … for a half-hour.

Laurie and I didn’t have anything better to do, so we were there for the duration. Another couple, right in front of us, weren’t so forgiving, or at least the husband wasn’t. At the half-hour mark, he said “my time is worth more to me than this,” and he and his mortified wife split … when their tickets were bought and paid for! I only can imagine the fight that took place back in their hotel.

Naturally, and perhaps karmically, the line began to move less than five minutes later. Within 15 minutes, we headed to the museum entrance while singing that we had a golden ticket, Willie Wonka style.

The museum was huge, but the real problem, aside form its sheer size, was the nature of its collection. I mean, how many versions of the Annunciation, Madonna and Child, Adoration of the Magi and Christ on the Throne can one see in one day? Botticelli’s Birth of Venus—the Uffizi’s most famous painting—was a welcome variation.

Actually, my favorite part of the Uffizi were the huge hallways, which have elaborate paintings on the ceiling, a la the Sistine Chapel, and busts of various Roman leaders. Given time and distance, we forget that Julius Caesar, Nero and Caligula were real people before they became notorious legends.

Not content with just doing the Uffizi, Laurie and I then hiked over Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. When we hiked to Piazzale Michelangelo two days before, we noticed this amazing garden to the north and decided to check it out.

What we didn’t know, or at least appreciate ahead of time, was how Boboli Gardens was built more or less on the side of a hill. We probably doubled the mileage we put on our feet at the Uffizi, and this time it was all uphill and downhill. It was worth the effort, but by the end of the day, we were whipped. We had planned to go out a bit after dinner, but we only made it through dinner at a quiet enoteca off Piazza Santa Croce before collapsing in a heap back in our room.

The next day, our last in Florence before heading to Cinque Terre, was devoted to shopping. Laurie wanted to hit the marketplace to shop for leather; I wanted to find Pinocchio pull toys for my nieces and nephew. We bought a few things and ended up in the Piazza della Repubblica at a café called Gilli, founded in 1733, for cocktail hour.

For dinner that night, we went back to Barco San Lorenzo. I was in search of a Florentine specialty: Bistecca alla Fiorentina. You wouldn’t think Italy would be known for its steak, but it was as good as any I’ve had here, and to top it off, the waiter brought a bottle of limoncello to the table, compliments. Viva Firenze!

It was time to leave the next day, a Sunday, so we packed up, checked out and squeezed into the tiny elevator one more time before hiking back over the cobblestone streets to the train station. We enjoyed our stay in Florence, although we agreed we liked Venice better and were looking forward to Cinque Terre.

Our train pulled up at the appointed hour, and we climbed aboard, taking seats across from each other, all the better to set my computer on the table between us. We had a bit of a wait before our departure, and other people boarded the train. Then our time of departure came and went with us still sitting there. What’s going on?

As soon as I heard the word “strike,” I knew we were in trouble. Other riders were getting off the train, so we did, too, and we quickly learned the truth: A 24-hour strike of small rail lines had been called. It began at 21:00 the previous night. The big lines—the train we’d taken from Venice to Florence, for example—weren’t affected. It was only lines to outlying areas, such as, say, Cinque Terre.

We had no idea this was going on, and we had no idea the enormity of the problem, but it quickly became evident as the line to customer service snaked across the station floor out the door. The departure board showed no signs of trouble other than that certain routes were “delayed,” not canceled. We thought maybe we’d get out on a later run, but each time we’d see the next train to Cinque Terre on the board, it would count down until the time of departure. Then the board would flash “delayed.” We were stuck.

We had two choices: Hang out in the train station all day in hopes of snagging a late train out or switch our tickets to tomorrow, go back to Hotel Europa and hope to heck that Roberto and Miriam had an extra room available. We decided, reasonably, on the latter.

Switching the tickets was no problem—and no extra money—so now we had to hike back through the cobblestone streets, again, and pile into Hotel Europa’s tiny elevator, again, and, hopefully, check back in. We also had to call our place in Cinque Terre and let them know why we weren’t coming. Laurie wasn’t looking forward to trying to communicate our situation over the phone in Italian.

Roberto was surprised to us back, and we told him what happened. He said he knew nothing about a strike but that they were fairly common. It should be fine tomorrow, he assured us. Even better, he had a room. It wasn’t the same one, but it was less expensive than our original room. Best of all, he said he’d call and take care of the situation in Cinque Terre.

Well, there certainly are worse things than being “stuck” in Florence, Italy, so Laurie and I unpacked, threw on our walking-around clothes and went back out into it. I wanted to go inside il Duomo now that we had extra time.

We went to an ATM to get more euros and hiked down a different street. We came across a place called Hotel California. Although Laurie and I don’t like the freakin’ Eagles, man, we couldn’t miss the symbolism: You can check out any time you like in Florence, but you can never leave.

Il Duomo was just as impressive inside as out. One tour allows you to hike up inside the dome to the top and then around a walkway outside. Given my vertigo, I passed.

Aside from that, the rest of the day was a carbon copy of the previous day: lots of walking aimlessly, shopping (I got an Italian flag) and then cocktails at Gilli as the sun set. That night, I had the other Florentine specialty: pasta cinghiale, or wild boar. It was OK, more like beef than pork.

The next day, Laurie and I hiked back to the train station, but as soon as we arrived, we could see that all the routes seemed to be operational. No delays were on the board. The strike was as advertised—24 hours, and that’s it. Still, we had a bit of hesitation when we got on our train to Cinque Terre for the second time … until it began to move. Whew.

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