July 29, 2013

Mexican Vacation Day 1: Your In-Flight Movie is TO ROME WITH LOVE

"I call that futile feeling, 'Ozymandias Melancholia.'"
Right now I'm sitting on a beach in Tulum, sipping on a lime daiquiri and staring out over the water.*  This is my current view of the beach (and my hairy-ass legs):

I want every day to be like this.

Yesterday was the first travel day of our belated first anniversary trip to Mexico.  (Our anniversary is in May, but the life of a teacher doesn't exactly encourage weeklong vacations during the school year.)  Our flight was scheduled to depart at 6:45 AM, but fortunately we live about five minutes from the airport, so after we cruised through security we started our day by eating breakfast burritos in the terminal, sitting in rocking chairs and watching the sun rise over East Boston.  Not a terrible way to kick off a vacation.  Since it was an early flight on a Wednesday, the plane was not particularly crowded and we boarded pretty swiftly, but after we pulled out from the gate we almost immediately turned around and went back, with the pilot citing some sort of ambiguous "mechanical failure."  After sitting at the gate for 15 minutes, they told us that the issue was something that could, "get a waiver for," (incredible reassuring) and that we would take on extra fuel for a backup generator (also reassuring) and then be on our way.  We pulled back from the gate a second time and were then treated to a repeat of the required safety announcements because we had taken on two new passengers while waiting at the terminal.  As we taxied to the runway, the plane emitted a new, rhythmic banging sound, which is exactly what you want to hear after being told that were flying on a mechanical hall pass.  But we made it to Atlanta without incident, where we got to have a quick bite with our friend Billman and his adorable son Henry, who spent most of the time running laps around the airport rotunda and staring in rapt fascination at the white SUV on display in the seating area.  I tried to steer his attention to the giant dinosaur skeleton located 50 feet to the left, but to no avail.  What can I say?  Kid knows what he likes.

I knocked out my film for the day on the first leg of our trip, Woody Allen's To Rome With Love.  Allen is pretty much the definition of a prolific filmmaker, literally having churned out a new movie every year of my life.  With that kind of frequency there are plenty of misses among his various hits, but he's still a filmmaker I really appreciate.  Certain writers have a cadence and rhythm to their dialogue that hits you on a base, visceral level.  For me, that list includes Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet and Neil LaBute; they have a style that's so specific that you can usually tell you're watching one of their movies even without seeing the credits.  Allen sort of drifts on and off that list depending on the film.  To Rome With Love is basically half on and half off.  The film consists of four separate storylines, two of which did nothing for me.  One has Roberto Benigni as an average Italian citizen who turns into a celebrity overnight for no reason at all, enjoys the benefits of fame, falls prey to all of the typical trappings of notoriety, then loses his status just as abruptly as he acquired it and finds himself suddenly craving the attention which had previously annoyed him.  The whole thing is essentially a fable demonstrating that old Vulcan proverb, "Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting.  It is not logical, but it is often true."  It all feels very trite and, moreover, a waste of Benigni's talents.  Another story follows a newlywed couple honeymooning in Rome.  The husband gets caught in a case of mistaken identity and has to pretend that a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) is his wife while his actual wife gets lost in the big city and is wooed by a film star.  It's like low-rent Shakespeare but sadly kind of pointless.

The other two plots fare much better.  One has Allen himself as a retired opera producer who travels to Rome to meet the family of his daughter's fiancee.  He discovers that the future groom's father is actually a startlingly talented singer, but only when he's in the shower.  Allen pushes him to perform in public, eventually staging a performance of Pagliacci in which his future in-law is wheeled on stage in a portable shower.  The story is okay, marked by Allen's typical neurotic performance and the incredible singing of real life opera performer Fabio Armiliato.  I've never been a big opera fan, but you have to be basically dead inside not to appreciate such beautiful music.  The real winner is the last story, featuring Alec Baldwin as an architect who's reliving a former romance from his younger days living in Rome.  He tags along and watches his former self (Jesse Eisenberg) slowly fall for the best friend (Ellen Page) of his current girlfriend (Greta Gerwig).  Baldwin acts as his own spirit guide, offering the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight and trying to talk Eisenberg out of making the same mistakes again, though in the end he's content to watch it all play out and simply appreciate his younger point of view.  The performances of all four leads are absolutely enchanting and the give and take between Baldwin and Eisenberg is both sharp and hilarious.  Someone put these two in a full length story together, STAT.

We eventually landed in Cancun and, after making our way through customs, we walked across the street to acquire our rental car.  The attendant, a young guy named Carlos was extremely friendly and helpful despite having to deal with two different American assholes, one of whom rudely barged up the counter to interrupt me because the agency had the temerity to give him a Nissan Versa instead of a Volkswagon Jetta.  After the man and his shrill wife berated poor Carlos over something that was clearly out of his control (and also utterly inconsequential), I felt so embarrassed on behalf of all Americans that I immediately apologized to Carlos for the couple's awful behavior.  He just shrugged it off and said that he'd upgrade us from the compact car we'd reserved to the full size car the other man had refused.  In other words, their dickery was our gain.

It was about a ninety minute drive to the beachside town of Tulum and our adorable hotel, Posada Luna del Sur.  It instantly reminded me of the hotel we stayed at in Santorini during our honeymoon, complete with a sitting area, kitchenette and a patio.  It was extremely charming and homey.  We walked out into the town and hit up a local restaurant called Charlie's, where we loaded up on strong margaritas, guacamole, lime soup, mole enchiladas and fish tacos, along with a basket of chips and the greatest, spiciest house salsa I've ever tasted.  (Sidenote: all that deliciousness cost about $30, which would have been a steal just for the five margaritas.)

By the time we were finished with dinner, our utter lack of sleep had caught up with us so we crashed for the night, dreaming of beaches and delicious frozen beverages...

*Not actually.  Due to a pronounced lack of reliable wifi access in our Mexican travels, I ended up handwriting all of my entries over the course of my vacation.  There was actually something incredibly satisfying about properly writing with pen and ink in a hardbound leather book, even if it does mean I'm going to have to spend a lot of time transcribing what I've already written.

Title: To Rome With Love
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Paige, Greta Gerwig, Woody Allen, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Begnini
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: Digital Copy (iPad)

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