Jonathan Brun

All Roads Lead to Rome

I do not have time to write anything, so here is a very quick guide to a few things in Rome that should be done by the backpack traveller. Profanity included.


Hear me now and believe me later,

In Rome make sure to go to the Borghese museum in the Borghese park, it has the best sculptures in the world. No exaggeration. It is small and you need to make reservations in advance as there are limited tickets but make sure to do that. Like as in if you do not do this museum and jerk off to some sculptures you will seriously be downgraded in my books.

Check out the all the tourist places and watch your wallet at all times. If the line up for the coliseum is ridiculously long (which it will be) you can get your ticket at the entrance to the park that is on top of the old school stuff just upwards of the coliseum. It is a dual ticket that gives you access to Nero’s palace and park and to the Coliseum (it is the same ticket you would get at the Coliseum).

Go to the gelateria near the fontana trevi, it is a very famous one and is a couple streets in back of the fountain and it has a big poster of an article in the new york times outside and it is probably the best ice cream in the world.

Try and hit up the other side of the river at the district called trastevere (or something like that). But since you do not have much time you may have to pass.

The vatican is pretty cool shit but the actual church is not. Check out the museum and when you head out there make sure to wear pants, not shorts (or they won’t let you in) and get there early or you will have to wait in line in the sun for a long ass while. The sistine chapel is sweet so take your time in there and check out the other cool stuff in the Pope’s crib.

There is a really good restaurant behind the church on the piazza navona and make sure to get buffalo mozzerella. The restaurant has posters on the outside of the place posted on the walls of the building and tables jammed packed with people and their might be a small line up. Make sure to eat outside and be friendly with your waiter and you should be able to get some free limoncello. It is on a street parallel to the piazza and is an offshoot of the street with all the little shops that suck in tourists, try and avoid those places.

There are a lot of small churches (notably one south the colleseum which used to hold the vatican prior to St. Peters and a small one on the road that is directly parallel to the ruins of ancient rome and the coliseum) that are less visited and very nice. do not try to buy drugs as the arabs will rip your balls off.

Also make sure to sign up for the pub crawl and get some flyers when you are at the vatican or at another tourist spot; or when you go to pay just bargain and say that you lost the flyers. It significantly reduces the price but the pub crawl is a lot of fun and you will definitely have a good time, al-might one with loud americans. The pub crawl I took starts at the piazza that has the hooded dude statue in the middle and is the only piazza in rome without a church. The pub crawl will be a lot of fun so hit it up friday or saturday if you are not too tired (as in if you don’t; you will be further downgraded in the Brun Hierarchy of living creatures).

Almost all the hostels in Rome are near the train station and, well, frankly, they are all kind of sketch; so don’t leave your valuable italian belongings in the hostel. Try and pick up some chicks to do the pub crawl with you and I guarantee you will get some serious foreign ass.

Spanish steps are prime real estate for pick pocketing lonely, clueless mexicans/italians, so be careful. Pantheon is very cool and the view from the Emanuelle II is solid as well as the museum that is to the right of it (when facing the monument) (NOT UNDER IT).

You will also notice water spewing out of fountains all over the city. The water is from natural springs found under Rome’s various hills (7 in ancient rome) but much more now. It was this natural source of fresh water that allowed rome to have up to 1 million inhabitants (a feat which was not equaled until industrial london in the 19th century). So that history lesson means you can drink the water from the fountains and if you don’t: you’re a tourist pussy.

If you want any more info contact me.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself,

Jonathan

Published on July 14, 2006

Guns, Germs and Happiness

The question of what is important in life is perhaps as unsolvable as any of the large philosophical issues. However, it remains of interest to try and decipher what humans want, need, and what society actually encourages them to do. Should we place work over pleasure? A job over a family? Of course, most people will say that we need to balance the two necessities, but where is that balance to be placed? Europeans take three times as much vacation as their American counterparts – yet their economies keep running and there is a general pleasantness to being and living on the Continent. Despite their smaller homes, smaller cars, and smaller roads – they outlive Americans, Canadians, and Australians. In fact, if we looked at the hours spent on the job, Europeans are more efficient than Americans. There was a recent rating of countries according to their “happiness factor”; unsurprisingly, developed economies were not at the top of the list – though Europe did top the developed world. The index can be found here:

Happiness Index

So should we value a new car every year or spending more time with our children? Of course the choice is never as clear as that. Increased industrialization means more jobs and technology. Technology generates comforts like heating, clean water, and medicine to help us live longer and more comfortably. Which, leads to the point that everything is connected. You cannot go to work without a mode of transportation – which likely pollutes; causing harm to the environment, you, your family and your neighbor. Without relying on the overused adage of the Butterfly Effect and Chaos theory, we need to start appreciating the connections between our actions and the planet’s reaction. So where to draw the line? I think it becomes important to identify what truly enhances our lives and what is simply consumption for the sake of consumption.

In my humble opinion, advertisement and marketing should be, by and large, banned. For the vast majority of people, it incites them to purchase, consume and dispose of items they would not have otherwise acquired – all of which leads to more work. This cycle is what drives capitalism and is one of the main reasons that communism failed – not that I am espousing Marx’s flawed theory. A well-known (but fake) story is of how NASA spent millions of dollars to create a pen that worked in the zero gravity environment of space. In the vast emptiness of space there is no gravity to push the ink downwards and onto the paper. These millions of dollars devoted to R&D produced an impressive engineering feat. More importantly, the money created prototypes, reports, testing facilities, and jobs; feeding the fire of capitalism. The communist Russians used a pencil.

I recently read “Lost Horizon”, written in the 1930s by James Hilton. In this novel, a Tibetan monk of European origin simply stated, “Laziness in doing stupid things can be a great virtue”. This simple statement illustrates what is needed in society – a hesitance to work for the sake of work. On a similar note, it is said that the Army looks for a certain type of person to become officers: lazy, but very smart. The antithesis, hard working and stupid, is detrimental to the Army or private employer. Someone who continues to work without stopping to think whether what he is doing is worthwhile is a horrible thing. Though of use to the tyrant, he is of little use to himself or humanity. On the gates of the concentration camps in Fascist Germany, it stated quite simply, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, or “Hard Work will set you Free”. This statement is quite true – work will set you free. Free from family, free from philosophy, free from emotion, free from creativity and consequently, free from humanity. As a society we must start to realize what kinds of work are needed and what type of work can be avoided.

One will counter argue that unnecessary work is necessary to keep the economy growing and technology improving. Any meddling by social scientists (though I do not believe in that term) and politicians invariably leads to lower production and less “wealth”. To a certain extent this remains valid, but only when we look at wealth in the form of bricks of gold. You can have wealth of emotions, wealth of thought, and wealth of experience – none of which count towards your nations GDP. Waste and consumption of mindless junk – now largely produced in Asia – seems like the underlying cause of pollution (of both the mind and body) and the now-so-chique Global Warming.

Again, a common argument will be, “go tell a poor African or Chinese that they were better off without electricity and running water”. I would never claim that to be true, rather the thrust of my argument is that we must avoid waste so that we can provide for the truly needy. I do not know the numbers, but the quantity of food thrown out by North American restaurants, grocers and consumers on a daily basis is likely sufficient to feed the entire needy population of Africa, South America and Asia. In fact, during my time in Asia, I experienced the “new” wealth of China. In The People’s Republic of China, it is very typical for the nouveau riche to demonstrate their wealth by ordering three times more food than could possibly be consumed by the dinner party. In a country that was starved to death for 50 years, this ability to purchase and throw out is the ultimate demonstration of wealth.

More worrying than the simple tasteless gesture is the illustration of the have-not’s perception of wealth. The Chinese perceive wealth as an ability to waste – and sadly, in most cases throughout the world, this relationship holds true. How can we possibly change this engrained sociological trend? I do not know. Yet it certainly starts with education. All elementary schools should teach moderation and respect for the environment alongside English and Mathematics. We need to create a society of humility, emphasizing respect for the planet and our fellow man.

In the words of American Psycho character Patrick Bateman,

“Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless, and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. Most importantly, we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people.”

Indeed Mr. Bateman. Yet, the true moral of American Psycho is that the truly wealthy are so rich they can throw out human lives – not just food.

Published on July 13, 2006

Vive La France

It is the world cup final tomorrow and the unlikely match of France-Italy will provide much entertainment. My only concern is that should France win (and I am rooting for them), the entire French nation may decide that the exploits of Zidane and Les Bleus compensate for the tremendous issues facing the nation. France has many issues it refuses to face and when a politician attempts to do so, they are destroyed.

Most recently, this was seen when Domenique de Villepin was taken apart because of his proposed ammendments to the employment act. France needs to take a hard look in the mirror and decide where they want to go. I do not believe in the American system, but the French one is failing too.

In response to M. Le Pen’s comments that the French national team had too many blacks and arabs on it; M. Domenech, the French coach appropriately stated, “Vive la France, mais pas la France de M. Le Pen”.

Published on July 9, 2006

Brazil, Corruption, and International Sports


As France eliminated the football super power Brazil, many people wondered how it could be. Though I am French, I did not know very much about football until this FIFA World Cup. Upon reading various documents about strategy and history, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the beautiful sport.

Many people wondered how it could be that France eliminated Brazil. I believe the explanation is rather simple; the Brazilian players, though superior in talent, lacked the motivation. Only seven of the twenty-two players play during the season in Brazil and the greatest player, Ronaldo, stated in 1998 that he would never return to play in Brazil, regardless of the price. Brazilian soccer industry is infected with the most potent form of corruption and incompetence. The stadiums where the great Pelé played, are falling apart, teams are not competitive and a meager 4 000 people typically show up to a league match. With a football industry in shambles, it is no wonder that the Brazilian players lack the motivation. Brazilian clubs are not poor; in the past twenty years, they have sold 700 million dollars worth of players to European clubs. Not to mention foreign investment which have injected millions of dollars, which were funneled to the club owner’s bank accounts in the Bahamas. When it comes to a national team, regardless of the sport, the reason they usually win or lose is because of their motivation. An Olympic athlete once told me, appropriately, that professional sports are 90% psychological and 10% physical.

That is not to discount France, which has leadership from Zidane and amazing talent in the form of Henry, Viera and recently, Ribery. I actually believe France will win the cup this year and bring to a close the era of Zidane.

On another note, professional sports are exactly like horse racing or F1. It is a game that rich men play against each other in the attempt to demonstrate their superiority. To develop players, then buy, sell, and trade them to pit against one another in competition. Much like other things in society, organized sports and their fans are a very interesting phenomenon worthy of further analysis.

Published on July 4, 2006

Taegukgi, Film, Civil War and the Human Mind


Tae Guk Gi is an epic Korean War movie that I believe is one of the greatest war movies ever. It tells the story of two brothers who are sent off to the Korean War. The older brother takes the riskiest missions available in the vain hope that he will be able to send his younger brother home. The war destroys their family and their country. This film is one of the goriest war movies I have seen and a large portion of it is devoted to battle scenes. This begs the question, how much violence in a war movie is too much and how much is too little.

Nota Bene: If you want an in-depth review of the plot, the following site is pretty good: Click Here

A war movie is a war movie because it concerns war. Despite the obvious redundancy of that comment, there is little doubt that battle should be the main thrust of the film, but we must concern ourselves with two aspects of the depictions of battle scenes: 1. Their length vis-à-vis the film’s length and 2. Their depth, meaning the goriness and proximity to a true battle scene. I firmly believe that both elements must be adhered to to the point of the audience thinking it may be slightly too much. If there is any hope of conveying the horrors of war to a popcorn munching audience, the audience must at the very least be made to feel uncomfortable. If the battle scenes are too ‘light’ then the audience may come across with a sugar coated version of the front lines. At the same time, overly gruesome scenes can turn an audience off the more human aspects of war – broken minds, broken families and broken lives.

The next thing that this film does, which I believe is very important, is its presentation of the war for what it was: a terrible civil war backed by foreign powers. Fighting on home soil is something that all North Americans and some Europeans are out of touch with. I have always maintained that it is entirely different to send your armies off to a foreign land as opposed to having the mortars and bullets landing near your childhood home. In civil war, it is the civilians who suffer the most. Families are torn apart, homes are destroyed and friends turn on each other. This film is probably the first one that really shows a civil war.

After watching it for a second time, there is an important scene at the beginning, which foreshadows all that is to come. The soon-to-be wife of one of the brothers shows a bag of barley, which she obtained at a communist rally. She states that it is impossible to get good food and that “she would kill for food like this”. That’s what civil war is. Rarely is it about political ideology or great injustice, more often than not, people switch sides, turn on neighbors and commit unthinkable crimes for food and land. Ideologies and racial tension are the symptoms of resource shortages, not the other way around. A closer look at Rwanda, Sudan, and other conflicts often demonstrate how a few evil people take advantage of a weakened country to manipulate it to their ends.

Another main reason that this film remains so powerful is due to its two main characters. The film revolves around their love and hate for each other. The human mind cannot conceptualize large-scale events very well. We cannot imagine the size of the planet, the atmosphere, the universe, war or genocide. Of course, when we are told for the first time that six million Jews were gazed by the Nazis, we sit back and realize what evil humanity is capable of. However, try and imagine six million unique faces, their families, their fear and innocence and we simply draw a blank. Just as computers have technical limitations, so too does the human brain. We have a limited capacity to imagine and place unique items. Numerous studies confirm this truth; notably, the vast majority of the population can only place six musical tones in order, above six tones, we begin to mess them up and cannot properly arrange them.

This of course does not apply to the musically inclined, but it does apply to most people. On the same note, the majority of the population has difficulty seeing large events on their full scale. For that reason, a story that follows the plight of one person or a single family is much more powerful than a documentary about the entire conflict. On a personal level, I was much more deeply touched when I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam than when I visited the concentration camps in Germany. This film conveys to the full extent the sacrifices that one family member makes to the other in the context of a large conflict and the consequent destruction of his humanity.

One last point that is worthy to be retained from this film is how far we, and the Koreans, have come. In a little of fifty years, South Korea has become a top technological and economic power. The atrocities of this war are unthinkable to today’s youth and we should be thankful for our ignorance. War is perhaps the worst aspect of humanity’s power and must be avoided. Appeasement is not the solution, but education, communication and cooperation is. Communist China has become an international powerhouse out of its own will, full-blow war was not needed to destroy Soviet Russia, India slowly developed its own potential, South Korea is exactly the same geographic dimensions as before the war and the few African countries that are doing okay are the ones which were not privy to colonialism or foreign aid. Political change can only be brought about from the inside and foreign intervention has never worked. For that reason, the Iraq war cannot and will not be brought to a promising conclusion anytime soon. The people of the country are the ones with the keys to success and no foreign power, no matter their might, can overcome that.

This film remains very important because it demonstrates the particular atrocities of a civil war from the perspective of the people who lived it, not the foreign saviors or criminals.

Published on July 3, 2006