On route to the mecca: Chicago – Lake Geneva

After spending most of the morning writing and recharging device, and have one of the best warm shower ever (a very small bathroom, but with the perfect bathtub and shower hose). We are ready to go to Lake Geneva for an 1h and half drive.

But! Before than that I need to describe the house of my friend. He lives on a flat on a 2nd floor in an actually building house. All the houses looks like real American big houses made of wood (or alternative the neighborhood had plenty of nice red brick houses). They look all bigger than the usual houses of where I use to live in Plymouth, Britain. As the british, each house has his own front garden and backgarden, a patch of land that everyone seem to use differently. The front garden is normally bare (apart from some festivity decoration) while the back garden has more things like a trampoline jump, or some classic park toys like a slide, or some hoops for the kids to play with.

In my case my friend shared the garage with the other person living on the 1st floor, and funny enough the other car was running on electrical, and it was charging safely in the garage. So happy to see that electrical car a thing in USA. Fuel here it is incredibly cheap, like 3.9 $ per I guess gallon (or whatever metric system they use).

The house of my friend decorative entrance, is a mix of a weapon shop of many katana blades, few bowie knives and an amazing fighting axe, a collection on fighting books, comics, manga and RPG games, an amazing amount of miniatures, 3d printing resin device, and original boxes of more than 40 years ago about D&D and other games, and obviously various tools for training (many kettles, training bag and training matte).

The house is very long, a 3 room bedroom (for himself, his partner and the two daughters), a nice big living room (doubling up as nursery, because the partner take care of kids, I saw a little nice 3 year old boy called Larson and he was so shy and adorable).

The daughter of Keith, Val, she get up at 7 am and go to work with first light of the day, taking 2 buses and a 40 minute drive to go to a school where they teach her playing after the normal hours of learnings. That’s dedication (for the coldness and the distance), the normal school it would be otherwise 3 minutes walking from this neighborhood.

Anyway, I was saying before, we are ready to take a drive. We hop to a quick sandwich place, and here I had my first CUBANO sandwich (not original obviously but closest thing that I could get) and I tell you, for the rest of the day I wasn’t thinking anything else on how damn delicious was the sandwich with a nice mustard and meat. Again I noticed that the price are a little bit steeper than Barcelona and again I am sure it is because quality in USA it is paid. Until know the food is never too much out of proportion, but for sure it is always a good dish to fill you up. Funny enough the orange juice was already juiced with ice in it (why all beverage are iced?), and I enjoyed myself so much that food that I licked my fingers.

We are fed and ready to pick up another man living in nearby in Chicago to share the ride. Mike, is going ahead of his family to Lake Geneva (to play as well), he is a legal lawyer and the family will reach him few days later so that they can enjoy the SPA and the various entertaining facilities while he is gonna have fun at the gaming tables. He is on his 50s and he is very well mannered and we all keep each other company during the drive talking about games, experiences and difficulties to find groups.

The driving it is very easy, the road are very big (5 ways lanes), and the transition from normal road to interstate road is about seemless with no really stopping points. They use the wireless device attached to cars to I guess pay whatever invisible tall that some motorway reader is picking up.

As we make way upstate, the surrounding becomes more green, and more rural. So much that everytime that I see a barn, I cannot stop to think about all the movies where Superman grew up. Again the deja-vu of nowing america but without really knowing it kicking in. We see dairy farms, but I don’t see any cattle or horses by the motorway. I see the classic buildings that make me think of South park style of life of a small America and again, everything feel familiar. The banks being just simple red brick building (exactly like any robberies movies in the USA countryside of Bonnie & Clyde), the churches with theirs letter sign to go and find god this sunday “and everyone is welcome”, and some nice parks where kids from school are playing and training.

As we drop Mike, we go first to our hotel, to drop our stuff called The Ridge which it is an amazing resort. I never being in anything so luxurious (and we pay good bucks), and let me say. Hospitality is done very well and efficiently around here. It looks that this area it is full of these resort, where people come for winter or summer for leisure e, between water pools, outdoor activities, SPA and much more. This area was (I am guessing) a millionaire relaxing ground of the rich people of Chicago, and from here I understand why the Lake Geneva resort was a playboy mansion. Anyway, the place is amazing and the room are essential and amazingly comfy. In less than 10 minutes we are already inside the room, and drop everything and than go to Lake Geneva.

Even so, we decide that a tour around is needed before checking in at the convention. We go to the original house of Gary Gygax, we hit the 1st historical shop of TSR (where the game was sold) and it was converted in a small museum with lot of amazing and in perfect condition books of the 70s. We get welcomed, my friend buy some stuff, I take a small miniature of a Drow (a black/blue elf of the underdark). Than we hit the local library that had the view on the lake (this absolutely looks and feel like a place of the relaxation of the rich, even if very small and cute town), and than the house of Gary Gygax where we roll our die on the porch for good luck. (There is a crew actually shooting, we guess a documentary or maybe it is something related to a future tv series that we think is gonna come out about D&D).

We ride to our final awaited destination and let me tell you if The Ridge was an amazing place, the Lake Geneva it is an OVER THE TOP place around here. With a small horse riding center nearby, a golf course by the Lake, and a super huge filled with restaurants and carpeted amazing floor that makes the event of gaming feel so small in comparison of whatever other event around here.

As we enter, it absolutely smell of Nerds & Geeks, (nothing smell, but the atmosphere r is of the one of gamers all around talking and grouping and find their way the day before the main event.) People with very long beard (some really with amazing white wizard beards), long black coats (cowboy style with hat included), big massive people that I look slim in comparison, geeky t-shirts of all kind of jokes, sci-fi & fantasy known to human, or from various great gaming USA conventions.

We explore the grounds, and this place is MASSIVE. Now we have an idea of the lay of the land, and where the various gaming rooms take places. We find the headquarters, we have a quick lunch (in the amazing gigantic gathering room) with a very attentive and very young and beautiful staff serving us and than we make our way to the big queue to get our badges that identify us for the games.

The queue is long, but we make chit chat with a lot of people along the way making friends and sharing gaming stories, there are professional photographers making photos all around. We are on the end of the line, and they offer us a free local beer called The Spotted Cow. It is a simple lager and I take it without hesitation to kill some time.

We take the badges, and I almost cry a teardrop to see my name and the conference badge in my name. It means a lot. A fantasy that actually become reality. An impossibility of a very improbable thing to do in life, but at the end I am really really here. As gamer, gaming with gamers that helped the biggest game be what it is.

Than we go to a welcome party (not really a party, but more some free food and some drinks) to just talk with other peoples. We got some casual chat, and I get to meet a chemist for medical and a master sommelier. D&D is for everyone really and that is amazing, so much that the I am actually on the younger side of the people attending over here. So many people with incredible long white beards, all wizard in disguise obviously. I meet and talk with some more people, some people recognized me ahead of a post that I made saying that I was coming from Europe, and I must say it was fun to have italian-descent or related ancestry coming to me and speaking about their families and traditions, it make me feel and I am guess even them more connected.

Arriving the late evening, we look for some random games in-promptu (nothing scheduled just improvised), and we find one organised by people called “the Order of the Owl”, a certain Mark Hull friend of the past G. Gygax, and he is gonna run a 1st edition D&D one shot about “Killin a Dragon”. We are all lvl 10, we have full on magic items, we are 10 of us (which normally it is a very huge group), and he tell us, we all gonna die anyway, the dragon is gonna be played OLD SKOOL, which it means, with no hope, no kindness and barely any surviving like old time sake. Like G. Gygax was playing… this is literally a passing rod of tradition from Gygax to Mark, and to Mark into us, until he dies for decades to come.

Mark guide us, help us making characters, and we don’t make it really anywhere, but I absolutely have my love crush for this stranger. He is the best Game Master that I ever met, he knows his stuff, he has no hesitation, he is concise and very well descriptive and gets to the point. I am in awe. I am pumped and I don’t feel at all the lack of sleep of the last days, but it is 1 AM, and we need to get up at 8 AM for the next day and for a full day of games.

Reluctantly and very very tired we go back to the car, driving into the night, in a super desert Lake Geneva and eerie with a bit of mist, to our Ridge hotel. It was an amazing day, and one even more amazing is coming ahead.

Arriving in America

This is a first post of many in the following few days about my first experience in America as European. Some of the photo will be missing, because on my main Camera. You will see it later on, on my flickr account once back, but in mainwhile you can have all the photos taken with my phone.

The main reason of this trip is to go to a Convention called Garycon a special event in celebration and remembering of one of the co-authors of what made Dungeon & Dragons (a role playing game, if not the main role playing game that thrive from ‘74 till today with a big hollywood movie with even Hugh Grant & Chris Pine).

We all be remembering him by playing, making friends, sharing stories and passions. Many of the original people of TSR (the company that made D&D) there will be there. This trip is literally the trip to the Mecca of role playing games. Where the game was made, grew and it become famous.

The diabolical screen that froze midflight

My holiday started very very early at 4:30 am in Barcelona, preparing the last few things before leaving my home, and taking the taxi at 6:30 for the airport. The following 14 hours of the trip involve just 2 airplanes (Barcelona -> Madrid -> Chicago), no sleeping, and increase of caffeine in my body, and meeting a super friendly spanish woman from Valladolid head of department Maria Jesus, with which we had very fun and friendly conversation. So much that we exchanged contacts, and she was so happily tell me about her job, going to Huston for work, some funny situations, and her passion for Ballet fitness.

Above the white sky

Of this part of trip I can only say that I was more anxious than anything about losing the flight, having tons of papers with me for any potential situation and control for the USA Boarding control (notorious to be a tough nut), and than everything was quite smoothly. Maybe even for this reason I couldn’t sleep, together with the excitement of traveling and everything else going in my head.

Regardless even if the transit is not the main topic, I wanted to highlight few things.

The movies during the flight

Before my screen froze and abandoned me mid flight to Chicago (of total of 8h flight it was 3.30 still left to go and they felt very very long hours… and coffee despite my adversity for it, it was a burning disgusting blessing).

I was surprise of the great range of movies and even recent ones… discarded immediately the whole Fast and Furious WHOLE series, or any other american or spanish stuff, and gone for choosing international ones.

A japanese movie and a chinese to be exact, for which I suggest everyone to see.

Offbeat Cops

Offbeat Cops start with a very tough crime story with a detective of Crime investigation completely in style of classic Takeshi Kitano old 80’ to than develop his comedic route and light emotional drama and light hearted sensitivity, by pushing the main actor to become part of the Police Band learning to play drums.

This movie show at his perfection, how Japanese way of living has such contrast between rules, and what need to be get done, the incapability of being empathic, and at the same time the need to that human contact that come from such unexpected events, and the hardworking people that they are losing any concept of boundaries between balance of work and family time. I give it a 7/10 just because I love foreign movies.

Chilli Laugh Story

Chilli Laugh Story, instead was a pure comedy gem that it will be forever in my collection of movies! YOU MUST WATCH IT. There are a lot of talented actors and the direction was quite snappy with a lot of classical exaggerated classical Chinese cultural situations that made it absolutely precious.

The plot is about a family during the Pandemic, starting at home an homemade business of making spicy Chili and selling it into the streets. This bring success, unexpected problems, but the focus here of the story it is the family. How important it is, and how frail can be when everyone is self-obsessed with their own life desires.

At the end you see a lot of young actors appearing doing silly gags, for sure this movie is made by a new generation of Chinese comedy people. Something for me to look forward and to track down for more interesting comedy and movies that it will be interesting with time.

Snow and even more snow across North America

The Border Control & The taxi Drive

America asks you, just before landing, if you bring any food that need to be declared. And it looks like that not declaring and if they do inspection, they will bill you with a hefty sum. So as proper good boy scout, I wrote everything to avoid any trouble.

Gift for my host

It looks like that, writing everything, it what took the border control the highlight, and therefore because of Swine Flue in Africa (and obviously being Africa next to Spain or Europe), they decided to throw everything away. Even the careful made sandwich that I was gonna eat made at 4 am. What a waste.

But this highlight something that I discover later, American are used to trash food, like it was nothing. So the cheese and choccolate and wine pass, but any pork/meat will not.

With already my heart broken in pieces because of a nice Salami that I lost going into the trash bin, I get out in just 50 minutes total from the airport to my next mission. Taking a SIM card to have internet.

Luckily until I was in the airport I could connect to some free wifi, but I couldn’t use my new Spanish internet connection because of expensive costs of roaming. But at the airport the choices were very very expensive (from 60$ per 1 month), and nothing less than that. Therefore I decide to just wing it, and make the sim card later.

The free market of taxi drivers

This mean taking a cab/taxi and with my incredible horror, realising a bit too late that I will depend completely on the taxi to take me where I need to go, and that there is not a really regulated taxi of the city (the beauty of free american market), and every taxi looks different, with people of all kind of ethnicity.

So I end up with an Albanian guy, which car was a mess, with a classic Albanian flag attached to the car (americans or people living there for decades are proud about their own origins), no belt, and driving like a very aggressive italian (I felt like home, I must say!). The price was steeper than expected 88$ (but it was a 50min drive), but I thought that on a taxi it would have been less dangerous to move around than taking the Metro/Train system (which Chicago is famous to be an elevated train connection).

I wasn’t nervous, but I decided to go with the flow. Next time I’ll probably experiment with the public transportation (the important is not to have bags with me, which it makes more troublesome to travel), but after seen the movie The Warriors for years I have no idea what to expect, other than gangs fighting me at every stop! 😀

Chicago Elevated Trains

So for the moment Europe 1, America 0 on transportation, even the metro looked very thin and long like the British metro are.

Looking at the streets everywhere felt like some part of the america that I am used to see into movies and tv series. Civilised with alternative wooden houses and brick houses (reminding me Britain, but with more space to expand).

Everyone is driving, and only few people are on the street with the occasional cyclist, and no scooter or motorbike whatsoever.

I pass churches with the classic letter signposts

An example of a church signpost

I pass VOTE for X for Mayor signs hanging all around. The classic lawn pitches signs of retailers. The few houses with easter decorations on the door of their house, and even some with actually bulb lights (the one for Christmas) just hanging around their building.

Arriving at destination

[Images to insert here of the gym]

Arriving at the gym where my contact and online friend Keith Jennings, with which we have played mostly every week for the last 1 year and 3/4 to the toughest and scariest of the adventures, the Curse of Strahd – For people that are not into RPG, understand that this is an adventure that we are playing as we were the main characters of some big TV show like Games of Thrones. It is a big deal, it is very difficult to go on with a same game for more than 1 month, imagine after 1 year.

[Images to insert here of the gym]

Keith welcome me, he is training few people, and I finally can relax in a corner of the big gym organising myself and recharging few things. He is super nice, and I talk with him and as well with his own client that is training about the geekest of stuff while the person that is being trained is taking a moment of relaxing between workout sessions. I would absolutely would train here with gusto. Huge space, lot of tools, a personal trainer motivating and guiding and nice rock music.

[Insert photo here]

If I need to describe Keith, he is very relaxed like American are, and as well in Italy between friends he would be labelled a Metalhead. Absolutely crazy fan of Metallica, and like me crazy fan of role playing games that he discovered during his youth during boy scout.

I finally take out my good camera and start to do a couple of photos around. It is chilly, but inside doesn’t seem to be any heating and it is much more bearable than in my house in Barcelona. Score for America than, we are on 1-1.

It is about 1 am BCN time, and here it is just 6 pm, I go to get caffeinated and this is my first walk into the neighborhood of Chicago. It doesn’t feel like a city at all, it is all pure suburb. I go to a Starbuck, and it feel so weird that Starbuck it is the same, and at the same time it is not. It feels a bit more lived and less perfect than the one in europe.

[Insert photo here]

The biggest female waiter that I ever seen with red air, and the tinest one with brown skin works together and serve me (a terrible) cappuccino and warm cookie chip. Yes america, it taste better in europe.

The smaller size coffee, already is the big drink that I was expecting, and the people that are there only few wear masks and they work on their computer, a couple of people practicing french, and various other people just walking in taking the order and not even saying any other word than the strict necessary to get the coffee and be on the go because busy with their hearphones and texting. Quite disconnected america while being connected.

There are boxes of few used books at the entrance, I am guessing they are for anyone that want to read, but I see no one inside picking any. And being about 7 pm here, the waiter start to throw away all the food on display in the trash. All decent good food that I could have order and eaten, just thrown completely away in my absolutely shock and disdain. And here hit me, how much everything in the way of thinking is use and throw away, especially food.

I go back, the training will soon finish, and we are heading straight to eat with the lovely and sweet teenager daughter of Keith (she goes to a school which teach her to play guitar and bass, and she would like to become a rockstar).

We eat at his favourite burger place (I asked to wanted to try a real American burger), and the place was called Kuma.

Saying hi to our other Internet friends

We have nice big burgers, which they are incredibly tasty. Like in Japan, free refill of water (ice cold water! brrrr….) and the music in the place it is all heavy metal, LOUD heavy metal like in a concert. His daughter order a Mac & Cheese (finally I could see what actually is in person a classic italian recipe very americanised, of Maccheroni al forno gratinati) which I know being a classic in USA.

Keith is so kind to offer dinner, I am more surprised about the price of a burger respect to european standard. So I am guessing that proper meat place cost more, than chain places, which it means you pay for quality. Infact I had to lick completely my fingers, and all the burgers were called after Metal Bands, with a lot of metal posters around, and somehow some old tv series playing in loop (think here the Curtain Red room of Twin Peaks showing in silent with subtitles in background).

I could see the kitchen smoking of hot hot food served as fast as possible, the waiter were very kind and attentive and ready to refill your water. And it was even very normal to just take away all the food leftover to be easily taken back at home (you literally package yourself the food to bring back at home of what you want to bring). I would say that the quantity was a decent portion with a buckload of chips.

Before going home, one last stop (at this moment I was 22h awake straight) to the Mall!!!! And it was amazing how strange and familiar all felt. All those movies about Clerks, The Dawn of the dead, Mallrats, Stranger things… all was there. Familiar and different. The huge parking lots multi-floor. Heated alley with electrical heaters warming no one (or just the people that would wait there for whatever reason). The huge space that occupies the Mall with all the different brands each part with each specialization. We entered Target.

The Mall was huge inside super illuminated, and barely any people were there, or working there. It was a big empty space filled with stuff. I could find even Magic Cards or Pokemon cards which normally in europe they sell only at specialised gaming shops. I didn’t wonder too much (I was low energy), just grab a back of Ritz (which the smallest was extra large, and the others had extra flavours) and checking for Sim cards (all expensive for what I intend to use), and only available were self-checkout machine. No cashiere there. Only one supervising. I must say that technology looked cheaper and very affordable than at home (huge plasma screen at least 100 or 200€ cheaper).

[Insert image of the house from outside]

We go back home. I enter the classic wooden garage with side door that lead to an alley that lead to the front garden and front porch of a wooden house with 2 floors. The top floor is were Keith family lives. Outside is cold and dark. Inside no visible heating system and it is actually a very decent temperature.

Classic super huge double door fridge, an amazing collection of RPG materials, swords, and training gears, poster of all kinds about Metallica, and I stay in this front living room because the rest of the family is already in bed and sleeping.

He prepares me an inflated bed, he add some extra tape to stop an hole, but I fall at sleep faster than this huge air bed, while a constant louder and louder “shhhhh” of the air running out, get all out and I find myself on the floor. I could this as win!

I woke up at 3:30 am in the night. Having slept aproximally 4 hours and something, and try to sleep a bit more, but cannot really catch any deep sleep the fault is for sure of my biological clock used to get up in the morning for work. I am ok with roughing it up. It is what you do when you travel, you get out of your comfort zone, and even today I will survive on Caffeine and pure will and excitement ment of something new out there.

And is in this moment while recharging my device that I write this post, resting while the sun rises on the horizon. And later on today I will write of the new experiences, of an american house, eating probably some deep Chicago Pizza dish, and going to Lake Geneva by car and getting all the sightseeing where D&D was made.

Dreams do not die

Nothing describe a place and his people better than telling a story, mine is about a man of learning, that did impossible.

Ahmed Çelebi (1609-40) was a Turkish scientist living in Istanbul (at the time Constantinopolis) for most of his life. His studies of science and of ancient books lead him to study some principles of physics from the 10th century scientist Ismail Cevheri. This knowledge lead him to test and attempt a unique experiment, to be the first man to fly.

a man jumping out with rudimental wings from an high tower of Istanbul

After have tried nine small successful jumps and gliding in 1636, he was preparing for a long time for his biggest jump. He climbed the ancient italian tower of Galata from where where the whole city was watching him be ready for the jump. He pronounced “Bismillah” (in the name of Allah) and launched himself, gliding toward the Bosphorus with the wings he put attached to his body. Everyone was amazed. Thanks to the wind from the south he flew across the Strait of Istanbul like a bird all over the sea, the one that divide the european Istanbul from the Asiatic one, landing safely on Dogancilar. Thanks to this feat he was awarded a purse of gold as reward from the Sultan Murad IV and all the people start to call him Hezarfen (which means possessing ˝a thousand sciences˝).

map that shown more than 3km flight across the strict of Istanbul

Unfortunately, despite this favor, religious leaders and palace advisers soon made change the mind of the Sultan. The records of Awliya Celebi say that the Sultan said, “It is not permissible for such people to live,” and exiled him to Algeria where he died at the age of 31.

If there is a moral, it is that here religion is what determine everyday life, very very strongly. Manners on how behave in public and rituals like washing before the five prayer of the day are present and somehow living together with the society which is quite modern and running ahead faster than religion. Even internet is not completely free from censorship. Still you feel always present and ongoing at any time of day and night the chaos of the people walking fast and pushing you away from their path in the main street of Taksim, like in the small streets where the Gypsy at night play and dance for the people in paticular festivities for some money. Even so, modernity and tradition feel living perfectly in symbiosis between modern buildings, stone colonial places and very old wooden houses blackened and ruined by the time.

Superstition is everywhere represented with talisman that can be found everywhere in the shape of the Evil Eye; as well everywhere you can find wonderful textiles and carpets beautiful decorated, pottery of amazing drawings, lamps and teapots made in brass, and colorful spices full of pungent aroma. The beauty of Turkey it is present and very alive in his ancient craft.

After all this beauty wondering from place to place, pushing between more than 13 millions of inhabitants which are always very visible, the real king and queen of this land, are not the people that live in here, but the street cats that are taken care, stroked and played with by the whole population. Those are, even the one that look scruffy, majestic and peaceful of a zen like atmosphere. You can find them in the street, at the seaside, and even inside shops and on top of tables everywhere in public places.

I am still waiting to see the most important buildings, mosques and Bazaar, but I already understood that all the Istanbul people are looking is for place to be in quiet and peace, like the harmonic seaside or the hidden parks.

What other things to say about my personal and direct experience? Could I tell you the story of the man holding the flag of his team in the wind while I was crossing the Bosphorus bridge? or maybe what I bought between all the beautiful things in the spice market Bazaar for myself? or do you want to hear the story about the drunk gay indian that wanted to take with him my white hat? or you hope to hear one day the story about the Princess of Malta, the best story that I ever told to anyone in my life, worth of the book one thousand and one night? or you want for sure to know why I was crying, laughing and making hurtful questions and silly walks at the Turkish Acting classes in Taksim? or should I hint about dancing with the gipsy at night in hidden streets away from nightly lights? or even better who I spent the most beautiful time in here by just laying in the grass hugging in the quiet and sun and make all those things so magical to make me fall in love with this place. Well, those particular stories are best kept secret, or told only when I can whisper it in your hears, in main while I will keep quiet about it, so I can just hold them sweetly in my fragile memories so close to my heart.

Keep expecting for more. I have 8 more beautiful days to describe.