Tuesday, March 29, 2005

March is a long month or it just seems long. I'm giving myself an A for effort this month as this is the eighth post in that span. Almost double my usual output. There may even be one more post coming, but I wouldn't count any chickens yet.

Still nursing the lingering effects of a cold, but I can function, at least. I'm less irritable and stubborn than I was yesterday.

Easter came and went without much of a flourish here, as you might imagine. Like a good American, the real meaning behind Easter for me has been replaced by the more commercially accepted practice. Believe it or not, that heathen known as The Easter Bunny, found his way into our apartment, depositing a chocolate rabbit before hopping off to the other foreigner's homes.

I heard once, on television, that the Chinese have a unique idea about religion. They tend to honor all gods or spirits. The idea being that it is better to appease all of them, rather than risk the wrath of one. Sounds good to me. Superstitious, perhaps, but some would argue that all religions could fall into that category.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Winter seems to have moved beyond us here, although it's still a little coldish. I can't remember when it last rained and everything is dried up and dead looking yet. The thin limbs of withered trees stretch up to the sky. It wouldn't be as cold, although the wind, which has increased its fierceness, as well as its dustiness, has begun to rifle through the city. Usually, haze-blocked, the recent rise in wind gives me daily glimpses of the blue-green mountains and the Fragrant Hills, as they're called, in the distance and which, even if I won't have a chance to visit them in the near future, raise my spirits during the short drive to school.

Still, the world spins and we go around with it. The computer is our link to all that's Western, and we check our favorite sites often. We watch the weather on TV almost every morning while we're drinking our first cups and, despite the stormy conditions elsewhere, Beijing seems to be the place on the map between the other snowy and rainy places, which is fine, I guess. At least, the sun is out every day, and it doesn't take two days to dry our clothes anymore.

Feeling sickish today with a scratchy throat and a partly stuffing nose. I haven't felt this way since I moved here and I'm hoping it will pass after a good night of sleep.

Friday, March 18, 2005

I have more pictures and stories about our Italian adventure, but I'm going to put it behind me now. Enough is enough. As they say in newsgroups, "backchannel" me and I'll send you witty narratives or photos.

Supposed to leave in the morning for Henan Province to look at the location for a new school. Angela and me, accompanied by my boss and her boyfriend, are supposed to be "English Consultants," which is about as good as any title. As you know, Angela is Italian but, hopefully, whoever we meet won't pick up on it. I don't really know much more than this. Catching a quick flight tomorrow at 8AM, although we're leaving for the airport at 6AM, and returning on Sunday afternoon.

I should be sleeping (right now it's after midnight), but when I tried to wash the dishes a few hours ago, I noticed that we didn't have any water, which is unusual. There were just slight gurgling and sucking noises, and then the sounds of silence. I have been worried about the water ever since, and also about being able to take a shower/shave/etc. tomorrow morning.

My job pays for all of our utilities, but it's not simply a matter of paying the bill when it arrives. Utilities here are a bit different. Residents pay for a specific amount or increment of water and gas. It's hard to understand when the amount runs out, but when it happens, residents should purchase additional increments. I guess we have exhausted our supply.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Venice, a remarkable, much fabled and romanticized, fantasy city, which many of you have seen on television or read about in books and magazines, is a city everyone should visit once. I was eager to visit Venice for many reasons, if only for its uniqueness among cities. The city, built on the water and stilts, slowly gnawed for centuries by the sea, was more than I had imagined.

We left Bologna on a train early in the morning and arrived in Venice around 10AM. We had the whole day ahead of us with nothing explicitly planned. It was the finest weather we'd had in our trip thusfar, brimming with warm sunshine, clear skies overhead and nary a breeze stirring among the old stones and apartments. Our spirits couldn't have been higher. We were hungry after the long train ride, only having had some coffee before leaving, and stopped to buy a few panini, which is Italian for sandwiches, and began wandering slowly. Most of the tourists, thronging here as you would expect despite the season, headed down the main avenue, but we forged our own willy-nilly path through the backstreets, alongside canals, through small courtyards, across tiny bridges and, occasionally, into deadends.

Here's a picture taken from the bell tower across from St. Mark's church. As we approached the center of the city and St. Mark's Square, all roads lead to Rome, especially in a place like Venice, we began to notice that many people were wearing elaborate and colorful costumes as well as typical expressionless Venetian masks. It was the last Thursday before the final weekend of Carnevale, and Angela explained to me that there would be a celebration throughout the city in the evening. The beautiful weather, the marvelously dressed people, the innumerable vendors, and the impending celebration generated quite an air of excitement.

Everywhere we wandered, we came across more and more people or groups of costumed people who were flocking toward St. Mark's Square, the pigeon-strewn catwalk for these merry-makers, most of them more than willing to pause for a picture, if they weren't already posing. All of the people in the city seemed to converge in St. Mark's Square: small groups or individuals parading their fine costumes, tourists holding out their cameras in every direction, men and women covered with pigeons, vendors selling their masks, face-painters, lovers, artists and children.

We walked from one end of the city to the other and back, and were really quite tired at the end of it. I would have liked to have stayed one night in Venice, as there were still many things to see, especially the celebration that had been slowly building throughout the day, but it would also be our last night in Bologna, and we had plans with our friends that evening for a sort of going away celebration. Nonetheless, we had an exceptional time and planned to return again, when we have another chance.

It's a surprisingly nice portrait of the city, especially considering how easy it would be to complain about some things, like the quality of the water and the number of tourists, but those are unavoidable, and didn't detract from my day. Perhaps, the only negative comment about Venice, and this can be improved, was the poor quality of the food we ate there.

Before we left the city we wanted to have a late lunch. I'm sure there are many fine restaurants there, and we had spent nearly an hour wandering the tiny alleyways and sidestreets tracking down a spot a friend had recommended only to arrive after they had closed, but we were sadly disappointed. Nothing was fresh and we paid more than we should have, which is to be expected in such places. It didn't help that we had waited too long to find a good restaurant and, by then, almost all of them had closed, as was usual practice in Italy following the midday meal. After a brilliant day, we weren't about to let a sub-par meal spoil our adventure, and returned to Bologna happy, but tired.

Friday, March 11, 2005

I mentioned we went to Florence. A famous center of art and culture, which is also the birthplace of many famous Italian heroes: Da Vinci, Dante, Machiavelli, Michelangelo. Any one of those names by itself would make a city proud, and the list goes on. These are just some of my personal champions.

Here is a picture of the famous Ponte Vecchio, well-known for its many jewelry shops lining either side of the bridge. Not an impressive picture, and you may need your magnifying glass to see the bridge, but you get the idea. As you can see, the weather wasn't sparkling, but that didn't bother us. I was impressed with the city as it was more beautiful, almost choking with statues and monuments, than I had imagined. For no particular reason, it wasn't really on my list of places to see and, really, every small town and city, as my father mentioned after a tour with my mother last Summer of many of the most touristic and not so places in Italy, is beautiful.

Winter is a great time to visit places like this, mauled year-round by tourists. The weather and time of year kept the gawkers to a minimum, but it still seemed like there were students with sketchbooks or groups of Japanese people everywhere we looked. What city worth its spit doesn't have a hungry group of International Japanese shoppers? And the center of Florence sported all kinds of popular and fashionable high-priced shops.

We climbed to the top of the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, a massive structure which dominated almost every view of Florence. The cathedral, I think, is famous for, among other things, its white and green marble exterior. Even though the weather wasn't charming, the view from the dome was great, and the fog and cold made the city feel mysterious. This picture shows the typical architecture and layout of Florence, with the beautiful green hills in the distance.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Quick post to say I have a couple new poems from my forthcoming series of alphabet poems in Poems Niederngasse.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Managed to outsmart my computer, which really seems like the slow dumb beast it is at times, and I'm going to ride this horse into the ground, but I won't get into the details of my small success. I'm just happy to be able to get in here again.

As I'd alluded in a previous post or two, I will finally be posting some pictures. Some of you, I know, are after those pictures of Italy, and some of you have even been lucky enough to receive a few from my private reserve already, but I really only have a few teasers for you now. You have to wait for the really good stuff. Consider it my way of keeping an audience.

I wrote almost every day during the trip, hoping to document all of the people and places we encountered. I could say I want to write a travel book, but as I presently have no books under my belt, it will just be my little someday secret. Does the world really need another travel book about that country, anyway? Nonetheless, that's what I did and it was well worth it.

Angela and me spent five days in Bologna. We took an overnight train from Putignano, sleeping with one eye open, and arrived early in the morning after about a seven-hour trip. It was my first trip North of Rome and I was excited. Bologna was a beautiful city and we had a great time there, spending most of our time in or around the center of the city, which made it seem small.

As pictured here, many of the walkways and fa├žades around the center of the city were adorned with these porticoes. It gave Bologna a unique appearance and looked particularly enchanting at night, when the city was quiet and the cobblestreets and criss-cross passages were exuding their orange light.

Well, that's about enough from this horse, tonight. Time to move on to bigger and better things, like sleep.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I'm still here...

Adding this post via e-mail, which seems to be the only easy way to update
the website right now. I haven't been able to create a new post for the past
four days, which is frustrating. I can log into the website and view a list
of my posts, but whenever I try to create a new post, I receive a "This
document contains no data" error message.
I uploaded a number of pictures to post, using Flickr, and I will continue to check Blogger over the next few days to see if I can get through. If nothing works, I'll try and link pictures via another
e-mail like this and see how it goes. I never tried it before, and I'm a
little skeptical, but I don't see why it shouldn't work as long as my code
is in order.
Well, that's enough geek-speak, for now. Hopefully, I'll post something more
colorful in my next post.