Monday, February 27, 2006

February is a short month and always seems to pass so quickly. It's been icy cold the past few days and a grey haze or fog hangs over everything now as the day gets still darker. There's nothing to read on China Daily. I get up every so often to go into the living room for a smoke or to think, away from the watchful e-eye going by the name of iBook. I fell asleep last night with recurring red lanterns in my head and this is developing into a poem...

I haven't really been avoiding this blog, but I'm still trying to get all of these ducks of mine lined up. Actually, I've been working on a couple of posts about e-mail newsgroups, but they're resisting my continued efforts to make them cohesive. Soon, he sayeth.

Otherwise, not much unusual going on in the three-dot capital, Beijing. Trying to get some people motivated to contribute to a variety of projects, which can be more of a chore than actually sitting down and finally accomplishing something. More about these as they develop.

The writerly life has been progressing nicely, though, despite my lack of attention in all other areas, as I've been writing heaps, submitting work regularly and organizing some manuscripts for publication. It's a good feeling. Trying to raise the bar on this book publishing game, which I've been sadly neglecting for too long. Wish me luck.

Well, I can't stretch this out any longer...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Attacked today by clear blue sky with strong sun and cold wind after a couple days of fog and haze. I thought we had, perhaps, seen the last of the icy weather, but it looks as if it's rearing its frozen head for a last stand.

Well into the elementary school grind again. Three days into this week, the first week back to school, and everyone's a little rusty. Our students haven't spoken English for nearly one month and some of the teachers are a little sluggish after the long holiday. It's enough to know we're on the downside of another school year.

I feel as if I'm operating on all cylinders at work, although I'm still trying to get my private life in order. I had ample time to recover from jet-lag after returning from Italy, although Angela has worked every day since we've been back. This weekend can't come fast enough. I've begun submitting work again with less negligence, also, which is a never-ending task, but I haven't yet been able to discipline myself to study Italian since I've returned from Italy. Waking up early to take advantage of the quiet hours before the day begins has been a challenge. Each night, I set my alarm for 6AM, but haven't made it out of bed until 8AM. I suppose going to bed at 1 or 2AM doesn't help matters. At least, I've felt refreshed when I've tackled my morning routine of brewing coffee and reading e-mail. Time to scoot out the door...

In any case, Wednesdays are always good days. Even though tomorrow is my long day (three classes in the morning, three in the afternoon and tutoring after school, the week is halfway over. In the evenings, I host the International Open Mic with the Subterranean Poets at The Bookworm, and that's always a good time. We have many things planned so we'll see how they pan out over the next six months. I'll post details as they materialize.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Returned to Beijing after a nine hour flight from Copenhagen. The flight wasn't too crowded and some people could spread out comfortably. I had two seats to myself, Angela had moved to a middle row which was unoccupied in the hopes of stretching out there once we got off the ground, but I couldn't get comfortable and remained awake for nearly the entire flight. I can never sleep on airplanes, even if I've been awake longer than I should have been. I contented myself with scratching down some poetry and listening to one of the plane's music channels.

Since we've been back, fine blue skies and almost Springishly warm weather has greeted us every day. It's quite hazy outside today, unfortunately, but wonderful weather doesn't last too long here.

Had a meeting with my boss yesterday morning, which killed that part of my day. Met Angela for a late lunch and then went bowling with my coworkers. Much to our displeasure, we all had a meeting this Sunday morning to get us in gear for the next semester. We'll just be picking up where we left off so there really wasn't too much to talk about.

Spending some quality time at the computer now, trying to buck the learning curve on uploading a podcast for the Subterranean Poets. This is the name those of us who have been participating in the International Open Mic at The Bookworm have given ourselves. The website is simple a placeholder for now until we can start adding content. Making available our first audio recording of a show held in mid-December has proven a thorny task. Once I work out all the kinks, we plan to add additional content to enhance the audio selections, such as samples of writing, bios and interviews with the performers. Anyhow, stay tuned and I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Valentine's Day. Woke up in Putignano at 5:30AM. Drank coffee and watched some Olympic ice skating before dealing with our ensuing departure. Jumped in the shower and collected our things together. Francesco, Angela's brother-in-law, was picking us up at 6:45AM to take us to the airport in Bari.

45 minutes later, we were at the airport in Bari, drinking cappuccino before checking in for our 8:30AM flight to Rome. No problems. We were in Rome by 10AM. Hungry, we looked for a place to get something to eat. We found a place, ate sandwiches and watched the planes take off. I bought some limoncello, an Italian digestivo and Angela bought some perfume. We were waiting now for our flight to Copenhagen. I sat down to wait and read near the gate. Our flight was leaving at 1:20PM and everything was going smoothly.

We touched down in Copenhagen after about three hours in the air, exchanged some Euro for Krone, stashed our carry-on bags in a locker and bought train tickets to the city center. We boarded the train and were talking to each other about where to go. We hadn't really prepared so we really had no idea what to do. Angela tried to ask the woman sitting next to us a question, but the woman ignored us completely. We shrugged it off and, as the conductor was entering to check our tickets, we thought we would ask him. He told us how many stops until we reached the Central station and then he also told us that this was a "no talking" car, which hushed us and explained why the woman had ignored us a few moments before. We gathered our things and moved to a car in which we could talk freely.

Copenhagen - RÃ¥dhusThree stops later, we exited the train. It was about 5:00PM twilight outside and we didn't have to board our connecting flight to Beijing 8:30PM so we were on a mission to find a nice place to have a Valentine's Day dinner together. We began walking east and stumbled across what must have been the historical center of the city. Here's a picture of Rådhus, Copenhagen's City Hall near the entrance to The Stroget, Copenhagen's shopping and pedestrian walking district, which is closed to automobile traffic. After walking around for about an hour and enjoying the fine old buildings and sights, we found a nice restaurant, Jensen's Bøfhus and enjoyed steaks and beers, which tapped nearly all of our Danish ducets. We had plenty of time to get back to the airport without rushing and we had enough money to buy a couple more beers before boarding. We couldn't have planned it any better.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Putignano - Santa Maria del Carmine - Side EntranceA few minutes after 7PM we entered the church, Santa Maria del Carmine, the church wherein we will hold our wedding in less than six months, the priest, Don Antonio greeted us at the door. He had a small office behind the church. We returned with our document from the city hall to finish the paperwork process with him which we had begun in the morning. There was one lamp on his desk and no other light on in the small room. Some light was coming in from the door, which lit the small room connected to Don Antonio's office.

The walls were white and there were two paintings with wooden frames painted gold. One painting depicted Jesus carrying the cross, and the other, Madonna and child. Both were quite dark, as if years of grime had set on them, and looked now like they were studies in tone. In the corner of the office, behind the door, there was a steep wooden spiral staircase rising up into the ceiling, but I couldn't see the entrance from where I was sitting, on the other side of the priest's desk with my back to the staircase. As soon as I noticed the staircase, I wanted to know where it led. It was quite cold and we sat in the semi-dark with our jackets on, and tackled the Catholic bureaucracy of a wedding.

Putignano - Santa Maria del CarmineDon Antonio's desk was completely covered with stacks of magazines, brochures, various papers and pieces of mail, still unopened. There were many other gew-gaws, as well: a crystal ashtray full of keys and medallions, a wooden hourglass filled with pink sand, a tea strainer, rubber stamp holder, a small porcelain angel figurine, a faceted crystal egg-shaped paperweight bearing the etching of a mosque on one side, a tape dispenser, numerous pens and a fax machine. There was a phone on the wall to his right and a large calendar next to that. Behind his desk stood an immense collection of filing cabinets of which some of the doors and drawers were opened exposing the ancient volumes and documents within, one of which he consulted to verify the date of Angela's baptism. I had brought my original certificates and their attendant translations, which were now on the desk in front of Don Antonio.

A man in his early 60s, perhaps, Don Antonio was bald on top with a grey crown of short hair around the back and sides of his head. In the light, I could see thin, long hairs on his nose. Don Antonio, sitting close to the desklamp, which partially obscured his face from me, checked dates and consulted various documents in front of him. We finished the paperwork quickly. He unzipped his dark grey sweater and then unzipped another sweater which was exactly the same as the first. He reached into an inner pocket, exposing a third sweater underneath his priestly attire, and pulled out a pen. He asked us to sign the document and then asked for 20 Euro, which made me chuckle a little.

We thought we were finished, but Don Antonio showed us an exam he had to administer to us, which consisted of asking us a number of questions which, if you can imagine, would be important to the church, such as: Why do you want to get married in the church?. What do the sacraments mean to you? What are the sacraments? Why do you want to get married to each other? He looked us directly in the eyes after each question. There were many others, but these represent the most difficult of the lot as we weren't really prepared for the exam. As our answers, despite our air of sincerity, showed a lack of knowledge about what we were actually requesting, and due to the serious negligence in our observation of the sacrament of confession which, in my case, perhaps, hasn't occurred in more than 20 years, Don Antonio took it upon himself to redefine these things for us. He began by telling us that we should, at least, go to confession once a year on Easter, which is naturally a cleansing period as it is a celebration of the reawakening of Jesus.

After an hour of consultation and explanation, and checking his watch a few times, Don Antonio wrapped up the exam and excused himself momentarily. Apparently, he had been expected for a catechism class. He returned after a few moments and we began to express our thanks and bid him good night when his telephone rang. After hanging up, he said we could sit down again. He wasn't needed and said we could continue our conversation. My heart sank.

We seated ourselves and he and Angela began a long conversation about China, which completely excluded me. We were an unusual couple--Angela from Italy, me from America and both of us living and working in China--and, naturally, Don Antonio had many questions about our life there. As this renewed conversation began, Angela's telephone began vibrating loudly and incessantly. Someone was trying to get ahold of her and, this is true, her parents as well as her brother and his wife, were waiting for us to eat dinner together. Unfortunately, as my Italian is not sophisticated enough to carry on the kind of conversation they were having, I just sat and listened. I was praying that Angela would answer her phone.

Thirty minutes passed and I interrupted their rolling conversation to ask if there was a bathroom. I was in luck and surprised to learn, as Don Antonio pointed behind me, that I would get a chance to climb the wooden staircase! Don Antonio got out from behind his desk, unlocked a padlock, and motioned toward the lightswitch high up on the wall at the top of the staircase. I couldn't have been happier beginning my limited exploration of the more secret chambers of the church and began to mount the ancient wooden steps. There was a door at the top of the staircase, next to the lightswitch. The narrow space, no wider than the width of a human body, continued on a few paces beyond the door and disappeared to the left. A long horizontal picture of Jesus reclining, in the same style of the paintings in the office below, hung on the wall in front of me. Pushing through the doorway and ducking a bit as the celing was quite low, I entered the bathroom. Nothing special about it. An open window let in the cold air and looked out upon a tree. I did what I do and paused for a moment, trying to think of a way to prolong the excursion, but felt guilty and exited. When I opened the door, I noticed many other smaller paintings hanging on the opposite wall. Turning to descend and rejoin the conversation below, I noticed that the staircase continued upwards behind a closed door, which blocked any further view of what lay beyond. I realized that I was about one-third of the way up the church's bell tower. Content to have seen this much, I went down and took my seat next to Angela, refreshed and satisfied. The conversation lasted for another 30 minutes, during which time I had taken out my workbook and began setting this passage in motion.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Putignano - Old SignsIt started snowing lightly a few frigid nights ago in the evening and then snowed quite heavily all night yesterday. When I woke up everything was covered in a blanket of snow. It was the second time it had snowed here in Putignano this winter. Angela wasn't feeling too well, both her and her mother seemed to have taken ill, and I went out to, at least, hit the Internet Point before lunch. Unfortunately, it was closed, but I decided to continue on for a stroll alone to take some photos of the town. Lots of people were out on the streets and sidewalks, talking and playing in the snow, and many people didn't even go to work. It made for a nice atmosphere of celebration. I stopped for a cappuccino and then returned to the snowy world.

Putignano - Maria ImmacolataThe streets were slushious and slippery. I had a great time walking around and ran into a couple of Angela's friends, Roberto and Angelo, in front of Piazza Plebiscito near the center of the old part of the city, centro storico. I stopped briefly and then moved on through the narrow streets looking for a path less traveled. I eventually found myself on the opposite side of town, where I snapped this photo of La Maria Immacolata on Estramurale a Levante Street with the steeple of Santa Maria in the background, and circled back around to return to Angela's parent's apartment. I stopped for one more cappuccino (I hadn't had any coffee in the morning before going out) and a few more photos before calling it a morning.

One Hour from the Pullman on the Way to Naples

From the upper deck of the "Pullman," a double-decker bus, I have an elevated view of the passing countryside as we make our way to Naples, now nearly 8:30 in the morning and about one short hour outside of Bari, from where we had departed. The sky is grey, but of a type that, by my meteorologic estimation, shouldn't lead to rain, although it has been either snowing or raining every day over the past week. The Pullman is quiet except for the drowsy grumble of the engine and the rolling thunder of the tires as we move along at a steady rate.

We pass by groves of olive trees, small brown birds dart among the branches, which seem to stretch out for grey-green miles on either side of the autostrada, separated occasionally by the slumbering vineyards, brown and withered now, awaiting more luscious seasons. Much of the damp ground is dark green and smoldering fires dot the landscape which only adds to the ghostly haze hanging over everything. Periodically, a deserted stone structure in the middle of a nowhere field, a distant hilltop town through in the distance and even, sporadically, a trullo, an ancient stone abode with a cone-shaped roof typical of this region and much more common around the town of Alberobello in Puglia, can be seen.

The Pullman continues onward as I look out the window. We seem to be outside the region of stone as all of the fences are made of wire now, the upper strand of which is barbed. The stone walls which seem to divide everything in Putingnano are gone. Even the groves of olive trees have disappeared, replaced by the muddy, endless, tilled fields awaiting a more fertile season.

Rumbling along now, it is windier out in the open flatland, and I can hear the wind whistling as if buffets our giant vehicle on a road with, otherwise, scant traffic. It seems that even the vineyards have been left behind in favor of farms and other agricultural factories along the horizons. The wide sky ahead looks black and we fly toward it with focused attention. The land begins to make stronger curvatures and swells. The road begins to cut deeply into the dark earth. Hills surround us, marred only with veins of electrical wires and abandoned farmhouses. A large green sign above the road indicates with an arrow the direction to Naples, and another sign the direction to Candela, which must overlook this road at the top of the green hill on our left.

The terrain becomes rockier as we move through a green valley with a mild fog now which inhibits any far view. The road itself snakes widely along a dirty stream as we cross from Puglia into Campagnia, ascending low hills and passing through short tunnels every few moments. Everywhere, the white, yellow and grey rock seems to surface from within the crumbling earth, and the trees along the stream persist with orange leaves and red branches.

The Pullman trundles ever higher and the fog becomes so thick that only the road and the rails along the side of it can be seen. Trees and shrubs loom a little further away as shadows. We pass through another tunnel in a foggy yellow light. A small sign reads:
Napoli
100
We begin to descend and pick up speed as we drop out of the clouds and return to a more visible world. We twist along and the frequency of houses and farms increases. We're making good time and may arrive in Naples earlier than expected.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Putignano - Internet PointIt's amazing how easily Angela gets absorbed back into the daily routine at her parent's house, where we're staying in Putignano. She has taken up responsibilities in the kitchen, babysitting and running errands for her relatives as if she hadn't ever been away, nevermind that it's one year since our last visit.

I'm a little lost sometimes and, as a result, left to my own devices. Almost every day, I spend an hour or so reading the Italian comic book Dylan Dog as a way to practice my Italian (aside from being forced to speak it incessantly), but I can't read all day long. It's nice to loaf around her parent's house, but they (or other family members) are always near, and I can go a little stir crazy. I'm not complaining, and there are much worse ways to spend a vacation being waited on hand-&-foot. Anyhow, here I am at the Internet Point, which closes in a few minutes at 12:30PM (as do most of the other shops in Putignano during the early afternoon hours), after which I will return to eat with la famiglia.

Well, that's it for now. Just giving you this quick hit to let you know I'm still here. Talk to you soon.