Monday, December 23, 2013

Mulled Wine, Crêpes, Ice-Skating, Etc.

Vito getting the hang of it.
Saturday evening, driving back from Alberobello with friends after mulled wine, crêpes and ice-skating, I realized that I didn’t know what day it was. As we were driving through town and noticing all of the people on the streets, I said I wanted a beer, and we stopped at Bar Central where I picked up a couple Franzishkaner’s to take home. I had lost track of how many days we’d been in Putignano. I’m relying on Angela for all of that. Italy is her domain. With no phone or regular internet access, it’s nice to feel so removed.

We’re on vacation, staying with Angela’s mother and celebrating through New Year’s Day. It’s cold outside, but nice in the sun when it’s out. It hasn’t rained or snowed. Still, even though we aren't traveling—we aren't moving around the country—our days have been full. We’ve been busy: we ate pizza one night at our favorite pizza parlor, Premiata Pizzeria; watched one nephew participate in his soccer practice; attended classic ballet and modern dance performances by two of our nieces; went to church for the Novena one evening to watch my sister-in-law's family bring the offering up to the altar; wandered the streets of the centro storico, the old part of town, to look at the many different nativity scenes that were on display, many of them taking up entire rooms; and we went to see Angela's old elementary school's "live" nativity in which the entire school was decorated and, in each classroom, children depicted life as it used to be in olden times. We even found time to do a little shopping.

The whole family came over for lunch yesterday. That is a sure sign that it's Sunday. I know there’s a birthday party in our near future, and Christmas and New Year's Eve meals are coming up soon, but I’ll check with Angela to make sure everything’s on schedule for Santa and whatnot. Anyway, when all's said and done, she’ll get us on a plane back to Doha when the time is right.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Chapbook: Blowing Smoke Through Screens

Last year, I found this old chapbook that I had designed when I was living in Beijing, China. I wanted to post it before the Winter holiday, but the task escaped me. Anyway, for posterity...

This format is a little different than my other e-books, and I think I will convert all of them to a similar format in time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Carols in the Compound

When living abroad, the holidays make for some awkward occasions. We look for people who celebrate like us and activities that remind us of our home cultures. I'm sure other expatriates have similar desires. Our Thanksgiving celebration last month struck me in a peculiar manner this year when I was looking around and observing that most of our guests were not American; however, it didn't feel tainted. We had turkey! It is just not easy to recreate the traditions that we grew up with in our home countries, but we try. I suppose we're making new traditions, as well.

A few years ago, when we were first cutting our teeth in Doha, a German family that had befriended us and was leaving unexpectedly gave us their Christmas tree. We hadn't planned on purchasing one, especially as we were leaving almost two weeks before the holiday, but Vito and I were excited about it. Angela less so. She viewed it as another mess in the making. Bah, humbug! Still, after putting together the tree, stringing colored lights on the branches and adorning it with ornaments, it brightened up the apartment considerably and brought a little festive cheer into what was then an otherwise drab abode.

Now, approaching our third Christmas in the Q, decorating the tree has become a ritual to instill a bit of Christmas spirit. I like to immerse myself in it, too, by playing Christmas music in both the car and apartment. My mom always used to play Christmas music, and I suppose that I have adopted that tradition. Vito enjoys the Christmas music, also, perhaps, taking after his father, and, this year, he is particulary fond of "Jingle Bells" by Fats Domino.

I don't think Mr. Domino would be too pleased about the representation in the video, but that is a topic for another discussion...

But getting back to carols, singing echoed in the stairwell of our building tonight. While we were getting ready for bed, Vito asked me about the music that we could hear from his bedroom. One of our neighbors is a pianist, and he had, apparently, invited his friends over for a round of carolling. I was happy to explain to Vito that people in America would sometimes get together during the holidays, and sing Christmas carols to their neighbors. That may never happen here, but it was a nice surprise and it reminded me of home.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reflecting the End of the Semester

It was exciting to arrive at work this morning, the second day of final exams, to see groups of my students taking their last-minute looks at the material before our literature final: books open, notes in hand, conversing with one another. After a semester of hard work, the hallway was still intimate with scholarly buzz and bustle ahead of the last push.

"Wow!" I began. "It's nice to see everyone cramming for their finals at the last minute."

"Good morning, Mr. Bob," called a particularly social student as I passed. A group of familiar faces were seated around a couple of sunny tables in the hallway. "Look at my best friend," the student said, pointing in the direction I was walking. I noticed the student immediately. He was wearing neither the ghotra nor the thobe that he had worn the entire semester, and he looked different in Western clothes.

"Hi, best friend," I said, grinning, and everyone broke into laughter. "You look skinnier." The student smiled broadly and squirmed a little uncomfortably on his cushion, and then everyone seemed to be talking at once. "See you guys later."

Their chatter faded as I continued down the hallway. I turned left, and found another student at a table all alone, but obviously reviewing the same material. "You found a nice quiet place here."

"I'm ready," the student commented with a smile, "but I'm just checking a few things."

"Good luck!"

I didn't stop and continued up the stairs to my office. I had to read e-mail and get all of my materials together for the final at 8:30AM. There seemed to be a comparable amount of activity among my colleagues who, now that we were on the same schedule to accomodate our final exams, were all getting ready at the same time. There was a minor complexity when I noticed that I did not have enough copies, but that was rectified without any further delay and no one missed a beat.

That's the extent of it. I just noticed the laughter and the sense of accomplishment. Do I need to write something more profound?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Poem

thanks for coming
thanks for summing up another year
thanks for ear-to-ear grins
thanks for wins and losses
     double-crosses that never doubled
     never troubled us too much
thanks for a touch a kiss a word
     a cliché I heard on the bus
thanks for us...
     (imagine merrymaking)
     I'm humbled by it
     I mumbled why it means something more

thanks for keeping score or not
thanks for a shot or however many
     (I lost count)
thanks for whatever amount
     of love of patience of time you find
     in this little rhyme
thanks for your kind 

Monday, November 04, 2013

I miss you terribly and so

I miss you terribly and so
I go through with my day
in the same old way and I go on.
I was born that way.

I miss you more than you'll ever know,
(except now you do)
and you'll miss me, too, and won't
think about it in the morning.

I miss you more often than not,
but I forgot who or when or I thought
I did.

I miss the kid who grew into a man,
who grew to understand
so little.

I miss you a little and a lot.
I'm not perfect. I'm in the middle of this.

I miss the beginning and the end
of an episode,
one friend or another.

I miss my brother in another state,
my mother who stays up late
or doesn't (she never did).
I miss my sis a tad,
my dad and my old life.

I miss my wife when we're apart,
and art when I can't make it
(I fake it).

Don't wake up for me.

In fact, I miss every minute
that passes in the masses
of memories before me.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sleep Fail

The fire alarm, a twittering modulating high-pitched whine, woke me this morning at about 4:30AM. While I recall looking at the clock, I can't be positive about the exact time.

Hugging my pillow while breaking away from dreams, I sat up on the edge of the bed to make sense of what was happening. This had happened numerous times in the past and my state of panic was somewhat muted. I sniffed around, checking the usual suspect—the kitchen—to make sure that nothing, inshallah, was on fire or smelled like it, turned on a few lights and then unlocked the front door and walked into the bright white hallway. It was significantly louder outside the apartment where the sound was reverberating and distorting incessantly off the marble floor and stairway, piercing my eardrums. None of my neighbors were around and there was no scent or sign of fire. I went back inside and closed the door while the alarm continued. There was nothing else to do but wait. I paced back and forth between the living room and bedroom.

While the apartment felt warm, it wasn't as humid or uncomfortable as it had been during the day. We always turned the air conditioner off at night. It just gets too cold, otherwise. A security guard arrived and knocked on the door. I let him in and he asked me if I was cooking anything. I shook my head. Investigating further, he observed that the red light on our smoke detector was blinking, which seemed to indicate that our apartment was, undoubtedly, the source of the alarm, and he contacted someone on his walkie-talkie. Within thirty seconds, the alarm stopped and the guard exited. He turned on his way out and told me that someone would come by within an hour to clean the smoke detector, which was in line with follow-up for previous episodes of this type. I nodded and started to close the door. One of my neighbors was standing in the hallway in her slippers and robe. She said something to someone, but I just said "goodnight," closed the door and returned to bed.

For an instant, I thought I would just stay awake, but I realized that I had only been sleeping for about three hours and needed more rest than that, even though the next day was the first day of Eid Al-Fitr celebrating the end of Ramadan and marking the beginning of a ten-day holiday. I lay back down in bed and summoned sleep, wondering if the alarm had been triggered at all during the summer when the three of us were traveling.

Read more at Doha News
As expected, I was fading in the right direction when I heard the sound of the adhan (call to prayer) outside at about 5AM. After more than two years here, I'm used to it, and I would even say that I like it. However, usually, after a few minutes, it ends, but this morning's broadcast lasted much longer—more than twenty minutes! I don't recall hearing it go on so long in the past. Perhaps its length had something to do with the end of Ramadan. I really didn't know. Through a slit in the bedroom curtains, I could see that it was getting brighter outside. I looked at the clock and expected a knock at the door any moment, but managed to return to sleep.

At 6:30AM, a different security guard and another guy with a ladder arrived. I got out of bed and, after letting them in, decided that it was time to get up once and for all and trudged to the kitchen to make coffee. The security guard held the ladder in place while the technician climbed up and removed the smoke detector. He blew on it a few times, which was also in line with previous troubleshooting episodes of this type, and put it back. Then they left.

Lastly, at about 9:00AM this morning, the alarm sounded yet again! I was awake and drinking coffee at the kitchen table, nibbling on toast with butter and berry jam. I got out of my seat and looked at the smoke detector, but there was no blinking red light. It was another apartment in the building. Apparently there is a problem with smoke detectors. Happily, no one knocked on the door again and, after what seemed like eternity, the alarm faded away.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Re-Remembering Milan & Other Italian Items of Note (or Not) Upon Reentry

You want pictures but it's all poetry. The proper effect should be that, however. To help you imagine...

Fuso orario. I never seem to remember how jet lag feels. We left Hotel Astoria by cab at 5:30 AM, departed San Francisco International Airport at around 8:30 AM and landed on the East Coast at Newark Liberty International Airport at approximately 4:30 PM. Wandering around, we spent the last of our US dollars during the two hours before boarding another plane for the seven-hour journey to Milan.

In boca al lupo... In the mouth of the wolf... Guarding our luggage in the new straw fedora I picked up in San Francisco and waiting for Angela to return with tickets, an exasperated white-haired woman wearing thick glasses in an over-sized black-and-white Keith Harring-esque blouse and wheeling her carry-on through the station asks me if I know how to tell which platform by looking at the ticket. "I don't know," I say, trying to look at the ticket in her hand. "It should say 'bin' or 'binario' somewhere," I add. She snaps back with "I know. Io parlo italiano," and stomps off. She inquires at the ticket window and passes by me on her way to the elevator down to the platforms looking much more informed. I say "good luck" instead of one of the Italian expressions that I know.

Graffiti. On the train from Milan's Malpensa Airport to Milano Centrale Train Station, I can't help but notice the splendid graffiti—not just tags, but real art. The countryside is nice and green and yellow, too. I joke that it looks like California. Vito notices that many of the buildings are old, which is his overall general assessment of Italy. It's a lengthy but smooth trip. After arriving, we take a taxi to Libeccio, our bed & breakfast for the next few days. The pictures on their website do it justice. There are two rooms—one for Angela, Vito and me, and one for my parents when they arrive—and we have the place to ourselves.

. All the little rectangular kick-stand depressions in the sidewalks from motorcycles and Vespas.

Lecca-lecca. A little too early for lunch so we three stop in a neighborhood shop for beverages in the humid late morning, and drink them at a sidewalk table, killing time and sinking into Italia. Angela orders a little bottle of cedrata and Vito drinks a can of San Pellegrino Aranciata. It is almost impossible for me to continue without sleep, but an energy drink revives me sufficiently while the proprietor (we are his only customers) regales us with stories about how the neighborhood used to be and offers Vito a sucker. The energy drink revives me enough to carry me through lunch and the welcome nap that follows.

Aperitivo. Rested and re-energized after sleep and shower, we leave the B&B to meet our friends for dinner. It's a long walk and a refreshing rain falls intermittently. We stop at a sidewalk bar and order drinks: beer for me, Fanta for Vito, and Crodino for Angela. We watch the people come and go and nibble on olives and prosciutto. It doesn't rain hard and eventually stops altogether.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

My Past

I translated a poem by Alda Merini yesterday. Angela helped a little...

Il Mio Passato
Spesso ripeto sottovoce
che si deve vivere di ricordi solo
quando mi sono rimasti pochi giorni.
Quello che è passato
è come se non ci fosse mai stato.
Il passato è un laccio che 
stringe la gola alla mia mente
e toglie energie per affrontare il mio presente.
Il passato è solo fumo
di chi non ha vissuto.
Quello che ho già visto
non conta più niente.
Il pasato ed il futuro
non sono realtà ma solo effimere illusioni.
Devo liberarmi del tempo
e vivere il presente giacchè non esiste altro tempo
che questo meraviglioso istante.

My Past
When I have only a few days left
I often repeat softly
that I have to live on memories.
That what is past
is like it has never been.
The past is lace
that squeezes the throat of my mind
and cuts off the energy to face my present.
The past is just smoke
of those who have never lived.
What I have seen
does not matter anymore.
Past and future
are not real but only fleeting illusions.
I must free myself from time
and live in the present since time does not exist
other than this extraordinary moment.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Last Thing: Notice.

The last call: pastis again.

The last straw: broke, the camel's back.

The last word in poetic licenses: get one in your favorite color.

The last will and testament: old and new and made new.

The last day of the shortest month: no leap year.

The last gasp: exceeding my grasp and reaching.

The last person I wanted to see: you.

The last day of the week: Thursday in the Q.

The last hurrah: preceding the home stretch of the semester, not a horse race.

The last day before spring break: Valencia here I come despite eleventh hour complications.

The last resort: a hotel across the street from the station.

The last laugh: over dinner, over done, over and over.

The last time I did this: last month some time.

The last minute: blogging from bed in digital wedlock.

The last word: minutes before midnight.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

New Year New

Restarting this beast for the Nth time. I don't know if it's the Qatar Foundation connection or this little Apple peach we brought back from the states last summer. Anyway, I'm putting it to rigorous use now that I have the software I require and most of my files transferred. I'm weirdly attached to Microsoft Office. Still, unknown connectivity issues at a time when internet traffic should be relatively light is making already tedious research even more so. I'll blame it on the computer since blaming it elsewhere could, as has been rumored, earn a ticket away from the Q.

So here I sit in the stone cold apartment waiting for 49ers playoff football vs. Falcons on American Forces Network while the incessant beep-beep-beep of some vehicle backing up nearby in the never-sleep construction site outside the compound helps raise the tension. What little traffic passes as the mechanical wind on an otherwise still night. The trucks line up along the dark desert roads. Who knows where they go.

In the form of words, I was hoping to bring you more of the winter Vietnam adventure than the overzealous cluster of Facebook photos and family fawning I left you already, but I sat down two hours ago to do something else and haven't advanced one word further. Who knows when it will be ready.

I'm yawning and there's still an hour before kickoff. I better get out of here if I'm going to get anything accomplished tonight.