Sandwich Supermarket Sandmarket Supersandwich

•January 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

       I’m here at a watering hole an our or so outside of Bologna with some seventeen-year-olds I met on a drunken binge last night in the city.  I thought coming here was a good idea based on that simple “travel mentality”, always taking the road more challenging as it is meant to lead toward some sort of fruit tree thing.  In this case, however, we’ve been sitting here for hours, and sit we will for hours more, and it’s a lovely place but I keep fearing that I’m missing something in the city.  It is crazy to think that they are ten years younger than I, but of course I feel closer in my life to them, as opposed to some thirty-seven-year-old with — gasp! — his life “in order”.  I suppose that there is something wrong with this.  Perhaps I ought to find my own place, once and forever?  Maybe let’s nix that, but I do feel the pull to grow beyond this.  Let’s nix that, too, but maybe I should just enjoy myself, generally speaking.  Life advice.

   My first day in Bologna, I found the AirBNB apartment, where I chatted a bit with my host, then went straight for the Cineteca, where I met an Italian film/music student doing his MA on Chaplin’s film scores.  Later, I went on to watch Monicelli’s ‘I Campagni’, starring Marcello Mastroianni and Renato Salvatori, and it was certainly great, inspiring, somewhat naive, probably relevant for the time.  Film’s role in society then was of great social importance, and I could say more on this subject, but I won’t.  Did you hear that Mario Monicelli defenestrated himself from his hospital room?  He chose this, rather than face a slow, painful death, and he was already in his 90s.  Brave bastard.

    I was to meet my Chaplin friend for a drink, but I got nervous in the face of his friendliness and instead I ate a sandwich from the supermarket.



•January 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I have nothing to write and nothing to do.  I play into anyone’s whims, liquid as something…a liquid, never thirsty nor hungry, sad nor content, comfortable nor completely relaxed.  I’m never completely anything — I’m completely in Bologna.  I’m completely wearing shorts, or rather I’m incompletely wearing pants.  I’m certainly not old, nor am I young, never in a position of total comfort and security: I feel as if someone else has control over my life, a quiet monster, perhaps a million different ones in cahoots.  One is telling me that no one has any credibility – none – and instead we’re all hidden by countless moving parts before our core, hiding like the bad guy in a video game.

The Harvest Moon

•July 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Smoke plumes out fluffy from the Medieval smokestacks, and moisture clings to limestone brick.  The roseleaves catch the rain, dancing, and the hills look unfazed.  Distant, I can hear the donkeys call to me: they want their food, and I shall give it to them!  The owner, Mr. Moritz, sits near the archway with a pipe in his hand, painting with watercolors; the men of the farm have just returned from removing the rocks from the campo di grano, which has recently been seeded with alfalfa, and from this job, my hands are cut, eternally stained black from the earth.  I am a character from an Angsty Italian Steinbeck novel! 

Now that all of the other volunteers have left, I am the only one, and have been for nearly a week; I live ironically alone in the preschool, which has been abandoned for the summer.  I have taken on two new jobs, having left the kitchen: in the mornings, I work in the large vegetable garden, where I harvest zucchini, kale, tomato, and such or so forth.  Today while cutting some red lettuce, I cut also my right thumb; my iPod, at the time, was playing a song by Antony & the Johnstons, and this is unnecessary information apart from implying that every time I listen to Antony & the Johnstons, I cut my right thumb while harvesting red lettuce on a farm-villa in Tuscany.

In the afternoons and evenings I go on a little Orwellian tour, and that allusion is nonsense.  I load up two trashbins full of food scraps on a dolly, drag ’em to the compost bin, covering them up with shit, then go down to the mill and make pig food from crushed black beans and grains; I truck that down past the woods and the cemetery, am greeted by the aforementioned donkeys, shovel them a few forks of straw, filling their water basin, before soaking the pig food, then shoving it in their faces.  There are four pigs: Penelope is a Vietnamese pot-belly, and he has too much fat on her; her stomach scrapes the ground as she walks, and her eyes are squinty from all the excess around her face.  She is so ugly that she becomes cute, and I always contemplate if I could eat her, which I think I could.  There are the other three, then, who are at least twice her size and must be kept in another cage, as they always fight.  One, who is part wild boar, is as long as a Fiat Cinquecento, and smells of Hades.  He/she always fights the others to be the first to get to the food, so much to where it tries to catch all the food as it falls from my bucket.  I, for being so rude, often dump all the food on its face and watch the others try to eat it off of him/her.  The noises they made are unholy and I obviously understand why being called a “pig” means what it does.  The donkeys, meanwhile, are special, with a glimmer of understanding in their eye, a glimmer of warmth, and whenever they hear my approach, they sprint out from the woods to greet me.  Sometimes they lick me, and other times they bite a chunk from my arm.  They escaped today, and I am told this was because I was feeding them festering hay that they refused to eat.  I figure they are better off escaping outright.

The chickens are rdiculous.  They smell, they caw, they fight — today a rooster and a hen were bumping chests and biting beaks and I wasn’t sure if this was how they make children, or if the rooster had cheated on her, but it certainly looked painful.  I am a sympathetic feminist at times, and rooted for the hen, who ultimately won.  The roost smells like the cheese on your gumpsch, and it is there I collect the eggs, about 4-6 per day. 

I am not sure, but I may have impregnated one of the chickens.  I am not saying that I have, but I am not certain, and I am worried.  She’s beautiful, a snowy white, and when all the others are all quacking and making horrendous noise, she would merely stare at me, waiting.  One day, I touched her, I touched the long tail feathers where the eggs come out, but just on the top.  She didn’t seem to mind.  The next day, I started talking to her in a whisper, saying all of my most embarrassing details, and again she didn’t seem to mind.  It was as if I had found my soulmate, but in the body of a poultry.  I wasn’t about to allow my prejudice to ruin true love; after all, I have been waiting my whole life for the “right one”, and many of you who know me know how difficult that has been for me.  I am very choosy with my women, and for good reason.  Why not?  If we have the choice, why not choose?  Well, friends, choose I did, and if it lasted all night long, I would write that here, but I must confess that it was rather brief, albeit enjoyable.  I can only hope it was the same for the chicken, though if I had to wager a guess, I would say that it was, for she nuzzled me behind my ear for quite some time; one can’t really “cuddle” with a chicken as you would a grown adult, for fear of crushing their hollow bones, but one would also be surprised at how tender a chicken can be, even uncooked.  Anyway, it has been a bit of time, and she has stopped looking at me.  I am afraid that she is afraid, I am afraid that she has used me, I am afraid of so many things.  Above all, I want her to be happy, but if she does have the child, I want to help her raise it, even if it means mailing cornmeal from the USA in monthly installments: I’m no monster, after all.  It’s hard when your lover doesn’t speak the same language as you, or any language, at that.  I suppose I write this in vain; Dolores, if you could read, I want you to read this: chicken, human, bison, cabbage, it doesn’t matter to me.  I think that I love you, and I want these last few days I have on the farm to be shared with you in whatever form you’re willing to have me.  We can just watch a movie, go for a walk, eat dinner with everyone else, just as friends, but I want you close.  Please, Dolores.

The Temptation of Eric

•July 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

&66& I am realizing that, irrespective of where I work or live, waking up very early does truly lead my mood into the sour. Here at Borgo Pignano, I wake at 5:30am, and the rooster tends not to caw for at least an hour past. Even now, and 5:30, he crows. Come on, man: get your shit together. At the start of this stint, I would wake, looking for Mara, she so quiet, stringy-haired, given to the flexibility of time, and together we would go to the laboratory. I’d stuff herbs into glass jars or wash old bottles, or water the herb garden — wait, is Rufus Wainwright singing backing vocals on this David Byrne song (‘Au Fond du Temple Saint’)? If so, what a thrill, and yes, it is certainly him! I want to tell my co-volunteers in the room with me right now but I know that no one will care — and somewhere along the way, she’ll turn those herbs into soaps, oils, creams, or liquors. She’s a mad scientist in her little lab, and only at the mention of my beer brewing tendencies do we become friends. Quickly, the silent powers of the farm transfer me into the kitchen, something based, I admit, on my own interest. Upon morning and for two hours, I’m doubled over, plucking fennel root from the ground, clearing blackberries, atering chard. After an hour’s break for a breakfast of tea and bread with honey — nutritionous, I know — I arrive in the kitchen by nine. I’m at first given a few thoughtless tasks — peeling, cleaning, scrubbing, chopping, or somesuch, swimming in a kitchen full of maybe ten people. As we near lunch, however, and the crowd thins out, my responsibilities increase slightly. So far, I’ve made apple crumble, stuffed zucchini flowers, and roasted eggplant. They respect me for what I tell them I am: San Francisco’s Foremost Soup Magnate. Anyway, they respect me, and I spend the day joking around with a marvelous Australian couple or the British-Italian head chef, or the eighteen-year-old kitchen aide who doesn’t, thankfully, speak a word of English. I finish by lunch, which is announced around 1pm by the sustained blowing of a conch shell. Lunch, as mostly everything here, tends to be vegetarian, and I have a big mouth in contrast to this fact. So much zucchini, after all. We eat buffet-style outdoors, overlooking the valley, everyone together, and then fall asleep wherever we wish — in our teepee at the bottom of the woods, oh-so-far-away; in the hammocks in the clearing adjacent tothe guest pool; in the erstwhile school on the couches or the floor — and from there we all mill about, doing this or that until the conch is blown once again, this time for dinner. Nights here tend to be social: last night they made pizzas, in fact bringing in professionals from the city just for us, following which a few of us gather in the school, having sprinted through a black forest, being pounded by a thunder storm, whose lightening mercifully offers a few momnts of illumination as we trounce through the darkness, to watch the 1932 Tod Browning film FREAKS, which is completlely heartbreaking.  OTher nights found us picking wheat in the fields, drinking local beers of chestnut or such, and yet still, we’ve had wine tastings, Greek dinners (cooked by a visiting Greek CouchSurfer), and concerts. This concert was poolside, and of course this pool is indescribably beatiful, one reserved only for the clientele who, coincidentally, stay here (when they aren’t busy running the world).  Unfortunately the musician, a silverhaired ponytail with a giant lyric/chordbook before him, played Lionel Richie, Pink Floyd, and other generic covers with only a modicum of skill.  We drank wine(and some Scotch, in m case) for a number of hours, and on the way home, one of the kitchen workers, a GuatemalItaliano named Chris, he with his headbanging dreadlocks, trips in the woods and fractures his faces, then sleeps on it, unawares, before being rushed to the emergency room in Volterra, then Sienda, by morning.  Whoa. 

Life is dynamic here.  The workers and volunteers here seem to get on swimmingly, from Johanna, the stablegirl with the lovely country Irish lilt, to Tess, the nanny from Maine who shares in my taste for crude, overintellectual cinema, to Elisa, my former collegue from San Francisco who was the who who invited me here from the start, though she herself doesn’t seem to gel with Zak, the Miami Jew baker in charge of all the volunteers, who lives with Davide Meisenholder, the absurd-looking Italian with the Mario Moustache who works part-time as a cinematographerworldwide when he isn’t operating all the heavy machinery here.  He has an overwhelmingly noteworthy DVD collection and laughs at you with frightening eyes, not dissimilar to a conincidentally-named friend back home.  For a place with such immense acreage such as this Pignano, it takes a mass of people to run things, and that they have, people always coming and going.  Not as much Italian being spoken as I’d have hoped, but indeed there is some.

The relationship here with the guests and the villa herself is no less than weird and disappointing.  We’re mostly charged with avoiding the each at all opportunity, being the unseen force, an invisible pack of lowerclass hippies (nearly perfect with my own self-deprecating self-image, eh?), and accordingly they mostly ignore us, and I am happy to ignore them, too.  Some of the girls who have been here long enough — Tess, Elisa — score gigs by eventually chatting up the kinder families, getting paid gigs, even to travel around, as nannies.  Awesome.

The owner, I am told, is an obviously WEALTHY man, and is indeed from San Francisco.  I met an old fellow, whose house sits, fenced-in, square on the property, who refused to sell out to the villa, having lived here for 60 years.  He also encourages me with crude hand gestures to sleep with all the young girls working here, being careful not to leave any babies.  His Tuscan accent is hardly decipherable.  I’m very happy working here, working in the kitchen, ignoring the hierarchy, remembering the level of difficulty back in Sardegna, reminding myself to enjoy things, that not everything is a challenge for the future, that I am an adult, and that my decisions and behavior do not dictate anything more than they do the present moment.  It is hard work here, but the weather has been merciful, and the beauty is everywhere, and is to be found, above all, in the mirrors after I have brushed my teeth.  Wink!

Underneath The Tuscan Moon

•July 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It rained today, and I thought to myself, “these puppies probably have no idea of what is happening at this moment.” It is somewhat unfair that we experience most things for the first time, then grow old and forget the sensation of discovery, and I suppose it is that to which I am addicted: new ideas, new flavors, new emotions, always turning over the soil. To do this, one must sometimes play dumb, play empty, play passive, in order to allow new things to come toward us. Other times, it is necessary to seek them out aggressively while treating the banal, the quantified, with disdain. It is beautiful when something cannot be explained. It is difficult and it is frustrating, but it is magical just the same. Why is that flower blue and orange, its stamen so alien, so harsh, when itcould have been brown and lustreless? This is a question I’ve tangled with for most of my life, long before adulthood, and to varying depths. How is it possible to find such balance in nature — that hummingbird is as small a a bumblebee, flitting from each lavender bud, a match of perfection — whilst we are so rarely at peace? It is a constant struggle over personal greed, wanting what we don’t have, ever projecting ahead, ever looking past what we’ve got, keeping us from happiness. We, as humans, are flawed, probably irrevocably, to misery, to disaster, to destruction. That is okay in moments such as this, I think, for me. My music sits idle, unused, in its iPod next to me, for the birds and breeze are enough. The sun is coming out, but at 7pm. Horses graze just past the herb garden, tails wagging behind them like those of dogs, and beyond them roll the Tuscan hills, to which light responds in a manner completely different from the rest of the world. Dew seems omnipresent, the green and gold somehow shining together brightly, velveteen. There is an entirely different depth to the sky, where other places seem to hold clouds and mountains together on a single plane. The landscape looks edible, like something to be rolle around in; the garden is alive: watermelons dance with peppermint, while the zucchini flowers shine brightly, stars in a verdant sky. Somewhere nearby, that hideous brown feline ball of hair peers blindly at me from his milky cataracts, and soon the dalmation mutt will slink, defensively, teets shaking back and forth, sneering in defense of her newborn pups. This place tends to be crowded by people, each responsible for their own, but not right now. Even the rich German tourists are nowhere to be seen. They say that the villa, dating back to the 12th Century, was once occupied by the Third Reich. In the farmhouse behind me, I’m told, the Nazis would conduct their interrogations for the region. Now, when I sit in the villa ourtyard early in the morning, peeling potatoes, I listen to those wealthy Germans talking, laughing, and I imagine them saying, “ha! Yes! We’ve got that blonde Jewish thing just where we want him!” This entry just took a weird turn.

Back To The Future

•July 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well then, I just spent three nights in Old Firenzico. The first day was remarkable, spending the night on the ferry, sleeping solitary in the cafeteria hall under the TV, sipping Mirto from a plastic water bottle, “incognito,” chatting with Erika, that tight-haired, green-eyed Slovakian who doesn’t stop smiling only at me, for one reason or another, until I fall asleep with my backpack as a pillow as if I were again living in the old school bus. Arrival in Livorno comes swift in the morning, but the day was spent crawling around that seemingly ugly, hellish city with a cow full of clothes on my back, sweat in my eyes, wringing little fruit from this leisurely form of manual labor. One walks from the port on inch-wide sidewalks, praying not to be sideswept by the passing freight trucks, noting the absence of signage, of end, of a foot-friendly city. Indeed, walking around for one hour and a half offers no sight of, well, anything, and by eight in the morning there is nary a single cafe open in sight. With a string of counsel, from a tabbaconist and his hand-drawn map (to my own discredit, he urges me just to take the bus, but I am stubborn, wanting to get a sight of the city instead of going directly to the train station), to the Tom Waits-with-laryngitis man from behind the train tracks, who users me another 3km to the station, I finally make my way there, even finding a lovely fruit shop en route, and by 11am I am in the seat of the Renaissance. Lee Foust, my old professor, greets me warmly from his empty apartment, and after a long chat full of candor of conquest, he cooks us veggie burgers and as we wait for Connie, the administrator from my old Florentine university. She arrives with her car ready to be packed and, after years of absense, she is brief and direct, barking, “Eric, where are you? Come help us,” efore any pleasantries can be traded, though ultimately she is pleasant enough. By evening we’ve moved all the stuff to Lee’s new place, so we grab some balcony beers for some serious balcony conversation, and considering how well-read he is, I am stuck doing my best attempt to be interesting and intelligent. The rest of the time unfolds like this, drinking and talking and listening to records (Julian Cope, Bongwater, American Music Club, et al), before finding a nearby brewery. After dinner, we watch an episode of THE INvADERS, then pass out. Morning comes and Lee is due to leave for San Francisco, but it is already ten and there is someone asleep in his bed and I am afraid to investigate — it’s his son, after all, thankfully — and with all on the table, I opt to venture out into my old city, into a garden of nostalgia. ostly I get a gelato and search for the old antique shops in town for a gift for my mom’s birthday, then sit under the window of Lungarno Archibusieri 6, eating moldy salame and stale bread, pondering again of why I put myself through this. At that moment I see my old landlady, and involuntarily call out her name, “Patrizia!” She remembers me by name and invites me up to the place to step into a past dream. Upon departure I am in tears for sure, the first time I have cried in years, I think, and we agree to have lunch together tomorrow, leaving me stuck with figuring out what to do with the rest of my day. I wonder and wander and finally it’s dinnertime, which is partly why I came back to Florence, promising myself at least one high-quality meal. I head to Mamma Gina and get the bistecca fiorentina al sangue, coupled with a liter of wine and a salad, and I pretend like I don’t speak English because I don’t want to speak with the people at the table next to me. Soon I am disgusted with myself for such pretense, and once I help them translate the menu I’ve got a bill for 42 euro and a rather luxurious drunk. I drop by what used to be the Michael Collins Pub to see if my old bartender, Alessio, is working there, but he is not, so I buy a cheap bottle of wine to stumble down the long walk home. Snuggling in for an episode of THE INvADERS, I hardly touch the montepulciano, instead falling asleep lonely and a bit sad, touched with, on the fringe, a sense of deep-rooted pleasure.

Eat My Ass

•July 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Just a bit more from the last:

I got home from the beach the other night, ready to take it easy for the night, when Matteo A. called, offering me a ride to see the Paolo Fresu concert, which was 20km outside of town.  Just to clarify, Fresu is a Sardo trumpet player who is more or less, by all appearances, internationally respected, and who, to show his commitment to his people, has committed to playing 50 shows in 50 days, for free, all over the island.  This alone is amazing to me, and I have been wanting badly to see him since Matteo first told me about him.  Thankfully, Matteo drove out of his way to pick me up and drag me out there, and, though we got there late, we managed to sneak in a few songs, and the massively long encore of a show between Fresu and the Cuban pianist, Omar Sosa.  The two certainly did love their applause, taking five handheld bows after every song, but they did play well together: Sosa did not sing, but rather mumbled and whooped into the microphone while looping and distorting his piano with his left hand.  The same, Fresu was constantly using his instrument for new functions, as percussion, for sound effects, as call-and-response, and ultimately it felt like a folksy Italian concert by The Books, if a little indulgent.  Matteo, a big Fresu fan, was very disappointed, but it was hard for me to be, particularly when we were in the middle of nowhere, amongst infinite rolling hills, with a tiny adobe church as a backdrop.  After the concert, the thousands there were treated to tons and tons of salumi, olives, pecorino, bread, and wine absolutely free, while Mr. Fresu calmly chatted to his audience from within the shelter of the church.  Again, all of the Cagliari regulars were there, those I had met in Gavoi, and we all spent a lovely night together, once the ex-president’s daughter drove Matteo and I around the anonymous hills for a long time in search of his Alfa Romeo.

The next day was simple.  I mostly went back to the beach, fell asleep under the sun, surrounded by millions with nary a foot a space to either side of me, and get back in time to get dinner in the city.  For sixteen euro off of a fixed price menu on a nondescript restaurant nearby — I was incredibly wary of a “tourist menu”, but they were the only place that served what I wanted — I got a half litre of wine, bottle of water, bread, pane carasau with pecorina ricotta, a platter of stewed mushrooms and donkey, finished by a platter of local sweets and a half pint of dessert wine.  Suffice my saying – I was pretty drunk, and certainly content, for sixteen euro.  It was my goal, as I said, to find donkey, though the restuarant’s English translation was “ass”, and I wasn’t overly disappointed, but for the fact that it mostly tasted the same as any other meat.

Afterwards, I took a stroll up to Il Castello, the fortified part of the town that is all serpentine and mysterious and dark, offering beautiful views of the city when you can find your way out of the twisting alleyways.  It is tranquil and lovely up there, though it has few shops or restaurants (probably because of that fact), and so it attracts few people despite its history (the Pisans, after conquering the city, built it, probably in the 1300s or so?).  I made my way to the Bastione St. Remy, which has a huge plateau of a piazza at the top of everything, giving a huge panorama of the bay and the city below, and though there was not live music up there as I’d hoped, there was a crafts fair.  I went immediately to the antiques man, who was selling all sorts of advertisements and film magazines and old lire from the fourties and fifties.  As I browsed, still a bit drunk, an old man taps me on the shoulder and proceeds to talk to me at a rapid pace for perhaps over an hour.  It took me probably a half an hour to have the slightest idea of who he was – I think I met him at the political roundtable the other night – and of course most of the conversation was an exercise in making myself seem like I was following what he was saying.  It was so awesome!  Being drunk, having a Sardo talk to you as if you were fluent!  I mean, really, it was about 11:30 when we said goodnight, and we/he talked about everything.  I was laughing so hard in my brain in the moments when I didn’t need to concentrate with all of my might.  “I am really in Sardegna now,” I said to myself.  The Sardi are unlike any people I’ve ever met, and I fucking love them.  I heard someone call them closed off in comparision to the Italians, but that person was a moron.  Though I didn’t see much on the island, though the natural beauty didn’t compare to that which I saw in Sicily, the cultural and personal experience, that which I could never write home about or describe to you with pictures or in conversation, was profoundly influencial, and I owe this to Matteo & Matteo.  Thank you guys, thank you, Italian professors, and thank you, Sardegna.

I am now catching a 5 hour train to the north, from whence I will take a ten hour ferry into Tuscany, then a two hour train ride into Florence.  I will be in a sour mood the next time we interact.