And Another Thing

•July 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

To continue, we were at this literary festival in Gavoi, a lovely little town without the infrastructure for so many visitors, yet with the charm enough to rationalize them, and it was spent polishing the shine of a very interesting Italian Intellectualism.  I sat in with my new friends on a number of readings and discussions, from a recently deceased journalist’s accounts of life in Iraq during our shameful war, to a young author interview between an attractive girl writing “Patricia Cornwell things,” and a tall, monotone-voiced fellow who wrote an account of a young Austrian girl locked in a cellar for years, forced by her father to have seven children.  Wow.  Anyway, these days were spent with not a word of English between them, and there were times where I felt like I was drowning, but plenty of times, too, where I felt lifted when the light turned on and I was actually able to engage in and comprehend intellectual things in another language.  For me, Italian is like astronomy: if native Italians are able to live up amongst the stars, I was before merely gazing up at a vague cloud of cosmic dust.  Now that my Italian is improving a bit, I feel like I have a telescope, and I can look at the dust and discern little sparkling bits of beauty that I never could before.

In Gavoi we ate a ton, mostly this strange purputzah sausage stuff (very fatty, juicy, perhaps cooked in vinegar and other spices), non-stop pecorino, plenty of table wine and mirtu (an herbal liquor probably exclusive to the island), and, of course, gelato.  I eat gelato every fucking day, and tried sheep salami, but did not like it as it tasted like the smell of a farm, farm too pungeant.  I like the Matteos and all of their friends, but I feel like a drain on them, like a mooch; Sardi are the most relaxed, open, and generous people – generally speaking, of course – that I have ever met.  They constantly give, and I have nothing to give back, though I did give my Wincester switchblade away to my first WWOOF host, who tried to make me a disc of Italian music but failed.  My upbringing makes me think that he tried to do that so he could ask me for the knife, which he did.  After my first experience, I think I can say that I did not love WWOOFing, though I did like it.

I came back to Cagliari the other night en route to new vacationing destinations in the north, and found that in July, all the room prices go up a ridiculous amount.  I decided that I couldn’t afford more than sixty euro per night, and Matteo Number 2 has let me stay here for the three nights until my ferry leaves for Livorno.  I really fucked up, and felt awful about this.  Still, as a result I was invited to his political roundtable, where I was greeted by old men screaming about Gramsci, absolutely shaking about the old days when the Democrats had guts, and of course it was a marvelously, unabashedly ITALIAN evening, one an American like me could never have gotten if I didn’t have such good friends.  I spent the latter part of the night speaking with an ancient old lady, Giuseppina, about many things, mostly the trip she took in the early 70s down the west coast of America, into Mexico.  My nationality became a novelty again, and as a goodbye they gave me these two little novelettes about Italian and French Cinema History (at my request), so that I might practice my Italian more.  Brilliant.  The night was spent in the alley behind the Caffè Barcelona, where all the kids formed a huge circle, sipping their Ichnusa beers, and if anyone felt like speaking, reading a poem or singing a song, or lecturing on a political matter, they could, and everyone was perfectly quiet, intent, respectful, and offered communal advice thereafter.  I had never seen anything like that before, and of course it was a who’s-who, spotting all of the acquaintences I had already made in Gavoi, from the author that bought me the beer to the ex-president’s daughter.

I am at Poetto Beach still, and it is getting close to evening, now.  A fat, defiantly hairy man wobbles on the towel next to me, and a presumed immigrant approaches him, selling towels.  More towels.  The fat man seems to feign interest for a time before the immigrant snaps to his feet: “fankoolo!  Tu, fankoolu,” storming away, waving his hands in anger, as the fat man smiles, satisfied.  Just like that.  The Vertical Belly Button has left.  By now, all the beachgoers have goten older and uglier.  Incidentally, it is time for me to go back to the city, though I shall take a brief hike up the beach, first.

“You just hiked down the boardwalk, past the millions of European tobacco hides stuffed in bulging Spandex thongs, past the swirling white harbour, where you found that boat with its American flag and the unrelated marinara cleaning it, past all the boats that make you think of Brother Brian, recently engaged to be wed, over that long levee and rock wall to the deserted beach with the half moon and the nuraghe floating above, to this little perch on a rock, the Mediterranean licking gently — oop, not so gently, now — below, and remember how you thought: this is it, this moment is purely mine, this is why I traveled so far.

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Cagg Part One

•July 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The girls here in Cagliari are overwhelmingly beautiful, handicappingly so.  I call them girls because I am here at Poetto Beach on a Friday, and they are here, not at work, which makes me assume that they do not have jobs, which makes me assume that they are girls, not women.  Female tourists, of course, do not qualify as fully grown because, as we all know by now, those that traveled are deficient.  It should also be noted that they do not seem to go into the water, though they are at the beach.  That one has metal pieces on the boob part of her bathing dress, and I wonder if they rust in the water (the boobs).  I wonder if she notices me looking at her.  Hey lips are thin, eyes light, skin dark, and her belly button is certainly vertical.  I feel alone.

Last week, I took a break break the brickwork to take a trip to a mountain town with my friend Matteo Arisci.  He was going to a Literary Festival out there with some friends, and he intoduced me to them.  One of them is also called Matteo, and this Matteo invited me to stay in his apartment, to sleep in his heb.  He is the consiglieri of the Democratic Party of Sardegna, and he introduced me to the daughter of the owner of Tiscali, a massive Italian telecommunications corporation, who is also the former president of this island.  I am not sure of what she does or has done, but she sure is purty.  One night, Matteo A. was teaching me bad words in Sardo, and she catches him, full of scorn.  Earlier that day, he and the other Matteo were changing in the street, and the ex-president himself walked by and saw them both in their underwear.  This is amusing to me because Matteo really respects both of them, and after this day, they probably do not thing the same for him, though they should.  Speaking of which, Matteo is going to pick me up for a concert in a moment, so I should go.  More in a bit.

You Can Milk A Sheep, But You Can’t Sheepa Milk

•July 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

I have nothing to write at this moment. It has been rather productive to have vented here in the pages previous, and now I feel a bit better about things. Naturally, this is how such impediments work. I have opportunities to go to other farms, including one outside of Florence, one full of foreigners and the like, and I am unsure – I feel as if it may be a copout. Anyway, I will instead now – oop, there are two sheep, and they are eating the apple tree. They sound like old men, bleating so. One has a bell, and the other is always burying his head between the other’s legs. I am told that the male was born blind, that it indeed IS a male (those are testicles!), and must follow the female’s bell around at all times. This is heartbreaking and beautiful. Anyway, I was going to run the average day here for you, okay?

I hear something scratching on the door, which is flimsy, full of cracks that let the small amount of light through at this hour. I wake to the sound of a young girl crying, but by now I know that it is only Ceccio, the loyal dog of the homestead, all long and muddy and black, dirty and ugly. In a moment, my alarm will go off – 5:30am wake up time out here – and before there’s dawnlight I’ve on my jean shorts and black Guess T-shirt that the family has loaned me (it is Italy, after all, and some no-name brand wouldn’t do). I wear the same clothes every day here, and not only are these caked with mud, but they smell like rotten curry. It is the first time in my life that I have really smelled my own B.O., and somewhere some cantankerous old man reading this is mumbling to himself, “about time you ingrates start learning the meaning of real WORK!”

I leave off my hate and shoes and find my way to the bathhouse, which is in fact the only “normal”, sturdy, functioning building on the property, one they opt to use as sparingly as possible. I find this endearing.

Each morning, the patriarch will be on the computer in that building, from where I type this now, only he wears these strange perforated glasses, always awake at an ungodly hour presumably doing rather godly things. I bid him, “buongiorno” in my 5:30 voice, he responding ever chipper and bright, and I manage my way to the bathroom for my basic preparatory duties.

He and I then meet in the main kitchen, which looks like a relic from the set of Mad Max, a descriptor I have used before. There is garlic and ladles and old calendars and sundry hanging whichways from the bamboo-esque ceiling, the raw wooden planks on the floor slanting, heaving, sticking their nails out into the morning sky.

My host waits for me at the table patiently, kettle aflame for my breakfast tea, with some toast crackers and a few different spreads out on the table: homemade orange or fig marmelade, as well as a sort of German Nutella. We greet one another once again and I pour him his coffee, he my tea, and he tells me about the dream he had last night, where Woody Allen orders dinner politely for a young actress while sitting on a couch, repeating over and over, “CouchSurfing, CouchSurfing, CouchSurfing.” Indeed, I have already exerted my influence upon his subconscience. He then tells me of his more “beautiful” dream, where everyone in his family has died, and then he, too, dies, but must ride a horse up to heaven, and instead settles on a motorcycle. He hears another person en route and ultimately finds them in a green field alongside the road, eating rotten tangerines that become fresh when you pull the string from them. I may have misunderstood some of this in the translation.

The patriarch has a sort of Bible Quote of the Day Calendar hanging above the breakfast table, and today’s is about how fornication between two men will send you straight to hell. My morning Italian skills wake screaming on this farm. He finds the corresponding bible passage and reads from it, aloud, for five minutes. I never know what to do, if it is appropriate to continue to eat, etc., but nothing seems to bother him. At the finish, he closes his eyes, and then the bible (am I supposed to capitolize it?), breathes deeply with a smile, and we start to head up to the new house. I slap on some sunscreen and a hat in case my mom is reading this, shake the mud from my shoes as I put them on, and in no time we’re at the site next door.

First thing; I grab a bag of pulverized lime ( calce), and shovel about ten kilos into the mixer (mollatza, I think, more or less) with some water, then turn it on, shielding my eyes from the corrosive cloudburst that ensues. With a pickaxe and a shovel, I load mounds of earth into the mixer, probably fifty kilos at a time, which spins and crushes with its two huge wheels like a mill. I tool around this way for a while, searching for the proper consistency, one that will never fully appease my host, and when I arrive with the wheelbarrow full of the stuff, he mutters, “bene, bene,” with his raspy, smiling voice that reminds me of Jerry Bobrow, only with a slight hint of condescention and restraint.

By now, he’s on a ladder and I am feeding him adobe bricks, perhaps fifty or more per day, constantly refilling the buckets with the mortor I’ve made, or with water he uses to bond it to the bricks, or I bring him a new ladder, or I do whatever else that comes up as needed. Sometimes we will break for a few minutes in the shade, as his wife brings us schiropo, a drink of orange peel, water, and sugar, and it is around this time that we’ll chat of Jesus, Dylan, both, or The Simpsons. Mostly during the day, though, he says in the Italian I sometimes understand, “bucket of mortor, please,” or, “20 forty kilo bricks, please,” and I nod from below, imagining that all of this lifting might help the fastball that I no longer throw. On the worksite, under that brutal sun, I spend the rest of my energy thinking. I think a lot: of family, San Francisco, girls, baseball, screenplay ideas, my future, my travel plans, song lyrics, et al. For some reason I am not proud about, I am always singing Fiona Apple to myself while pondering Jemile Weeks, the new second baseball for the Oakland Athletics, who perhaps I wished I had claimed for my fantasy baseball team. All of this goes on for a few hours, and by 11am the sun’s directly above and we have donned linen around the backs of our becks, sunglasses dangling from cables that prompts him to declare us to be, in English, “the Blues Brothers!” I am so tired by now and I hate the way he smells or the way he gasps and I think maybe he looks a little like a fattened Richard Gere with rotten teeth and when noon-thirty arrives, I’m limping and only responding to him in grunts. I clean all of the equipment with a firehouse and a nylon rag and trouch back to the house for a shower.

There, the water is never warm, and the door doesn’t close, and I like looking at myself in the mirror, covered everywhere with cracking mud because I hardly recognize myself. I use a bar of their soap, which is swampish brown, the color of the stuff I am washing off, and it smells of cheese. I must wash my hands twice more outside to get all of the dirt off before lunch, and after only a week, my hands no longer feel familiar, so dry and tough they’ve already become.

Lunch is pasta, today with a local sausage that leaps with flavor, coupled with, say, marinated zucchini or eggplant and an assortment of sheep’s cheese, most of which was made by a neighborly farmer, or by their daughter. We guzzle chilled white wine from a coke bottle to kill the heat and discuss Abbott and Costello or Berlusconi or all the weird shit that farmers eat in Italy and before long I am in bed for my afternoon nap.

I wake after maybe 2.5 hours rest, and my head is soaked with sweat – it is like walking around all day with wet socks, I am so drenched. Shielding my eyes as I emerge, for the hut has no other doors beyond mine, I sidestep Ceccio, who munches on his dick area with such cloppish fervor that he sounds like a mummy trying to chew on pudding. I could have written “yogurt”, but I find “pudding” to be funnier. Yank. Making my way to the other structure, I try for internet. If one of my hosts is there, I pretend like I’m headed for the bathroom, and will spend the rest of the day either writing emails or reading Pynchon’s V, or a McSweeney’s Compilation that Aaron loaned me from New York, or maybe I am whittling wood with my knife, or doing nothing at all. Dinner arrives by around 9pm, by when I tend to be rather hungry, and it is usually comprised of leftovers and maybe homemade prosciutto, so forth – tonight they are making tripe for me before the new guests arrive tomorrow. By the end, they’ll have brought out a bottle of some wine or liquor they’ve made, including Mirtu, which is earthy, sweet, herby, and delicious. And alcoholic.

By night we all end up on the porch, outside just a few feet from the dinner table, where we talk for a few hours of politics or religion. The patriarch tends to get upset over something – he is rather devout while his wife is a bit like me, skeptical, wry, contemplative over religious matters – and sometimes he ends up shouting. I respect his passion by now, however. Never do I understand everything, and often I am feigning laughter, agreeing to things that escape me, but each day my contribution grows, and I am finally now expressing myself in Italian as I wish to, though I have no other choice. The matriarch lights her Pueblo cigarettes, draws smoke from between the wide gaps in her yellowing teeth, flies landing on the black mole on her dark olive face, and as she nods, her body does, too. She’s always there, ready to guide me along in the conversation, helping me with words, and I find her to be both the stereotypical and atypical Italian woman at once. She makes this place feel like home.

By the time I’m in bed, door and window closed from the buzz of the hungry mosquitos outside, I hardly have time to consider my day, as I’m alseep as soon as I allow myself to be. Maybe there isn’t much to contemplate out here, but stars and fireflys (which, incidentally, don’t blink on this island as they do in the mainland. Fun fact), for we don’t really DO anything or go anywhere, at all. I am starting to consider that maybe this was my initial battle, as a person who can’t sit still, that this is why I’m here, that this is what I’m learning. Tomorrow may be more of the same. I’m okay with that.

All The World Is Green

•June 28, 2011 • 1 Comment

Alright, so I’m on this farm, isolated somewhere on an already isolated Italian island, and the central question here, since my arrival, has been: “am I a masochist?” Though surrounded by considerable beauty and a degree of kindness, I’m not sure if reduction – that is, simplifying things from want to need based on a model that is rather typically selfish, yet coupled with a not-quite-as-typical-as-normal sense of materialism – allows for more time spent devoted to ruminating on these matters, or less, rather, but the point is that I am thinking of them over my summer vacation.

I think of them on the 1.5 hour bike, midday bikeride under a vicious sun to a beach at which I spend five minutes, pedaling up and down hills all day before arriving, by night, at an unmarked dirt rode peppered by countless unmarked outlets and even more cacti. Cacti?
I think of them, lugging 40-50kg adobe bricks all over, what, 1,000 square feet of private homeowner terrain before a rather familiarly attractive, if unspectacular backdrop of Southeast Sardegna, a place I traveled 36 hours and spent most of my savings for.

I think of them while listening to my host, a middle-aged non-Sardo Italian who likens himself to a sort of pastoral Flanders, for all of his piousness, which is seemingly undoubtable, and for his cool temperament, which is of course evident whenever he explodes in fits at his impossibly intelligent, patient, and equally unattractive wife over matters simple and, to be even more frank, rather chauvenistic.

I do also think of them as I build a house, by hand, in Italian, which is an experience you don’t often find where I come from. Alas. I have catapulted myself into a land three times foreign, once by territory, twice by proximity or geography, and thrice by mentality. If this what I wanted of my vacation, I got it.

My arrival on Friday was nice enough, finding a small, sunburned family waiting shoeless at the lunch table, which was covered with mussels, octopus, and pesto. By Sunday’s return from the beach, I found a scene that was slightly Felliniesque, were he to ever have turned his eye on this jolly old barnyard. As the patriarch of the family held his spiritual meeting in that pristine, professionally-built home on the outskirts of the farmland (unused in favor of their mud shack, interestingly enough), I was greeted, one-by-one, by a flurry of characters, each one warm, each curious, each colored a different shade. The slightly squishy, slightly precocious little girl with her eye on the glamour of Hollywood, picking caterpillars from the trees; the trunk-built, Danish pastor, who finds himself here after many travels of “healing” around the world, and who is incidentally the first person I’ve found to speak English, which is his only language outside of Danish; there is the leathery, white-haired couple who peer at me heartily through stained teeth, recalling their time, thirty years ago, in Houston, swearing that Redding, California is the present mecca for God’s touch, for the miraculous cures that have been occurring there; there is the bronzed, bandana-topped single mother of the caterpillar girl and at least three others of that gender, who leads each into an oxidized blue minivan, yet never says a word; there is the matriarch of the farm, who grims through all of this occurring at her house as if she didn’t welcome it at all; there is me, covered desperately in fat, sticky mosquito bites, sleeping fourteen hours per day, living within the expressive limits of his broken Italian, clinging to his time alone, fighting to comprehend any of the above.

Today, as I was guided by a fellow visiting volunteer farmer, a dreadlocked Sicilian, though the plot of land gifted to the farmowners’ green-eyed daughter, who he has been seemingly banging over his two months here, and to whom, incidentally, he seems to be bethrothed by his religious host (uh-oh), I was reminded again, indeed, how foreign this land was, and to what extent they’ve made it moreso. What a sentence that was: phew. Here, the horse feeds from a retired pisspot. Water is heated for the house from a butterflied refrigerator. Holes are dug, then filled by rusty oil drums, then forgotten, as other dead appliances mingle nearby. Baths next door are taken in holey porcelain, but outdoors, amongst the trees. Conversations are ever-political, ever-epic, ever explicit. Well, nearly.

With a walk through the garden, I’m shown the bounty that this land offers her guests: “zucchone,” they say, gesturing toward zucchini plants bigger, more succulent than I’ve ever seen. “Pomodori,” they say, pointing to the vines snaking their way, spearmint green, amongst the rest. I keep seeing these spender, spiky plants, maple leaves without a tree, or fruit, or flower, almost plasticine in their perfection, and after the tenth plant, I have no choice but to ask after their identity. My hosts look at one another, smiles shaking nervously in the slight breeze: “pomodori,” they say. They are not mentioned again.

Lavender & Spit

•June 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The airport in Reykyavik (Kevflavik? Eriksson?) is beautiful.  The runway is lined with lavender, the building is slanted in sandstone and gunmetal and lively woods, and the terminal has no clocks.  The only bathroom’s toilet is clogged and there’s no water fountain, though the building is glimmeringly new.  They run you through another security checkpoint and stamp your passport twice en route to the UK.  I’m not quite sure of the day but for what it says on my ticket, which lists an airport name different from the terminal, which, incidentally, falsely informs me that the flight is delayed one hour, causing me to nearly miss my flight while waiting in the same terminal.

I’m stuck in a middle seat with a beautiful woman on my right – she turns out to be a professor of public policy and we talk for hours, my brain exploding with thoughts and ideas, completely unable to sleep, so provocative is the conversation.  The plane seems to be from 1974, with ashtrays and ancient TVs, neither of which actually work.  I’ve been traveling for48 hours, with a brief layover in New York, where I manage to see Jon, Aaron, Harper, Rob, Dana, Christine, Emily, etc., which is rejuvenating.  I nevertheless manage to avoid a proper meal, which is okay because the Shake Shack, for all of its glory, gives me a dose of traveler’s D. Thankfully, though, Iceland Express doesn’t include food with their $800+ fare, so my stomach can stew on fumes alone.

Upon touchdown, we’re whisked into an empty airport though the entire practice outlined above, before heading directly back upon the same plane we’d arrived in.  This This is particularly worth mentioning because it is now that I notice all the graphics on the outside.  I had thought the airline to be sponsored in some scheme by/with Iron Maiden, of all bands, but at the nose is listed a field of visited cities, and it is here that I realize: we’re on Iron Maiden’s co-opted, repurposed tour plane.  The airline is too cheap to repaint their own fleet.  Oh dear.

Editor’s Note: Since arriving in London and sitting down with Rob, my old friend from my Melbourne days, I’ve been informed that Iron Maiden is, in a sense, sponsored by the airline in the sense that, uh, Bruce Dickinson was piloting the flight.  I’m so confused.  I’m also here, and I’ve forgotten that I’d liked London once away from the Bridge and all the tourist junk.  The British are great, so modest and helpful, and I fall in love with the old man in the long black mac and cockney hat with the crook nose handing out newspapers by the Ealing Broadway Station.  He keeps staring out into the distance with a subtle smile, as if to dream of the days when he was younger, what he had done, what he could have done, what he didn’t do.  There is not sadness there, but there is regret, and I wonder how he found himself a paperman here at this age, and what he REALLY is thinking about, staying off so far away.  And then I realize, oop, he’s probably just blind.

I get to spend the night in the pub, and at 3am I head to the airport, off to Italy!  Wow.  P.S. I think my camera is broken, so you’ll all just have to use your imaginations.

The End

Musical Ghee

•May 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(A musical excerpt from the forthcoming screenplay.  The scene involves a recently-abandoned tourist stranded on the outskirts of Pinyang, a fictional Asian metropolis, as he’s musically ambushed from the shadows by a group of leprous expatriate grafters and cast-offs):

Here the moon is an overturned barrel of lard/

And you might lose your fingernails if you’re not on your guard

So to keep you from sinking, then here’s what we say:/

Just stay on your own path and from there never stray

(Grafter #1): I lick my own armpit at the sign of attraction/

The girls find it strange, but hey, it’s my passion

(Grafter #2) And I can’t stop crying when a dog defecates/

But can joyful tears make a mans second-rates?

(Grafter #3) For me it’s raw flesh on my tongue as it trembles/

Tearing it far off from what it prior resembled

ALL: It’s not a matter of what you are after/

Where one man’s corpse is another man’s laughter

Just stay true to yourself  and don’t be complicit/

To other’s plans for your life and for their place within it

SPOKEN WORD INTERMISSION

Protagonist: That sounds great.  But what do gives YOUR life meaning, balding, eyeless man?

B.E.M: I force malnourished orphans to aid me in pickpocketing wealthy tourists in crowded marketplaces!

P: What about you YOU, scary-looking expatriate wielding festering wounds and a rusty shiv?

S.L.E.W.F.W.A.A.R.S:  I start bar fights that help facilitate the organ trade black market by making someone’s death seem an isolated and self-inflicted incident!

P: And YOU, deathly-skinny, toothless, smiling vagrant?

D.S.T.S.V: I quit my job in international commerce to travel the world, selling rice-paper flowers and playing music!

P: Oh.

ALL: Just stay true to yourself and don’t be complicit/

You are who you are and your life is exquisite/

You can be what you love and from others elicit/

Limitless joy and energy if you’ll permit it

For just a dash of confidence and a sprinkle of cunning/

Oh dear, I think there’s somebody coming.

Phad-Ra Turkeysauce, Thai Superhero

•April 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I was working on a screenplay set in a country that is not Thailand, and I had this character that deserved more time than the plot allowed him, so I wrote him a song:

My name Phad-Ra Turkeysauce I a Thai superhero/

I make angry face like Robert DeNiro

I work at hotel in the day time or night/

I beat all the thiefs when we’re in a fight/

My dad is preserved in a coffin that’s white

I’m Phad-Ra, Phad-Ra

The Turkeysauce King

My name is Phad-Ra Turkeysauce I a Thai superhero/

There are many things I like and I also like whiskey!

When I was 15 my father was dead/

We stuff him with newspaper in the butt and the head/

The coffin is white but I wanted it red/

SO NOW I FIGHT CRIME