Saturday, August 28, 2010

I will be back in California in eleven days. It will have been the longest span of time i have ever spent outside the state, not including the first two years of my life. I miss it like it is a person, the shape of the roads, the fengshui of certain intersections, the way the geography shifts and merges. I miss california trees, too, redwoods and valley oak and jacaranda (north to south). Maybe it is also that so much of italy is reminiscent of California ... Or vise-versa. I am happy to be here but i will also be very happy to be home, back in the familiar shape of things.

Home home home home

Friday, August 27, 2010

cinque terra.

this place is wonderful ... sort of like an exotic hawaii with the kind of espresso that justifies all espressos. and cappuchinos. and macchiatos. and everything else that comes in a tiny cup.

all of the people are like birds. young women in patterned sundresses, preening and tropical. fat old women, their faces like heavy wrinkled leather after a lifetime of deep tanning, wear floral sundresses and sit butt-to-butt on brightly colored benches and squack all at once at each other. an old man stands like a crane under a tree in the piazza, leaning forward with hands behind his back, the top button of his pants undone but held up just under his armpits by a belt. i fought like a pigeon with an old woman over my sandwitch in the milan train station. (except that this was my crumb, with cheese from the bernese oberland and i was the younger, healthier pigeon.) (nevertheless, it is worth noting that what she lacked in youth she made up for in aggression.)

all of the birds are like lizards, and all of the lizards move like water in quickly evaporating splashes.

my old undergraduate is in session and i could be in graduate school, but instead i'm swimming in the mediterrainian. (also, i am Eating Italian Food with all the gusto of a Good American.)

yesterday, i was stung on the calf by a jellyfish and followed out of the water by a fat old woman who lifted her butt to show somebody where the jellyfish had got her. she wins. the running sucks because it is just so damn humid, even at 7am. (when the church bells wake everybody up with a recitation lasting two minutes and thirty seconds.) i return every morning after my run to the hostel dripping with sweat and nauteous.

the hostel is actually a small apartment with brown linoleum from the seventies that i share with five other people. everybody is very respectful, and the apartment is quite cozy. we hang our clothes on a line outside the window to dry, though they never really do.

aside from the occasional man with a whistling tick, or the street solicitors, or the occasional hungry senior citizen, italy so far gets my check of approval. tomorrow is rome. then florence? pompeii? lake como?

i bought an olympus trip 35 at a flea market back in switzerland that WORKS. it cost me five francs and doesnt have a functional light meter, and all i have control over is the aperture. it is also a rangefinder, so i cant actually see if anything is in focus. in sum, i'm guessing with everything. other than that it takes some pretty sharp looking negs, and i'm excited to develop the rest of my film back in the states. yes yes yes.

best to everybody who reads this, whoever you are (somebody in oregon, who the hell are you?),


Monday, August 16, 2010

my german has vastly improved since my last blog installment -- my list of available communicative phrases now includes such things as

das ist folle (it is full)
das ist nicht folle (it is not full)
wo ist die whale (where is the whale)
i can also call somebody a dick, a butterfly, a pile of shit, and a bullet-shitter (perfectionist)

(it is worth noting that this did me a lot of good for the week i spent in england. i found myself resisting the urge to cry 'salle!' as i ran past people, or thank the check at the grocery with a 'merci vielmal, cheers, ciao.' signs were printed ... in english.)

the weather is either wonderful or miserable. when it is good, butterflies flutter across a path that is lined with wild strawberries ripe for picking. the view extends until a mountain rises like a seperate planet to intercept it. english tourists approach me and ask, 'do you speak any english?' there is sweat, sunburn, cold glacial river water, dirt and beer. when it is bad, the snow creeps in at night and locks down the hostel like its christmas. scents become almost palpable, the cameraderie created by common shelter and common food, the necessity is so calm it is like a sudden deep winter. quiet in the house, sounds of dishes clinking and people talking. i realized that one of the only times that my family in the states is calm and relaxed all at once in the house for more than 15 minutes is during christmas and sometimes thanksgiving. the event enforces. these people are my second family and christmas lasts for three months with extensive bursts of idyllic summertime.

a couple months ago, a friend of mine responded to an email in which i described some of the people here. 'back country whack-jobs,' he called them.

wrong. they are unreasonably kind and overwhelmingly loving. i sat and growled at my inbox for several minutes after recieving his message, and didnt reply straight away. then i am a back country whack-job.

as far as living-in-a-hostel goes, living-with-fifty-strangers-every-night, sharing a kitchen with people who dont know how to light the stove, or work the showers, or change their bedsheets --- for a while it was like watching the same sardonic film every day with a different cast. all the tourists ask all the same questions as the ones before them. they tell the same stories. and now, as horrible as it is, i dont even see them. they become like the longform of water in a stream over an exposure of a week or three. i see the shape of the building, frequent currents, and the occasional exception. i see my hosts and my coworkers, bottles of wine, chocolate cake, hams and turkeys passing through like so many essential blessings. the guests are invisible.

several days ago, i went to buy a ticket at the cable car station and was nearly hit in the face by a flying slice of sausage that the ticket lady was throwing out of the window to a tabby cat on the floor on the other side. the ticket lady was slicing the sausage into very thin pieces and smiling blissfully; the cat had so much sausage it didnt know what to do. a couple nights later, she came to the hostel and ordered a raclette (which the hostel has recently taken to serving, because the locals like it, the tourists appreciate 'cultural experiences' and because it is easy to make) and ate it by herself at one of the benches in the back. her dalmation ('my husband', as she she calls him) begged (with great success) at the corner of the table, while she smiled up at a worker who was sitting on the railing of the front porch with his guitar. she ate all by herself, and left without finishing her beer. looking down from the railing at the empty single setting of raclette and the half-full beer cast against the backdrop of the mountains after she had left, alone, was the saddest, most facinating tableau of swiss isolation.


entry from the family photographic archives for sunday, august 15th, 2010. this entry is chosen in honor of the midnight accordion lesson i recieved from an exceptionally good-looking swiss man about a three weeks ago, and the subsequent series of jam sessions. playing the piano has become sort of a social necessity -- it is a service to the people in my life. if you know carpentry, then you are obligated help with their cupboards. if you can play the piano, you are obligated to play in the evenings. wine helps. whiskey helps more.

Clarence and Frank, K Street

the boy on the left is my grandfather -- the same grandfather who serrendipitously loved gimmelwald as much as i do, and which i didnt learn about until after i had gone there, and he had passed away.

i like to think that being here was one of the things that i was meant to do, a place that i was destined to find myself at this time regardless of everything that happened before. it would have happened somehow. i would have been with these people on this mountain. i am supposed to be here.

my dad came to visit me some weeks ago, and arrived on one of the last cable cars up to the mountain. we were sitting around a table, drinking beer and listening to one of the workers play guitar. my dad walked into the hostel, pointed to me, and burst into tears. 'this really is like the end of the world,' he burbled.

i am obsessed with the idea of going further into it. but these are places that you cant go by yourself. i'm working on finding those other people.


sometimes a person does outrageous things for reasons they can't explain. the reasons surface into the living of the question. i am here for three months. nowhere. everywhere essential. outrageous?

i am experiencing ... empathy. i love people. i love textures and tastes and smells and small talk. and then i am loving people. a warm spot in my chest.

i havent felt this in a long time. that scares me, that it has been so long. that whatever happened happened however long ago that it stopped.

it's like my heart is a rusty machine that is suddenly started to work again. slow fits and starts.

that's why i'm here now.