Tuesday, December 9, 2008

NYC: A Prayer for the Afflicted

Last Saturday afternoon, December 6th, I descended the stairs into a subway station in midtown Manhattan. I wasn't on the platform for more than 10 minutes when I saw a man hobbled down the stairs, struggling a little with each step. I watched as he walked over to one of the posts where he propped himself up and waited with the rest of us for the next train. I don't know how commuter traffic normally is, but I imagine it is much like it was that day every day. Not too crowded, but enough so that from time to time you would need turn your body a bit to let others by.

Apart from his obvious impairments, there wasn't anything at all assuming about this man's appearance. He seemed somewhat disabled and that seemed to be that. One wouldn't feel an overbearing sense of pity for him because, at a glance, he carried himself as if it had been his condition his entire life.

It must have been about noon when the train pulled up to the platform. The doors opened and a steady diffusion of people getting off and getting on ensued. With a polite chime, the doors closed and we were off. I looked around at the bodies and faces around me, as I, like many I suppose, are prone to doing. I studied each one only for a moment, guessing where they might live, from which country they originated, and wondering whether or not English was their first language, assuming they spoke it at all. And then, quite by chance, my eyes landed on the same man who had struggled down the stairs.

As the train got up to traveling speed, he rose and made his way to a pole in the center where propped himself up again. In a deliberately loud voice, loud enough to surpass the murmur of conversation and the clanging of the train, but not loud enough to startle, he began to speak. There's little of what he said that I remember verbatim, but I remember clearly his introduction:

"Excuse me everyone! Can I have your attention please? I'm a little embarrassed to do this ..."

He spoke slowly. One could hear some manner of impairment in his speech, but it was clearly not a substance-induced slur. In this moment that seemed about 10 times as long as it was, I studied his face. The left side seemed disfigured; something I hadn't noticed on the platform. It looked almost like the gradual tug of time and gravity on a man of 70 years, yet there was hardly a trace of a wrinkle. In that same instant I also realized that it was the left side that slouched. His right side seemed to carry his weight and direct his awkwardly propelled momentum.

He carried on, explaining how he had recently suffered a stroke which had attacked primarily the left side of his body, rendering him partially disabled and disfigured. His face was not marred by time, gravity, or some corrosive material. It was wrenched and twisted by involuntary muscular distress. In his thick New York accent, he explained that he had been going to physical therapy for several months now, and that it had been going pretty well.

The train stopped and the diffusion of crowds commenced again. Just before the stop, he began to struggle with completing his thought. The stop didn't seem to be the trigger as he had started struggling just prior. It wasn't until after the train had started moving again that he was able to get back on track. He finished by saying that his union had said he should be able to return to some light lifting in several months time, and he was encouraged by that. Then he proceeded with how his condition had affected his family, saying that they were doing pretty badly. He had two children, both in school, and was unable to provide them with sufficient clothing.

He could have been lying for all I know. Call it naivety, but he did not seem to be of deceitful character and he certainly wasn't faking the marring on his face. He was clearly uncomfortable about asking for help, but he did it because he felt he had to. It was difficult to watch, not just because of the social awkwardness, but because for some reason I felt this sense of embarrassment for him. I'm not sure why; perhaps because it was a pitiful display of how unable he was to take care of himself. It was sheer vulnerability. I don't know if that's why I felt that way, but as much as I'd like to think it wasn't, I can't think of a better explanation. For him and for others afflicted with incapacitating illness, a prayer:

God you are good. We can only hope to understand even a fraction of your love, and strive to love faithfully as you do, even when we see things that we feel are too cruel to be. To those of us with means God, give us the compassion and willingness to reach out to those encumbered by debilitating health conditions. It's not the ability we lack, it's the softness of heart. Open the eyes, and more importantly the hearts of the people of New York City, so that they are compelled to extend their hands in love to the afflicted. Your love is endless God, and you love the vulnerable. Give us the strength and character to love those struck down; to look past our doubts and our fleeting self-reliance. It could have just as easily been me, Donald Trump, or anyone else in the city that suffered a stroke. Give us the the strength so accept this, and the compassion to live as if the victim had been someone precious to us.

NYC: A Prayer for the Homeless

Somewhere in Manhattan, not too far off from Times Square, Erin and I were walking. It was in the afternoon on Friday, and we were indulging in our exploration just a couple of hours or so before heading to the MoMA. We turned a crowded corner and something caught my eye. It looked like a garbage bag tossed against the side of the building, and we stepped to our right to dodge it. I looked a bit closer as a I passed and realized, to my horror, it was a woman in a tattered blanket.

She was partially lying on the sidewalk, and partially leaning against the wall. It was a strange, contorted position and I can't imagine how it was at all comfortable. Her face was distraught. She looked genuinely afraid and almost as if she were crying. In her hands was a paper cup, which she was clutching with effort and yet failing to hold straight up.

I've never seen a homeless person seem so miserable in this country. Perhaps that sounds naive, but generally when I pass such people they in no way resemble what I saw in her. Sometimes they appear half sane. Sometimes they appear drunk. Sometimes they seem carefree and almost blissful, and other times they seem quite unhappy. However, never before had I seen one of them looking utterly miserable, unhappy, and afraid. It wrenched my heart and I stopped in my tracks, feeling completely helpless.

I regret not doing something, though I can't imagine what I could have done. I could have put my arm around her, I could have sat with her. However, nothing I was capable of doing could have sustained her in any way for more than a few minutes. I thought of the Salvation Army bell-ringers standing at practically every corner, putting on a sideshow to collect the change from passers-by. I thought of the almost theatrical members of the homeless coalition that were as frequently distributed. I was angered at these thoughts. No, it wasn't their fault and yes, they probably did serve the homeless. Nonetheless, something seemed unjust, and my conscience demanded a perpetrator. And so out of helplessness, faith and hope, I offer a prayer for the homeless:

God, have mercy on the downtrodden in New York City. Have mercy on the mentally ill and grace on the irresponsible. To the downtrodden: stretch out your hand over them as members of organizations like the Salvation Army, but also, and perhaps more importantly, through the hands and hearts of the city's inhabitants. May it be placed heavily on them that these people are their brothers and their sisters. That taxation or progressive administrative infrastructure do not remove a shred of the responsibility that each of us share in loving and caring for them with our own hands. They are your children as much as we are. They are as undeserving of your compassion as we are. I pray that we know this, and that we reach out to them in love twice as hard because of this knowledge.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Joyful Noise

Monday, November 24, 2008

Job 3:20-26

I've been reading the book of Job, and even though this passage is about sheer suffering, there is so much more than that in this book. For now:

"Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?
For my groaning comes at the sight of my food,
And my cries pour out like water.
For what I fear comes upon me,
And what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet,
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes."


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama: American Stories, American Solutions

Last night, Barack Obama aired a personal statement to the American public on prime time TV. It was pretty amazing, and of course I'm biased. Whatever your political alignments may be, and whether or not you've already cast your vote, I encourage you to watch it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama on O'Reilly: Taxation and My Input

I recently posted a response to a topic about Obama's tax policy (as recently discussed with Bill O'Reilly) to a facebook group. I wanted to repost it here because it is, for me, a rounded response to a question many right-wing and perhaps swing voters are asking. The topic as posted is:

On the O’reilly show this week, O’reilly asked Obama about his tax plan. Obama claims that he will be lowering taxes for 95% of the population. In addition, he will be raising taxes for folks who make the kind of money that he himself and O’Reilly make, specifically, he will put it back to the 39% that it was under Clinton. . O’Reilly calls this “class warfare” and “income redistribution… a socialist tenet”. What this means, according to O’reilly, is that Obama is taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the poor. Is Obama's plan fair?

My response:

I am a big believer in understanding the greater scope of a question before attempting a response, so I figured having a very unemotional understanding of the word "fair" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fair) was a good start. Having digested that, I offer two contrary responses, the first being a view through what I consider a typically republican and sighted-lens.

All people are equal. We are bound to the same socioeconomic environment, and as such should submit to it and draw from it in equal proportions. In a free market system that allows people to excel, proportional submission would probably manifest as (at least) an income tax that requires the same percent from each person. You pay 36%, I pay 36%, Bill Gates pays 36%.

My other response, the one I am more aligned with, is that the first response is based on a microcosmic reality and is therefore invalid. Obama makes at least two points in that segment that hit on this. First of all, 36% of Bill Gates' annual income, while astronomical, is not something that he would find financially difficult to part with. On the contrary, 36% of a single parent's $45,000/yr earnings would be quite difficult to do without. Therefore I don't see how one can assert that proportional taxation is fair, because the lower/lower-middle class will still be under greater a burden than the upper.

I also want to respond to two things O'Reilly said. One was his submission that taxing the rich more than the poor is, in and of itself, a waging of class warfare. I'd say that is generally excessive and historically ignorant, given such events like the French Revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution), in which the classes were actually warring. He also said that such taxation would be income redistribution, a "socialist tenet." This is also a hyperbole, with an actual historical example being the Cuban Revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Revolution).

As for a justification of higher taxation on the rich, I offer a quote from Spider Man's uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility." Think of the taxation as the fee for the luxury of living in a free, developed, and socially stable country in which you can thrive and excel to your highest aspirations. One can't do such a thing near as easily in any other country in the world than the US. There are many reasons why that is so, but one of them is the simple fact that, as Americans, we generally believe financial success to be attainable by anyone. Those of us that fall short of such achievements accept it as the result of our own choices: perhaps we want to live modestly, perhaps we did poorly in school and have accepted the consequences. The point is that we as a society, in general, believe in our individual capacities to effect our own fates. The mere acceptance of such a belief is a major social stabilizer, because it levels the playing field.

Having said all that, my answer is that I see Obama's tax plan as fair when applied to the context to which he is applying it (which I assert is "reality", or is at least more realistic than that demanded by the former view). I also want to reiterate my rebuttals to O'Reilly's assertions of "class warfare" and "income redistribution," both of which are simply inaccurate statements.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Partial Cop-Out

Now that I've effectively alienated the few people that might have been reading my blog, I decided to make a quick update. After all, what could be more romantic than a futile attempt to redeem the irredeemable?

For whatever reason I've just not been able to focus on a collection of thoughts from which to try and forge an at least partially comprehensible writing. As such I've started using Twitter and have added a "Twitter Updates" window on the right. From there you can see my Twitter posts, elect to follow me if you have a Twitter account, or subscribe to my Twitter feed (RSS). If you're unfamiliar with Twitter, think of it as a kind of blogging tool for those short on words. What it actually is is a simplistic social application to which you post really short messages about what you are doing at that moment. You can post messages to it via web, SMS/text messages from your cell phone, Dashboard Widgets, and probably a plethora of other means. Kind of a goofy idea at first, but once I started using it I found it to be pretty cool.

Anyway, I do vow to return to writing real posts backed by a proper attention span and developed thought, but until then here's a video for you to enjoy:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Life: Shutdown

Tomorrow morning afternoon Erin and I leave for Milan, where we will couch surf until Thursday when we fly back to the US. This will be my last post from Italy, short and sweet.

A Week of Lasts
The past few weeks have been filled with lasts. From practical things like the last tube of toothpaste, last bar of soap, and the last bottle of olive oil, to the more personal things like our last trip outside of the city and our last dinner with some Italian friends. Now it's come down to the more sentimental things, like our last walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo (5:20am this morning), last passeggiata (stroll) along the Arrno River, and finally ending with our last caffè in the city on our last walk to the Santa Maria Novella train station tomorrow morning. It's a sad thought accentuated by the cool breeze coming through my window, which is carrying both the sound of the bells from the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the refreshing smell of jasmine.

Subtle Inspiration
I've looked out my window at this same sky for almost a year and not once have I felt the slightest bit bored of seeing it. Over the time it really hasn't changed all that much. The sun is out much longer, sure, but the sunsets are no more or less brilliant now than they were two, three, or seven months ago. Apart from the hours of light perhaps the only difference is that now the sky is full of swifts in the mornings and evenings. These birds seem so happy and energetic all the time, it's invigorating to just see them. Hearing them is funny as well, and I've been waking up to the sounds of their making laps as they pass by our bedroom window. I've never been to a nascar race, but the image I have of them reminds me of the swifts. They fly so fast in these random elliptical patterns, squealing almost the entire time. As they pass within about 3 yards of the window their happy noises rapidly go from kind of quiet, to really loud, to kind of quiet again. From my perspective it seems like the natural thing to do, if you're a bird. I mean why not pass your days zipping in and out of the marvelous splendors that make up Florence?

The Question to Persist
The journey home to St. Augustine will be a long one, much longer than usual. It's not the trains, planes, or the interstate that will be so rigorous, but rather the spiritual and emotional journey. Usually the idea of home is an emotionally well-defined idiom, but these days it's not so defined for me. Florence has become another home and leaving will cut just as leaving St. Augustine did. I know that we will return at some point, I'm just not sure of how, when, or where. Fortunately those questions are more details than they are questions, which is relieving because I (as usual) have so many in my head at the moment. There is one left to answer that I believe to be the most pivotal, and is certainly the most clearly defined.

The question is this: In the context of entire my life, what does this experience mean? What role does it play? Of course I don't have an answer, and it's not one I believe should have an empirical one. Over the course of my life I suspect that I will answer this question many times, each time with a bit more perspective than the last.

Il Soggiorno, Il Lavoro, e Il Nullaosta, part 3

6. May 9th: I Went to the DPL
Having been given the advice by the Prefettura to go to the Direzione Provinciale del Lavoro di Firenze (the Labor department of the province of Florence), or DPL as I've been referring to it, I decided to go there after sharing what I had learned with the company trying to hire me. Like me, they were surprised and frustrated to hear the explanation given for the rejection of my request. At this point I had pretty much abandoned all hope of obtaining a work permit, but I figured that there was no harm in making a final attempt. And so on Friday, May 9th, the exact day on which my student visa expired, I rode down to the DPL.

The inside of the DPL felt much like any state-run office I've ever been in, anywhere. It's bland, dingy with a borderline dirty feel, and has the atmosphere of being entirely functional (a particularly un-Italian trait). I didn't know who exactly I needed to see and there was no front desk at which I could ask, so I wandered the halls for a bit. After about 10 minutes I stopped a lady in the hall and asked if she could help me. I told her what I had come to do and she kindly led me to where I needed to go. I stood in line for 10-15 minutes with a group of about 13 other people - some Italian, some not. When my turn finally came around I went in the office and was greeted by a woman that couldn't have been more than 2 years older than me. She asked me how she could help, and I explained my situation. She reluctantly concurred with the explanation as it was written on my rejection noticed, to which I nodded and then contested, explaining why the whole situation didn't make sense. She was very kind and empathetic, even if not at all helpful. In the end she asked me if I was able to write in Italian, and then had me write a letter to the head of the department, explaining in detail my situation and asking if there was anything that could be done to aid the situation.

It felt much like an exam, and for anyone who's studied Italian, think back to when you had to write papers or do written exercises. It's considerably more difficult to write than it is to speak or read. Add on the the pressure of doing this in a public office, where the recipient is a state official from whom you need assistance to remain in the country. Anyway, I got it done and handed it over. She told me that it would be processed by post (of course), and I would receive a response by the same. Obviously, I don't count on a response before I'm already back in the US. Anyway, that was that and I don't think I could have done anything better than I did it. I didn't come here with the intention of remaining and working, and so I had to learn in a trial-by-fire method. Things still would have taken a long time, but the processes would have been started earlier.

I'm probably not the first person to do this, but I'd wager that I'm one of very few people that have been to the Bargello and the DPL in the same day, and believe me when I say the experiences polar opposites. It would be nice to stay here, but I don't regret the way things have concluded. I find this odd sense of peace strange because normally regret is one of my more potent feelings, and especially because I really like the idea of staying. For some reason though, things just seem in place, and for that I am thankful. I know that some day, in some capacity, I will be here again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Il Soggiorno, Il Lavoro, e Il Nullaosta, part 2

3. December 21st: The company requested a nullaosta to hire me.
A week or so before Christmas, the company started the paperwork that would hopefully result in permission being granted to hire me. This kind of request is called a nullaosta and by itself is a complicated process, so adding my unique situation laid the foundation for a bureaucratic casino (a mess). My situation was this: I'm here under a student visa which would allow me to receive a permesso di soggiorno da studio (permit to study), which in turn would allow me to work a maximum of 20 hours per week throughout its validity. I need that converted from a permesso da studio (permit to study) to a permesso da lavoro (permit to work) in order to take the full time position. Oh yeah, and I need that conversion done based on a permit that will never be realized because its issuance won't even be considered until 3 months after I will have had to leave Italy.

4. I waited.
After some research by the administrative worker at the company, he was led to believe by the labor department that this could be done. He was encouraged and thus so was I. We submitted the paperwork and waited. And waited. After the occasional email correspondence with the company and no news from the police, I resolved to suck it up and go to the Questura (police station). If you are unaware of what a trip to the Questura is like, read Erin's post about hers or thumb through Melinda Gallo's many. It was March by now, so I had waited a little over 2 months before running out of patience. After about 4 hours in line (a relatively short time for the Questura), I learned that I would have to go to the Prefettura (prefect's office) to get news about the processing of my nullaosta. Two days later I went to the Prefettura, which directed me to a different office. I went to that office where I was told that I couldn't be there unless I had been summoned, and if I wanted information I had to request it by phone. The offices to which the number rang were open Monday-Thursday from 10am to 2pm (this is a classic example of Italian bureaucracy and reminds me of this video). After calling for two days with no answer, I retired to checking the notices on the website which never seemed to change.

5. May 7th: I received an official denial.
On May 7th I received my official rejection letter from the Sportello Unico per l'Immigrazione (main immigration office). They provided a reason for the rejection which shouldn't have surprised me. It read that according to the labor department:

"Il richiedente, da quanto dichiarato in domanda, non risulta in possesso del permesso di soggiorno per studio."

As all things bureaucratic, the language is quite removed and archaic. Basically it says that the person asking cannot be granted the conversion because he does not actually have the permit to be converted. Sounds logical enough right? I'd say so. Perfectly reasonable, except for the part where the same department said that one didn't have to have the permit in order to convert it! Probably about an hour after I read the notice I received a phone call from the Prefettura, saying that they had a document for me regarding my request and I needed to come and pick it up. I told him that I had just received a document from the post office and that it sounded like the same one. He said that wasn't possible, so I hopped on my bike with a vain hope giving my legs an uncommon strength. I arrived only to receive the same document, to which the man sincerely apologized. He said that I could go to the labor department and ask about the rejection, and it was possible that they could help me.

I thanked him and left his office, and on my way out I had a nice chat with a couple of the workers about my situation. It's fairly common in my experience for an Italian to be interested in an American, especially one that can speak Italian. They weren't sure that I was American until they point blank asked, to which they responded:

Un Americano!? Che vuole lavorare in Italia!? Come mai!?
An American!? That wants to work in Italy!? Why in the world!? (literally "How ever")

This is a normal reaction I get, usually when I say I came to study Italian but it ups it a notch when I say I'm trying to get a job here. Talking to them was a nice break from the processes, and a nicer break from English.

That's enough for this post. One more coming and that should be enough on this topic.

Il Soggiorno, Il Lavoro, e Il Nullaosta, part 1

As the days of our departure from Italy approach at an ever-increasing speed, I wake up each morning unsure of what to expect. For the last few days I've been anxious, and if you were to ask me what I am anxious about you might be given a long, overly thought out and highly theoretical explanation that is resulting from continuous self (re)revaluation. It really is annoying at times and I imagine that it has a good bit to do with why I haven't posted in a while. Much has happened since my last actual post, and as always you can find scintillating retellings of those events on the blog of my saner, prettier, and all around better half: the olive notes.

Some of you know that I was offered a job in smaller city just outside of Florence, in December of last year. If you knew that then you probably have some idea of the ordeal it has been working through the bureaucracy of obtaining a work permit. If not, suffice it to say it's been stereotypically ridiculous, and at this point the legal possibility of me being able to work in Italy within the next year or two is all but gone. Here's a quick summary of how the events have played out.

1. September Something 2007: I was given an impossible date to receive my permesso di soggiorno.
The permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay) gives legal permission to the holder from the Italian government to remain in Italy for a determined amount of time. They aren't so easy to come by if you don't have a reason to be in the country, such as an existing work offer or you are a student at an Italian university. We came here as students so it wasn't/wouldn't have been so difficult. The time we were/would have been granted was pinned exactly to the visa we received, which in turn was pinned to how long we would be in school. In order to receive the soggiorno you must fill out a kit of forms, pay for their processing, wait to be contacted with a date for an interview at the Questura (police station), attend the interview, and finally pick up the soggiorno from the Questura if all went well.

Unfortunately things didn't really fall into place like that, primarily due to a restructuring of the process for submitting, processing, and receiving the soggiorno. I forget the exact date on which we turned in our kits to the post office, but it was in early September, 2007. A week or so later we each recieved SMS messages (which were later followed by lettere raccomandate (certified letters)), from the Ministero dell'Interno (Internal Ministry). Erin's interview was set for February 14th, and mine for some date in July. Yes, July, 2008. Not only is that a ridiculously long wait, but our school ended in April, which means they scheduled my interview to see if I was legally eligible to receive a permesso for a date 3 months after that permesso would have expired. So, legally speaking, I will have spent 9 months in Italy during which the government was thinking about whether or not I was allowed to be there, with a final decision to be made 3 months after I will have already left. Hmm.

2. December 19th 2007: I was offered a job.
I was surprised, elated, and honored to have been offered a job by an Italian company at the end of last year. Software development is not something Italy is known for, but this group is an exceptional one and they do not normally hire foreigners. They offered me a year-long contratto determinato (temporary contract) which would likely be renewed as a contratto indeterminato (permanent contract) after it ended. I would have been working with other talented software developers (something I value highly) in an Italian office - another thing that excited me as it would force my Italian to a higher level of competence.

I'll continue the rest in a new post. Stick around as there's some actual news, and if you're looking to do something like I was you may find it useful.

A presto!

Friday, May 9, 2008


Monday, March 31, 2008


If my dates are correct (and they may not be), my mother, uncle, and aunt arrived in Florence on Thursday the 20th. My mom stayed with Erin and I while my aunt and uncle stayed in an apartment a few blocks down the street. They arrived at Santa Maria Novella by a bus from Pisa airport, had a nice giro d'Italia, and flew out of Rome on Saturday the 29th. Erin and I accompanied them through Florence, Siena, the Cinque Terre, and finally Rome, leaving them there for a day and 2 nights to fend for themselves. It was great seeing them, and as usual for a proper retelling of the trip, I'll point you here. Now I want to tell you about the bones.

This was the third time Erin and I have spent time in Rome, and of all the things we've seen, we'd never been to a crypt or catacomb. As we left their fantastic apartment located just off of Piazza Navona, we followed a route chosen by Erin that would lead us to 3 Caravaggios and a crypt. The Caravaggios were amazing, but the bones at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini were far more shocking. I broke the rules and sneaked some pictures on my camera phone. Obviously they aren't the best quality, but you'll get the idea.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tagged: Personal Inquiries

I was tagged by A Tuscan View - from Umbria. I'm not a terribly active blogger, and I am even less active in the reading of other blogs. So, this is the first time I've been tagged!

What I was doing 10 years ago:
I was a 17 year old junior in high school. I was a student in that I almost never applied myself yet still received above average grades. Don't take that as a brag - I went to public school so it very well could be an indicator of public school failures ;-). Oddly enough, the one class I really did enjoy was Latin. I spent most of my time skateboarding or surfing with my friends, or playing music in a band I was in at the time.

Five things on my to-do list today:
Get my visiting family to the Uffizi Gallery.
Take my mom to see an Italian doctor.
Get a (very) little bit of work done.
Fare un giro intorno a Firenze.
Build my Italian vocabulary, probably with medical terms.

Snacks I enjoy:
Fresh tuscan bread + fresh olive oil.

Things I would do if I was a Billionaire:
Consult a money management/financial expert as well as someone with intricate knowledge of a social problem solvable (at least partially) with money.
Work on software projects that I enjoy, solely for enjoyment.
Live in several other countries and learn their languages.

Three of my bad habits:
Even though I'm a generally neat person I have a habit of leaving certain things out of their resting place. This seems to limited to only our home, so there's probably some weird psychological explanation of it.

Five places I have lived:
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
St. Augustine, Florida
Firenze, Italia
(I've only lived in 4 that differ enough from each other to be considered different)

Five jobs I have had:
Prep cook
Line cook
Software developer

As I said above I don't read very many blogs, and those that I do read have either been tagged by this or tagged me :-). I hate to be a dead end, but I'm not tagging anyone. Sorry :-|.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Per Non Dimenticare

Ho deciso di scrivere delle post in Italiano per darmi un'opportunità praticare il mio Italiano scritto. Se per caso tu sia Italiano o altrimenti ne abbia un buon commando, mi piace tanto il tuo aiuto. Come ho detto prima, ho appena finito le mie classe e ho paura di dimenticarsi tutto che ho imparato.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Particularly Beautiful Day

It's 3:30. We finished our final class a couple of hours ago, and it was great. Work had kept me from a few classes this week, so it was nice being there for both again. In conversation today Erin gave a presentation on the Lost Colony, which was really neat because sadly it's not a well-known story, even among Americans. Presentations on our home countries had been regular fixtures in conversation for the last month or so. It was great because there were so many countries represented, and even more so because our teacher loved asking provocative questions. Great for learning and gaining perspective, and of course great for speaking. The discussion of course found its way to Bush, America's occupation of Iraq and international behavior, and the upcoming elections. I always like hearing what other students have to say about America and Americans, because regarding international affairs Americans tend to have at least these presumptions:

1) The perspective of America is (almost) always right and therefore ignoring consensus isn't a problem.
2) Foreigners, especially Europeans (and especially the French), do not like Americans.

Number one is a tired subject, so I'll just skip to number two and say that it's just plain not true. Are there people that just don't like Americans because we are American? Probably, but I've never met one. Instead I've had pleasant encounters with some older people that spoke gratefully of the liberation they received during WWII. Of course the younger generation is different, but even they don't have a blind opinion. In class we heard opinions, some not flattering and rightfully so, but I've still yet to encounter someone that actually believes Americans as people to be just plain evil or otherwise undesirable. Do they have differing world views and opinions? Of course, but then how could it be any different? Things apply and make sense to different people based on how their cultures and societies have evolved. This is not a good or bad thing, it's simply reality.

Looking out the window now at the apartments that have become so familiar to me, it really is a beautiful day. As I said before I am glad to have a break from school, but I'm not ready for it to be over. Reflecting now I feel as if I've only just received all of the pieces to a puzzle, so now how will I assemble the picture? Eh vabbeh, it will be assembled.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

L'Ultima Settimana di Classe

This is the last week of our classes. I am so far from being ready to be finished I can't even think of how to express it. It has been a rich experience through and through. Before we arrived here I had thought that the amount of time we would be spending at school would be plenty, and now of course I see how ignorant a thought that was. I have learned so much, but there is still so much to learn. I feel that grammatically I have digested quite a lot, but my vocabulary and competence in idioms and modes of saying are lacking. These things, of course, take time and immersion.

I'm not sure what's next in terms of my studies. I simply can't stop, so I will figure out a routine and make it a point to spend more time with my Italian friends. The time to return to the US is nearing, and I really don't like thinking about it. It's still home and I miss it in some ways (friends and family specifically), but this place has become a bit of a home too. Of course we don't know what the future holds for us, but I feel that Italy fits into it somehow.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Terremoti Oggi

We have been experiencing mild earthquakes since this 8:43 CET morning. Erin and I woke up to one, and while typing this post we just felt another one (11:50 CET). The first one we felt registered at 4.2 on the richter scale, and the epicenter was just northeast of Florence. Here are links to the first report and general news updates (in Italian).

I don't guess it's all that strange given that there are volcanoes in Italy, it's just not wrapped in the wine/olive oil/sunflower stereotype. On top of that I've never experienced an earthquake and I would have thought that when I did, it would have been in California. Anyway it's a new experience. A bit frightening, but they've been very mild, so I'm going to relax with a caffe` and read my 'new' Dylan Dog (issue 111) that I picked up this morning on the way to the St. Ambrogio market.

A presto!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bella Giornata

My weather widget is telling me that it's 17 degrees celsius, as of 5:36pm CET. I still think in terms of fahrenheit, but I've gotten better at knowing the mild, cold, and really cold ranges in celsius. Google has informed me that this is 62.6 degrees fahrenheit, which is quite warm in comparison to the days as they've been. On top of that it has been absolutely gorgeous.

Erin and I walked to Il Parco delle Cascine today, to check out the market which is much larger during Quaresima (Lent). It was a long walk, but after getting to the river it wasn't too crowded. The market was like most markets here, from my perspective anyway. It was a bit more festive and at times seemingly cheaper, but still a very Italian market. I saw many different people there, as is common in the markets, and of course almost everywhere else in Florence. Life is different here. People are different here. They tend to be outside more than people in the US. Not necessarily for any reason, and in fact usually for no practical reason at all. People just go outside and stroll along the Arno, through the streets, or hang out in the squares - simply to be in each other's company.

As I was pondering over this at the market I saw lots of children. Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the western world (second lowest I think), so this was a bit of a surprise. Even more surprising were the 2 fathers I saw without their wives, walking with a total of 4 children probably all under the age of 7! I saw another pair of boys running through the crowds, and then they stopped under a tent just beside us. One of the boys saw a wad of tape and paper on the ground, and exclaimed:

Guarda qui c'e` una pallina!
Look here there's a ball!

Immediately he and his friend began kicking it back and forth through the crowds. I've been in particularly reflective state of mind today, and this became the subject of my pondering for quite a while. I thought about how I was when I was a child. The games I played, where and how I played, with whom and in what times of the day or evening. When you're a child there is nothing outside of your world. You may even know everything by the age of 10, and if you don't then you are at least already aware of everything in some manner. Thinking about when I was a child and then watching those kids today caused me to experience a peculiar kind of retrospective culture shock. When I was 10 I had no idea that there were kids like me in Italy, playing their own games, living in a world and culture similar to mine and at the same time so very different. It caused a twisted torrent of emotions to flow through me - happiness, sadness, romance, excitement... I can't figure out what the feeling is exactly, but it's surely the same one that I've been experiencing and which has been evolving in me since we moved here. It feeds my infatuation with this place, but in a seemingly less fickle way.

The Muse has stopped. Buonasera :-).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


It's been too long since I've written anything and I want to maintain some degree of diligence with this blog, so here's a quick summary of the last 30 or so days.

Classes have been going very well and very fast, perhaps too fast. We have covered essentially all of the common grammatical sentence structures and forms, verb conjugations and moods, all but 1 or 2 of the tenses, and lots of idiomatic expressions. My head is spinning like you would not believe, but I've been fortunate to have retained most of the information. I find that my general comprehension is much better these days, and I'm able to speak fairly smoothly, although not too descriptively. I'm sure that will continue to improve with time, but there are days where I simply have no patience and feel as if I've learned nothing (overly dramatic, I know). Anyway, school is great and I am sad that we are nearing the end of it.

We've made a small group of regular friends since we've been here, and that is truly a blessing. It all started with a friend we met in school who had been here for almost a year and was dating a Florentine. We've passed several evenings with them (and with others), spent Capodanno (New Year's Eve) in the Tuscan country side, and went to Venice during Carnevale together.
We've also been fortunate enough to have met another group of friends with which we speak only Italian. One of them is Florentine and the other 2 are Sicilians. Sicily, apart from the Mafia, must be one of the greatest places on the planet. I've never been but everyone tells me it is stunningly beautiful. Aside from our friends I've met a few other Sicilians on trains, and they are simply the nicest, most congenial people I've ever come across.
Last of all, I reconnected with a friend whom I'd lost contact with. I've mentioned him before: he used to work in the bar across the street from our building and then he just disappeared several months ago. A week or 2 ago Erin and I were getting a coffee and someone grabbed me by my shoulder. It was him! He started in English but quickly reverted to Italian (which I always take as an honor). We traded numeri cellulari (cell numbers) and planned to meet soon.

I received a job offer from an Italian company over a month ago, which was both a big surprise and an honor. I haven't accepted it because legally, I can't right now. The EU imposes restrictions on member states that prevent the hiring of non-EU citizens, unless certain conditions are present. Furthermore, Italy imposes its own layer with a similar purpose of protecting Italian citizens, unless certain conditions are met. I'd be resting fine if I could have simply received a Yay or Nay by now, but the infamous Italian bureaucracy has excelled its reputation. The company put in a request on my behalf on December 21st last year, and still we are waiting for a response. I've finally come to a peace about it and will simply wait until I hear news (and badger the Questura, of course). In the meantime I've been blessed with a small contract from an English company for which I had worked for in the past, so for the time being, things are good.

More to come, sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Il Marito della Tessera

Yesterday Erin and I got memberships at the Biblioteca delle Oblate, one of the public libraries here in Florence. I think I remember reading a year or so ago that Italian libraries are generally quite prestigious, and that the job of a librarian has a much higher status that it would in say the United States. Considering the massive amount of history the country has, it's easy to understand why. Until two days ago neither Erin nor I had been to a library here, and after a friend from school told us you can borrow DVDs (for free) from l'Oblate, we figured it was time we signed up. Aside from enjoying movies we've learned from school that watching Italian movies with Italian subtitles is a fantastic learning tool. In fact just today we watched La Tigre e la Neve in school, and we couldn't believe how well we were able to understand in comparison to the first time we watched one there. Of course we also want to read Italian and I've resolved to read George Orwell's 1984, as I know the story well in English and believe this will also be a useful learning method.

The library is absolutely gorgeous. The building is large and old, filled with sculptures and rooms forbidden to the common public, which most likely contain delicate pieces of original historical literature. Within the main rooms of the library are shelves of books, elegant lighting fixtures, comfortable and inviting furniture, all marvelously juxtaposed with a few shelves of DVDs, modern computer labs, and people with laptops taking advantage of the library's free WIFI access. All of this nestled intelligently within the walls made of pure stone and marble.

We sat down at the help desk and were greeted by two giggling workers with a warm "ditemi". This is a form of the word dire, another form of which I blogged about here. Grammatically it's the present imperative 2nd person plural form, literally meaning "tell me" and directed at 2 or more people. However in this context it's probably best translated as "how may I help you". Here the "you" indicates at least 2 people, which English lacks a single word for. In the southern United States you could translate this as "ya'll", and in the New England part (at least in New Jersey), "yous".

The dialog began with:

Me: Vorrei prendere un tessero socio.

Both clerks: (Light giggle and chatter)
Signora: Una tessera?

Me: Si, una tessera! Cosa ho detto?
Yes, a membership card! What did I say?

Signora (now in English): "Tessero". The word is "tessera", a feminine word. So when you said "tessero" he (the other clerk) said to me, "Deve essere il marito della tessera" ("It must be the husband of the 'tessera'").

I laughed and thanked her for the correction, and we started filling out the forms for our memberships. The man worked with Erin, and the lady with me. She started off in English, but after a minute or so reverted to Italian. She spoke English quite well, but I persistently responded in Italian.

It's common for an Italian to speak English to you when you speak to one in Italian and they hear an accent, an error, or detect a lack of comfort or confidence. As I've become more and more confident in speaking Italian, so have I also become more insistent. In the times that an Italian speaks English to me, I simply ignore it and continue in Italian. Sometimes they will carry on in English, but usually revert to Italian if they are convinced that I am understanding them (I've found that the those who continue in English tend to be of youth, and are most likely wanting to use their English).

So now we have library cards and look forward to making much use of them!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In the Shadow of Zion

I meant to post this weeks ago, but the holidays kept me from it. It's an article by a Jewish Rabbi about the wall "protecting" Israel from the occupied territories - certainly worth a read.

In the Shadow of Zion.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Buon Anno

I wanted to share something that I found inspirational yesterday morning, especially as it's relevant to a new year, new goals, etc. As you may or may not know, I'm a software developer and am active in a few open source communities. As such, I participate in/communicate via various channels including mailing lists, and yesterday morning a mail came into my inbox that struck me. For the sake of anonymity I will not mention any names, and I will paraphrase the email as saying:

"Merry Christmas,

Let's all pray for peace and a better world in the New Year.

Best wishes to all my friends on the XXX list for the New Year,

"Big deal" you say.
"Every one prays for world peace" you say.

Indeed, and I consider myself cynical and groan at such tired clichés when I hear them. However the context of this message changed all that for me. The author's name is clearly of middle-eastern origin. I don't know what country and for all I know he could be a Catholic from a country governed by a liberal democracy. However from his writing it's clear that English is a second language and his time zone also indicates middle-eastern origin.

I'm going to be so bold as to draw some conclusions here. I assume he is Muslim and living in the Middle East, and so it's not difficult to understand if he feels some degree of tension regarding the western position there. At this point you may think me prejudicial, and to that I can only say that I am not... at least not consciously. I remember an experience I had 3 or so years ago; I was boarding a plane when I noticed someone who appeared middle-eastern. I remember feeling fear, wondering if by some small chance I was on the next plane marked as a target, and at the same time feeling deeply ashamed for being gripped by such fear. My fear was a reflex; an autonomous reaction triggered by some combination of variables in my brain. On the other hand, my shame was self-inflicted. I knew this kind of superficial categorization was wrong and there is no debating that. I don't believe we can control, at least not directly, reactions such as the one I experienced, but I know we can control how we respond to them.

Having explained and disclaimed myself, I wanted to say that reading these words from someone like this was moving. I mean this was (probably) a middle easterner wishing a mailing full of westerners a Merry Christmas, and encouraging us all to pray for a peaceful 2008!

I agree with him, and I want to extend his invitation to you. However I want to take it a step further: I encourage you to commit to knowing people with differing perspectives, no matter how grave. Certainly there are people in the world that simply wish to do harm, but I have never encountered such a person in my life. I strongly believe that people who commit to knowing and learning about other cultures are much more likely to agree that there can be peace, even in the face of such sharp differences. I met a British guy last night at a new year's party and we talked about this very subject. He said to me that well-traveled people, regardless of origin, tend to be much less likely to hold nationalistic prejudices or to fit into negative stereotypes placed on their cultures, simply because they have experienced others and so understand their value. I couldn't agree more.

In this New Year I challenge you to purposely know others.