Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An unlikely friend

If you had told me a couple years ago I'd be sitting in Pike Place Bar and Grill with an Italian physicist named Andrea Chincarini, who's working on a gravitational wave detector in Eastern Washington, I would have laughed. Where would I have encountered such a person? And how is it that without ever meeting face-to-face, we could get along so well? The miraculous invention of the Internet, that's how.

A year and a half ago, I started visiting a beautiful blog, called The Dusty Lens. I found it through my coworker Lisa's sister's blog in New York City, and was immediately enthralled by the stunning photography and poems. The word were so deep, the photos abstract and beautiful, that I began reading the entries whenever they were posted. This mysterious Italian poet/physicist/photographer called "AC" started reading and commenting on my blog as well. We linked to each other's blogs. Thus, through the mist of the Internet, we became distant friends, who knew each other well through words and images.

This blogger hasn't been posting as much lately, and I wondered if I'd ever read his stuff again. A couple weeks ago on Facebook, I saw that he'd be in Seattle, so I invited him to grab a drink, or coffee, or food. We met for sushi at Umi's Sake House, and talked about physics, the little that I do know. I found him to be gentle, down to earth, and interesting. We went for a beer with David and brother-in-law Prasad after that, and spent hours talking about how physics and art collide, how the science brain is the artist brain, how physics and poets think the same way: they are in a quest for the unknown, to find beauty in slices of life nobody else sees.

I had a beer with Andrea Chincarini again on Wednesday night, and we spoke of more casual things: life in Italy, what he and his wife do for fun, that he has 30 bottles of Italian wine in his apartment, which is just steps from the Mediterranean sea. They have dinner parties every weekend, and eat tiny fish whole. They live in this tiny town of Chiavari, and both work as physicists. Andrea studied Tai Chi in China for a month, and visited Australia for a month to work on more gravitational waves there. This person is so fascinating, so deep, that I was sad to see him go. It's hard to meet a new friend, and then they fly home halfway around the globe.

I am thankful for the Internet, in that it can bring friends together. Everyone claims it keeps people apart, and we only interact through the impersonal, glowing white screen. But sometimes, you get lucky, and meet someone in person who you would have never had the chance to interact with. I'm thankful that David and I will now have someone to visit in Italy, who can show us the hidden spots, the truly authentic restaurants, the way of life on the Italian Riviera. And our house will always be open to him. The Internet is magic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing a Book is Harder than I thought

All weekend long, the inspiration didn't hit. I sat staring at my computer screen, willing the creativity to flow through my brain, allowing me to write long, stunning passages of prose. Instead, the words were forced and erratic, cumbersome and nonsensical. I thought the story was going one direction, but the characters wouldn't budge. MOVE, I shouted at Arturo and Isabelle, DO SOMETHING. Instead, they laughed in my face, and stayed in place on paper. Sometimes, when the characters refuse to do what you want, you have to take a step back, and analyze where the story is going. I was making them move too fast. Isabelle told me to slow the heck down, no way was she ready to meet Arturo's parents. So I rethought where I was taking the story. When you hear fiction authors being interviewed after they write a book, they will often say the characters guide the story, that their fingers are just the vessel to allow these characters to speak. And when I get into the mindframe of my book, it happens like magic. My fingers fly, struggling to keep up with what the characters are saying. The scenery becomes as vivid as the real world around me, and I write with passion and intensity. Unfortunately, this didn't happen this weekend.

So far, I've written 44,171 words, and that's just a couple hundred more than I had last weekend. I woke up this morning, completely ready to write the scene that was playing in my head last night. The problem? I had 5 minutes to write, then had to catch the ferry to participate in my daily life of work, eating, surfing the Internet, etc. When my mind opens to the creative process, it's like a beam of light that shines straight through me, illuminating the way. I know exactly where I want to take the story, and exactly the way to describe it. One thing about being a writer is that each writer has a unique worldview, and unique way of putting words on paper. I want to tap into that uniqueness, instead of forcing the words to come.

At 155 pages, I believe my book is a little more than halfway done. That will complete a short fiction novel. I don't mind if its short, I just want the story to be complete. I want Isabelle and Arturo to find their way. I want to know how they plan on achieving their goals, what they will say to each other, what experiences they will have. Right now, my two main characters are suspended in time, waiting for their creator to give them life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bothered

Last Friday, I saw Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton's family get out of a black SUV with tinted windows. I saw the family walk through a human gate of saluting law enforcement officers, a sea of blues and reds, into the empty hole of Key Arena. I saw Officer Brenton's son carrying the American flag, his daughter in a pretty dress, both tow-headed and solemn. I wondered if these two small children understood the gravity of their father's funeral, a man who died while serving the city of Seattle, a man executed while doing his job. Reporters around me struggled to hold in tears at Officer Brenton's memorial service, as the gigantic video display showed this man as a boy, as a married man, as a father. He was always smiling.

Last Friday the newsroom erupted in shouts, ringing phones and live interviews as police zeroed in on the suspect of this horrific crime. We went wall-to-wall with breaking news coverage, the excitement of it all a papable buzz. The man had turned his gun on detectives, and was shot in the head, rushed to Harborview. He's recovering now from his wounds, something the Officer he's accused of murdering will never do.

There's a Facebook page dedicated to Officer Timothy Brenton, and 20-thousand people are members. His wife, Lisa, posted pictures of that fatefall Halloween: the kids carving pumpkins, walking down a wooded trail. Underneath the photo is the caption: The Last Walk. I think of that family, loving each other, celebrating this Halloween day, and kissing their father and husband goodbye. None of them knew he'd go out on patrol, and get blasted with fire from an assault rifle, never to come home again.

Last night I dreamed of this woman, Lisa, this devastated wife. I went to her house for an interview, no recording devices allowed, and she told me how much she was hurting, how she was trying to rebuild her life. I think about her often and what she must be going through, a feeling I hope I never know.

Today I will attend a press conference at the King County Prosecutor's office, to find out what charges they will levy against this Christopher Monfort. He's accused of killing Officer Timothy Brenton, wounding Officer Britt Sweeney, and firebombing several police cars in downtown Seattle. The accused man's motives will never be understood for me, but hopefully through this charging, the family will find some peace.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trains in Europe beat the crap out of trains in the US, most of the time.

video

Trains are the veins and arteries of Europe. They crisscross cities, suburbs, and countryside. David and I didn't have to take a taxi, or ride a bus the entire time. We hopped on streetcars, subways, high speed, and low speed trains. I put so much trust in this immense, impressive train system that I made a stupid mistake. We were in Stuttgart, and wanted to take an overnight to Rome. I booked it, or so I thought, and David and I got onboard at 9pm that night.

The train was raucous and full; high school students crowded the halls. I imagined drunks, stoners, body odor and smelly feet. I imagined laughter into the depths of the night.

"Good thing we have a reservation," David said, as we warily eyed the packed cattle cars. "Sometimes if you don't, conductors will just throw you off the train at some remote city in the middle of Austria. I've seen passengeres beg to stay onboard."

"Good thing," I agreed.

I pushed and picked my way to our couchette to find a couple already sitting on our beds. We compared tickets, each had reservations for that car. Perplexed, David and I went to find a conductor.

"Someone's in our car," we told the slender, stony faced German. He pursed his lips, furrowed his eyebrows, and read the fine print. The print I should have read to begin with.

"Wrong date." He pointed, raised his eyebrows, and walked away. David and I spend the next hour and a half hunting down conductors. We found them in the hallways, near the bathrooms, in a cramped office in the front of a car. Each said the same thing in halting English.

"Train's full. Sorry. You're out of luck."

The aisles, even the car with bicycles were already full. People slept on the ground with their backpacks as pillows. David and I went to the back of the train and found a spot to sleep. On the ground. Near the restroom. Then we went and bought beer: life's elixir.

video

We stayed on that lonely floor for two hours as Germany, Austria, and Italy rushed by. I cracked the large window, and breathed in the cold mountain air. Tiny towns peppered the hillside, mountains were lumbering beasts in the silvery moonlight. I wondered how people here lived, if they could see the Alps during the daytime. David and I almost got off the train in the middle of Austria, but waited it out.

I was still peeking out that window when Italy rolled into view. David was laying on the ground, listening to his audiobook. I thought about all the grime and dust beneath our clean clothes.

"David," I whispered. "Welcome to Italy."

It was then that I saw the conductor, walking briskly down the hall toward us. Images flashed through my head: David and I sleeping on hard, cold cement. David and I wandering around for 6 hours until morning. Shoot, I thought, he's going to kick us off the train.

"I have a room for you," he said. It was the same stony-faced German, but this time, he was smiling.

I'd never heard such beautiful, pure, luxuriant words. We have a room for you.

We followed the German, dazed, into our tiny couchette. REAL BEDS! REAL SHEETS. It was past midnight, and David and I couldn't stop grinning as we folded our bodies onto the tiny bunks. It was the best sleep of my life, and I woke up in Rome refreshed and happy.

The moral to the story: read the fine print.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The loss of summer

When the vivid greens and blues burn ito the firey oranges and reds of fall, I always feel a sense of loss. Gone are the long summer days sitting by the barbecue. Gone are the deep earthy smells of freshly cut lawns. Gone is the morning sunlight that makes shapes on the floor. I can feel a touch of sadness during this time, as the geese fly in formation, as trees turn inward to hibernate. I wish I could hibernate as well. A long winter of darkness looms on the horizon. Darkness will swallow days whole, and rain will pittar patter on my roof, turning the sky the same gray as Puget Sound.

I think fall this year is hitting me doubly hard because I just got back from vacation. The landscape seemed to morph while I was gone, reminding me of what's to come. I know this is just a phase, that soon I will relish wearing warm sweaters and watching rain draw lines down the ferry windows. I will enjoy the Christmas lights and hot butter rum. I will bundle up in the cold to celebrate New Years Eve.

But all that time, I will wait for the renewal of spring, my favorite season. I love when the trees awaken, curling their buds toward the light. I just have to remember that life, and the world, all have seasons, and rolling with these changes is necessary. I will mourn the loss of summer, then move onto the joys and beauty of fall.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When in Rome....

Do like the Romans do. I spent the entire trip in Italy with this saying bouncing in my head. I didn't know what it meant, or where it came from, only that it seemed to make sense. Rome is unlike any other place in the world, and to survive it, you better do like the Romans do. You dart across traffic, you sit in Piazzas drinking wine, you walk down hidden alleyways to browse in antique stores. You push your way through hordes of tourists. Those poor Romans, dealing with all us tourists every year.

When I first imagined Rome, I pictured calm city streets, sprawling piazzas, fountains on every corner. I didn't imagine the motorcycles, the noise, the crowds. We started off early in the morning after sleeping on a night train from Munich. The first ruins I saw blew me away, every column a reminder of the ancient empire that dominated this region of the world.

I could have stared at them forever, imagining the bustling Romans going about their day, shopping in the Roman Forum, wandering the gardens and fountains, watching their leaders speak amid white stacked columns. This place was so charged with energy, that I could percieve it. Thousands of people lived and died here. I had a special enchantment with the trees, recognizing them from depictions I'd seen of the Roman empire.The most stunning to me was the Coliseum, perched in the distance from the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill.
We waited about 20 minutes to get inside, and then were blown away by its beauty and architecture. People used to fight brutally on this stage, with wild animals, and each other. There were complex elevator systems to lift animals as big as hippos up there. The Romans used to put criminals out with the wild animals so people could see them get ripped apart as punishment.
They installed a stage so tourists could imagine what it was like. 70-thousand people could fill this space. I tried to imagine the bleachers full of screaming and cheering Romans. Everyone had to a place to sit, depending on where they were in the social structure.

The artchitecture in Rome is phenomenal, and huge. We saw a white marble monument towering over the brown buildings, called the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele. While the French go more with romantic buildings, the Romans go with stature. This building was built in the 1800's, which makes it relatively new, compared to the ruins that were built thousands of years ago.
Next we went onto the Vatican, which was another large structure in Rome. You can see its dome from a distance, and it's incredible to visualize all the power stemming from this small cluster of buildings. Vatican City is run by it's own team and government separate from Italy.
You have to go through a security line to get into the Vatican. The women have to be very mindful of what they wear. No tank tops, no short skirts.

My favorite part of Rome was to be Piazza Navona. It's a slender Piazza lined with restaurants, with an obelisk in the center, and a marble fountain. When we went, it was full of art and flowers. We sat at a restaurant and drank wine, and ate.There must have been an Egyptian obelisk in every major Piazza in Rome, including at the Vatican. I think this is interesting, because it's not a Christian symbol. The obelisk at the Vatican was created 13-hundred years before Jesus was born. There was also an incredible obelisk in Piazza Popolo.


The Pantheon is also an amazing sight. This has been around over 2,000 years, and is what the Jefferson Monument in Washington, DC. So much of our architecture we know today was modeled after the Romans and the Greeks.

It was quite the rush seeing all these sights in just a day and a half, but David and I had to get out of there. The tourists crammed every major sight like it was a ride at Disneyland, and after awhile, I couldn't handle it. We took an hour and a half high speed train up to Florence, which was equally packed, but calmed down during the course of our trip. Italy was overall incredible, with delicious food, amazing architecture, and so much history. Plus I love listening to the Italian.
And I learned that When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do, is a hundreds year old saying. It referred to religion. I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oktoberfest: Party like a German

I've never partied with a happier and crazy group of people than the Germans at Oktoberfest in Stuttgart. We took the train about 15 minutes outside the city, to a massive festival. There were all types of rides, and I couldn't imagine how people could drink gigantic steins, and then go propel themselves in these vomit-machines. Each major brewery put together a giant tent, each with it's own personality. The first one was rather tame, with Germans dancing on tables to a rock group comprised of young men. I love how they yodeled during the chorus and played the accordian.

We then made our way to the hip tent of the evening, with a live band rocking American pop music. David and I ordered a stein to share, and watched the Germans becoming drunker and drunker. Young people and old people alike walked around in traditional garb. I couldn't believe the number of liederhosen parading by. You can't see in the photo, but one of the old men was wearing furry rabbit shoes. I saw tons of young men in hiking boots and tall socks, with mountain climbing shorts. David and I shared steins, thank goodness, because they were HUGE. I can't imagine drinking a whole one. We went to another tent playing American rock and roll favorites from the 70's, including Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones. We decided to partake with the Germans and dance on the table benches.

One of the best parts was the train ride home. Germans were crowded in like sardines, singing loudly. They were all smiling, and very drunk. They sang the entire 20 minute ride back to the main station, and David and I were humming by the time we got off the train. All and all, it was very fun, and the most massive beer fest and party I have ever seen. I can't imagine what it must be like in Munich, with tents that hold 10,000 people!! We went to wine country today and visited some of David's family friends. Soon we are going to Italy. It's all been a blast so far.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beautiful Amsterdam

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Stuttgart, Germany, getting ready to go outside, so I'm going to throw up a few photos of Amsterdam. We wandered around for several hours yesterday, looking at the people and architecture. It's really a beautiful city, with off-kilter, pushed together buildings, and winding canals. I love watching the boats go by, and the swans.















Hopefully I'll be able to throw up some pictures of Oktoberfest, and maybe some video too. Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Amsterdam: It's all about the people

We met an Australian man last night who told us something along these lines, "Amsterdam isn't the most beautiful city in Europe, but it's one of the richest culturally." We sat outside at an Irish bar in the Heinekenplein, which is a huge square lined with restaurants and bars. Our waitresses were Scottish, and we talked to this Australian, James, for three hours, until lights blinked in the darkness. He and his Scottish wife were married in a castle, complete with kilts and bagpipes. He drank Guinness, we drank Belgian beer. People rode by on bicycles, one guy with a joint between his teeth. James told us about his experiences living around the world, about how the Dutch and the Germans still don't get along, about how socially accepting it is in Amsterdam. We had a great time with James, and I'm sure we'd be friends with he and his wife if we lived in the same city.
I think one of the greatest joys of visiting a city is to interact with the people who live there. We haven't really taken any pictures of Amsterdam yet, or done anything touristy. I love that there are fruit stands everywhere, that bikes are more popular than cars, that men sit outside at coffee shops holding their babies and drinking espresso. I love that the coffee is frothy and rich. There is no watery Denny's drip coffee here.

Today we've spent time in the outskirts of Amsterdam, hanging out with David's old friend from Texas, who lives in an area that's predominantely foreign, and Moroccan. We had delicious Middle Eastern food for lunch, now we're hanging out with the apartment he shares with his Polish girlfriend (who's not here right now), and two turtles.

So far, I've really been having a blast. The weather has been wonderful, and so has the people watching. There is a very high porportion of very good looking people here. It's like walking through an issue of Vogue magazine in Dutch. Last night we ducked our heads into a salsa club, then went somewhere a little calmer for a beer. We'll probably hang out with Nick and his girlfriend tonight, then on to Germany tomorrow. Oktoberfest, here we come!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The ride to Europe is a long one

Right now, I am sitting in my airplane seat, half awake and groggy.
It's about 10pm in Seattle and I just had morning breakfast service,
as it's 7am in Europe. A sunrise the color of blood oranges is
creeping across the horizon, and I see pinpricks of cities far below.
I wonder where I am in Europe , and feel as though I've finally found
civilization after a long ride over the black and mysterious Atlantic.
We're due to arrive in about an hour, and if my battery holds up I'll
publish this in the closest hotspot. The flight seemed short from
philedelphia at only 7 hours, and I caught a tiny bit of sleep after
dinner and watching the new star trek movie for the third time. It
seemed as though last time I came to Europe, it took 9 hours from
somewhere on the east coast. The clouds under me are mottled with
blue, and have the texture of a down comforter. I wish I could pull it
over my head and sleep. There are so many adventures to be had, that I
hope I can quell my excitement to take a quick nap before exploring. I
love being this high up as he sun greets the earth, and I greet a new
continent.

Sent from my iPhone.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I just set up my iPhone for mobile blogging so I can take lots of
pictures of Oktoberfest. This short post is a test.

Sent from my iPhone.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spontaneous is my middle name

Most people spend months, or even years planning a trip to Europe. David and I make the decision to go next week. I love spontaneity, I think it makes life fun and crazy. I know it makes some people nervous, and I'm glad David shares my love of the unexpected.

Several days ago, David found out there would be a big AICC conference in Stuttgart, Germany. This is where people from the aviation industry gather to learn about the latest advances in e-learning, which is his specialty. He wrote to the organizer, and immediately got on the docket to present his work. Boeing, the flight division, will be there, which is a client David hopes to snag. Anyway, we looked at airfares, and found with a week notice they were around 700 or 800 bucks. David called a few friends, look at ticket prices, and two days ago booked is into Amsterdam, and out of Paris for 800 dollars roundtrip.

This is so exciting that I can hardly concentrate on anything else. We will be spending time in Amsterdam, Germany, and Paris, and I just found out yesterday that it will be OKTOBERFEST in both Stuttgart and Munich while we are there. Guess where I'll be while David is at his conference? I did some research, and the Stuttgart festival is the second biggest in the world. There are tents that hold 5,000 people. I think I'm going to have to set my blog up for "mobile blogging," and will be posting pics to Facebook on my iPhone when I have a WiFi connection.

I was just telling David last week that we needed a vacation together. He's been working on contract most of the summer, and we haven't really gone anywhere together since Mexico in Januray. I was feeling depressed last weekend cause I felt it was the LAST sunny day EVER, and David had to slam to get his project finished. I guess someone heard my plea, and threw a vacation down in my lap. A vacation to EUROPE. I can't complain.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Machiavelli's, and a Bad Blogger

Last night my Mom sent me an email, "You haven't blogged in SO LONG." It's true, I haven't, and I've had an idea in mine for a WEEK. I feel hyper distracted lately, with my mind roaming to the book I'm trying to write. When I don't feel creative, I read books about the craft of novel writing. I'm also sucking in fiction like it's ice cream, and reading a book by Joseph Finder, who was a keynote speaker at the Writer's Conference. The more I read, the better writer I will be.

But now, I'll write the post that's been waiting to escape for the last week. Disclaimer: Please excuse my photos, as they were taken from a camera phone.

Machiavelli's is on the cusp of downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill, where urban gives way to hip. Preppies in sweaters from Abercrombie mingle with hipsters with low slung jeans and lip-rings on the street out front. The zing of tomato sauce, basil, and spicy Italian sausage seep from open windows, tantalizing the senses.

David and I are lucky to find a seat in the tiny, crowded bar. The hint of the setting sun turns the bay windows red, and the inside of the bar glows. Frank Sinatra's voice rises from old Bose speakers as the pregnant bartender pours wine, champagne, and martini's. A vintage cash register dares to be touched. I suddenly feel like I'm in New York, Little Italy maybe. I love the intimate setting, and can't wait to go up the stairs into the restaurant.

The tables are covered in red tableclothes, and are placed haphazardly inside the small dining room. I'm only a couple feet away from people to my right, and an open window offers a view inside the small kitchen. I borrowed the below image from their website so you can get a better feel of the place.

The waitress brings olive bread and oil for starters, and we order the tuna carpaccio for an appetizer. It was delicious: thin slices of tuna covered in marinara, capers, and parmesan cheese. For dinner, David orders spaghetti with meatballs, I get lasagna. Both entree are cheap, maybe 10 dollars. The photo from my iPhone doesn't do it justice, but I'm putting it up anyway.

I have to say this is my favorite restaurant in Seattle. It's affordable, unpretentious, and romantic. The food is incredible, with subtle flavors and depth. The sauces on our dishes were both red, but tasted different. I would highly recommend Macheavelli's on Capitol Hill, but be prepared to wait.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Busy Bee

The fog is.
The fog is....

That's all I seem to be able to write. Similes and metaphors dance just beyond reach of my groggy mind, like there's a wedge stuck between my working brain and my conciousness. The words are there, moving, twirling, but I can't seem to recognize them. It's a frustrating way to wake up, especially when I set the alarm at 5:45am just to get a little fiction writing done. The gears of my brain were slow and rusted, and I watched the fog's wispy fingers wrap the tops of evergreen trees as I sat at my desk drinking coffee. I found myself staring out the window more than I looked at the blank page in front of me. The scene is there, the words or not, so I must sit and wait for them. There's no use rushing when all that comes out of my fingers is crap.

I know I have to be patient, that my body and mind will adjust to writing at such an ungodly hour. If I had my choice, I'd sit down to write at 730 or 830am, not 545am, but this is how my life is organized right now. Fiction on the ferry is tough, after work I play tennis, then eat dinner and visit with David. The early morning hours are the only time I have, so I must learn to make good use of them.

I also want to get back with blogging again, but the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of visitors. I love having visitors and welcoming them into my home, and I just accepted the fact that I wouldn't be writing during that time. Friends and family are so important to me, that everything else goes by the wayside when they are here, and that's fine.

But now I feel the seasons are changing. The air is getting cooler, the trees are rustling with impatience, ready to sleep. Fog is blurring the space between the ferry and Seattle, like tiredness blurs creativity. However, I know the paradigm will shift, until once again magic spreads itself on the blank pages in front of me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kitty Hug




Whenever I lay on the couch to watch a movie, my kitty comes to cuddle. She curls up in the ring of my arm, then rolls toward me so I can scratch her belly or chest. Her purring is so soothing, and I love holding her tight. I taught her this as a kitten, and she's loved it ever since.

Both David and I love this little kitty Lexi, so I just wanted to put a few pictures of her on my blog. She's one special girl.

Every morning when I get up, she jumps out of bed and waits for me in the hall. When I round the bend, she does this little leap (happy dance), gives an excited meow, and hops down the stairs. Shes' such a sweet welcoming presence in the morning.


What a good little friend.