Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Banquet of Shame

Thanks to the folks who've written me re: the New Orleans entry...yeah, I know. I should write a book or something. To that end, I've signed up for some online thingy, class, etc., to try to get jump started in time for NaNoWriMo, and while the subject may not be New Orleans, I do hope to have my 50,000 words by the end of November, to go under the first edit shortly after. But first I gotta get this next Trip under control, and it's proving to be tougher than I'd expected. I'd give details, but I already feel guilty about not tending to physical descriptions of where I am, so I'll save it, try to get a bigger entry re: Gangneung on here before next Monday, etc. Good to have some goals.

However, I did want to post this story, which is clearly enough aligned with the general slant and direction this blog has taken to date: Sharon Olds details why she is unable to accept Laura Bush's kind invitation to present at the National Book Festival.

Obviously, I sympathize, though I seem to be at a point where I don't quite see what difference it could possibly make. Though, I suppose, it might make more difference than swallowing your principles and going...or just issuing a simple no. Dunno. I think we're all so spin-weary, and even if someone went out there and presented the world with a gesture that was thoroughly from their own center, and, assuming there is such a beast, thoroughly free from any ulterior motive, it wouldn't matter, because there'd be some horse's arse waiting and ready to explain why the gesture was in fact a callow media ploy. To the extent that nobody seems to have any idea about the truth of any matter. I'm quite certain Olds has done this solely for the benefit of her own career. Playing politics, as usual, and making use of dead bodies to increase her notoriety. And all that. Or, at least that's quite likely one of the stories we'll be hearing soon.

How does one move in such a world? I mean, it was probably always like this, and it's a literary trick of light that makes it seem, at moments, that it might have been better at some point before (probably our own personal narratives, and a sense of ease at an earlier date, that feeds into all that), but really, was it always this bad? The very possibility that one might utter a sincere word, ever, seems laughable in the context of our times. And of course, anyone who insists that they are being sincere is most subject to suspicions to the contrary. Better to just shut up about your own motives, I suppose, and just do what you need to do. But as a writer, when the very tools and material of your blood's work consist of linguistic tricks, and are thus even more likely to be viewed as suspicious, how does one go about making progress?

Dunno. And while I can usually just suspend judgment on that long enough to bang out an assignment, I also get the sense that it is precisely that question that finds me doing less than I'd like to.

Ay. Go read it. --tchitch

Friday, September 16, 2005


Silvia Brandon Perez

Hey, folks, three day weekend coming up, in celebration of the Korean version of thanksgiving, which I'll post and link more about when I've got more than 10 minutes before I need to blast to work. However, checking Trip's little used hotmail account this morning, was alerted to one of the poets published in Trip and editor for the Spanish edition of Poems Niederngasse, Silvia a Brandon Perez, spent her summer vacation in the company of the folks at Camp Casey, and was among those first responding to the crisis in New Orleans. She's got a journal of the experience over at Pocono Progressives. Go check it out.

Okay, me work.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Sub call

I'll post something of my own soon...last night came face to face with a serious bout of homesickness for my girls, my friends, and Munich...rough enough to enforce a long walk at about 10pm...I'd rather forgotten how oppressive those walls can get. In any case, it doesn't seem the sort of thing I should blather on about for too long, because no matter how universal, it can be quite tedious to sit through. Instead, let it ripen, let it ferment, so something better can be made of it.


I did want to post the following, just in case there was anyone out there who was predisposed to sending something in. More soon--tchitch

The Making of Peace: A Poetry Broadside Series

"Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour
goes into the making of bread."
~ Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) from Confieso Que He Vivido: Memorias, 1974


The Making of Peace Poetry Broadside Series is a response from poets who are working towards peace and goodwill in the world and want to see an end to the war in Iraq.

This project will produce a series of finely designed broadsides to be displayed in independent bookstores, libraries, and museums across the US during National Poetry Month 2006. Each broadside will be 4.5" x 5.5" and printed on environmentally-friendly paper.

Along with the displayed broadsides, a limited edition of broadsides will be produced and distributed to the public during literary and non-literary events. The total number of broadsides printed in limited edition will represent the number of US soldiers that have been killed during the war in Iraq; each broadside will represent the life of a soldier. We are estimating there will be between 75-300 of each limited edition broadside printed depending on the number of poems selected and the number of US casualties at the time of printing.

Each poet chosen to be part of the broadside series will receive ten copies of his/her broadside along with a full set of the broadside series.

How and What to Submit:

Submit 1-3 poems, unpublished or previously published poems with the theme of peace, hope, and/or humanity. Poems should be 30 lines or less. Please include cover letter, short bio, and SASE.

We are looking for well-crafted poems on any subject matter that are inspired or focused on the theme of peace, hope, humanity, and/or the idea of a world family. We are open to work that encompasses a specific response or offer a larger vision of our world. Poems do not have to be a direct response to the war, but can be.

Deadline: Submissions should be postmarked by November 30th, 2005.

All submissions should be original work and mailed to:

The Making of Peace: Poetry Broadside Series
c/o Kelli Russell Agodon
P.O. Box 1524
Kingston, WA 98346

Note to Poets Living Outside the USA: Poets living outside of the United States may submit via email. Please include your cover letter, bio, mailing address, and poems in the text of your email. No attachments please. Send email submissions to: TheMakingofPeace AT excite.com

Questions or comments about the project can be sent to: modpoet AT excite.com

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Spin, spin, sugar

...and of course, we would have to watch the way things are represented. I assume, at this point in my lifetime, that things were never quite as they appeared, and that I can pretty much rest assured that whatever the history books say, it falls a fair distance from the truth of the matter. (I'm sure some of you would be taken aback at my naivete, but I keep trying to find a way to avoid excessive cynicism in an age that seems to call for it.)

We are watching something of great beauty and potential crumble, I think. I'd probably get slammed by both sides for even saying such a thing, if anyone felt too much like slamming me...because one side wants to say it wasn't beautiful to begin with, and the other wants to deny that it is crumbling. It was beautiful, and it is crumbling.

This is all terribly abstract.

Here's how it is: politicization of NOLA has taken place on both sides, and the call not to talk about politics is, in fact, a politicization of the event. If we're at all honest, we know this. In any case, some folks are out there doing something, while others are finding any spin whatsoever to put on matters. I recently viewed an interview with Pelosi, on CNN, and while my natural political sympathies do lie with Pelosi, I picked it up at a left-wing blog/cum information clearinghouse, and they represented the interview as being a smackdown between Pelosi and a CNN reporter who was defending Bush. I watched the clip, and saw nothing of the sort. What I saw was a reporter who was asking what in the bloody hell a commission to investigate could possibly do to actually change the way we deal with the issues that came terribly to the fore as a result of Katrina's hitting NOLA. Personally, I couldn't agree with the reporter more. The last thing we really need to do is to give the bureaucrats a reason to stay on the payroll for yet another year. We need to chuck all of 'em out, and get people who know what they're doing into office. People who have expertise. People who are smart in ways other than manipulating people's perception of events.

It's all enough to make me go apolitical, because I really can't stand either side--and 'either side' is said only by agreeing with the rather thick assumption, as most voting Americans seem to have done, that there are only two sides to any body politic...especially one as huge as the United States of America. Only guess what? Going apolitical isn't even a possibility, really, even ignoring ethical considerations.

And for anyone who wants to smirk at the spin offered by the left, I picked up an excellent gallery of pics from my go-to right wing source, the one I check in times like these to see what sort of asinine arguments I'm likely to counter (my most recent flyby netted me one poster who sees NOLA as being a 'left-wing utopia'...Huh?). This gallery was described as telling a story a bit different from what the media has. Funny, it doesn't seem to diverge from that story much at all...unless, of course, you accept the experience one might have had living in the French Quarter--the highest land in the area, and the most protected, and not exactly a 'poor' section by NOLA standards--as being in any real way indicative of how most people in New Orleans lives. Still, some good pics.

BTW, while on the subject of New Orleans resources, if you haven't happened upon it already, The Interdictor comes highly recommended. It's the livejournal of a crisis manager working for a data center in downtown New Orleans throughout the hurricane and the aftermath that got slammed by the virtual Katrina...and survived. An interesting read, especially if you follow along chronologically, using the calendar view.

But you know what? I think these guys might be my faves. Coolest neighborhood in New Orleans, and think what you want to of 'em for not evacuating, that's real N'awlins. Stubborn 'cajun fuckers.

But ya gotta love 'em if you love New Orleans, because if it's gonna survive this, it'll be because of people just like this.


Something tells me

...that I shouldn't like this sort of thing

(...but I do, anyway).

(Thanks to Marie over at Poetic Diversity for the link)

Saturday, September 10, 2005


Updates, sub calls

Going through my very neglected e-mail account and trying to update a few sections here on the blog, now that I have scads of free time on my hands (plenty of work, but plenty of time, as well...). For the benefit of a few folks that requested same, I've put direct links to every article I've had a hand on up in the sidebar...most of them from Triplopia. There's lots there, and it's just for the convenience of a few, but if you feel like checking them out, it should make that a little easier to do. I've been running by some interesting reference spots as well, and will be updating those as I can.

Also, as you might well imagine, one of the reasons I don't tend to participate in contests (and there are a few...maybe talk about that later) is simply because they're generally prohibitive in terms of outlay of money, for both postage and reading fees. I do tend to prick up my ears when I hear of one that does not require a fee...and I came across this one via the CRWROPPS mailing a couple of days back, and thought I'd share. Good luck.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


A Song about New Orleans

Okay. Deep Breath, because if I don't think--and speak--about this dispassionately, I'm very likely to lapse into complete incoherence--a short enough step from where I stand now, I know, but bear with me.

I want to address one thing immediately, so the focus can land where I feel it needs to. This is a blurb taken directly from the Department of Homeland Security's website, and really should stand as the final word regarding where the buck needs to stop:

"In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort."

I am quite aware of the logistic difficulties of a rescue operation on the scale of that undertaken in response to Hurricane Katrina, and I do not imagine for one instant that the mere presence of a public figure who functions, primarily, as a figurehead for what is supposed to be a system of self-governance is going to magically solve anything. My expectations are not unreasonable. I understand that we face great difficulties in the present day environment, and that sometimes, that environment delivers a blow that we, as mere humans, simply cannot cope with. Hurricane Katrina was such a blow, and all other arguments aside, even had we had full resources to address the crisis in the most effective manner possible, there would have been a significant loss of lives. I would simply like to advance a quiet, and hopefully rational argument that we could have dealt with it much more effectively, and can in the future, but that we must change our direction, as a people, and radically, if we are to do so.

Having said that, I now issue a warning to any Bush apologists--those blog warriors who are scrambling to fix the blame for the toll of lives we are witnessing on the actions of Anybody But Bush: The Department of Homeland Security has assumed primary responsibility for any such event. It failed us. There is nothing left to see here. Move along.

I'll try to get back to Homeland Security in a bit, but first, I need to disclose something. I am not an impartial observer. I have at least two friends that I know to have been living in the area, and whom I have as yet not heard from. One is the poet that graciously agreed to be the interview subject for Triplopia's premiere issue--way back when. Lord Fox, if you're reading this, let us know you're okay. The second was a good friend from high school days, a fellow I spent time with on the debate team back in my hometown, and who later in life, when faced with some pretty disheartening developments at home, wrote to me to ask if I could offer him a way out. I was poor at the time, working a 30 hour work week at one of the many tourist shops in the French Quarter, for minimum wage, and living in an attic studio near the corner of St. Peter and Royal, and I, along with my wife (my girlfriend, at that time) scraped together enough money to mail him a one-way ticket on Greyhound to come live with us. If Katrina had hit 2 days after I sent that ticket, I would have had to rely upon my family for evacuation money, and truth be told, I'm not one hundred percent certain I would have asked for it. Call it pride, remind me that this was Lucifer's sin, do what you will, but those are the facts. The last time I talked to Corey, it was over Yahoo instant message, having happened upon each other as a result of this blog. He was working as an artist in the area, primarily constructing papier mache sculpture, presumably for floats. I don't think he was in the metro area, but that says nothing at all for his safety. This is the man in whose company I spent my
first--and only--Mardi Gras. Corey, if you're reading this, drop a line.

As can probably be surmised from the above, my feelings for the city factor somewhat into my assessment of recent news. It doesn't particularly help that I'm a stranger in a strange land, with nobody in the area I can talk to about this. Between those two things, I harbor no pretense toward objectivity on this matter. Be that as it may, I'd like to think that the feelings I do have might be of some value--or at least interest--to others. I'm gonna get to politics in a bit, but I'd like to talk about the city, first.

New Orleans was my first real venture into adulthood. It was the last place I was intellectually able to harbor utopian ideals in any meaningful way. In 1990, after having spent about 3 years too long in my hometown, mostly in the company of a childhood friend who was spending the last of his teenage years trying to rebuild a '69 GTO Judge from pretty much the ground up, I gave up the ghost, bought a one way ticket on a Greyhound to New Orleans, and, with about 500 dollars in my pocket, "set forth to seek my fortune." Or destiny. I dunno. The venture into the GTO had been an emotional hell-ride, with me having my sights set on turning myself into some sort of icon along the lines of Kerouac (my buddy was supposed to be Dean), and watching, over the course of about 3 years as my friend gradually succumbed to the local culture of speed and rednecks, so that I pretty much entered the city with one of those grounding illusions we all suffer from, when we're young, falling from my eyes like scales. I was also alone when I first arrived--the last time, really, that I have been truly alone in a city until the present. It was my first major city, and I can remember arriving there with a pretty fair amount of clarity: the fellow who got me high behind a gas station on the way there, the richness of the deep south accent so impenetrable, at times, as to render it incomprehensible to me as I watched people reunite on stops on the way to the city. I remember that I was reading "Big Sur" on the bus ride in, that I felt an odd sense of vertigo as I watched the highway--which threaded a line through wetland on either side of it--rolling along beneath us, and that my first thought, upon seeing the city--on the evening of Good Friday--rise up on the horizon, at night, was "New Orleans is burning!" This thought with an odd sense of joy, but not so odd. My younger self was the kind of person who had been known, in my hometown, as being eccentric, at best, though given my hometown, perhaps "queer" would have been the term used. I'd been known to enter rooms, after having read some headline detailing the latest urban disaster, and announce, in less than reverent tones, "There's a riot going on!" I'm not proud of that, but it is who I was. I still wore a jacket with an anarchy symbol hand-penned on the back of it, so perhaps my first reaction wasn't all that unpredictable. To be honest, New Orleans was the last period of my life when I could honestly call myself apolitical, paradoxically enough, because everything about me seemed to exude politics, but it was all about raising hell, and I couldn't have cared less about who was where and why in politics.

Nevertheless, those first couple of weeks found me confronting some of the cold facts of fending for one's self. After managing to land an apartment about 20 city blocks north of the French Quarter, I promptly set to business, which, in my case, meant hunkering down in my apartment for hours on end wondering what the hell I was going to do next. On occasion, I would step out to the grocery store to get something to eat. I remember one evening having a dinner of vienna sausages from a can and a huge tub of cottage cheese. My culinary skills--and taste--have improved, somewhat, since. Somehow, in the course of this week, I managed to find a key to my neighbor's apartment, and on one occasion snooped through it in his absence--though, as is very typical of me, being very curious about opportunities for criminality, but never really acting upon them, I took nothing. I spent about a week in this state of paralysis before the reality of my situation started to really sink in. The apartment was $335 per month, and that's about all I had left after having tended to "little things around the house," and if I didn't get something going in very short order, I was going to find myself out on the streets of an unfamiliar city, which probably would not improve my prospects for employment one bit. I wasn't particularly afraid of this. I was, after all, a Kerouac fan, and it was all about beatitude. But I did have some foundational, and largely puritan, reservations about just letting things get to that state. It seemed better if I actively encouraged them along. So, dressed up in my best (at that point a sparklingly new white T-shirt and some well maintained jeans), I set out to see if I couldn't find any luck looking over the Help Wanted signs I'd seen when I ventured out from my first base, a weekend stay in the Lee Circle YMCA, which is fairly close to the French Quarter.

The Quarter's where I went first, whether to find work or something else I don't think much mattered, though my natural tendency seemed to be to organize my foray around looking for work. By this time, I was already scrimping on food, and it was starting to have an effect on my energy level. The only place I looked for work was on the ground level, applying anywhere where there was a Help Wanted sign. Within 3 days I'd been hired at one of the many chains of tourist shops that plague the Quarter, and placed under the management of one Ann, an Italian butch lesbian who chain-smoked Winstons and whose primary romantic engagement was a stormy relationship with one Barbara, one that seemed to be typified as much by their epic battles as it did by their many reunions. Something about me Ann liked--don't know exactly what, to this day, because she didn't have a whole lot of patience for my radical costumes when off duty, and seemed to be liberal only in terms of what a person should be allowed to do to their body. I spent the first Gulf War in New Orleans, protested across from Jackson Square, and well remember the arguments Ann and I had about it, arguments that finally ended, for good, when she slapped a "Sack Iraq" sticker up on the door of the store she managed, putting me in a position in which I had to abandon my favorite spot for standing on the street between customers, or be seen with the sticker at the same level as my head. Political disagreements notwithstanding, Ann also secured me an apartment within the quarter--a sizeable enough attic studio immediately above her own. If I had been more enterprising, I'm sure I would have seen the potential for abuse in this situation and begged off. But I wanted to live in the Quarter, whatever the price, and really didn't imagine staying there for any significant length of time. I figured a better job would be in the works, at the very least, and took the apartment. It was less than half a city block from the corner of Royal and St. Peter, in the heart of the Quarter, and I could access the roof of the building from my apartment. If I climbed out the back window, I looked directly on St. Louis Cathedral, which was about a block from my home.

I was lucky. Ann and I never had problems as neighbors, and on a couple of occasions, I even got to play babysitter to her after one of her tiffs with Barbara. On one such occasion, I stayed with her late into the night, drinking and listening to the story of her first love--and the first time that she really accepted her being lesbian--finally helping her into bed and making my own quiet way upstairs, to my own home. When Ann got excited, she used the phrase "You hear me what I'm sayin?" like other people use punctuation. Where the situation did get a little sticky was that of employer and employee, because every time I started to feel like I'd had enough of the gig, I would have to come to terms with the fact that Ann would react to any suggestion that I might quit in pretty much the same way a family member will react to an announcement of one's intent to depart suddenly--as a personal abandonment. This is in fact what would happen--and twice did happen, once when I quit, but was coaxed back, after ill-founded accusations of theft, and once when I finally left New Orleans. I worked evenings, and the rest of my time was spent either writing (an electric typewriter, in those days, and often to the accompaniment of either the Saints game or Rush Limbaugh on a tiny, crap radio I'd picked out of someone's garbage) or roaming the Quarter in search of things that I might want to write about. And the Quarter was a feast in those terms. Street characters: The bead lady, who wandered around wrapped in plastic tarps, bead lady smell coming off of her for about a block in advance, asking people if they wanted to buy a lucky bead; the many magicians that Corey and I would later watch together, until we finally learned the secrets to their tricks through observations; the Baal guy, who would occasionally surface with the most twisted xeroxed rants I have ever read in my life--rambling descriptions of secret rituals in which pagan women would rip the fetuses out of their wombs, cook them in microwaves, and masturbate as the corpses were nuked, and other equally weird psychosexual stuff--later, I would see him talking, apparently sane, to the proprietor of The Olive Tree, a used book store on the quieter side of Royal; the many jugglers. I learned to juggle in this city, during the dull hours spent overseeing a store full of t-shirts reading "Who Farted" and "Bury the Bone" and "This is Your Brain in New Orleans," all of which the tourists seemed to think wildly original. The motorcycle lady--a gorgeous woman who rode through the Quarter wearing a spatter-painted army helmet, and who was rumored to be the lover of one of the more well-known painters in the area. One night, while walking along Royal after dark, I saw her--or rather, I saw what appeared to be her motorbike, zooming riderless down the street. As it went by me, I realized she was on it, only she was laying down, head pointed toward the rear of the bike, and as she passed, she executed this incredibly sexy back-arc into sitting position. The next time I saw her on the bike, I stopped dead on the sidewalk and shouted "I love you!" She looked back, which was thrill enough for me.

Incredible happenings in this place, imagination food in every direction. And I wanted to share it with everyone. I would spend hours at Kaldi's, a coffee shop on Decatur Street, getting blitzed on caffeine as I sat by the window, watching people come and go from the nearby French Market, smoking cigarette after cigarette, writing absurdly long letters to friends about what was happening to me, what I thought the world was coming to, and, in my own weird lefty way, rubbing my metaphysical palps at the prospect of the coming apocalypse. I was god because we were all god, all feeding into the same consciousness, and there was no wrong we could do, because it all contributed to that consciousness' knowledge. And I had no qualms about saying it in exactly that way.

Acting, well, I was timid, and knew I was there mostly to watch. I was timid in the way only an Okie boy, baptized Mormon, having watched his best friend go the route of serious intoxicants and with one failed enterprise already under his belt could be timid. I partook, on occasion, but never married myself to the place. Later, friends came--Kari, now my wife and mother of my daughter, and Corey, who took up residence in an attic loft in our apartment until he finally departed on a cross-country journey in a Volkswagen bus. Played host to members of the Rainbow Family in my apartment--one memorable night housing 8 of them on my floor and receiving two quartz crystals in thanks, and another memorable night when 3 showed up, with 4 dogs in tow, and taught me the most valuable rule of drug transactions: never buy acid from any group of hippies that has more dogs than people in it. Mike McCorkle, who worked with my wife at a frame shop, and whose army jacket I wore for 8 years after I departed in the cold Chicago and Alaska winters, the jacket abandoned, finally, when I left for Australia--in whose apartment (which had no doorbell--we had to convince the security guard at a parking garage around the corner to let us in long enough to yell up at the single window of his apartment) I spent cold, rainy winter afternoons hunched down discussing Hesse and Dostoyevsky and Dylan and listening to I'm Henry the Eighth, I am" by Herman's Hermits. And one wild night, when the rain, having clung to us in the form of humidity all day long finally let loose (there is simply nothing like a New Orleans rainstorm after one of those hot, sticky days when you don't even have to move to be covered in sweat) out on Jackson Square after dark, listening to a couple of the regulars play "You Look Wonderful Tonight" for the ten thousandth time, sheltered under the balconies with all the street performers passing wine and talking, and Corey standing directly under a drainpipe with a full torrent of water pouring over his head, me teasing him by saying "He don't even know enough to come in out of the rain," and him shooting right back "What? It's only rain!" Or the night Mike, Corey and I went out to read poetry with Kari, and Mike's girlfriend Meg, coming along to listen. I received the best advice I have yet received in performance poetry that night, when I went one long poem too long, only to have one of the audience members shout "The mind can only comprehend what the butt can endure." I don't even know what that person looks like, but I owe them a significant debt. I didn't know it at the time, though, and, convinced that I was tragically misunderstood, I got trashed with the boys on Southern Comfort, and, further egged on by their quest for a pinball machine, ended the night walking home and shouting "They don't understand passion!" at the balconies, Kari right there at my elbow saying, "Yes, yes, we know. And you do. Now let's get home and go to bed."

Too much, far too much, to even begin to communicate in a single blog entry.

When we left, I knew, for myself, that the reason I was leaving was because it would be far too easy for me to get wrapped up in this one local scene, to come to understand the world in only these terms, to stay in the same job, which provided enough, though nothing more, to grow complacent. And I didn't want this. It was the reason I'd left my hometown. But it was heartbreaking, and I knew that even if I ever did manage to come back, I wouldn't come back to the same place. For years, when people ask me about New Orleans, I've been in the habit of telling them that, for me, it was more a time than a place. One last stab at staying up on Sugar Mountain before I put my own queer shoulder to the wheel in whatever way the world demanded of me. We put the best face we could on it, though as with all departures, the reality was very different from what we'd dreamed. We'd long dreamed that we would travel next to Chicago, and my wife and I did do that, but there were others who had, at some point, spoken of coming along. They grew up, just like we did. One of those people, Eric, a friend from High School who'd taken up residence in Austin and was on the university poetry track long before I managed to settle down at all, we called late--very late--on his birthday, from a payphone. I well remember his patient silence, like a harbinger of our own, more responsible selves to come, as he endured our exhortations to join us: "You have to come! We're gonna destroy Chicago!"

New Orleans was the last city where I felt it in myself to shout such words on a
public street. That's probably mostly for the best, but it doesn't keep me from treasuring that time when I felt I could. On my last day of work, Ann, as has
every person I have had to say goodbye to since, wished me the very best. I send those wishes back to her, and her family, all of whom were locals, now.

If you never made it, you missed something. New Orleans was America's most unique city, practically a nation of its own, and for all its very real flaws, it was a treasure worth guarding. I'm not sure it could have been guarded any better, and where I feel anger (and I do), where I feel the need to place blame (and I do...), it has nothing to do with the natural disaster that hit this city, no matter what human activity did or did not do to exacerbate it. We all knew, in our minds, and in our souls, that New Orleans would one day flood. We knew it in our poetry: Zeppelin singing "When the Levee Breaks," the Tragically Hip with "New Orleans is Sinking," and the deep tradition of the blues from which both songs learned their every chop, we knew. We knew in our science, knew for decades that this would happen. And while I would dearly love to see New Orleans rise again, I will not be deluding myself about that prospect: if it happens, it's gonna be a long time happening, and there's no guarantee, at all, that it will be the same place once it is rebuilt.

What troubles me (and I'll keep this part short, though it could easily be quite long) is the official line that states, without blinking, that nobody could have
forseen this. They could have, and they did. And while I truly do mourn the city, I mourn more those who died unnecessarily as a result of a truly criminal negligence by an administration for whom the descriptive term "willfully ignorant" is a woeful understatement. When it comes to your own comfort, God's a perogative you have every right to exercise, but when it comes to guarding human lives, you do not rely on God. You plan ahead, and you don't intentionally court disaster. Or, as the good Dr. Gonzo once put it, in better words than I can hope to, "Call on God, but row away from the rocks."

If you haven't left that mountain already, the exit is this way. It's time we put our
shoulders to the wheel.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Good Morning, America

...how are ya?

There is a serious rant coming your way, and there is a time for it. In the meantime, if you're idly clicking through your blog roll anyway, and you've got an hour or two to spare, why not help the good folks over at Social Source Software in their efforts to create a database centralizing the many posts scattered throughout the net providing information on people who are missing? The instructions are easy to follow, but if you have a question as to how it works, don't hesitate to contact me.

Also, spread the word. Many hands make light work. If Wiki can work, this sure as hell can.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Just Desserts?

Ooh...probably, though I wonder how effective this will be overall, given that it assumes the act will be done in extreme haste. Sometimes, maybe...but of course, it's more about power, and one assumes there'd be a steep learning curve on this sucker.

...point for discussion.

Another: I recently found myself involved in a conversation in which my interlocutor insisted that what happened to the Native Americans could not possibly be termed "genocide," because the term had yet to be coined. Now, I've not yet studied Heidegger, and would not pretend to know precisely what he was on about with the phrase "language is the house of being," (hint: any clues on this sucker would be appreciated...), but I always kind of assumed this was fairly metaphysical in nature, and did not suggest that a thing could not exist simply because it could not be spoken. Oddly, a term that seems more specific to the events in Germany during WWII--holocaust--was around, though honestly, I would have been more likely to refer to the Native American experience using the former term much more quickly than the latter.

It's a fairly pedantic objection, in my mind...but, what think you?

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Just the facts

Or, at the very least, an approximate representation of same. It becomes readily apparent, after less than a week on the ground, that if I don't get busy, and quick smart, on a description of the trip, rather than my state of mind during it, I'm likely to lapse into a teacher's diary, and will get seriously stuck into descriptions of classroom settings, as that's quickly becoming my everyday world. I think I had one hour's free time between arriving and teaching, so Gangneung looks to be somewhat defined by that work, though there are a couple of National Parks, within which there are Zen temples, that I plan on hiking into at the earliest possible opportunity. There's much to be seen on the ground, of course, but S. Korea's northwest coast seems to have largely abandoned the fishing trade as a mug's game, and has taken to trolling for tourists, instead. Of the five people age 21 or over that can both speak English and know me, two of them have made much of just how many buildings have gone up in Gangneung in the past 10 years. It looks it. The city is not pretty, or at least not in the way Munich was pretty, and there's a lot in the way of eyesores about the town--much neon in any gathering of businesses, which seem to sprout up out of the ground wherever the proprietor deems it appropriate. Having lived the last 6+ years in cities notable for their strict building ordinances, I'm assuming they are a little more lax in this part of the world, and it certainly comes as no particular surprise that they should be, with many nations in this part of the world being rather famed for the esteem in which business-owners are held. Sidewalks are often lacking, or, where they do appear, the space that might otherwise be afforded a pedestrian is taken up by wares overflowing the shops that line them, cardboard boxes awaiting disposal, or--more charming--tarps covered with red chilis that have been set out to dry. The overall aesthetic appears to favor the modern, but with a clear space carved out at walking level for the clutter of being human. Don't even ask me how garbage disposal is carried out. All I know for certain is that it is, somehow, and although it appears to be a matter of setting one's waste out at random corners, I'm assured that there is an order to be followed, and transgressing the boundaries of that order may land an auslander in a spot of bother with neighbors. I'm gonna try to figure that out over the next couple of weeks, and if it eludes me at that point, may just have to wait until midnight to chuck my own mound of refuse out with the others. In the meantime, I'm sorting it out at home, keeping the different types separate in readiness for the day I understand it all.

Trip here: 3 hour flight to Istanbul, as mentioned in the last post, at which point I landed with not much of a clue as to how to proceed from there. In the kerfuffle leading up to my departure, not only did I have to display the tenacity of a pitbull to get my passport and tickets into my hands on time, but my flight got postponed. Just as well, really, because the travel agent who'd booked the flight was banking on my having the ticket--and my itinerary--in hand well before the departure date, and as that did not happen, I was not completely certain about where my flight was to leave from. Turns out the original flight was meant to leave Frankfurt, about 4 hours and 100 euros away from Munich. Fortunately, the leg of the flight from Istanbul to Seoul was postponed for over 12 hours, and the travel agent immediately got on the horn to find me a later flight departing Germany, this time from Munich. Also, as a result, the airline had committed to putting me up for the night as I was to be in Istanbul for 8 hours. So, alighting in Istanbul, I first followed the signs to baggage claim, but encountered passport control before I managed to get there. At this point I was told I needed to get a visa. So, slog back to the visa desk, where they lightened my load by 15 euros so I could get a visa in order to sleep in a hotel for three hours. Okay. Passport control behind me, I then went to claim my bag, but it wasn't there. So here's Tchitch, fresh out of Germany, still in that mid-and-immediately-post flight mindset that dictates that all communication that is not in English is automatically in German, trying to find out from the service staff where my bags might be. After about an hour's legwork, and a couple of game service workers later, I decided I'd have to accept their word that my bag had been checked through to Seoul, rather than holding out for a physical inspection of it. Then down to the lobby, where I encountered two men offering me taxis in the brief time it took me to walk from one end of the lobby to the other, and was able to find the appropriate desk to secure my room, where I preceded to wait an hour for the bus that would take me to the hotel. While there, I was engaged in conversation by a young man, also waiting for a hotel room for himself, his brother and his father. He of course had me pegged for an American--god only knows what pheromones we put off, because I don't do a lot of talking when traveling alone, I don't wear a baseball cap, have been to McDonalds precisely once in the last 5 years, and while I do have 5 kilos or so that I could afford to shed, I'm not a particularly big guy. He wanted to talk about America, of course, but his English was limited to very few words. His German, however, was good enough for our purposes--certainly every bit as good as mine--so we reverted to that, and I must say, since I have left Germany, I have had the chance to speak German twice, and on both occasions, while I don't imagine myself to have come off as particularly erudite, I did manage to hold up most of my end of the conversation. Hooray! I think I may have actually learned something during my stay. Give me another three years back there and I may even be able to deal with the big bad KVR. In the meantime, I'm desperately looking for a place where I might nab a cigarette, but as going outside entails coming back in through the metal detectors (which is no big thing, but just enough of an inconvenience to make me think better of it), I'm stumped for a while. I do finally see a Gloria Jean's within the airport, with a small lobby in which several people are sitting and smoking. So I stump up to the bar, thinking that perhaps the smoke is worth the price of a coffee, only all the coffee prices are in the local currency, which I do not know the exchange rate for, and although there seems a good chance they'll offer an exchange rate at a coffee shop in the airport, it doesn't seem to be a given. So out I go, again, in search of some other smokers' nook, can't find one, wonder briefly whatever became of the phrase "smoke like a Turk," and finally come back and see the father of the young man smoking, but without a coffee in front of him. So I ask, and it turns out that the coffee purchase is not required to sit there, which I promptly do.

The bus takes about an hour to pick us up, at which point we are shuttled to a hotel some 5 kilometers distant, down a busy street at midnight that seems to be having some fairly serious construction being done to it--it's midnight, and at one point the shuttle bus flashes past a group of about twenty men, working on the meridian armed with nothing more substantial than shovels. All the while red flags with a yellow crescent emblazoned on them, and uplit mosques along the road and dotting the landscape. It's already starting to get a bit dizzying. The hotel doesn't look to be particularly well-appointed, more for the neighborhood it is set in than for any characteristic of the hotel itself, but there's a fairly spectacular view of a mosque on a distant hilltop from my window. In the morning (3 am), we are awakened. I spend about 10 minutes trying to figure out why getting out of bed is preferrable to staying in it, but finally get up, stumble to the continental breakfast (which includes, among other things, olives), finish up with plenty of time to spare before the bus is due to take us back to the airport, and, in spite of the fact that people have been smoking in the lobby every time I've been down there (this in spite of the apparent lack of receptacles in which to deposit the butts...and no sign of those butts being discarded on the marble of the lobby floor), I decide to be a good American and step outside for my smoke. Probably not the smartest of possible moves, but one that at least allowed me to get some sense of bearing, because pretty much every taxi that passed by slowed down--and some even stopped--for me. That's to say nothing of the two hookers that were working their way down the street, with plenty of cars that were not for hire stopping to talk to them. Fortunately, the twinned attraction presented by myself and the two hookers remained resolutely separate, because I've no real clue how I might have fended off a proposition delivered in Turkish. I'm sure I would have looked a poor alternative in any case.

So, shuttle back to the airport at 4 am, this time with the shuttlebus entirely peopled by Koreans save for myself and one woman--from New Zealand, I later learned--and no surer sign of my experience to come could have been asked for. A brief last look at cultural diversity during the 2 1/2 hour wait for the connecting flight, wandering the mall within the Istanbul airport's international terminal (and buying a carton of Gauloises to see me through the first two weeks of my stay in Korea), then off to Seoul on a plane that by all appearances had a single human being on board (excluding flight staff, who, I suppose, are human beings) not of Asian descent. Aside from a brief encounter with a passenger from another plane at Incheon airport, I've yet to encounter any human being more exotic than myself since that time. And I feel it, believe me...and will quite likely post more on the subject in the near future.

Seoul: Visa was handled prior to arrival, a necessity when one takes employment in Korea...or, well, there is one way around that requirement, should one want to get a sense of how it all looks on the ground: you come in as a tourist, scout out job opportunities, then make a visa run to, say, Japan, wait there for two days, get your visa and return for work. Either way, if you enter Korea with a work visa pending, your entry constitutes reason to cancel your application. For my purposes, my visa was already sorted, so passport control was no big deal, and customs was a quick nod at the clerk, who waved me through. The biggest difficulty I encountered through all of this was an older woman who seemed genuinely confused as to which line she was supposed to be in--in spite of the fairly clear markings, in both Korean and English, directing those waiting in line to either the Korean nationals booths, or all other nationalities. She was, in fact, standing in the right line, but wanted confirmation of some sort, so I offered same, whereupon she began exchanging vital stats with me, and it turns out that she's (she says) employed by one of the universities in Seoul, and has been for a few years now, which leaves me rather puzzled as to why she would be more confused than I am. I meet up with her, by chance, at the baggage claim area, whereupon she starts asking me the location of a hotel, and I'm of course clueless, and not only that, I'm keenly aware that there is a driver somewhere out there in the lobby that is awaiting my arrival, so I beg off, my bags having arrived safely with me, come out into the lobby and begin searching for someone holding a card with my name. I find the driver, who whisks me out to his car (it's a fair walk, and though I only manage half a smoke, I do manage to get a little fix in on the way). He speaks no English, so the ride into town is quiet, except for when my contact--the recruiter who landed me the present gig--calls on the cell phone to tell me how the arrangements are to proceed, and also to let me know that I'm being driven by her brother. I try to send a text to my girls in Munich, but I'm off the grid at any price, and have been since (my cell phone in Germany was Vodafone, and it was an ancient piece of equipment that I was given by a Polish friend when they upgraded their own phone)...it does continue to function as a handy little watch/electronic telephone book, and if I'm really bored, I can listen to the selection of possible rings, but that's about all it's good for in these quarters. Good news is, European and Korean power points are the same--two round prongs of the 220V variety--so I can keep my fancy new watch charged up and ready to use without further hassle, to say nothing of the laptop I'm using, just one of the many ways my friend Wolfgang has helped to make this an easier move.

After a couple of stops, the nature of which is uncertain (one to speak to a group in a taxi, one to speak to a police officer...I assume in both instances to ask for directions, but do not know this), we meet my contact, she introduces herself (this after about 2 months of correspondence over phone and computer), and they take me to my room, in a motel that is nearby where my contact lives. It's an interesting first slice of Seoul: the hotel is well kept, there's a round bed, a large, flatscreen television, a computer with internet access (which I make use of to send word to my girls, because there is, by all appearances, no phone in the room), a shower, but no curtain (something that defines my apartment as well--there is a showerhead, i.e. a hose with a showerhead attatched, but nothing to separate the shower area from the rest of the bathroom--just wash and let the water go down the drain in the center of the bathroom), and a tube of toothpaste with a cap that does not twist off, or have a flip-top lid, but pulls off. It's the toothpaste that does it for me, because I remember, when we first moved to Sydney, having a horrible time learning to deal with the light switches, which were not only quite different from those in the US, but also had an "on" position that required one push down, rather than up. Little shit like this adds up over the course of a few months, and while I'm usually quite good at saving the real frustration for those moments when static in cultural transmission has reached an unacceptable level, such as, for example, when we shipped our possessions from Alaska to Sydney, only to have them all shipped BACK to Alaska, thus requiring we write several letters of complaint to the Aussie Post...all got cleared up in the end, but it was enough to send me teetering over the edge, and of course, in expressing that frustration, inevitably found myself turning upon the light switches as a constant, daily source of stress. It's all enough to find me nodding to Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues," when he sings "No one speaks English and everything's broken," even though my wife thinks me horribly insular when I do so. Anyway, there's enough large scale unfamiliarity to keep me quite busy for some time, thanks, but I can see that toothpaste cap becoming a central feature of any rants I might want to get off my chest in the future.

My time for writing is running out, and I need to get this saved so I can post it this evening at the hagwon, so, while there are further notes re: the bus trip to Gangneung, they'll have to wait for next time. If I don't manage it before, I'm hoping to get caught up on the travel journal this weekend--though, as always, things are afoot on the Triplopia front, as well, and I'm looking at some hefty work in that direction over the next two weeks as well. I suspect I am going to be doing one helluva lot of typing during this coming year. Dunno why I think that, but
I do.

All right. Til next time--tchitch

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