Thursday, February 26, 2004

What A Beautiful Day!

It is raining today. This past week has been off-and-on: Sunday, rain. Monday, sun. Tuesday, snow. Yesterday, sun. And then today--puddled streets and a sea of umbrellas. It makes you want to crawl back into bed with a good book and a bag of Sticki (Siamo mille bastoncini...).

But not me. No, I needed to get out of the house (cave). Today was my day off, and I wanted to do something. So, without an umbrella or even a hood, I decided to hike over to the post office and internet lab, braving the cold rain and the slippery cobblestones.

I didn't realize that it was raining as much as it was, though, and, stepping outside, I realized that these plump drops of rain were quite heavy, and my toes were already getting cold. But I don't HAVE an umbrella yet (one of those items I overlooked when packing to come to this country). So, knowing that going back into my apartment with that bag of Sticki and a good book wasn't an option, I wrapped my scarf around my head and started on the road into town.

Yes, I almost got sprayed by passing cars a dozen times. Yes, I felt like an Italian grandma with the scarf across my head. Yes, I still got plenty wet (scarves, I have learned, are poor substitutes for that water-proof liner of a good, wide umbrella). But walking into town among that sea of umbrellas was kind of refreshing. I didn't feel so different from everyone else--the whole town looked silly ducking under their umbrellas or running without a hood to find shelter under the nearest portico. And the rain made the pavement shine. I smiled underneath my scarf.

So, splashing in puddles, pushing on the pull-door of the Post Office, and looking down, cold and wet, at the typically-evil post office woman that always charges me too much to send a package, I felt a bit on the normal side. And I almost smiled as the post office lady took the parcel from my hands to weigh it. Maybe it's because I felt a sense of union with her, with everyone here, despite our differences.

Or maybe it was because I knew she'd have to deal with splashy puddles and the sea of umbrellas just as much as I would.


Update: It's Friday and, as you can probably guess if it rained yesterday: Yup, it's sunny. Hey, I'm not complaining!

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Postage Paid

I figured it out...they're all in it together.

Post office workers have united. There must be some sort of after hours postal bar where mail employees gather over a round of lick-able envelope-flavored martinis to think up ways to "challenge" us. One trip to an Italian post office and the truth becomes clear: priorities do not include efficiency, timeliness, or an emphasis on customer service. After five hours at the American post office this morning, I wonder if the Americans didn't get some pointers from their Italian partners.

Yup, five hours (cinque ore!) I spent learning the finer points of bulk mailing. Molto populare in America...Allora, aspetta! It was like an introduction to a whole new world - a different language, a complex culture, a horrid cuisine.

To their credit, our class of 18 had exceptional instructors. They were incredibly knowledgeable, quite experienced, and splendidly thorough. But after five hours of slides and worksheets on issues like "non-machinable characteristics," "aspect ratio surcharges," and "rotational skew," I found myself in a not so pleasant rotational skew.

When the sugar buzz from a Krispy Kreme donut had worn off (definitely a perk of the American post office...never once saw a Krispy Kreme at the Italian officio postale), I tried to focus on automated bar code policies but found my mind wondering despite my best efforts.

I began to imagine the type of mailings my fellow students would next send under their newly acquired bulk mailing rates. I decided the most interesting would come from the two attendees representing the local roller skating association and the lady sitting next to me - she owns her own pet portrait-painting company.

We talked about how easily a smudged bit of ink or the glare of a windowed envelope could send a piece of mail to one side of the country when it was intended for the other. I almost laughed out slip of the pet portrait company's printer and an entire hilltop Italian town would receive a 6x8 color postcard advertising (in English) a special discount on the artistically portrayed likeness of Fido. Molto populare in America?

In the end, I did learn quite a bit about bulk mailing and must admit that I even grew a deeper respect for postal employees. Bulk mailing is a difficult and complex activity to teach...then again, so is roller skating.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Waltz for the Insomniacs

Friday night, Antonello and I and two friends went to the Rassegna di Nuova Musica--a contemporary music festival held annually here in Macerata. Antonello and I are not great connoisseurs of contemporary music--in fact, our knowledge of it is quite minimal--but the event is pretty important here in the city, and we attended it last year and enjoyed it. Each year the festival celebrates the music of a certain place, showing the way contemporary music has developed there. This year, the focus was on America, with important names such as John Cage, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. Of these, I had only heard of the first two upon going into the concert, and my understanding of their music was still quite limited. Therefore, it can be concluded that Antonello and I didn't know what we were getting ourselves into.

After the first couple of pieces, though, I felt a little more relaxed and was starting to enjoy myself. I must say that it's difficult to feel like you can understand this kind of music after just one sitting--it is more than just aesthetic in appeal surely--but after hearing various horror stories about sitting through 30 minutes of only a metronome ticking, this wasn't bad. Antonello and I would turn to each other from time to time and smile, warming up a little to this modern music. We even clapped quite enthusiastically after a piece where the pianist started banging on the keys in what seemed to be an angry rage. Ah, there is hope for us and contemporary music.

But it was the last piece of the night that was definitely the most interesting. We were lucky enough to have chosen the last night of the event to attend, because out came Terry Riley! After spending the entire intermission translating the accolades written about him in the program, I came to the conclusion that he must be pretty important, given the fact that he is considered the father of the minimalist movement in contemporary music (And Antonello and I had never heard of him before--this tells you something about our limited knowledge!). He was to perform his greatest piece: "In C."

And it WAS great. The piece is a series of patterns that the orchestra can play to its liking: the guitar can continue with one pattern as long as he likes, whether it be 30 times or just one. However, the musicians have to continue in a certain order. The piece is a sort of organized chaos, it seems, but quite organized, actually, and the result is a kind of musical sheen--a clarity of sound that carried over the entire theatre--and we the audience were almost begging for it to continue. The musicians themselves seemed fascinated by what they were doing as well--the violist looking over every two minutes at Terry Riley and just smiling, as if he felt he were really part of something great.

And perhaps he was. Because in the end, after an hour and a half of them playing just one piece, no one seemed to want to stop playing. It seemed to me that the idea that this contemporary music is experimental in nature couldn't be more true, because instead of an orchestra up there, it felt more like a laboratory of sound. It was incredible to watch them play and to see them, those musicians, almost as astounded as we were by the nature of the music they were creating.

Leaving the theatre late that night, there was fresh chatter all around us. Outside, the sky was a ceiling of fog, and the piazza almost glowed in a misty haze, holding in the newness of the night. It was just past midnight, and we were tired. But there was a sense of being more awake now, and aware. There was a sense that the music hadn't stopped, and the patterns would continue, even as we walked a quiet street toward home in a small town in the middle of the night.