All is well here in DC. August has emptied the district of natives and brought lots of fat people with cameras and terrycloth "hello kitty" sun-hats from places like missouri and ohio in their stead.
With my Senator's impending retirement, I have decided to accept an offer I have received from the State Department to become a foreign service officer. I will be leaving the Senate in the middle of September and begin my foreign service training in Arlington in the last week of September. The one big hitch is that they don't tell me until the eighth week of training where they will be sending me and the State Department is apparently notorious for ignoring the languages and area specialties of its officers and throwing them to entirely different parts of the world doing completely unrelated things.
I guess I will see how the training goes and which way the political winds are blowing in Washington after November.
After a long nasty winter in DC working a job I hated, I packed my things and ran away in the spring. What better place to go in the spring but Italy. I spent three weeks romping around Venice and the Veneto, drinking coffee in Rome, commuing with nature in Assisi, hob-nobbing it with the yuppies in Como, and partying with the victorious communists (er, PDSers) in Bologna. Being back in Italy was amazing and beautiful.
With brief pitstops in Belgium (where I saw Johan De Ryck - who just got a big honcho job with a Belgian bank), Iceland and DC, I spent my summer in California. There I rested and made up for some serious sun deficit incurred during the winter. I also prepared myself for the next winter.
I am now in Providence, Rhode Island. Why, you ask? I ask myself the same question. I am here to go back to school and start a PhD program at Brown. Why, you ask yet again? I also ask myself that question too. It seems like the torture of four years of undergraduate work and the two years at SAIS have not been enough. Actually, the reason I am here is to have summers off...well, not really off, but have someone pay for you to go to Italy for the summer. My program here at Brown is in demographic and cultural anthropology, and I am focusing on southern Europe. Consequently, I will have to visit the region frequently, linger with the natives, partake of the food, drink the wine and become one with the culture. Not a bad deal especially when they are paying you to do it. True, I am not going to become rich this way, but I sure was not getting there with my silly NGO job in DC...and at least this way I can put off my horrendous SAIS student loans.
I am excited about this program and the work I am going to do. My advisor is an expert in Italy with strong ties to Bologna (he did his doctoral research there - and is even friends with Prof. Row). I think I have found my niche here. Too bad it is in Providence.
If anyone should find themselves in Providence (God knows why), MI CASA ES SU CASA.
I got married.
We are not sure whether to call it a marriage or an engagement, but I surprised Jenny by organizing a tribal marriage ritual ceremony for us at Brunai Village on the West side of Kairiru Island off the coast of Papua New Guinea near Wewak.
Maybe I should back up a bit.
After three exciting days at the San Jose Convention Center taking the California Bar Exam (and three fun-filled nights at the San Jose Hyatt), Jenny and I took off for a trip to Papua New Guinea. We spent 10 days on a live-aboard dive boat wandering in the Bismack Sea. Before the trip, I had arranged with the boat's captain to find a village somewhere along our itinerary that would agree to perform a wedding ritual for Jenny and I (when you have been dating someone for 7 years, her family expects something special when you finally propose).
Predictably resourceful and armed with an excellent knowledge of Pidgin, our captain arranged a "singsing" at a village on an island that was on our way back to port at the end of the trip. Singsings are elaborate rituals that used to be a large part of life in Papua New Guinea before a massive influx of pasty missionaries managed to convince large segments of the population that they should relinquish animism. The missionaries have not prevented most of the natives from chewing beetlenut, however. In a singsing, the people paint their faces, dress up in elaborate costumes with palm skirts, long bird-of-paradise feathers extending from their headgear, thump on intricately carved wooden drums and, of course, sing. Anyway, singsings still exist and many tourists come to PNG solely to see them. The point of all this description is to show that the other passengers on the boat, and especially Jenny, saw nothing unusual with interrupting a dive trip to come ashore for a singsing.
The evening of the event, we took a dingy from our boat to the island as the members of the village waited anxiously on the shore. I had been instructed to bring Jenny in front of a large doorway of palm fronds so that the village would know which couple was getting married. When I put my arm around her to guide her to our spot, Jenny (ever culturally-sensitive) resisted my public display of affection. So I whispered to her that this ceremony was actually for us. She was puzzled. So I asked her to marry me. And how she respond when after seven years I finally asked for her hand? She laughed at me. She thought I was joking.
It began to dawn on her that I was serious when the village women whisked her off to a hut where they changed her out of her outfit into a grass skirt, painted her face and generally adorned her with whatever they had handy. Meanwhile, the men had given me similar treatment, with the added responsibility of a drum and a place in the dance line. While I was busy amusing the village with my earnest efforts to perform their dances ad hoc, they brought Jenny back out to the party and her wide smile told me that she realized that I really was asking her to marry me. After about 30 minutes of working up a sweat dancing fertility dances in the tropical heat, the chief said that the ceremony was done and we were married.
I would like to think that the villagers organized the party as a token of their good wishes for the young couple, but they put the bite on me for 120 kina (see if you can find that exchange rate in the Wall Street Journal!). 50 went directly to the chief. One of the crew brough him a 50 kina bill, which is a hell of a lot of money for most Papua New Guinea village dwellers. The chief frowned and said he expected more money. Somewhat incredulous, our captain explained that we were paying more than a fair price for the ceremony. Eventually we realized that he didn't want a larger sum, he merely wanted more money. We had to send some of the crew around the village collecting small bills until we had a wad of cash equalling about 45 kina. Deeply satisfied, the chief accepted the hefty stack and wished us many babies.
Jenny said yes.
My bohemian pretensions have taken a turn for the realized. I have joined the ranks of New York City's homeless. I expect my strada-livin' ways to endure no more than six weeks, less I hope, until I find and move into a new place. My home telephone number and address are no longer valid. If you want to reach me, telephone me at work at 212 224 3610, where I have voice mail that I can access externally; and any hard copy communications may be sent to my name, Operations Management, 488 Madison Ave., New York NY 10022. In the meantime I am traveling around friends' couches and floors.
The condensed story behind my spectacular collapse from high-flyin' New York reporter Master of the Universe to down-and-out social parasite is this: my roommate is a fuckin' loon. Gory detail will certainly follow but I had the falafel with the secret hot sauce for lunch and I really have to trot. So Kerouac eat your heart out and I'll talk to y'all later.
Below is my home address in Turkey, where I will be until mid-September. I will then move to Geneva, but I do not have an address there yet.
MAHUR SOK. 6/19
TEL: 90-216-3606125 (MOTHER)
90-532-3148305 (BROTHER-RECOMMENDED FOR NON-TURKISH SPEAKERS)
Markus's number in Frankfurt is 49-6174-23374
Have a pleasant summer,
Although Tom Jacobs will claim otherwise, I am not working for Catholic Relief Services to bring people over to the flock. Amen. I've actually been somewhat of a vagabond this past year having been posted in Jerusalem, Cairo, and now here in Skopje, Macedonia (otherwise known in Greek circles by the silly acronym FYROM). I've been able to travel quite a bit, from Jordan to Cyprus to Albania. I also went to visit Glenn M. in London during X-mas. All in all, a pretty hectic but fascinating year.
Here in Macedonia, I'm managing a project which is trying to prevent an outright massacre between ethnic Albanians and Slavs, and at the same time, promote democracy at the grassroots level. Dream on. Having attended SAIS, I was completely unprepared to find that not everybody shares our Wilsonian ideals. Yet, there has been some progress, the work is fascinating, the countryside is scenic, the mountains are spectacular, the radio stations play non-stop Jiovanotti and Eros, a bottle of good red wine cost a dollar, plus I'm living a pretty damn good life with all the CRS benefits that go with a "hardship post."
Now if only I can convince the Greek border guards to let me through once in a while. I've been turned back several times. I guess it's just way out of their league to comprehend how a US resident of Filipino nationality driving a car with diplomatic plates but working for a Catholic organization in a country they really don't recognize would possibly want to visit Thesalonikka for a few days. [I love SAIS--Stefan] Anyway, I'll try again soon.
That's all for now. Please do confirm you've rec'd this message. Hope to see you and others when I'm on home leave in NY and DC. I'll be there a week from today (August 8). Take care.
Please note that my new email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
For mail and telephone from Aug 12 to Sep 30, reach me at:
c/o Geraldine Deegan
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
tel. (44) 69/75 91 22 07
fax. (44) 69/75 91 21 78
[Tom got a fancy scholarship to play at a German newspaper for the summer. When he gets back to NY, he'll be an emerging markets reporter for KRF/Global news, previously known as Knight Ridder. Marc Young has also joined KRF/Global, so the three of us constitute quite a nice nascent little mafia there--Stefan]
[This letter to Michael Braun was intercepted via not very plausible means and is reproduced here purely for the public interest. Michael is back in England, taking a break from working at German papers to polish his novel, due for publication in the spring--Stefan]
New York, 5 August 1996
I see you sitting in a hardback chair, dapper in linen, smoking beside your typewriter. You gaze out the window, past the stone wall to an Oxford green. You enjoy watching the rugby scrimmage, with its heavings of exertion and sweat-dimpled efforts. Hmm, you think, perhaps this can be squeezed into chapter seven.
You stand and glide to the ancient telephone on the mahogany desk. You dial. Wait. Ah: the connection is poor but it is clearly the publisher. You explain the situation. Yes, Herr Braun, she says. The rugby lads would make a wonderful metaphor. A few pleasantries are exchanged. It's raining in Frankfurt. you hang up and dash to the typewriter. And--go! Furiously you pound out the narrative. What began as a thinly-veiled account of Anna Gabriella's journey to Bombay, where she met Monsieur Rose, is transformed into epic. It is a monumental, writhing testament. It is poetry. Now you've become excited--no, agitated. You're wondering how to adapt the work for the stage.
God, you're smoking like a fiend now. Back on the telephone: your agent. He is unsure, he would like you to take a stab at a screenplay. Hollywood!? You're an artist, for Chrissakes, not a whore. No, you don't give a damn about the money. You must have artistic control--it must be the theatre. The stage or--excuse me, how much? Really. Let me think it over--no hasty decisions. You hang up. You think how fabulous Beverly Hills could be.
You sigh and sit and light your last cigarette and gaze out at the declining afternoon. To think it all began at SAIS. I really should look up those fellows, you think. Well...you rummage through your files and find some recent letters. Let's see. Joachim fired from the foreign ministry for pinching Yeltsin's daughter in the ass. Tom Jacobs's election as mayor of Bishkek annulled due to a liaison with the local commissar's goat. Liz finally married rich and put on 75 pounds. Stephan arrested for distributing Nietzche writings across Chinese Internet servers, the scandal caused his poor father to suffer a heart attack. Jame, frustrated from the midnight moans of his lesbian roommate's lovemaking, joined a monastery.
You pause--chapter nine still needs work, and wouldn't that a brilliant scene in your screenplay? Birgit turned down another high-salaried job. Ben, on a mission from his Senator to Burma, imprisoned by SLORC and--oh, it's too horrible. You've been there yourself, albeit under more voluntary standards. Enough. You toss the letters. Perhaps you'll send replies. Best to do so before you return to Germany and work at Welt am Sonntag--that won't leave time for introspection.
Yes, a letter. A break from the epic. You think you'll invite them all to the advanced screening. You pause. You are out of cigarettes. A problem. It is now growing dark outside. You think of the possibilities and lift the telephone receiver and dial.
This Saturday, I had the distict pleasure of attending my first Sandulli family reunion in the quaint town of Middletown CT. All of the embarassing things about being Italian were fully on display. There were many loud, heated conversations with excessive hand gestures. My Dad's sister, at the ripe old age of 48, managed to get absolutely shit-faced drinking rusty-nails and wine. She got so giddy she was spilling the last glass of wine on herself before she passed out.
I spoke Italian with my great-great uncle Tony, who spoke Italian as well as one can when one has no teeth and is 97 years old. He told me a story about how when he and his whole high school class from Naples was drafted into the army (World War One). He was on leave from the front in Venice during Christmans and apparently there was a food shortage, leading other hungry soldiers to eat his pet cat. My great great aunt Louise (91 years old) didn't speak Italian, but she had a voice as deep and as raspy as the godfather's. She alternately bitched about how her son Joel hadn't had a career or a family and was a no good useless son-of-a-bitch (he is gay, and stays home to take care of her) and how successful her other son, Richard had been.
Richard and his family were shining examples of boorish Italian new money. They all arrived in black Lexus' with New Jersey plates. My father's cousin, was a BIG guy, with white pants, short-sleeve hawaiian shirt, sunglasses, and straw hat. He worked for a BIG bank in New York, where they do very, very BIG deals with BIG companies. Now he works for a BIG investment company in Philadelphia. His son Rick derives derivatives for Morgan Stanley's BIGGEST clients. According to him, people who don't invest money in derivatives are morons. He married an actress and lives in a faux castle in New Jersey. His wife, the actress, was beautiful, despite being 9 months pregnant. His older brother Walt I found much more interesting. He spoke Italian, had bummed around Italy for a couple of years, worked as a translator for the Italian soccer team when they were in the US for the World Cup, and now worked for a pharmaceutical company.
On the other end of the embarrassing things about Italians spectrum was my Dad's cousin Janet, who at 45, was anorexic, with jet black died hair, a cigarette dangling from her fingers, which were capped with two inch long, bright red fingernails. Although unmarried she had brought her daughter, who appeared to be slightly younger than myself. She wore a skin-tight spandex halter-top and had her black hair piled up about two feet above her scalp. Also unmarried, she had a two year-old daughter.
My Dad's cousin Carlo hosted the party. He runs a family metal stamping and die-casting business in Waterbury. His son, a freshman at Brown was telling me how wonderful it was to be working for a family company, and that the company was doing quite well, and that the employees and firm were loyal to eachother. I asked Carlo this, and he broke into a monologue about how competitive the world had become and how people will sell you down the river for a penny, and how there are some really truly evil people in the business world...and..oh.. would we like to see his new house under construction? This house was bigger than my office building - over 8000 square feet - (my parent's house in Ipswich, even with the new addition is maybe 2400) with an enormous atrium and ballroom that has bridge that crosses over the top. Although the world certainly is competitive, it seemed that cousin Carlo had managed to come out on top.
Ahh...roots. Pretty amazing to think that I had never met any of these people and that in one day we were all accepting each other as family. Makes me want to give rise to an army of progeny.
P.S. Carrie [Cullen], I am still in the Boston area. In fact I am looking to move downtown sometime in the next couple of months. Although I've had my share of Red Sox and Fenway franks, I would like to hear about your travails over there in the People's Republic of Cambridge.
This S@IS.faction Page URL: http://sighs.com/S@IS.newsroom.html
Inaugurated November 7, 1995; last revised August 29, 1996.
Questions, feedback: contact Stefan Geens at email@example.com