Calm Before the Storm

Day 38: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

It’s nice to lose track of time. It’s an experience I believe many people share – being on vacation from our typical routine allows us to meld days together, experiencing rather than living by the clock. It’s Wednesday, though – I know because it’s day 38. I like that I learned what day it was by writing it up there.

I’m writing this at the kitchen table, quietly stroking keys as to not wake the masses. I’m visiting family, and the house is (over)filled, with a towering sibling toppled, legs sprawled across couch armrests, while knuckles graze the floor; nephews and nieces snuggled together upstairs on makeshift mattress palaces, dreaming of castles, knights, and cloud princesses. I don’t know their dreams, but I have hopes and dreams about them.

It’s been a reflective visit. Chaos. The scattered, slow-breathing mounds abounding paint the image of yesterday, with exhausted children next to their exhausted relatives who finally seem to have outrun them. Loud. Interspersed between the turn of machines whirring away to clean clothes, cool food, and warm those under covers, it’s the rustling of the few relatives who want a brief moment before the storm. Relative. Considered in relation to something else: it is silent; also, a near complete collection of relatives all together under one roof – rare.  Rare. Laughter and joy, thorough sadness, all at the simplest of interactions (or lack thereof) – I would like to be a child’s understudy for a while. They have a lot to teach.

Morning, everyone.


Until tomorrow,


All’s Fair

Day 35: Friday

Good morning Zak,


Giuseppe Verdi, 1813-1901

So there was once this gran maestro in Milan named Giuseppe Verdi—maybe you’ve heard of him.  Verdi spent most of his time writing operas and growing magnificent facial hair.  If you’ve ever been to a Verdi opera, you have a deep appreciation for the meaning of the phrase “it ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings…”  Verdi’s operas tend to last on the order of 3 to 4 hours.

But don’t worry if you sleep through part of that.  Before the fat lady sings, Verdi will write into the music one elusive little something that miraculously summarizes the entire work.  He calls this magical something the tinta.  A tinta can sometimes be as short as two notes, but in those mere two notes, Verdi embodies the underlying spirit that unifies hours upon hours of music.

The first time I came here to Milan, I had to go through a bit of cultural sensitivity training.  Just as you would expect, cultural sensitivity training consists primarily in listing off a detailed catalog of facts: Italians tend to be less punctual than Americans. Italians tend to talk with their hands more than Americans. Italians tend to


I should’ve just asked them to print the receipt on foil

Zak, this letter comes to you from an airport.  I am about to spend twelve hours in a giant metal tube shooting through the air above the Atlantic ocean at unfathomable speeds.  All this so that I can be home for Christmas.

Reading the Odyssey has taught me not to expect too much whenever I come home from a long trip.  I’ll really just be glad if I don’t find my house invaded by a ruthless band of hostile men I have to slaughter single-handedly.  That would be super awkward.

Italians tend to speak at a louder volume than Americans.

I wish I could bring you back something that would summarize what Milano means to me.  Some kind of tinta that could explain everything.  I guess a lot of travelers probably feel this way.  That’s why there are so many souvenir shops.  I love useless junk as much as the next guy, but somehow I’m not sure if I feel that a “kiss me I’m Italian” tee-shirt really summarizes the spirit of this place.  There’s just something in the air here that I wish I could share with you.  Cigarette smoke, smog, and then something else…

Yesterday I had a conversation with an Iranian composer who is setting a poem written in Persian to music.  He translated the poem into Italian for me.  It’s this brilliant little double entendre: at first it seems like a tragic piece about unrequited love, but only at the very end you realize that the whole thing has just been about a school boy trying to copy answers on an exam.

Italians tend to like pasta more than Americans.  Don’t let any of these things freak you out.

Shame the poet’s work is only available in Persian.  Then again, translating poetry is extremely difficult and impractical.  Communication is hard enough when it’s confined to one culture.  People often have trouble interpreting each other’s business emails.  That fact should put things into perspective whenever an artist tries to share the human experience on a deeper level.  Being human, after all, is about more than just information in a business email.  It’s about cheating on exams in school.

See you soon,


day 2 of battle.png

Day 3 of Battle: I neutralize your vinegar with electrons, and I huff and I puff, and I blow your base down.