Kindle Unlimited Offer

Amazon Music


See fewer ads with Contributor

Friday, January 31, 2014

WIP: Chapter 2 of 'Frontier Justice'


   “I don’t think I heard you right, Mr., uh, Marshal Fagan,” Bass said. “You wants to hire me as a deputy marshal?”
     Fagan tugged at his beard. His thin lips turned down in a frown. “Naw, Reeves, you done heard me right,” he said. “Judge Parker’s determined to see law enforced in the Injun Territory. You been over there, so you know the Injuns don’t trust no white man, even if he’s wearin’ a badge. It’s his thinkin’ that if we send a black man they’d be a mite more cooperative, and I reckon he’s probably right. Anyways, you know the territory better’n anybody else in these parts, and you done lived ‘mongst the Injuns. I hear tell you’re a pretty good tracker and a good man with a gun, and that’s good enough for me. You interested in the job?”
     Bass, not one to make snap judgments or decisions, regarded the man carefully as he considered what he’d just been asked. He knew that the money paid to a deputy marshal, while not a princely sum, was more than he made scratching at the red Arkansas clay from sunup to sundown. He’d be getting fees for when he went to serve arrest warrants, and the rewards for any fugitives he captured. Just one trip, if the wanted man – or woman – was valuable enough, which meant dangerous enough, the reward could be upwards of a thousand dollars. That was more than he made farming in a year. Of course, it would mean being away from home a lot, and Nellie, his wife, wouldn’t be too happy with that. But, the boys were getting big enough to do the farm chores and the girls were almost big enough to help out around the house. “Lord knows, he thought, there’s enough of ‘em.” He had to think a moment about how many, actually – four boys and four girls, and he had a sneaky feeling that there was another one on the way, the way Nellie’d been getting all sickly in the mornings. With another mouth to feed, the money would come in handy. He found it a little difficult to believe that they’d actually hire a black man to be a lawman, but it made sense if the intent was for him to do his work in the Indian Territory. The tribes, some of whom had been forced off their lands back east, had no reason to like or trust anyone with a white skin.
     “Yes sir, I reckon I’m interested. What do I have to do?”
     “You just show up at the court house over in Fort Smith tomorrow morning,” Fagan said. With that, he nodded curtly and walked to his horse. After untying his horse he mounted and started to turn the animal back toward town. Then, he pulled on the rein, halting the horse. “Tell me, Reeves, is it really true what they say? Did you really run away to Injun Territory ‘cause you whupped your master over a card game?”
     Bass looked up at the man without smiling. There were lots of stories going around about why he’d run off to the territory. He never confirmed any of them. Best let folk think what they wanted was the way he looked at it.
     “That’s what some folk say,” he said quietly. “Others think it’s ‘cause I done heard so much ‘bout freedom, and I wanted me some. Reckon the truth’s likely somewhere in between.”
     Fagan’s brow knitted in a frown, and then he laughed. It was a deep, booming laughter – true mirth. “By jingy, they were right,” he said. “You’re more Injun than any Injun I ever met. Don’t say much, but what you don’t say has a passel of meanin’. I think you might be just the man for this job.”

     He kicked his horse and was still laughing as the animal kicked up dust.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State IG to end Performance Reports on Senior Leaders

http://diplopundit.net/2014/01/28/stateoig-terminates-preparation-of-report-cards-for-ambassadors-and-sr-embassy-officials/

Monday, January 27, 2014

DIPLO DENIZEN: The American Diplomatic Spoils System, Part V: Let...

DIPLO DENIZEN: The American Diplomatic Spoils System, Part V: Let...: Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: …of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing....

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Indian View of the Khobragade Arrest Case

Follow the link for an article in an Indian business online journal about the fallout from the arrest by US authorities of Devyani Khobragade, Indian deputy consul general in New York, for visa fraud in December last year.

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-indian-foreign-disservice/article5586990.ece?utm_source=Daily+Media+Digest&utm_campaign=9dae6a0206-AFSA_Media_Digest_1_21_14&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e87ea75dce-9dae6a0206-215168573

While the writer shows no great love for the United States, the views expressed do seem to indicate that believing US law enforcement actions in this case inflamed a 'billion' Indians are greatly overstated.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Perseverance: Martin Luther King's Legacy

Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the driving force behind the American Civil Rights
King's statue, located midway
between the Jefferson and
Lincoln Memorials, gazes at
the Memorial to Jefferson, the
drafter of the Declaration of
Independence. (Photo by
Charles Ray)
Movement. King was a man who dedicated his life to (and gave his life for) the principle that everyone should be entitled to a chance at the American dream.

King’s detractors will point out that he was flawed. I won’t argue that. Like all mortals, MLK, as he was known to his close associates, had his weaknesses. But, his strengths far outweighed those few flaws.
One of his character traits which I particularly admire was that of perseverance. His ability to, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “And so hold on when there is nothing in you, Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

As an African-American who came of age before and during the Civil Rights Movement, and who has experienced firsthand ‘Whites Only’ signs, and the ‘separate but equal’ policy that was separate, but most definitely not equal, I can appreciate the ability to keep your head up and your feet moving forward, when everything around you makes it easier to turn and walk away. The ability to see light when walking through the valley of shadows – King had it in abundant supply.

I can also appreciate this trait on a more mundane level. As a freelance writer for decades, I have endured thousands of rejections, countless comments from friends and family about ‘writing’ being something you’re incapable of doing, and besides it’s not a real grownup job. I’ve put up with the occasional critic who disliked my use of semicolons, or who felt that my main character should have been killed off in the first chapter. Despite this, I have persisted in following my dream. I AM a writer. I’m not on any best seller lists, and I don’t have an agent waiting to answer my phone calls. Nor do I have publishers falling over each other to bid on my next book. I do have a few books that a few readers have found entertaining. I do enjoy reaching the last word of the last sentence of each book or article I write – so I can move on to the next one.

What does this have to do with celebrating Dr. King’s day? Probably nothing – or perhaps everything. In all that we do, following Martin Luther King’s example of keeping your eye on your goal and your feet on the path is maybe one of the most important things we can do.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WIP: Chapter 1 of "Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal"

     
Bass Reeves was a big man.
     At six-feet, two-inches, and weighing one hundred eighty pounds, he would have been an imposing figure even without the bushy black mustache that covered his upper lip and hung down to the edge of his square chin, the long, muscular arms, and hands, each of which was bigger than two hands on most men.
     He had just returned to his farm from a scouting job with the U.S. Marshals over in the Indian Territory, and during his absence, many of the chores which were beyond the abilities of his young sons had remained undone. Dressed in a faded pair of brown canvas pants and a blue wool shirt, he was hoisting a fence pole into the hole he’d just finished digging when he saw the rider approaching along the road from the town of Van Buren.
     His curiosity was aroused. It wasn't often that people from town came out this way, most especially just before the middle of the day. Removing the battered brown Stetson, he took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his broad, brown brow, and stood watching as the single rider drew nearer.
     When the rider was about a hundred yards off, Bass was able to distinguish features. He saw that it was a white man with a long, dark brown beard that came to a point midway down the front of the black coat he wore. His hair, dark brown, almost black, splayed out from under the white hat he wore pulled down low over his forehead. Bass saw the butt of a Winchester rifle jutting out of the scabbard attached to the right side of the saddle, and assumed that the man also had at least one pistol in a holster. Few men, white or black, went anywhere this close to Indian Territory without a firearm. Bass’s own weapon, a Winchester repeating rifle, was leaned against a small tree about ten feet from where he stood. He’d left his Colt .44 pistols at the house, not figuring he’d need them just to mend a little fence. And besides, they’d just have been in the way.
     Not that he was in any way worried. The stranger didn’t seem to pose any threat. He rode up, pulling his horse to a halt about ten feet away. Up close, Bass noted that he was almost as tall as he was, but considerably lighter, maybe a hundred fifty pounds or so. His expression, while not hostile, wasn’t particularly friendly either. There was something about the face that seemed familiar.
     The man dismounted. He left his rifle in the scabbard and tied his horse to the fence post Bass had just an hour earlier planted in the ground. As he walked closer, his coat flapped open revealing a revolver high on his right hip.
     “Don’t seem particularly friendly,” Bass thought. “But, don’t seem threatenin’ neither.”
     The man stopped just beyond his reach.
     “You Bass Reeves?” he asked.
     “I am,” Bass replied. He wasn’t a man for much small talk, and until he knew who the man was and why he was here, he decided to say as little as possible without unnecessarily riling him.
     “I’m James Fagan,” the man said. “I just been appointed U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas.”
     Then, Bass understood why the man seemed familiar. He’d heard during his last scouting job for the marshals that President Grant was appointing a new marshal for the district. He’d never met the man before, but from the descriptions he knew this was him. Fagan had been a general in the rebel army and had commanded Arkansas volunteers against the Union forces. Bass had heard that he’d finally been paroled and the president had appointed him to be the main federal law enforcement officer for the country’s roughest district.
     The Western District of Arkansas took in the western half of the state, which had problems enough, but also included the Indian Territory to the west in the Oklahoma Territory. Inhabited mostly by Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians who’d been forced there as white settlers took over their lands in the east, they had formed tribal police to take care of their own people, but the territory was also settled by others, white and black, who were often trying to get away from the laws of the United States. Because the Indian police only dealt with Indians, the Indian Territory had become several thousand square miles of mostly lawless territory.
     Bass had spent most of the war hiding out there, living with all the tribes. He’d learned their languages, and this, along with his familiarity with the area was the reason he was often hired as a guide for the marshals when they entered the territory in pursuit of wanted fugitives.
     “Must want to hire me to guide him,” he thought. His dark brown face remained impassive. “Congratulations on your appointment, marshal,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
     “I’m here to talk to you about a job.”
     “Well, sir – I just yestiddy come back from a job over to Injun Territory, and I reckon I needs to do a mite o’ chores here on the farm fore I go back out.”
     “You don’t understand, Reeves,” Fagan said, with a note of annoyance in his voice. “I ain’t here to hire you to scout. You probably ain’t heard, but when President Grant appointed me, he also appointed a new federal judge for the district – fella name of Isaac Parker. Now, Judge Parker’s sort of my boss, and he done ordered me to hire two hundred new deputies to police the Injun Territory. I heard tell you know the territory better than just about anybody else in these parts, and that you’re pretty fair with a gun.”
     “I guess I knows the Injun Territory ‘bout as well as a cook know his kitchen,” Bass said. There was no bragging in his voice, just a matter of fact statement. “As to bein’ good with a gun, I reckon I’m only fair to middlin’.”
     Fagan laughed. “Way I hear it, you so good with that Winchester of yours, they won’t let you compete in the Turkey Shoots ‘round here anymore.”
     Bass smiled and nodded. It was true that the locals had become so tired of him winning every prize at every Turkey Shoot they’d banned him for life from competing. He was also a crack shot with a pistol, with either hand, and there wasn’t a man within two days ride of Van Buren who’d dare go up against him in a gun, knife, or fist fight. Bass, though, wasn’t one to brag about such things. They were just facts of life he’d learned to live with.
     “What’s this here job you want to talk about iffen it ain’t guidin’?”

     “I done told you, I been ordered to hire a buncha new deputies, and I want you to be one of ‘em.”

Romans are Serious People


It's been a long while since we've heard from my friend, the intrepid traveler, Paul Berg. Well, here he is folks, in Rome, and in fine form:

 Dear Friends:
 That Foreign Service Officer's cycle of constant death and rebirth. End of tour preparation for death, as you round out your accounts, say good-bye to friends you'll never see again, pack away a short two or three year lifetime of belongings and experiences, mourn your coming departure and attend the advance wakes your colleagues throw for your imminent funeral. Then some time in the womb seeing old friends from past lives as you pass a week, a month, or long years in the U.S. With me so far? And then, the rebirth, with a new life in a new world which you're never really prepared for. Like any newborn (and no matter how well you fared on your Foreign Service Institute language exam), you emerge from the womb squinting and crying, not understanding what people around you are saying -- what the hell are they getting at with all those gestures? -- blinded a bit by the light and the colors and the strange surroundings, confused, everything is new. Even if you're met at the airport by a super competent Political Officer like Alex McKnight, as I was, you're still a confused newborn. And even if it's your second life in the same place, even if, like me, you already served in Rome from 1992-1993, you still struggle to put names to places and you wonder why, at first, nothing looks quite like you remember it.
Comunque, the U.S. is a hell of a noisy womb to spend time in between lives, and between the TV and the Interstate, your iPod and the supermarket, to say nothing of the audio-visual assault of passing through a major American airport (and to get you into a fully compliant mood before you face the cajoling fast food signs, the loudspeakered commands and the obnoxious bore waiting in the seat next to you at Gate F47 yapping orders to his staff into his iPhone in an unavoidable display of his self importance), our U.S. airports mostly insist you take off your shoes and belt and take out your belongings and practically disrobe then walk through a machine that sees through you, all under the disapproving, judgmental glare of an inspector who will further dehumanize you patting your armpits and thighs, inspecting your most sensual zones without sensuality. The first thing you notice on the other side is the quiet. The sense that nothing is happening because the signs don't grab at you, the noises are muffled, there's a reserve in the air. Keep your shoes on. Europe. Italy is in Europe.
You're jet lagged when you arrive at your new home, in a trance with your eyes open; all new Foreign Service homes feel surreal and dreamlike when you first enter. Big rooms that open into small rooms, mysterious doors and dark corners, spectral as a haunted house despite the official furniture and curtains, and then there's always that post-hypnotic suggestion fetish that puts you under when you look at it: the vast chain of keys. In Port Moresby, my staff handed me a choker of keys so heavy and full it would have sunk an Olympic swimmer. My GSO there had painstakingly labeled each key to the DCM's residence, but "upstairs 3rd bdrm left ac closet" still hit me as the kind of verbally opaque dissociative ploy a stage hypnotist would use to put you to sleep. My Villa Allegri key choker has no labels, and gazing at it that morning, or again this morning, I still want to fall into a deep sleep.
But walking through Rome at midday, or any time, is caffeine. Italy is a country of people who are always awake, and Rome is a city of serious people. Walking around in my jet lag stupor, it seemed difficult to imagine that I would ever have as many serious matters on my mind as Romans always seem to have on theirs as they walk by in ones and twos and, sometimes, threes in their understated, perfectly fitting suits looking straight ahead, unsmiling, surrounded by themselves alone, speaking terse phrases into their cell phones or to each other or both at the same time pointedly, rapidly, discreetly; something big is happening and they are in. You are not. Romans have always dealt with power, it's their destiny (and when power moves away from Rome the city is abandoned, like during the Middle Ages); money too maybe, probably, but as an adjunct of power. And in this city where big power is always exerted visually, through imposingly beautiful buildings by impeccably dressed men speaking with gestures and expressive looks, everyone, even insurance agents and shopkeepers and security guards, must look important. More important than you. If you're jet lagged, walking around Parioli at lunchtime will simultaneously keep you awake while you watch these self important people in their perfect dark suits and wonder what important matters they are talking about, and keep you in your jet lag trance because Romans in serious conversation with each other will not acknowledge your presence in any way, especially not through eye contact. They reinforce your sense that you are somehow living suspended in a spirit world, that you are looking out at them from a blank limbo and cannot touch.
Restaurants. The thing about Roman restaurants is that they never close. If you liked eating somewhere here forty years ago, you're in luck; it's probably still open and it probably still serves the very same dishes you liked in 1973. When I first got the handshake on my position, I was concerned about where I could eat big protein in this country of big carbohydrates. So I got on the Internet and looked up one of my old favorites near the Embassy, Girarosto Fiorentino (more or less "Florentine Rotisserie") and discovered it still exists and still serves the same roast meat dishes I liked in 1992. (One day in '92, I invited the young press officer of a new political party here for lunch. He entered mouth agape, looking all around; "you know, my Grandfather used to tell me about this place!" he said, amazed. Probably the first place he ever ate in his life that wasn't chic and trendy, that one.) But hell, every restaurant that's ever opened in all of Parioli or on the Veneto, ever, is still operating. Close to Girarosto Fiorentino is Cesarina, which is ancient, and then there's Girarosto Toscano, also ancient, and close by some other place whose name I forget that trumpets "dal 1937" on its neon sign, meaning it was already an old standby when the partisans strung up Mussolini with piano wire. And for another walk through ancient history, try walking up the Via Veneto home from the U.S. Embassy every night, as I do. Every single restaurant that the young Sophia and Marcello ever had drinks at, got paparazzied at, is still there. Most of them have pictures of the stars eating there on display, including the remarkable black and whites at the Cafe de Paris, with shots of the young Jean Paul Belmondo, dazzlingly tough distant and self aware, so handsome you can imagine young ladies swooning off camera, and a middle aged Agnes Moorehead decades away from her years on ABC meddling in the lives of Darren and Samantha, and a young Stewart Granger...but it's the same thing at every single place. Photos of the stars from the glory days. Roman restaurants. Methuselaic. One of my Italian staff murmured that the old places on the Veneto are kept alive with 'Ndrangheta (Calabrese mafia) money; if so, it's at least a nicely nostalgic form of money laundering. (Sadly, the last New York counterpart of these far-from-extinct dinosaurs, Gino, on Lexington, closed two years ago, zebra wallpaper and all, a tragic death whatever its age. It was always fun to watch 50-ish and 60-ish men and women there still dressed slick like when they were hot studs and chics, talking celebrity tough and flirting over the fifth cocktail just like when Sophia used to drop by after a premiere, plus the best pasta fagioli I've ever eaten.)
Youngsters at the Embassy said they'd never heard of the Hotel Savoy just across the Veneto much less its huge daily pasta buffet lunch, but I checked yesterday and it's still there, pasta buffet and all. Every one of the power broker restaurants around Montecitorio where I'd meet parliamentarians and Senators for lunch is still right where I left them in 1993, including Fortunato, a pistol shot from the Pantheon, a restaurant so snooty in 1992 that the herds of waiters ignored a nobody like me for 25 minutes while I stood invisible until my powerful guest, a rising young Christian Democrat parliamentarian from Emilia Romagna, arrived and immediately became the center of attention. Downtown Rome is yuppier and more full of trendy boutiques than it's ever been, so I thought that perhaps some of the working class Roman restaurants around the Campo di Fiori were gone, but dingy old Filetti di Baccala, endearing for its utter lack of pretense in a city of pretense, is still serving remarkable fried Baccala, ulivi Ortolane, and other Roman worker's junk food, complete with a line of the hungry waiting to dine. More remarkable is that its diners in this now-elegant part of town still look like working class folks. Where do they live? Area rents top Manhattan's. (Of course Carbonara still serves on the Campo itself, another Rome institution; I took my French Embassy counterpart here in 1992; he'd just returned from a tour in the U.S. and, full of Gallic arrogance about French technological superiority, the TGV and all that, looked out over the Campo, the Tiber and the ancient buildings beyond; sneering elegantly, he turned his upturned nose to me and said, "you know, this place Rome reminds me of....Paris....twenty years ago.") I crossed over to Trastevere, the sort of Greenwich Village of Rome, to see what was left from the days when I lived there; if we're talking restaurants, everything is left. They say that the trendy new little chef's restaurants that cool young Roman hipsters go to are either here in Trastevere or in nearby Testaccio; what with all the old restaurants still around, where do they find room for the new ones?
The thing about Roman supermarkets is that they're sort of what American supermarkets would be like if they sold only luxury goods. Short on peanut butter or breakfast cereal, any Roman supermarket stocks a dazzling line of artisan cheeses, choice cuts of meat and fish and game, mounds of salumi that Americans can only afford to buy in tiny portions (forget prosciutto di Parma, the supermarket around the corner sells by my count eight different kinds of artisanal prosciutto), a produce section big on artichokes of every color and texture, ripe figs, aromatic olives, fresh local strawberries, did I mention the smoked fish? The overstocked wine and spirits section? Just the place for a dose of Italians' current economic pessimism. I ask the checkout clerk if they take Visa and he gives me the classic Roman "ain't it obvious?" shrug, hard for most people to do sitting down. I explain that I had lived here twenty years ago but had forgotten. He glanced up and muttered "peggiorato." (In this context, "it's gone downhill since then.") The young lady in line behind me joined in to make sure I understood how bad things have become. She asked how long I'd be here, I replied "three years," she said, "that's enough" (i.e. "enough before you get fed up.") The two of them went on about the failing services, the corrupt politicians, the confiscatory taxes, and the general unlivability of Rome, with still other shoppers joining in as I walked out to the street. Did I mention corruption? Something to think about as I shlepped my bags past the neighborhood Maserati Ferrari dealership on the way home.
Our little Minister Counselor complex Villa Pinciana is located right across from the Villa Borghese, Rome's great park with perhaps the world's greatest sculpture collection in its museum. I couldn't figure out why the smell of hippopotamus poo kept wafting out of the Borghese until I took my first morning run and realized the Villa Borghese park also houses the Rome zoo.
After my cab driver and I agreed that the weather was perfect on Saturday morning, sunny and cool, the talk turned straight to every Roman's favorite subject, how the country has deteriorated, the taxes, the failing services, the corruption, the venal politicians. I'd wager that Italians despise their government even more than Americans do theirs.
(him) "...there's not even one that I trust, they're all corrupt..."
(me) "But Andreotti is dead."
(him) "But Berlusconi is alive. Hey, who was Prime Minister when you worked here before?"
(me) "Uh, think it was Giuliano Amato."
(him) "Behh, Amato!! Sorcio male detto!!"
(me) "What's sorcio? "
(him) "It's Roman dialect for a mouse. Amato. A God-damned mouse!!"
We got to the Piazza Navona where I got out before I could get a good vulgar denunciation of every Prime Minister since Andreotti out of him. Poor Amato, a mild-mannered, bespectacled economist who today is the head of the Constitutional Court and who does in fact look a little mousy now that you mention it. He was a sincere and, apparently, uncorrupt Prime Minister, but now whenever I run into Amato, I'll be looking at his ears.
I've discovered that practically every characterization I'd made of Italy, Italians and Rome back in 1992 is not only true, but even truer than I'd thought. And I've been able to discover still more since I returned. The Italians are, in my long-time judgment, the world's most individually brilliant people. Faced with anything that requires willpower, resolute dedication, an unshakeable ego and brains, an Italian will conquer. Like scientific discovery, technological innovation, economic theory, audacious design, art, organized crime, high finance, sports stars... It also means that the Italians do badly on anything that requires teamwork, especially if it requires submitting your ego to someone else's, as is necessary in, for example, winning military battles. And along with the rock-hard egos goes quite a bit of vanity. And, incidentally, the Italians are among the world's best-looking people. But what I realized talking around this weekend is that Italians are not vain about their remarkable good looks, as other peoples would be. (E.g., the Iranians, whose remarkable good looks have fed an individual and national vanity that always leads them to acts of mass hubris and eventually, every generation or so, pulls them down.) Good looks are so common that Italians take them for granted. Italians are not vain about their looks but about their smarts (not intelligence per se but cleverness, quick thinking...smarts.) What was amazing was that every time I floated this theory to an Italian over the weekend, he (or she) not only agreed with me, he trumped me! "Yes, Italians are extremely vain," said one, "but we Romans are the vainest!" (Can you imagine the confusion and misunderstanding, leave aside hurt feelings, if you told an Indonesian, or a Midwesterner, or a German, that his people are vain?)
Long-time friends may remember a piece I did in 2003 after my vacation drive through Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy. I explained that the Italians are practically manic, each one afflicted with at least a mild case of ADD, and totally unsympathetic to self-pity or oversensitivity. I myself am also that way two-thirds of the time, but also have a deeply oversensitive side; I wrote then that during the two-thirds of my life when I'm feeling on top of the world, Italy is just my kind of country and my own ego is perfectly at home with theirs, but that during the one third of the time when I'm feeling introspective or self-pitying, I'm scared to get out of bed. Age has coarsened me, made my ego even tougher and dried up a lot of my old insecurities. Just say it and to hell with what other people think. An unusually perceptive birthday horoscope personality profile noted that, "When you are expressing yourself verbally, this is the time when you will be most relaxed emotionally." Ring a bell? Yeah. I think I'm going to fit in close to perfect this time. Self-pitying days have declined to about 5% now that I'm sixty, and time spent "expressing yourself verbally" is off the charts when you live among Romans.
The Italians are not adventurous travelers. Leave it to the French to travel to the weirdest places they can imagine, the most exotic climes; or leave it to the Australians. Even the risk-dreading Americans are more adventurous than Italians, slightly. (Some time take a look at the dismally low percentage of Americans who have ever held a passport.) The Italians prefer to visit places that, to them, are Italy, like southern France, Argentina, and former colony Libya. The Italians have always viewed New York and San Francisco as Italian cities; when I program International Visitor nominees from other countries, I try to get them to Los Angeles for the West Coast leg of the trip, but not Italians. They've always been frightened by Los Angeles, a physically non-urban city in which few Italian Americans live. Send Italians to San Francisco, their kind of town. So my conversation with the owner of a yuppie boutique wine and spirits shop near the Piazza Colonna took an interesting turn. He was trying to guess what country I was from by my accent; I volunteered being American and then playfully suggested that I was a savage man from a savage country. He set me straight. "No, certain parts of America are not savage. New York City is not savage. San Francisco is not savage. Los Angeles is not savage. Chicago...uh...is about halfway not savage." (I relayed this to another Italian friend who was puzzled he left Boston off the non-savage list.) I'm running this possible new status of LA through conversations with other Italians to see if they can confirm that the sunny city is now safe for Italians or whether my spirit shop yuppie is a Hollywood-struck outlier. Could be the latter, but he delivered his judgment with such breezy hipster matter-of-factness.
In a mood to gamble? Throw in your guess on how long it will take them to get my new place Internet connectivity. One week? Two weeks? A month? Double or nothing. (Post script. Wrote this piece just after I'd arrived on December 2. Connectivity arrived December 27.)
Paul