Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Io vivrò senza te

Io vivrò senza te/ I'll live without you
Che non si muore per amore/ that you don't die for love 
è una gran bella verità/ is a great truth
perciò dolcissimo mio amore/ so, my sweet love
ecco quello, / here is what
quello che da domani mi accadrà/ what will happen to me from tomorrow on
Io vivrò/ I'll live 
senza te/ without you
anche se ancora non so/ even if I still don't know how
come io vivrò./ I will live.
Senza te,/ without you
io senza te,/ I, without you,
solo continuerò,/ will go on alone
e dormirò,/ and I'll sleep
mi sveglierò,/I'll wake up
camminerò,/ I'll walk
lavorerò,/ I'll work
qualche cosa farò,/ I'll do something
qualche cosa farò,/ I'll do something
sì, qualche cosa farò,/ Yes, I'll do something
qualche cosa di sicuro io farò:/ I will surely do something
piangerò,/ I'll cry
sì, io piangerò./ yes, I'll cry
E se ritorni nella mente/ and if you come back to my mind
basta pensare che non ci sei/ I just have to think that you're not here
che sto soffrendo inutilmente/ that I'm suffering in vain
perchè so vivere solo / because I know how to live alone
io so che non tornerai/ I know that you won't come back

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Heard a Cry in the Night

I heard a cry in the night,
A thousand miles it came,
Sharp as a flash of light,
My name, my name, my name.
It was your voice I heard,
You waked and loved me so
I send you back this word,
I know, I know, I know.

He fell in love with her just listening to her voice. But who was she?
He was in a military hospital in Germany listening to a BBC news broadcast from Jordan. Spacey on pain meds, he missed the commentator’s introduction and before the woman had finished her story and signed off with her name, his doctor had come in with a small contingent of interns to review his case.
He’d held up his hand and said, “Wait!”
The doctor, who was an Air Force major, simply reached over the bed rail and shut off the radio. Turning to his audience of bored looking trainees, the doctor began discussing him as if he were a static display on the flight line.
“This Air Force lieutenant sustained multiple injuries ejecting from his aircraft, the most serious being injury of the cervical spine, including ligament injury C5-6 and a sliding of the C6 relative to the C5. Any questions?”
He had questions, but the major wasn’t talking to him.
He wanted to know if he’d walk again. He wanted to know when he’d be released. He wanted to know who the woman on the radio was.
His injuries would heal completely in time, although he’d have neck and back pain for the rest of his life. He was released from the hospital with a neck collar the following weekend. A month later he met a medical board, was told he could no longer fly, and was given a choice of a desk job or a disability discharge without severance. He chose the latter and started looking for the woman whose voice still murmured in the silences between his far off gaze, and his late night dreams.

During the ten years that he searched for the woman he went to graduate school, earned a dual master’s degree in journalism and international affairs, became a leading newspaper’s Middle Eastern Correspondent, and traveled extensively to countries where he thought he might cross paths with the woman whose voice he knew he would instantly recognize.
During that period of his life he met numerous women, many professionals like himself, with whom he shared intimate moments, some on more than one occasion, and with some women who made it clear that they were interested in more than a superficial connection. But he was haunted by a vision of a woman he had created elementally, from the tone, the timber, the modulation, the melody of a voice, heard once, as a disembodied phantom of the electromagnetic spectrum.

He is approaching his late-thirties, his black hair is still thick and unruly, but his hairline has receded slightly, and there is just the touch of grey at the sides. He often has a three or four day’s growth of stubble on what was once a chiseled face, but now begins to look craggy and seamed from days in the hot desert sun. He looks perpetually tired, which is reflected in his hazel eyes, which seem lighter against his sun darkened skin, and there is a far off look in them that some women interpret as disinterest and others, perhaps more perceptive, see as loneliness.
On assignment in Bahrain, he is listening for her now among the babble of voices echoing across the conference room where discussions are underway about the Western media’s “unfair” reporting on the government’s treatment of its Shiite minority. Doubt begins to creep into his mind.
Inshallah, will he find her? Will she be what he has imagined her to be all these many years? Will they live happily ever after? He wonders, if he does not, if she is not, if they do not, then what is he to believe about Allah, the merciful?
Words from the Quran come unbidden into his mind. Do you worship what you have carved yourself?

The hotel in Kabul is fronted by a keep-out zone to prevent terrorists from ramming a bomb-laden car into the hotel entrance. The zone is created by a courtyard, raised beds of roses and dahlias, and a center fountain. He thinks of his father’s backyard as the heavy scent of roses opening wide in the late morning sun reaches him.
Glancing at the TV above the reception desk as he shows his identification, he sees that the correspondent’s breakfast meeting has already started. A colleague from his newspaper is summarizing the purpose of the meeting, and emphasizing the importance of shared security for journalists covering events in the Middle East. As he turns from the desk to make his way to the conference room he hears a woman’s voice on the TV that stops him cold. Her voice. She is asking a question. He listens for a moment allowing her voice to wash over him like a warm sea. Then he turns towards the TV.
He experiences the explosion as a kaleidoscope of burst ear drums, shattering glass, blinding dust, violent motion; a terrible dance that ends in disorientation, and searing pain.


He is old now. He lives in the north, where winter is never far off and where the morning cold rekindles the pain in his limbs and reminds him that he is still alive. The winds can be fierce, rattling the double pane windows of his house, but he cannot hear this sound, nor any other. 

He moves slowly, feeling his way around the small house by memory. He finds his way to the porch and reaching behind, finds the arm of a chair. He sits, raises his face to the morning sun, and closes his eyes.

And he listens.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Uncle Leo's Garden

I made sure to arrive at my Uncle Leo's well after lunch and well before dinner. Despite the off hour, Uncle Leo would still invite me to eat with he and my step aunt, Madeline, but I'd have a graceful way of declining; an afternoon meeting in Manhattan, picking up a friend at JFK, rushing back to work, etc. I had a number of reasonable excuses in my hip pocket.

I loved my uncle and made a point of stopping in for a visit when I was in New York, but Madeline -- Maddie, as Leo called her -- was a terrible cook, if you could call warming fish sticks in the microwave cooking. Maddie also wore so much perfume that she moved in a kind of blue-green haze that roared up my sinuses and stung my eyes when she leaned in to kiss my cheek.

I rang the bell and waited and then rang again. I was beginning to wonder if anyone was home. Finally, Uncle Leo opened the door a crack and peered out. "Oh, it's you, Roberto," he said. Leo insisted on calling me Roberto, although my name was Robert. He enjoyed rolling the "R" and adding the Italian inflection.

Leo motioned me in and told me he had company.
"Come on back to the porch and I'll introduce you to Gus. So, how have you been," Uncle Leo asked, as we walked out to the back porch.
"Good," I said, but Leo was already thinking about something else.
Gus was a balding, bowling ball-shaped man, with surprisingly small hands, and a weak handshake.
"How're ya," he said.
"Gus is an officer with the boilermaker's union," Leo said.
"I'm a steward in the local IBB," Gus said.
"Sit, sit," directed Leo, pointing to a mixed assortment of chairs on the back porch. "I'm gonna get us something to drink," and he disappeared back into the kitchen.
We sat looking out at Leo's small, fenced backyard, where he grew swisschard, egg plants, bell peppers, tomatoes, and various Italian herbs.
"So, you're Leo's nephew?" Gus said.
"Yeah. My dad was Leo's big brother."
"Was?" Gus said, leaning forward and looking at me with clear, blue eyes.
"Yes, he was killed in Vietnam. Leo was like a second father to me."
"That right? He's got a kind of father complex, or someting, that uncle of yours."
"How's that?"
"Knows all the kids in the neighborhood. Fixes their bikes. Gives 'em advice, Even gives 'em lunch money." Gus moved his shoulders and neck as he talked in an odd dance of gestures that didn't involve his hands, which he kept clasped together. I wondered if he was self conscious about them.
"You got kids?" Gus asked me.
"Two. A boy and a girl."
Leo came out of the kitchen with three beers in his hands, letting the screen door bang behind him.
"Bobby's in his senior year at St. Christopher. He plays ball there; second base. Like his dad," Leo said, handing us a beer.
Leo sat down opposite Gus and I and raised his bottle.
Gus took a sip of his beer, and then asked me about my son.
"Your boy is at some Catholic school?"
"St. Christopher's," I said.
"And he was second?" Gus said.
"He plays second," I said.
"How's Jennifer?" Leo asked.
"She's doing great, Uncle Leo. Sends her love."
"You got two kids; did I hear that right?" Gus said.
"Yes. Boy and a girl. Jennifer is eighteen months younger than Bobby," I said, taking a sip of my beer.
"She play sports, too?" Gus asked. He leaned over and set his empty bottle on the floor beside his chair.
"No," I said. "Jennifer is artistic."
Gus grimaced and shook his head.
"That's gotta be hard."
Leo looked at Gus with raised eyebrows.
I smiled. "Not really. She's taken up the guitar and really loves it."
"That's amazing," Gus said. "A kid with that kind of problem."
"Problem?" I said.
"Autism," Gus said.
"Ar - tis - tic," Leo said, raising his voice and leaning towards Gus. "She's artistic, not autistic."
Gus picked up his empty beer bottle and shook it at Leo.

Leo jumped up and started towards the kitchen, but stopped and asked if I wanted another beer. I shook my head and Leo went into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam.
"Leo, fer chrissake!" I heard Maddie shout.
"Sorry about my mistake," Gus said. "I don't hear so good."
"That's alright. I'm starting to have problems myself. It runs in the family."
Maddie came out, preceded by a wave of jasmine scent, and leaned over and kissed my cheek.
"Hi, Robert," she said, squeezing my shoulder.
"Hey, Maddie," Gus said.
"Hey yourself, Augustus."
"Robert, you'll stay for dinner?"
"Thanks, Maddie. Can't do it. Big meeting this afternoon."
Leo came out of the kitchen with two beers, looked at Maddie, and closed the screen door without letting it bang.
"Robert, how about staying for dinner?" Leo asked, handing Gus his beer.
"He's got one of his meetings," Maddie said.
"Pasta alla Campidaneses," Leo said.
"I love that stuff," Gus said, draining half his beer.
"Gus is staying," Maddie said, looking at me.
"I'd love to, Maddie, but duty calls."
"Hey, did you guys hear what happened to Dominick Ciccioni?" Gus said. "I'm telling ya, it was bizarre."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tehran, October - November 1978: Spiraling Towards Chaos

My experiences in Tehran, Iran, in October - November of 1978, served to inform my writing in Part III of my novel, The Lion and the Sun.

Newsweek Cover, November 20, 1978
Below: Front Pages of Tehran Newspapers in late October, 1978 
I arrived at Tehran’s Maribad Airport on Wednesday, October 2nd at 10:30 pm, after a 16-hour flight from Dayton Ohio, with stops in JFK, London, and Frankfurt, Germany.  The airport was dirty, crowded, and noisy, with a lot of shouting and gesturing. It seemed chaotic to me, but it was nothing compared to how it was five weeks later when I was trying to leave Iran.
Stone-faced soldiers were posted at all the entrances and exits. Passengers on our flight were directed to Customs, where agents, with soldiers looking over their shoulders, made a cursory check of passports and shot records. I was surprised when the agent didn’t my check bags, but just waved me through dismissively.
I was in Tehran to participate in something called “Peace Log;” a program sponsored by the US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to train the Royal Iranian Air Force in the basics of logistics management. I was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), School of Systems and Logistics. I was 40 years-old, married, with two children; boys 13 and 12. I was scheduled to be gone for 5 weeks; the second time in my tour at AFIT that I would be on temporary duty (TDY) for that long.
The other three members of my team had arrived in Tehran several days ahead of me, because I had been delayed in my departure from AFIT. I had been instructed to wear civilian clothes, and to wait for pick up by a MAAG detachment driver or members of my team. A “lessons learned” that we’d been provided advised strongly against any single individual from the team taking a taxi from the airport.
I went into the main terminal of the airport and dodged through the crowd searching out a detachment driver or member of my team. Failing to find one, I went outside the airport to check the cars arriving and departing the airport. I was approached immediately by a very scruffy-looking Iranian man asking me in Farsi if I needed a taxi. I answered in Farsi and English, shook my head, and finally just turned away from the persistent man, only to be approached a few minutes later by another man offering taxi service, and then another. I’d been instructed to wait for a team car, so I waited, constantly harassed by taxi drivers, or wanna-be taxi drivers, or kidnappers, or whatever the hell these, short, dark-skinned, mustachioed, insistent men were.
I waited 45 minutes, becoming more and more concerned about where my ride was. I worried about the soldiers who were posted along the airport drop off zone becoming suspicious about my “loitering.”  Just as I was about to risk accepting a taxi ride, I spotted several tall guys wearing checkered sports coats loading their luggage into station wagon. I sidled over and heard them speaking American English. It turned out they were going to the same hotel where I’d be staying my first night -- the Evin -- and I was able to hitch a ride with them.  They were US Navy personnel who were to be consultants to the Royal Iranian Navy.
We had an animated conversation as we drove out of the airport and on to the main highway into the city -- I don’t remember about what -- but conversation petered when we saw the large military presence along the highway. We passed by the Shahyad Monument, which had been built in 1971 to celebrate the rule of the Pahlavi Dynasty. Sandbags and artillery were positioned all around the the soaring, white stone monument.

We passed this at night on our way to the hotel from the airport.
It was surrounded by troops and gun emplacements.

Army personnel carriers were parked there, and soldiers with machine guns slung over their shoulders stood about watching the traffic flow by. This scene was repeated at strategic intersections and buildings along our route to the hotel. That was probably the point when I realized that the situation in Iran was more tenuous then our State Department had led us to believe.

The government declared martial law in Tehran and eleven other cities on the night of September 7-8, 1978. The next day, troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators at Tehran's Jaleh Square. A large number of protesters, certainly many more than the official figure of eighty-seven, were killed. The Jaleh Square shooting came to be known as "Black Friday."

I saw gun emplacements on most corners of the main streets during my assignment in Tehran.