21 April 2011

Red Skeletons

Upon request, I've decided to post this poem, "Red Skeletons," for your reading pleasure:


Confusions and sex
playing off the all-too-natural
to breed to find pleasure
What havoc has ensued
In the loins of this species—

this beast—

Driving away the cognitive distinction
between we and the animals
So casually do we find ourselves
quivering on sweat-stained sheets
utterly lacking control
Red skeletons lie in piles
scattered by the violent wind
exhaled as her back arched
and he collapsed—

Red Skeletons:

passions scattered by lazy pleasure.

We've spent ten thousand years
pretending we were human,
Our minds the sites of some certain greatness
Language alone surely sets us apart
from whichever creatures we don't want to be

There is beauty in a dried rose
red hanging upside-down
beauty indescribable
a memory on the verge of crumbling
dust in another breath of
violet wind

If only
To be thrown across the room
a fit of rage
befitting passion
red and unusually cowardly yellow
waiting to crash against the wall
or be caught
received gently – relieved

Shall we be denied
Soft voice, soft touch
the myths of a mythical time age
once read about
in our long lost youth?
Anthologies pretend
Wordsworth and Shelley were real
in fact we have always imagined ourselves
something more than a means—
procreators, unwillingly

If be
forgotten red skeletons
(crumbling former roses)
dust to dust
dirt beneath our feet—
memories lost scattered
during the rush
—call me not, then,

Redefine a mistake
perhaps human
fragment from the whole
lost in an abyss
spun in silk and welcoming
A glass floor cracking
shattering every step
I take
Nothing and for myself
I grope the darkness
for a presence
guiding touch also still groping

Somewhere an ideal
sliding off the shelf in the back of this mind
perhaps mine
A clock ticking threatening
wading through deafness
no brick walls still
too solid
An idea
not confirmed
but by shallow lies imaginations
no soul to back up
no intentions
And in me an empty hand
air to grasp

No person willing intimately
and lonely real-estate at my side.

How Human can one be
not driven by desire
not hoarding gold
Naught but some starved skeleton
deep red fading
tainted and tempted by the blackness
Soles weary
walking and pacing and too much broken glass

Pitch black pinching
too blind—

to see a welcome face too distant
Distanced yet
ever on the verge of (or and)

What is human
which can be seen

So what am I
revision or mistake?
not driven by hope for sex
This timid frame so filled overfilled
dead language dead words
a prose once beautiful
now, I am told,
So too must I be

Once silver blue eyes
hottest flame therein burning
unstirred by a stare
now find
green themselves
in a placid clouded mirror—

Grey, even, when the wisdom of the eye
finds less motivation

I am
no great thing
This, at least, self-affirming
Grey eyes see great things
beauty not muted not lacking
Tired feet never tire
gladly carrying the weight of my world
Empty hands give all
have given will give
to any hand which will fill them

What am I but these things?
Find me
my hand my eye
in this dark abyss.

19 March 2010

Engagement and the next steps

As the end of March approaches, I smile at the events of the past several weeks, at the long-awaited coming of Spring, and at the next couple years of foreseeable future before me. I have been fighting off a mild respiratory infection for the past couple weeks, thanks to the final throes of Winter in Moldova, and I have been thankful for the extra time (between coughing fits and long naps) to appreciate where I am in life, and to come to grips with the mountains of work that now lie before me.

On February 13, shortly after my last post to this blog, I officially proposed to Tatiana through a fairly-elaborate, romantic Valentine's weekend surprise. Following her affirmative response, we have been busy preparing for the wedding and figuring out the complex process of marriage and visa paperwork. As all aspects of bureaucracy, the visa process is mundane, so I will omit the details for now. The wedding preparations, on the other hand, are quite exciting.

Tatiana and I have decided on July 24-25 of this year for our wedding date. The event is two-fold: first the religious ceremony, which will be at a beautiful church in Chisinau, and then a day to rest and prepare for the crazy traditional Moldovan nunta (reception), also in Chisinau. We have already booked most of the venues and players, including the church, priest, reception hall, and musicians. Items still on our check list include the photographer and formal invitations. Initially, we wanted to keep the guest list fairly small, but it looks like the event will probably be around 120 people, which is still only "medium-sized" for a Moldovan wedding. More details to come, on that.

Last week, I also received confirmation on my admission to graduate school. I will begin my studies at Bentley University at the very end of August, this year. Bentley is in the Boston area, which I have heard is a great area. My course of study will be a two-year program combining a MBA and a MS in something called Human Factors in Interface Design (HFID). It's hard to briefly explain what HFID means, but it has to do with user experience, usability, and product design. I expect the program to be very intense and fast-paced. My only concerns, right now, have to do with the short time-frame in which Tatiana and I will be arriving and settling down in a country that neither of us have been to for a couple years, minimum, in a city that neither of us are at all familiar with. It looks like I will have a lot of support from the Bentley staff, though, so I'm sure there is nothing to worry about.

I am down to the final stretch of my Peace Corps service; I can count the months remaining on one hand. Time really has flown in this second year in Moldova. As I reflect back on it, I am very happy for all my experiences here. I wish I had been able to do more, and I wish I had been in closer contact with my good friends back home, but I've had a great time.

Tatiana and I plan to make a stop in Portland for about a week or two before we head out to Boston. I look forward to seeing as many of my friends and family as possible in that time, so if that's you, keep me in mind. We'll likely have some sort of Portland reception to which you will all be invited.

One last thing: I've started putting all of my irreplaceable photos online, starting with the oldest ones and working my way up to the present. I'm up to the end of 2007, so far. Anybody who's interested can take a look: Jeff's Photos.

09 February 2010


Wow, it has been a very long time since I last posted here. The first semester of my final school year in Moldova has flown by, and I'm already well into the second. For the most part, my work at the school has leveled out to the point where I spend most of each class either observing, correcting essays, or helping students on a one-on-one basis. I have also spent a considerable amount of time developing a collection of English language tips for native Romanian speakers, which I am now beginning to make available online (link to come soon).

By the end of last Summer, I had effectively cleared the hurdle. The hurdle. All of my time since has been spent well and with the confidence that I am gaining a truly valuable experience. I have come to accept certain truths about Moldova, as well as about the nature of Peace Corps in Moldova, and this acceptance has led to a much more satisfying experience for me. It's no longer about changing the world (or Moldova); opening one pair of eyes at a time is just as good. Success can be as seemingly trivial as finally convincing one high school student that allowing their friend to copy off of their paper is ultimately going to hurt both of them.

Much of what was unclear for me, as of the writing of my last post on this blog, has become much more clear. I have been honored to spend my time with a remarkable Moldovan woman who never ceases to amaze me, and I have never been more satisfied in a relationship. I have set my sights on a couple MBA programs, taken the GMAT, and have an interview with my first pick school (Bentley University, near Boston, MA) in a couple days. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thanks to all of you who have made efforts to keep in touch with me during my service in Moldova. It makes a huge difference to me to receive little messages from home from time to time, even if it's just a little thumbs up on Facebook.

Sper să ne mai vedem pe curând.

29 August 2009

To Begin Again

Here I am, back where I started a year ago, facing a new school year in a town that is not my own, teaching kids who, more often than not, don't know what school means. I made it through the summer, which turned out to be pretty awesome. Coming into summer, I was inches away from calling it quits and returning to the friends and rich lifestyle I left back at home in the Pacific Northwest. My fondness for that home hasn't diminished this summer. Rather, the vacations, the visits from friends and family, the warm interactions with a new group of local friends, and the discovery that I have a fairly large amount of control over my situation here have all contributed to a much more positive outlook on the coming school year.

A lot has changed for me, this summer. The things that keep me here are no longer those which brought me here. I've lost a lot of my original passion for teaching and my organization, but I've also gained a language, a new world-view, and a handful of invaluable people in my life. I have thrown a lot of my ideas about the future into the wind, and drawn new plans that may take me in directions nobody would have guessed before. My concept of "home" has become scattered. The possibility of living carefree and single into perpetuity gradually loses its appeal.

So, I begin again. A new school year. One more year of service with Peace Corps. Twelve more months to figure out what to do after this time next year. Suggestions?

13 August 2009

Whistlestop Wanderjahr: Germany

Judging by my two most recent trips, it would seem that the single most difficult travel post to write and publish is the final one. As high-resolution memories of my time in Germany slowly fade into the more standard, pixelated haze, I find myself subject to frequent pangs of guilt that I have only now come around to collecting the highlights from among my recollections and putting them down here.

Arriving in Germany by way of train was not entirely what I had expected. Deutchland has such a famous reputation for clockwork mechanics and rail systems which are the epitome of punctuality. And yet, our train was late to depart and even later to arrive. My illusions were dashed on the cold steel rails like some unfortunate character in a Tolstoy novel. Surviving this let-down, my parents and I eventually arrived in Munich (Munchen), found our way to an inaptly-named airport hotel, and passed out. Early the next morning, we found our way to the airport and happily waited, and waited, and waited, and greeted my two older sisters and a niece. Thus concluded our time in Munich.

From Munich on, we would be traveling by rental car. Perhaps this was a necessity, as several of our destinations would be difficult or even impossible to reach by public transportation. However, my affinity for traveling by train meant that climbing into the small, unimpressive Fords was not entirely top choice. In any case, we had a bit of fun on the open autobahn.

Next on the list: Fussen, which is situated at the foot of the Alps, just near the Austrian border. This town, while quaint and pleasant in itself, served as the staging ground for a rainy visit to Neischwanstein Palace -- more commonly known as the "sleeping beauty" castle, as it was the inspiration of the popular Disney model of a romantic palace. The story behind this particular palace is interesting and (at time) almost comical. As one tour guide pointed out, while the 19th-century constructor, Ludwig III, had wanted to build an "authentic Medieval castle", he chose a site which would require the destruction of one of the most significant examples of Medieval fortresses. While in the area, we also toured the nearby (and much more authentic) Hohenschangau Castle.

From Fussen, we traveled on to Rothenberg. This small, walled town features a well-preserved structures and cobblestone streets, thanks largely to a mutual dislike for needless destruction between two opposing figures near the end of World War II. As the story goes, the town had been selected as a final stronghold by one of Hitler's dwindling generals. Like all other Nazi generals near the end of the war, he had been ordered not to surrender, and planned to take the whole city of Rothenberg down with him before allowing the approaching Allied troops to pass. Speculation would suggest that his subordinates were not entirely in accord with this suicidal plan. On the other side of the line, American generals had given orders to begin bombing the town in anticipation of an attack. Back in Washington, an official in the State Department with some sway came across the orders, and immediately recognized the name of a town his mother had always said was the most beautiful town she had ever seen. Picking up the phone, he made some calls and had the American commander delay the bombers, and offer the besieged Nazi troops a chance to surrender, even though it would likely be turned down by the so-ordered general. To their surprise, they received a positive response. Apparently, the general had left town for a couple days, and officer left in charge possessed enough sentimentality, common sense, or both to see a good opportunity in front of him. Tada! Rothenberg thus survived relatively unscathed. The old city walls, gate houses, and ramparts are largely intact and completely open to the public.

The next day, we made our way down to Wiernsheim, a tiny village near Stuttgart, or no particular interest to most tourists. To my family, it holds certain significance, as it is the town from which our Zundel ancestor emigrated to the United States. Despite the fact that it was a weekday, most of the town was quiet and inactive. A few people could be seen around the grocery store and a small ice creamery, but the rest of the streets and sidewalks were left largely alone. We wandered around the few streets, took pictures of a few Zundel signs, and eventually tracked down a few houses that belonged to or were built by Zundels before my ancestors left for a new world. Speaking with people was fairly difficult, as none of us spoke German and there was little demand for them to know English. Luckily, we communicated our random purpose to an oldish man in his garden, and he immediately got on the phone to call Rainer Zundel, a local English teacher. Within no time, we were all chatting with this man of common ancestry about the village and Zundel history.

It was also in Wiernsheim that my good friend Sebastian (whom I met while he was engaged in research studies in Portland a while back) came to catch up on lost time. He returned to Germany at about the same time that I left the States for Moldova, and we were mutually appreciative of a familiar and knowing face from our beloved Portland days. Heh heh...

While there is a hotel in Wiernsheim, it was unbeknownst to us when we made these travel arrangements. In dumping rain and rapidly dimming light, we booked it north to Hiedelberg. Forgive me if the spelling is incorrect on this. We arrived late a night and left early the next morning, so my only real memories of this town are blurred views of bridges crossing a beautiful, night-lit river, u-turns, and glimpses of what I later learned is one of the great attractions of Germany. I'll have to check that rumor out during another trip, I guess.

Our final stops were in Cochem and Bacharach, which lie on the Mosel and Rhine rivers, respectively. Both of these small towns were relaxed and hospitable in their character, and we made use of this comfortable air to enjoy the final few days together. This last leg of the trip included most of my immediate family, absent only my younger sister and my older sister's husband and son. Still, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to connect once again with the people I love, as we gently and curiously explored the nooks and crannies of these old German towns and the rivers to which they bring life.

In conclusion, I very much enjoyed my journey from Moldova to Germany. It was fascinating to have such an unusual opportunity to witness, first-hand, so many amazing places in Central Europe. Describing this trip to friends and colleagues, I would later describe it as highly stressful, not very relaxing, but altogether interesting and much appreciated. If we had traveled to only one or two of those stops along the way, or a thousand more, it would still have been pleasant for me primarily because I had the opportunity to see and be with my family again.

Thus, the Whistlestop Wanderjahr comes to an end. What will come next?

27 July 2009

Whistlestop Wanderjahr: Český Krumlov

I've discovered that I have a strong preference for traveling in places where I know the local language. Hence, Romania has been top on my list of favorites for this trip. Still, Český Krumlov defies this trend, instead rivalling the best Romania has to offer.

Český Krumlov [pronounced Chesky Crumlow] is a small Czech (as the name suggests) town near the Austrian border. Its character is based on a swiftly snaking river, a charming town of red roofed houses, and an old castle resting upon the tops of sharply cut cliffs. The town lies on a narrow strip of land bounded on three sides by the Vltava river. This river very nearly takes a shortcut through town, at one point, but is instead carefully controlled and preserved on its winding course by a series of spillways and small dams.

Incidentally, the Vltava river is sometimes referred to by another name, the Moldau. In and around the area, a rare-ish gem takes its name from the river (or perhaps the river from the gem): Moldavite. The gem is not particularly valuable to mainstream jewelers, but it has a rich green color and is quite appealing regardless of whether it has been intricately faceted or left uncut. In most of the town's stores, especially in the town center, the amount of silver or gold used in the setting will determine 90% of the price. Information on this stone can be found, like most other information, in the Hitch-Hiker's Guide.

As far as sights go, there are few extraordinary guide book stops in town. Most guide books will point visitors to such riveting destinations as the wax museum or the castle grounds, the latter of which actually is rather beautiful. If visitors to Český Krumlov are expecting Prague- or Paris-style attractions, I recommend Prague. Or Paris. Český Krumlov is, instead, for those seeking a more relaxed and quiet place to rest their heads or to sip the local brews. The area surrounding this small town is remarkable in a very Wordsworthian sense, and could easily occupy days or weeks on an itinerary.

There is little more to say about this small town. It was difficult to leave, especially knowing that the remainder of the trip would be in a country altogether more familiar than prior whistle stops. To be fair, Germany would surprise us in many ways, but it always felt rather like home.

Coming soon: Germany (one BIG post for the whole week).

Whistlestop Wanderjahr: Prague

Though I've tried to neglect mention of it so far, most stops on our Whistlestop Wanderjahr have greeted us with some form of precipitation -- at some times a mere drizzle, at others a sheer downpour. Prague didn't disappoint this trend, but it did ease up a bit. The Czech Republic's proud capital was cloudy but dry for most of our stay. The resultant broken blue sky provided the ideal climate and lighting for wandering the old nooks and crannies of a city untouched by the most recent and more destructive of our world wars.

We arrived early in the morning, following a comfortable night train from Krakow, Poland. Guidebooks will recommend avoiding such trains in Poland, for reasons of theft, but we slept soundly and safely in our room, waking only as the train pulled slowly up to Prague's platform.

After checking into the aptly-named Hotel Central, we set off for breakfast at one of Prague's many delightfully tasty culinary establishments. Details of what we ate in Prague are not important; suffice it to say that it was all excellent. After breakfast, excursions into the city would begin.

Tour guides to the city can be found aplenty both in Prague's central square and in any half-decent information bureau. However, the free walking tours are, hands down, the way to go. Led by enthusiastic, young-ish kids trying to fill time in the summers, these tours provide ample information on the antique areas of Prague, served with light-hearted and friendly humor from the guides. Salaries are tip-based, and can be paid at the end according to how well the guide performed. Or so I'm told. I didn't actually go on the free tour. My spirit for city tours taxed beyond the limit, I cringed at the thought of wasting two more hours behind another boring guide. My loss, in this case. I went for a spiffy haircut, instead, so not a complete loss, I guess. Later that evening, I would follow the same group of tour guides on a slightly more intoxicating tour of the city, via their not-so-free Bar Crawl. Unfortunately, the meat market on this latter tour would be the cause of me calling it a night before midnight, and WALKING (not staggering or crawling) back to the hotel for a too-short night's sleep.

The next day, after wandering the city with the parents a bit and ingesting more great food, we met up for a not-at-all-free guided tour -- this time of Prague's impressive castle. I'll refrain from any long, poetic descriptions of this castle, and instead just recommend that you get on a plane or train and visit the place yourself. While I haven't seen the palace at Versailles, yet my parents remarked that Prague's castle (at least the exterior structure) reminded them of the French wonder... minus the marble, excess, and insane power-grubbing. Our tour guide, a cute gal by the name of Sarah, led us through the fortifications and courtyards with expertly delivered story-telling. Her friend and moral support, Sofie, happened to be the lively, informative (and also cute, ) tour guide for my parents' free walking tour, the previous day.

After the castle tour, we made our way for the hotel, where we grabbed our bags and made a dash for the distant and confusing bus station, from which we would depart for our next destination: Český Krumlov.

Before we move on from this place, though, let me add: Prague is a great city, and a recommended stop for any- and everybody. However, keep in mind that people in Prague are starting to catch on to the attraction of their city, and prices clearly reflect this. By this I mean that the people of Prague have long ago lost any naivety regarding how much tourists are actually willing to pay for pretty much anything. According to more worldly people, the city feels a lot like a small, quaint Paris -- absent the French (love 'em or hate 'em) and the Eiffel Tour, of course. I don't usually enjoy large cities, but Prague doesn't feel like large, at all, and the people are usually quite friendly, when even a little modesty and humility are shown on the part of the traveler.