Archive for creative writing
Mordechai John James was a gentle man, but a man with a mission. God was coming to bring salvation to all those who flocked to his call. To that end Mordechai John James was going to erect a Gathering point for the chosen to congregate. The Rapture would follow and all those who believed in the Lord would live in a better place. The land that Mordechai John James owned was blessed and purification would descend on all who touched it. He had the materials. Good salvaged iron and sturdy strainers with which he would raise the hastily fashioned cross, to become a beacon, a sign for all who flocked to Calvary Hill, a sign of faith.
He set out to the little hillock out the back of his farm on Wednesday 18 January 2017, the year of our Lord.
He was bought in covered in blood. Frail, disorientated and somewhat smelly. Smelly from soiling himself both ways but a deeper smell from not having washed or, more exactly, been washed for several weeks, even months. A smell of despair. He had fallen, or more accurately tripped over his oxygen line after waking up on his favourite armchair, after watching his favourite show. He favoured car shows, reminding him of his own vehicular history of Hudson’s, Fords, Holden’s then more exotic ‘foreign’ machines ending in ‘o’s and ‘a’s.
The attending staff noted that he lived with his daughter and her husband and their six children. They later ascertained that the daughter was not altogether flattering about her father who she described as “dirty, smelly, perverted old creep who only cared about ‘things’ ; not about her and her life. The staff never really found out what the perversions were but she alluded to children’s TV shows and dolls. She had taken away his walking sticks and then his walking frame because he wandered and spread lies about her and her kids throughout the neighborhood. She (her name was Madeline, but call me Madds, she intoned breathlessly to the young intern), was a morbidly obese thirty four year old, world weary and worn out by her unemployed husband who used his procreative skills as a substitute for a lack of anything else. She dressed in enormous tents to hide her bulges but her bare arms revealed the concealed jelly jungle underneath, wanted the old man institutionalized ( her words were ‘put down’ ) but conceded that a rest home would do.
“so, I still get his pension?” she hopefully enquired while the nurse rolled her eyes.
“we think we can maybe get him back home to you after a suitable period of rehabilitation” the nurse rather unenthusiastically replied. “your father seems rather malnourished and we suspect that he may have a fracture and maybe an old untreated fracture which has affected his mobility.”
“ohmmmmh! What rubbish has he been spreading. Next he will be saying I’ve kept him tied up and fed him bread and bone scrapes” Madds countered, standing on one leg and rubbing her hands together in a painful fashion. Finally, after hours of careful explanation , diagrams, exhibiting of Xrays Madds responded with a petulant “whatever” and frumped out the exit to the geriatric rehabilitation ward.
Meantime the meteorological service was predicting a growing weather phenomenon in the oceans Northwest of Calvary Hill and the nearby city of Chance. They were talking excitedly about a weather bomb.
The technical term for a bomb low is “explosive cyclogenesis”. It’s a weather system in which pressure drops by at least 24 hectopascals in 24 hours, bringing high winds, large sea swells, torrential rain and lightening.
Mordechai John James struggled with the system he had rigged up to raise his cross. He chanted the Lords prayer, he recited John 3:16 , he tried singing Isiah 49. The rising wind blew his words to the south, toward Chance. Mordechai John James pulled and pulled, chanted and chanted, sang and sang.
The radiologist had the old man on the EEG machine. The medics had decided that he had sustained a small fracture but there were no signs of old breaks, only extensive muscle wasting. The old man was disorientated and a little confused but he was also dehydrated and it was unclear if he had been taking his prescribed medications. They wanted a look at his “head work” to rule out dementia or brain injury. This was the start of a long neurological journey. The skies were darkening outside but the old man’s future looked brighter as the first assessment showed normal activity.
A huge thunderclap overhead shook the ground around Mordechai John James as he strained with the last guy rope and finally the cross stood twenty metres into the Lords sky. A bright light suddenly appeared above Mordechai John James and he momentarily thought that his prayers, singing and chanting had been answered…
Post-strike symptoms can range in severity from cardiac arrhythmias to blown ear drums and a whole lot of pain. Consciousness can be lost anywhere from a few minutes to a few years. People suffer brain damage (because the brain literally cooks from the current) resulting in concussions and short-term memory loss. Victims commonly report numbness and weakness in the limbs, with temporary or permanent paralysis
Mordechai John James’s corpse lay smouldering on the back field of Calvary Hill. There would be no Rapture for him. Mordechai John James was d e a d!
An hour later Chance was hit by the same weather bomb. Fortunately city officials had stopped all electrical street cars and replaced them with diesel buses, warned citizens of potential flooding, made sure electrical companies were on high alert, and informed the citizenry of what to do in the likelihood of a disaster. The Chance hospital was struck by lightening at 10.58. The old man, still attached to the EEG machine ( but disconnected from the mains as the hospital safety guidelines mandated this) stirred briefly and then a beatific smile crossed his face.
Two weeks later Madds was summoned to the old man’s pre- discharge meeting. She had not visited since the old man’s admission and was shocked to see the sprightly, alert, smiling man wheeled into the ward without any oxygen tubes and holding a new iPad which he almost expertly tapped the keys. As the meeting progressed Madds was faced not only with the fact that the old man was coming home but was coming back to HIS home and she would now be a tenant. Seems that the old man had remembered legal papers that had been signed and witnessed when she and her brood had moved in and although she had technically become his carer she had no legal or financial interest on the house. As her anger grew with this increasing realisation the old man’s smile and tapping grew wilder and faster. He seemed to be typing some sort of list.
Was a quiet Sunday morning, blue sea rolling in from downtown Italy as we cruised up the east coast from Catania to Messina. Past St Maria de Teresa, past the horrible Taomaina and finally in Messina Centrale. Beaut snack mozzarella and cruudo in a beautiful warm bread and an americano. We are off to Cefalu on the Messina to Palermo Intercity. Italy certainly does train travel well. Grotty train but 150 kph at times and efficient ticketing etc. Why ever did NZ downgrade rail. I was reading ‘ The Rough Guide to NZ’ which made a point of NZ not having much of a rail system.
Our plans have changed. Rather than rent another car,and drive from Catania to Syracuse in the middle pf the night we booked an overnight stay at the Excelsior hotel in Catania and are training the rest of the journey.
Alison has woken up very grumpy. Apparently the room next door had very loud TV until 2.45 am and she has had little sleep. Me, I had a great sleep and am rearing to go.
Just a short little rave about Air B&Bs. On the whole we have found them to be great. Aside from Bari where the apartment was a cellar, the hot water arrangement meant a two minute shower, then a twenty minute wait while the water heated for another shower or to rinse off those bits you missed earlier. And the smell. But its the little things that annoy. Take this morning. Beautiful apartment close to shops, restaurants, transport but no plug for the sink so no washing of last nights meal so ee can have coffee and a fry up for breakfast, No utensils to cook with, no washing up powder, no d3tetgent for the washer so Alison mistakenly adds bleach because she cant read Italian and is to stubborn to ask me to read the label. So a load of washing that is now ruined. The shower looks great with jets up the wazzoo but only the miserly hand held gizmo will work. No soap, no shampoo, no teatowel, no dishcloth. And a hostess who now doesn’t speak or understand any English although yesterday she was fine. Then the Internet which was working fine last night wont go. Her response – phone YOUR internet provider. Pardon me Ms canta speeka da inglese – but its your bloody provider. Plugs for sinks have been a constant problem I think Italian housewives ( i cant imagine an Italian male going anywhere near a sink) just rinse them off under the tap. Toasters are a hit and miss affair and jugs have only appeared in those places that have many foreigners staying. Soap and shampoo are seldom present and most places have no basics like salt and pepper. On the positive side some have left enough ingredients to whip up a quick pasta dish when you arrive.
This morning I also realised how little some people know of the world. Most, when asking where you come from, seem bewildered as to where NZ is. Part of America? Part of Australia? When i tell them in Italian how long to takes to fly here (trenta ore) they mime swimming or driving. When I flap my wings they are incredulous. I shouldn’t be surprised. Our current hostess, a seemingly educated woman of the world, doesn’t even know where Malta is. She could probably hit it with a stonethrow on a good day. But then there is an arrogance about some people as well. She has just fronted up and seems bewildered why our Internet is not working. Now I am a little borderline on some IT things but I have a pretty good grasp on why Inherent is not working, She shows me her tinny little smartphone and the wireless signal. “ is good, is good , internet work fine , your machino is problem “. Hmmmm! Thank god when I ask her to go to her browser and look up something she gets the little dinosaur and YOU ARE OFFLINE sign. So then its “yoyse been pkayng with switch?…?.. you broke?…”. I had actually rebooted the router as this is sometimes the problem with these dreadful cheap D-Link routers but all the lights looked right. The problem was elsewhere. Same with the shower which she swore was alright when she last used it . Yeah right! The apartment is so unused that the freezer has mould growing in it. She then showed me the deep gash on her hand she had inflicted on herself whilst trying to turn on said shower, and, before she got a man to unfreeze the jammed valve. She then starts to forget her English and gets very bossy. Time to remind her who is paying the bills. At least they all front up to fix the problems. Eventually. Unless its between 1300 and 1600 hrs. Or a Sunday.
So off to Mt Etna.
The Ferrovia Circumetnea is a 950mm marrow gauge regional train line in Catania, Sicily, Italy. It is privately owned and was built 1889 and 1895. It circles Mt Etna and is 110 km in length. The trains are diesel powered and relatively old. The track is steep in parts and two separate engines are needed for the steeper parts. I think they are essentially one unit with two driving positions for and aft and what looked like two six cylinder diesel engines which I would put at 300 – 400 hp. (Later research suggests they are 2 V12 Fiat diesels and 1300hp).
Fortunately for us the railway station is an easy 15 minute walk up the hill from our apartment, not signposted and hard to find but distinctive when you finally see it. As you see from my description above the trains are ancient, sparse and
uncomfortable, no AC (just open the window) and mostly no toilets, the FCV company that owns the line has also some more modern rolling stock but not for the tourists. We bought our tickets after much bickering from the waspish tabbichera as she insisted the time we were departing was not the tourist train. The line is essentially a workers commuter train and the tourst one only does three departures to do the whole circuit which takes 6 hrs plus the train or bus commuter from up the coast back to Catania , so a long day and the guides suggest you overnight somewhere on the way. We had decided to go as far as Andrano, hop off and catch a returning train. Unbeknown to us that really only showed urban downtown industrial Catania, some rural views and good south views of Mt Etna. After Andrano there is some stunning scenery although Trip Advisor has quiet a few ‘disappointing’ reviews. There were about five passengers aboard the smart little train when the guard came through and shooed us off onto another rather scruffy version, Never mind, we were off up a gradual incline and then into some different scenery. Many lemon and olive groves and an abundance of prickly pear (Enrica in Naples cooked us a Sicilian dish of prickly pear which was delicious. It grows like gorse). Much graffiti but also some encouraging signs of new housing moving away from 6-8 tenement blocks to two storied buildings. Then unexpectedly, we stop, as anothe FCV pulls alongside of us going back to Catania packed with students. We are shuffled out onto the platform, they are transferred to our bigger train, we board their smaller train and proceed on. Its now apparent that the train is struggling as the steeper inclines the poor old thing is barely moving with the V12 Fiat screaming at full revs. I wonder what is happening as the driver runs down the train at the next station and fiddles around in the rear cab. Looks like he is trying to start the other engine, but we move on. Finally at Val Corrente we draw to another stop where a little old lady comes out and hand cranks the crossing arm down. Everyone is dashing about with keys and instruments of repair or diagnosis and finally the driver lifts the engine cover right by our feet and here is the diesel covered Fiat doing absolutely nothing. Its not going, wont start, wont crank. He short circuits the starter motor to see if its an electrical problem which is accompanied by a great shower of sparks and I fear we are all going to go up in flames or he is going to collapse after being electrocuted. However we all survive and he gives jt another go, to no avail. I can hear the solenoid clicking which suggests that the ring gear or the starter motor are involved and you can sometimes fix this by bashing the solenoid with a spanner which temporarily fixes the problem but Antonella has not included these words in the basic Italian lessons and despite my best efforts at miming the actions he just ignores me and we are shuffled off tee train to await rescue. Two of the passengers just give up and wander off as if this is an everyday occurrence on the FCV line. The little old lady is looking on amused as I try to work out with the female passenger where she is off to and what her options are. We only manage to work
out where she is going (the end of the line) but I cant pronounce correctly the hellhole that Ancora (described in the Lonely Planet as a lovely little village but when we finally get there seems to be full of drunken men, screaming loudly at 1030am. ). Finally another train appears (the tourist train) which we hop on but that is filled with surly uncommunicative English people who you can tell by their pale skins and bad teeth. Everythings back to normal and we have a female driver who really rings the horses out of those Fiats. The track at times is tilted and she has really got the knack of accelerating through the curves as if she is driving a Ferrari at the Norenburg Ring. She also gives the two V12s a workout in the inclines and we are flying. I tried to record thus for Gordons Carriage with whistles and toots and frantic Italian chatter but my first playback shows it all very quiet. I may be able to enhance it when I get home and have better editing facilities. I imagined Gordons guests arriving to a three minute soundtrack of a real train – sure to get some comments. I really enjoyed this part of the journey but it ended to soon. We reach Ancora and find NOTHING. Apart from a seriously overmedicated psych patient (pill rolling, tongue rolling, shuffling gait, rigidity, the works) and a bar full of seriously drunk men. It being Monday it probably means their football team won yesterday and they are still celebrating, our it could be that this is like The Hills Have Eyes. Two English women have also got off and they disappear down a back alley telling us that the return train is 1130. We never see them again. Back on the return train and believe it or not we stop at Val Corrente , back up, change lines, while the little old lady hand crankthe barrier up and down, lines of cars are honking and yelling, AND WE HOOK UP THE ORIGINAL DAMAGED TRAIN AND DRAG IT BACK TO HOME BASE. All in a typical day on the lovely tourist FCY line.
Just been for my third,(fourth or fifth) swim in the sea. Checked out the water temp (another Internet must)
Its 25C-air temp 29C, so not as hot as St Clair salt water pool but it FEELS so warm.The complex seems to be mostly German tourists though they could be Swiss. Anyway they are louder and more brash than australians, paler than English and very unfriendly
Drove to Barcenello (I kid you not) a small village about 5km up the coast to buy supplies. Some accommodations have basics like soap, salt,.oil,pasta, t towels; some not. This is one that does NOT.. Lovely little village and three supermarkets and although everyone .raves about Sicily’s lemons and oranges , not one to be seen.
Not sure what.the etiquette here is re mealtimes but.I have a pasta sauce brewing with a bag of dried.oregaano flavourimg and it seems to be turning a few heads as the Swiss/Germans trudge back from the pool (we favour the sea,.they the freezing cold pool).We are hanging out to eat out but haven’t found anywhere local yet. There.is the.local yacht club ,50 down the road where ,I can flash my OYC &’ wollacott association card and hope for a reduced fee meal but I.think.it will turn out to be a crock of shit dreamed up by yachting nz.
We are cooking from local stalls and supermarkets and although the veg and fruit is good the mysterymeat is a challenge. The names I had learnt bear no relation to what is displayed and what looks to be great to flash fry, we have found to our consternation, to be inedible. Mostly chicken, pork and veal and thinly sliced. Beef is rare and way expensive. Lamb, nonexistant. I havent seen any goat or rabbit since Florence. A dont like fish much but was determined to expand my tastes. Already talked about sweet and sour sardines, octopus, swordfish but the fish markets only intensify my thing about fish. There is a strong fish smell, makes me want to gag, and there are flies everywhere and fish juice dripping onto the ground that you smell as you take your shoes off ay night. I will persevere but I find it a challenge.
Its an hour later and the bolphanese sauce alla Naomi (‘with milk and red wine) is nearly ready. I have orrienchetti to go with this and a radicchio salad.
Maybe invite those Germans from next door who at least swum in the sea and made an attempt to talk.
The orrienchetti was horrible and I see that Martha Stewart recommends cooking it in a broth and for longer than the instructions on the packet
Todays Sicily breaking news. The Mafia, long thought to be largely gone from Italian life or at least playing a diminished role, have been implicated in the rash of forest fires breaking out in Sicilys national parks and forests this week. They are tying petrol soaked rags to cats tails and releasing them into the forests. It has caused widespread water shortages and disrupted other amenities. Cant quite see the bottom line here but there is a mangy cat screeching around the resort who could come to the Mafia attention.
It is raining here which, personally, comes as a surprise but on reading the Sicily news travel column the writer, while explain8ng the exotic Sicily says that every visit he has had it rains, there is thunder, it blows, and it hails.
Funny but I have started to seek out NZ news a month into the trip. Suddenly I am nostalgic for some home news and catch up with friends. I found this Dunedin photographer Michelle Chalkin—Sinclair who has a blog but has also teamed up with Judith Cullen to produce a Dunedin Fon book?. Her pictures of Dunedin and Port Chalmers are stunning and I ask myself “why dont I see it like that”.
Well lucked out again in several ways. Had my swim in the Tyrrehinian Sea. Just been for a secound. Beautiful clean beach, temperate water that I actually gargled with. Spent a good half hour submerged and I feel a 100%. SSecondis we finally found our destination via anchora biancio (white anchor) and it is beautiful collection of beach houses literally a stones throw from the sea with it own infinity pool AND INTERNET THAT WORKS. Sorry to rabbit on about 5his but the style of holiday we have semi-planned is dependent on a reliable Internet connection. To check bookings, 5o remind hosts who have forgotten to pick us up, to book buses, trains and ferries without having to queue for hours while sadistic biggliatari operators drink coffee and snear at the stupid punters. Take today as a lesson. We caught the no14 bus and got off about 400 metres from the ferry, thanks to my Internet free gps app which also told us what stop to get off to minimize the walk with two heavy suitcases and bags. Then, when we got to Messina we had to locate the car rental place. Unfortunately it wouldnt come up on the app so we tried our new trick of finding a cafe with free WiFi and log onto Google Maps. Ha! Sicily has few Internet cafes and we were temporarily stuffed until I spotted the car hire down the road a couple of blocks from where the ferry landed ( which you would expect – right) More on car rentals in a later post but there are several angry emails to Sicily by Car. Then the problems began. Each Air B&B booking has a Google Map to show you how you to get there. Really useful if you have Internet. Hopeless, if the address they have given you is a dialectic interpretation of where you should be. We had a rough idea but Serena (our gps) had a temper tantrum and refused to guide us on the scenic route . She preferred the autobahn. Much classier and faster. Eventually we had it sorted but not without some angry exchanges and near tears.
Italian drivers. I was terrified and Alison actually screamed with fright as her wing mirror brushed cars and road signs. Scooters whirred by on both sides. No one gives way and the standard driving position is to avoid eye contact and plant the foot. Then we got stuck on a traffic jam trying to get onto the autobahn, then nearly got rear ended by a driver in one of the numerous tunnels because I was obeying the 80kph limit and he wanted to do 140.
Sicily, on first impression is beautiful. I can already feel the Arab influence in the buildings and it is much cleaner than Naples and Reggio Calabria though, to be fair, when we travelled by bus and foot to the port and the police station, the place dis seem cleaner, ;we may have been in a terrible area. It did allow us to experience a different side of Italy which few tourists would ever see. Or would want to. It just smells cleaner, a soft, salty odour which I am told will be infused with cinnamon, lemons, cloves, oranges, and all those spices that have been left both the peoples who have occupied Sicily over the years.
Many years ago I watched and enjoyed a film called “breaking away” a coming of age film that garnered much praise. It essentially told the story of a group of high school grads who have now to make the decision of what to do with their lives. The central character is a talented push bike racer and loves everything Italian, a theme which is developed in multiple ways throughout the film. The highlight for him is the Italian racing team are coming to town and he has an opportunity to train with them. His adoration of Italianissa comes to a rapid end when he discovers they are a bunch of cheats and don’t like being bettered by an American, resorting to deliberately crippling his bike. Thus probably incubated my love of Italian cars, engines appliances, films, clothes, and eventually the people and the country. My father also saw service in North Africa and Italy and the few 5imes he talked of his experiences he made it sound an exotic place
Such are my feelings as we prepare to leave Bari which I have renamed Barriera. Barriera used to be the place where people left Italy to travel to Greece, and other parts. It has since partially reinvented itself through the historic centre as a tourist stop but has to go a long way to succeed in that. To attract tourists you have to appear to like them while fleecing them, but here you are treated like a piece of dog shit. Yesterday while trying unsuccessfully to find the beach we took lunch at a Ristorante. For some inexplicable reason they couldn’t fill my order, Alisons meal was not the meal she ordered, the couple sitting next to us were still waiting for their food a half hour after ordering and, two tables over, a meal not ordered was plonked in front of a customer who complained only to be ignored. She are it anyway figuring, I guess , that it was better than going hungry.
Later, at he gelatoria, I carefully explained, in Italian, what I wanted. Two cones, one with peach, one with melon, without the biscuit. And the small version. What I got was two cones half and half peach and melon, with a biscuit , at piccolo price but of giant proportions.
Then we sit down on a quiet bench at the centre of three intersections governed by traffic lights. For the next hour or so horns are sounded for each light change. Drivers are so impatient that if you don’t take off a microsecound ater the light changes you are treated like the road version of a leper. And I have yet to work out the rules for pedestrian crossings. You take you life into your hands stepping out onto one. No one will stop and I have nearly been struck down several times. Oh well. Gives me an opportunity to practice my Italian expletives and hand gestures.
And just why are three heavily armed military personnel and a aggressive humvee type vehicle doing in the middle of s peaceful park? Oh yes a group of arab chanting youth have just walked by. There IS a war on you know. ( I later see that they are part of a project on public safety) Yes Barriera is like the italian bicycle team. Loud, busy, rude, exploitive, part of the 21 century yet firmly embedded in it. I question my own attitudes to tourism. Just what do the endless buses, boats and trains offer the tourist?
The distant thunder rumbles and the military retreat to their vehicles with gelatos. The piazza quickly empties.
At the end of “ Breaking Away” the protagonist meets a French exchange student, who mentions the Tour de France and our hero starts thinking those thoughts of bikes and yellow jerseys. Ahh!! The innocence of pre Lance Armstrong 1970s.