me in the piazza

I'm a writer, publishing both as SJ Rozan and, with Carlos Dews, as Sam Cabot. (I'm Sam, he's Cabot.) Here you can find links to my almost-daily blog posts, including the Saturday haiku I've been doing for years. BUT the blog itself has moved to my website. If you go on over there you can subscribe and you'll never miss a post. (Miss a post! A scary thought!) Also, I'll be teaching a writing workshop in Italy this summer -- come join us!
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They say Turpan's the hottest, driest, lowest and sweetest city in China. Meaning what? The temperature yesterday, when we were out strolling through a Uighur village and some desert tombs, hit 120 degrees F. Average rainfall is under 1/2" and average evaporation is dozens of times that. The city stands 25 ft. below sea level. And all of this somehow makes the melons and especially the raisins of Turpan fabulously sweet. Don't ask me how.

What do they do for water? They use an amazing 1,000 year old system of underground irrigation to bring snowmelt from the mountains. We saw parts of the system, called kareks, and a museum devoted to it, today. It was an astounding engineering feat, the kind of thing my mentor Reyner Banham used to refer to as "bloody-minded." I thought about it as we took the bus back into the city and got all caught up in a current new-pipes-and-tree-planting project that's got all the streets torn up and desert dust blowing everywhere, making sandstorms even when the wind's temporarily still. One of my companions asked what city in its right mind would tear up all its streets at once? Well, none, but this is an edict down from Beijing. They're expecting a gazillion visitors for the Olympics, and they're expecting some of them to travel to other cities in China, and everyone's got to spruce up and they've got to be done by August. Folks, it's 120 degrees here and it's May. Who the hell is coming to Turpan in August? Doesn't matter. This kind of bloody-mindedness built the Great Wall and the terracotta army, and the kareks of Turpan. And provided a mindset in which the Long March was possible, and the massive earthquake rescue-and-recovery efforts of the past weeks. The streets of Turpan will be beautified by August, you can bet your booties.

The good news is, though it's true China's environmental situation is disastrous, something I will be blogging about later, it's also true that this ability to focus an entire country's worth of citizen energy on a single project is what might save them, if they put their bloody-minds to it.

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