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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Crumbling Russian concrete

Third day in Ulaan Bataar, which is maybe two and a half too many. Got here before the trip started to get to know the place a little, before the city tour tomorrow and then leaving for the Gobi. Usually that's a good idea, and I like pretty much everyplace. But it turns out UB (everyone calls it that; if you want to pronounce the whole name correctly it's U-lan BA-tur) is a crumbling Soviet city at the edge of the desert. Not much works 100%, the air's dirty (coal's the fuel), traffic's horrendous, it's hot as hell, and even the classy neighborhoods aren't beautiful. Someone told us it's a city built for 500,000 with a population of 1 1/2 million. What the Mongolians refer to as the transition period (about ten years before the fall of the Soviet Union, Mongolia broke away; before that, they were a Soviet satellite for 90 years) has brought a lot of economic hardship, and with that, a serious breakdown in the ability of the government to control land use, or even to clean the streets. When the population was smaller and the infrastructure was new, this couldn't have an attractive town, based on the buildings from those days you can still see. Now, with everything crumbling, weeds in the parks, and some of the godalmighty ugliest architecture you ever did see, it's sure no garden spot.

Still, we've been having fun. Last night, in Suhkbataar Square, the US Marine Corps Pacific Band played a joint concert with the Mongolian Army Band. The US was outplayed and outclassed in every category, if you ask me. We've been going for early morning walks, enjoying the super-bright sun and sharp shadows, though what the shadows are thrown on is decrepit and falling apart. Met with a Mongolian friend of a friend, who bought me coffee and talked with me a long time about how democracy really functions here, about corruption, about the Soviet legacy. Fascinating. And the garbage trucks play a melody when they come around at 6 am so people know to come out with their garbage.

It's been good to see each other again -- we all met on the Silk Road trip I did two years ago, and though we've been corresponding, we haven't seen each other since. Some, like me got here early, and the rest have been drifting in slowly, the last two just an hour ago. But at this point all of us are ready for the endless steppes and the ger camps, I can tell you that.

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