Ciao from some faraway place! Check in, see where I am, post a comment....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Picture and a Promise

As you might have guessed, I stopped writing when Robin showed up in Italy. We had a fabulous trip through northern Italy, Austria and Germany. Not much more now because... well... now that I'm home, real life has inserted itself between my heart's desire (travel and writing) and my mortgage, and I need to meet some deadlines. No time to write for now but I will soon get things up about the rest of my trip.

Talk to you all soon!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

O sola mia...

Not any more!

Robin arrived on Thursday last week and we've spent a whirlwind four days seeing Rome, Siena, Florence and we are now (Monday AM) in Venice. Just got done with lunch, headed back out into the fray for more art, canali, gorgeous buildings... and food!

Germany blog posts soon.

Living in Rome

When I first visited Rome, I left here fully expecting that someday (soon, if I could manage it) I would come back to live. I wanted to pass the Coliseum every day and think about the blood-drenched sand, the lions and Christians, the emperors and ordinary citizens whose screams still echoed into today.

I wanted to walk through the Forum on quiet spring mornings before the tourists (which I would not be, then) arrived, and imagine that Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, even Cleopatra was just around the next pillar of marble up ahead or inside the temple on the right.

I wanted to walk into Piazza San Pietra with pilgrims from every part of the world, and reverently mount the stairs and enter the 20+ foot high doors into cool dimness and spectacular grandeur. I wanted to, one-by-one, enter every church, see every unbelievable painting, touch all the carved fountains that had been imagined and created 500… 700 years before.

I wanted to feast my eyes on the surreal beauty of the Pantheon, the sculptures in the Piazza Navona and throughout the city, the fascinating archaeological sites that are always, still, being excavated. I wanted to explore the catacombs endlessly until I knew every inch, and wander in awe through villas of people whose names echo through history – Medici, Borghese, Hadrian, Borgia….

I wanted to constantly marvel at the mixture of present and past that Rome cannot help being, and spend my days in awe. How could I help it, I thought, if I lived here? How could you not be in awe in a place like this?

The answer is easy.

I now walk past the Coliseum on my way to the Piazza Rotunda, not so I can think of the thousands who died or cheered in the Coliseum or so I can spend half an hour watching the way the light changes inside the Pantheon, but so I can get some exercise on the way to the international newsstand, and have coffee in a quiet place before the tourists show up. I walk down the Spanish Steps because they are the quickest way to get from Villa Borghese to the Via del Corso, where my favorite newsstand is. And I cross Piazza Navona with only a brief thought for Bernini's genius.

Yesterday morning I walked away from my table in Piazza Rotunda after reading the paper and drinking cappuccino, and I nodded to the others I have begun to see there in the mornings. I looked at the Pantheon as I went by and did not go inside. I walked along the Via del Corso not thinking of how Romans were known throughout the world for the straightness and quality of their roads. I took a drink from one of the myriad of fountains throughout the city -- the water is cold and tastes of the springs from which it comes through acqueducts in use for 2000 years -- and did not think of the past and the people who had made it possible. And I walked in the shadow of the Coliseum because it provided the best shade on the street, my thoughts on Robin’s upcoming arrival, where we would stay in Munich, whether I had enough money to buy that dress… and I was halfway to my apartment before I realized what had happened.

I hadn’t noticed anything on my way back home. Not the Baroque sculptures, not the ancient ruins -- the Forum and Trajan's market had slipped past me unseen. Not the obelisk mounted on an elephant in the center of Piazza Minerva (how does one miss THAT?), not the narrow streets or the tolling of bells I had come to love.

I stopped in the middle of the street a quarter mile past the Arch of Constantine and I looked back, feeling almost guilty, as though I had betrayed the city and its history, and my promise to myself to always be aware of both.

There, etched against the morning sky, rose the Coliseum, its ragged edges a symbol of the permanence -- and impermanence -- of everything. I looked for a sign of condemnation and saw only beauty, and I realized... the city doesn't care if you notice.

It exists, and that is enough.

I was content.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Orange Shoes

Today’s game plan: buy a pair of shoes.

I made a mistake this time when I came to Italy with only sandals. While that was smarter than the year I came to Italy with NO sandals, it still didn’t cover all eventualities… like rain (which there hasn’t been any of) or a walk through a field near an abandoned house in Siena, or just because my feet hurt and could use some support.

I left my house early enough to enjoy the Forum emptier than I’ve ever seen it. Sometimes in summer the area is as packed as a rock concert, which at some level maybe makes sense… there’s something primal about music just as there is about the massive tumbled stone pillars, the still-standing temples and arches dedicated to various gods and heroes, and the fountains that spill water from aqueducts as old as the Senate building. It’s a different kind of power but maybe it calls to the same thing inside us, and we answer to it by flocking to both Sting concerts and cities like the one I find myself in.

Whatever the reason, generally the Via Sacra and the Forum itself are jam-packed. This morning, I walked the 2000-year-old paving stones to and under Titan’s arch (in my sandals) by myself, and saw only three people the entire length of the Forum. It was an auspicious start. (I have begun looking for signs in everything I do, a possibly inevitable result of being here where the Romans once led their entire lives dependent on the gods’ wishes, and sought their help and advice at every turn.)

I walked (… sandals) along Via del Corso, one of the most famous shopping areas in Rome. It is also one of the most expensive. I stopped looking there after the first pair I liked turned out to cost more than 200 €. Cutting west, I ran into the Piazza Rotunda and wandered into the Pantheon for a few minutes, then stopped in the piazza for a cappuccino and a quick look through the headlines of the day. It was still early enough that the only people out were also seeking a semblance of quiet, and everything was rather eerily silent. We smiled at each other from under umbrellas at the café, and didn’t speak. Except, of course, for my ubiquitous conversation with the waiter in Italian. “Which is more large, the cappuccino or the café latte? Then I will have a café latte, please. Thank you.” I’m getting very good at ordering coffee.

Once again heading west, I crossed the bridge of angels and walked along Via della Conciliazione, skirted St. Peter’s square where the crowds had begun to gather, and found myself on Via Ottaviano. Slightly lower priced than Via del Corso but still expensive, this is a street I should have learned to avoid. Last year I spent more than 500 € in the space of three blocks.

I made the mistake of walking into a very nice shoe store where a very nice salesman made me feel that he enjoyed listening to my attempts to talk about shoes in Italian (my first shoe conversation!) and even more that he enjoyed speaking to me as though I were five years old when he answered. He told me how lovely the first pair of 100 € shoes I tried on looked… and the second pair… and the third… and the fourth… by now I was feeling guilty that he was being so nice that I just knew I was going to end up spending more money on shoes than I’ve spent on anything so far this trip… and so… since I was going to spend so much money, I wanted to make sure I got a pair of shoes that would last a long time (this store sold quality, luckily) and, most importantly, remind me of Rome every time I wore them.

The shoes I tried on on a whim because they were so odd, I think maybe the third or fourth pair, were orange. Not bright orange, a little muted, and they were kind of a cross between a hiking shoe, with laces but a bit of a heel, and stripes kind of like a running shoe, and… well, you’ll just have to wait for the pictures.

Because, you guessed it, I bought them. Orange shoes. And while this year orange isn’t as big as it was last year, there are still enough people here wearing some version of that color that I won’t get funny looks. And by the time I get home, I’ll like them so much I won’t care when people laugh at me.

I walked back to my apartment in my new shoes – they didn’t clash too much with what I was wearing – and my biggest problem was figuring out how to keep them clean in a Rome that had while I was shopping filled up with people. I stayed away from the dusty Forum, I walked around the splashed water at the fountains, and I was careful about getting into a crowded spot where somebody might accidentally step on my feet.

After all, if you’re going to splurge on a brand new pair of orange shoes, you ought to at least take care of them.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Stiletto Dreams

It takes a certain kind of woman, and a certain way of moving, but it really is possible to walk confidently on cobblestones while wearing 5-inch stilettos. I've seen it.

I wonder if they practice when the streets are dark and no one is awake?

I imagine furtive, colorfully clad shapes stumbling through the city in the dead of night, their heels catching between the stones, their toes catching unseen unevenness. I imagine them nodding to each other and offering advice in voices as sharp as their shoes.

Eventually they move from darkness into day, and they walk past the rest of us as though it is nothing, as though anyone could do it.

I wonder if they dream of the nights of stilettos?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who's Your Team?

In Italy, there’s no getting away from the World Cup.

When Italy’s playing, the shops close down and hang signs on the doors that say some version of “Chiuso, forza Italia!” (Something like “Closed, Go/Be strong Italy!”) Some people call in sick. Others leave work early. And most establishments have a TV right there so their employees can watch if they simply can’t get away.

I at first tried to stay home on those days or nights, tried to avoid the crowds in the streets screaming for their teams, tried to be oblivious, essentially, to the phenomenon of futbol. But here, that doesn't work. When Italy scores, the streets explode with honking horns. People in the apartments around me scream and pound the walls and floors. Firecrackers are set off. And sometimes bells ring (or that might be only in my imagination).

It all floats up to me, through the courtyard outside my window that acts as a funnel for street noises and I finally decided hiding myself behind gauzy curtains wasn’t actually helping me avoid anything at all. So one night for a game I went down to the local bar.

I ordered a cappuccino, found a seat and commenced watching the game. Never having watched futbol I was confused at first about which team was which and what the rules were. But I did know that kicking the ball into the net thing at one end or the other was bound to be a good thing for somebody. I figured out who Italy was, I started cheering at the goals and calling the refs bad names. Slowly, I began to feel at home. I was beginning to like it. In fact, I was getting it… the national pride, the sense of camaraderie, the excitement when the ball made it all the way down the field… the buildup to the kick… hey, I liked fubol!

Until somebody asked me, “Who’s your team?”

My team? Who’s my team? Shit. I didn’t have a team! I had heard that question in bars and restaurants around me for weeks, and it means, “When you are at home, and you watch this on TV like a raving maniac, who do you root for? Who is your home team, your favorite?”

I froze.

You see, this question is generally followed by a trading of often loud opinions on the relative merits of particular teams and then, almost without fail, an argument breaks out. These people are serious about their teams, and in large part they identify themselves by who their teams are. And while it generally doesn’t lead to bloodshed, it does escalate to loud voices, insults, jeers and sometimes quite heated debates. None of which I was prepared for.

I took a sip of my cappuccino, aware that I was in danger of being found out: not a futbol fan at all. An imposter. A wanna be. It was clear to me that the bigger question was, “Who was I without a team?”

Luckily at that moment, Italy scored another goal and the entire room was distracted, screaming and cheering and yelling at the refs… and I got up quietly and left. I made it to the street, into the honking horns and flying Italian flags from the car windows, into the cheers pouring out from every open door... even the opera being performed in the 800-year-old church across the street was drowned out by the sound of an entire city celebrating.

Tomorrow Italy plays again, having advanced to the next level. I have decided to try it again, this futbol thing. I hope they don’t ask about my team again because I still don’t know… who am I without a team?

I’ll be thinking about this one long after the cheering fades.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I've Got a New Attitude

Women in Italy wear clothes beyond sexy. Form-fitting, silky tops with tiny straps… dresses that hug their breasts, their waists, their hips… skirts that flow and drift around their legs as though at any moment they might drift away in an errant breeze… flat stomachs covered in the thinnest lace at the bottom of a shirt with a neckline that not only plunges, as they say, but also shows off to perfection breasts that are inevitably perfect… and while form-fitting, the clothes are not tight, so women’s bodies actually move as they would without clothes on at all. Which is the point

And the colors. Anything goes… the more brilliant the better, to show off to the best advantage every inch of beauty. If possible, an outfit that manages to have every color represented, with every curve and dip and hollow accented, is one to be sought. Top this off with long hair and curls – not perms but big, flowing curls – and earrings that dangle, a lot, and make noise, and bracelets that sparkle in the hot Roman sun.

These women, breathtakingly gorgeous, walk through Rome every day.

Let me tell you about one I saw today. She was tall, wearing a silk or rayon, form-fitting white jumpsuit covered with small, brightly colored, intricately woven shapes… thin spaghetti straps over her shoulders, perfect tiny waist, perfect long legs, perfect butt. She had on high heels. Her hair was long and black and thick and fell down over her shoulders like a waterfall, and it was pulled up on one side with a glittering barrette. Her earrings were silver hoops that hung halfway to her smooth bare shoulders. And she was walking along the bridge of angels (of course) over the Tiber River toward the center of Rome.

Men literally stopped in their tracks to watch her go by. Comments of “Chè bella” came from every corner. Following her was a bit daunting. While I am not, in Rome, a woman who gets tons of attention, I usually get at least some. Today, no one even saw me go by.

And she might have been alone, for all the attention she paid to the people who couldn’t stop staring. I followed her for a while, watching the flow of people part to let her walk by as she moved through the crowded streets, and I marveled at the way the world seemed to mold itself to fit her presence. And she didn’t acknowledge anyone.

Wow, I thought. What an attitude. What’s that about?

I finally passed her and saw that she was just as beautiful from the front, and on her face was a tiny pout. The kind that European models seem to cultivate. The kind that does not invite conversation but indeed, instead, discourages it.

Feeling slightly intimidated but determined, I approached her and asked her if she spoke English. She shook her head and kept walking so I told her in Italian that her outfit was gorgeous. She slowed and for a split second she looked surprised, and then she smiled radiantly and thanked me. As she walked away I saw her smile again to herself, as though she had heard something she hadn’t expected. I got the impression she didn’t know how beautiful she was, or was surprised that somebody had noticed. Impossible, but it gave me pause.

I realized something. There’s an attitude going on here… but it’s not about being a bitch, or being conceited, or being superior. It’s about simply existing and being beautiful. And the women who have this attitude glow in the sun, and they don’t care who notices.

I have a theory now. While I will never be tall, or able to wear a form-fitting silk or rayon jumpsuit quite like that one, and my hair will never be black and thick like a waterfall of curls… I think I can manage the pout. I can get the walk. I can buy some new clothes.

And if I work at it, I might be able to get the attitude. I am thinking that if I do, I might be able to glow, just a little bit.

So when people wonder what I’m doing in Rome, I tell them… I’m working on my attitude. When I get it down, I’ll let you know.


Roman traffic is like Australian Football... no matter how hard I try, I cannot understand the rules.

Monday, June 26, 2006

All that Glitters

Rome echoes with the honking of horns from all quarters as Italy scores in the latest World Cup game. Ambulances rush by in the street five stories down. People in the apartments across the courtyard are listening to… opera, the game, top-40 on the radio… an Italian talk-show… and again, the game. Cheering… calling… rushing… coughing… lives lived too close to my window.

I forget how much I like solitude and silence until a day like this hits, when the noise is incessant and I realize suddenly why I am unsettled, restless, and feel this need to escape.

I forget how much my heart feels at peace when it hears the breeze in the trees outside my office window at home.

I forget the joy I feel in sitting outside in my own back yard, watching my dogs chase birds they will never catch, and how the roses bloom red and orange and blue and white, and send their scent into the air, and how I can almost hear them turn to follow the sun.

I forget, when Rome surrounds me, what silence sounds like.

And then one day I find myself walking before the sun rises, before Rome is awake, when the dust in the Forum is undisturbed and I can pass through it and make no impression, as though I don’t exist at all. In the piazzas it is possible to hear the water tumbling from Bernini’s sculptures… and I hear my own soft footsteps echo in the Pantheon as I walk to the center of the multi-colored marble floor to watch the circle of light slowly traverse the ceiling.

I find the one open cafe in the city, and sit at a table surrounded by empty tables, and drink cappuccino slowly, and remember… silence sounds like this.

Rome breathes softly on mornings like this, waiting on the edge of day. Soon, it will remember what it has always been – a city of life and death and movement and sound – but for now, for a moment longer, I hear nothing but the sound of my own heart.