Fall in Roma 2006

Here you will find the musings, discoveries, exasperations, longings, and general insights of a painter, a poet and their precocious toddler -- all of whom are living, studying, and exploring in Rome for the Fall of 2006.

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Location: Costa Mesa, California, United States

Monday, October 30, 2006

That's Amore

Pix: Angel & Clare's Bath & The Family at the Orto Botanicao

We’re beginning to love it a little. I say love loosely. We’ve always been wooed by Rome’s decadence, both in architecture and in lifestyle, but now that the hordes of tourists are gone, something magical has happened. The Romans are actually nicer. I think they get so tired of dealing with needy, bumbling, superficial tourists that they forget that we are all human: those of us out for a temporary history fix on our vacation, and those of us looking for a deeper understanding and experience. Now that most (and I say MOST because I watched three different groups of Americans at a restaurant today speaking English to an Italian waiter and appearing indignant when he didn’t understand) of the riffraff is gone, we are strolling through the streets unhindered by an immovable wall of matching-bandanna-wearing-guide-book-toting-totally-oblivious tourists. The shop owners are considerably less cranky and put-out, and truth be told, we are too.

Our days are spent as such: get up, fed, and out to tackle between one and three churches. We have taken over 2500 photographs and 3 hours of video footage. We photograph the exteriors and then move on to the interiors, much to the chagrin of the presiding prefects. Even though when one of us is photographing, the other is minding Clare, she still tries to race around like a banshee, dipping her fingers in holy water and rolling around on the altars. She is getting better, as I have hit on the genius idea of using my iPod as a pricey pacifier. I loaded a bunch of Disney and Pixar short cartoons onto it and I just sit her in her stroller and plug’er in when we go inside. This works like a charm. I get to take the lengthy exposures I need to capture interior light (or lack thereof) and I draw much less attention as I perform complicated contortion acts on the pews to get my camera balanced to take a timed exposure.

After working on our “official” project, we’ve moved on to the unofficial part of our trip: eating and browsing our way through the Eternal City. I could write a guidebook on what NOT to do, and it would mainly say, “Don’t believe any guide book at all. They’re all wrong and you’ll be frustrated. Just carry a couple along and when you happen on something interesting and OPEN, just cross check it in your books and thank your lucky stars. I can’t tell you how many times we have searched through the crazy-busy winding
Roman streets for a store that was listed as only closed on Sundays to find it shuttered. On Tuesday. Things change so fast in Rome. The guidebooks say to call ahead to be sure. And talk to WHOM? I would like to say. Even if you did understand half of the rapid-fire language, they’d surely be closed when you arrived.

We usually find a nice Osteria or Trattoria for lunch and make it our big meal of the day. Clare goes to bed around 8ish, and nothing really gets going that early at night. So we order two pasta or rice dishes and split one secondi (some meat variety) and wash it down with lots of mineral water (very Roman to drink bottled water when your tap water is some of the healthiest in the world) and/or birra all spina (draft beer) or vino. MMMmmm. Then it’s back home (picture trudging through noisy, traffic-laden streets, full of carbs and garlic and olive oil with a 2 year old) for a nap. Yes, nap. Naps are essential, decadent, and part of our lifestyle. My mom was teasing us while she was here for taking naps each day and I tried to explain the whole concept of nourishing and recharging the body. To a powerhouse of a woman who seems to exist on deep-breathing and the occasional snack, this did not make sense. Only when she left and we got amazingly sick from pushing our bodies for two weeks did it seem necessary to believe me!

After nap it is a plethora of options: paint, draw, watch some cartoons (In English! From the DVD selection we brought with us) wander to the grocery store, have a little snack, glass of wine, read the paper, build Legos, tear apart the sticker book (you see who’s in charge for this section of the day) and generally relax. By this time of the day our feet are throbbing, our heads are aching from breathing in diesel fuel exhaust, and our bodies are dirty from the filmy grime in Roman life. We have a little dinner, do the bedtime ritual and after Clare’s off to dreamland, we have time to ourselves. Usually we read (as you can see by the list of books previously posted) because there is no such thing as Roman television. It is seriously bad. Seriously bad. The cartoons are hideous and there is nothing else but inexplicable game shows, transvestites and politicians, the odd home-shopping channel, and the weather channel, where the newscaster waves his hands around a picture of Rome that has either sunny symbols from top to bottom (in which case he talks emphatically for 7 minutes) or partly cloudy symbols (in which case he talks for 5 minutes and shrugs his shoulders a few times before they cut to commercial). Lovely.

Usually Tom falls asleep with his book tented across his chest, and I am crouched over the computer, straightening and color-correcting pictures with one hand, and turning pages of the novel I’m reading with the other. There might or might not be file folders of Tom’s project notes and sketches on the end of the bed or on the bed stand. Sweet Dreams! It is a lovely and wonderful and exhausting lifestyle.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Rome is a city of layers, literally, the medieval upon the classical, the renaissance on top of the medieval, the baroque on top of the renaissance, and the modern on top or next to all of that. Rome is many cities simultaneously. This goes for the inhabitants as well. Physically, the older generations that lived through WWII are shorter, tinier people. Their son’s and daughters are taller, more expressive in their conversations. When this generation is around you, you feel it. Whoever is speaking in a group flails their hands around, conducting the conversation. If another takes the conversation, that person becomes the conductor. If one of the conversants is passive, their hands are in their pockets, or their arms are folded. This is a signal as well, “I’m really not listening.” The youngest generation is the loudest, the freest in their demeanor and manner. The ebullient hand gestures, the walking arm in arm is a singularly Italian affectation. You might even put an historical style to these generational differences: the oldest are classical, stoic, measured; the middle aged are fashionable, renaissance, or theatrical and baroque; the youngest are modern, self conscious, concerned about their place.

The life of the people of Rome can be looked at this way as well. The shops are a good indication of what I mean. You find the more modern shops engaged with the world. Inviting the world in openly. The older, hole-in-the-wall stores are almost medieval and cave-like. You enter them as though you are approaching a philosopher or prophet. Inside, the “wise-man” or woman of cleaning products or vegetables will assist you. Of course most of the establishments are somewhere between these two extremes. Whatever the product, the context in which they sell it has an aesthetic, an historical connection. This aesthetic or style helps define who they are and which Rome they live in. --Ciao, Tommaso

A now for a laughter break

3 months of 24/7 with a 2 year old. No words can explain the experience. As usual, I will let the pictures do the talking, compliments of the photo booth on my new MacBook, which has lovely warping functions.

1. After a hairy taxi ride:

2. After listening to Italians argue:

3. After eating too many carbs:

4. After eating too much gelato, the tongue rebels:

Just a friendly service announcement from Lisa, who looks like a combo of all four pictures right now. ☺

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A splendid day in Roma.

A kiss for Mom at St. Ivo. A little snuggle with Daddy. A little gelato smile. All in all, Fall is lovely. The tourists are mostly gone now, the weather is mellowing out, and we are twenty something days from coming home. Do you miss us? :)

Just a note from the boss:

Dinosaurs eat bread.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life: a second person account of a first person experience.
When I was in high school and excelling in photography classes I was put in charge of editing the annual big slideshow called A Day in the Life. Photo-geeks were sent out on one chosen day to document the day in the life of a Warren High student. In sifting through thousand of slides of people eating, waking up (miraculously coiffed), showering coyly, chatting on the phone before departing for classes, driving their hip rides (for it was only sassy car slides that were chosen), sitting in class and pretending to look studious, swinging at a blurry baseball or dancing out on the town (allegedly after completing all homework assignments), one thing because abundantly clear to me: a day in the life in a ridiculous thing to try and capture. Life cannot be reduced down to one photo that encompasses all the woven events, nor can numerous slices of time be mimicked by hundreds of photos presented as though time were actually moving throughout the day. Below is my attempt to mock, recreate, and imitate the something that cannot be defined or adequately captured: a day you might experience in Roman life on via San Francesca a Ripa, Trastevere.

The sound of seagulls crying parts the violet air. All night long they cruise high over Rome, swinging their heads from side to side trying to spot tasty refuse, and in the early morning hours when the trash cans are left open and overflowing, they find it. You lift your head to try to discern what time it is, but the light is unreadable. It could be midnight, it could be eight in the morning. The buildings that rise up all around block any direct connection with the sun, so that days are spent in approximation. Since the only clock in your apartment is the one you brought with you from home, you hit the backlight button to illuminate the unearthly blue numbers to find that it is only 6 am. The clouds begin to shift to a peachy pink and the color evolves to truly orange as you gaze down the long, long narrow hallway that connects your bedroom to the medieval side of the apartment.

Now that your mind is awake, your bladder cries out. You pull back the filmy red sheer panel that drapes over your giant four-poster bed that had to be sawed in half the fit up the stairwell of your five-storey apartment. Under your feet, cool terra cotta tiles creak with their loose mortar and chipped corners. Now you must choose: do you walk some 65 feet all the way down to the other end of the apartment to where the baby is sleeping, ascend two slippery marble steps to perch on the throne in a bathroom that smells alternately of sewer grease and acrid cigarette smoke rising from the apartment below, or do you simply step right outside your bedroom door and scrape open the service bathroom door (turn around before you actually enter and then back yourself onto the throne, not unlike opening a tiny coat closet and attempting to sit on a five gallon bucket). This comical thought makes you laugh, and have to pee all the more urgently.

While you are deciding on your throne options you fill a small pan with water from the tap to boil tea. The stovetop clicks loudly as the ignition catches, hissing a blue flame that far extends outside the pan’s edge. After opting for balancing on the marble-staired throne, you return to find that the pan handle has begun to warp. Loud banging can be heard issuing forth from the gangwalk that spans from the upstairs neighbor’s garret to his hovel. All night long Samuel Beckett (as you like to call him because he bears an uncanny resemblance—in an Italian, rheumy, schizo kind of way) has been loudly traversing the gangwalk, shouting to no one in particular about nothing of importance in the most bellicose and belligerent of tones. This, you have learned, is a very ordinary Italian attribute. Across the street, the loud crash of glass doesn’t concern you. Italians evidently like to recycle at odd hours, the reclaimation trucks sometimes arriving three times a day on the two’s: two in the morning, two in the afternoon, and two after the hour whenever they damn well feel like it. You have begun tto love them for their simple insouciance.

As the other members of the house start to stir, the day begins to wake as well. Children start to cry in your building as well as buildings down the street. In your building alone, there are six children, each with a unique pitch to their anguished wails. The childrens’ passaginas are lined up like wheeled soldiers at the foot of the winding marble staircase. Each time you leave you must roll them all out until you reach your child’s stroller, then wheel them all back in reverse order.
You hear storeowners roll up their metal sheeting on shop doors, sounding like successive train wrecks in fast motion, steel and glass and banging that sounds certain to end in a body count. This happens from 5 or 6 in the morning all day long until until 2 am. Only from 2am until 5 can you count on some semblance of quiet, and that discounts the wandering yelling revelers, wailing sirens, and continual crash of restaurant clatter and clean up.

You open the peeling shutters on your window not to find a rolling Tuscan landscape with cypresses brushing the sapphire sky, farmhouses with smokestacks puffing, and mist on the arms of the silvery-grey olive trees but something more surreal: church bells pealing at incongruous hours all day long, rutted streets composed of four inch basalt ingots which have anywhere from ½ to 1 inch gaps between them, rooftop gardens spilling greenery over stone corbels, cigarette butts piled in heaps by the men bearing rush brooms who walk in front of the street sweeper, the smell of bread baking, coffee burning, piss drying, laundry soap dissolving, the sound of cars honking, mist hangin around damp corners of the damp buildings, Vespas droning and whining, children calling out, men yelling (rarely ever does a woman’s raised voice meet your ears up here), and the general cacophony of life in what has been deemed Europe’s loudest city.

You decide to do a walk-about “early” today. The shower is continually hot and reliable, forgivable even for that one errant spray that always gets you right in the eye or wets your hair on days you’d rather not wash it. The towels are bleached into white submission, crackly form being air-dried, and efficient. The sink you brush your teeth over could wash twin babies side by side comfortably. The mirror is hung too high (like every picture and mirror in your apartment) and the lamp only has one bulb. In its light you always look candlelit and stunning. You are grateful. You retrieve your clothes from the wobbly standina where they have been airdrying after an inexplicable two hour cycle in the front loading washer. They are badly wrinkled and crunchy, and you put them on with some difficulty. After a while they mellow to the warmth of your body and relax, much like you will do after you finally eat some breakfast!

Since the Italians don’t believe in breakfast, you cut the acid threatening your stomach with thick-cut bread that you have toasted under the electric broiler in the oven. You slather it with lovely butter and peach preserves which wobble in the sunlight, now miraculously slanting through the tall kitchen windows. Your tea is satisfyingly dark, and leaves deep shadows ringed onto the walls of the cup you sip it from. After collecting your medieval-looking key from its perch on the cupboard, you exit your apartment, not bothering to throw the bolt on the door because the holes don’t meet up anymore on the warped surface.
The elevator (or alligator as your toddler calls it) is summoned and begins it laborious clanking up the shaft. (If you’re lucky, Samuel Beckett will have just returned from his bender last night and the lift will be waiting right above you.) After opening the outerdoor, loudly creaking in the two inner doors, stepping in and turning around (echoes of the coat closet here) and then letting the outer door slam while you are crashing closed the two inner doors (there IS no other way to do this) you begin your halting descent down five floors. Luckily the lift is made of glass so you can focus somewhere in each stairwell, and not on how laboriously slow you are descending. Once, your husband chose to walk down while you rode and you watched as he looped around you again and again, finally arriving at the bottom a full half minute before you did.

The doors of your apartment building open to reveal a jasmine vine, stretched across the portal, 50 or 60 Vespas lined up like sleeping bugs, wet basalt ingots lining the street, and trash tumbleweeds rolling by. Depending on what day it is, it will either smell like wet leaves rotting, fresh bread baking, sewer gasses, strong coffee or vanilla.
At the end of the block you arrive at a crosswalk which does not ensure your safety, and wait for the man to turn green in the signpost. As the stoplight turns red and you step off the pavement, several cars will run the light. Several Vespas will screech to a halt inches away from you, their drivers swearing at you for interrupting their noisy journey. In order to cross the street without being mowed down you must turn and GLARE (not look, not glance, not stare, but GLARE) at oncoming traffic; the people glare back, clutch the steering wheels of their belching, coughing beasts, and continue to inch their way toward your ankles. You are only marginally safer if you cross with 1) a child in a stroller, which they will usually slow down for 2) and very old, stooped woman who somehow commands respect 3) priests, nuns, or other clergy who will surely send them straight to hell if hit.

Now your day can go one of two ways: 1. You are exhausted from the sheer exertion of getting yourself up, showered, dressed, and fed in a foreign land where nothing tastes the same, everything and everyone intrudes into your sense of personal space, and where there is little hope of making a real human connection with someone due to your profound lack of Italian language skills, or 2. You are INVIGORATED and you decide to explore, with some trepidation, the numerous clothing shops, bakeries, cafes, restaurants, pet stores, jewelry shops, alimentari, rosticcerie, paneria, churches, dilapidated buildings, game stops, pizzerias, latterias, cinemas, pasticcerias, gelaterias, and leather shops that are at your disposal.

You decide.

Buongiorno Principessa! Good morning Princess! Welcome to Rome.

Book List Part Deux

Part Deux of
Books we have already finished on our Italy trip, and their corresponding reviews:

Lisa’s continued list:
Mark Salzman’s, “Lying Awake”
(Can religious faith persist in a modern age where illness can create spiritual visions? Salzman’s storytelling is lovely, meditative, and quiet.)

Edwidge Danticat’s “Breath, Eyes, Memory”
(A disturbing yet engaging look into the cultural rituals of Haitian life and the aftereffects they have on one woman. Recommended with reserve.)

Alessandro Barricco’s “Ocean Sea”
(A brilliant, kooky, and inventive novel that deals with magic realism, superrealism, silence, gaps, poetic format, metaphor, and spaces. Witty, surprising, and unconventional! Read this book!)

Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”
(I think she’s best a short stories, but this is an admirable attempt at a first novel. Spends a bit too much time wandering in unimportant thoughts. Overall, a good, if superficial, read.)

Garcia Lorca’s “In Search of Duende”
(A short collection of his essays on Andalusian “deep song”, its roots, meanings, and implications. Beautiful translated lyrics and interesting insight. Would have been a thousand times better with an accompanying CD of the songs.)

Bharathi Mukherjee’s “Desirable Daughters”
({Just to continue my obsession with all things Indian.} I love the whole Bengali/Calcutta mythology, but this book is choppy and left me with more questions than answers after I read it. It’s not a good sign when you wake up thinking: wait, what REALLY happened in that chapter???)

Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”
(Wow. I’ve never been so impressed and humbled by a book. It’s a bit dark, but really lovely and startling human beneath the surface. I love the author’s intrusion, and the ending.)

Reading: Alessandro Barrico’s “Silk” A tiny volume that, so far, is the epitome of restraint, both metaphoric and literal.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Butcher, Colors, and Nasone

Clare is getting friedly with the butcher. Today she ordered Vitello all Romana and got exactly what she wanted. He, of course, is smitten, and can you blame him? Tom cooked it up with white wine and lemon, alomng with peas and rice to accompnay the panzella salad I made. (Who knew day old bread could be transformed into such succulence?)

The second pic of of Clare washing her hands in one of the many "nasone" or fountains that have a hooked spout shaped like a nose that gush cool, clean water from the roman acqueducts. She likes to drink and play, drink and play, until she ends up either sick from too much water or wet from too much splashing. Good clean fun.

The third is a pic taken today on our walkabout. I just loved the muted color of the wall and want to coax Tom into painting one of our walls at home this color. Those of you who know him well know the struggle I face! For him: white walls=beautiful. :)

Stamperia del Tevere

Tom has found a real art outlet in Rome... a place where the ideas are are fresh and the art is edgy and unpretensious.
Here is Alessandro Fornaci and Frank Martinangeli and Tom Dowling at The Shop, with a pic of Alessandro shaking out a wet print, taken from our apartment window.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Shout Out

Here's to all who have been reading and responding: you keep us feeling the love.
Aunt Jackie
Auntie Paula
Ashlea, Genevieve
Leigh Ann and Rick

If there are others out there reading along, we'd love to hear from you either in the comments section or in email. We crave theconection to home, even if we can't respond in a timely manner.

A big congrats to Gita Carey and Seth Olsen of New Mexico who brought baby twin girls into the world last week! Say a little prayer for their sanity.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Never eat anything bigger than your head

Tonight Tom made a Bistecca Fiorientina. We went to the local butcher shop and after much handsigning and broken Italian, had the butcher cut "una portizione per due". And it cost $45.00. And it was GOOOOOOOOOOD.
mmmmm, meatlovers rejoice.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Grain of Sand

A grain of sand

I’m looking for the essence of Roman life. My first ambition upon coming here was to live a Roman life. At home in California, I know my life’s definition. By that, I mean, I know the parameters of my life. I know what defines my daily life and my creative life. Here in Rome, I find the definition of life to be extraordinarily different than what I thought it would be.
The surface is different,….. the day to day, cacophony of sounds and clatter are much more loud and ordinary than I had anticipated. The average Roman is emotional, in your face, speaks loudly. This I expected. But the city itself is assaulting. The sounds, sirens, trolley cars, the traffic, the cigarette smoke, people talking or laughing. It envelopes you, invades your sense of self. Your space. Even when in conversation with Romans, they come a little to close, too intimate. Living in Florence, I didn’t get that sense of intrusion. At times it is overwhelming, other times, as I’ve said, in conversation it can be intimate even comforting.

I found myself in a crosswalk carrying Clare when 2 police cars, [carabinieris] turned on their sirens. I immediately held her tight, shocked….. and exclaimed “you fucking assholes” they were within 10 feet of me!
Clare said “ you fickinaholes!”[A note here: 2 year olds repeat everything you say],
Life in Rome is on the edge!

One tries to go about the daily life as you would anywhere, we get our groceries; we have lunch or dinner out. We shop a little, we sightsee a little…..we don’t go around with all the accoutrements of a tourist, we blend in…in a sense…
I’m often approached as a German; I have to say Americano frequently…
The girls blend in better…..they are “bella”…I am “brutto”

We have a great apartamento. In a wonderful neighborhood . I want to be apart of it all so much. We have some neighbors who acknowledge us and the local Friars have even nodded to us, [mostly because of Clare, [she knows how to bless herself in the Catholic fashion], some stores know us….the organic market! ....we are SO American! ....
Perhaps it’s never to be…I’ll always be a “strangieri” in Roma.

Nevertheless, some people sense our effort to be part of the neighborhood. The best Italian restaurant in the world is right around the corner, Clare, of course is the main attraction when we go there…always happy to see us [her], even when we are 2 hours before regular dinner hours!

There is a fine art print shop on our street. A contemporary print shop. A coalition of Italian artists, mostly young, just out of art school. They are very friendly and quite open to an American artist coming in and talking to them about currents in art and issues about being an exhibiting artist in today’s world. They have formed a group of likeminded European artists that show together and support each other with exhibitions in several European venues. I’ve approached them about showing in California, perhaps an exchange show?

Can you understand the nature of the beach by a single grain of sand? Can you understand the essence of a city like Rome by a few experiences? Life here is like life elsewhere I suppose. You try to find your niche, a pattern to your days that fills it with experience and meaning. Life is a series of accommodations, frustrations, accomplishments, and exultations, whether you are in Rome or Costa Mesa. Right now we are lucky enough to be in Rome.

Ciao, Tommaso

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Meeting up with Friends

We spent four days in Florence while my mom and sister where here, and added to our list of unimaginably lucky encounters. We walked down the street where Nay and I lived ten years ago and rung the doorbell of the building master, Danila Falcone. While Tom peered up at the shutters and my mom futzed with Clare, I scanned the side of the building and saw a black-haired head pop out of a distant widow. Danila, who was wearing a wildly printed top of blue and red, looked mildly annoyed, perhaps expecting someone had mistakenly pushed the button for the apartment of 6 college girls above, but then her face broke into joyful glee as she slowly recognized our motley group.

She buzzed us in and by the time we climbed the stairs to her apartment she met us at the door wearing a white shift (albeit inside out). I felt bad that we had popped in on her so suddenly (definitely not good Italian manners), and was more than a little embarrassed that she had changed her clothes in the minutes we had ascended the stairs. Her inside-out pockets drooped out from her waist, but we didn’t care, just offered kisses all around and sat in the formal dining room. Clare got busy rapping on her glass curio cabinents and scratching her antique wood table while we shared tidbits of news and gossip. WE had been in infrequent contact since 1996, but on our last trip over for our honeymoon in 2001 she had been in Trieste dealing with a sick family member, so we hadn’t seen her personally in a decade.

We didn’t want to inconvenience her for long so we agreed to meet the next night for pizza. The re-vamped Danny Rock (once a kitschy and greasy hangout for American kids) was rocking with laughter as Danila and Gaetano (her husband) blended into our noisy family for an evening of laughter and magnificent calzones, cheeseburgers, crepes, and of course, pizza. It’s wonderful to reconnect after all these years, wonderful to know that some things never change, and that everything’s always changing. I’m amazed at how people who haven’t really talked for years and years can still marvel in each other’s joys, accomplishments, and sorrows.

One of the funnier things that Danila mentioned was that she was mad at her son for taking his own apartment, just 200 meters from home. Keep in mind that he’s 27 and a DJ/mixer that works only in the evenings at local discos, but the Italian culture promotes Mama’s boys that stay at home for as long as possible. We see it as absurd, and she sees it as an affront to her motherhood. He promised to some home for one meal everyday, but she says that since she doesn’t really like to cook, she can’t imagine that he will other than to save money!

And on the sadder side, Gaetano is losing his memory. She says after he retired that he just gave up on remembering details and dates. They’ve had him tested for Alzheimer’s but found no evidence of the disease. They didn’t travel much before because they were waiting for him to retire, and she’s a bit bereft that now that they have the time and money he can’t fully enjoy the trips. That doesn’t stop them much though. They’ve gone to South America, China, and are dreaming about Africa.

I hope to have as much vitality as Danila when I am her age, but it is sad to see the effects of aging on their partnership. I’m taking it as a sign: do it all now! Don’t have the money? Save, earn or borrow it! Don’t have the time? Make it! Don’t have the energy? You’re spending it in the wrong places! Don’t have the cajones? GET SOME!

P.S. the other extraordinary meeting we had was with Lenay’s old flame form 10 years ago. We searched all the leather shops and finally found him at one called Poker on the piazza Santa Croce. Imagine, after 10 years finding two people out of your past! If mom didn’t have the pix on her camera, I’d post ‘em. More on that later.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

This is for Auntie Leigh Ann

Florence is Fantastic

In Florence we went to the Boboli gardens, my old haunt that kept me sane during the craziness of Italian life ten years ago. I have been back once since to wander the allees of cypress that have been there for hundreds of years, and this time it was wonderful to go back with my daughter. It was somewhat like a circle that had been completed. I used to lie on the stone benches and dream about what my life would be like, imagine my future of marriage or children or nothing, and plan for the next week.

There are two hidden passages where they force the trees into low arches that are shaded and cool. The only sound in the air is the cacophony of bird chirps and the crunch of feet in the stones down the paths. Tom stopped to film the silence so we could show it as a contrast to the chaos of Roman life. He joked that I could go back and play myself some peace whenever I needed it.

We found the gargoyle fountain that we had taken silly pictures by a decade ago. We all stuck our tongues out and romped about. After we wandered through the city that afternoon my mom went to the BAR gelateria near Piggy Market and had the requisite gigantic gelato. See the picture for proof. I don’t know how she eats that much and doesn’t gain a pound. Hope I inherit some of that gene.

Sangria and Sin

Just before Auntie Paula left Rome we got her good and drunk. Always a lightweight, we plied her with Sangria until she was eating the wine-soaked fruit out of the bottom of the pitchers. We were at a Paella place, eating magnificent food and drinking entirely too much, but within moderation. The night was raucous and lovely until I excused myself to go to the bathroom and ran straight into the gypsy boys that had tried to pickpocket me on the bridge (see earlier entry) lounging in the back room of the restaurant and watching T.V.

I ducked quickly into the loo and stood there in amazement, thinking it through. Sure! Their family probably came over from Spain to start a restaurant. The boys don’t legally have to be in school, and the family restaurant is less than 200 meters from where they work the corner. If they get into trouble, they can just duck inside and hide. They probably serve mainly tourists in the restaurant and they can work the purses and wallets over while people overindulge.

While Paco, the father, regaled our table with amazing Flamenco guitar, those kids were probably “making tips” from all the customers. I walked right back out of the loo, caught the little one’s eye, and stared right at him. He froze like a deer about to be creamed by a Mack and then languidly looked away. I made a point of catching the other boys’ gazes, too, just to let them know I was on to them, and then sent Tom to do the same thing. The laughter that had been ringing out from the back room stopped soon after that. I wonder what they will do next time we see them as we cross the bridge corner that they frequent.

St. Zara's

They had closed down the center of St. Peter’s when my mom, Aunt Paula, Dana, and I visited. It made the humungous church seems smaller, more accessible, and totally killed the awe-inspiring vastness of the space. I didn’t mind, because I had been there so may times, but it was kind of disappointing to know that my companions weren’t getting the big thrill they deserved. I guess they have to set up a couple thousand seats at some point, but I wish we had missed the process!

We saw a tiny wedding while we were there: they were just finishing up and the bride swooped out of the small side chapel wearing designer silk tiers. Her bridesmaids came trailing out in their fire engine red sheaths with their bare shoulders discreetly covered with matching scarves. At first I thought nothing of it, and said Congratulations (in Italian) along with everyone else. As the wedding party left the scene and tourists began to crane their heads inside the chapel, it hit me. Married! In the VATICAN! Who do you have to know to do that? I didn’t even know you COULD do that. I went home and told Tom that in addition to getting married by Elvis, at a drive through, and underwater, I now wanted us to be married in the Vatican. He nearly fell off his chair laughing.

The other funny thing I saw was when a priest emerged from a confessional in the full floor length black and white dress regalia. The thing that made it funny was that he was carrying a Zara shopping bag and fumbling with what looked to be a receipt. I thought: wait, is there an outlet in there?! In the Vatican? Why have I been shopping anywhere else? Alas, a quick peek inside the confessional revealed no trap door or department store window. Just the faintly musty smell of sweating penitents.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ostia Antica

The city of Ostia Antica was swallowed up by a flood some hundreds of years ago and lay under silt for hundreds more. The mosaic floors and ruined walls are even more magnificent than Pompeii. And more peaceful. And less polluted by commerce.
More thoughts later. Photos speak volumes.