Sketches of Italia
I. Rome, June 17:
tourists choose Italy for their honeymoon. Understandable when one
thinks of the magical lure of Tuscany’s rolling, open farmland
undulating with lemons (nearly the size of cantaloupes outside Pompeii,
used for that quintessential of Italian beverages, Limón cello)
and olives fat as figs on the vine, awaiting the presser.
Understandable when one discovers the canals and gondoliers of Venice’s
open waterways, though I will encounter neither, skirting Venice on
this passage through. Understandable when one considers Audrey
Hepburn’s lithe arms wrapped around Gregory Peck’s torso aboard a
scooter, zipping down side streets together to the Spanish Steps in Roman Holiday,
posters of which festoon the shops in St. Peter’s Square and which I
buy at the stationery store where the handmade papers in ivory cream
are edged with glinting gold filigree and the red-orange scrollwork on
hand-hewn flower-design calling cards call out to me like a long-lost
sister and brother-in-law, after four years of marriage and my company
for this go-round, hold hands ahead of me, as we wend through each
avenue. Six feet tall and taller, they are younger and yet make their
way in front of me-- angling my camera at passing fancies-- the store
selling priestly vestments and blank blue nuns’ habits next door to the
high-fashion of Armani, Prada, and Gucci, the “park your dog here” sign
outside the tumbling-down apartment near the Coliseum, the “Baby on
Board” sticker on the bumper of the construction van that’s as small as
a circus car back home-- and I must take determined steps in between,
not to lose them in the arcing and reassembling crowds as distance
creeps between my lens and their striding ahead. Frequently my
sandals, though perfectly flat of sole, stumble over the cobbled
streets as I’m shuffling my feet, while always keeping an eye out for
my brother-in-law’s broad back, even through the lens of many
tantalizing diversions, for the broad rim of my sister’s straw sunhat.
can certainly see the charm for those here on honeymoon, but to me,
it’s a better place, a perfect pace, for the hopeful yet solitary
heart. It’s a place built then crumbled then built again with a
crushless resilience. Take the Trevi Fountain, with its perpetual coin
toss of the eternal wish, take -- a mere few hours later in the
artist’s dreamscape of Florence-- the Ponte Vecchio, that sole bridge
spanning the banks of the Arno River.
II. Food/Drink/Café/Lunch--Naples, Pompeii, Rome, Livorno, Florence, and Pisa--
- At the end of lunch, cap off the meal with espresso, NOT cappuccino (as American as wearing shorts and screen-printed t-shirts, a no-no unless a child). For Italians, cappuccino is only a morning beverage.
- No soft /sh/ sound in Bruschetta --
hard /k/ as in count and coins. The tomatoes may be brushed with extra
virgin olive oil for suppleness, but your pronunciation should bear no
softness in the center.
- Pepperoni= peppers. American pepperoni pizza= pizza with salami.
- Pesto sauce= pine nuts, from long, lanky pine trees waving past every tiny cab, train, tram, funicular, bus.
siesta at approximately 2 p.m. through 4 or 4:30, all shops and most
restaurants close for the hottest part of the day, then reopen in the
evening. Dinner begins here around 9 or 10 p.m. and can last until
midnight. Most Europeans have a pre-dinner walk about town, the passeggiata-- part park socialization, part simultaneously scoping out and becoming the scenery.
- Gelato, Gelaterias-- like pizza and pizzerias,
everywhere in abundance and of course, for lunch and dinner, must have
one and one, then more. Italian ice creams have more flavors,
including ones with rather quirky or ominous names, such as Pepto (I’d
guess after the pink stomach quencher) and Viagra. I opt for the tamer
yet equally decadent in flavor dark double-chocolate. Our pizza
pie arrives, smaller yet crispy and deliciously thin-crusted, with more
sauce and only a smattering of pale tan cheese compared to its American
cousins. Also baring a jaunty green garnish of basil-- or was it a
rosemary sprig-- in the center of the center? I also try a half-moon stromboli (across
from a church as yellow-gold as crust, in a side-street leading off a
Florentine square). This plate-filler proved near-identical to its
American counterpart, except packed more with ham (capicola) than cheese.
- Practice: Il conto, por favor-- ask for the check, or they won’t bring it.
III. On Inspiration and Wishes-- Rome and Florence, June 17-19:
Ponte Vecchio -- a journal entry in poem form--
I know the coins were meant to be
thrown into the famed fountain in Roma:
1 coin-- you’ll return,
2 coins-- you’ll find true love,
3--if my guide Assunta is to be believed,
will grant a speedy Italian divorce.
But into dear Trevi’s depths
awash with tritons and cupids silvery
I did not toss my precious copper pieces
instead they were saved
for the bridge on the banks of the glassy Arno
in Firenze where the Germans laid waste
all other passages out and in, but this--
this one last hope, left standing. Then
spun like stars into the awaiting arms of azure,
the spheres slipped-- 1 for sure return,
2 for true amore, for someday
with him, I whispered, palm feather-light as wind.
IV. Of Necessity, Poets, Amore-- also Florence
the base of the spiraling cathedral near where our group is meeting
after five sweaty hours of separately ambling, I stand in the shadow of
a curving paw of one of four 7-foot stone lions, which in turn hover
beneath the deep-carved scowling statuary of the poet Dante. Dante,
whose beloved Beatrice remained ever-elusive and thus ever-immortalized
in his verse.
consider the lion sculptures perfect symbolic guardians for Dante’s
likeness, as in matters of the heart, it’s best to remain
lion-hearted-- stalwart yet sensitive, ever-vigilant and protective yet
above all affectionate and loyal as these stealth stone cats curled at
Dante’s immovable feet. How many of us practice the intensity of
Dante’s focus? Or is it that he was able to maintain such devotion only
because the object of his affection was perpetually distant, providing
just enough initially to keep him on the hook and nothing thereafter.
Dante reveling in hopeful fantasies that just never panned out for him
or trapping himself further every day in an unnecessarily
self-thwarting anguish? Dwarfed at the base of the famed brooding
poet, I ponder--would Dante have been a more fulfilled man, yet a
mediocre poet, had he let Beatrice be? And wasn’t Dante’s true poetic
Muse not this woman at all, but his all-consuming love of loving her?
V. A Departing View, Rome:
A Station in Rome
Mammalian and warm brown as sheep’s eyes
the gaze of the half-pint boy outside
the train station. Before
I could capture my camera from inside
my traveler’s bag, fumbling, fumbling steps
forward on uneven cobblestones, my eye skimmed
the dirt-smudged square on his forehead, his feet
bare, his ratty father leaning on the wall
behind him, squeezing in and out
on a box of plaintive prolonged notes,
music my ears had barred out. Watch
the gypsies, I’d been forewarned, the pick-
pockets use their children to divert innocents.
How could this be? This glowing
somebody, himself sawing in then out
on the exoskeleton of an accordion without
its guts, a swirl of smile, suffusing sunlight.
I fired the button of my image machine
but the final frame, a ghosted wall of brick
telling nothing of the empty cup between them,
showing nothing of him, though more than this--
something already cracking open
within, a tender fissure