NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Sunday, December 23, 2012

#8: Fourth weekend

                                                                                                                         November 2011

Well, the big news is that this last week Italian TV went digital. I believe I mentioned this. Forgive me. Everything is running together.

other news: yesterday was the Maratona di Firenze. The Florence Marathon

My TV is, oh, maybe a 12 inch screen, like the one I had in my first apartment back in 1968. In fact, it probably is that same TV and was purchased in the small Piazza dei Ciompi directly across the street from my apartment. The collection of tiny 20th-hand shops make Goodwill look like Gucci or Neiman Marcus (Nieman?). Oh, the ciompi were irate workers back in Renaissance times who rioted and won. Friday night, there was a demonstration protesting violence against women. I attended before meeting my classmates for a farewell dinner, as half the class is going home this weekend.

Following dinner, we went to an Irish pub with all sorts of American T-shirts hanging from the ceiling. It was very loud with American music, so we went to our favorite spot, Mastrociliegia. Tony is the waiter and speaks no English. One student, Yoko, is a tour guide in Japan and very outgoing. She organizes everything for us, and Tony always kisses her hands and listens to our terrible Italian as if we were reincarnations of Dante. I have not been out drinking that late since I was 20. Fortunately, I have more sense now so that by the time we got to Tony, I ordered a large bottle of acqua.

As an aside, yesterday I went down in the ritzy section: Armani, Gucci, etc. However, the only purchases I made throughout the day were cioccolato and gelato. Yes, it was the day I became a tourist, sitting in the piazza gazing up at the Duomo, eating chocolate and listening to a guy on an accordian play Pachabell's (sp.?) Canon.  Bellissima! Honestly, I was never a good speller but of late, I have English and Italian floating in my head. My thinking is a mixture of both, and I can't spell in either language.

Last night, I went back to the, Grom's for gelato...but this time sat where it is alleged that Dante sat gazing up at the construction of the Duomo. I believe I mentioned that there is the actual rock upon which he sat. I do not say the alleged rock because I totally believe in the story, as I also believe in Babbo Natale (Santa). Anyhow, this will always be a fond spot for me because recollecting the first time I saw the rock was in class the following day. Every day, we describe what we did the night before. This was the first time, I got a laugh -- for the right reasons -- in Italian when I said in perfectly grammatical Italian, I saw the rock where Dante sat and looked up at the construction of the Duomo and said, Mamma Mia!

But anyway, back to the digital age in Italian TV. The first program I watched was...okay, whoever guesses first by email will get 1 euro when I return—big stakes, dudes and dudettes!!! If I have any denaro left, that is!!!  So as I was watching this first program, I was thinking to myself, holy moly, I don't understand anything. This is pathetic. Then I realized it was dubbed. I later learned from a woman at the video store that dubbing is done in "grammatical Italian" probably by someone with my skills...yes, I might give up my day job...  As a result, much of what is said doesn't really make total sense.  OK, so here's the line to see if you can guess the show for one shiny euro...while also noting the bizarre translation:  Cool, it Dano became Pazienza, Dahnee. 
Think hard. What program? Your euro awaits you!

Last night, I watched a movie that was actually in Italian and understood the plot well enough to follow it. A who-dunnit...thriller...romanza gialla, I believe it's called.  and FYI, you haven't see a Tommy Lee Jones movie unless you've watched with him talking in Italian like the baritone in a Verdi opera.

Italian TV is just like the country. The programs start and end at weird times. Per esempio, the final credits roll at 8:53. And after a pubblicita (commercial) or two, the next program starts at 9:03. The commercials aren't loud. But as in the U.S., they are molto stupido. For some reason, English seems to lend itself better to the crass commericalism. It feels sad to me that the language of Dante is now given to the Italian version of MTV, Jerry Springer, and dish soap. I guess the beauty of Shakespeare and Jane Austen have already been so corrupted that we don't think about this.

Speaking of corruption, I have noticed in speaking with fellow students from different countries that people are aware of our terrible political problems, along with the dissolution of our education and health care systems. There's not anti-American sentiment but a kind of disbelief over the folly of the dissolution. A bright young politically active woman from Australia said that there are bitter fights there between conservative and liberal factions in her country but that there is a kind of stability there that she doesn't see in America. 

A very very general observation about the difference between America and Italy: In America, things work but don't last. In Italia, things work strangely but they last. My washing machine, per esempio. And television. 

FAshion here in Italia is interestante. (Oh, by the way, if you're cool in Florence, you're gonza.) There doesn't appear to me to be the obsession with boots and scarves, notwithstanding. Honestly, I don't understand how the entire Italian nation isn't crippled by wearing tall high-heeled narrow and pointy leather boots on these old stone streets.

As an aside, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that I am living in a building that is as old as the founding of least this is what I think I understood my landlord to say when he brought over the cable box. I believe that in downtown Peetsborg, the only thing lasting from the early days at the Golden Triangle is Fort Peet aka, the blockhouse at what was once Fort Pitt. I remember the day my father lifted me up so I could see out the holes where the soldiers put their rifles. Then we walked to the point where the three rivers come together, and Mom taught me to say their names. Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio. It was a very big and exciting day.

Yesterday on my big tourist day, I was happy to wander alone, going to a museum and reading the explanations of the art in English. The big outing of the day was to the Palazzo Strozzi for the exhibit entitled Denaro e Bellezza.  Money and Beauty: Bankers, Botticelli, and the Bonfire of the Vanities. It's an exhibit that takes the viewer through the history of the Medici family and the rise of the banking system along with the paradoxical relationship between money and art, money and the salvation of the soul--how money was used to impress by the acquisition of art and to prove by the exquisite expression of religious beliefs in the art that one was worthy of heaven. 
It was a fabulous exhibit with actual gold florins, items of trade, and the paintings that were commissioned to achieve salvation. The texts accompanying the exhibit were really interesting. The only problema was that there were many tours with as many as fifty people crowding through. It was like the sludge that one year in Pittsburgh, the environmental disaster that led to a the massive  gray and white sludge that crept down the Allegheny River and into the Ohio where I guess it gradually dispersed. 

I learned many handy phrases at the exhibit such as Tutto è monetizzabile. Everything has its price.

The Renaissance couldn't have happened without money. But in the end, the self-indulgence and acquisitive spirit of the wealthy led to the rise of the mad monk Savonarola. Even Botticelli burned his paintings, supposed expressions of his spiritual corruption and vanity. 

Liberal intellectuals v. Tea Party. La storia  continua? The old story continues?

Interestingly, for 2 extra euro, I got to see the exhibit called Declining Democracy. This was a collection of modern works—art installations, paintings, films, all from different countries—from America to Poland to German to Italy. The exhibit showed the importance of speaking truth to power. There was one room where a huge sheet of paper covered the wall and observers were invited to write something that meant freedom to them. Alongside this exhibit was an American film in which all sorts of executive-types were singing Bye-Bye American Pie. Kind of and MTV presentation full of humor but evoking the grief of a lost past. Gatsby. (a couple days ago, I bought Il Grande Gasby, my fave novel). Spontaneously, I picked up a marker and wrote what freedom means to me: "Gulliver and Netarts forever"

Accompanying one exhibit was the question: What did you do last week that made you a citizen.

I am looking forward to getting home. Although I am really going to miss speaking Italian. I can't wait to start writing. Waiting for Gulliver seemed to have stalled in my head. But just the other day, like Gabriel in the Annunciazione, the structure of the book came to me. I also realized the book had stalled because I'd never really asked myself what I was waiting for. Duh. Talk about stupido. I guess you could say I was waiting to figure out what I was waiting for, which I have luckily discovered throughout these last 3 weeks. I was waiting to understand what I could do that would make me a citizen. Something from the heart, not just the mind. And I was waiting to understand how I can express my affinity for the mystical that is at the heart of my being but antithetical to the country where I am a citizen.

I am very glad I didn't go to Venice or Pisa or Assisi this weekend or on the group trip to the Roman ruins. I have enough ruins within to observe. So it felt more sensible to stay here to reflect on what I have experienced these last three weeks, how I have changed. I'm glad my sore knee slowed me down. Yesterday, I realized that I don't miss America. My disappointment and anger remain deep and profound. However, I do miss very much what America is to me: the canyons of the Southwest, that old apartment in Shadyside when Shadyside was the Greenwich Village of Peetsaborg, the lives and graves of my parents, the sisters with whom I share the blood and spirit of my family. My family as it has grown and evolved over the years. My cats, living and departed. My bathtub. My woodstove. The fabulous red walls in my cucina and sala da pranzo. The loss of so much that led me to Netarts. The community of Netarts. And all the friends from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas to Netarts.

These friends and the members of my family are like exquisite stones, each beautiful and unique, gifts from the earth, paving the path in a garden I have been planting all my life. I did not lay the pathway. It was laid for me by the gifts of family and friends, gifts of themselves from the heart. I do not walk on these stones. To do so would be going backward. Rather I look back on the lovely path curving, climbing, wandering through—well, is it paradox or paradise? Both, I would say, even as the pathway stretches beyone us all, going all the way back through Eden to the sea where that first spark of life, whoever it was and however it commenced.

As I have tried to plant my garden, the weeds of injustice and corruption have made me molto arrabiatto. Anger in Italian is way more powerful. Arrabbiato. But so is mercy—misericordia (I love seeing this on ambulances.) As my sister Laura said to me not so long ago and my sister Mary has also expressed in sentiment: Most people see the rock rolling down the hill and move out of the way; you try to stop it. Well, I think now I will, like Dante, sit on my own little rock, look up at the wonders of creation, both human and natural, and simply say Mamma Mia!

Thanks, everyone. And I look forward to seeing you when I get back to the garden.

Meanwhile, leading up to the commemoration of World Aids Day on Dec. 1, there's a festival internazionale at the local cinema. So today, I'm off to the movies.  

Ciao, tutti.

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