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, April 7, 2013


This will be the last posting from Rome...this trip, anyway.
I threw my coin in the Trevi Fountain with the hope of return.

One final note to my friends in Netarts who feed the gull with the gnarled foot. You all know him by different names, my favorite being Chester. Anyhow, his pigeon cousin over here in Piazza Navona is probably the most well fed bird in the piazza. LIke Chester, he seems to have learned how to evoke sympathy of tourists.

It was warm this afternoon, so I opened my window. I love the sound of Rome in the streets...the language, the cars fitting their way through the narrow streets, the arguments, the enthusiasm for absolutely nothing, and always under it all the lovely symphony of life as expressed through the Italian language.

Passeggiata is a term I've mentioned evening stroll, slow with no particular plan in mind, except perhaps to show off a new romance or a new outfit. Italians always dress up for the passeggiata, whatever dressing up may mean to them. It's a stylin' time. And everyone wears a scarf, men and women. At some point, food and drink are likely to be involved. But there's no fast food here, at least that's evident. In Italian, the kind of slow we're talking about here is piano, piano...the word is repeated. Very slow, as in musical instruction. Passeggiata is not only an evening ritual, but as I see it, a state of mind. Tranquillo.

Perhaps the closest we come in the American culture to passeggiata would be "living in the now." But really, that's not passeggiata because those who are working to live in the now are trying. As Yoda said, one mustn't try; one must do. How do you do Passeggiata? Even the question is ridiculous. The point is you do passeggiata without doing. So is it Zen? No, Zen is a spare, often ironic non activity to empty the mind. I can't imagine an Italian sitting still with an empty mind.

I don't mean to suggest that all Italians are brilliant. Passeggiata has nothing to do with being smart or not smart. Sitting in front of my gluten-free pizza place sipping vino and watching the passeggiata, I see all sorts of Italians, no stereotyping...except as I've said they're all dressed up, whatever dressed up means to each individual, and the scarves, always the scarves. It's the piano, piano that makes the passeggiata. You can spot Americans like me. We're not dressed up and even though we may think we're strolling, we're not piano, piano.

First of all, it's not said piano like the American musical instrument. It's pronounced in a flow...peeahnoh...and gently...and not just spoken on the go but spoken as one physically slows to a stop and gestures downward with the hands, as if telling someone to take it easy. peeahnoh, peeahnoh.

And anyway, where did all those chariot races get those ancient Romans. Just have a look at the Circus Maximus, and imagine those horses and chariots tearing around the long oval track in the heyday of that arena.

Have you noticed that sports arenas tend to fall into ruins. Winners and losers come and go. Even the games change and are forgotten. But the streets remain open, quietly reinventing themselves as piano piano, the human race inches its way forward through the centuries.

To understand passeggiata, you must really believe in the stroll and allow it to take you where it will. Women walk arm in arm. I've seen boys and fathers holding hands. And of course couples pause here and there for the kiss, the caress. It's a gentle time. A sweet time. The night is brimming with friendship. The streets are full of food, as nearly every other establishment is a bar or restaurant. The food is beautiful. The world is lit up. It's as if you're witnessing a world that has been relieved of the anguish of suffering as part of the human condition.

Passeggiata is not what I would call festive. There are festas, or festivals. That's not passeggiata. As I watch passeggiata, I see life moving sweetly, slowly, beautifully against buildings that are old and peeling, their walls buckling outward, worn and stained with the ages. Passeggiata both defies and transcends time, except that isn't entirely correct because both defy and transcend transitive verbs. There is no direct object with passeggiata, only strolling.

Passeggiata is a slow movement of people who come out of their homes to walk about town. Oh, they've got their TVs, their passion for sports, their jobs, their petty annoyances. And don't get me wrong, passeggiata is not just for the pure of heart. Passeggiata provides a great opportunity for gossip.

There's no workbook available to guide the harried American on how to slow down to a stroll, no formula for getting passeggiata right so that you can enjoy the moment. If you're having a conscious moment, it's not passeggiata.

I don't think I'll ever be a stroller who will enjoy spending long slow hours over food late into the evening. I don't like dressing up, especially in the high-heeled shoes that Italian women like to show off. I wear a scarf only when it's cold.

But I do get piano piano....peeahnoh peeahnoh...I typed that slowly, pausing for a moment with my hands over the keyboard, and saying the words in Italian, saying them slowly, savoring the tranquility of the sound. In fact, I think I can say that passeggiata might describe the new way of writing I have discovered here...strolling, letting the stroll take me where it will. I sure do enjoy looking around and am always eager for a chance to gossip. But mostly, words are like food, not fast food but slow food with its savory tastes and fragrances, beautiful food, the embodiment of sun, earth, and rain opening and nurturing the seed...words the color of wine, full of the grape and the vine...words like the sound of that real pizza crust, both crunchy and chewy at once...words pulsing with the perseverance of a heart in defiance of time, making their way through the ruins breathing air full of the whispers of history, turning those whispers into the language of whatever the moment brings to mind....

I thought I was going to learn huge important things during my stay here. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. I will say that on my final stroll, I bought myself a bracelet that I'm now wearing. It's a simple narrow strap with a snap created by a happy man made happy by making these bracelets with scores of Italian sayings. He also seems to take great pleasure in matching people to his bracelets. I held several up to my arm before this one. However, the moment I lay this one across my wrist, he reached over, snapped it on, and that was that: a bracelet, along with my mind read and my fortune told, a mere 8 €.

Il mio braccialetto dice:
"La cosa piu' bella? Avere un cuore grande e saperlo donare con semplicita'."

Or, as the bracelet would say in English:
The most beautiful thing? To have a big heart and to know how to give it with simplicity....

So then, dear friends, it's ciao for now from the Eternal City. If Delta Air does what its flight plan promises, I should be home with my cats for dinner on Monday. It breaks my heart to leave Rome, but it's time to go home. And oh, by the way, if you find some discrepancies in my blog numbering system, just tell yourself it could have been a lot worse if I'd used Roman numerals.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

# 27.6—The Half-Opened Door

Even as I was sitting in the restaurant in Pizzo following my tour of Maierato, it began to occur to me that I was to blame for what happened. Although blame might not be the right word because I don't really know what happened. I know only what I felt about what happened.

When Polma wrote back to me the first time, I couldn't just allow the adventure to unfold. I had to, I don't know how to say it, I had to create the adventure. I sent Polma a packet of documents that my neighbor Peggy had found regarding my grandparents' emigration and arrival negli Stati Uniti. I sent a family tree telling her all about us. I sent pictures. Just going to Maierato...showing up...allowing her to discover me as I would discover her was not enough. I was learning Italian, writing in Italian, very bad Italian, but oh look at my accomplishment. The adventure became a drama. My drama.
Without fully realizing it, I had wanted to change the past, to be embraced by the kind of Italian family I'd always wanted.

For as smart and festive and generous as my family was, it was nevertheless fraught with guilt trips, mistrust, manipulation, and animosity...all of this a legacy of the darkness my grandfather brought with him from Maierato to Pittsburgh.

That door of Polma's house, one side open, the other closed was a Cutuly thing. Who knows if it was intentional on her part, or just something that brought up thoughts of the past in me. Perhaps she had wanted something from our meeting that I had denied her by imposing my own drama on the situation. Perhaps she'd left the door open on purpose hoping I'd walk up the stairs and find her.

Except maybe I was tired of doing that Cutuly thing of responding to an invitation to reach out, only then to be mistrusted. I was, in fact, angry when I realized she was ignoring my calls.

I like Tolstoy's idea that all happy families are the same, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. We were not an unhappy family. We were in many ways a family tormented by insecurity, much of that torment originating in my grandfather's darkness of spirit: a bright inquiring and able mind imprisoned by a fear of...of, well, nothing...fear that life is like that boarded up station where there will be no one to help us.

It was a terrible thing that chronically pulled the Cutuly family together while simultaneously driving it apart. My father and I were at odds for decades, the doctor-scientist and the poet. He never got over the fact that my first words were "by sels." By myself. Or that I hated school when he made his mark in life by succeeding there so brilliantly. My mother opened his dark insecure world to music and travel, but he fought her every step of the way while building his world on her optimism and confidence. The tragedy of all this is that my father was a good and generous man, a kind and profound doctor who healed so many but not until the last days of his life was he able to heal himself of the terrible wounds of insecurity inherited from his father.
There was always great love in the Cutuly family. But it was love fraught with the tension of chronic and hyper-vigilant self-protection. When I was a senior in high school, I was inspired by a quote from Joseph Conrad's novel "Victory."—"Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to love, to hope—and to put its trust in life." This is always what I've aspired to but perhaps never understood until now.

After standing before Polma's house, seeing, feeling, reflecting on the poverty of this town from which my grandparents emigrated, I am ashamed of myself. I allowed myself to imagine a lovely little village, I guess like Rossano Brazzi's family in "Three Coins in the Fountain." Everyone would be loving and merry. The past would be different, the darkness washed away so that all that was left would be the talent, the creativity, the generosity of spirit, the love that could have made us a family that would have nurtured by support instead of criticism, the family that sometimes gave as a way of maintaining control.

Perhaps Polma was hoping for exactly what I was hoping for. But then I used my education and opportunity to create a situation that might open her up to criticism and judgment. Back in Rome, I bought a bracelet I am now wearing It's a leather strip that says,

"La cosa piu' bella? Avere un cuore grande e saperlo donare con semplicita'."

"The most beautiful thing? To have a big heart and to know how to give it with simplicity."

Calabria is a wild mystical land, rugged country where ruins and daily life coexist. It's tempting to think of this simply as beautiful and charming. Which, it is. But it's also country that is a living representation of the history of any civilization, of any life. Calabria taught me a lot in my short time there:

We must learn from the ruins, as we must also learn to love and be loved by the life that now is. It's easy to walk through the open doors and clear that we must find another way when a door is closed to us. There are so many beautiful places in this world calling us to visit and admire them. But what about those places where there is no way in or out unless you have someone to help you? And how do we respond with compassion and wisdom to those half-open doors? Then, finally and perhaps most importantly, where do we find the insight to recognize that while the half-open doors may appear to belong to others, they might well be a response to something in ourselves?

In these questions, we find the challenge to our humanity.

One day, I hope to walk through that half-opened door.

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#27.5—Meeting the Family

Perhaps if the weather had been better...things would have turned out differently...or if I'd stayed in Pizzo...
But I know that isn't true.

I am sure it was Polma who hung up on me.
The question was: Why? She'd written to me welcoming me into the family. I'd written in my letter that I was sad that the spelling of our name got changed from Cutuli, and she'd started her letter:
Cara Joan Cutuli....

From the moment I read this, I was sure we'd become great friends.
When I wrote back that I was coming and she called me to say she hoped I would come, I could feel the connection on the phone. We were on an adventure of discovery together.

When I called Polma from Florence in 2011, I said I didn't know where I would sleep in Maierato. Was there a hotel?
She said I could stay with them. But the day before I was to fly down to Calabria, she called to say there'd been a death in the family. She and her mother were going to Canada. There was no one in Maierato "to help me." It struck me then as a strange phrase. I would need help with Maierato. Now I know what she meant.

She said after that call that she would phone me from Canada when I got home. She never did.

When I wrote again in 2012 that I was coming, she never responded. Yet when I called from Rome, she sounded quite enthusiastic. So when someone hung up on me, I figured I'd called the wrong number. But then when there was no answer for a day and a half, I realized it had all gone wrong. Why? Italian friends at home and in Italy had said I would be greeted with open arms and tables filled with food. Nothing was more exciting than Italians than welcoming someone who cared so much about family. There was even the MasterCard commercial about how making such a trip, despite the cost, was priceless.

So, I thought, to hell with her. I'd just scrap the trip to Maierato and hang out in Lamezia for a couple of days...but then I thought, hey why not just go to Pizzo, see what's going on there. The train from Rome had been so relaxing and enjoyable.

After we returned from Maierato, Tony and Carmelina dropped me off at a restaurant in Pizzo. After lunch, I felt agitated. I had nearly two hours until train time. It was perhaps a ten-minute drive along the coast to the station. Tony had promised to leave work to pick me up. But he wasn't answering his phone. I grew panicky. I tried to walk, but the road had no sidewalk, and the long way felt too dangerous. I was also tired. Emotionally drained. The owner of the restaurant was Tony's friend. He'd told her to take care of me. She did, driving me back to the train station. I figured I'd knock on Tony's door to tell Mariateresa that I'd gotten a ride back.

But the next thing I knew I was invited in. Tony was out. Carmelina was there with Mariateresa, her mother named Teresa, and the three kids. Did I want coffee? Perhaps some chocolate. Use of the bathroom. We began Italian...about my day. Somehow the words were there to express the emptiness and disappointment. They asked about my family in America and my life there. Mariateresa checked out m my Web site. Then I brought forth my iPad to show pictures of my family that I'd planned to show Polma. This family was delighted by them, asking questions and getting all the relationships straight. Little Nicole was more interested in the iPad and wanted to get her nursery-school hands on it. So we decided to take a picture.

Tony came home. Everyone was talking. A real Italian family. Tony friended me on Facebook. I kidded around about whether to accept. I did, and then he sent me a friend request from Mariateresa. She liked my profile picture. Then she tried to figure out how to get a translation of my blog.
This was the family I'd been looking for. Tony took out pictures Nicole had drawn and showed me the drawings of Papa and Mamma. He was such a proud Papa, beaming as Nicole explained all her little drawings to me. She's four, and Tony helped us both with our language. When little Francesco started crying, Tony held him. And baby Rebecca got handed around from Nonna Teresa to Nonna Carmelina.

One hour passed. Then thirty more minutes. In preparation for my departure, I took one final portrait of the family who took me in...back row left to right: Mariateresa, Rebecca, Carmelina, Nicole, Tony, with little Francesco and Teresa in the front.

This was what I'd come for, to be embraced by the real meaning of family. As I prepared to leave, I told Carmelina she'd been my angel for the day. She gave me a baggie of chocolate for the train.
Then I pulled my little traveling companion from my pocket for a picture. Strange as this was, it felt right, and Carmelina was delighted:

After a terrible day of being shut out, I had experienced the feeling of family in Italy. I'd been taken in, helped. Encouraged in my quest. Supported. And all per caso. By chance. There was a kindness in the world. And I'd been touched by it. This was the lesson I came here to learn. To have trust in life. Trust I'd maybe never had, having always been haunted by that darkness that narrowed my grandfather's vision of life and the world. I was like my own family: bright but shadowed...confident yet insecure...loving but skeptical...forgiving but was an exhausting way to be. But the day had somehow freed me from this.

I walked up to that boarded up station, a transformed person. The conductor never came through the train to collect my money. I had a free ride home...a metaphor, I was sure...and by the time I got back to Lamezia, the sky was blue and sunny. All was well with the world...until that is, Orlanda thanked me for Cinzia the Plant and asked if I'd made it to Maierato. After having survived my day in Italian, I felt confident enough to describe the experience...the wonderful family and the dismal, spiritless town.
And Orlanda said, in Italian, "It is not possible to know a town in one day. Perhaps you will have to come back to find out about the town and what happened."

Orlanda always had an usual expression on her face, probably due to her eyesight that was very bad. She seemed to look at everything through a microscope. And suddenly, she seemed to see through me. Like a wave from that mean green sea crashing on the rocks at Pizzo, the truth of what had happened swallowed my so-called transformation and all the glib phony drama of me and my metaphors. What happened had been my fault....

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27.4—Up the Stairs Across the Street from the Half-Open Door

How many times I'd visited this turn in the road...#19...I'd recognized it at one, it was so familiar to me. Now I was getting out of the car at the very address:

Why was the door open? For me...should I call on the phone...climb the stairs and knock...Tony had to get back to was raining...I turned to go up the stone steps across the street so that the mystery might be revealed. Except the steps weren't stone but brick. And no need to discover what lay behind the trees at the top. The trees had been cut back. There was nothing there but trash.

We saw no one but an ancient woman dressed in black, a man pulling down an iron door on a garage, and a woman in boots and a black leather jacket who despite her attempt to cultivate that urban Italian look merely looked out of place in the deserted and narrow street.

At one point, we turned down a steep sloping road that was so narrow, I was afraid we were going to have to back out. As we inched our way down and through, then up and out, I just wanted to leave. We stopped at the guard rail on the hill for a view of the city that is known for its factories, especially for tuna packing.

And then the rain began to pour down, and we were gone.

Why was there no public transportation in or out of this mountain town?
Would the experience have been different on a sunny day in late spring. Perhaps if I'd had the words in Italian to express my emotions they would not have become so tangled on the way back to Pizzo.

I knew now why my grandparents left. My grandfather went twice before he stayed just before the end of the 19th century. My grandmother joined him in 1902. What I saw was likely what they experienced, those narrow confining roads with no way out except to leave.

Except they never left. My grandmother never learned to speak English, although all five of her children had college educations. My grandfather was a man with a lonely dark spirit, a man with the soul of a tragic opera...a shoemaker able to translate Dante into English and work algebra problems for fun. I wasn't quite twenty-one when he died. But I'd had a nip or two of his wine, and it was fabulous. He had a wonderful family who, had he given them the opportunity, would have showered him with the love they had for him.

But my grandfather was an angry man, never satisfied, unable to find...what might it have been that he was seeking...perhaps something we might call importance. He once threw the Black Hand out of his shoemaker shop, refusing to pay the extortion fee for protection. They never came back.

There was intense prejudice against Italians, especially poor Italians. Yet, my grandfather was so personable to professional people he encountered that they would visit him at his shop and house, just to engage in conversation. What did they talk about? He never conversed with the family.

He was like that town he tried to escape, high up on a hill with no way in or out except by leaving. But he never left that spiritless place behind. And his darkness shadowed the family.

Back in Pizzo, Tony and Carmelina left me at a restaurant near the sweeping seaside cliff.

It reminded me of Oregon. I sat in the restaurant not knowing if I wanted a glass of wine or a good cry. Tony had given me his phone number for the drive along the coast back to the train station. But I needed to remain sharp and unemotional to ensure my way out. I still had that boarded up train station ahead of me.

As I sat eating my risotto, it was hard to swallow. Emotions I'd not expected began to rise up from deep within, and the truth of the day began shape-shifting like those strange moments in mythology or fiction where characters change to achieve a purpose, to escape, or to live out punishment....

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Friday, April 5, 2013

#27.3—The Road to Maierato

Under the black hood in the black coat was a friendly looking woman, about my age, but grandmotherly with sandy hair. She spoke no English. Okay, I thought, here I go and began running on in Italian. She listened intently and kindly to my story. "Vuota," I could hear myself repeat in reference to la stazione...empty, empty. I could then hear my Italian getting worse and my voice becoming shriller as I explained that I had no ticket back to Lamezia. "Non preoccupare, non preoccupare," she said, touching my arm gently. Don't worry...I could buy my ticket on the train.

Why was I here in Pizzo, she asked.

I explained that I had wanted to meet my Italian family, but that everything seemed to be going wrong. The woman introduced herself as Carmelina and put her arm around me in a gesture saying I should go with her.

I went. We were soon knocking at a door, just down the road from the train station. The door opened. A young woman answered, a small boy at her side. Carmelina explained my situation, except that she kept focusing on the part of the story that had to do with transportation. It wasn't until the story of my search for family surfaced that the lady of the house opened the door and invited me in. It was a modest and well-kept home. We stood in a large entryway with doors and steps off to the right. To the left was a kitchen, small with a table and chairs taking up most of the middle of room and also a sitting area with an L-shaped sofa facing a TV and a large box overflowing with toys and children's art supplies.

This lady of the house knew a few words of English, which helped speed up removal of the boulders of incomprehension from the pathway of communication.

The story of my pilgrimage and the story of their family began taking shape simultaneously as Antonio, Carmelina's son and the man of the house arrived home. May I add here that in my mental state, it took a while for me to get the names so that I kept wondering why Carmelina and Tony kept referring to Mother Teresa. Was this some kind of Italian way of imploring help for my safety. I finally realized Tony's wife was Mariateresa.

Meanwhile, the three of them would leave me in my minimalist Italian world and begin that thing Italians do...talking fast and loud and all at once, appearing at times to be assessing the stupidity of the others in the conversation...out of which generally comes a conclusion that can be boiled down into a simple sentence...occasionally but rarely with an subordinate clause or phrase.

Anyway, it was proposed to me that a friend with a car might drive me to Maierato for a price. Great. Phone calls were made. However, the friend with the car was working. More rapid fire discussion ensued. Another solution emerged. But this one turned out to be a compound-complex sentence solution:
Tony had to go to work. However, he could drop me off in Maierato and pick me up three hours later. Now I'd just met these people. And nice and caring as they seemed, I was haunted by what a friend of my father's had told me at Dad's funeral: "Do not go to Calabria alone. The people there will take advantage of you. You will be in great danger."

I said that since my relative did not seem to be available and that the rain was now falling heavily and that there was no transportation in or out of Maierato, I did not feel safe being left there alone.

In Italian, you don't say I'm afraid, you say I have fear. For the first time, I was not afraid. I had fear. Having it, I needed to manage it. The negotiations began. Finally, it was decided that Tony would go late to work. He would drive me and bring me back for what seemed like a reasonable price, given the several hours it would require.

I felt a bit unsettled driving off with a stranger and so to my delight and relief, Carmelina went out to the car with us. This was great! And so off we went. I imagined an awkward silent drive with the non English speakers. But suddenly...what was it...perhaps the thought that after all these years, I was going to see Maierato and had pretty much arranged it all in Italian, what the heck: I wasn't afraid of making mistakes. I had fear. If you aren't something but merely have it, you can set it aside. And so I did.

I could hear myself making mistakes as we jabbered away, but I did not have fear. Without this fear, I could also hear that I was making fewer mistakes as we wound through the towns and countryside and began an ascent up a mountain into fog...nebbia. The fog was such an issued that we exchanged words for it, and repeated the words to be sure we had them.

The road was narrow. I am sure of this because for a while, the road was all I could see. We were talking about olive groves and how people make olive oil in their kitchens. Just at the moment I was learning the word for this, a car came careening through the fog toward us so that after it passed, Tony crossed himself. As a result, I forgot the word for making olive oil in one's kitchen. In a few moments, the fog lifted so that I could see I was now in the wild world of Calabria: A windswept rugged world where ruins and houses coexist and where it's sometimes difficult to tell one from the other. The fog cleared to a haziness. White letters on a sky-blue background of a rectangular road sign said MAIERATO. gotta say all the syllables: mahyee-ehr-AH-toh, with the tongue against the front teeth for that t sound.

It was really happening. I was going there. But the fog closed in again as we continued to follow the road curving upward. The sea was out there to our right. That's all I knew for sure. Trees began to make themselves known. Rain was falling harder now. Even the natives were shocked at this turn of weather in sunny southern Italy.

And then, we came out of the fog into the rain, the wipers swiping back and forth. And there it was: The Maierato cemetery. Had it be a lovely day with time for me to spare, who knows what I might have discovered there. Undoubtedly Rocco Serrao and his family, minus my grandmother.

Around the bend was the town. I appeared to have far less spirit in than the cemetery. I was filled with a mixture of excitement and sadness.

Even the church looked sad, standing there in the square all alone surrounded by a dispirited town with no way in or out except for those with their own means of transportation.

I'd described to Tony and Carmelina the pictured I'd seen of Polma's house on Google. Across the street were stone steps leading up from a sweet sidewalk cafe. I had imagined myself going up those step, discovering what mystery lay behind the trees at the top.

The sign on the building to the left in the second picture above turned out to be the sign for Polma's street. The rain had fallen off to a drizzle. We would stop so I could climb those steps. We were all eager to know....

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#27.2—If Bergman Had Been Italian

There is only one thing worse than begin terrified of something—being terrified of nothing.

Trying to cope with that volatile station agent in Lamezia in Italian was a sunny day at the beach compared to finding myself alone in front of that boarded up train station...not the hint of a single person up and about in this little town at 11 a.m....and where were all those seaside resort facilities for which Pizzo was noted?

Not that I didn't find myself laughing at the absurdity of it all. Alex Haley had turned the search for roots through slavery and injustice into an acclaimed miniseries. More recently on TV, famous people had journeyed down the genealogical path into marvelous places of personal revelation. I ended up at a boarded up train station on the edge of an inhospitable sea in a seemingly lifeless town. My laughter was brief, lost to the sound of the mean green sea and gray indifference of the sky.

If Bergman had been an Italian filmmaker, I was living a script he would have written. I was not entirely in control of my mind but walking through it. The life I had lived for the last seventy, friends, my sweet little house in Oregon...the awards, rewards, and struggles with the education system...the damned washer back in Rome that wouldn't wring my clothes dry...that splendid dinner the night before at the Europa in Lamezia...all of it seemed part of a distant past I would never again be able to access. I'd been dropped off at a place between life and death...left

I began talking out loud to myself. It was all I had to tell me I was real...except for my little traveling companion. I usually leave him in the hotel but was glad that at the last minute I'd stuck him inside my jacket pocket:

I then noted, also out loud to myself that I'd been afraid that the little Italian I knew would be irrelevant in the midst of the Calabrese dialect. Now language, any language, even my own, was irrelevant.

If a tree falls in the forest with no one there, does it make a sound?
If there is nowhere to go, do you just keep walking?
I considered crying. But that would only make me thirsty, and there was no where to pee. Even when alone in a desolate place, one must retain decorum and not pee in the street.

My mother and father felt like tangible presences, as when those departed return to you in a real to your mind even in those brief minutes when you awaken to what is...real?

Nothing in my life had ever felt so real as the being present in the days and hours preceding their deaths...each breath so real...each word so precious. The last thing my mother had said was, "These next few days will be difficult for you girls." My sisters and I, all adults, still her girls.

As he awaited the morphine, my dad, scientist to the end, had reflected, "I'm looking forward to seeing of all those theological stories are true."
I had no such caring or reflective thoughts. I longed only for the chance to pop that Italian-tenor CD into the player on the little brown shelf in my beloved house, turn up that song with the title I can never remember, and dance with my Cat-Prince big bunchy orange boy. When the neighbor makes a crack that Reno could lose a few pounds, I say, no, he needs that big bunchy body to contain his big heart and even bigger spirit.

I remember the blissful moments in my garden with all four cats supervising as I landscaped my yard with beds of stone...learning only after the gardens and pathways had been built, how I should have done it...realizing finally that tearing them apart and starting over was not the answer...the answer was to enjoy what had come from the bliss.

In fact, it had been in building the gardens back in 2004 that I first thought of traveling to Calabria. I couldn't afford a landscaper. No one had done anything with my yard in the twenty-some years since the house had been built. The yard was clay and crabgrass. I decided on rock...a beautiful dark rock that had once been on the bottom of the sea.

Because of the angle of the house, the truck had to dump the rock in the front so that I then had to haul it wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow around to the back of the house. I started by following all the instructions from a book on building rock walls. Using stakes and string, I laid out a perfect circle. My friend Jim showed me how to dig a drainage trench that I would then fill with gravel to drain water from under the garden walls. He got me started with, oh, eighteen inches of trench. Then he left. And there I was alone with my new pick ax, shovel, ten yards of rock, ten yards of gravel, and my plan for a circle ten feet in diameter.

After three days of trying to dig, haul, and build within those damned strings, I began to get a feel for the rock. The rocks began speaking to me about their was kind of and the rock, and the cats hanging out in the sun following me back and forth with the wheelbarrow, building the round wall...I tossed the string and stakes to the side and within days had a perfect circle built on eighteen-inch drainage trenches filled with gravel. Okay, Ross my nephew I right...the circumference of a circle ten feet in diameter would be...(pause) C = pi r squared...78.5 feet????

Anyway, it was in building my first gardens that I cast of the system, took what I needed from the books, what I had learned from my study of Zen, and just loved the rocks and let them love me back. The backyard led to the front.

It was during this process that I learned from my Aunt Carrie that my Italian ancestors worked with stone. It was in my blood. One day my dear neighbor Peggy popped over from across the street to compliment and support my effort. It happened to be during the 2008 election, and our politics differed. I found myself becoming agitated by our differences. And so to change the subject, I asked if she might use her expertise in genealogy to help me track my Italian ancestors. Being the generous soul and marvelous neighbor that she is, she vanished into her house and returned in short order with all sorts of information.

Now at the time, I was teaching myself French with the idea of becoming more, well, I don't know, everything the French have that is not in my disordered, naive, insecure temperament. I never really liked French. It was an exercise in self-improvement. But within hours after Peggy provided me with documents of my grandparents' emigration from Maierato, I said out loud to the cats: "Why on earth am I studying French. I'm Italian." I immediately ordered an assortment of Italian grammar books from Amazon. For my birthday, my dad bought me Rosetta Stone. Through the internet, I found five Cutuli families living in Maierato and after some months of study, wrote them all letters saying that I would like to meet them.

No reply...until one day I arrived at the Netarts post office. "You got a letter," Lyn said, her voice full of excitement...a letter? I opened my box. And there it was...a letter from Italia. Polma Cutuli, said the return address.

She said, in Italian, that all the Cutuli families in Maierato were all related, and so I was part of the family and would be welcome. She even called me in Oregon to say she hoped I would come. When I noted that the call cost her a lot of money, she said, "Non e' importante."

I had planned to visit when in Florence, but at the last minute Polma called to say that there'd been a death in the family in Canada, so she couldn't be there to meet me. In preparation for the Rome trip, I wrote several letters but received no response. Yet when I called from Rome, she seemed genuinely excited that I would be arriving. But then when I got to Lamezia, someone from that phone number hung up on me...and then never answered my calls.

I'd given Cinzia the Plant to Orlanda, the manager at my hotel in Lamezia. She was delighted and placed Cinzia in the little breakfast area for the guests. I'd been tempted to just stay in Lamezia for two days, as I'd paid for the hotel and my train ticket. But there was nothing to do in Lamezia. Going to Pizzo was merely something to do with the off chance I could find a way to Maierato...just to say I'd been there, after having made such a big deal about going there.

All these things crashed at me like the mean green sea dashing itself against the shore on the other side of the row of houses to my left. Other people were living normal lives with families and jobs. "What the hell am I doing here?" I said out loud to no one.

It suddenly felt like one of those moments when death is so imminent that being alive is almost too much to bear.

There'd been a short break in the rain. It began falling again out of the moody uncaring sky.

About twenty yards in front of me, a figure in a black coat, hood up, emerged from one of the narrow passageways between the houses to my left...

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

#27-On the Train to Calabria and La Mia Famiglia

At 6 a.m., Cinzia the Plant and I set off to the train station with Fabio at the wheel. We were over an hour early just to be sure we wouldn't get lost in rush hour. As it turned out, all went smoothly. We had a comfortable first-class passage with plenty of room for Cinzia on the luggage rack above me. Here she is all ready for travel prior to departure.

Cinzia was feeling very special, the only plant in the station, the only plant on our train. We both slept for most of the journey. I woke up as we approached Napoli and the headed south. As we arrived in Calabria, the land became more wild. Hills grew into forested mountains with great slashes of rock exposed on one side of the track to the wind sweeping in from the sea on the other. The sea was a beautiful but full of a mythic danger...I guess I mean by this that I could see how it would inspire tales of intemperate and mighty gods.

There were small clusters of homes here and there. From time to time, some ruined stone structure would jut up as a reminder that this land had every intention of taking its toll. I wondered what my grandparents had thought as they may have passed this way to board their ship from Napoli to America.

There was something about the sweep of landscape and worn aged appearance of the houses that suggested that not much had changed in the last hundred years, except to get older and more determined to survive the wild.

The train was right on time. The station was colorful.

And my hotel was just a short walk from the station.

The town seemed very much like Tillamook in spirit, except the cows were in the meat shops instead of the fields, no one spoke English, and there was no rain...or so I thought...

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#27.1-Tempo Brutto

(Dear readers you might wish to read 27 first. The wifi here is not good. Things I've tried to save in the past just disappeared so I think I'll just post this out of order. Also forgive typos. I want to get this down while it's fresh, and I don't have my external keyboard.)

The news is not good. In Italia the term for bad weather is tempo brutto. Really bad...Tempo brutissimo. Well, it's brutissimo. In sunny seaside Italy it is raining to rival any rain in Oregon. Il mio ombrello will be small comfort. My relative who seemed so enthusiastic about my arrival is not answering her phone. Yesterday someone there hung up on me. And all the extensive research I did for this trip, I am staying in the wrong city for convenient access to my destination--my grandparents home town of Maierato in Calabria.

The good news is that hotel does not have that mosquito net,promised by, and there is no need for one. In fact, I adore the wonderful old couple who own the Hotel Piccolo. I don't think you will find a surgery facility that is cleaner...although given the germs in hospitals these days, I could be doing this place a disservice by the comparison.

Cinzia the Plant survived the train ride verynwell but now wonders also what she's doing here. I've decided to leave her at the hotel with Pasquale and his sweet wife...don't know her name yet and Lulu the dog....a small brown and white dog of mutt origins who wears a fine white leather collar with rhinestones.

The wifi only reaches the downstairs. I have to walk down just two floors because when they learned I was here to meet the family they moved me down from the top floor and have been like a supportive aunt and uncle.

And talk about kind.. No restaurant opens until around eight for dinner. But the Europa took me in at 6:45 because I was starving. The risotto with vegetables they created for me was squisito...molto bello...fantastico. Since I was alone they turned on the TV to occupy me while i sipped my wine. The program was a kind of Italian Animal Planet. I joked that this was to help me with my Italian.

With a glass of vino, it came to 8€, about $10. I left 2€ additional, not required as the servizio was included. on the way back to the hotel, i turned around, went back, and gave them the going rate in Rome. They were resistant but very happy when I insisted...however, I think they were more entertained than anything by my description in Italian of the wonderful service and beautiful meal.

In fact, no one here speaks English. It has been an adventure, especially at the train station here in La Mezia Terme where there are no schedules to take home to study, the wifi is iffy, and the one huge schedule is on the wall next to the ticket counter and quick-ticket machines. So while the town isn't busy, there is a massive crowd at the station office. The ticket master, and he is that, often doubles a Customer Service agent. He is a cranky bald man who can go from kind to annoyed to berserk for no clear reason. I have been lucky to experience only annoyed.

When it became clear that reaching Maierato from here or anywhere was nothing anyone wanted to do except for a very large amount do cash, I realized my prospects were grim. I could stay here for two long tedious days, or I could take the train to Pizzo with the hope of finding someone to get me up the mountain to the town where no one wanted to go...a fact confirmed that this place has no formal transportation to or from it. As a result taxis are molto costoso.

My first indication of the strangeness that lay ahead was the train itself.

The second was the conversation with the two friendly men on the platform. Having come to mistrust instructions, I wanted to be sure this was the train that would take me to my roots.

I asked. The man above looked at the other man, who looked like maybe an attorney or business man. He rolled his eyes. " Speriamo," he replied and laughed. (We hope) He then explained that this train usually leaves from another track. We waited. The break in the rain stopped. The man above got on the train. It began to pour. I got on the train, soon followed by the third commuter...who nodded toward the speaker shouting out some static. "Confirmata," he said. We all settled in.

The next hint I had of the strange turn was the realization that began to dawn when I got off the train alone in Pizzo and found the station boarded up. Tight.

I had no return ticket, thinking I would let events of the day determine whether I took the 5:30 or 6:30.

It was now 11:00 a.m. The word deserted does not cover the fact that I walked for fifteen minutes and saw no one, no hint that this so-called resort town was inhabited. The sea to my left was wild and inhospitable.

This was clearly the craziest thing I'd ever done in my life. I was suddenly terrified.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

#28—Voluesia and the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

Right in the center of Rome is the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary named for the archeological site where approximately 150 abandoned cats now live. Here they are cared for by tireless volunteers and vets who donate their time and services. Like so many groups dedicated to spay/neuter programs and helping abandoned animals, this sanctuary depends mainly on private donations.

The ruins where the cats now reign date back to the 4th century and were uncovered by chance in 1926. There are as many as four temples that were built during the time of Imperial Rome.

The ruins are home to, you may remember, Voluesia.

Spelling correction: Voluesia.
Pronounced: voh-LUTZ-ee-ah

And to George Clooney:

Quite a resemblance, don't you think? George had been confined indoors with an illness when I first met him, but was allowed to go out on one of my subsequent visits. They make very effective use of modest but impressive indoor facility located below street level at one end of the ruins.

Meet Morgan. He's been here for 10 years and loves it.

While Voluesia enjoys the passers by on one side of the sanctuary, across the way is her calico rival for public attention: Oprah Winfrey.

Not to worry, she merely enjoys careful but harmless observation.

While the sanctuary does everything possible to find homes for adoptable cats, many are feral. Like my darling Voluesia. I met Tanya, a volunteer who moved to Rome from Germany and who came rushing over when she heard I was adopting Voluesia "from a distance." Tanya rescued Voleusia and brought her to the sanctuary, fell in love with the place, and became a volunteer. Voleusia's eyes were covered with infection and injured. It was feared she'd be blind. But she's now got her one good eye, and is quite popular with passers by.

There's no language barrier when folks gather to admire and pet the cats.

I love Rome so much that I figured I needed a Rome cat...not to call my own...Voleuzia, the independent little two-year-old that she is wouldn't put up with that.

But here's what I'm thinking. It's $240 a year for "adoption from a distance." We've got a lot of cats and organizations in America that need our support. But what if I started a group, just as a kind of trans-Atlantic gesture of solidarity with animal lovers. Paws for Paisans.

Check out the Web site you see on the first picture on this post. Then would you consider donating $1.00 a year to Paws for Paisans to help me maintain my adoption for Voleusia. Maybe get $1.00 from your friends and neighbors who are animal lovers, and we could adopt another cat or just offer support in general to the sanctuary.

Please send all names of contributors so I can let the cats and their caretakers know who is helping me maintain adoption of Voleusia and offering support to the abandoned and otherwise lonely. Would you also include email addresses of contributors who would like to see the monthly report the sanctuary will send to me.

I also know my four cats, Reno, Q and A, and MO, intend to write to the cats at the sanctuary, Pen Paws, if you will. If you're interested, I will be happy to share their emails with you. They will be writing in Italian, but I will be happy to translate at no extra cost to you. They are all very charismatic writers.

As you will see on the sanctuary Web site, all cats are sterilized, fed, and cared for medically. They also get a lot of TLC. There are two indoor rooms on either side of the main room I showed you above. Here cats with medical problems are kept warm and safe and have a home for life. I told you a little about that in a previous blog post.

If you don't live near me, please send your $1.00 to Paws for Paisans: c/o Joan Cutuly, P.O. Box 156, Netarts, OR 97143. I promise you that every penny will go to the cats. I will be responsible for transfer fees as we change the dollars into euros through PayPal. I hope to get a great response, not just so we can help the cats and feel the joy of an international connection between cat lovers, but because I think the email exchanges will be a lot of fun.

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#24.3—Truth, Beauty, and The Market

The Roman Forum was ancient Rome's market. It's right across the street from the Colosseum and wasn't just for buying and selling, although there was a lot of trade traffic with booty and goods brought in from the provinces. But there was also the old Roman senate building and the rostrum (to the left in the picture below) where Cicero ranted about the corruption of wealth and power.

The rostrum is also where Marc Antony offered Julius Caesar the crown, which he hypocritically refused. The rest was history. Every day someone leaves flowers inside the memorial to Caesar.

I first saw the ruins from the Capitoline Hill overlooking them. It was way vaster than I had imagined with triumphal arches, temples to gods, temples to politicians, and the formerly bustling market place in the grassy center below.

To the right in the following photo are the columns of the Temple to Saturn. The senate building is barely visible, just behind the big rectangular walls of the Arch of Septimus Severus. Carved in the arch are reliefs showing the defeated "barbarians" being marched back to Rome in humiliation. At the other end of the forum is the Arch of Titus celebrating the defeat of Judea in 70 a.d., a defeat so complete that all that the Romans left was what is today called The Wailing Wall.

You can walk down the Via Sacra, the main road of the market, where you now walk on the same stones Caesar Augustus walked.

It was just two years after the defeat of Judea that Vespasian began building the Colosseum, which was completed eight years later. Rome was a bustling place with eople buying and selling stuff coming in from all over the Roman world.
Trajan's market is right across the street. Trajan became emperor in 98 A.D. It was under his command as a general though, that the empire reached it's greatest sprawl.

At the far end of Trajan's Market is a 140' column with a relief spiraling upward with images of his conquering of Dacia (now Romania).
Empire brought a lot to the people of Rome. The emperors spent a lot of money maintaining support by keeping the people happy.
It was said by a writer of the time that Romans "liked food and games."
When the Colosseum opened in 80 A.D., the games went on for 100 days. I believe something like 7,000 exotic animals were killed for sport. Being a gladiator was a big thing. But not like you see in the movies. Gladiators, both slaves and free men, were highly trained. They fought only two or three times a year because the emperors who paid the trainers didn't want to lose too many gladiators. If a gladiator survived, slaves were freed after six men after three.

And oh yea, about the thumbs up, thumbs down...Yes, thumbs up did mean the compromised gladiator would live. But instead of thumbs down, it was thumbs sideways. The thumbs, you see, represented the gladiator's legs. Up, meant he could walk away. Sideways, he was lying down, a goner.
There were doors at either end of the Colosseum. One for the winners to leave. The other for the losers. These high doors were also used to bring in elephants. Generally, the crowd was down for slaughter. Except for the day the elephants being killed started crying out. Although the people protested, no one in the crowd did anything to stop it.

Tigers and lions came up from under the Colosseum floor in trap doors covered by sand so no one knew where they might suddenly and dramatically appear. Tens of thousands of animals were killed in the games and used to kill prisoners. It was eerie and distressing to imagine these dark tunnels lighted only by small oil lamps where animals were kept in cages and hoisted up through elaborate pulley systems, then set free for the slaughter.

What is there about empire that loves blood so much?
The emperors curried favor with the people by providing the games. There were prizes galore. Round wooden balls were thrown into the grow. Depending on the marking on the ball, the poor citizen might receive a slave or bread for a year. No cheap T-shirts or keychains back then.

I left the old market places and sports arena wondering what might be said in 2000 years about Wall Street, our malls, and our Super Bowl stadiums. How might they come to ruin? For surely they will.

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

#26—The Sad Sweet Story of How the Pope Didn't Bless Me But Vittorio Kissed My Hand On the Bus

It may be strange to link Easter and my dental emergency, but that's what yesterday came down to.

To begin the day, yes, I was one of the 250,000 in St. Peter's Square to receive the Pope's blessing. Four hours later, I was searching for a dentist as it was now clear that my gum was not healing properly following my February dental surgery. As the easter festival continues into Monday, nothing would be open, no one would be be on the job. Including dentists.

But before we proceed, I must tell you that the plant-gift to la mia familglia has burst into bloom so that it's now more than 18" in diameter. I'm not sure at what point one is required to buy a ticket for a plant. However, Cinzia (we are now on a first-name basis) is pushing the envelope.

Mentioning Cinzia's name makes me think that perhaps Volusia is actually Voluzia. Either way, she's a charmer. I had actually planned to check on her and the spelling yesterday but instead had to deal with my emergenza dentale, as I am leaving for rural Italy on Tuesday where the amenities in my hotel, you may recall, include a hairdryer and mosquito net. One of the things that made me think, ten or so years ago, that I wanted to visit this place was the Web site that said the people of this area like to kidnap the children of rich northern Italians and hold them for ransom...and that you can see psychic old women sitting by stone houses bleeding from the forehead....
All that drew me to investigate this place that informed my genes...alas that was also before I got old and had gum surgery with possible consequences.
So anyway, you'd think I would have learned from last week to stay away from the mob in St. Peter's Square. But no. Initially, I thought I had it all under control. While the swarm was moving forward, I would keep moving back. I could see over their heads, while also being able to breath.

However that was at 10:15 a.m. Thinking myself exceedingly cool, I asked the poliziotto in Italian at what time Il Papa was going to appear. Adesso, he said, sulla balcone. Hey, great...any time now, on the balcony. Forty-five minutes later, I realized that I should know that in Italia, "now" refers to some hour that is probably within my lifetime if I live another 20 years or some moment that could be called immediate relative to eternity. It's like receiving directions. Left is left, as west was west to Cristofero Columbo.
So anyway, I kept moving back...until suddenly, there was no moving back. I was, if you saw the crowd, right smack in the middle of the 250,000 "pilgrims" as the Huffington Post called us. Oh come on, we weren't pilgrims. We were idiots crammed together in the hot sun for two hours.

Not that there weren't transcendent moments:
At one point Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" filled the square. Nobody had to ask us to stand. It was sublime, despite the heat and crush of people. But then a German woman in a bright pink sweatshirt tried to push me out of my viewing spot where I had a perfect view of the balcony between the shoulders of a 6' man and a woman about my height. F U, I said with my eyes in a very non pilgrimesque attitude as this big teutonic blonde tried to intimidate me out of my spot. Hey, I deserved this blessing, and she was not getting in the way of it. But she was also determined, trying to push me aside with her elbow as she raised her massive camera that could easily have passed for some weapon wielded by Attila the Hun. I assumed my martial arts stance. Perhaps realizing I wasn't giving in, she moved in the opposite direction. Okay, I was ready for my blessing from Il Papa!

An ambulance siren drowned out Handel. The ambulance passed. Handel returned. Surely this was the prelude to Il Papa. Hallelujah! But then silence. A prayer. Followed by some huge baroque-sounding music. Surely THIS was the prelude to il Papa. The balcony remained bare...and then, the crowd shifted. I could see nothing but the sky. And there, in the midst of the music, gulls began soaring over the square, and I thought of my little seaside neighborhood in Netarts, Oregon...friends and family from Oregon to Nevada to Pittsburgh, and I thought: What am I doing in this mob of people. I already have my blessing. I am blessed by all the people I care about and those who care about me...blessed by my cats...blessed most of all by all that I have lost in my life and the hard-won lessons of loss...blessed by all I have been given, both deserved and undeserved. The faces of students, the difficult ones and the ones I loved passed through my mind and heart. No one, not Il Papa, no one could bestow a blessing upon me...blessings come from an awareness within. I was never so aware as at that moment of the miraculous wonder of simply being alive. I wanted to leave the square, to go back to my apartment and try to write about my mystical moment. But I was trapped in the mob of 250,000.

My first Sunday here in Rome, I went to an exhibit where one of the descriptions of a painting contained these words: "Faith consists in a marveled glimpse." This is clearly a translation from the Italian. Consists in...should be consists of...or is it really consists in...

And now, someone beyond the crowd began talking in Italian over the loud speaker (No big-screen TVs this week) about the divisiveness of greed and the importance of hope and dedication in bringing peace to...OMG, it was hot, and he kept mentioning the people of Asia, Africa...the entire world. Then suddenly, there was the benediction. But wait, where the hell was Il Papa?
OMG, it was Il Papa who had been talking! He wasn't on the damned balcony. Or if he was, I missed the whole thing! And now suddenly, the 125,000 people in front of me had turned around and were walking down Via Conciliazione, away from the balcony. All I could do was wait for the other 125,000 to plod their way out of the square, back into the world.
It took me nearly an hour to get out of the square, after which I went home to pee. For as wonderful as Italy is, there's just no place in the supermercato or biblioteca to pop in for a pee. No Golden Arches reaching out.

After what felt like the second spiritual release of the day, I had a great gelato experience outside in the neighboring Piazza while also savoring my real blessings in life...I was sublimely happy...after which I returned to my apartment for a coat, as it was now getting which point, I realized I can no longer ignore the fact that my gum was getting worse, for it had now started to bleed.

The recognition of this fact was followed by a terrified online quest for a dentist. This is Easter in Rome.
To make the story of a desperate search shorter: Cinzia was no help, just sitting there getting bigger and bigger. So after an online search of dentists in my area, I realized no one is answering the phone. Across town, Dr. Marullo answers...It's 2:30. She will see me at 6.

Taxis were few and far between. It's Easter in Rome. A well-dressed couple tired to hop the line. I joined in the shriek at a real Italian. I finally get a cab and arrive early just to be sure I'm on time. Her voice had given the impression that she is rearranging her entire life for this appointment. After half an hour, I still have a 45 minute wait. I'm standing in front of the big iron gate of the large apartment building housing her office...watching a woman open the hatch back of her Smart car and then lift 2 3 , no four..."Are you the patient?" she asks. "Yes," I say, "are you the doctor?" "Yes," she replies, as she lifts out the fifth dachshund and sets it on the street beside the others. "Here," she said, handing me two leashes, "you can go for a walk with us."

We return to her office around 5:30. She is somewhat accusatory about my early arrival and leaves me sitting in her large and quite luxurious waiting room. The walls are a rich bright butter-yellow. To my left, puff art of faces. Forward and to my left, dark, haunting religious works. "Oh," she says, coming out of her office, "Is it 5:45 or 4:45?"

"5:45," I tell her...last night we kicked the clocks ahead...a detail she hadn't realized until looking at her mobile phone more closely.
I'm eager to find out the problem with my gum, but she asks if I would like tea or coffee. I'm exhausted, scared, and hungry. I go for tea. She brings me a small plastic glass of tea on a silver tray adorned with a yellow napkin and glass paper weight enclosing a lovely purple flower. She says her Iranian mother would not approve of the tea, but it is a sweet fragrant tea, the best tea I have ever had in my life. We chat. She wants to start a revolution...keeping children healthy with free dental work and access to sports.

While on our walk with the dogs, she asked about my work and wanted all the details. After hearing the story of my excommunication from the public education system, she told me how some Italian schools created popular TV commercials promoting health among children, only to have them cut from the media for no reason.

Finally after tea, around 6:45, we got to the exam. The doctor was typical Italian, her operatic temperament translated into an analysis of my gum issue that sounded like I should just cash in my teeth and be done with it. In the end, she prescribed a gel and found me a pharmacy that caters to anytime emergencies. No serious problem with the gum, really...(I hope she's right), just some gum topical gum infection.

The cost: 40 Euro for a holiday call plus a cab ride across town and the medicine...$60 roughly In America, half of what it cost Medicare the last time I had wax removed from my years on a Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, I had realized that I was actually in walking distance...4 to 5 miles...from my apartment. So I decided to walk back, having received instructions from a nice couple with a dog. "You just go straight and turn left at the piazza," the woman had said, pointing right. Hmmm. "Dritto (straight), I said, "e poi a destra (and then right)?" Si', she confirmed.
What she didn't tell me...I should know by now...was that this route would take me through a tunnel with no sidewalks and a speed limit close to the speed of light.

So I asked this friendly looking man who was passing by if I might take a different way. He spoke no English.
The next thing I knew, he was volunteering to get me on the right bus and accompany me back to my hometown piazza. We exchanged names. Joan...Vittorio. The bus was in ritardo...late. We began to Italian. I am from gli Stati Uniti. He works in a supermarket. I mention my love of Italian bok choy unlike any I've ever tasted in America. He raves about Italian vegetables. I was a teacher...I'm in Italy to learn Italian...he is astonished at my ability to communicate...I love Italy...he is so happy and clearly proud of his city...he is off to Piazza del Popolo, no reason, just for passiagiatta (a word which in English has no translation other than walking around for the entire evening into the night with no purpose except to find out what you might enjoy and have some food and drink). As we waited for the bus, I also explained I'd an emergenza dentale...he was concerned with the fervor or Roberto Benigni in "Life Is Beautiful. The bus arrived...we got on (busses are free!!!) and were standing, holding onto the bars as he asked why am I studying Italian.

As I described the upcoming visit to la mia famiglia, he grabbed my hand and kissed it with unfettered flair and began to exclaim the wonder of this in Italian so effusive that it almost turned into music.

We arrived at Piazza del Popolo...or was it? I now have no idea where I am. I see a sign telling me it's across the street and head in that direction in a speed one might call velocemente...not passiagiata. Long story short, Vittorio asked why I am walking so fast. I should relax. go more slowly...tranquillo, tranquillo. Try gelato. Gelato is good for the teeth. I explain I'm tired and need to find the only Farmacia open tonight so I can get my medicina.

He does not appear to understand. It's passiagiata, he keeps saying. A couple in love asks if we will snap their picture. Vittorio takes forever to frame it up. I want to run away, but he has been so kind. Finally, after three shots, the foto is pronounced perfetto by the three happy people. I began walking fast once again. Vittorio suggests getting something to eat will help me. I am now so tired that I can't speak or understand with any clarity. It's at this point I realize I am standing in a piazza in Rome with Vittorio who works in a supermarket and is out for a walk around town and thinks gelato will cure my gum infection...and that I now have only a vague idea of how to get back to my apartment and find the only open pharmacy with the medicina for my gum. And there before me is this lonely Vittorio dressed in a blue blazer, a frayed gray sweater, jeans crumpled up over his scuffed shoes. All he appear to want in this world is for me to slow down and enjoy passiagiata with him.
The only words that come to me are da solo, by myself...he appears stricken.

Earlier, when I'd begun walking fast, he did ask my age. When I told him 70, he was stunned. Forte, molto forte, he cried (strong, very strong). I would put him at maybe lonely he must have been to want an old lady to have a cup of gelato with him...and yet there I was leaving this poor lonely man...after he'd so sweetly saved me from the tunnel of doom. Nevertheless, I left him there alone in Piazza del Popolo...wishing I could bestow upon him some of the richness of my blessings of that morning.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

#24.2: Truth and Beauty...dedicated to Volusia

This is just to say that my final musings about Truth and Beauty will be about the old Roman Forum and Trajan's Marketplace, which is across the street from the forum. These sites have been my favorite and before my final reflections, I want to return to them before writing #24.3.
I first encountered Volusia on my way back from my first trip to the forum. I was photographing a block of ruins on Via di Torre Argentina. These ruins date back to a time before Caesar.

Sitting on a bench watching rush-hour traffic zip by was

I then spotted this sign:

As you can see in the last line, there is an invitation to visit the shelter that cares for the abandoned cats who live in the ruins. It took me several tries to figure out that the shelter facility was actually down in the ruins. Ah, yes, this is the shelter I'd read about: Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. This group helped in the effort to remove the vast number of cats that had taken over the Colosseum. Laura, a volunteer at the sanctuary gave me an indoor tour of the large and comfy room for the cats who, unlike the feral ones in the ruins, are adoptable. She said the last cat removed to the sanctuary from the Colosseum passed on to the Big Cat Santuary in the Sky just several weeks ago.

It was also Laura who told me my calico friend was named Volusia. There's another popular calico on the other side of the ruins named Oprah Winfrey. And oh, my you should see the very handsome boy named George Clooney...if you're interested, he is adoptable.

Laura said they've tried and tried to bring Volusia inside, but she hates it and is always sneaking back out. She loves hanging out on her cement bench and hobnobbing with tourists and folks in the neighborhood. She's blind in one one knows how this happened...but clearly doesn't feel sorry for herself.

There are various feeding stations throughout the ruins. And despite the sadness of so many abandoned cats (i gatti abbandonati), it is a very happy place. As the brochure puts it, this is "the place where emperors once ruled and cats now reign."

It's a truly remarkable Netarts own United Paws...and no-kill animal shelters everywhere. There was so much peace in the sanctuary. Especially in the section with the non adoptable cats who had health issues including neurological disorders and deafness. As I was talking to Laura, the deaf cat interrupted us with a very loud MEOW, letting Laura know that she wanted to get back inside her cage for a snack...un spuntino.

There is, I think, a gift that comes with loving animals and entering their world. At least, this has been my experience with the nine cats with whom I've shared my live over the years. Each of these cats has taught me something I needed to know at the time. Entering their world, I enter an entirely different consciousness. And also a different way of exploring the world. I can't recall exactly the words of Henry Beston from "The Outermost House." But what he says is that we need a "more mystical concept of animals" because they come to us from past more distant than ours, with a wisdom about life that we have forgotten or perhaps never knew.

When I get back home, I will be exploring these thoughts more in my blog "The Romance of the Netartians."

Meanwhile, perhaps we should all be mindful of supporting a shelter or spay-neuter organization near us. Instead of more abandoned animals, the world could use more of the wisdom of animals. And oh by the way, Reno, Q and A, and MO, I hope you don't mind that I gave your spring allowances for i vostri spuntini to Volusia!

So, to end this, I say here's to you, my fearless and sweet little Volusia...and to all abandoned and mistreated animals everywhere...and to those humans all over the world who are dedicated to making the world a better and safer place for these animals.

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#25—Truth and Beauty Interrupted

Sunday. Buona Pasqua. It rained all day yesterday. Good Oregon weather. Good Oregon sign:

My musings on Truth and Beauty were interrupted yesterday. I had to go shopping. In Italy, it's mandatory that you take gifts when visiting. Never mind that I am spending hundreds of dollars to journey south to meet the family. I needed a gift. There are also rules...I am getting this from my teacher at the school...pastries are superb...not "cheapo" either, but very expensive pastries...this did not seem like a good idea as I'd have to buy them more than 24 hours in advance of giving them, perhaps even longer. Also pastries would be abundant, given the season.

Flowers are acceptable, but would be surely doomed as the pastries. This left the last option: a plant... and orchid being the most valued gift option.

Two days ago, I bought one a beautiful white one. However, imagining myself carrying this tall, lanky beauty on a five-hour train ride began to concern me. I also checked out the street view of my people's house and discovered the one I previously thought was theirs is not. Now I was really concerned because the orchid would have to be potted. The house I thought was theirs was adorned with plants. The one that is really theirs has a few, not thoroughly joyous plants on the balcony...and so yesterday, I bought another plant. More sturdy, already potted, lovely I think...well, take a look...the wine bottle is there so you can get an idea of the size:

Now here's the thing. Fabio is picking me up on Tuesday morning at 6. I thought I could just walk around the corner for a taxi, but my conversations with the taxi drivers did not convince me that the cabs would be lined up there as they are during the day. I have come not to rely on the words that say si' and the gestures and look in the eyes that say you are, in fact, dealing in unreliable probabilities.

Therefore, Fabio will be dropping me off at Rome's very large ( as it appears from the map) train station at rush hour carrying a large day pack with a change of clothes, a purse with emergency gluten-free food not likely to be found in rural Italy, a secure fanny pack with money and tickets...and a plant. I believe I've decided on the shorter one as it will be easier to hold in my on the five-hour train ride. I have drawn the line at buying the plant a $100 ticket for it's own seat.

I am trying not to picture myself trying to get my ticket out of the very secure fanny pack (small metal loops locking the zipper) while holding the plant. I imagine some Roman commuters will have something entertaining to talk about Tuesday morning at work.

You will notice that the buds are beginning to flower on the shorter plant, which means by Tuesday it will be wider. And I have to say that wondering if my gift will be good is adding to the stress of wondering what to expect at my $50 a night hotel by the railroad tracks (amenities to include a hair dryer and that mosquito net)...and how will the plant and I then find our way to Maierato...only 20 miles away, but without any formal transportation system linking it to the world.

And now there is the question of figuring out what to do with the plant that doesn't go.

The man who sold it to me raved about the white orchid's beauty in a manner that would rival the feeling conveyed in the painting of the ecstasy of St. Teresa that I saw at the Borghese. As a Facebook friend noted about another artistic rendition of St. Teresa's ecstasy: "I'll have what she's having."

There is no messing around with something of this magnitude in a country were e stands both for ecstasy and empire.

I'm not sure how to end this. Except perhaps to be continued in #25.1: "Me and My Plant on the Train to Maierato." Coming to a computer near you sometime this week.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

#24.1—Truth and Beauty: The Crossed Roads of the Cross

My first thought upon entering the Colosseo (coh-loh-SAY-oh)...was: Hey, this reminds me of going into the Pitt stadium. Pitt Stadium was where the Panthers played football when I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh (1960-64).

As with Pitt stadium, you enter il Colosseo from underneath the bleachers. It's dark, and there's nothing but the massive cement and steel underbelly of the bleachers. Well, actually, in Rome the seats weren't referred to as bleachers. But like stadiums today, there were cheap seats and not-so-cheap seats. Wealthy women were in the third tier, below all of the poor. Politicians, of course, were in the first tier, closest to the slaughter, with wealthy male citizens in tier 2.
I pause here in the narrative to note that in recent years, Pitt Stadium was demolished so that the Pitt Panthers then played downtown in Three Rivers Stadium, also home to the Steelers (Stillers to you Pgh. fans)...which was also in very short order...30 years...demolished and replaced by Heinz Field. Wow, that's a heck of a lot of demolishing in a country that makes up 5% of the world's population but uses 25% of the world's resources. I'm sure someone had very good reasons for demolishing two massive stadiums during my adult lifetime, but whatever those reasons were, they annoy me. Maybe I still haven't gotten over the tearing down of Forbes Field where from the 10th floor biology lab, I saw Maz hit the 1960 World Series homer to beat the Yankees in that final game.
But I long as I'm annoyed:
I went to see an exhibit on Cubism (more in another blog) where there was a preview of the next 2015 Universal Exposition on sustainable living for the planet to be held in Milano. Check out the official site at
Click on 125 partecipanti and look for the American flag among the participating nations. I guess gli Stati Uniti must have been all booked up through 2015.
And did you know: the use of capital punishment in Italy has been banned since 1889, with the exception of the period from 1926 to 1947...during rule by the Fascists. I believe that currently in America it's possible to project how many prison beds we will need in the future by looking at the current reading scores of third graders. Perhaps those states that have not abolished the death penalty should reflect on these details, as well as the fact that we're learning through DNA that those on Death Row are not always guilty of the crime for which they've been convicted. And maybe we need to do some more serious reform of our education system. Race to the Secretary Duncan calls it. Race to the Top of What?
I also believe that it was in 1749 that Pope Benedict XIV declared the Colosseum a sacred place because of the martyrdom of Christians there. He did this by posting the seven stations of the cross around the oval amphitheater. However, the Pope's motivations were not entirely spiritual. It seems that Romans were forever ripping off marble and brass from the place and recycling it for more contemporary uses.
In fact, the seats in the Colosseum are all gone...recycled...and its possible to see big holes in the huge block walls where the the brass spikes used to hold them together have been dug out. In short, while earthquakes, fire, and time have taken their toll on the big oval amphitheater, it should also be noted that after Romans gave up empiring, they took up recycling.
Oh my, but life is full of's tough when even your annoyances are ironic.
So what did they do with...the debris or whatever the word is for that which has been demolished...imploded, which is apparently what they did to Three Rivers...and all those old Las Vegas casinos. Garbage. Landfill. Wait...let me google it...I'll be right back....
I wish I hadn't looked. The Carnegie Science Center actually raffled off tickets to determine who got to push the button to implode the stadium...not quite 31 years old. By contrast, the Colosseum opened in the year 80 A.D. So anyway, after Elizabeth King of Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh pushed the button, it took just seconds for the stadium to implode into 8,000 tons of scrap metal and concrete. In fact, the YouTube video was 38 seconds, only half of which was the actual implosion.
I couldn't find out what they did with the mess. They biggest concern, so I read, was that debris would fall into the new stadium, Heinz Field, which is only 65 feet from the old stadium.
Pittsburghers, is this true? It sounds so crazy I am having trouble believing it.
65 feet away? Wait...I've got to google this again....
Yep, from the pictures, this appears to be the case.
Every Good Friday, the Pope leads a procession around the stations of the cross at the Colosseum. I wish I'd gone last night. I understand it is quite a mystical experience, no matter what your faith. I'd forgotten about this event and made a reservation at the Borghese Gallery late in the day. It's quite a walk away. I haven't been pacing myself and last night at 8 p.m., I just crashed.
Honestly, the beauty of the Borghese was exhausting. Oh yes, the Bernini sculptures, the Caravaggios, and the Raphaels were stunning. But the gallery itself a structure of such opulence that it's hard to wrap your mind around it. I found it almost crushing to the spirit.

The gallery was the palace of Cardinal Borghese who had no particular faith but was nephew to the pope so got himself a very lush appointment. Cameras are not allowed inside which, as you might imagine, thrilled me no end. More later on how that changed the viewing experience. For now, I will just say that it's impossible to describe the massive rooms painted and gilded and filled with paintings and sculptures from antiquity through the 17th century. The bust of Cardinal Borghese reveals a man who loved food, wine, and beautiful things. We would all enjoy hanging out with him, I think, but in the end it might be voting for someone for president because we'd like to have a beer with him.
Anyway, in Bernini's sculpture The Rape of Proserpine, the marble fingers of the brute actually dig into the marble flesh of the woman. You can actually feel the woman's frantic cry in her marble of struggle to get away. Bernini's David is in the act of flinging the stone at Goliath. How is it possible that marble can move? I believe it was Napoleon's sister who posed, quite scandalously at the time, in the nude as Venus for sculptor Antonio Canova. The marble that Canova turned into a fine silk coverlet doesn't quite cover Ms. Bonaparte's butt's astonishingly real that I felt kind of pervy marveling at it...until two exceedingly refined German couples began discussing it in what sounded, even in German, like delightfully pervy detail.
You have to strain your neck to look up at the ceilings in the Borghese. My first glimpse of what I was about to behold was through an ordinary doorway leading up from the entrance. The gold, the color, the marble, the vastness, the pure unadulterated opulence literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn't understand just how high the ceilings are until I climbed the stairs to the second floor. They just went on and on and on.
And you know how my friend mentioned that Caravaggio was not a nice man? Well, there's a painting Caravaggio did of David holding Goliath's decapitated head. That head is a self-portrait of Caravaggio. The painting was apparently a request to the Pope to forgive his breaking of the Thou Shalt Not Kill commandment. The artist had fled and wanted to come home. The face is grim, dark, and haunted, painted with no hint of compassion for himself and without any hint of the chemistry of the fireflies he ground into his paint to illuminate the faces of those called by holier spirits.
No, I wasn't there for the stations of the cross last night. The Via Crucis. But I guess in a way that writing this was a trip down that road...forgive us for what we are doing to our planet and ourselves as a people, for we know what we are doing but continue to do it anyway.
I will continue my walk down the Way of Truth and Beauty...thumbs up, down, and sideways in 24.2. I hope you will join me.
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

#24—Truth and Beauty

Last Monday, I took a guided tour through the Colosseum,

and I am going to fill you in on the real truth about the ancient emperors and the whole thumbs-up/thumbs-down thing as I learned it from the guide, Valentina. In short, what you learned from Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" and Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus" is not entirely true. But before getting into the nitty-gritty of this, two things must be said:

First, don't ask me what that damned cord is and why the heck didn't move two feet to my left before asking that nice young Chinese man to snap my photo.
And second, it must be said that a young dark-haired, dark-eyed Italian woman, say Valentina, who speaks English with a serious Italian accent and some grammatical errors is without a doubt the most sensual presence on earth. Whereas, a small gray-haired woman, say me, who speaks Italian with a serious American accent and some grammatical errors gets an E for Effort. No one said life would be fair...but does it have to be this unfair?

On the other hand, who, other than those who don't pay attention or don't care, would say life is fair. Certainly not poor John Keats...whoa!, what's England's famed poet doing in a blog about Rome? In fact, the other day I went to the Keats—Shelley Museum that stands right next to the Spanish Steps. Here's why Keats is remembered in Rome: In 1820, after a year when his writing flourished, the young Keats tried to save money by buying a cheap outer seat on a long cold and damp coach ride through the English countryside. Immediately afterward, he developed the first signs of the TB that would take his life at age 25. He had thought getting away from the English winters to the mild Italian climate might save him. But no, he died in his apartment—Piazza di Spagna #26, right next to the Spanish the Keats / Shelley Museum.

It's odd to think that John Keats actually had an address. We're used to meeting him in our high-school texts, as in Ode on a Grecian Urn": "Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Well, no, that's not all ye need to know. Ye need to know that if you go to this museum without your passport for ID, you're going to have to walk back nearly 2 miles to your apartment to get the damned thing. Why in the name of heaven and poetry do you need a passport for admittance to see the room where John Keats died? It's actually quite macabre. The bed on which he died is there, along with the original fireplace and the original ceiling (except for the smoke detector and sprinker) and the chandelier. Beside the Italian walnut bed is his death mask. Is there a terrorist list of those who might toccare the silk cover on the bed when there is a very large sign telling everyone non toccare.

Keats is buried in Rome in the non Catholic cemetery under the fabulous epitaph: "His name was writ in water." Oscar Wilde proclaimed the gravesite to be the holiest place in Rome.

To be honest, it wasn't my kind of museum: four small and dark rooms lined with books you couldn't touch and glass-covered cases with letters and manuscripts from 19th century literary luminaries who either had terrible penmanship or wrote so small that reading them would have surely led to a serious headache.

However, there was a great documentary video about the second round of Romantic poets: Keats, Shelley, and Byron. I enjoyed observing the contrast between the staid voice of the British woman narrating the facts of their lives and the passion with with the three lived and wrote against conformity and political and intellectual decadence. My personal fave of the three Romantics was Shelley. You gotta love these lines upon feeling all the autumnal currents ever present in your life: from "Ode to the West Wind": Oh lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud...I fall upon the thorns of life. I bleed...."

If you ask me, and no one at the museum did, that Romantic passion is very Italian. The video, however, was presented with an academic highly British attention to fact that was impressively informative and, well, presented with a reserved and precise diction that was the antithesis of the nonconformist lives being described.

Those three Romantics lived with passion driven by freedom and love of nature. Tragically, they all died young.
Not long after Keats succumbed to TB, Shelley drowned while sailing in a storm. The fiery Lord Byron took a more political stance in his poetry and in a magazine called "The Liberal. However, he was driven from England by contemptuous criticism and, like Keats, caught a chill in a carriage ride and died. Why are poets not appreciated in their lifetimes? I guess they're safer when dead.

The staid tone of this very British museum was a fascinating contrast to the Italian temperament bubbling eternally about it. First, no admittance without a passport. And then, I believe it's without exaggeration that I tell you I have never received more specific instructions on any process than from the young British woman who, after checking my passport and graciously receiving my 5 euro entrance fee, gave me the directions into the room with the video. Now, we were standing in a tiny room with a curtain off to the right of the cash register, about six feet away I'd say. With three of us buying tickets, it was hard to move about. You could hear the video playing behind the curtain. Any idiot would have guessed what was happening and would have known what to do. Step through the curtain to watch the video; follow the arrows up the only stairs to Keats' apartment. Yet the instructions were detailed to the point of being redundant.

Contrast this with instructions by Italians. "To the left," may be absolutely correct but without taking into account that after one goes left, one will be faced with five or six choices of diagonal streets going off in every direction. As I went upstairs after watching the video, ticket in hand, rather than pocket, as per instructions, I thought that Byron would have ignored the order of things and gone upstairs first just to be ornery.

Now the orientation video was superb, don't get me wrong, but also academic in the manner of a scholarly thesis. Even the tragic descriptions of the deaths of these three great English poets were fine tuned to the last detail. "Now I will go to sleep," said Byron, and he did, among all the historical dates of carriage rides, meetings with friends, and other ho hums. And yet, the passion with which this museum was founded and has been maintained for a hundred years is profound.

On my second walk back to the apartment, I began to think:
The temperaments of the Italians and British could not be different. But the passion for beauty and truth in any language is forever linked.
People may disagree on what beauty is. And the search for truth is confounding in any language. But the passion with which those who wish to preserve beauty and seek truth is an unbroken bond shared now and forever by all lovers and seekers.

And there was something else...when Italian speakers read the poems of the Romantics, it was lovely, but not so lovely to me as when English speakers read them. It's been tempting while here to wish I were Italian. At my age, perhaps at any age, I could never have become a native speaker. But as I heard my native language of English spoken beautifully, I was reminded that British and American English can be beautiful. Although I do recall a conversation with two young men on a train from London to Salisbury. They asked what I did for a living, and I said I taught American literature. Oh, one said, "I didn't know you had any."
That was back in 1985, and I'd been trying to think of a comeback ever since. Finally, on the way to the airport for this trip, Pete came up with, "Oh, yes, we've improved on yours." Well, I guess satisfaction 28 years late is still satisfaction.

So why aren't we in America prouder of our language?
Why have our schools allowed children over the last three decades to become so lax in their language? My grandfather went only to the sixth grade, but when he went to Washington to work during WWII, he wrote many letters back home about the war effort. They are exquisite in their description, and beautifully and correctly crafted.

Is texting such an obsession that the lost of conversation will become so lost that we forget it exists. A statistic in Harper's magazine back in 1990 pointed out that teenagers averaged 30 seconds of meaningful conversation with their parents per day.

Has the elimination of the arts and respect for the humanities in our schools diminished our capacity as a people to understand our history and creative spirit...or even to articulate it except in bumper-sticker phrases such as "We're #1."
#1 at what? Look at what we've voted into Washington where language is used to insult, avoid, confuse, and manipulate truth.
What is beautiful to us as a people?

A friend mentioned the other day in an email that I've perhaps been a bit too hard on photographers. I haven't meant that. I have also taken lot of pictures that I will enjoy for the rest of my life. What I've meant is that in these hurried times, too many people appear to be living through their digital appendages. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the finger on the button or touch screen.

Yet, I can't help wondering what we humans are going to do to ourselves and our planet if we don't take the time to experience and reflect on what has been made universal through the thousands of years of human experience.
Yesterday, I went to see Michelangelo's Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli. The church opened at 3 p.m. A crush of people pushed through the door and rushed to the the church where standing jammed in front of Moses, the snapped pictures and were gone before 3:10. A few of us lingered on.

Now, you can view Moses from two sides...naturally, one would think that the best angle is frontal. But I found that standing on the side offered a different, possibly even a more direct look at Moses' face. I didn't find him the terrible purveyor of Old Testament commandments all the books had led me to expect. What I saw was the face of Michelangelo's David grown older and even wiser in his understanding of the gigantic task before him with all of its implications and hazards. He knew that despite his mighty strength, the effort would depend more on inner fortitude.

Another friend emailed me to point out that while Caravaggio may have been a master artist, he was a disreputable character, leaving death and destruction in his wake. In fact, in an earlier post, I mentioned that it's thought that Caravaggio ground added the chemical from fireflies to his paint to achieve that luminous effect. Does being a great painter give one the license to squish probably millions of fireflies to death?

Stay tuned for more musings on truth, beauty, Valentina, thumbs up, thumbs down...and thumbs sideways in the Colosseum.

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