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 house...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 cold...at 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 them...like 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 dachshunds...no 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 converse...in 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 40...how 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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