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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