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

Monday, November 3, 2014

32—Between Keats and the Fashionistas

First off, I received an email from Ann mentioning that while in Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria del Popolo, I missed the head of St. John the Baptist. I am grateful for the heads up on this. And with apologies for having deprived you of a description of this artifact, I promise to remediate my deficiency asap. Readers, continue to speak to me, we are all in this together.
Last time I mentioned Ali and the gifts he gave me. The elephant is for good fortune and peace. The tortoise is for long life. I must not, he said, give them to anyone. I won’t. Why wouldn’t he share that pizza with me?

Day before yesterday, on my way back from Piazza del Popolo, I took an unfamiliar back narrow street just to get away from the crowds. As an aside, streets here are a maze of diagonals. It’s easy to get lost. Two nights ago, for example, I thought I knew where I was going and at 11:15 p.m. decided I was hopelessly lost until aided by a British couple with a cell phone and map-quest savvy. It turns out I was not only on my street but eight doors away from my apartment. Even the tech-saavy guy stood looking at the little bright square of a map saying, “Via die banchi nuovi—that street should be right around here, but it’s not clear where.”

So anyway, earlier in the afternoon, I wandered into a back street to avoid the crowds when I came upon African men sitting in small clusters of 4 or 5, all with big blue plastic bags of street wares and personal items. Leaning back against walls filled with graffiti, they were listening to boom boxes and talking. I didn’t feel afraid but intrusive, as if I’d just barged into someone’s home without knocking.

Poverty. I saw plenty of it while I was teaching. Or rather, I saw the young people who came from it. I beheld its horrors in Haiti as children of elementary school age pressed against the taxi, emaciated arms reaching in, like death, “Hey Mama, Daddy, give me quarta, Mama Daddy.” 

There was a time in my life when I had no money. I lived mainly on cream cheese or baloney and American-cheese-slice sandwiches. I was selling Fuller Brushes door to door. One day, I met my mother for lunch. We ordered the King of Sandwiches in the dining room of Kaufmann’s Department store in Pittsburgh. After we finished or sandwiches, my mother said she was still hungry, perhaps we should share another. When the black waiter in the starched white coat brought the King of Sandwiches, my mother said she wasn’t as hungry as she’d thought. I ate the second sandwich as if it were my first. Also that day, I was wearing a blue winter coat with tan trim that had been my sister’s. The sleeves were too short. My mother insisted on buying me a coat. My life was a wreck. No one discussed it. The coat was a black fake fur coat. Beautiful soft warm. I wore it to bed because my apartment was so cold. But it wasn’t the kind of coat you could wear selling Fuller Brushes. That was the coldest winter of my life, and while I was poor, I wasn’t even close to poverty. I had an education, skills, a future that was waiting for me to find it. 

When I think about what I just wrote, I think the problem with poverty that’s never discussed is that we who aren’t on the edge of nothingness don’t ever talk to those out there.

I was thinking these things while sitting on the Spanish Steps located between the house where Keats died and the fashionista section with a Gucci store and the like. You may remember, we went to the Keats house last year where I got totally creeped out by the actual bed where he died and death mask). But on to another set of stairs:

There by a church in the fashionista district was this young man playing the soul out of a guitar. His case was open, with a sign that said, “An artist is never poor.” I supported the music and the thought.

A few blocks before, I’d stood and listed to a young woman singing. She was not a performer. She was the song. Human and music all in one. It was not popular music, not opera, not folk, not blues or rock. It was heart become voice. The words were irrelevant, whether English or Italian. She was song. Worth more than euros. But what else can you really give a song. Besides hearing with your heart. 

The next block down was a small stage about four feet high with three fur animal heads sticking up out of three holes. The middle one had strangely human eyes. In front of the stage was a collection bucket. If you dropped in a coin the heads went crazy, jumping around with squeals and shrieks. “A sign by the bucket said if you sorride (smile) then perhaps you would consider giving. I walked by laughing and returned with a euro. The heads went crazy. Then three young fashionista women walked by, oblivious to the furry ones who went crazy and scared the hell out of the girls. What the heck, that was worth another euro.

Way cooler than the fashionistas.
I mean, there's nothing holding this guy up.
Following my first gelato of the trip, even more sublime as I recalled the cioccolato and amarena (black cherry) combo, I sat down for una lettere della mano. Palm reading. I can, it seems, look forward to long life, two jobs that will bring me economic prosperity, circulation problems, although a good heart and strong bones. I have been very alone with a possible future prospect but it’s iffy. I am highly intuitive, not quite the word, he said, mystical would be better. I will move in five years. And at this moment, all the consequences of my past are coming to a dynamic point. No word on how that eerie scum on the teflon pan might be affecting me.

And now following the zen proverb: First Enlightenment; then the dishes—I must try the washing machine, for which there are no instructions, only a panel that looks like something designed by NASA.

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