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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

34—On Becoming an Orange During the Red Alert

Having read about it as a psychological proposition, I imagined the unconscious as you might think of an orange back home on the counter while hiking—a cool sweet fruit, the juice, the pulp, the peel, more real to you in your desire than any orange could ever be.

A reality not there. But making itself known to us in dreams. Or madness. But also in those moments when loss sharpens the senses so the world becomes too much to bear, and angels reveal themselves. 

I arrived in my Unconscious, not as I would have expected in a dream but through a clogged sinus cavity in Rome. Do not confuse this cavity with the ancient aqueducts bringing water or with sewers that for millennia have carried off waste. Rather I have been in bed for two day with a stuffed head, fever that hovered yesterday like Satan, and a body aching for health and home. Oh, and there were terrible cramps in my feet.

Be careful what you ask for, you may get it. 
I came to Rome to contemplate the meaning and direction of my life. 
I studied up on empires. Living now in the prevailing one, I thought to get a handle on which way the chips off old blocks fall.
And living on the edge of an earthquake and tsunami, both real and of the spirit, I booked trips to Vesuvius and Pompeii—as if it is possible to confront the disaster that befalls us all, buried as sure as we were born in the ineffable ash of a day that stands at our backs like a mountain waiting, just waiting… 
And what can we do but pray in our way, so it was that I planned a trip to Assisi and a climb up Mt. Subasio to St. Francis’ hermitage. The tender saint would reach out over 800 years to touch my heart with the hand that caressed birds. And the wolf of my fears would lie down, and I would be brave and clear and love what it is that God would finally become to me.

The answers came but in a way I did not expect, could not have predicted:
The sky turned dark, and thunderous rains put the great city of Rome under “red alert.” Yes, this place of sun and love, fell all around me into the chaos of water, sirens, and the damp chill of the stone-cold empire. 
Gone was great city, so magnificently slow and hot and full of the histories of fruit and cream and grain that have outlasted emperors and the plague and the debauchery of entertainment that killed thousands of animals a day.
And with the swamping of Rome, my head filled. As from some ancient sewer in my soul, the phlegm rose saying, “You want to know who you are. The answer is not in the history of empires, not in blogs of travel or photos. Do not pin your meaning on the poor lost dead of Pompeii. Or seek the favors of St. Francis. He was a slight man, ill from the poverty of self-inflicted faith that only the poor and fully understand. And you, you faithless one, you go to bed with a stuffiness.”

And the fever came, sweaty and mean and confusing me into wishing I had stayed home with my cats.
 And as I lay there, the place around me, this 600-year-old palazzo began to speak. It was bleak. No windows on the outside world. Only high barred windows looking out on a courtyard where the renaissance gentry rode in on their mounts, the walls rising up four tall floors into an inescapable and dismal fact—on which the sun shines only when the moment of a season is exactly right. And the season is not upon me. Only the rain pouring down from a dark sky. It is 2 p.m. The light has gone.
One of my two very serious front doors.

I am alone in a foreign land. There is no knocking on walls, like prisoners to be in touch with the living. The walls, two and a half feet thick with plaster, will break your first. Anger and hope, I think, are equals in this place.

I have only my technology for company. A minister from Rochester speaks about her decision that it’s not enough to be Thoreau. He remained aloof from the problems of the world. We must be with them, feel them, know them as our own. The ceiling flows above me in the shadows with renaissance arches set off by stone sconces. Was there perhaps the fornicating of a prince and maid in the room? Murder by bodkin? Scam? Great scholarly learning? Poetry and madrigals? Did someone perhaps think Cristofo Columbo a fool for setting off on a world that would surely prove flat? Did another perhaps feel his hands tingle with the thought of money to be made by globalizing the spice trade? 

Wash day. For last year's readers,
the washer washes the whole garment,
not half.
No one could have imagined a TV game show or Monsanto genetically modifying seeds. Or clothes dryers, which I do not have so must hang all of my clean laundry in the eye of my public persona. Who am I—really? 

Rich Husband's Girlfriend
I pressed POWER on the remote, and entered the small rectangle of light, my only way out of the dungeon of my lumbering humanity. It is touch and go with Giuliana and Matteo. Viewing their plight through fever and moderate language skills, I was nevertheless reasonably sure true love won out as Giuliana decided after much anguish to leave her wealthy situation and move to the farm with Matteo. This was tricky business as Giuliana was married to a rich man's son who was in love with a lusty woman living alone on the outskirts of town. Giuliana was also pregnant. Matteo tried to make her believe the baby was the husband’s. He wanted the child to have all the advantages. But they both knew differently and went with love into the sunset. 
No rain. 

Unlike the torrent pouring into my courtyard. And then a gushing from out a pipe beside my door. Terrfied, I tried my my sinks; they worked. The gushing stopped. The rain stopped. And stayed stopped. 
Inspired by chimps on Nat Geo,
I use a hanger to open
my window.

I dressed and went outside and down the street to the market. I was still sick and slow and couldn’t bag my groceries fast enough to keep the cashier from giving me that Italian eye, the eye of lost empire that would refuse you justice, mercy, and bags kept under the register to be doled out for 5 centesimi a piece. It’s not even enough that you pay. The empire is bitter and old and won’t let go.

I was not intimidated. I’d been to the place deeper than empire, came out and bought the best looking orange I’d every seen, and was going back to wait for my head to clear. And I thought to myself, “Yes, this is who I am. And when my head clears, the rest will come.” And hey, a “red alert!” Ha. Roman rain has got nothing on Oregon rain.

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