“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
– Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Charlotte: I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.
Bob: You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.
A few days ago I watched the movie Lost in Translation again. Only this time I understood it so much more-so than ten years ago.
I travel back and forth to Europe often. Sometimes for a week and other times for six weeks. Not for business and not for family. I go for inspiration and experiences. Eventually I’ll just plant myself there and not leave. Seattle will become a place I come only to visit.
Each city around the world has an independent culture of it’s own.
What do I do? I make friends. I get to know the local businesses. Sometimes I’m alone and other times visiting friends and loved ones. I become comfortable with the languages and my ignorance to the languages; accustom to misunderstanding or not understanding entirely. It’s almost as if I am partially blind and deaf; unable to read, write or hear everything around me. I relish this feeling. Maybe its the INFP (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving) in me. You see, introverts, I believe, travel well when alone.
Interestingly enough, it’s when I come home to the states, to Seattle, that I feel the most lost in translation. After weeks of being only able to understand a portion of what is on the radio, the television, written all around me and spoken to me, I suddenly understand everything – the good the bad and anything in between, and I’m not so sure I like it. Being blissfully unaware suites me just fine.
It’s these moments I feel the most like Charlotte – “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.”
Where’s Bob when I need him anyway…
“This is my country, that is your country; these are the conceptions of narrow souls – to the liberal minded the whole world is a family.”
― Virchand Gandhi
I grew up without grandparents. Well, not exactly – I had one grandmother. Unfortunately she didn’t like the idea of being a mother, let alone a grandmother. Therefore she was unavailable.
I never much thought about it before; the whole no grandparent thing, until about eight years ago. I met a woman named Doreen. She was in her late seventies, British, strikingly beautiful and full of fire. We sat on a non-profit board together and I got to know her well. Sometimes she would be gone for a month or two – taking her grandchild to far off places like Africa and Thailand.
I once got a butterscotch life-savor from Katherine, my “grandmother” when she was staying with us a few weeks (until she got enough money for another apartment.) My mother always helped her. Us kids gave her her space. She needed a lot of space.
Don’t get me wrong, I grew up happy with the butterscotch life-savor. I had a very loving family life. I didn’t need Africa or Asia. Although after meeting and spending time with Doreen I concluded that I should like to have Doreen as MY grandmother. She was so cool, so interesting, so devoted to her grandson who happened to live thousands of miles away. I felt gipped all of a sudden. It wasn’t fair.
And so began my search.
From that moment on, every place I visit I’m secretly looking for my grandparent. When I meet them, I daydream about what it would be like to have grown up with them. To have eaten their butterscotch candies. To have been told all of the family stories and secrets while we ate homemade soup.
I’ve compiled a short list of perspective candidates from my last trip to Spain:
The sweet Lebanese man from Vancouver, BC sitting beside me on the flight to Seattle yesterday: He wore a light grey suit. Not enough men wear suits anymore. His white hair was thick and combed neatly with a side part. His face was calm; serene. He didn’t watch movies or do anything but rest his eyes softly beside me. He had a special diabetic meal so they served his meal first. I hadn’t eaten much in days and when I looked to see what food he had been given he tried to hand me his utensils and asked if I would like to share. I almost started crying. The nice old Lebanese man who’d never met me was offering to share his food. I declined and he asked “sure?” and then waited until my meal was served before he would begin to eat. I worried about his diabetes.
He and I would meet on Saturday’s at the local Lebanese restaurant for lunch. I would take his arm afterward and we would go for a nice walk – my Jidi and me.
The old woman with dyed brown hair and burgundy lipstick who helped me when I was lost in Eivissa: She was a small woman, with a stern face. She spoke no English. I showed her my map and pointed to the hotel that I was staying at. She pointed her crocked finger in the direction and then gently touched my arm and began her march with me. She had been going the opposite way before I asked her. Once in a while she would say something and then point. I felt protected by her. She stopped suddenly at an apartment building and another woman came out. She was heavy, with a sweet face, a hunch in her back and a bad limp. The old woman looked at me, said something sternly to her friend which made her look softly to me and smile and we were on our way – all three of us. She left me only when I was safely in front of my hotel. Her face soften again before she turned to march away.
She and I would cook together. Me following her directions and her sternly telling me not to cook the potatoes so long. Although a hard woman, I would see that my Abuela loved and protected me.
Mary Lou – The old woman who lived down the road from the finca I stayed at: After being introduced to Mary Lou I was immediately in awe. She was in her eighties, loved her garden, originally from France but had been living in Spain for thirty years. She also spoke no English but invited us in her house to see the photo of her husband that hung over her bed. He had died almost thirty years ago and she was still very much in love with him. She never remarried. Her eyes were as blue and bright as the sky. I was captivated by her beauty and her sweet energy. She would touch our arms to follow her to her windows, to her photos. She was so obviously proud of all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I longed to be in her photos too.
Mémé and I would sit for hours while having tea. She would tell me stories of growing up in France, of meeting my grandfather, the man of her dreams. I would take her to the nursery to buy more flowers and she would insist I stay longer.
Today I’ve been invited by a dear friend to visit her in Sicily. I wonder how my Sicilian grandparents will be….
“Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke
“We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.”
― Gypsy Saying
“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”
– Francis Bacon
“That love is reverence, and worship, and glory, and the upward glance. Not a bandage for dirty sores. But they don’t know it. Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who’ve never felt it. They make some sort of feeble stew out of sympathy, compassion, contempt, and general indifference, and they call it love. Once you’ve felt what it means to love as you and I know it – the total passion for the total height – you’re incapable of anything less.”
– Ayn Rand
From red to green all the yellow dies away
Paris Vancouver Hyeres Maintenon New York and the Antilles
The window opens like an orange
The beautiful fruit of light
- Guillaume Apollinaire
“Where’s your will to be weird?”
- Jim Morrison
“It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
- Alain de Botton
“All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful, but the beauty is grim.”
- Christopher Morley
“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
– W.B. Yeats
“I don’t want to stand before you
like a thing, shrewd, secretive.
I want my own will, and I want
simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action.
And in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know
secret things or else alone.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to be folded anywhere,
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke
“The light of love, the purity of grace,
The mind, the Music breathing from her face,
The heart whose softness harmonised the whole —
And, oh! That eye was in itself a Soul!”
- George Gordon Byron
I have very few regrets in life, although I have had many blunders. The one I do have is related to a purchase of all things. A purchase I put off, thinking I would return and find it still….
For a few years I would visit Rome every three or four months or so. I didn’t stay in the touristy places, but outside of them, in a neighborhood in which I often found myself lost – the only English speaker. Near this neighborhood (I wish I could remember the exact area name) there was a flea market. The gypsy’s and bric-a-brac vendors would sell their wears. Three times I visited the same antique booth and three times I coveted a large alabaster statue of The Three Graces. It was beautiful. The woman selling the piece wanted 120 Euros for it and I never had the funds to spare. All of my money was spent either on travel or on entertainment while I was there and even then, entertainment often consisted of low-budget stuff.
Each time I saw it I’d tell myself that it was overpriced and the next time I’d return to Rome, have the money, and maybe, just maybe, the woman would lower the price. The very last time I visited Rome over a year and a half ago my intuition told me to just buy the damn thing…although it would have taken all of my money for the week…so again I told myself, “Next time.”
There was never a next time as it turns out. I’ve come across many statues since then of the three graces, but none as lovely as the one in Rome. I’d like to think I’ll find it again someday, if not in Rome, then another flea market somewhere far away…
“And what is it you guard with fastened doors? Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power? Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind? Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?”
“The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying grounds – the cemeteries – and they’re a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here. Going by, you try to be as quiet as possible, better to let them sleep. Greek, Roman, sepulchres- palatial mausoleums made to order, phantomesque, signs and symbols of hidden decay – ghosts of women and men who have sinned and who’ve died and are now living in tombs. The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here.
You could be dead for a long time”
– Bob Dyla
“History is important. If you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.”
– Howard Zinn
A few years ago I read, The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Until then, I thought I knew history. Well, as much as any other American I suppose. What I came to realized was that I only knew what had been taught to me – what was allowed to be taught to me. Without hesitation I believed that those “teaching” me were not to be questioned. I’ve come to realized that as a people; as Americans in fact – we need to question, to examine, to dig and demand. Only then can we begin to understand who we are as part of a community…..
This week, while on Maui, a co-worker and I woke before sunset, only having a few hours before we were to fly back home, hoped on the loaner bicycles the hotel offered us, carrying nothing but our identification and a few bucks, and cycled to a local surf shop. After striking a bargain for two hours on a double sea kayak instead of the daily price, we carried our boat to the beach.
Sylvia and I are pretty petite woman, however the heavy plastic boat, although awkward, wasn’t so bad carrying across the road, down the beach and into the surf as we’re both fit and strong. Unlike most Maui mornings it was cloudy and sprinkling. We were the only boat out. A few surfers rested on their boards, waiting patiently for the waves that appeared to be picking up with the rain. We paddled past them, nodding our heads a “hello” and without talking much, worked our way far out to sea.
We were on a mission that morning. The Humpback whales are visiting the waters off of Hawaii presently and essentially, the waters between the islands is like their big play pen. I had never seen a Humpback and was looking forward to hopefully experiencing the beauty of what I consider one of the seas most majestic creatures.
That particular morning they were far off shore due to the clouds and choppy waters. I began to get nervous as more than a mile and a half was between us and the safe shoreline. Although I enjoy the water I am a land-lover at heart. Though I continued on my morning journey. We stopped when the winds began to blow a bit and decided to just sit back and not go further to be safe.
After just a few minutes we began seeing the beauties breech out of the water, their tales slapping the sea as they’d land. We waited for them to get closer, hoping they may even swim under us (Silvia’s had that very experience herself.” Then I heard it; The coolest sound ever. The sound of the Humpback’s blow-hole releasing the air from her lungs. It was beautiful. I knew she was a female because as she breached in almost slow motion out of the water, her little calf followed suit and breached as well. My breath was taken away.
The weather began to change and we couldn’t stay any longer hoping they’d come closer. We began the long and laborious paddle back to shore. It seemed harder, as if the boat was heavier. Sylvia and I paddled stronger and when I thought my arms would give in, we rode a wave to the beach and stumbled out of the kayak. We were barely able to push it on the beach.
When we tried to pick it up and carry it as we did earlier, it was almost impossible. We decided she’d pull the front and I’d push the end, dragging it on the beach and up the grass. Once we got it to the sidewalk, still needing to cross the road, we heaved it off the ground and struggled – having to stop every foot or so. I felt so weak. The guys from the shop saw us and ran over to help. They couldn’t pick it up either. After turning the boat over, saying it was full of water, they inspected it. Apparently there was a crack in one of the drain holes. The boat was completely full with water; the reason it had been so difficult to paddle and carry on the way back. We were told that had we stayed out any longer, it would have likely sunk. We just sort of looked at each other. I wondered to myself if we did sink out there….would a fellow mother come help us out….now THAT would be a story to tell, wouldn’t it?
“I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.”
- Marilyn Monroe
I’ve never been a Marilyn Monroe fan. It’s not that I disliked her, or even thought her talentless. In fact, she was pretty good in Some Like it Hot. I’ve just never been one of those people to be star-struck I guess. I’ve been poet-struck, humanity-struck, philosophy-struck and even love-struck at times in my life, however I’ve never really “gotten” the star-struck phenomenon.
Although when I was wondering around Palm Springs alone last Friday afternoon before heading home I found myself confronted with a 26 feet tall Marilyn statue. Essentially the artist turned her into an amazon – larger than life. Originally I was simply captivated by the photo opportunity but after arriving back at my hotel to pack my things I began wondering what it was about her, besides her look, that held so many people, including the artist who sculpted the statue, in such awe. I spent some time while home researching the buxom blonde a bit more and found that although she was a stunner to look at, she also seemed to have a brain as well, which I respect.
In fact, the quote above seems suited for many people – myself included. I find that when people actually take the time to get to know me – not what perceive me to be – but really know me – I often hear, “I had no idea you were an artist, write poetry, like to… [insert word here]” Sadly, some of those people have been part of my life for years.
This amazon woman, standing 26 feet tall in the bedazzled and bejeweled city of old Palm Springs perhaps should have a small plaque beside her gigantic foot that begs the question – Who do you really know?
I spent the last few days in San Antonio, Texas. My hotel was across the street from The Alamo and at night I sat in front of my hotel window staring at the Christmas lights and people surrounding it. It seemed odd – that the “Mision San Antonio de Valero,” or “The Alamo” built almost two hundred nineteen years ago would be surrounded by hotels, shopping, restaurants and cheap trinket stores today. Yet there I was on the ninth floor of a large hotel, sipping tea while resting in a leather club chair, mesmerized by the lights that surround The Alamo.
After my morning walk and coffee I found myself standing in front of The Alamo, giggling to myself as I watched a small group following a tour guide. I kept picturing Pee Wee Herman in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure asking Jan Hooks, who played the tour guide in the movie, where the basement was.
No matter my giggles over Pee Wee, I still left with a sort of strange feeling…What trail was it that was blazed anyway?
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”
- William Faulkner
I am home, here in rainy Seattle….but not really
“They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming.”
-Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
I was born in Frankfurt Germany. One of my great grandfathers left Italy for the United States via Elis Island and the other left Ireland via Elis Island. Europe is in my blood. When I was a child my brother and sister would tease me; saying my parents had bought me from the gypsies. I’d fight them (I was a scrappy little kid) and although I have nothing in common with the modern gypsies of today there is this part of me that wonders why I’ve so obviously been such a misfit most of my life.
When I first landed in Italy four years ago I instantly felt as though I was home. Home not as in a house you grew up in, of which I never had just one. Home as in the place I could expand; the place of learning. A place which would represent love and hate. Pain and pleasure. Sadness and happiness. Peace and Chaos.
Why Italy then? Why not Germany? After all, it was my birthplace. Although I tend to live my life while wearing my rose colored glasses and I am fully aware of that fact; Italy has taken off my rose colored lenses and replaced them with a pair of expensive Versace spectacles the color blue. Sky blue to be exact. My ever complicated and artistic soul which opposite to what some believe, houses the rest of me is sated in italy. You see, my body does not house my soul; my soul houses my body. I am and have always been – a woman turned inside out. Much like the way I see Italy.
I don’t pretend to know Italy, or even understand Italy for that matter. I only claim the feelings and expression I am gifted with when there. Although most would think Italy as an extremely patriarchal country, I prefer to see it as a she. The mother. The matriarch. She is not a warm woman who gathers you unto her bosom to protect you however. Instead, she is a feral cat; bitchy, protective yet aloof, always preening herself and very aware of the claws she hides underneath the pretty furry paws she stretches in the warm sunlight.
Also as a child, I collected animals; stray dogs, injured birds, snakes my cat Sabrina would catch; you name it. I was a virtual clinic for animals. I’d hide them, force feed them, shower them with attention, love them and cry when they would die and swear I’d never recover.
When about seven years old I found a kitten in the flower garden of my house in Virginia. She hissed at me and tried to run, but I was lightening fast and caught her. She was feral and scratched me, leaving stinging little marks on my tender skin. I named her Sabrina (after the character from the show Bewitched) and begged my parents to let me keep her. They warned me she was a bit wild, but conceded anyway and she became mine. Sabrina was a bitch, but I loved that cat with all my heart. She loved me too – so long as I let her love me and didn’t force my love on her. I was her muse, so much as she was mine.
I had Sabrina for fourteen years – or should I say that she had me for fourteen years. She was the kind of cat that would scratch at the door to come inside and when you went to let her in – she’d look at you and run away. Unless you were very very still like an alabaster statue….and pretended as though you weren’t waiting by the door and didn’t care whether you she entered your house or not. After entering the door she would stop mid-stride and turn to hiss at you, letting you know she was watching…then slink behind the couch.
At night she would come to me and sleep by my side. She’d let me rub her rabbit like fur (even her belly) and lick my cheek. If I rubbed her for too long she would claw me and run away, only to return five minutes later for more love. Every morning I would wake to her purring and rubbing my head and our day would begin.
Sabrina embodied Italy. I see that now. She taught me early in my life to let things come to you, instead of always running after them – be it a country or an animal. I’ve never cared much for things that are easy per say. Even my current pet, my German Shepard Cella, is aloof in her love for me. Always watching me, yes, but never begging my attention (well, almost never.) I am her muse, as much as she mine. Likewise, Italy is my muse so much as I am hers. I prefer them; the country and animals, let me be alone – then come and love me up when I am least expecting it.
As I return to the United States I’m not sad at all as It’s a wonderful country. I have been loved up by the feral female of Italy that I let examine me and find me worthy. I have a permanent flat in Verona that I’ll return to often, so home to me is now all relative as it’s been most of my life. I’ve met people in Italy that I’ve found instant kinships with and we’ll remain close friends, others that have so sweetly given me butterflies of which I wondered existed anymore and still others that have shown me that when you leave yourself open, gifts appear. I’ve been asked to show my work in a small gallery in the North next year and with the showing I will remember….. to wear my sky-blue shades, watch for the claws, stand like an alabaster statue while she examines me and most importantly, let her come to me……
This morning my friend who had been visiting for three days went back home to London. Before she arrived I had had house guests for five days prior. My flat has been hopping. I love having guests and showing off my little city as I’m a natural host and thoroughly enjoy entertaining. But between my guests from Spain, Turkey and London, my local friends, all the sightseeing, cafe eating, Spritz drinking and miles upon miles of walking – I was pooped. In three days my Mother and sons arrive for the duration of my sabbatical and there’ll be even more travel, eating and exploring to be done – of which I am excited for.
After she left this morning I did a bit of grocery shopping, opened all the windows, cleaned the flat and did laundry. Although the weather was sunny and warm, I had decided that I would stay inside all day and write, take a nap and maybe paint. I put my yoga pants on and laid down in bed to try to sleep around noon. The nights have been late ones and it’s catching up to me and the rest and quiet was welcomed. But I couldn’t sleep. Not a wink. I got up and paced the flat. Looking outside at the beautiful day I thought maybe I’d just go for a short walk to the bridge and back and hit my favorite pastry shop to pick up desert for tonight. I changed into sandals, nice pants, a shirt and a sweater, put my purse over my shoulder and headed outside.
When I got to the Ponte Pietra I crossed the river. Looking up, I saw the Castel San Pietro (circa 1398) on the hill above me. I hadn’t ventured up to the castle yet and although I was tired I thought, “eh, I’ll just go up, check it out and go home to sleep.” When I reached the top I found a lovely little park next door to the Castel so I sat on a bench in the shade for a while and soaked up the view. I felt very relaxed. After staying some time at the park I walked the remaining little bit of stairs to the Castel itself. It was closed but due to the great views, cars were lining the parking lot and with them, lots of people. For some odd reason I decided to walk around the castle and explore it anyway.
On the other side, away from the cars and people I found a little road that looked like it curved into a neighborhood – so I followed it. It was shaded and I was grateful as the walk up the hill and sun were both making me even more tired. I rested for a few minutes by a tree, took my sweater off and continued my walk. Above me the walls on the hillside loomed. They were the Walls of San Pietro; Communal Walls from the 12th century. After passing a small campground I noticed a grass footpath that led through some trees nestled on a hillside – so I followed that too. I wondered if it was private property but I didn’t see any signs. Just a long path.
Finally I came to an opening and found myself standing at the base of the Communal Walls I had just saw when resting in the shade back at the Castel Pietro. The walls are huge, especially when you’re so close to them. They seemed to go on for miles and so did the path – so I followed it. I didn’t see anyone else on the path but once in a while I would come to a plaque on the wall explaining what it was…although I couldn’t read all the words. There were little grottos (a word I can read mind you) and empty towers that once held soldiers and look-out guards. There were times it felt eerie; to be on a path, following a 12th century wall, hearing only the birds and being completely alone. But I also appreciated the peace and although eerie, I felt very safe. I thought once that I should turn back but it was almost a compulsion to continue – to see where the walls and path would lead me.
I reached the top of the hill and began gradually descending down. Some time later I was gifted with an entire grove of none other than olive trees. I sat down on the grass, took my camera out and began taking photos of the trees, snails and walls while feeling utterly happy. I had forgotten I was tired at that point. When done soaking up the olives I took another small road which led out of the grove and back into what I thought was a housing area. But it wasn’t.
In the wall, there was a little archway that led to the other side – so I went through it. I found myself at the end of a driveway. The entrance gate was open and I could see the villa and gardens beyond the tree-lined road. There was a sign next to the gate which read, “Comunita ‘S. Giuseppe – don Calabria.” I didn’t know what that meant but thought that because it was a “comunita” or “community” maybe I could take a look at the gardens. I hoped it was a community garden. I enjoy gardening, visiting gardens and pretty much anything green. And again…I just felt compelled to go see it.
Walking up the stone driveway I was a bit in awe. I thought that it had to be on the list of gardens of Verona and I had just missed it somehow. Potted plants and flowers, trees and statues of Saint Joseph dotted the driveway and at the end – a huge, soft pastel pink villa with just as many flowers surrounding it as well. There were cars in the driveway and a few scooters too. I stood by the cars and looked around for someone or at least a sign showing me where an office was… but there was nothing…no signs. I worried again that maybe I was trespassing, though for some reason I just knew it’d be okay. Then an older man came out of one of the doors and I called to him, trying to get his attention but he ignored me, like he didn’t hear or notice me at all and I wasn’t that far from him. I called to him again and still nothing – so I followed him…..
to be continued tomorrow ………..
“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”
― Oscar Wilde
Last night I was invited to go to a hair show. Yep, a hair show. For those that know me, you may be thinking, “Jennifer, at a hair show?” But I thought, eh, if I’m so close to Milano and don’t attend some sort of fashion exhibition, be it hair or otherwise, I may miss out. The woman I attended with, Mary, although a yoga teacher now, was at one time a fashion correspondent for Cosmopolitan magazine and covered the “runway.”
I don’t know what I expected really, as I’ve never been up on fashion, but this was pretty cool. It was held in an eyeglass store. Italians, I am finding, love love love their eye-wear…and it’s not cheap. In the window of the store they set up a hair station and the cosmetologist, or artist really, proceeded to create these epic works out of women’s hair. I was glued to his creations. Although we were on the inside as Mary knew the owner, others lined the walkway outside, wine glasses in hand and observed through the window.
After trying on like a hundred pair of glasses and goofing off I had a long conversation with one of the models, Sabina. She was so friendly, so interesting and her English was impeccable. After our conversation I asked if I could take some photos. She not only let me take her photo, but she was so schooled in the act of modeling, I feel as though I watched an entire different person emerge when the camera appeared and she was being photographed….. fascinating.
Yesterday I spent some time “talking” to Lucia, the owner of the art supply store I frequent on Corso Cavour. I was specifically looking for a large piece of watercolor paper. Although I’ve no idea what I’m going to paint on it, I’m sure whatever or whoever it is will no doubt be unclothed. Not sure of how to ask for watercolor paper, I spent a good twenty minutes beforehand researching the correct way to ask it in Italian as I’ve explained in an earlier post, Lucia doesn’t speak any English. I even wrote down on paper exactly what to say so I could practice on my way to the store – Ho visogno di carta da aquerello. Going above and beyond, I then prepared how to ask if the paper I already bought may work for watercolor – Sara questa carta ho goja comprato fare bene per acqerello?
Ho visogno di carta da aquerello. Ho visogno di carta da aquerello. Ho visogno di ca……..
Sara questa carta ho goja comprato fare bene per acquerello? Sara questa carta ho goja comprato fare bene per aquerello? Sara questa carta ho goja comprato fare be……
Over and over and over I practiced. I have been working on my language skills for months now and this being my eleventh time to Italy, it’s about time. I was proud of myself. I had it down pat. I’m sure I walked with my head held a little higher than usual. “I can do this” I thought. If there is one gift I have it’s the ability to pick up different accents. Having moved around every few years my entire life, I was able to blend in quickly to wherever I was living because of that gift. I may not really speak the language, but dog-gone-it, my accent sounds good. And if a good accent isn’t “La Bella Figura,” I don’t know what is. Crossing the bridge before coming to her place I didn’t even focus on the sunset – I was hell bent on asking properly for my paper. What I didn’t prepare myself for, however, was her answer – and the conversation that would follow. Walking up to the store I saw Lucia standing outside, enjoying the sunshine and people watching. She smiled when she saw me approaching.
“Ciao, come sta?” I said
“Oh bene, bene. E tu?” she responded smiling and followed me into the store.
Then came my big moment. Although…..I felt on the spot…. and forgot what I was going to say…. so I fished my note from my pocket and re-read it while she stood waiting.
“Ho visogno di carta da aquerello.” I finally blurted out in my best Italian accent. My presentation was perfect.
I wondered if she understood me because she had to think about it for a second. I was sure I had translated it correctly. Then she cocked her head and looked at me and said, “Ah, aquerello?”
“Si!!” I responded, as happy as a clam and smiling big. She had understood me! I pulled it off! I had asked for something besides food items or directions in Italian and had finally been understood! All my dreams were beginning to come true, right there, in that itty bitty art supply store.
Then came Lucia’s response. It sounded something like this to me…”Si, questa…akdjfadsjflhdslkfhjadslkfjhds kfjasdkfjad pui grande skfjds;lkfjdslkfja;d e media slfkjalsk es bello djfdskfhldsakflaksdjf;dslkf j;asdlkfj;sdlkfj;asdlkfj;sdlkfjasdkfjk dsjfkas dljfadskjfkdsfjhdksjfkds fjkasfjksdfjds;fkjd skfd;fj asd;lkjfd;kfj sd;lk f;dlskj l;adskjf l;sdkjf;lkdjf;ladkjfl; kjd;lkjdlkjfdlskfjds;lkfjdlksfjdf f al;fdjdflkjdsflkjdfj dsf fldkfjd;lfkjd;lfkjdf aldkjlkd lakdj oajfdkjfl a a;ldkjfdaj fl; f;adkjf dadfljdflkdjf;lkdjf;ldf;jflsdkfja;kfhladhgfkldafdsk akdflkdjf;asdkjf;dsakjf Capice?”
“Cosa? What?” I said; my brow furrowing. It was then, in that split second, that I realized something very important. Because I had memorized a sentence; a tough one no doubt and had pulled it off brilliantly with my accent, I had given Lucia the impression that I’d actually know how to answer with as much fluidity as I asked with. Apparently, I have much to learn about “La Bella Figura” because I most certainly didn’t pull it off yesterday.
I laughed a little and she smiled and slowed everything down for me and used her hands to show me the words/items. She’d say a word then point or make a gesture. In the end, we actually had a long “conversation” and even finally exchanged names. I learned that she spoke German, but didn’t feel the need to learn English, that she didn’t like her name (but showed me how my name would be written in Italian) and that she likes old paintings. She of course didn’t charge me what was on the shelf and even covered my “carta da aquerello” in a pretty wrapping paper so it wouldn’t get anything on it; a perfect presentation.
I left with my paper and as I walked home I thought of one of my favorite books, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. In the book he moves to France with his partner Hugh and begins to learn the language. He describes it like this, “On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned ‘Lie down,’ ‘Shut up,’ and ‘Who shit on this carpet?’ The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. ‘Is thems the thoughts of cows?’ I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. ‘I want me some lamb chop with handles on ‘em.’” ….. I thought it was funny when I read it a few years ago but walking home from the art shop, I clearly understood exactly how ridiculous and frustrating it is – the whole language thing. Although I’ll continue trying, I’m still in the “evil baby” phase of the Italian language – Just ask Lucia.
P.S. While out this evening with my friend Michelle, her husband Eros and a few of their friends I happen to mention my little language fiasco. Michelle teaches English to doctors, lawyers and other professionals and has lived here in Italy for twenty-four years. Needless to say, she knows the language well. Her response to me was, “Well they speak with a different dialect here, so not all Italian words will be the same anyway.” She then gave me the book, La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini as a gift to read so I can “understand Italians.”
Really? I mean really? Now I have to think about dialects?? Ugh?
Each evening I take a long walk no matter if I have plans or not. For instance, tonight I’m meeting a couple of new friends for an aperitif in the center. Fortunately for me, Italians meet late and I can still take my walk. This walk I do for many reasons. They are as follows:
1. I Am Boring – Being rather a boring person, I can become somewhat of a creature of habit no matter how much I like exploration or what city I am inhabiting – yes, very contrary.
2. It’s Good For Me – Even if I have had a tough yoga practice during the day, I still love walking in the evening, always have.
3. The Cute Little Boy – I begin my walk along the river, which is just a stones throw from my flat. Around the same time I leave my flat; 5:45ish, a young father is usually taking his little boy on a bike ride. The boy, who can’t be more than four years old, has white blonde hair, the tiniest of bikes and always the biggest of grins on his face. He rides his bike like Evel Kniveil; giggling over the bumps in the sidewalk and clearly giving his father, who runs behind him shouting directions, a series of mini-heart attacks. I fear his Papa will have many a heart attack in his life as his son seems to know no bounds. He is one of the highlights of my walk. He also has me seriously considering having another child someday. He’s that cute.
4. The Piano Music – Waving goodbye in my head to the little daredevil I cross the Fiume Adige at the Ponte Nuovo and turn left on at Teodorico. If I time it just right, somewhere between Via Ponte Pignolo and Piazza Giovani I can hear the sounds of someone practicing classical piano music from the building above me. Each night, for just a few minutes, I stop and look out at the river while listening to the music surrounding me. It is there that the perpetual believer in me tosses a note that I have prepared wrapped outside of a cracker (so as to sink and feed whatever finds it) into the river when no one is looking. I find this extremely cathartic, although sappy…of which I am fully aware.
5. The Sunset – After tossing my note and listening to my private concert I’m on my way once again. Walking all the way around the city center I reach the Ponte Scaligero and before I cross to enter the center, I watch the sun begin to set and the river and buildings absolutely glow. It’s a beautiful sight and although I don’t always take photos of it, I have my camera ready.
6. The People – Turning left onto Corso Cavour I stop at a little art supply store that I happened to find while initially lost. I browse while the older woman who owns the store chats with me. Mind you, my Italian is limited and she speaks absolutely NO English. However, even though I have told her that I only speak a little Italian and it’s not that good, she goes on and on – and fast. Some of it I understand (when she slows down,) but when she goes into detail about the charcoals or paper – I get lost. She also never charges me what the price on the shelves say, because she says, “sei un artista” and apparently I have “occhi profondi” (which I had to look up the word “profondi”) I don’t always buy something because I don’t always need something, but I’ll stop in and smile and listen to her tell me about this tool or that tool. If I ever were to have a Grandmother, I’ve decided I’d like it to be her.
7. The Weather – Since I have been to Italy the weather has been so absolutely gorgeous. I’ve grown weary of the grayness the Pacific Northwest fall carries, so I have to say that the weather here in Verona is much appreciated. So much so that in fact, a new friend of mine has offered to introduced me to her friend who is wanting to rent his flat long-term, of which I can rent out to friends……hmmmm….more to come there for sure.
8. The City Itself – I pass through Piazza Bra, with it’s mimes, men dressed as King Tut, Roman Soldiers and even little babies. With all of my walking to and from the yoga studio, as well as my evening walks, I’ve come to know how to avoid the popular Via Mazzini as best I can and weave my way in and out of the side streets like a Verionian. I find this city and size to be much easier to maneuver than Rome; in which each time I have visited; felt perpetually lost in…on many levels. Even with all the people I enjoy ending the walk in the city. Although the first night I walked by Giulietta’s Balcony (as I live so very close to it) I avoid it at all costs now. It’s so full of people – and cameras – and pushing – and sticky gum – and vendors selling love. I wouldn’t have thought it would affect me the way it does but I never knew what it was really like there – under the balcony. After all, I fully admit to being a sappy romantic, though experiencing it….I feel it almost bastardizes the love story. It all seems so shallow and lacks depth. If I get an apron with my name and my lovers name in hearts does that make us more romantic than anyone else? If I stick a note on the wall for the world to see does that mean I love more than anyone else? Need more than anyone else? Feel more lost than anyone else? Maybe it’s because I find love to be so intimate…quiet – and the loudness of it all surrounding Giulietta’s balcony disrupts my psyche somehow. So you see – all of these questions emerge within me when I walk by the site and honestly – I have enough in my ever inquisitive Scorpio head without adding that to it every evening. So I avoid it.
9. Lavazzoler Chocolat. I only eat the extremely dark, almost unsweetened chocolat. Her’s is the best tasting I’ve come across and literally two minutes from my flat. When my son comes to visit in ten days it will be the first shop I take him to. He is a chocolat connoisseur.
10. It Makes Me Smile – Finally I end at my little piazzetta near the park. At the park I pass teenagers making out on benches, people walking their dogs and older couples chatting. I like to see them all. They make me smile too. It’s always a good ending to a long walk.