“Non abbiate paura, il nostro destino
Non può essere presa da noi, è un dono “.
- Dante Alighieri, Inferno
“Non abbiate paura, il nostro destino
Non può essere presa da noi, è un dono “.
- Dante Alighieri, Inferno
“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
― Oscar Wilde
On my last evening in Verona I walked through Piazza Erbe one last time. While resting at a cafe I noticed this young man waiting by a statue holding a red rose and looking nervous. I wasn’t going to shoot him, but then the old man to the left walked by him and noticed him as well. He gave him a look I couldn’t pass photographing – a knowing look. It’s not the best of photo quality…but it says a lot about the two men and their thoughts.
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……
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole”
― C.G. Jung
As I walk though the alleys and streets of Verona, Lake Garda and Venice, I occasionally come across these beautiful colors that nature has painted on the stone. I now find myself seeking them out. They are bold and the designs original..
The man went around the back of the villa and I could hear people working and talking. I passed a small artist workshop which housed mosaic upon mosaic. Two men were near the workshop working on what appeared to be a pergola of some sort. One of the men noticed me and asked in Italian if he could help me. I explained in Italian that I didn’t speak the language very well but I was lost. He asked in perfect English, “Do you speak English?” Phew…..
He and the other man came down the path to greet me. The older man didn’t speak English, but the younger man, Fabio, translated and explained that he was the “superior” of the Community of Saint Joseph and his name was Father Emilio. Father Emilio smiled big. We shook hands and made introductions and I explained that I didn’t know where I was and I just followed the wall. The priest asked if I had come from the church. “I didn’t even see a church but I like to garden and was wondering if I can see the grounds.” was my answer. I felt dumb. I didn’t know there was a church, a community or even where I was in relation to the city center. The priest continued to smile and told Fabio to show me whatever I want to see. Fabio started walking towards the greenhouses – so I followed. He explained that Father Emilio was not just the priest, but the caretaker for the entire grounds and loved working with herbs. There was even a writer living on the grounds writing a book on herbs.
The greenhouse was full to the brim of flowers, herbs and even succulents. I asked if they sold plants to raise money. He looked at me kinda funny and said, “Money never transfers hands here.” I apologized, but explained that I had no idea what exactly the Community of Joseph was about or for that matter, who don Calabria was. Fabio explained that don Calabria was a saint and that he founded the community of Saint Joseph to help those in need. Fabio himself had been there only a few weeks and had come from the middle east, where he been on a path of “cleansing” his soul. There where communities of don Calabria all around the world, but the saint was originally from Verona and had in fact died there on the grounds almost sixty years ago.
As we walked towards the church another man joined us, smiling. Fabio introduced him as Simone. Simone had lived in the community for a few years. He was very friendly and although he spoke no English, he smiled a lot. The three of us walked to the church grounds and continued our talk. Before we entered the church Fabio told me that no one just happens upon a place; they are meant to be there. I agreed.
They then showed me the church grounds, the gardens, the vintage car, the coffin of don Calabria and the chapel itself. Then Simone asked us if we wanted to see something. Fabio translated for me, we both said “yes” and followed him. Simone took us through a side door, up a set of winding stairs and into a second floor hallway. He smiled, opened a door and led us into the bedroom of Saint Calabria himself. The place I am sure he died. Everything was still the same and not touched for almost sixty years. He then led us to other doors housing his sitting room, his private collection of books, his clothes, a vile of his blood, etc…. smiling the entire time and standing by, waiting to show us more.
When we reached the end of the mini tour Simone stood by a wall wich held a small bowl. In it were little pieces of wood with numbers on them. Fabio told me they represent tears and will tell us what we need to know. I chose the number 77. Above the bowl was a plaque with what must have been a hundred or so phrases on it – all numbered. Fabio translated my phrase for me and it read something like, “That which you seek is inside of you. God rests within your soul.”
I had left the Catholic church long long ago and honestly don’t believe in organized religion at all. But there I was, standing on the grounds of the Comunita ‘S Giusepe of don Calabria, holding a little piece of wood telling me that that which I seek is within me. Interestingly enough…. I already knew this – but it was good to be reminded.
I was invited back whenever I wish and even told when they stop for coffee each morning. I assured them I’d be bringing my mother and sons back to visit. Walking back to the gardens with them I thanked don Emilio, Fabio and Simone and found my way back to town.
When I reached my flat I saw I had been gone almost six hours. For a woman who wanted to stay inside for the day and lounge and ignore the world, I had been on quite the journey….
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.
Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my…
bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my…
Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah!
“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece”
― Claude Monet
“One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Yesterday at the end of the day when everyone else had already left to ready themselves for dinner, I made my way to the Archeological Museum at the Roman Theater. To be honest, I hadn’t really intended to go the museum. While walking along the river I happened upon it, noticed there was nobody in or near, went inside to ask when they were to close and was told I still had over an hour and a half to visit. It seemed I was at the right place at the right time, which is entirely how I prefer to find things – not always looking for them, but letting them find me. I like to do that; visit places at the end of the day when the crowds are gone and I can meander in peace and silence. I harbor a deep seeded aversion to tourist places that I continually force myself to work though. I get around it by visiting at odd hours, or simply not going at all.
As far as the archeological site is considered, it’s quite lovely and I’ve been to literally dozens of sites around Italy. However, the one thing I found to be the most beautiful, that gave me the most emotion was not ancient or made of stone at all. Outside, in the back corner of the Grand Terrace, stood an olive tree. It was big and old and full of little green olives. Underneath it, a bird made his home in the leaves and when I sat down to take photos, he looked at me as if perturbed, though continued preening his home in spite.
Olive trees have a special place in my heart and always have. For some odd reason I’m drawn to them as if they hold some healing power. A few years ago, while visiting the town of Assisi to pay homage to my departed brother Matthew, feeling overly emotional, I pulled over on the side of the road, walked into a grove of olive trees, sat on the ground and wept. They don’t just signify sorrow for me though, they give me peace as well. In fact, I’ve always said that if I ever were to re-marry – it would be a ceremony amongst the olive trees….
Feeling melancholic I slowly made my way to the main rooms which housed the artifacts found on the site. There were mosaics, small toy figurines, massive amounts of architectural pieces and two entire rooms dedicated to sculptures of bodies without heads, and heads without bodies.
I realize that the neck of a sculpture is the most narrow of parts, so it naturally will disengage from the body first when falling to the ground as it’s weak. Although…..what if? What if those heads and bodies were a symbol of something far deeper than gravity, force, ect. After all, the heads and bodies didn’t match each other. There was the head of one woman, and the body of another and so on. Who’s to say that by finding the body of one woman, it didn’t represent her living her life by following her heart, while at the same time, the heads of other women may represent a life led via the head only.
I decided then, that if someone were to create of sculpture of me today and it were to fall years from now, be buried, only to unearth itself centuries later, I would be found headless. For as much as I try, I tend to live my life following my heart and rarely my head. There are those that would have only their heads unearthed and a few lucky ones to manage to keep their entire bodies attached; all in one piece. But me? I prefer to leave my head somewhere else, and let my body, which houses my heart, rest under the olive tree…
While taking a break from writing today I sat at a bench and sketched what I saw instead of just snapping a photo… Here is a piece of my sketchbook.
A few years ago I attended an Ayurvedic lecture in Seattle led by Dr. Vivek Shanbhag. I admire his work as well as his dedication to teaching the Eastern philosophy of medicine and have in fact begun researching Ayurvedic retreats in India with he and his school. He lectured in detail about the three types of doshas and the intricacies of the Gunas. The Gunas are as follows: Sattva = balance, or purity, Rajas (Jennifer Allison) = change, passion and movement and lastly, Tamas = lethargy, darkness and negativity.
It was also at his lecture that I learned about mad monkeys. Dr. Shanbhag explained that an excess of Rajas is like having your mind filled with mad monkeys. Not mad as in angry, but mad as is crazy busy. The Gunas are present everywhere and in everyone and everything, however at times one of the three may take over the others. While I have come out of many long dark months of an excess of Tamas, and wish to be serene and balanced with an abundance of Sattva – I am stuck with my mad monkey mind and excess Rajas – as usual.
I leave in just three days for a six-week sabbatical to lovely Verona, Italy. To allow myself this trip I have worked to fatigue for the last few months, saved all of my pennies and finagled an extended time away from my day job. I’ve never been to Verona and honestly have no idea where I’m going once the train drops me at the station. I have the address to my apartment in the city center and the phone number to a woman my temporary landlord has arranged for me to get my keys from. With the exception of a lovely couple I was introduced to a few months earlier via email from a friend, I don’t know a soul. My bag I am bringing can only be a carry on (as I am flying standby on a pass…..an added stress) and for a woman like myself who likes clothes, wants to bring a book or two as well as my charcoal and watercolor sets, papers and supplies…..need I say more? As you can imagine, my Rajas and monkeys are madder than hell.
There are days I feel Sattva is strong within me and days when the darkness of my past rears the head of Tamas - but mainly, my Rajas reside over the territory of my mind and body like some energetic passionate queen who fawns over her subjects. I am learning, however, that I can pull Sattva out of her hiding place when I draw or paint. It is then that my Rajas fall into a deep slumber on their throne and Sattva feeds my creativity and calmness.
Interestingly enough though, I believe is was Sattva that has led me back to Italy. Most of my friends wonder why I would go back to a country that represented such pain for me; why I didn’t pick another country to enjoy and write my book in. But that country that pained me so much has also represented an abundance of joy as well. For me not to return and feel that joy (albeit different and alone) again wouldn’t be fair to me or my ancestors who left Italy so long ago for a life in America; leaving family, friends and joys behind.
So when I leave Verona for a few days to visit Genoa, where my great-grandfather was from, I wonder if I’ll walk the same pavement he did, or touch the same buildings he may have helped to build…and maybe, just maybe, when I sit on a bench and close my eyes, my monkeys will go outside of my head to play – while I properly thank my ancestors for leading me back to Italy once again…
Anne Lamott once wrote, “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”
There were times, even entire years, that I have ignored her – my intuition. Once in a while, however, I would listen and She would reward me with warmth and ease, while other times I considered her my foe, deeming her incompetent. She would scream at me and I would scream back in argument. She would jolt my stomach, a warning to be weary, and I would swallow an antacid. If She created a storm of apprehension, I would put on a raincoat and galoshes and fare the weather of emotions like some great sea-captain. Some months back my cup was emptied. I lay broken on the shower floor and She softly reminded me, via a whisper, that She had told me so.
I conceded that day and we’ve become close, She and I. While I’ve agreed to heed her warnings as well as embrace the signs of encouragement and wonder, She has agreed to leave my stomach be and cease all storms. My willingness to finally acknowledge, as well as listen and feel her, has reaped many beautiful new friendships, opportunities and artistic endeavors.
As I make my travel list for my six-week working vacation in Verona, Italy this September, I find myself leaning on her simple art of knowing more and more. There are many other places I’d like to visit, however She moves me once again towards Italy. While transferring the money to my Italian landlord to secure my apartment today I was struck at just how easy it was to commit to. Although there have been many times that my rational mind sets out like a gun for hire to thwart my plans, I find he always misses the mark and she prevails as the more intelligent of the two. As money to pay for my trip appears and co-workers step up and offer to cover my work while away, I am reminded of just how universal She really is.
Since my decision to embark on an extended working vacation in Verona, and through my listening to her, I have since made friends with an amazingly gifted artist living in Seattle who happens to have grown up in Verona, Italy. She will in fact be staying on Lake Como in just a few short weeks. Yet another new friend has introduced me via email to a wonderful couple my own age living in Verona who have already opened their dinner table for me with open arms. Even my parents, who haven’t been to Italy in years, are looking forward to a bringing my teenage sons for a week-long visit and letting me show them, my family, the country as well. I’ve offered my second bedroom to a few friends; and I do believe they both are making their own travel plans as I write this. I assume if they all listen to their own “She” then it’ll be just as easy for them as it’s been for me and their own gun for hires dressed as “rationality” will be thwarted as well….