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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I had intended to visit Firenze, but ...

once in Roma, the course of my trip changed. Firenze, which had occupied a large piece of real estate in my head while planning my month’s stay in Italia, was discarded, replaced, superseded by Roma. I can hear Tony Bennet’s voice in my ear, “the beauty that is Rome is of another day,” but Tony got it wrong. Roma’s beauty is timeless, ageless, limitless.

Roma has an abundance of energy. The energy of all the people who live and work there, of all the tourists who tromp through the streets, ride the buses, sit in the cafes and ristorantes and cool their hot feet in the fountains of Roma. Roma pulsates with the energy that seeps from the buildings and sculptures, the churches, the cobblestones – so old, carrying the energy of centuries - of the people who trod those same streets centuries ago and built those domes, those columns of marble, carved those statues, painted those frescoes. That’s the grandeur and concrete, daily reality of Roma.

My first trip to Roma lasted three days and before departing I booked another two-night stay with the hotel for the following week. But even upon return, two nights wasn’t enough – I added a third, because while tramping about Roma on what was to be my last day there, I chanced across an opportunity to attend a production of La Traviata at San Paoli en la Mura Chiesa. I just had to buy a ticket – and then find a hotel room for the night!

Roma is dangerous like that - you're just walking along, your jaw dragging on the cement in awe, or a silly smile plastered all over your face, and suddenly, you turn a corner and one more extraordinarily delightful thing pops up - an opera, the perfect gellato, a cobblestoned piazza with a beautiful fountain, a building with magnificent marble columns, a narrow street with children playing a wild game of tag - something just pops up and you suddenly change your plans - play tag with children, eat gellato (even though you just finished melon e prosciutto with a white wine at the last piazza!), buy an opera ticket (even though that means you have to find a hotel room for another night).

Roma is like opera. Captivates you, provides moments of quiet tenderness and instances of rousing crescendos that overwhelm you with delight, glee, joy.

I have no words for Roma that do it justice. Exquisite. Awesome. Captivating. Powerful. Rich. None of these words convey the essence of Roma. Not a one. Roma is all those things, but more than that too. And those words are so paltry compared to all that Roma is.

I spent today at the beach in Marina de Pietrasanta, an hour’s walk from my apartment in Pietrasanta. But tomorrow I leave Italia. My month is over. I head back to New York for a two-day stopover and then on to San Francisco, home. After Italia, after Roma, I am even more grateful that I live in San Francisco, for if I did not have San Francisco to go home to, I would cry at leaving Italia. I may cry anyway. San Francisco now has a true rival for my heart. Ah … I have been a bit unfaithful, but it’s nothing serious I will tell my beloved city. After all, I am coming home.

But I leave you all with a few pictures of Roma and St. Peter’s. When I visited St. Peter’s, I was struck dumb. But when I gazed on the Pieta, I cried. (I cried at the Sistine Chapel too.) The beauty, the craftsmanship – how did Michelangelo create such a masterpiece as the Pieta? The man was a genius. But then, all of Roma is a genius.

Until we meet again Italia e Roma (for I did indeed throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure my return). Arrivederci!

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saturday Evening Mass at Chiesa di San Francesco, Pietrasanta, Italy

Renaissance pictures of Christ, Madonna and Child, St. Francesco. Marbled columns and arcs. Side altars. Candles. Wooden pews and wooden floor polished a burnt brown. The smell of lilies overwhelms the church. Inescapable. Yet I do not want to escape. I want to sit with this scent, these sights. Foreigner though I am, I feel at home.

Small, wrinkled, white-haired, wearing an orange shift with an embroidered collar, orange sandals to match, gold rings on fingers, gold bracelets on her wrists, a very old woman walks slowly, gracefully, into the church, her shoulders stooped just ever-so-slightly. She pauses in the center aisle near the two back pews, looks slowly to the pew on her left, to the pew on her right, where I sit with both my traveling companion for the past week and an older Italian woman to my right.

Though she reflects no accusation, no judgment, no insult, I know that we are in this old woman’s pew. “Scoot over,” I whisper to my friend, gesturing to the old woman in orange. We both scoot over, my friend now much closer to the older woman at the other end of our pew, and the little old lady takes her place next to me, on the aisle. As she seats herself, she smiles and keeps up a soft, running conversation to me in Italian. Her voice is soothing, conversational, almost intimate; her smile warm and gracious; her eyes a pale blue with flecks of light. I cannot understand a word she is saying, but I understand her tone and feel cherished, welcomed. I smile back and lean closer to her, say “Le no capisco” (I don’t understand.) “Sono Americana Catholic.” She smiles back at me, says “Ah, le capsico.” I have explained everything to her in that one phrase – why I don’t look like I fit it, why she has never seen me at mass before, why I am sitting in what is her normal place.

During mass, she speaks the responses clearly and loudly, as if she wants me to hear her and repeat, which I do. She often looks over to me and smiles approvingly when I have echoed her Italian words accurately. I like this guide to the Mass I have stumbled across. I wish she was my grandmother, my nonna, as I never really had one and have always wished for one – one like her, like this old woman in orange. I tell myself that for just now, for this mass, she is my nonna – I am at mass with my own nonna. I smile and wish I could clasp her hand in mine, but this I fear would be too much of a privilege, one I am not worthy of. It is enough to sit next to this lovely old woman, pretend she belongs to me. If I lay too much claim, my nonna will disappear, and I want to stay next to her as long as I can with this pleasant fiction.

Before communion, before the priest consecrates the bread and wine, we reach that moment of the Mass when parishioners recognize each other, extend their well wishes to those about them. We turn to those beside, in front, and behind us, extend a hand and say “peace be with you.” I recognize the moment; a familiar one, from my memory of old, and from the service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral I attended in New York shortly before I left for Italia. Now my nonna turns to me, offers her hand, says peace (pace) to me in Italian. Her hand, like her tone, is warm as the terra cotta and ocher colored buildings burnished by the Tuscan sun. I take her hand in mine, her delicate skin so finely etched with lines and soft liver spots, skin stretched carefully across the fine bones of tiny hand and small fingers. “Peace be with you,” I say and add the “nonna” in my mind only - not daring to utter it aloud - though I am sure she would take the word graciously, a sign of respect, of longing. But again, fear of breaking the spell holds me back.

Now I turn and reach across my friend to clasp the hand of the woman sitting on her right. “Peace be with you,” this Italian woman and I say to each other in unison, she in Italian, I in English. I take my friend’s hand. “Peace,” she says to me and I to her. We are all smiling, my friend, the other woman, my nonna, and me.

Behind us, half a dozen teenaged boys have been standing throughout the service, their occasional giggles and whispers sometimes floating over the tops of our heads, sometimes drifting into our ears, and now my nonna turns to them, brings them into her circle. She extends her hand to each of them; each one of them takes that hand, beams and echoes her blessing back to her. Pace. Peace.

She asks me if I will take communion, gestures with her hands to the altar and the others lining up for communion. I shake my head no and tell her, “no confessiori.” I vaguely recall that in the U.S. at least, you no longer must have confession with a priest before receiving communion. But even when I was still a practicing Catholic, I couldn’t accept that modernization. I don’t know what the practice is here in Italia, and I am sure that I am not using the right word, only this poor American’s attempt at Italianizing English, but my nonna understands. She smiles and says something to me - I can’t quite catch it all. I hear again “le capisco,” then “manga,” and “pizza.” Her tone is both wise and mischievous and her blue eyes twinkle within their deep-set recesses. She winks at me. I am convinced that she has said to me in a conspiratory tone: “I understand, I’d rather eat pizza too.”

After mass, I walk out the broad church doors behind her, onto the tiled portico with the frescoed ceiling, then circle in front of her to say “Buona sera, Signora, ariverderci.” She once again offers that beatific smile, waves her hand in goodbye. “Ariverderci,” she says in return.

Walking back home, along the narrow streets of Pietrasanta, I feel an utter sense of satisfaction, as though everything has fallen into place, as though I am once again a small child, intuitively confident that I am totally and completely loved. Confession or not, I had no need to receive communion at the altar from the hands of the priest; communion came to me in the form of an old and gracious nonna who sat beside me on that worn wooden pew in the Chiesa di San Francesco.

(Note: I wish I could post pictures, but my Internet connection is rather weak.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dispatch from Pietrasanta, Italy

Morning in Pietrasanta

White dish towel flutters from
a window framed by green shutters.
A glimpse of graceful fingers, amiable arms,
oval face, slender form leaning over the threshold.
She speaks with clear, pleasing tones
to someone sheltered within
the cool recess of the window
as she shakes the white towel
free of the morning’s breadcrumbs.

And just a few pics ...

The full moon from my apartment living room in Pietrasanta

From St. Caterina's Cheisa in Pisa: