Saturday, October 15, 2005


Yesterday on my commute home, I thought of something I wanted to write down, and reached into my bag for the little notebook I make a habit of carrying with me. When I flipped it open, I saw that it was the notebook I’d used in Italy in May and realized that I’d never written anything after the trip. I read through it, remembering where I’d been sitting as I wrote on each day. The Husband and I were in Italy for about ten days, but the notebook really only covers five in any detail. We’d spent the first few days in Rome, and when we arrived in Florence to meet up with friends, I think I lost interest in using my down time for journal writing and spent it talking with Becca and Alex instead. After the first five days, my notes are very quick, and there are lists of things to do and restaurants to try that aren’t necessarily in my handwriting, as I would sometimes hand the notebook to my friend Becca to jot something down.

What surprised me when I was reading through the notebook was how much I’d already forgotten. I remember the piazzas we sat in and the churches and museums we saw. I remember how much I loved the old, winding roads of Rome, and that I felt desperately aware and happy that I was finally in the city I had wanted to see for so long. I remember walking along the Arno on cool, quiet mornings, and feeling hot and tired at the end of our trip as we climbed up a hill toward Piazzale Michelangelo for a view of Florence. I remember that I ate pizza and gelato every day, and that we laughed a lot with our friends, sitting on benches in piazzas around Florence. But there are lots of little things I had forgotten:

As we descended into Florence, I was struck by how much the landscape reminded me of California, and my wonder at the similarity continued as we watched out the window of the bus that would take us to the train station. The hills looked more like the ones in California than those that I see on the east coast, and the houses had the red tiled roofs that I miss on the Spanish-style houses at home.

We decided to save some money by taking the slower train to Rome, which according to our guidebook would take less than three hours. Unfortunately, we bought tickets for an even slower train that the book indicated, and by the end of the ride, our jet lag was beginning to hit. I was fighting sleep, knowing I needed to force myself onto a regular schedule, but since I couldn’t be active or get a lot of fresh air, it was hard.

At Arezzo, as we pulled into the station, there was a lot of yelling and drumming and chanting. People pounded on the train as it slowed to a halt. Then our car was full of rowdy soccer fans, many of them wearing t-shirts that said “Perugia Ti Odio.” The group was wild—shouting and singing and chanting, while they drank beer out of plastic water bottles and smoked cigarettes into which they’d mixed a little bit of pot. The car was hot and began to smell with all the smoke and bodies. Some of the men took of their shirts: one was extremely hairy; another had a back covered in pimples. The couple that sat across from us were a little less enthusiastic. Neither spoke English, but the young woman spoke Spanish, so we managed conversation, and she explained that there was a big rivalry between Arezzo and Perugia. The whole thing was amusing to watch, but it was a relief when the fans reached their destination. It was even more of a relief when one of the conductors passed through the car and moved us into one with air conditioning and without the smells that the fans had left behind. We were able to get comfortable and relax, and we watched an almost full moon rise above the hills to the east.

I can’t really comprehend the age of things here. How can I get my mind around the idea of something being 2,000 years old? But I love that there are new flowers growing in the crevices of such ancient stones.

We sat along a bench in Rome’s Piazza Farnese, to get out of the sun and rest our feet, along with other people, mostly Italians eating lunch. There was a little boy who purposely knocked over his soda. After his mother scolde him and cleaned it up, he yelled “Bambina!” to a little girl who is chasing pigeons, followed by something in Italian that I couldn't understand. She ignored him.

When you climb into the dome of St. Peter’s, you are right against the mosaics. You can actually touch them. I was glad, but I felt as though I were getting away with something I shouldn’t.

I love Michelangelo’s Pieta. I felt very separate from it. At first I thought that was because of all the people and the glass. But the separateness was deeper than that. I think it is something about Mary’s face.

We went into the foyer at the Santa Maria church in Trastavere. There was something happening inside, maybe a service, maybe a concert, so we just stood in where we were and listened to the organ and the choir. There was a small window in the door, but I wasn't tall enough to see through it. Outside the church there was a skinny, bent old woman begging. With her shawl and her cane she seemed like something out of a movie. I gave her a few coins.

We wandered through Trastavere reading restaurant menus, trying to decide where to have dinner. Our mind was made up for us when there was a sudden downpour. We went into the nearest restaurant, one I'd be skeptical of only a few minutes before. Things were hectic for a few minutes, as everyone who had been sitting at the tables outside had to be reseated indoors. When the waitress sat down beside us at the table when she came to take our order, exaggerating her exhaustion.

As we were checking in at the hotel in Florence, Becca and Alex walked in. We made lots of noise, greeting and hugging and laughing. I think the two men working at the desk were amused by us.

We woke up to bells ringing in one church after another. It may have been the nicest way I’ve ever woken up. We opened the windows and the air was cool and light.

The Husband said that he didn’t appreciate Michelangelo until he saw David. I didn’t understand what the big deal was about one statue until I saw it.

The Prisoners give me even more appreciation for sculpture. I can’t imagine looking at a piece of stone and knowing that I could make something take shape from it.

At the Medici Chapels, I found the New Sacristy more striking than I would have if I hadn’t just been overwhelmed by the ornate beauty of the Chapel of Princes.

Before we had climbed very far in Giotto's Tower, I asked, "Are we there yet?" Becca, who was directly in front of me, began to laugh because Alex had asked the same thing just a few moments before.

When we stopped back at the hotel this afternoon, the owner called us “the happy people.”

We ate dinner at a restaurant across the river, which was ridiculously cheap, just as the guidebook promised. A young Italian couple was seated at the opposite end of our table. We think they were laughing at us.

Who knew I liked Botticelli? I love Spring’s face and the way she holds her body.

When I wrote about our trip to West Virginia, I didn’t look at the quick notes I’d jotted down, so I forgot to describe the blueberry bogs as “vermillion.” And I’ve already forgotten what I was going to write down when I got out my notebook on the bus yesterday. I’m so glad I wrote things down in Italy to help me remember.

Pictures from our trip are available here.


ann said...

Sounds like a glorious trip. May you always be the "happy people" wherever you go.

Jennifer said...

The same thing happened to me on my recent trip to Vietnam. I wrote a bunch about the first days, then as routine set in and the exotic culture felt more normal, I didn't feel the urge to write as much, nor did I have as much down time. But you're reminding me to put as many thoughts as I can on the page before I forget.

Also, made me of the Anais Nin quote: "We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection."