Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Philly When the Pope's in Town

Pope Francis rolls into Independence Mall
For a vibrant, world-class city, Philly has a bit of an inferiority complex.  How could it not, in the twin shadows cast by those heavyweights, Washington D.C. and New York City?  

Maybe that's why Rocky Balboa resonates so much here.  The scruffy, down-on-his-luck prizefighter who gets one shot at the big time?  That was us this weekend, when the World Meeting of Families brought Pope Francis to our city.

For Catholics and the many non-Catholics who admire this Pope for his vision, his humility, his heart, and his willingness to shake things up, Philly was--for a shining moment--Caput Mundi.  

Here's what you experienced if you braved the Popepocalypse:

--Deliciously car-free streets.

--Singing in unexpected places.

--Pilgrims from around the globe.

--A rainbow of habits, vestments, and robes.

--Bobbleheads and Hug-a-Popes:


Enthusiastic college students:

photo by Melissa Kelly/Saint Joseph's University

--Eager but remarkably civil crowds.

Seriously beefed-up security:

--including Secret Service agents and even rooftop snipers.

Photo by Melissa Kelly/Saint Joseph's University

--A surprise papal visit to a certain Jesuit University:

Melissa Kelly/Saint Joseph's University

--Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

One of many priests venturing into the crowd for the Euchrist
...and the adoration that follows Pope Francis everywhere he goes.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Flashback: In Fair Verona

Backstage, Arena di Verona

A friend recently asked me where in the whole world  I would live if money and job were no object.  I didn’t have to think hard about the answer: Verona, Italy.

Until last summer, I’d only been there once before, on my very first trip to Europe, when I was 22, travelling solo with a backpack, a Eurail pass, and an International Youth Hostel Card.  I fell instantly in love with Europe in general and Italy in particular.  

Pulling into Verona

And of all the Italian cities and towns I visited, Verona--charming, romantic, easily crossed on foot—struck me as the one in which I could most vividly imagine making a life.

I adored the medieval streets of its historical center.  I especially loved the way Verona’s citizens take their evening passagiata around the Roman colosseum in the center of Piazza Bra.  

Families strolling, small children kicking balls around, friends laughing and philosophizing, lovers arguing and embracing.  The happy commotion that continues until late into every summer night.

On that first trip to Verona, I was in the process of becoming. So much about my life was unsettled.  I had just graduated college and didn’t have a job or a significant other.  I didn’t know where I would be living once I returned back home.  Everything I saw on my travels seemed full of portent, and that was especially true in Verona, setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Last summer, when I finally got  to revisit Verona, I had of course changed more than a little.  But Verona's power over me hadn't diminished one bit.

Even Juliet's house still felt portentious.  I still got the same thrill strolling through its quiet rooms and standing on that balcony. 

Revisiting Casa di Giulietta, summer 2015
Now as then, it didn’t matter one bit that Juliet didn’t exist. To me, fiction was--and still is--at least as real as reality. Walking through the house designated as Juliet's, I could hear the echoes of her graceful step echoing in its stairways.  I could hear her voice even in that stone courtyard bustling with tourists and plastered with their hastily scrawled graffiti.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Carried Away Once More

Havertown sunset

I'm thrilled to report that former poet laureate Ted Kooser has chosen my poem "Carried Away" to feature today on his website American Life in Poetry.  Please drop by and give it a read!  

"Carried Away" may also be found in my second poetry collection, This Bed Our Bodies Shaped, from Able Muse Press.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Flashback: Milano

There's a soft spot in my heart for Milan--probably because it's the first European city I ventured into, twenty-two and travelling solo.  Some specifics are lost to time, but others are still vivid:

Riding the metro.   Coming above ground in Piazza del Duomo.   Seeing that enormous melting wedding cake of a cathedral.  Crossing the square through a crowd of tourists, locals and pigeons.  

Feeling terrifyingly, deliciously alone.  

Trying out my beginner's college Italian.  Wandering through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle.

Since Andre left the itinerary of our recent trip up to me, and since the trip from Les Arcs Draguignan to Venice necessitated a transfer in Milan, how could I resist stopping there a little while, showing him the places that loom so vividly in my memory?

While there, we saw an amazing retrospective on Leonardo da Vinci at the Palazzo Reale.

But first we reacquainted ourselves with the joys of Italian food...including the breakfast of champions.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Flashback: Disarming, Enchanting Venice

Since my travel writing class in the Saint Joseph's University study tour program in Rome is reading Marlena De Blasi's lush memoir A Thousand Days in Venice, now seems like a good time to look back on the Venice portion of my own trip.

In sensuous, poetic prose, De Blasi tells the story of a wild and spontaneous romance that begins and ends with the city known variously as La Serenissima and Bride of the Sea.

Here's her description of her first glimpse of a city she had long avoided:

"The doors are open and I step out into wet rosy light, onto a sweep of wide shallow steps.  Shimmering water glints from the canal below.  I don't know where to put my eyes.  The Venice of myth is real, rolled out before me.  In straw hats and striped shirts, the gondoliers are sculptures of themselves fixed on the sterns of glossy black boats under  around yellow sun.  The Bridge of the Barefoot is off to the left and the sweet facade of the church of San Simeone Piccolo hails from across the water.  All of Venice is tattered, resewn, achingly lovely, and like an enchantress, she disarms me, makes off with the very breath of me."

No matter how often I return, that first glimpse of Venice from the train station steps never fails to take my breath away.  And this time around it was even better to see it with my husband Andre on his very first visit.  

We had only three days to gobble up as much of Venice as we possibly could.  We experienced chicchetti, Venice's version of happy hour finger-food:

We wandered through the Accademia, the Doge's Palace and its prison:

and the Peggy Guggenheim:

And a satellite exhibit of the Biennale where we were disoriented by very new art in a very old place:

We island hopped over to Burano and Murano:

We even had the rare treat of seeing Venice through the eyes of a longtime local, scholar and novelist Gregory Dowling:

We traipsed toward the lagoon to hear the duelling bands play standards and to soak up some of the glamour of moonlit St. Mark's Square:

And on our last night, craving a little American rock music, we even stopped briefly into the Hard Rock Cafe:

Not quintessentially Venetian...but fun!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Flashback: The View From Fox-Amphoux

As I settle in here on Viale di Trastevere, I'm hoping to catch up on recording the first bit of my trip--the vacation part with my husband, Andre, and, for the first few days, with our friends Howard, Melissa, and Artemis.  We had the great pleasure of staying with them in their home in Fox-Amphoux, a quiet village in Provence.  And I'm not using the word quiet casually.  When we stepped out of the car, in the middle of a little cluster of homes, the first thing I noticed was the profound quiet--a thick, rich quiet like cream poured over everything, in which the loudest sound for miles around were the cries of the swallows that swooped and soared overhead.

From up on the roof, the view stretched on for gorgeous miles.  Just ask Artemis.

A brief hike in the neighborhood brought us to this chapel, carved into the mountain by a sailor who narrowly escaped a shipwreck:

We also wandered and ate in nearby villages, like Aups, where we peeked into a lovely church:

And in Cotignac, we climbed up to where some of the local live in cliffside homes and make inventive use of caves:

Our days in France passed way too quickly--an amuse-bouche, hinting at the feast that is Provence.

Looking Up

After two relatively difficult days of being perpetually lost and struggling to figure out How Things Work in Italy, today was a dream.  The highlights?

A group trip to the Colosseum.  A colleague's fun and fascinating lecture on what a day of ancient Roman entertainment must have been like.  Overhearing a guy in a gladiator costume singing "No Woman, No Cry" to a dude in dreadlocks.

Wandering off on my own, and feeling (for once) more found than lost!

Seeking and finding the market in Testaccio:

Then swinging by one of my favorite spots in Rome, the cool, green, and oddly beautiful Protestant Cemetary:

Where I made a pilgrimage to the grave of John Keats:

He died so young, thinking nobody would remember him--but do we ever.

Even the graves of people I've never heard of break my heart a little.

As did this random bit of street art I stumbled upon as I wandered toward the Metro:

And (almost) best of all: hopping on the tram, and finding my way home without incident!