Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

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!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Call Me Misadventure

Some of my friends--people I first met on the internet, though they later went on to be three-dimensional real-world friends--knew me first as Misadventure.  I chose this particular handle in remembrance of my travels,  and because of the Squeeze song...

...and because, when it comes to travelling, I remember the things that went wrong almost as fondly as the things that went right.

Misadventures make the best stories.  That's what I have been telling myself ever since I arrived in Rome.  I'm staying in Trastevere, a neighborhood I don't know very well, and so far, if there's been a wrong turn to take, I've taken it.  I've spent most of the last two and a half days lost--and not just geographically--learning the hard way how things work in a different culture.  

I've had to admit that my sense of direction truly sucks, and that my Italian, while decent for the basics, really falls short when it comes to the complicated stuff.  And I've had to learn that what I thought was politeness--asking, in Italian, "Excuse me, sir, I'm looking for X"--fell short enough in the politeness department to get me nowhere.  I've learned that it's okay to take up more of a stranger's time by being really, really, REALLY polite.  "Excuse me sir, could you please help me?  I'm looking for X.  Could you tell me where it is?" gets much better results. 

Until I stop spending most of my day walking around in circles, I just keep telling myself what I know to be true: I've always learned more from misadventure than from the things that came easily.  And when I finally know my way around, it will feel all the more amazing for being hard earned.

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...