August 2012

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Sunday, October 2nd, 2011 12:57 am
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Fresco map of Italy, from the map rooms in the Vatican

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8月21日

In Rome.

At the beach, actually, and it’s been a long time since I was last at a beach. And even then they’ve been stormy northern beaches, rough surf and rough sand, wind and wave and cloud. The pebble beaches of Brighton, the always-cold water off the Jersey shore.

Here it is different. The Mediterranean lies flat as a table until it merges with the heat-pale blue of the horizon. The waves lap against your knees like puppies, playful and harmless. The sand is soft and sticky and pervasive, light and gritty and fine. The people are almost uniformly brown, like baked clay, and my own pale skin stands out like a flag. In the gentle breakers I find brown-orange scallop shells and shards of earthenware, still bearing patches of glaze.

There are square canvas umbrellas with wooden ribs. There are round blue umbrellas with red and white stripes along their crenelated rims. There are beach umbrellas that shade from green to yellow and back again-- are they yellow with green, or green with yellow? They match the beach chairs that recline beneath.

And everywhere dark-haired people who have come this Sunday to worship the sun.

Myself among them, although the sun is my enemy, through family rather than fault. I am careful and hug the shade, and renew my sunblock time and again. Even so my freckles have multiplied in a mere handful of hours. Paula’s are now dusted across her face. Gaia seems untouched, but a bit of sunburn has started along the parting of her hair.

Franco and Simona, Gaia’s parents, are unaffected, relaxing as if in their native element as the true heat of the day sets in. Everyone is eating, sleeping, or talking while sitting in the shade-- it is the hour for siesta, and save for a lone swimmer, the Mediterranean is a rippled emptiness beyond the restaurant’s wooden terrace.

Describing the people is harder than describing the scene-- they are multitudinous, flickering, here-and-gone, various. The sun-brown skin is practically uniform, as is the dark hair-- both sensible to the climate, to a land where the sun is known. Children run around in Speedos, boys and girls distinguishable only by the length of their hair. The Speedos are less forgivable on anyone over the age of 12, but still prevalent. Flip-flops abound. Body types are various, but all seem completely unselfconscious, at home beneath the sun.

How to describe swimming in the Mediterranean? The water is cool but not cold, just right to be refreshing without being unpleasant. Gaia and Paula brought air-filled floats with them, but in truth they’re hardly necessary. Floating is easy with the high salt content buoying you up, and you have to walk a long way from shore before your feet leave the bottom. The water is clear, too, and the rippled surface of sand easily visible, along with the small clouds of sand kicked up by your footsteps.



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8月22日

“Chi taglia il pane va in Paradiso”

“Who cuts bread goes to Paradise.”

~Italian proverb

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Bread is very important in Italy. It used to be that one day of the week was devoted to the baking of bread, which was then eaten throughout the week. Bread was very precious, and would never be thrown away. If it was thrown away, you would kiss the bread first, as an apology.

Every region of Italy has its own type of bread, just as every region has its own pasta and specialties.



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The terrace cafe at the Castel Sant' Angelo

8月23日

Sitting on the terrace of the cafe in Castel Sant’ Angelo. Grape vines grow from pots and twine leafy overhead, providing welcome shade. From where we sit I can see the white dome of St.Peter’s and the entire Vatican complex. If I stood I could see more-- Roman ruins and the remains of a medieval wall.



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8月24日

“Like bread, we have a mafia for every region.”

~Simona Poggiagalli

Camorra - Naples
‘Ndrangheta - Calabria
Sacra Corona Unita (Holy United Crown) - Sicily

When the Americans landed in 1943, they sent Lucky Luc to get the Mafia’s permission for landing. The Mafia said yes because the Germans wouldn’t let them do business, and with the Americans it was easier.



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8月26日

Briscola - Rules

Ace = 11 points
3 = 10 points
Page = 2 points
Knight = 3 points
King = 4 points

3 cards each
1 suit rules each game (flip top card after dealing to find which)

- on each round, play one card.
- to win the round, must throw either a card of the ruling suit (highest wins) or a higher card of the first suit thrown

goal = most points at the end



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The School of Athens, by Raphael. From the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. My favorite of everything I saw in the museum; I'd never been fond of it before, but seeing it in person was incomparable. I was less impressed by the Sistine Chapel, which has been so mercilessly reproduced as to lose much of its grandeur.

8月27日

“Meglio andae iu campagna quando plove che perdere biscola a cinquantande.”

“Better to go to the countryside when it rains than to lose Briscola with 59.”

~Italian saying



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The Castel Sant' Angelo from across the Tiber.

8月29日

This morning Gaia and Paula returned to Scotland and I remained here in Rome, because I couldn’t get a flight until tomorrow evening. Even then I’ll be overnighting in the Amsterdam airport, although I’m actually looking forward to that a bit. I like the not-exactly-capsule hotel there.

Closet hotel? Not quite but close. The rooms seem exactly the right size to me, with room enough, just, for everything necessary. Like a monk’s cell.

I am imposing on Gaia’s parents for tonight, which I feel rather guilty about. She told me it wasn’t a big deal-- I hope that’s true. We shall have to see.

Since Gaia and Paula left early I had the day to spend, and decided to do so in the Vatican Museums. It was expensive to get in, but when you have one of the greatest stationary art treasures of the Renaissance, you can charge whatever you like, really.



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Fountain in the Piazza Navona. Gaia said that in the past the entire Piazza was blocked off and flooded to allow for naval battle games.

bir var mis, bir yok mis

“Perhaps it happened, perhaps it didn’t”

~how stories are introduced in Turkey

“Now to the elements,” said Dr Perholt, “Be free and fare thou well.”

~the Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, A.S. Byatt



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8月30日

Sitting on a shady stone bench outside of San Clemente, waiting to get in at 3 PM. I was stymied by unexpected opening hours-- my own fault, din’t even occur to me-- but I decided to take it like a Roman and had a nap. Which was incredibly pleasant, resting on the cool stone of the bench, with my bag as a pillow and the cool breeze dancing the shadows of leaves over my skin. I drifted peacefully for precisely 30 minutes, and woke before my alarm had a chance to disturb my repose.



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Detail from the Map Rooms in the Vatican.

8月31日

“But the whole point is this: Bach had a father.”

“Heavens, Jack, what things you tell me. Yet upon recollection I seem to have known other men in much the same case.”

“And this father, this old Bach, you understand me, had written piles and piles of musical scores in the pantry.”

“A whimsical place to compose in, perhaps; but then birds sing in trees, do they not? Why not antediluvian Germans in a pantry?”

~the Ionian Mission, Patrick O’Brian

After 10 days of sunny Rome-- hello, soggy Britain. Did you miss me?



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9月1日

I arrived in London yesterday to glowering clouds hanging low, a barrier between the realms of sky and earth. On the train to Pam’s they were breaking free of each other, releasing streamers of light. This morning I woke to a sky of robin’s-egg blue, a gift from London to me.

Now I’m sitting before the bank of windows in the cafe of the National Portrait Gallery. My plate bears the wreckage of two scones and a dish of butter. The remains of my two-cup pot of Earl Grey sits before me to give me an excuse to sit and write. Beyond the plate glass lies an incomparable view of London-- the white spire of St. Martin’s, the arc of the Eye peeking from behind a glass skylight room, Union Jacks flying over a green copper roof, the spires of Big Ben’s tower and Westminister and Parliament at the feet of Nelson atop his column, the dome of the National Gallery framing it all on the right.

Behind it all the blue sky, now streaked with white by a lazy artist’s brush. Planes move smoothly across it, coming and going, a helicopter, once in a while a particularly adventurous pigeon. On a small scrap of road red buses move away from me, heading for the bridge over the Thames.



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The dome of St. Peter's (Michelangelo) as seen from the courtyard of the Vatican Museums.

9月2日

“See, JFK Airport has only one cheese guy for the entire airport, but they have about 12 meat guys. So if you’re trying to smuggle cheese you’ll probably get through, but if you try to smuggle the forbidden sausage, they will hunt you down.”

~Kevin, on food smuggling