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Tag Archives | Rome

in which I try to avoid cliches about Italy

Memory works in peculiar ways, doesn’t it? I mean, I know that when we were traveling in Italy a few weeks ago, I was tempted to leave my bickering children at the top of Vesuvius as an offering for the gods but now, weeks later, what remains in my mind is a blur of ancient beauty, tiny streets, motor scooters, and meals comprised exclusively of variations on cheese, tomatoes, and bread (which is, I think, what gets eaten in heaven, if there is such a place).

But in trying to write about this trip, as was the case when we went to India, I find myself frustrated.  If I talk about laundry hanging off balconies, sheets flapping against the bricks, it’s as if I’m describing the opening shot of an old Sophia Loren movie.

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If I tell you about the Mediterranean light splashing across peeling pastel buildings, I’m channeling every bad romance-in-Italy movie ever made.

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Should I tell you instead about walking out of our lovely little hotel in the Piazza Decumani in Naples, on a Sunday morning with bells ringing across the city to call the faithful to Mass?  And that further down the narrow cobblestone street (awash in garbage, it being Naples), we heard glorious opera pouring from an open window, a secular celebration of the morning? By the late afternoon, however, the morning music had been replaced with the scents of cooking garlic and onions, so fragrant that we were stumbling with hunger.

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Maybe instead I should describe a narrow street in Rome, where cars bump alongside pedestrians shopping for vegetables and people sit at cafe tables sipping wine, a barely functional chaos?

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See what I mean? Italy has been a subject for millenia, long enough to make me glad I’m not Italian: I’d be paralyzed by all that history, all that beauty, all that language.  (Frank Bruni offers a somewhat bleaker view of history’s weight in a recent op-ed piece, here).

Instead I’ll go with these pictures taken inside a church, San Giovanni Decollato, in Rome. It’s a private church and gaining access can be complicated, unless you know someone with a key, and keys are only given to those in the brotherhood or descendants of those who were in the brotherhood of the church. It’s straight out of Dan Brown, isn’t it? And unbelievably, our friend G., whose family belonged to the order, and his wonderful wife, unlocked the church with a satisfyingly big key, and let us walk around inside.  There was a lot of decollato; I couldn’t decide if going to a church with decorations like these would hold my interest during dull sermons or terrify me into leaving the church completely.  Probably the latter, given my heathenish proclivities.

IMG_1059above the altar (Caleb was very fond of the bleeding neck detail)

IMG_1062head on a plate (detail from ceiling fresco)

IMG_1058skulls were everywhere in the church: memento mori

The church was beautiful, a tiny gem tucked into a corner of Rome we never would have found on our own.

I don’t know. I’m beginning to think that Rick and Ilsa may have had it wrong: maybe everything would’ve been different for them if instead of having Paris, they’d had Rome.

 

 

Continue Reading · on October 29, 2013 in expat, family, Kids, Travel, writing

what goes around, comes around: in which i suffer karmic retribution

Way back in the dim mists of time (which is to say, 1985), my family took a trip to France. I’d been studying in London and my mother, an eternal Francophile, had planned a two-week family driving tour through France at the end of my semester.  A two-week trip that she planned  before the internet.  There was no tripadvisor, people; there was no google map. It was like an artisanal trip: crafted entirely by hand.

Her plan: Paris, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, a few days driving through the Loire Valley and visiting historic chateaux; then Brittany, and the Normandy Beaches.  What a fantastic itinerary, you say;  that must have been the trip of a lifetime, you say.

Yep.  Trip of a lifetime:  My sister, sporting a slicked-back hairdo ala Princess Stephanie of Monaco, complained because the only sightseeing she wanted to do was in the Paris shops; my father threw his back out and was in dire pain for the entire two weeks; my brother only put down the book he was reading (Thomas Covenant) long enough to dart from the car to the highest allowable point of whatever chateau we happened to be visiting.  I’d like to say that I was a paragon, a perfect traveler, but alas dear reader, I fear that while studying in England I’d picked up the habit of smoking Gitanes and while I didn’t smoke in the car, I must have always smelled like a French bar at closing time. Plus I was all weepy-eyed and forlorn at having said good-bye to my Irish boyfriend, he of the peroxide-blonde hair, sea-green eyes, and cheekbones like scimitars.   I’m not even going to mention the hour we spent on the first day looping endlessly around the Arc de Triomphe, listening to my father (who didn’t usually swear) let loose a string of blue language that would make a Marine blush, as he tried in vain to get from the innermost lane to the outermost so he could make the turn towards Versailles.

Yep. A beautiful trip and mostly we were all assholes, in one way or another.

Sorry mom.

Oh the wheel of life, how it does turn.  Last week we were in Italy—there were school holidays here (the States get Columbus Day, we get Eid-Al-Hadha), the boys have been curious about Pompeii—and wait, really, who needs an excuse.  Italy: ruins, art, pizza, gelato, shoe shopping. Did I say gelato? Perfect family trip site, with something for everyone, right?

But the ghost of France in ’85 was never far away.

Liam’s feet hurt. Caleb was hungry. Why do we have to take the train? Why do we have to walk? Can we have more gelato? I don’t want more gelato. This church/building/museum/painting is stupid/boring/lame. I’m hot. I’m cold. It’s raining. It’s too sunny. He hit me. He hit me.

Ah yes, the Bicker McBickersons had apparently come along for the ride.  They had needs, dammit, and Italy was falling short of their expectations.  Liam wanted to know why episodes of “The Daily Show” weren’t downloading to his phone.  I mean really, no wifi? In the middle of Pompeii? Who can live like that? No wonder the Pompeiians died. Caleb wondered why Husband didn’t want to discuss the finer points of “Star Wars The Old Republic” as we climbed to the Vesuvius crater, which was a grave disappointment to him because of the lack of molten lava. He climbed all that way for what? A few rocks, a whiff of steam? Lame.

They wanted to know why it was a problem that they were just doing a little shoving, some fun shoving,  just some happy shoving, and they were just  goofing around because they were sooo bored. Why did I have to get so angry?

BECAUSE YOU’RE IN THE GODDAMN VATICAN MUSEUM SHOVING EACH OTHER INTO PRICELESS FRESCOES THAT’S WHY I’M MAD, GODDAMMIT.

That may have been a bit of a low point. The loud swearing in the Pope’s museum. Yes. Well, Um.

Luckily we were surrounded on all sides by Chinese tourists with headsets on, so I am hoping they didn’t understand, or just thought I was praying loudly and with gesticulation.

And I was praying. Praying that someday my kids will take their kids on a lovingly planned family trip and that the karmic wheel will circle around yet again. Amen.

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from a detail of a beautiful & rather disturbing tapestry titled “The Slaughter of the Innocents,  in the Vatican Museum. 

 

 

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Continue Reading · on October 19, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Kids, Parenting, Travel

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