Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The painting said his name was Saint Francis of Assisi . I didn’t recognize him. He looked to be in a pit, but he couldn’t have been Daniel – there were no lions, only a skull and a cross. Must have been after Jesus rose then. No one would carry around a cross for fun; people don’t carry around miniature electric chairs. It looked like the end, like he was put in this dark place to die alone. He’s not even looking at the cross, but cradling the skull in an embrace that hints of fondness, familiarity. Perhaps he’s ready to go. His holey, tattered, and dirty robe doesn’t suggest he’s having very much fun, and the hallow around is head is like that of those portrayed in heaven. Perhaps he’s leaving the world in this very moment and heaven is bleeding through, there is a distinct ray of light that has no seen source running left to right diagonal across the canvas illuminating cross and skull with equality. Latter I learn the painting is unrecorded, and has been given many names. Saint Francis in Meditation, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis in prayer. He didn’t look like he was praying – his mouth was closed and Biblically Christians are loud when they speak to the Father. Why the skull? I expected him to be a member of the Cappuccini, bones and all. But he founded the Franciscans, an order of poverty and humility. The robe fits than, but the skull? Perhaps it was painted for the Cappuccini. Though they say it is difficult to distinguish the original from later copies, John Gash is said to have identified a version in the Chiesa dei Cappuccini. But why would the Cappuccini commission the painting of the founder of another order? Do we have paintings of other nations’ presidents in the White House? There are no portraits of the Pope in the Lutheran churches back home. Perhaps the two orders are connected in a why I do not know and can’t seem to find on the internet. Like so many other things concerning Rome, more research is required.


The inscription Venite Adoremvs means, “Come let us adore him.” I will look it up when home. Carved on an unadorned podium in a classroom whose silence perhaps was last broken by Latin words, the inscription focused the room of dark wood desks and tables where one child-sized chair stood alone in a niche up front. The stillness of the room made it eerie. Unless filled with corpses, Roman places are not this darkly quiet.

The climb up the hill was full of faces. Hundreds loud, seated in the sun. The signs at the top that scolded English-readers not to yell, sing, or make ruckus went obviously unnoticed. Ruckus ran amuck down the ellipses of stairs, through the central terraces, and around the fountain none will ever hear. How odd a path, like an eight with an extra bulge, winding, but obvious – all ways lead up.

Followed a priest to find the classroom. While sitting in the nave saw peripheral movement, a robed person walking through walls. Only the curious find the ambulatory. It’s nothing more than an afterthought. Low, narrow arches cut a path through the side chapels into the unknown behind the high altar. Beyond the classroom is a hall: rectangular, cool, and gray. Full of the sunbeams longed for by charcoal renders, they make clean shapes on the tile floor. On tiptoe, the road comes through the window, but its sound and nearness has been blocked out. Not a soul stirs within the shadowed maze.

Counted nine couples mid-kiss from the third terrace. Dark-haired heads plastered together for all the world to see. More people sit than walk on the stair, I stand in the happy medium, map unfolded on the marble railing trying to align its cardinal points with the Roman sun. Finding the steps was not difficult. Follow the bump and shove down the Corso to the swarm on risers.

I had given up and asked. First two women in a museum, than a street vendor, and finally a doorman. “Dove Santa Maria della Concezione?” I butchered Con chez e on a. The scribbled name on my piece of notebook paper did little to clear confusion. Only the doorman knew. Sempre dritto and something about a third left. Walked blind down a grey street of narrow sidewalks until I realized the blackness was familiar. Back to the bones, but thankfully climbed all the stairs this time. Reached wooden door with posted hours. Cheiso followed by sei e mezzo.

The stairs never quiet. After the robbed priest turned out the church with a slowly waving hand, I walked back through the noise of cars to find the activity I left to explore darken corridors unchanged. In closeness reminiscent of Notte Bianca I descend, leaving both church and stair behind as I head for home.

Market Interactions

Il mio pomodoro

August 23rd

White canvases covered the square again today, my third time. Nervous I walked away from the vendor who addressed me in English, determined parlare italiano. She had pirate teeth, a weathered face of leather folds, and a headscarf that looked like the one Jill brought back for mom twenty years ago. All I needed was a tomato. Any kind would do, I couldn’t tell you in any language the difference between the five types all the canvas owners seem to stock. I lifted a red one out of one of her boxes of color and turned it over in my hand, trying to look at it with a scrutinizing authority I didn’t have, but hoped I could fake – like Matthew ordering wine. A man I hadn’t noticed handed me a plastic bag from behind the barrier of food that separated us. The women with pirate teeth yelled at him. Her Italian I couldn’t understand, but every child knows that look. Hoping to justify the man’s gift, two hastily chosen tomatoes joined the first inside the bag before I handed it to the women watching her only other customer. She put them on a scale. “Settanta centesimi.” I dug in my change purse while counting hurried Italian tens, quaranta, sessanta, settanta. Handed her venti and quaranta triumphantly. She took the change without notice and grunted with a sound of order.

“Hey lady”

August 25th

He caught me by surprise, the dark skinned man I don’t seem to notice until he moves. Walking past the pirate lady’s stand he stood up from the stool that hides his face among the edibles. “Hey lady.” Abruptly, the tone climbing upward at the end, but not enough to be questioning. He must have recognized me from the day before. I hadn’t meant to stop, but the oddness was halting. In the pause, I looked at him to see. His face is darker than Italians, but not the black brown of my own. His has a red like Michelle’s, but less like clay and more like mud on an overcast day. Black loose curls though, and thick eyebrows. He smiled, but the more I saw the more unsure it became. Hitting on someone in another language must be very difficult; I hardly know how to make change. Perhaps that wasn’t his intent. Awaking from thought, I gave him a confused look that didn’t need faking and continue on to class across the cobbled stone.


August 27th

Took Erina to the pirate lady’s stand today. She made me explain why I called her the pirate lady before we went. Entered the rows of white squares by way of the fountain, and there, second canvas to the right, the pirate lady stood in the same faded headscarf, the dark man seated on his stool. They occupied the ends of their rectangle of operation, as far away from each other as possible, baskets of food on three sides. I never saw them speak except in scolding, her to him. We bought sunlit tomatoes and peaches, she sells them for the best price. Erin paid, she wanted to share. The pirate lady weighed and price, while the man sat and watched. “Un euro e quaranta.” Erina looked at me for help. “A dollar fifty.” Sometimes I translate a bit too thoroughly. A two euro coin dropped into the pirate lady’s palm. She moved coins back and forth in a metal box and picked up three. Walking away Erina realized her mistake, a euro fifty in change was too much. What was she supposed to say? The verb to give was either gone or had never been know, either way past tense would be problematic. Troppo and a smile should do the trick. The pirate lady had no choice. She accepted the change of girls who could neither answer her questions nor properly explain.

“Buon finesettimana?”

September 3rd

8:27am coming off a night train seat on empty stomach, the market looked hazy. The women with pirate teeth looked up as I approached. She recognized my face. The dark man doesn’t sit with her in the morning. When I handed her my bananas she asked a question. After two “Che?”s I recognized buon finesettimana and squeaked out “Si” with a nod of my groggy head in what I hoped was a confirmation that indeed I had had a pleasant weekend. Only after half the first banana had slid down my throat did I realize that, “Sono andata a Firenze e Venezia” was not only within my ability, but would have made for a much better response.


September 20th

I knew it would be the last time. I picked out the peaches and tomatoes carefully, squeezing each peach slightly, fingers on fuzz. A softer one per oggi and a harder per domani. The last fruits. When I finished, I stood patiently beside a women bent over such that the crown of her white-haired head shown a foot below mine. She was speaking with the pirate lady as I had never heard anyone speak. A politeness form another era, one I will never know. The tone of the voice, the length of the sentences, the formal word endings - an italiano not wasted on Americans. Their words ran together like water on smooth stone. The honorable exchanges of old women. She was saying goodbye, the white-haired one. "Arrivederla" echoed twice. I looked her in the eyes before saying it myself, hoping they could relay the respect my words could not. Goodbye.


“Are you traveling alone?”
“No. I was traveling with friends before this and in Rome I’ll be starting a study abroad program.”
“Oh, that’s good then. Traveling alone, that’s bold.”
“Yeah, it is.”

I had lied and I knew it. Only partially though. Literally what I had said was true. It’s just that four-day stretch that I left out. Had it only been four days?

Out the window a station approaches. There is absolutely no pomp, no circumstance. I know it is my stop only because the time is right. Termini is just another stop marked only by the gray concrete barriers that have marked the stops before it and will continue to mark the stops I will not see. The tracks are the same, the blue signs the same. I can see nothing of the city I have long studied. No monuments, no ruins. HFS TEAM is scrolled in vibrant colors on the wall outside. I smile as I stand, the train has slowed.

I nervously pat the pocket that holds my next step. Vorrei andare a Hotel Campo de’ Fiori. I force myself to mumble. Of the station I take in very little, only the signs that say taxi matter. But when I reach the curb the taxis come to me.

“Taxi lady?”

Three men, no taxis. All are dressed in jeans, worn shoes, and faded shirts. They smell of smoke, mainly because one’s cigarette dangles lit between his lips. They are not the taxi men I had envision, but I have no chance to look around. I am engulfed by the swirl and my only focal points demand my attention.

“Where you going?”

The shortest of the three with the roundest potbelly and only a snaggle of a tooth. His dark eyes stare out hard and focused above his unshaven chin. The two men at his side fall silent waiting for a reply.

“Hotel Campo de’ Fiori,” as bold as I can muster, my grip has tightened on the bag I roll behind.

“50 euro.” He says it directly. I stand aghast. There is no way.

“50 euro? To Campo de’ Fiori?” The disbelief in my voice is undeniable, it rings shocked and hurt.

He makes a small hand gesture, as if to apologize for his mistake. “Ahhh, for you 45.”

“No. No more then 35.” So bold, I forgot who spoke. The shock and realization of my aloneness passed with his reply.

“35. No e impossibile. Might as well take the company.” His tone is mean. He searches my face while playing with the pocket of his denim button-up shirt. I do not understand, but I cannot move, for I know nowhere to go. His shoulders shrug and he half turns away from me. I am participating in a dance my conscious self has never learned, but there I stand.

“Ok. Campo de’ Fiori for 35.” It is the taller. His white shirt and hair are pointed downward in a stoop. As he passes the turned he receives a look I can’t quite read. I haven’t time, I’m already following long, jeaned strides across hot pavement. But still I see no taxi and he is drawing me away.

“I can take you within 100 meters of Campo de’ Fiori.” He says it mid-stride without so much as a head turn.

“What?” I am jogging at his side. He still has not looked me in the eye.

“It is not possible for me to get closer. Can I take your bag?” He turns abruptly, and though he asked it as a question, the pointed way in which he extends his arm is making no request. My grip is iron now. His command denied, he meets my eyes. Brown like mine, but full of a sorrow too fierce to inspire trust, like a dog that’s been kicked too many times.

“No.” He continues on as before. We are hurrying away from the safety of people and I still see no car. I must know. “Where is your taxi?”

“It is a flat-rate taxi.”

The Italian accent is too thick. “What?”

He stops and turns. The wrinkles around the eyes that won’t meet mine are snarling. I read his lips. “A flat-rate taxi. You pay only one fare.”

We have reached an island of concrete floating between the station and parked cars.


The answer is instantaneous. I completely disregard him and turn myself. Now I see. From the island I can see the line of marked taxis formed at the front right of the station. I had been distracted. I leave him standing there with his hands out of his pockets and march off to find the front of it.

The taxi ride to the door of Hotel Campo de’ Fiori cost 7 euro and 35 cents. I paid in exact change.

Welcome to Rome.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

The archways of the tower hold the blackest dark, and the tower has stood the longest in this mismatched pile. Around the tower, a church has grown. Pilgrims enter the church through a portico whose archways flash with the light of cameras and thus cannot duplicate the blackness held by those of the tower. Beyond the portico, to the tower’s right, an entrance gives off the reflection of light on white molding, a constant glare unbefitting the tower or the portico. Beyond that, darkness seeps out of the tower’s barricaded staircase to join that formed in the safety of the traditional dark wood box that grants sunlight access to the church one person at a time. This darkness creeps up the nave to meet the light of candles, where it is dispersed, but not destroyed. It weaves its way through the side chapels and down the ambulatory flanked by stolen columns before in retreats, screaming down the hidden stairwells that twist below the holy place. The sunlight rests in full force upon the baldacchino, a perfect window of white. In the back of the church, the pilgrims see nothing but the white until they break free from the dark. The blinding brightness forces them to move slowly up the central aisle until they reach the place where shadow meets luminosity and their eyes can adjust to take in what the light has led them to. For all its illumination, the altar stands cold. It is not what they have come to see, but standing just outside its glow, they can follow the movement of the air with their now adept eyes. In a box of gold, in a chapel of shadow, a skull sits. The candles that surround it define its curves, the missing eyes and hallowed cheeks. The darkness that rests in this place is of a different kind: it is not the blackness of the tower, nor the darkness of the church’s entry. It’s a darkness so magnetic that they surround it, a singular side chapel to the left of the altar. The pilgrims who braved darkness and followed light now pray in shadow.

The Most Beautiful Thing

While in Rome, I wrote down my thoughts of beautiful things. These made the list:

Our Campo Apartment

August 22nd
12:05am (Rome)

Tonight I sit in a room with yellow walls. Yellow walls, warm rust tile floors, white trim work and a living room. I’m home. This is the best apartment I have lived in thus far. Thank you. There’s art on the walls of things I’ve seen with my own eyes. That’s neat.

P.S. Terrace

August 23rd
10:10pm (Rome)

The musicians are on rotation in the Campo. They all have a version of “Over the Rainbow” and the woman who sings “Casa Mila” in the six to seven time slot is actually a thirteen year old boy who plays the violin and has a pot belly. Good crescendo though. I prefer the six-piece band that plays at ten. People dance and they have an accordion and two alto saxophones. The soloist is now shuffle stepping and waving to the dancing twenty-something girls under the Jedi.

Light is coming out from the room where my roommates study. Over it and the lights of Rome I can see six stars.

Parco Savello

August 27th
10:30am (Rome)

Umbrella pines and orange curves up a hill of cobbled stone. Across the river Rome and more domes than I can count let alone recognize. Yet I stand in green. Green roof, green floor, green walls with brick accents and red flowers. Kids run and old people sit.

An Italian walks to the ledge smiling. A group of Asian women standing there turns and shamelessly stares at his approach. He is so excited his body starts to shake and his smile grows so broad you can see his tongue. The women who until now were speaking excited Japanese, suddenly burst out, “Come si chiama?” and lung forward. “Pluto, si chiama Pluto.” But the answer gets little notice, the barer of the name has already been engulfed.

Santa Croce

August 29th
10:00am (Florence)

Woodwork, blind sun, and my shadow. The form is so simple, yet so overpowering. Light would have come in from one side. How can something so beautiful be so simple? Central nave, clerestory, side aisle, transept, pointed arches, and white walls. It’s perfect. We are so small, so small beneath the dome of heaven below which the dead sleep.

I could have looked long,
But the rush, the bump and shove
Moved me on
I wish I looked long

Venetian Sky

August 31st
11:42 pm (Venice)

The bars of the bed are cold between my toes. They twizzle and curl. The sheets are white and clean and the shower has twelve heads. I will sleep in Villa Dori tonight with six friends; all girls so different: Gabrielle, June, Mindy, Melissa, Elice, Michelle. Tomorrow we go to the city on poles. Erina and Johanna say it’s beautiful. It looked so at home across the sea. Tonight I saw the same stars. The big dipper and the hunter’s dog shine here too. They didn’t see it, but I did. The sky must be so big, and we all so very, very small.


September 7th
10:15am (Orvieto)

The angels are singing. They’re singing and I can hear them. Light from a clerestory. Smile and lift – right through the rafters.

Notte Bianca

September 9th
3:05am (Rome)

The world met beyond language and their was a dancing of color and springs on a night where the sea of faces consumed the cobbled stone. Remember this night under the distant stars, remember before the men – block them out. Remember the noise of song and drum of countries not your own. Remember the smile of a girl who clapped with arms overhead as they tumbled and turned on and over pole, rope, and each other. Remember the Chinese in red tights lifted high over the six others. Only a boy – his whole life to live thirty feet above the hard floor. Remember that the girl smiling was you.

September 14th
10:20am (Rome)

I remember the sound of Notte Bianca just now – the first song with the girl in white. Pulsating and free. Dona Nobis Pacem.

Piazza S. Pietro at Night

September 13th
2:31am (Rome)

Grandpa died yesterday. Mom told me in an email titled “News.” I walked to the Vatican to say goodbye. I can’t linger in grief, but I feel different. Like I had to push a rock uphill to pour out my heart. I cried both for loss and for realization – tears of joy and sorrow. How real faith, it’s as concrete as the blue-black sky. Grandpa is home, and someday I shall be. Ci vediamo nonno. Amen.

Going Away

September 21st
11:30 pm (London)

I’m sitting on an airplane that hasn’t taken off; when it does, I will leave Europe. I don’t want to. Mi piace Europa. Mi piace non capire sempre. C’era molto things sapere, that way. Going back feels like an adventure I am too tired for right now. A good sleep will change that, but I really like it here. Thank you so much. Amen.

I sit in Seattle now, at a plastic conference table in a square meeting room lit by compact florescent bulbs. Outside is wet and grey. I made this list before I left, but I couldn’t decide until now. Couldn't determine the most beautiful thing. Now I know:

August 29th
1:56am (Florence)

The plates kept coming. Longing to detach from the uncomfortably full lower half of my body, I press on. La cameriera is annoyed with us. I pick up snippets of her mumbled italiano. Campra l'acqua or something to that effect. Latter in the moonlit streets she is forgotten. We hear nothing but each other’s voices. The scooters have gone and the cars seem oddly out of place on the cobbled streets. The piazza that burned hot has turned blue-black. You can see it on your skin, like home. We wander through moonlight back to the place from whence we came. The rooms full of strangers we now call friends.

September 6th
1:22am (Rome)

Forgive all. Friends came this night. I sat in the conference room missing their arrival and aching all over over what was said “in jest.” Forgive all, love covers. All sleep well tonight, Amen.

September 10th
Sometime after 1:15am (Rome)

Friends leave tomorrow. We walked along the River Tiber joking of baby stories and well-toned bladders, leaves under our feet. Will we end up together? Four friends of varied relations to one. I asked, “Un tavolo per Quattro per favore.” Things so small and yet so gratifying to be understood. The world turns round and round, unlike the ball in this pen.

What is most beautiful was not the height of a dome, the taste of gelato, the color of a flower or any combination of brush strokes or chisles in white marble. Them I wrote nothing of, not really. Now they are fuzzy to my mind's eye, like its lost its glasses. Only the heart's memory is crystal clear. It remembers the other hearts that beat, the way we laughed, and how it aches all over at the thought of missing them. The most beautiful thing, people.

Monday, October 22, 2007


29th of August

Marrone zucchero

Early morning with the vendors. Colors and blue haze around white canvas. From the hotel, you feel as if they operate above time. In the photograph, you can see them setting up their carts like life-size Lego houses. In systems of beauty, everything has its place. I’m not in the picture, but you can see my friends. They are unwrapping the brightly colored scarves on the right. Bartering is an art I can only do when I am unsure. Salespeople can see want in people eyes, but I see something else. Eyes full of want, but not for beauty, burn hard around every corner.

uomini calling
flattery birthed from lust
answered with laughter

9th of September

Notte Biance

The world met beyond language. You can see their faces in the photograph. Their eyes reflect the lights of the stage. I stand to the left under the noise of song and drum of countries not my own. Matthew took the picture (he’s tallest). On the stage, you can see a Chinese boy in red tights lifted high over six others – his whole life to live thirty feet above the ground. Reminds me of a dream I had four years ago. Dona nobis pacem. I’m smiling. Tumbling always makes felice rise to the surface. So silly, like professional children. The man next to me isn’t. You can tell by the lines that his face has grown accustomed to frowning. What has he lost along the way that denies him the joy of laughter? What will he remember of this night? This night where all Roma stood under forgotten stars.

14th of September

To Nonno

madre dolcissima
regina degli angeli
la mamma di agostino


We went to the wall in the morning. The gray sky reflected in the plaques of hope. No pictures – faith cannot be photographed. In monotone, Shawn explained that the words were for God’s mother. I was not listening. She was lit by candlelight (red, like those of shrines). She made me think of the Church. The largest in the world, across the river from my bed, where I had gone two nights before. How had they been told they needed to come to Her – those whose words rest here? Mine was an email titled News. I had walked through the black. Pushed a rock uphill to pour out my heart. They left words in marble. How real faith, as real as cool gray stone.

Ci vediamo Grandpa.