La mia Gioia in Italia (My Joy in Italy): PART 3

So. Day four in Italy, we vacated the AirBnb in the early morning and sojourned down to the Vatican on Sunday morning. Yes, I know what you’re thinking … WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? ON A SUNDAY?? And I would normally say, YOU’RE RIGHT, I KNOW. But that was just the way the cookie crumbled this time round. And in hindsight, I can say, WELL SUCKS TO SUCK CUZ GUESS WHAT. WE SAW THE POPE.

Yes, my friends, we were in the midst of Vatican City’s mini-security check when we heard a familiar lilting voice over the sound system. I looked to Emily, then looked to Sarah, the three of us wide-eyed. Some Italians around us were like, “Il Papa!” then a woman yelled to the security guards, “Andiamo, andiamo! il Papa sta parlando!” (Let’s go, let’s go! The Pope is speaking!)

Finally, we made our way through and we saw his charming face on a huge TV screen they’d set up in the square and his tiny figure in the window. It was three weeks before Easter weekend, so he was delivering a blessing in that spirit … given my Italian-in-training and his mumbly speech, I could only piece together something about all of us having burdens, but we can surrender them to the Lord by loving and believing. What a guy. As I mentioned in Part 2, I was raised Catholic, so I have a lot to say about these kinds of things, but not about him. He is just what the Catholic Church needs to bring it first into the twentieth-century and then the twenty-first.

He delivered individual blessings to the many countries that were in attendance, each giving a hearty cheer, some complete with self-congratulatory flags that I personally found adorable. Then, he said his final farewells, gave his lovely wave and disappeared into the shadows of his room. How about them apples.

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Fleet of foot, given our unexpected celestial promotion, we ventured into St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Seeing the Pietà always reminds me how much I eventually want to be a mother. In case you haven’t figure out from my writings thus far, I’ve always had a sensitivity for mother-child relationships, given my relationship with my amazing mother and father. If I feel like I need to cry about something, but my mind won’t allow me to, I’ll crack the ice by watching Baby Mine from ‘Dumbo’ and the waterworks, without exception, will flow. There are times when I fret about how I will possibly be able to do for my child what my parents did for me: give the perfect balance of love and tough-love. Will I screw them up? Will they hate me even though I will love them beyond all measure?

And okay. I know you’re thinking … she’s looking at a statue of a mother with her dead child and that gives her the warm and fuzzies about maybe being a mother some day? Well. Yes. It’s the hopelessness in her eyes, the depth of sorrow and so, the depth of love in her expression. It’s profound. I would say I feel things deeply, yet—from what I see in the sculpture—I haven’t even scratched the surface of feeling what a mother feels for her child.

Now, as both a quasi-Catholic and theater person, symbolism is not lost on me. Therefore, as I walked away from the Pietà and felt an all too familiar ache in my abdomen, I literally stopped dead in my tracks, a blank expression on my face. Really?

Yes, despite my many attempts to anticipate and quell the pain, my body’s temper tantrum because nope, we are not, in fact, going to have a baby this month won out … even over the Pope’s blessing! (That’s some strength of will right there. Or the devil’s work … haven’t figured that symbolism out yet.) The rest of the day lost some focus; it went from 1080HD to 480, sometimes through spots spidering across my vision, sometimes through tears of pain. But, it was fun nonetheless.

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We tried to get into the Sistine Chapel and for the second time in my life, it was closed. We then found a rather expensive pizza place (do we detect a pattern here in Rome?), then, upon my request, we walked to the Fountain of the Four Rivers and observed it with gelato in our hands. LOOK: (è tiramisu e fragola … delizioso!!)

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From there, we headed straight to the airport. At the risk of beating a dead horse, but more for the sake of candor, the flight home was fresh hell. I suppose it’s an appropriately Italian tragic ending to a blissful trip. We were sat in the emergency exit row, to boot, which meant I didn’t have a window to distract my mind or to help with the nausea. At any rate, I survived without any unpleasantness for anyone else, but never was I so happy to curl up in a ball on my bed when I got home.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON ITALY: I miss it so very much. These people know how to live. They eat well, drink well, speak well, sing well. I so wish I had some Italian in me. I am also madly jealous of our good friend, Nick, who studied abroad in Rome this semester. Unfortunately, I got the timing wrong and we weren’t able to meet up with him (for which I thoroughly beat myself up), but from what he’s told me and the pictures he’s posted, it seems as heavenly as our short weekend stint was. Certainly, my Italian studies would have progressed considerably. (That being said, I do not BY ANY MEANS regret my decision to go to London.) Other than a possible career in opera, I don’t know what I could do so that I have an excuse to live in Italy some day … but whatever it is, I’ll find it and do it.

Viva l’Italia!

Joyfully,

Katie H.

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LA MIA GIOIA IN ITALIA (MY JOY IN ITALY): PART 2

Okay, y’all, I think my computer’s gonna give up in, like, a second. She’s gonna complain to the union about being overworked and just leave me to fend for myself, I know it. With the end of the semester comes all that work that didn’t seem important at the time, but secretly was and just forgot to tell you.

So. Sorry I’ve been away. I know you’re waiting with baited breath about what else happened in Italy.

Right. Second day. I think this might give you a feel for what I was experiencing for the entire trip … I was listening to Elīna Garanča’s album, Meditate, all through Italy. I kept hearing religious music in my head, so hooked myself up to that album. Particularly the song ‘Dievaines’ captured the immensity of emotion I was feeling … it seemed to cross continents. It’s big music. The story is about the deities that accept souls into their afterlife, but as you’ll hear from the music, it’s entirely joyful, if not exciting and thrilling. It captures that deep-reaching hook into joy or history or the earth or belief or spirituality, whatever you choose to call it, as I feel London has done for me, but Rome does in perhaps a more intense way. There’s a whisper of greater knowledge at its edges, as if the author or the characters know something most of us don’t … that it’ll be alright in the end.

Anyway. Maybe if you take a listen on Spotify, you’ll get a sense of what my trip sounded like. Could be fun!

We got pizza again because the breakfast at the AirBnb was laughable (stale Special K with no milk and the Italian equivalent of twinkies). Riding into Rome proper, we saw all the sites you’re supposed to see, my personal favorite being the Altar of the Fatherland, or Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, the impossibly gigantic monument commemorating the unification of the Italian city states.

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I remember the first time I saw it on my last visit. I had the incredible visceral sensation of feeling minute. You look up at the breathtaking structure and it seems like you’re looking at an optical illusion … it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that big. It looks like something from a movie. The architecture is a work of art, each aspect flowing with grace and strength into the next. Then you look at the striking black statue on a plinth in the middle of the design of a man (King Vittorio Emanuele) on a horse. You think, well that looks normal-sized, I suppose … until you discover that on the eve of the monument’s official opening, it housed a dinner for (I believe) 10 people in its belly. Sure. Why not.

We then went to the Pantheon, which I will always love to see.

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As we walk along the Tiber, we found this sweet graffiti. The handwriting is hard to decipher, but from what I can figure, it’s very sweet. “Many best wishes, Love! [Something good happened in that area, dunno what, but I’m sure we can all imagine 😉 ] … you know it! [Something like there will be no other for me]. And sorry and/if I love you, Darling.”

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Then we arrived back at the Piazza Trinità dei Monti and met up with a free walking tour Emily had found. Our tourguide was a smiley Italian young woman named Julia, with short hair and bronzed skin. Her English was really very good and the Italian shadow vowels on every word positively endearing. She took us a pretty exhaustive tour of all the big ticket sites, landing us at the Colosseum at sunset:

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Finally, we got dinner at a rather expensive place that we settled on due to hunger and hanger pains. Pricey, but good. I didn’t bother taking a picture of the food because I was a little mad that it cost so much … although I suppose that’s more reason to take a picture. To commemorate your mistake.

Anyway.

As long as you’re here, Day 3 in Italy: NAPLES

Truly, I think it would be best to simply leave you with the pictures. We did quite a bit of wandering, seeking out historical sites as best we could, but in actuality following wherever our now-seasoned travelers noses wanted to go. Here are the fruits of our labor:

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However, there is one experience I’d like to comment on. We stopped off at the Chiesa di Napoli. First I’ll tell you what physically happened. We had just gotten a LOT of food for barely any money and we were feeling great. We stepped into la chiesa and the early afternoon sun was positively cutting through a stained glass window behind the altar. Treading lightly, we reverently crept through the space for perhaps a minute and a half. Then, a pinched clerical man came out and asked us somewhat politely to leave as they were going to begin preparations for evening mass.

Here’s what happened in my mind: (if you want to reenact it for yourself, I was listening to ‘Silent Songs: Dusi Dusi’ on the album at this moment)

I saw this.

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And I suddenly missed church.

I was raised Catholic. At about 15, I started calling BS. At 16, I was completely out, mentally. It wasn’t until I was in college that I stopped going to church altogether. When I went back for Christmas and Easter, I would remember every hypocrisy of the church, yet remember how much I missed it.

But perhaps I wasn’t missing church itself … I was missing the familiarity of it. I was surrounded by people who had watched me grow from highchair to high school. Even if I didn’t know their names, there was an intimate bond (if not love) between us that comes with 52 hours a year for 17 years.

I was missing the innocence I had when I was at church. My mother would tote my sister and me along. The three of us would have had showers before leaving to wash off the labors of the day and my hair would be wet, but smelling nice. We’d sit in the smaller and more modern of the two churches in our parish at 5 PM on Saturday. As the mass approached its holiest moment, the afternoon sun would blaze in through the back windows, as if to bless the moment and the people. In the daze of boredom, I would snuggle my mother’s shoulder as we sat, her shirt smelling like soap and perfume–I would do this even mid-adolescence, not fearing judgment because that was precisely why were all convened … to refrain from judgment and to love one another. She’d put her hand on my knee. I’d study it. I remember, when I was much younger, running my fingertips across her raised, blue veins, poking and prodding and asking if that hurt. Smiling, she gently shook her head no and the more I thought about it, I secretly didn’t believe her because veins carry blood and if I pressed on them so they closed up, then they couldn’t carry blood like they’re supposed to, which would hurt your body and your body always lets you know when you’re doing something bad for it, so obviously it would be painful if I pressed on her vein. I obviously stopped doing that.

Junior year of high school, I was sitting there again in church with my mother (my sister now grown). It was an extraordinarily hot summer day outside and my entire body was doing that weird thing where it produces cold flashes for you. Wanting to say a silent hello to my mom during mass but not hang on her for both our sakes, I leaned the length of my arm against hers, both our hands on our knees. I stared. I had veins on my hands! When did they get there? Not as pronounced as hers, and slightly more greenish, but they were there! Hesitantly, I touched them. Sure enough. They didn’t hurt.

After church, we’d drive home in the sunset and listen to Garrison Keillor’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ on the radio. His voice delivering his touching stories. The wonderful folksy-country music (which, truthfully, in any other context I truly don’t enjoy). We’d get home, I’d catch up with my father about our days at the kitchen table, while mom would cook up some dinner, and we would turn the sound up on the radio for our favorite routines.

I miss that. I miss that terribly.

When I saw the beauty of la Chiesa di Napoli that reminded me of the beauty of my church at home, I ached for all those things that church meant to me. This, of course, happened within the span of a minute and a half before il buon signore kicked us out. There were many wonderful things about Napoli, but I’d say that was the biggest moment for me.

That’s all I’m able to write for now, but I’ll be in touch with Part 3 sooner than I was for Part 2, I promise. I’m officially done all my papers finally, so now I can devote all my time and energy to you lovely people. (You are out there, right?)

To be continued … 

Nostalgically,

Katie H.

La mia gioia in Italia (My Joy in Italy): Part 1

Se mai ho avuto la gioia, era in Italia.
If ever I had joy, it was in Italy. 

Se mai ho visto la luce, era in Italia.
If ever I saw light, it was in Italy.

Se mai ho mangiato bene, era in Italia.
If ever I ate well, it was in Italy.

Il mio cuore appartiene a Italia.
My heart belongs to Italy.

(Ho praticato il mio italiano.)
(I’ve been practicing my Italian.)

It’s going to sound SO sappy, especially on a screen, but our trip to Rome was a nonstop stream of religious experiences. But I think those passionate, sometimes gaudy, always vibrant Italians would be pleased that their city drove me to feel only the most highly saturated emotions.

I found just how boundless the upper limit of joy is … like a domed ceiling, with an oculus gateway to infinity.

So, I’ve been here before. Just after graduating high school, I participated in a program called AMA (American Music Abroad), where high schools from a certain region sent a handful of students to four European countries for three weeks to play and sing for the residents there. With a jazz band, concert band, orchestra, and chorus, we toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy over the course of three weeks. Our first stop was Rome. What I remember: the smell, the sun, roasting nuts of unknown identity, churches, gelato, and a gargantuan building of white marble with a black horse statue in front that I could not remember the name of.

I am happy to report that Rome smells exactly the same. It’s a veritable potpourri of smells. One smell is, of course, the European staple of cigarette smoke. Another is what I think must be the smell of terra cotta in the sun, a warm, earthy scent. Another is the smell of ocean water, just a hint of salt. Another is a kind of metallic smell which mystified me last time and of which I still don’t know the origin. Finally is the smell of food: bread, meat, and vegetables.

The sun is stronger here and I, having not been south of the Mason-Dixon line since Rome the last time, was drinking it up from the moment we landed. We exited the airport, delighted to find that we were in the middle of nowhere. We caught a bus to our hostel, which was a half hour bus ride outside of the city proper, in a lovely, very hilly neighborhood, where things were much cheaper than in the city. Checking in with our AirBnB host, we dropped our things and ventured out for a bite and an adventure.

Our first stop was the first religious experience. (There will be a lot of these.)

A little pizza shop caught our eye. I ordered a margarita pizza in Italian, pleased with my first Italian interaction in a long time; my pride was short-lived, however. I was blind-sided when an employee hurled an Italian word at me, quickly and sharply. I stuttered, blinked a lot, looked to Emily, the Spanish speaker, to see if she recognized it, she didn’t, I uttered, ‘uh’ quite dumbly, and finally she said it again, pointing to a box, then outside. A wave of embarrassment passed over me as I realized it was the Italian word for ‘takeaway’, which I had never learned from a textbook. I mumbled, ‘si, prego’, took my pizza, paid, and shuffled out the door. Almost a job well done.

But the pizza. Oh, the pizza. Fresh, crispy dough with olive oil drizzled on top. You could see the light flakes of sea salt on the olive oil. Then, fresh, diced tomatoes, ruby red and oozing with juice. White, glistening mozzarella, the imperfectly ripped texture hinting at its authenticity. And finally, emerald green basil, not a hint of brown, lush, and deliciously pungent, with cracked pepper on top.

We ate it on the way into Rome on the bus. We were standing amongst maybe thirty Italians and passing Italian signs, most of which I could understand. I was standing, but I was floating. As long as I’ve been studying Italian by myself, I’ve had a shadowy thought in the back of my mind reminding me that this doesn’t do any good unless I practice with someone. If I don’t speak it aloud and hear it aloud in conversation, all of it could be for naught.

That bus ride dispelled that pesky little thought and I was buzzing like neon.

We got off at a random bus stop on Monte Esquilino (Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills) and followed the street signs to the landmarks we wanted to see. Our informal walking tour took us to the gorgeous Fontana di Trevi, la Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti (the Spanish Steps), la Piazza del Popolo, e la Terrazzo del Pincio (Pincio Promenade). (Be advised … there are 30-some pictures in this slideshow. All of which are my favorites. Thanks.)

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The sun, smiling, began to set on Rome.

All through the day, I’d had Rossini’s La Cenerentola (starring my birthday buddy, Cecilia Bartoli) in my earbuds and his writing couldn’t have better embodied my joy. The rhythm bounced like an excited heartbeat, the singer’s voices flitted up and down the scale, the words had such vivacity, hope, humor. Cenerentola’s Rondò finale, Nacqui all’affanno, began as Rome turned golden:

“I was born breathless and crying, suffering silently at the core; but by a sweet charm, in the flower of my youth, like a lightning flash, my luck has turned … no more sorrow by the fire, to be singing alone, no! Ah, it was a lightning flash, a dream, a game, my long life of suffering.”

Out of nowhere, even though I’ve listened to this song dozens of times before, my chest expanded, my breath caught, and my eyes welled. I felt every elation, despair, rage, and shock from the past four years wallop me at once. Like looking back at an old diary or the wall-mounted ruler my parents used to chart my height, I suddenly became aware of the maturation I’d undergone since coming to college. The feeling was so immense, I could barely wrap my heart around it.

I didn’t know I was living in high school. I remember the moment in eighth grade when I developed my sharp disdain for the busywork of school and the antics of my classmates; it was the moment I calloused my hands, tucked my chin, and got through my life until I could sing, play an instrument, be with friends, write–do anything but be told what to do. Of course, I had beautiful friends that have stuck with me through it all, amazing teachers that gave me the skills and nourishment I needed, and my family was how I even survived. But I don’t think I was happy. I was happy enough, which sometimes didn’t suffice. Anything remotely negative would send me dipping below the surface. Tunnel vision will do that to a person.

Of course, not all are so lucky to escape. There were three suicides at my high school in the four years I was there. I would be lying to say I didn’t skirt around the edges of those kinds of thoughts in my darkest hours. I spent afternoons in a bathroom stall, breathless and crying. A bad grade on a test that would surely ruin my grade for the semester or forgetting an assignment because I had so many extracurricular activities (none of which I could drop because I needed them for college applications) would make me wonder if it was even worth it. But after a night’s rest or after a talk with my mom and dad, I would snap out of it. Some don’t.

So, what must change? And who’s to blame?

When I got to college, I was finally able to breathe. My luck had changed. It took some time to open and truly let people in after all the time spent closed off, but once I did, it was bliss. Although I’m further away from my parents, I feel them with me in every step I take or word I say. I made friends that complete me. If I attained any success, my teachers, whether they believe me or not, are to thank; they loved and supported me into the truest form of myself. The way of living I discovered in college is one of gratitude: finally being able to step outside of my problems and realize how much I owe to the people in my life and (it sounds gross and cheesy) how lucky I am. It’s so much easier to live. It was a lightning flash, a dream, a game, my long life of suffering.

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Questa vita è più bella e prezioso di ogni altra cosa.
This life is more beautiful and precious than anything else.

I gazed at the roman sunset, belly full with good food, flanked on either side by my best friend and a very close friend, skin warm, eyes and ears full of beauty, and thankfully I had sunglasses on as a few happy tears escaped from my eyes–not sure how I would have articulated my reason for them.

Pulling myself together, we sought out dinner and, man, did we get it. La Proscuitteria in a secretive alley just off Piazza di Trevi gave us an enormous board of antipasto-style meats, cheeses, bread, vegetables, olives, etc. all for ten euro (just about ten dollars) per person. Observe and be jealous:

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After, we wandered a bit more, then thoroughly exhausted and having been up for about twenty-two hours, we went back to our AirBnb. Of course, we found gelato first. Tiramisu. Always. And conked out.

To be continued …

Feeling spiritual and emotionally overwhelmed,

Katie H.