Friday 25 March 2004
My own afternoon at Santa Croce, getting sore feet, hating other tourists even though I hate hating other tourists, trying to love Giotto, reading in the sun in the cloister, being denied access to the Machiavelli chapel, buying postcards, writing them out with a cup of cioccolata calda & too-firm spoonable too-abundant panna (why is the word for cream so close to the word for bread?), then walking past the duomo against the blue dark sky with its fingernail moon, having dinner with Momma & her friend Ana--bruschetta, house red, a red candle, spaghetti in a light spicy tomato sauce with large pieces of raw arugula on top that darkened & softened & sweetened as you mixed them in with the hot pasta--Ana vociferous about her divorce, its inevitability, Momma vociferous, through a haze of red wine, about Caraway Jack, the inevitability of Caraway Jack in her life (& yet not really explicitly admitting anything about their relationship) and how the inevitability of Caraway Jack allowed her to finally, truly, purely love her husband, but not until after other trials, the drugs, the breakdown, the loss of her daughter, and gripping my hand across the table, tears standing in her eyes, her voice breaking, this is the only thing that really matters, love matters too, yes, but your children! and imagine having your child taken from you, by your own mother! That's a betrayal that you can't forget! Ana looking at us, her own face pretty flushed, and trying to be tactful while implying it was odd that my mother could have allowed that to happen, no matter how sick she was, and me sitting there between them and thinking it wasn't really appropriate for them to be discussing me in that way, in front of me, and trying to steer the conversation back to less explosive topics. Ana's disastrous marriage: fine. Better than the minefield of my mother's psychological landscape, our tortured relationship with each other, with Daddy, with Dottie.
Then we finished dinner and it was all sweetness and light, looking at shoes and candelabra in the shop windows.
Since I have been worse than usual at writing in my little journal (oh, love, I've been cursed with bronchitis, an ear infection, inhalers, weird milky ear drops, NyQuil, an aggressive three-week course of antibiotics, nasal spray, no cigarettes, no alcohol, no sleep, no lipstick, a wretched haircut, too much sleep, zits, exhaustion, inertia, weight gain from the inertia, lousy new requirements from the erotic-fiction slavedrivers ["Set it in the Augustan age of English literature!" they cry. "We want to see ladies pooping!" Never mind that I told them ladies pooping makes me uncomfortable], botched plane reservations, professional intrigues, college chums in dire peril, spyware on my computer, a new obsession with real estate), how about some little snippets from my private travel journal documenting my recent jaunt abroad?
To get you in the appropriate mood for the snippets, here is a photo of the View from my Florentine Room:
Context: I was visiting my mother, the poetess, who had gotten a grant to research Catherine of Siena for a sonnet cycle, but was for some reason staying in a posh, cat-filled neighborhood of Florence. My mother speaks practically no Italian & is kind of miserable there, but is also always merrily buying me organza curtains, Prada shoes, and leather purses. Stephen, a fixture now, came along for the first week.
24 march 2004
Stephen and I flew in together, & journeyed long & absurdly to arrive at my mother's insane, lovely, intimidating, cold apartment in the Oltrarno, on the fourth floor, with long, wall-length shuttered windows in livingroom & kitchen that open onto a balcony & look out over a lush, fragrant, clotheslined courtyard and then the red-roofed, impressive city, and the dark-green hills and the countless cypresses; and freezing marble floors, and 15-foot ceilings and castle-sized rooms. My room, where I am now (alone, because Stephen flew home today; freezing, because my only pair of pajamas are in the wash) is, like all the rooms, white & mostly unadorned, except for a single print of Durer's Melancholia hung asymmetrically on one side of the long window, and of course the huge bouquet of yellow daisies wrapped in royal-blue pleated crepe paper my mother put here to welcome us. But of course I have the best view in the house.
It has been pretty nice, except for the fact that whenever Stephen went into ecstasies over the curled mouth of a well-nostrilled Botticelli maiden (and the occasional boy-angel! oops! a sexuality crisis?) or went on and on about how he couldn't imagine anyone thinking the Sienese madonnas were good-looking, I felt kind of hot and queasy, and had to march steadily over to look at a St. Francis or something so as not to explode in fury and beat him with an audio guide. But never mind--we went to Rome yesterday, just for a few hours, and it's something else--I didn't remember coming out of the metro station and seeing, suddenly before you, beyond the snack stand with its flags about ice cream and hot pizza, attended by green boughs and a blue sky, the vast sudden astonishing Colosseum and the sweep of brown and white and golden ruins, rising and falling and crumbling and standing in all directions; mixed up with the vegetation--palms, flowers, grasses--and the renaissance buildings and the medieval churches and the cars and the tourists and the sun all at once, all in one place. Walking through the Forum, past the temple to Saturn and the triumphal arches, & emerging onto that bright shining pink-and-white-and-gold piazza with the copy? of Marcus Aurelius, and the wheeling birds, and the crowded, gleaming, gorgeous intersections at the bottom of long white plunging steps, I wished my mother had taken up with Rome and not brown narrow gloomy Florence, with its closed spaces and its thousand identical spaces.
And then I looked for my mother and saw her holding court by those white steps, surrounded by about twenty fifteen-year-old Italian kids, speaking her own brand of Engliano, asking them to tell her how to say "cool" and "crazy" in Italian. They were videotaping her and asking her to say things in English for their video camera, and then they all posed for photographs with her. I don't know how this vision fit into my raptures, if at all. But o, my mother is her own monument, really.