Tuesday, September 18, 2007
It’s raining. I decide it’s time I saw the Pantheon in the rain. I take a left out of the Campo and a right onto Vittorio Emanuele. I know this route well by now. A man under a massive umbrella comes toward me on the steps of Sant’Andrea della Valle. He has more umbrellas hanging by their handles off his left arm. He says Ciao or Good Morning. By now they have begun to sound the same. I walk past him without a word. I don’t feel guilt. I don’t want an umbrella so this is the way it must be.
It’s raining. Coming down a little harder now. Maybe this counts as a drizzle. Across the street I see a flock of brightly colored umbrellas. Reds and yellows and greens. Tourists. In my head I think, I don’t need an umbrella. I’m from Seattle. I’m made from tougher stuff than this.
It’s raining. I cross the street at Largo Argentina. I’m looking for the forno that I always pass on the way back from the Pantheon. The one I always pause at, and move on thinking, Another time. Now, in this last week, it is the time. I pass a bar and a panini place, and think I missed it. Impossible. Now I see it. There is an Italian woman in front of me, pointing to one of the flour, sugar, and magic creations in the window. I stare. Prego. It catches me off guard. Una questo. Questo? Si. I can order now. I watch as she struggles to pick it up in the tongs. I’m not quite sure what I pointed to. It is some sort of streusel-y pastry, with glaze and a dusting of sugar. I cringe as I realize this creation of magic will cost me 4 euro. Perhaps that is why, up until now, I have only looked.
It’s raining. Much harder now, as I peek outside the door of the warm, dry bakery. Two English women stop almost in front of me. It’s limoncello, yea? But you have to get the ones in the little shaped bottles, y’know. We’ll come back, right? They have umbrellas, and I am now beginning to regret not having mine. But I have come this far and I am not going back without seeing the Pantheon.
It’s raining. It is actually raining now. Rain that in Seattle would merit an umbrella without stares saying Outsider. My Birkenstocks are getting wet, which I know is against the rules. I can’t avoid the currents between the cobblestones; I just barely miss the polluted lake filled with cigarette butts and bottle caps.
It’s raining. It’s pouring now. My glasses are completely spattered and I can barely keep my eyes open, the drops are falling so fiercely. I hate wearing glasses in the rain. I can see the huge brown building looming before me. Almost there. It is treacherous coming down the slope. No tripping allowed here.
It’s raining. The spatter of the drops onto the marble is surprisingly loud. I come around the edge, near the columns, walking directly under one of the largest waterfalls cascading off the roof. My clothes are plastered to my skin, my hair dripping, and I have a terrifying thought. Is my skirt see-through? Can I walk into a church like this? I try to push the thought aside as the throngs camping out here to avoid the rain give me a collective looking up and down. Ignoring this, I weave around the squatters, and enter the building.
It’s raining. As I look up to the oculus, I see the drops falling through. From so high up, it looks like mist, but as it falls to the colored marble on the floor, it makes a soft tip-toeing sound. I install myself in a corner by a column, just in case my skirt is indeed see-through, and lean my head back. This is a position I have found myself in often, lately, staring up into ceilings. Most are frescoed. Now, however, my eyes are concentrating on a circle that seems to rise above the dome it is contained in.
It’s raining. Through the oculus, the drops seem smaller than those outside, but I think they are slowing as well. I hear the rumble of thunder, rather like the garbage trucks that barge through the Campo at prescribed hours each afternoon. I see flashes of light, for a moment thinking they are lightning, then realizing they are the flashes of cameras echoing off the walls.
It’s not raining. As I step outside, the storm has stopped. Rain in Rome is temperamental and short. The only indications that it did rain are the rivulets flowing through cobblestones and me, standing in front of the Pantheon, clothes hugging my body, and a ponytail ready to be rung out.
Monday, September 17, 2007
I have a list, in my red moleskin journal. An important list, one that guides a part of my life in
A list of gelato flavors.
Gelato was one of the things everyone kept talking about before I came to
For gelato, flavor selection is key. My general rule is to keep creamy flavors and fruity flavors separate. My number one rule, however, is No repeating flavors. The one time I broke this rule was in
I have been thinking. I try new gelato flavors nearly every day. Which flavor is my flavor? Which flavor is most me?
I’m not blackberry. Brianna had her personal perfume made in
I’m not panna cotta. Panna cotta is Gabrielle. She is sweet and genuine and loyal.
I’m not ginger and cinnamon. The cinnamon is homey and warm, the ginger adds an unexpected spice. I’ve only seen it at one gelateria. Michelle is ginger and cinnamon.
I’m not pistachio. It might be my favorite flavor. It’s the only one I’ve had more than once. I’ve had it three times, to be exact. It is one of those classic gelato flavors. It is one that I tried because I thought I should, not knowing if I would like it, but which shot to the top of my list after the first spoonful. I think pistachio is Junko. It’s subtle, and slightly out of the ordinary. When I asked her about it, she said she was mango. I see that too.
I ask the apartment what gelato flavor I am. It’s funny, but the only two in agreement are Gabrielle and Brianna, who both say pistachio. Junko comes up with an answer the quickest, saying chocolate mint. Megan protests that there are too many flavors before narrowing it first to fruity, then berry. June proclaims me grape chocolate, her reasoning being that I am wearing purple shorts and a brown top. I ask Michelle last. She says rice and cinnamon. We recently discovered this flavor at Alberto Pica, around the corner from the Campo.
These are the flavors other people see in me. Are they different from the ones I see in myself? I suppose I see bits of them all, with the possible exception of grape chocolate. I had actually almost settled on frutti di bosco as my flavor. Rice and cinnamon seems appropriate not only because of the superficial reason that I miss rice, but it’s kind of an unusual combination of flavors. I never would have thought of myself as chocolate mint, but the recurring theme I see is the mixing of flavors.
On my last day in
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I started moving around the baldacchino, not sure how to go about seeing the rest of the church. Arms brush past me. Cameras click and flash everywhere. I say this about all the tourist sites, but somehow it seems more pronounced here.
I walk down a hall. I think it’s marked tesoro—treasury. People stop. They’re taking pictures of a list of all the popes. It’s long. Not sure if I’m surprised by that, or if I am, why I should be.
I station myself in a corner at the base of two columns, as I am wont to do. It feels like I’m hiding, but am peeking out onto the scene before me. I spot the Rafael that we saw last night. Christ Rising. Not sure if that is the right title or not, but that’s how I will remember it. I try to take a picture, but that’s the last one. I can’t take pictures in here.
My feet take me over to the other side of the nave. I’m in line to go into the chapel. “This is the room for prayer only.” I read the sign and am reminded again when I reach the door. It’s as if they’re trying to tell me something. I don’t pray. I am told No photo, however, and allowed to enter. I sit down at the back. The smell of incense is overpowering, and then there is a click. Someone has taken a photograph. I feel violated.
I look around. People sit, others kneel. I don’t recognize the painting above the altar. I see the Barberini coat of arms above the two doors. I’ve become strangely possessive over that. I close my eyes. I won’t fall asleep. I open them as a woman in a hat crosses in front of me to sit down. I’m not sure how much time passes, but I know it’s time for me to leave. I walk out, through the curtain that feels rich to my fingers.
I start walking upstream to the front of the church to see the Pieta. I know I’m walking the wrong way. A huge crowd of people in too many colors stands before it. It looks small behind the glass partition. I weave my way through two tour groups, the umbrella passes by on my left. People turn to let others in. I watch the screens on the digital cameras in front of me. I see the Pieta through others’ eyes. Some zoom, others do not. Vertical or horizontal?
The girl in front of me snaps and turns and there it is. I move forward and am standing front and center. Literally. Before the marble. I am immediately hemmed in by a Japanese couple. Irony of ironies. They discuss how little they see of Christ’s face. I wish I could touch the marble. It’s too far away.
I don’t take pictures here. I might be the only one. Did I really see the genius of Michelangelo?
I think about saying すみませんas I turn to leave but instead I am silent.
I keep moving back, fighting the wave of people in matching red t-shirts and see the lanyards of a different tour group. Too many flags to tell which is which. I can’t see anymore. My head tells me that I should go down to the crypt, or up to the dome. I can’t see anymore.
I am overwhelmed, and unsure of how much of this I’ll remember anyway. Of all the surreal visits to sights that I have heard so much about, this is the most so. I’m not actually walking through it. I float in and out of consciousness as my feet carry me through.
The sun is blinding, as I reach the doors. I slowly wake up to the sight of the piazza. I hear my name and see Michelle and Gabrielle coming up behind me. I’m no longer alone. I’m back to where I’m supposed to be.
I’m a little disappointed. That was the most lost and alone I had felt since coming to Rome. I liked it.
Today I ordered a panino. All in Italian. It wasn’t much. I looked at the descriptions on the menu, and it told me the price right there (even though I understood her when she said cinque euro). But posso avere…porta via…si…grazie…and I stood outside, looking out onto the Campo at midday, a hot sandwich in one hand and satisfaction filling my entire being. This seemingly minor victory is the culmination of nearly daily dealings with the vendors, waiters, bakers, baristas, and salespeople of the market and its surroundings.
The first week, the Campo was only half-filled. Vendors were on holiday, late August in Italy. There were a few fruit vendors then. I picked up a banana and handed it to the gray-haired guy who seemed in charge. He said something unintelligible, then held up ten fingers. I took this to mean the banana was ten cents, dug a ten cent piece out of my wallet, and handed it to him. My first purchase in what would become my supermarket for the next five weeks.
When we returned from Florence, the Campo was in full bloom. Vendors everywhere, selling all manners of items from touristy bags and t-shirts to fresh fruit, jams, and assorted spices in unimaginable quantities. I chose a new fruit stand. I picked out peaches and handed them to the old lady behind the stand. She looked as though she had been doing this for a while. Her face was wrinkled and worn from years out in the sun; she reminded me of one of the crones in an old wives tale, as if she might pull out some magical remedies or mutter spells under her breath. The old lady talked to me only in Italian. By then I had learned numbers in Italian class and understood when she said “un euro settanta.”
On Monday, as we waited by Palazzo Farnese for our tour of the French Embassy, I watched as Susie ate a prosciutto and fig sandwich from the Forno on the west side of the Campo. Prosciutto and fig was a combination I had never thought of before. The sweet and savory, rather like our prosciutto and melon for the potluck. So on Tuesday, I made my first trip to the little forno, the one I now call the sandwich forno, to try one. I looked at the sandwiches lined up in neat rows behind the pristine glass case, the pizza bianca uniformly sliced and hugging equally neat rows of prosciutto, cheese, or veggies. I ordered in Italian, but was disappointed when he asked, “Take away?” Undeterred, I responded “Porta via.”
I went back to the forno on Wednesday. And on Thursday. It was the same guy working there both times. By my third trip, he was speaking to me only in Italian, and even if I didn’t understand him, I just pretended I did, and repeated the lines I knew were right. Questo…si…basta…grazie.
I found it frustrating, in the beginning. I couldn’t speak Italian, and yet I resented it when they spoke in English to me. In Japan, it was never like this. I was competent, confident in my ability to navigate in a foreign language. In Rome, I was thrown into something new. Yes, the words look like they could be English, but such looks can be deceptive. Though where I am is a far cry from fluency or even competency in Italian, I have learned to operate in my own small world, the microcosm of the Campo de’ Fiori.