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Posts Tagged ‘rome’

Blinded

What do you see when you see us? What do you see when you see someone? We make a narrative. Create a life. Fill in lines to a story we write, from our perspective, from our vantage point, clothing the person, the persons in our garments, to fit our own story of how life works. 

Heard too many times in Rome: “Oh, is that your daughter? That your son? Are you one of those women who couldn’t get pregnant so you adopted and then you had a miracle pregnancy?”

How can I answer? How can I erase those words now etched across my daughter’s scalp, words that say you were a second choice. You were the runner-up.

The surprise answer is NO. Actually she was a first choice, a first decision. She was our miracle. I watch people stammer and their tongues lag because my story does not fit in the hole they wanted to put me in. My narrative is not their own. 

Now back in Uganda my daughter has to hear, “Oh thank you for looking after her!” She watches as her mother is martyred. Like I am a savior.  What I want to say, what I want to scream is, “I am just a mother who has failed a thousand times today. I am a mother who wakes up every day and starts anew and tries and tries again, and I get tired and frustrated and fail and win, and I am just a mother and she is just my child.” But I don’t need to tell my daughter this. She knows all too well how very human I am. But I still want to erase, protect, steel her from such assumptions. 

We look through our own lenses. I am guilty of this as well. I wear my Americanism over my eyes like fog, but I like to think that on this bumper car experience of life, that each new culture I enter knocks away some of it, bangs a little out of me, so that maybe by the end of it–sooner if I am lucky–I will see people a little clearer, a little cleaner, and not assume anything, but discover everything.

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Packing

So many things, moments, snapshots I want to pack in my suitcase, burrow deep in my pockets, drill into memory, which seems to become a hazy mist the older I get, and try as I might reach for it, the present pushes me forward with such vehemence that any clinging behind only tends to sever me into pieces. Perhaps this is life with children. There is nothing but now, nothing but this minute, until the day collides hard with your pillow and you fall into something deeper than sleep until you are pulled, yanked, ripped awake again.

But I want to catch something, hook some things. That is what this blog is, has been. A place to record this crazy adventure; a different kind of album to flip through when the years turn grey.

Italy.

Rome.

Bella.

I have learned that you must not drink espresso too slowly.

I have learned that it is never too early to inhale chocolate.

I have learned how to cook the perfect pasta and how blue cheese is sometimes all you need.

I have learned that no matter how many times I try the shops will not be open at siesta.

I have learned that life can be perfect with just enough and needing more is not essential.

I have learned that clothes on the line come with a freshness that no dryer can ever give.

I have learned that eating is an art and wine a simple brushstroke.

I have learned that potato pizza is just about the best you can get.

I have learned that you don’t need to speak a language well if you just pretend you are in a silent movie and act everything out.

But most importantly, I  have learned that you only have one passion and you must take it with you, always.

 

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I keep thinking of Hilary Mantel, winner of the Booker Prize, twice. The New Yorker did a wonderful article on her in which she referenced an old belief that one must return to one’s own country within 10 years of leaving or risk never fitting in again (she lived abroad for 9 years before returning to England). We’ve been out five years now but I already feel that old adage wrapping me up in string. I feel a part of Rome; I am becoming etched in its stone. Perhaps it is in my blood, my grandmother being Sicilian, or perhaps I have simply fallen in love with the Italian way of life; I have.

Halloween just passed. I think of the holiday back home, the costumes, candy, fright. To what end? Halloween is All Saints Day here in Italy. It is a day to remember those who have passed, to be with family, feast in honor of the dead. Everything has weight here; everything rests here.

When I returned to the States earlier this year it was like walking into an old closet and putting on your favorite sweater. I felt warm, at ease, comfortable. But then I started to notice how some buttons were missing, a tear where I had not known there to be one, fabric scratching my skin. When I caught my reflection in a mirror I realized the sweater no longer fit me.

I’ve met many ex-pats here, there, around who move like currents over the earth or find new shells to grow old in far away from where they were born and raised. When you no longer see through your culture’s eyes can it still be called home?

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Bits

There are quite a few things that have surprised me here in Rome. Of course I come from a bias of NY Italians and the Sopranos, but I think the stereotypes throw a wide net.

Here are some of my observations:

I see more Romans drinking white wine, not red, even in the cold of winter. I wonder if this is partly because there is so much bad red wine here. I cannot tell you how many bottles I have had that have sat in the heat too long and turned. Most wine stores are not air-conditioned, and with a summer of 35+ temperatures (95+) going into a store in the fall for a nice bottle is a bit like playing the lottery. I never win.

There is not a lot of garlic used.

Red pepper flakes are put on everything.

Vegetables are merely a vehicle to get olive oil into your mouth. Everyone of them tastes exactly the same as you spoon them into your mouth, oil dripping down your chin. Of course the ones smothered in pepper flakes also leave a nice burn.

The bread–and I am going to offend some with this one–is not very good.

The pizza–and this one will really hurt–is better in NY. (The pasta however is amazing.)

Coffee is simply to get the caffeine in. The idea of lingering over a coffee enjoying the “roast” as Americans like to do is funny to some of my Roman friends.

Romans do not open their windows at night. Not only are they shut tight, but shutters are locked and metal grates are pulled down so nighttime feels like lock-down in a prison. As an American I love my fresh air, so insisted we not follow this cultural trend. We were robbed.

It is not uncommon to see a pregnant women smoking.

More to come…..

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Olympic fever

Once every four years I get to watch men and women run, swim, jump, fly. Once every four years, for two weeks, I am satiated, riveted. Sure, the winter games are on as well, but it’s the sweat and heat that brings me down. The States tried to take it from me, my once-every-four-years ice cream cone. In America all that matters is ratings. Which network wins which prize and how much money they can make from it. For one week I sat in the dungeon of NBC coverage while finishing my too-long-stay back from where I came. Coverage which showed almost exclusively American athletes, ridiculous ratings driven “home stories,” and worst of all simply 3 hours a night after all the results were already in and covered in the preceding news program.
So imagine my delight when finally returning to my home in Rome to find full 24 hour coverage, LIVE! It’s Sunday and I am finally lifting my head from the screen. Thank you, Rome. It feels so good to be home.

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It was beautiful.
I don’t believe in violence.
I understand rage.

Before it went bad:

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Summer is here. Storms hang in corners; windows are now perpetually open, as mosquitoes rest on my pillow waiting for me to sleep so that they can have their feast. I thought we’d left bed nets behind in Uganda, but this past week we found ourselves hanging them above and around our bed in Rome, so that once again night holds us in webs.

Construction is also in flower, and every corner and every window barrages the world around it with hammering and drilling, which pound and pierce into my every pore. My husband used to tease me that I didn’t know the world existed beyond the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was as if I had a string that could only go so far, a tension cord, which would swing me back if it became too taught, too far away. But then we moved to Uganda, and as I’ve written it wasn’t easy, but slowly, without me even noticing it, I surrendered to silence filled with birds, and insects, and freedom. I remember going back to NY last summer and for the first time in my life found myself cowering and reeling back from the intense noise being hurled at me. That same feeling has sadly been felt by our daughter here. For seven months now she’s walked with her hands over her ears and asks me why it has to be this way. Yesterday she actually said, “Mommy, Rome is too loud. I think we need to leave soon and find a quieter home.” And then today, while walking her to school we took a different route, longer, but through a nicer street. For one moment the traffic calmed and my 4 year-old daughter stopped me and said, “Mommy, listen. It’s quiet. That’s so nice.” And then, of course, the light turned green and we braced ourselves again.

I write all this as I start to pack to leave the city for the summer. Yes, there will be concrete and steel and noise along the way, but mostly it will be vines and mountains and sea. I look forward to watching my daughter drop her hands back down to her sides, while my husband spreads his soul and being as far as the horizon can take him.

I won’t be writing as much. A good deal of the journey is as far away from technology as we can get. But I will try and post some stories and pictures along the way. I wish everyone a very happy summer.

Here are some shots of the Ugandan sky, which opened me up and spread me out so that apartments in cities can no longer contain, or sustain me.

 

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