Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Friday, May 9, 2014
|Stone pines, Pinus pinea.|
They're emblematic of Italian landscapes so it was refreshing to my mind's eye when they finally made their grand appearance.
[The beauty of the trees inspired the symphonic poem Pines of Rome (Pini di Roma) by Ottorino Respighi nearly 100 years ago (1924). The piece depicts different pine trees in Rome during different times of the day. I have to admit I'm rather fond of the work and if you're familiar with the Disney film Fantasia 2000 you've already heard one of the movements.]
|One side of Il Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. (Note the lovely pine tree.)|
Considering that this is the building built and dedicated to honor Victor Emmanuel II and the unification (Risorgimento) of Italy, I understand the issues involved after having really thought about it. I won't go into detail, but the building is really fascinating. There are so many angles to analyze it from and that's honestly what I ended up taking away from it. Being complicated and controversial is honestly kind of a good thing in Italy so I say let the building do what it does best.
|Walking alongside the Tiber River.|
We'd flown into Rome early that day, and had taken the train into the city from the airport. After dropping off our bags at our hotel we started our walk. I think it was around 11am. This did not leave us much time. I was still not well from the food poisoning and I think between the two of us we'd only had 8 hours of sleep the night before.
Originally we'd planned to have 2 days in Rome but our flight from Palermo had been cancelled and we couldn't reschedule for the same day so we had to settle on this arrangement. It wasn't ideal, but I'm glad I had a few moments there.
|Inside St. Peter's Basilica. The gold ceiling reminded me of home and the arm popping out of the wall added some drama. It was beautiful. I'll give it that.|
Once we were there I was uncomfortable amongst the tourists and found all of their pushing in line, cameras, talking loudly, and chatting on their phones (though you're not supposed to be doing so) incredibly disrespectful.
It felt a lot like a zoo that day but I guess it was the beginning of Easter week.
|It was Good Friday when we visited and these were real palm fronds out front on St Peter's columns.|
If I'd wanted to be around piety, I could have gone to Mass, but that was highly unlikely.
(I thankfully had other quiet moments in other churches during the trip. I even saw what's left of the body of my favorite female saint. I had no idea I'd get that opportunity and it was a very exciting surprise for me.)
|At least John and I tried on some 'tough guy' faces while loitering at the entrance.|
I knew I should have picked the botanical garden. (**Just joking!**)
|The view from our hotel room. The rooftop garden in the distance had a tomato jungle growing in it.|
I was hoping Pope Francis would cruise past us in his Ford Focus and we'd catch a ride with him to our hotel because he'd taken pity on me—but no dice.
To make the time pass I had fun spinning old religious yarns in my head about pilgrims. Despite the pain, that walk was good for me because I was in Rome after all and in the moment. It was a space in life, and in this world, I'd never really lived in and that felt really good. I think I grew a bit more as a person during that short-lived day despite the difficulties—or maybe because of them. That's so often the case now isn't it?
• • •
Later, after resting, we had an amazing dinner, and of course I didn't take photos. My mind was yet a bit wild.
I wanted to add though that the art deco era Atlantico Hotel (just a block or so from the train station) was a great place to stay and I highly recommend it. The rooftop restaurant of its sister hotel (Hotel Mediterraneo) was more than outstanding. After a long day it was such a treat to eat dinner while overlooking the Vatican and the Colosseum.
Thoughts of Fellini filled my head—but not for long. I'd look over at John and he was clearly having a difficult time containing himself.
In the morning we'd leave for Venice and this was exciting for my husband. He could not wait to show me the region of his people. I was nervous about this, but curious. I was also terrified of more tourists. (If this trip taught me anything, it's that I'm not fond of the masses. I just get rattled. This never used to happen, but I think years of illness have really made it worse. That was a difficult realization. I'd changed and not noticed.)
It saddened me to have seen such a tiny sliver of Rome, but I hope to return to it someday.
But Venice, we'll it's just a different creature all together...
Saturday, May 3, 2014
The chronology of our Sicily trip is a bit out of order in these two posts but I'm trying to remain focused on a few themes related to gardening and the green spirit. "Buon divertimento!"
|Cucuzza squash in the Mercato di Capo in Palermo.|
This meant that we had to leave the island with only a few memories of the chaotic città di Palermo, but at least we saw the catacombs and il Mercato di Capo. My other hope all along had been to visit a market in Palermo and somehow we landed at one of the largest quite by accident.
Ok, maybe it was fate after all, a big hug from my Sicilian family from beyond the grave...
|My great-grandpa Frank Amato with a cucuzza he grew in his garden in SE Portland. Since it's much colder here in Oregon than in Sicily I know this was a triumph for him. I'm sure this photo was taken to always remember this accomplishment.|
It felt strange to be in Sicily alone.
|Il Mercato di Capo.|
Any American with a strong tie to another culture can make choices—either cut their ties and let the past remain the past or inject new life into it. I've always straddled my Italian-American identity and dealing with being bi-cultural in Oregon in the 1980s was not easy. Countless times Americans have told me I wasn't Italian enough to be Italian and they were wrong. Children should never have to grow up defending their identity. They have no idea how painful and damaging those words were to me.
Besides, Italians don't quantify their identity, they qualify it. That's why I have a blood right (jus sanguinis) entitling me to Italian citizenship. I've been given that choice by my bloodline. In Italy it doesn't matter how much Italian blood you possess, what matters is what you do with the heritage that's been passed on to you through birth.
We're the American generation that really is able to choose to be called American but I'm the only one of my siblings who's chosen to remain hyphenated. This is what happens in bi-cultural and bi-racial families. Individuals must be allowed to decide who and what they're going to be and the family fabric will change.
I wish I had siblings like me, but I don't, and honestly, we're not that close. For me it's always felt like a cultural rift or divide but it's difficult to say.
Instead of dwelling, I've lived my own independent life and have chosen to remain Italian through my marriages and I'm pleased now to have an Italian mother-in-law. It's the way my life is, has been, and will be. I'm happier now than I've ever been. I love to cook and garden. I have an undying love for produce and fresh food. And when I wake up I drink my coffee and spend a lot of time everyday thinking of making new dishes for the many friends I invite to eat at my table.
Seeing a market in Sicily one day can make all of this happen if you're the right kind of person in need of that kind of emotional catharsis. I've been crying out for that experience for so long and it's sad I had to wait for so long and travel so far but I'm a better person now.
Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
|This mosaic floor depicts the bountiful harvests available on the island during the era of the Roman Empire. Many of the orchards had been planted by the Greeks centuries before so there was already an agricultural system in place.|
I also noticed all of the botanical bits and pieces as we walked through the entire complex. Recounting what I knew about the meaning of each plant as we looked at the mosaics was interesting to John. Although he has a Master's degree in history, with an empasis on the Italian Renaissance, he'd never read much about ancient Rome and Italy. It was fun sharing with him.
Nowhere in Rome will you see anything quite like the Villa Romana del Casele. It's huge and very well preserved. Walking on walkways overlooking all of the rooms and floors was a brilliant design plan too. You see so much!
It really made me long to return to my days as a student of art and landscape history. I'd once worked hard to specialize in ancient art, philosophy, and history. Using my knowledge while there though really enriched the experience for me. John left knowing a lot more about Italy's flora and the history of it too although we both still have so much more we want to learn.
Driving several hours though the countryside, stopping in the road for a shepherd and his flock of sheep, and chatting all day with John about his impressions of the place made for a dream-like day. We still had one more stop though.
We drove for a few more hours to Agrigento, on the southern coast of Sicily. This is where you'll find the Valle dei Templi. In addition to being a national monument in Italy, it's also one of the best places in the world for Ancient Greek architecture.
The temples are above the valley, along a ridge. As we drove into town they were difficult to miss. The view from the road below was truly breathtaking and I was left speechless. I've had few spiritual moments in my life, but that afternoon was truly a spiritual pilgrimage for me.
|Yes, there was an attached garden too but its gate was closed.|
And it was so lovely that in the middle of the ancient Greek temples, catacombs, and necropolis you'll find this humble home built by an Englishman by the name of Hardcastle who came to "save" the temples. I will not get onto the topic of what other Europeans have done in Italy in regards to preserving the history of the ancient and artistic heritage we all seemingly share, but I'm certainly of the opinion that this lovely eyesore should have been built somewhere else—oh, and that England should hand back the Elgin Marbles to Athens.
(I also highly recommend the novel Nike: A Romance by Nicholas Flokos. It's a love story like no other concerning the repatriation of the Winged Victory statue in the Louvre.)
This should probably make my sentiments and opinion quite clear.
|Here I am standing in front of the Temple of Concordia.|
It is sad to me that John does not share my interest in the ancient world, but he has other things to buoy his interest up north and happily we ended up learning a lot from one another.
Life is a funny thing and we all need our own raison d'être as the French like to say. I think it's important that we each find our own and respect others'. There truly are so many options out there that make life truly worth living.
Only exhaustion at this point kept me away.
I wanted the signs to tell me more—so much more.
I definitely need to study more and return refreshed and prepared to Sicily.
|Wild native Gladiolus italicus growing in the olive orchard.|
The day-trip tourists ate daily at the restaurant and then danced to loud music and talked to one another. (Yes, Sicilians love agroturismo too and they'd all paid to take a bus to artichoke country to spend time basking in the harvest.) We were largely ignored as outsiders, but that last day it changed for me.
The day before I'd heard an old man on the patio playing traditional Sicilian music with his mandolin. My heart had seriously skipped a beat. That day he was back. The tourists piled onto the buses and only he and I were on the patio. He hobbled over to me and sat down speaking Sicilian dialect as he slowly crossed the distance. Looking right into his eyes, I pieced my words together carefully.
I told him in broken Italian I understood him but did not speak well. He shifted to Italian.
I pointed at his mandolin and said to him (in broken Italian), "the music of my great-grandparents".
He asked me if I was Sicilian. I said yes. He asked me my name. I said Amato because that's what a Sicilian means if he's asking about your name. He wants to know the name of your family. He asked where my family was from and I said Termini.
And that's the key to opening up a Sicilian. He smiled a wide smile and his eyes lit up. Then he asked what my mother was and I said "American". As is usual, he told me that was ok and then he played music for me and sang. He apologized for his playing and blamed his age. He told me he lived nearby and was widowed and alone. He walked to the restaurant when he could for the exercise.
Then we talked about Oregon. He was shocked that Sicilians so long ago had moved so far away. This was not the first time I'd heard this either. I didn't have the heart to tell him that they'd avoided other Sicilians in the United States intentionally. At least that's what I'd been told by a relative not long before he died. We never had spoken much about it when I was a kid, but he told me because by that point it no longer mattered. What's done is done.
|The view from our bed. The doors to the room are glass but then there is a second lockable set with louvers. It's a great way to manage the Sicilian sun and heat.|
It's also been said they came here for the soil. They wanted nothing more than to be able to grow vegetables in peace and to prosper beyond poverty. Unlike many other Italian emigrants, they saw success early on and their sacrifice paid off.
|Last photo before leaving.|
I abhor the glorification of organized crime in any way, shape, or form. The commodification of this way of life feeds on the glorification of interpersonal violence and it's not what Sicilian culture is about and I'm ashamed of the ignorance of those who play into these stereotypes.
Leaving Sicily that Friday morning was very difficult for me. I'd only just started watching as something inside of me had germinated and began to grow. At least whatever it was was going with me.
When the wheels of the plane lifted off, I felt an emotional tug in my gut. I did not want to leave but I left with my eyes wide open for what felt like the first time in my life.