Act 2, Scene 11
Back to Cortona

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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There are two trains that connect Firenze and Cortona. One stops at every little goat trail along the way and takes several hours, the other is an express that makes fewer stops and rockets along the rails. The express train puts amusement park rides to shame, as we discovered on our way home. The train hurls through tunnels at astounding speed, the curtains whipping around and your ears popping from the change in air pressure. Some of these tunnels are quite long so they leave the lights on inside the train. The windows turn into black mirrors reflecting your terrified gaze back at you. Sometimes an oncoming train will pass, appearing in an explosion of sound, reduced to a mere streak of light with the combined speeds, then it's gone as suddenly as it appeared. Then you exit the tunnel and the serene Tuscan hills drift by in the sunlight. Worth the price of a ticket in thrills alone and you get a damned fine transportation system to boot!

Back in Cortona, some random woman in the group was on crutches with a badly sprained ankle, the victim of fashion-over-function footwear. Other tales of the weekend were less gloomy, but none nearly so amazing as ours.
So we were back in picturesque Cortona and both Heather and I looked at each other and said "Gee, home..."
"Kind of seems less... glamorous now, doesn't it?" she asked.
"Dull, even. So why are we staying in Cortona?"
"'Cause we're poor."
So it's back to Albergo Athens, AKA The Dorm, and yet another cold shower with about as much pressure as a leaky pipe. The Doorman is watching soccer at astounding volume. The students are playing hackysack in the hall and I have my daydreams of Firenze in contrast.
Groan.
Heather seemed to take it even harder. Odd how a really good time one day can make the average days that follow extremely depressing.
But then Heather said “Remind me just relax and let things happen. Life seems to work itself out pretty well.” She’d met some local girl that speaks excellent English and is very friendly (despite her years of studying philosophy.) I went to class the next day and my painting was going better than it had been in months and I got a message that Lena is coming to Italia to visit! She had returned to Denmark from the States and was about to be on vacation so she decided she'd use it to see a little of Italia, and me.
"Relax, let things happen" has never been my motto. I may retain a cool exterior but inside I scream for control of my surroundings.
So relax and let me ramble a bit about life in Cortona, the perfect place to just let things happen.

Darling (yes Tina) you're starting to get next to me
(Honey that was my plan from the very beginning)
Darling (un huh) I never thought that this could be
(What you mean) oh yeah
Your lips set my soul on fire
And you can feel one desire
Oh darling (yes yes) I think it's gonna work out fine
(It's gonna work out fine)
I wanna tell you something Ike
Ike I've been to see the preacher man
(The preacher man? You must be losin' your mind)
I started (started what) I started making wedding plans
(Oh really) oh yeah
If your love is half as true as the love I offer you
Oh darling (yes yes) I think it's gonna work out fine
(It's gonna work out fine)
I keep a tellin' you (I think it's gonna work out fine)
I get the feelin it's a (gonna work out fine)
I keep a tellin' you (I know it's gonna work out fine)
I'm so glad that you're mine all mine
Remember (remember what) I used to call you dapper dan
(Yeah those were the good ole days)
A thriller forever and a lovin man (that's me) oh yeah
A whole lot of girls used to feel your speed
But now pretty daddy I'm all you need
Oh darling (yes yes) I think it's gonna work out fine
(It's gonna work out fine)
I keep a tellin' you (I think it's gonna work out fine)
I get the feelin it's a (gonna work out fine)
I keep a tellin' you (I know it's gonna work out fine)
I want you to know it's gonna work out fine
It's Gonna Work Out Fine, Tina & Ike Turner

All aboard...
Hahaha...
I,I,I...
Crazy,but that's how it goes
Millions of people living as fools
Maybe it's not too late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate
Mental wounds not healing
Life's a bitter shame
I'm going off the rails on a crazy train
I've listened to preachers
I've listened to fools
I've watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role
Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I'm going off the rails on a crazy train
I know that things are going wrong for me
You gotta listen to my words
Yeh-h
Heirs of a cold war
That's what we've become
Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
Crazy, I just cannot bear
I'm living with something that just isn't fair
Mental wounds not healing
Who and what's to blame
I'm going off the rails on a crazy train
Crazy Train, by Ozzy Osbourne
Sundays the Cortonans put on their best and cruise the strip. The ritual is precisely the same as in any small town in the States, minus the muscle cars. In Cortona it's strictly a pedestrian ceremony. Hordes of well-dressed cruisers walking back and forth on the 1/2 kilometer stretch of Via Nationale - Main Street. Singles, families, young and old all out to socialize. The students of our group stick out even more on Sundays with their shorts and backpacks but I don’t mind. (And I don't want to wash my one set of semi-nice clothes too often, as hand-washing them in rough concrete sinks is doing a number on them.) Instead, I sit on my favorite perch watching the singles try to become unsingled. I sympathized with the young folk in Cortona. Coming from a small town myself, I know what a drag it can be to find playmates when the choices are limited. Here the hormonal adolescents must have an even harder time with Catholicism ruling the populace.

Up to this point the rumors regarding Heather and I had been increasingly entertaining. Last we heard, we were supposed to be living together in an apartment somewhere in Cortona. (I wish they'd give us the keys - I'd like a warm shower and a washing machine!) After Heather, Melanie and Bec all slept in my room and the news about our trip to the gay bar in Firenze gets around I am sure the gossip will get even juicier. We are even considering egging it on ourselves.

One thing I noticed everywhere we've been - Italians don't care much for the environment. At Pompeii I watched an Italiano tourist walk past a trash can so he could throw his litter directly on the ground. In Cortona people throw their debris into the wind and the concept of a pooper-scooper is heresy. Every day one of those street-sweeping trucks has to clean the main streets - every day! They've been trashing the place since before the Roman empire and don't see any reason to stop now.
Park designers in Italy also seem apathetic toward the surroundings. The public park in Cortona is a prime example. Cortona sits halfway up a hill with yet another breathtaking view of the valley below, as I've probably mentioned more times than you've cared to hear. So where do the benches face? Out into the amazing valley below?? Nope, right into the hill. Not a single bench that is close enough to the edge to see the view is actually facing the view. We found endless examples of this all over Italy - benches facing blank walls or parking lots instead of the view behind them. I suppose when you live there the view isn’t so breathtaking and you’d rather sit where you can watch your neighbors walk by.

One afternoon I went in search of Heather for our daily bike ride. Walking past her window I could see through the crack in the shades that it was dark inside. Her roommates often napped during siesta so when I got to the door and didn’t hear anything inside I crept away, leaving them to their rest. On the way past her window the shades opened and Heather leaned out the window.
“Oh, hi!” I said.
She curled a finger, beckoning me closer. I stepped up and she slid her finger under my nose, letting me know with a whiff what I’d been missing.
“Need any help?”
She nodded, “But be quiet, the girls are asleep.”
I snuck through the adjacent room where the roommates were laid out, snoring, and closed Heather’s door behind me. We piled onto her tiny, squeaky bed and tried to stay quiet.
It wasn’t easy.

Italian sunflowers
On one of our many bike trips we opted to head down into the valley instead of up the mountain. Through the sunflowers you can see the hill on which Cortona sits.

Refreshed with the afternoon romp, we biked to a Franciscan monastery, one founded by old St. Frank himself, a pretty little place around the hill from Cortona. Rumor has it St. Frank and his pals used to throw some amazing parties out there including a variety of sexual “ceremonies.” Now it’s all but silent. The place is built around a waterfall but the stream is dry during summer months so it's nothing more than a rocky creek bed with an occasional pool of stagnant water beneath the bridge. But the monastery itself is pretty, a series of old stone buildings that wind along the edge of the hill. Behind that is a nature trail that goes farther than we were willing to explore, as usual littered with used condoms and cigarette butts, but if you can ignore the litter you can find a bit of peace there. In the midst of siesta and off-season, the monks were nowhere to be seen and the place felt deserted.

Franciscan Monestary outside Cortona
Image courtesy of the Cortona guide book I picked up from the tourist misinformation office.

Between the incredible art, legendary churches, amazing cities and other unprintable sights I've seen on this trip I doubt I shall return sane. It's too much.

In a few weeks the student exhibition opens. Because I'm not working in sculpture, my preferred medium, I'm not looking forward to the show. However, I heard an interesting tale of a past show. A student carved, from the finest Cararra marble, the most beautiful crucified Mickey Mouse ever seen. The faculty discussing the work didn't think much of the idea and said the locals didn't go for it either (gee.) However, I found the idea fascinating, particularly after one professor noted that it was a combination of the two most famous icons of all time.
Sing-a-long time! Who's the leader of the pack that's made for you and me? J-E-S U-S-C H-R-I-S-T, Jesus Christ (Mickey Mouse!) Jesus Christ....
(Some people don’t share my sense humor.)

Sitting in the park watching three 8-year-olds play soccer better than I ever could makes me wonder.

"Consider the following:"
Bill Nye, Science Guy

These kids are good because they practice, day in and day out with a soccer ball at their feet all the time. Some of the students in the tour got together a soccer team to play some of the waiters on weekends and some of the lopsided losses have been amazing - the students never win, even against old chain-smoking fat waiters with permanent limps.
Stick with me here, this analogy is a bit cumbersome.
Rumor has it that the local small town girls, being devout Catholics, are not putting out - they're holding out for marriage, living with their parents until that special someone comes along. Or worse, holding out because the men want that stay-at-home wife and the women actually want lives of their own. The stampede at the disco for female American students seems to confirm this theory. The disco in Cortona even advertises in the neighboring town “American college girls,” no kidding.
So apparently the local males aren't getting any practice in the sack. So where does this myth about Italian men being great lovers come from? I think they're all talk and macho bravado. Bec scared off one of the local boys with mere flirtation. I can't imagine what a blatant pass would have done to the poor boy! Of course there are a few non-practicing-Catholics practicing at sin. But I'd put up my hard-earned American training and know-how up against their best any time. On the other hand I would like to ask Bec if there's any truth to the rumor that English men are terrible lovers. The Protestant ideal would seem to go against this theory but the general socially repressive culture might be at fault.

Speaking of other males, Heather had been getting a letter each and every day from one of the hangers-on back home. This particular one was younger and dumber than the rest and was slowly getting aggressive enough to reach her breaking point. I’d learned not to point out what it was the hangers-on really wanted from her, and having her to myself in Italia meant I didn’t have to point at all, since they weren’t there. But this guy wouldn’t give up the campaign even from abroad.
Eventually I had to tell her straight-out that the guy wanted more than she was willing to give and she needed to deal with it. She denied it at first but the very next letter from him spelled it out in detail and he found himself in the same place I’d been more times than I care to recall. She wrote him a Dear John letter and his campaign ceased. (I wonder if he read it over a meal at Po’ Folks?)

"Nor can I truly say that I wearied of this beneficent and innocent life; I think instead that I daily enjoyed it more completely; but I was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for license."
Robert Louis Stevenson, from The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

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