Act 2, Scene 4
There is an entire handbook
of rules that you have to agree to when signing on with the program.
After reading the commandments I was deeply annoyed, angry even. However,
I read them again and realized that they were only fodder for the concerned
parent and lawyer. So decided to make a concerted effort to violate them all:
My roommate, John, disappeared
to his girlfriends room a couple of days after we arrived in Cortona.
He shows up occasionally, often at awkward moments, to change clothes
and shave but he seems to be avoiding me like the plague. I'm not sure
what repulsed him but I dont mind, I like having the room to myself,
despite the lousy location.
PLEASE be quite in the hall between
11 PM and 8 AM. Some of us have 8 AM classes, some don't, some of us turn
into homicidal Neanderthals when awoken at such horrid hours and I'd hate
to see anyone BEATEN TO DEATH with the Italian Renaissance Art History
book and ruin a perfectly good, if dull, text.
It got its share of graffiti in response but the noise stopped.
The field trips continue,
leaving earlier and earlier in the morning. The worst of the atrocities
was a 5:30 AM trip to Carrara for the sculpture students, and a 6 AM trip
for the book arts class to some famous paper making places. After the
initial field trip for the painting class that I'd skipped, there wasnt
another trip I was supposed to be on for the first several weeks, but
the 8 AM class is torture enough. Fortunately my professor, Hal, is also
a slacker. Id be on my way to class and see him sitting in the
café sucking down coffee and cigarettes. His doctor had advised
him against caffeine and nicotine due to his blood pressure or heart or
something, and his wife had enforced the edict. But he was on the verge
of retiring so he decided for his last quarter of teaching hed run
off to Italia and escape the controlled substance police. I found all
this out when I stopped at the café to join him for coffee, really
just an excuse to be as late for class as he always was. We sat and admired
the café, both for its efficient and busy staff and for its gleaming
stainless steel appliances and counters.
Here's one of those little things that make you realize you're not at home. Italians do not have the same amount of personal space that we Americani are used to. For example, in the bank I was exchanging travelers checks for lire. As I counted my money there was an Italian standing on either side of me right against me watching me count. In the U.S. I'd be watching my back on the way out the door but here its standard procedure. In the post office you'll think they're trying to cut in line if you stand what you'd consider to be a respectable distance from the person in front of you. Others will walk right past you and snuggle right up to the person at the counter. However, they will point to you when it's your turn, confused as to why you're standing way over there, a foot away. It takes some getting used to.
There was a room in Villa Borghese,
the museum in Roma, that was under restoration but we poked our heads
in through the "Do Not Enter" signs for a look. The walls were
painted with a weird combination of Roman and Egyptian images used to
represent a Christian scene. This was a popular style during the Renaissance,
but is somewhat disturbing today. In one particular room Hieroglyphs
are used as tracery to border paintings supported by roman columns topped
with Egyptian gods surrounding a painting of an angel with a dog's head.
Not just any dog but a black-and-white-spotted cocker spaniel looking
thing. It's like a room you'd find in some Lovecraftian novel designed
for strange ceremonies led by insane, black-robed priests. So what's the
first dog I see in Cortona? A black-and-white-spotted cocker spaniel that
looked precisely like that angel's head in Roma. Jokingly, I say every
time the dog passes "There goes that dog with the angel's head."
Italia is always a hotbed of
political turmoil and the current decade is no exception. The rich North,
just about anywhere north of Roma, wants to succeed from the poor South,
such as Napoli. The Southerners don't like the snobbish Northerners. The
Northerners think the Southerners are poor, filthy rednecks. Basically,
just like home.
While Heather was dragged off
for a tour of paper factories and Pisa I took the opportunity to bike
to some of the places we'd seen from a distance. Not an easy task in the
hills of Tuscany, as none of the roads travel in a straight line for more
than 100 meters and a stretch that far is a rare find. This wouldn't
be a big deal were it level ground but a wrong turn in an Italian hill
town can mean a 20 minute bike down, then back up, a serious hill. An
exploratory trip around the block can end up an exhausting 2-hour ordeal.
Today's challenging trip eventually led me to the cemetery.
Since I've mentioned
how good the food can be, I should provide more examples. There's a deli
in Cortona that will fix you a sandwich that costs from 2300 - 5000 lire
with proscuto (ham), salami, artichoke hearts, spinach, olives (ohhhh),
tomatoes, any condiment from mayo to pesto and a variety of cheeses, most
of local manufacture, all slapped on a big salty bun that will fill you
to the rim.
Back to the fruit stand, don't touch. They get irritable if you handle their goods but they will let you point to the specific pieces you desire or you can specify soft and ripe and they'll do a fine job selecting good ones for you. In Vico Equense I had the best peach I'd ever had in my entire life, and me from "The Peach State."
In Cortona we had nectarines
that were like candy. No, better than candy. Sweet juice running down
my chin, watching Heathers eyes light up in delight, sitting on a bench overlooking a Tuscan valley painted yellow
and green with sunflower fields...
The program pays
for dinner every night at Tonino's, one of the finer restaurants in Cortona.
But we don't get their finer food, we get their industrial bulk food,
but it is good. Fresh raw veggies, bread and cheese for starters, then
pasta (the ravioli stuffed with crab was the best by far), then roast meat, almost always pork, and fruit for desert, or if we're lucky
something more desert-like, such as cake or flan (not my fave.)
Italia is a country
that shuts down from 1 to 4:30ish for a long lunch and an afternoon
nap. The shops reopen and stay open late, then everyone heads home for
a late dinner (sometime between 8 and 10), after which the locals all
go out for a stroll. You'll see kids playing in the park as late as
midnight, later on weekends. This means that if you have errands to run
for the day you'd better get your slack ass out of the sack and hit the
cobblestones before lunch or wait until later. But having traveled in
Mexico I was familiar with the schedule. In fact, I love it every day
feels like two. You do some errands, see some sights, have a big lunch,
catch a buzz from half a carafe of vino, sleep it off with a nap, then
youre up again and it feels like a brand new day.
Had enough travel
tips and pointless babble? Back to our regularly scheduled plot, already
So every day I get a sandwich and a bottle of wine and tell Hal, my painting
instructor, Im headed off to work. I find a pretty scene and I set
my stuff up and I sit there.
under my hand this second day of January, 1893, at the Villa Viviani,
village of Settignano, three miles back of Florence, on the hills - the
same certainly affording the most charming view to be found on this planet,
and with it the most dreamlike and enchanting sunsets to be found in any
planet or even in any solar system--and given, too, in the swell room
of the house, with the busts of Cerretani senators and other grandees
of this line looking approvingly down upon me, as they used to look down
upon Dante, and mutely asking me to adopt them into my family, which I
do with pleasure, for my remotest ancestors are but spring chickens compared
with these robed and stately antiques, and it will be a great and satisfying
lift for me, that six hundred years will."
On the other hand, when we biked into town to get Heather's brakes adjusted we passed the Michelin tire store just across from the Cortona Lion's Club and the pizzeria playing James Brown and advertising the big 4th of July bash. We got to the bike shop, which doubles as a scooter repair place, and stared at the half-naked-chicks-and-tools calendar while country music played in the background. Kicked the Coke cans aside, scattering the flock of pigeons, and headed back past stores selling the same touristy trinkets made in Hong Kong you'll find in every town I've ever been.
go, there you are."
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nice. Copyright © 2002, All Rights Reserved
All original content on this site is owned by Degenerate Press and cannot be used without our permission. We have lawyers for friends with nothing better to do than cause trouble (no kidding), so play nice. Copyright © 2002, All Rights Reserved