Act 2, Scene 5
July 4 in Cortona, Pigeons

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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So July 4th rolls around and I've totally forgotten my nation's birthday until someone mentions it over dinner and that maybe that Tonino's has done something special for us Americani. Theories fly - hot dogs, barbeque, hamburgers, steak, etc. It turns out to be hamburgers, no bun, and french-fries. I hadn't realized I was missing them. Really, hadn't had a burger craving at all, three weeks into the trip, but damn they were good. Had I known I wouldn't have filled up on veggies, bread and pasta before the main course. For the grand finale they wheeled out a huge cake with a little U.S. flag in the middle, crème filled with some liquor on the bottom. Very tasty.

Other places in town were throwing big 4th of July parties for us students but Heather was working in the studio until late and by the time she got done neither of us felt like doing much. Her late nights of working have me frustrated. During the day we get along fine but I want a romantic night out (or in) with her and she gets antsy and wants to work. This led to a discussion where I confessed my irritations with her. It didn’t lead to anything except making me feel better that I’d spelled it out for her.

Language is like a thick clay. You can touch it and change it a little bit, malleable. Let it alone for a while and it will change without you, sag and conform to other forces. Every time you touch it, it touches you and some of it sticks. The more you touch it, the more it gets under your nails, the more it stains your skin, and the more usable it becomes. So I try to touch Italiano a little every day and fling a little at the other students. They often duck and try to avoid any contact with the stuff, scared they might learn something. Just a little philosophizing as I struggle with Italiano and often slip into long-forgotten Espaol or Francais accidentally.
This, combined with my difficulties communicating even in English with Heather, inspired an odd poem:

Forces at work
People at play
Cold as night
Plain as day
Hard as stone
And soft as clay
Working at night with stone
Playing all day with clay

Heather and I biked up the mountain the next day and cruised around the roads and trails that circle the peak. If it weren't life-threatening to do so, I'd be looking out over the cliffs at the amazing view as we rode along but instead we have to focus on the road and stop frequently to get just another breathtaking view.
View from Cortona
One of the many breathtaking views from the mountain range above Cortona. In the distance we could even catch a glimpse of Lago Trasimeno from time to time.

There are birds,
Burning fire,
Gale-force winds,
People who lie,
Color film,
And things without weight.

The Italian teens are just like teens everywhere - punks. They laugh harshly, standing on corners posing, waiting for the day they can take over the town. They'll do it too, you can see it through the entire community. Instead of taking over the farm, they get to take over dad's corner tourist trap. Cortona feels just large enough to keep them here with other, larger towns being only a few kilometers away, unlike smaller farming communities we pass further out where farmhouses stand abandoned and the orchards are choked with weeds. I found out a few years later that Italy’s population is actually declining. The women want a modern life, a job, a place of their own, etc., while the men still search for the old-fashioned stay-at-home mom type. They’re just not connecting. Give it a generation or two and the males will bow to the power of woman, but for now they just don’t get it.

Now there was a time when we used to say
That behind every great man
There had to be a great woman
Oh, in these times of change
You know that it's no longer true
So we're coming out of the kitchen
'cause there's something we forgot to say to you
It's that sisters are doin' it for themselves
Standing on their own two feet, and ringing on their own bells
We said sisters are doing it for themselves
(yeah!) This is a song to celebrate
The conscious liberation of the female state
Mother, daughter and their daughters too-ooh-oh-yeah
Woman to woman, we're singing with you
Are you feeling fast? Is that a new experience? (yeah)
We got doctors, lawyers, politicians too-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Every man, take a look around
Can you see, can you see, can you see there's a woman right next to you? (oh oh)
We said sisters are doin' it for themselves (oh yes we are!)
Standing on their own two feet, and ringing on their own bells
Sisters are doin' it for themselves
We ain't making stories, oh we ain't laying plans
Don't you know that a man still loves a woman ooh
And a woman still loves a man, just the same
(huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh)
Sisters are doin' it for themselves
There was a time (there was a time) oh when we used to say (when we used to say)
That behind every great man
There had to be a great woman
In these times of change
You know that it's no longer true
So we're coming out of the kitchen
'cause there's something we forgot to say to you
We say sisters are doin' it for themselves
Standing on their own two feet, and ringing on their own bells
Sisters are doin' it for themselves (their own bells, hey yeah, go for it girl, go for it! go for it!)
Sisters (sisters) are doin' it for themselves (step on it, work to it girl)
Sisters (yeah) are doin' it, doin' it, doin' it, doin' it, doin' it, doin' it
Sisters are doin' it for themselves (doin' it doin' it, doin' it, doin' it yeah)
Sisters are doin' it for themselves (doin' it doin' it, a-ha, doin' it doin' it, a-ha yeah)
Sisters are doin' it for themselves
I said hey, yeah, sisters are doin' it for themselves (people pay, hear what they say)
You know that (1 2 3, yeah) sisters are doin' it for themselves (ringing on their own bells)
(here we come now)
Sisters are doin' it (we're doin' it, and we're doin' it) for themselves (and we're, we're doin' it, yeah)
(go for it girl! go for it! help yourselves!)
(Sisters are) Doin' It for Themselves by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, with Aretha Franklin doing some of the vocals. (Aretha's version of Respect, originally by Otis Redding, also works there.)

pigeonOne of the students in the program is scared of the local pigeons. Or, as they called them on The Simpsons, “Flocks of chattering diseasebags.” I find it amusing, though he must hate it since the flying rats are everywhere and not the least bit afraid of people. They walk right up to you while you're eating lunch, look you straight in the eye and say "I'll kick your ass and take that damned sandwich." Fortunately, they're all talk and no action because should they gang up they probably could take your lunch by force. I walked into the hotel hall in the dark one night and a couple of them jumped up and flew away right in front of me, scaring the hell out of me for a moment. Someone had left the courtyard door open and the pigeons had strolled right in. Too bad the pigeonphobe didn't stumble across them there in the dark!
One of the local restaurants in Cortona put out some potted plants and the pigeons picked them clean like a school of piranha, gnawing them down to the trunks within hours. I watched it myself or I wouldn't have believed it. Apparently the pigeons decided they were better for building nests than attracting customers to the restaurant.
Another problem with the flying rats is that there's no outdoor area in Cortona where you're not in danger of being shit upon. It's happened to everyone at least once and many have had to rewash clothes they've just hung out to dry. In Firenze there's a guy in one of the main piazzi who sells birdfeed for 1000 lire. The pigeons will eat it right out of your hand and for another sum he'll take a Polaroid of you being accosted by the creatures. Heather and I wondered how much he'd charge to let us net the entire flock and drown them in the Arno but we doubted his having a net or his desire to give up his trade. Why on earth anyone would want these nasty things flocking all over them I have no idea.
But by far the worst problem with the vermin is what they’re doing to sculptures and buildings all over the planet. Their droppings are extremely acidic, in addition to being white and smelly, so you’ll see half melted, white-headed stinky sculpture everywhere you go. Yet people pay feed these pests?
The Cortonans are of mixed feelings about the damned things. Some feed them bread scraps every day while others find them a nuisance. The nuisance party poisoned a mess of the flying rats a few years back and the pigeon lovers and animal rights parties raised a stink (though it couldn't have stunk as much as where the pigeons frequent) so the plan was stopped. Currently the nuisance party wants to feed them birth control, a plan I've heard of in other cities though I haven't heard of any successes.
Meanwhile, as a strange compromise, there are two days per year when you can legally hunt the cursed things. Several of the students and I theorized as to the best method for this and finally settled on a loaf of bread and a semi-auto sawed-off shotgun with birdshot. Personally I'd like to see what a flamethrower would do, but the lure of booming shotguns does have it's own appeal.

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