Stopped in our tracks

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When last I checked in it was Friday and both the weekend and Daddy were coming so the three of us girls were in a pretty good space. On Saturday morning, I suggested that I take us all out to breakfast at a sweet little sidewalk trattoria I’d seen in the old town area and then we could check out a park on the way back that looked great for children. And then Arleigh could nap and Abby could work and I could figure out dinner while we waited for Misha, who was due back right about meal time. Off we went on the bus and then, not sure quite where to get off, we over shot our stop by a couple and ended up in a part of town that had absolutely nothing to offer us except a nightmare maze of confusion: the Termini. Arleigh was getting very antsy on an empty tummy and we were all frustrated. You would think that by now the bus system would be clear and easy, or perhaps that I am a total idiot in figuring it out. But you would also think that buses run on their posted schedules to the places they claim to be going without odd little detour jaunts around an area that is totally unfamiliar. We ate overpriced not good food and found another bus stop, after a lot of wandering, that would take us to the park. We stopped there at the Victor Emmanuel playground and Arleigh enjoyed the small children’s amusement park area (it’s really quite nice) but by then we were tired so we again hopped on the bus to head home- and within a few stops realized we were headed in the wrong direction, right back to Termini where every train, metro, tram and bus in entire Western world come and go. Off the bus, cross the street, wait for the next one. Both Abby and I were very much on edge and we were riding along trying to keep Arleigh awake so she would actually eat some lunch and take a proper nap. Then the bus came to a stop as numerous police cars were actively cordoning off the street. There was a dead body in the middle of the road, in our direct and close line of vision. Fortunately Arleigh was down in her stroller. It was a shocking thing, apparently a pedestrian hit by a car. The bus didn’t move for a while and we just stood there, along with all the other passengers in stunned silence.

After we  got home we couldn’t even mention it to each other until hours later. During that time and since then I’ve thought a lot about how we all communicate about terrible and shocking events. Privately, publicly and through the media. I’ve thought about public grief and the advantages and disadvantages to us as we try to cope with these things. I’ve wondered if we dilute our own personal ability to organize and mend ourselves emotionally and if “public” noisy mourning in some way substitutes for more centered strength, insight and resiliency.  I don’t know. During my time here in Rome I’ve watched America reacting to another mass murder of youth. We saw this accident. And there is personal grief. Every where, looking for solace.

This is my last full day here and I have lots of other interesting bits and pieces and sweet little interludes, photos and good times so I’ll add those later on today and tomorrow during travel time. This time spent with this little part of my family has been time I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It’s been the very best place for me to be.

Right now I’m headed off for an art exhibition about Klimt I’ve been eager to see.

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Time out!

7E602A16-9A13-45E8-8CCF-9D24EBD0B33B.jpg(provocative little thing. Nothing like her mommy.)

The surest way to get “time out” is to stand on a chair in the middle of the kitchen. “Arleigh! Danger! Ama’s trying to cook dinner!” Unfortunately there is an attractive quality to time outs because Arleigh loves to count to 10. So, sitting on the bed while Ama yells “1! 2! 3!…” is a lark. If I drag it out, hoping to get one more pepper prepped, I’ll hear: “FOUR! Ama say FOUR!”  And so on.  This is a lot like riding a bike. It all comes flooding back.

This week has been a painful sort of time out from what we expected. Daddy is in Russia and we think of him all the time. Arleigh was sweet on FaceTime with him and her gentle grandmother last evening. Abby sends photos every day. Tomorrow, late in the day, Daddy will be back to Rome Home and we will continue on until I leave for Home Home later next week.IMG_2817.jpg(Areligh modeling her hat and mittens with her “smile!” face in a photo for Daddy.)

The buses here in Rome take frequent “time outs.” If you are recent to bus life in Rome you might think that no one really buys or uses a ticket and it’s secretly free for the residents. Everyone gets on, gets off, no one goes near the ticket validating machine. So you start to feel foolish about scrounging around the neighborhood for a tabacci shop to buy tickets. I mean, why should I pay? (Of course, they don’t sell them on the bus. And the bus driver is completely encased in a dark phone booth type thing and totally inaccessible.) And then you find out that every once in a while the bus makes an unexpected stop and the bus police come aboard and fine people, including nuns, 50 euros if they don’t have a time-stamped ticket.

I am totally deranged when it comes to the bus schedules and my daily routines depend on them. The Montessori themed daycare would like me to collect Arleigh at precisely 330 but not 334 or 314. I am constantly  using the Moovit app to calculate arrivals and subsequent departures and how long it will take to put on boots and coat and get a brief rundown of the day and load her into the stroller with all 5 points buckled because, god forbid, she should lurch out of it…and then, as I huff to the stop with heart pumping and Arleigh shrieking with delight, “Go fast!” the bus sails on by. We’ve missed it by 15 seconds and stand in the chill wind for another twenty-four minutes. Or, it just doesn’t come at all. Probably diverted by the bus police.

IMG_2826.jpgToday when I picked up Arleigh, I snatched her away from her teacher with a clearly odiferous diaper because I didn’t want to be delayed by a change and we rode home with cleared seats all around us, no problem. Arleigh munched her raisins, calling out “Colosseum! Guys on church! (the statues atop St. John Lateran) Raven!” She can only see things that are up high from her low seat in the stroller but Ama is already teaching her her bird IDs. I studiously avoided the critical eyes of all the Ama- aged ladies on the bus.

AFD497DB-4CE9-4573-A5C6-19EB62B1CAD1.jpgBut before I picked her up, I took a little Ama time out and headed off to a small artist boutique in the old quarter of town where the owner is a felt maker. This involved a lot of additional bus schedule planning last night and also, when my phone navigation app says, “go NE for 30 meters and then turn W at Via Della Penitenza”- really? I mean, really? Still, it was a spectacularly beautiful day, the sky was the bluest blue, the sight-seeing was grand and the shop was quite nice. Not great, and I left feeling better about my own work as a felt maker, with my fingers itching for wool. Soon. First, I have to figure out how I can possibly say “Time’s Up” to this lovely child and her parents.

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The Lonely Hearts Club…

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(yes, that would be St. Valentine’s head in a box)

in the home of St. Valentine. Everywhere we turned today, the city was awash in romance. Abby texted early in the day from the UN wondering why people were dropping chocolates here and there. It’s common to have flower stands on every street corner here and I love that almost more than I love the food. I make it a habit to have  flowers all the time in the house at home, mostly your grocery store garden variety. But here? The flowers are always fresh, brilliant, very affordable and today, each corner flower stand had expanded by easily three times the usual space. Men on buses, in the apartment complex, around the cafes all had large elaborately wrapped and bowed floral arrangements. Are those for their wives?!? Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 9.36.00 PM.png(on our near corner)

Rich knows how much I like flowers and he’s gotten so much better over the past couple years (2) about bringing flowers (after numerous episodes of sniveling and whining on my part) and this year I had something special planned. In St. Petersburg, there is a prize-winning floral shop that holds “floral therapy” workshops- so clever and I’m certain, profitable for the shop designer. Her store is next to the best Italian market in all of south Florida (Mazzaro’s) and she has them cater a simple buffet dinner, wine and dessert and then everyone makes a floral arrangement, always with some theme and they all turn out beautifully. My good friend across the street (Other Vicki) and I signed up six months ago for today’s floral therapy session, themed for Valentines Day. It wasn’t cheap and it filled instantly and we were all excited about taking our respective loutish guys to flower arranging class. Then Rome came up and Rich had no date, which made us both sad. Then the neighbor’s husband died and Rich invited the newly widowed and she was pleased, but she came down with a sore throat today. So Rich got booted because it was for couples only.  Crum. Really- crum! Next year we’ll do it but now he’s there and I’m here. Crum.

Misha is in Russia with his family and sadness abounds and we three girls are living in the moment. Things are going okay, although Valentines Day in a city awash in flowers and candy is not so much at the front of our minds right now. But we’re doing okay for ourselves.

Arleigh had her best day yet at daycare, taking a full-on nap and creating a glittery, gluey, gloppy card for mommy. We took her primary teacher, Ms P., a fragrant white hyacinth. Arleigh loves her because as far as I can tell, she is a constant source of comfort to Arleigh as she moves forth in the play room making friends, in the dining area eating pasta and today in the slumber room. And she is very fond of Arleigh.

IMG_2815.jpgI went to the best chocolate and tiramisu establishment in all of Rome, bought both and a nice card for Abby, Misha and Arleigh. We will refrain from breaking into them until Misha gets back on Sunday. I bought Arleigh a new red hat because it has been unseasonably cold and I haven’t had a chance to knit her one. She loves it. I also stopped at the corner market where I am madly, truly, completely smitten with the owner (love the one you’re with?) AND his wife. It’s an amazing little establishment and today we bought hand cut potato gnocchi and a fine bottle of wine ( 6 euros for a regular size as opposed to Simply’s 3 euros for a half gallon jug of quite palatable red). He always comes from behind the counter to offer Arleigh a treat- a tiny fresh pizza, tissue-y thin dough with powdered sugar. She is hopelessly shy and coy with him but once we leave the store and get about 100 m away she calls out, “Ciao! Ciao!” (I’ll get a photo of this man at some point and you’ll see what I mean.CE7E8FD4-85D4-4E63-B2A7-FD47F34F7624

(Arleigh’s new Valentine’s Day hat. And her expression when you say “happy face!” to take a picture.)

All that is reliably known of the saint commemorated on February 14 is his name and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia. He was beheaded for marrying Christian couples.  Apparently, prior to about 100 AD ALL Christians were supposed to be celibate. That didn’t occur again in a religious sect until the Shakers got shaking in the early 1800s and we all know what happened there: social services came into being and then you couldn’t just dump your surplus children on the nearest Shaker community so they died out.

cropped-43dc2c89b81da3de548086ba3de193ee5.jpg  Here’s a part that I like: Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy, among many other things. Saints are certainly expected to keep busy in the afterlife. Their holy duties include interceding in earthly affairs and entertaining petitions from living souls. In this respect, St. Valentine has wide-ranging spiritual responsibilities. People call on him to watch over the lives of lovers, of course, but also for interventions regarding beekeeping (hey! he no doubt helped the Shakers who were miracle workers when it came to agriculture and animal husbandry) and epilepsy, as well as the plague, fainting and traveling. And you know how I am fascinated by all things plague plus we are indeed traveling. (No one has started fainting yet and in fact, on the upside, my bowels have gotten with the program.) And, as you might expect, he’s also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages. The flower-adorned skull of St. Valentine is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. That’s not on our list of must-see attractions.

And then Mommy came home from work and brought us flowers.

Non capisco

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There are so many things that I don’t:  STEM stuff in general tops the list and although I truly wish to know more about science and technology, I fear that ship has sailed, that horse is out of the barn. I have a fair amount of hands on experience, especially of the natural science kind, but back in the days of my formal education I was your basic liberal arts learner.  I guess that is still pretty much true, although in the last few years I’ve taken to reading a lot of books about great expeditions and scientific explorations as well as literature about plagues and germs. Fascinating stuff. While language and arts remain my strong suits, here in Rome I am completely overwhelmed by the magnitude and far too short on time and attention to understand a fraction of what this eternal city has to offer.

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Today I was riding the bus to pick up Arleigh- Abby had dropped her off early so it was the first time I was alone. It was the first time I wasn’t scrounging around for dropped items, capturing a rolling stroller or scouting for the hand sanitizer. I was able to take a close and attentive look at our immediate neighborhood, which houses among other things, the Archbasilica of Rome, ( Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano) Most of us think of St. Peter’s as the be all and end all, but in actual fact the Basilica of St. John Lateran sort of has it hands down as the mother church of the Catholics. This is a church that has more inner beauty; beyond the front portico it’s kind of drab and block-y. It is enormous, I’ll give it that. And it is the oldest public church in Rome.italy-oct-08-147.jpg

I am quite certain that when it comes to acquiring religion, that ship has also sailed for me. I don’t understand much about Catholicism, beyond the obvious and what you pick up going to episcopal churches off and on, sort of “Catholic light.” There are a lot of nuns around here. I think Lent, which starts tomorrow, is a pretty big deal here, following on the heels of Carnevale (think Fat Tuesday and paczki). On the other hand, when it comes to faith, I’m still a work in progress and being in this particular city can’t help but make me ponder that part of humanity that is more than dust to dust. I went so far as to look up the schedule for pope sightings and this coming Sunday is a good possibility. I very much like the current pope and I think a child with the name Arleigh Francis deserves a glimpse. Especially since she was so impressed with the Pantheon. She’s still talking about the open hole in the ceiling and the grandma holding the baby (an enormous statue of Mother and Child but I appreciate her perspective.)

IMG_2799.jpg(she was trying to get me to understand that she would like to trade in the stroller for this Hello Kitty scooter.)

Arleigh is very reflective for a two year old and for the most part takes things she doesn’t comprehend in stride, including the work of acclimating to a new school where no one really speaks much English (or Russian) other than her primary teacher. Quite comically, several times a day she’ll come up to me and say very earnestly, “AMA! glopityoianknf gjoskah daklghmns ncuipwncoim! Poop! djinosnmps qwuryeo! I want raisins!” It’s not all light-hearted though; as we got off the bus at our stop today she teared up and said, “No Rome Home! HOME!”  I understood that quite clearly.

A very sad time

Misha has flown to Russia to be with his mother and family while Abby carries on here with her new work and Arleigh, with assistance from Ama. My sadness can’t begin to touch theirs but my heart aches for them and for Arleigh, to lose her grandfather so suddenly and far too soon. (please no comments on FB- thanks.)IMG_0455.jpg

Standing in the light of the gods

“The love for your kids…is a kind of love that has no conclusion, a feeling that multiplies back on itself. It’s unquantifiable and almost certainly inexhaustible: No matter how many children you had, no matter what your children did, could you ever run out of that love?  If there is a God, His devotion to us is like that, like the way we feel about our children. And it feels as if something in the Pantheon expresses that, in the intersection of structure and sky…the way the circle of light at the top lingers when everything else is in darkness.”  Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome.

We were up and out early today, fresh and ready to see some sights and we saw two of the very best. We took the bus to the Pantheon but it’s Sunday! And it’s a church! So, of course,  a service was active and it was closed to the public for another hour and a half. What to do, what to do? (an hour and a half to kill can be an eternity with a two year old restless to be out of the stroller. ) We walked the five blocks to the Cat Sanctuary!  (Rich, wishing you were here more than ever. This would have been your ultimate tourist destination.)

IMG_2777.jpg(Yes! There are over a hundred loved and well cared for cats living amongst these ruins!)

It’s actually Largo di Torre Argentina, a massive sunken square with Roman ruins dating back to the 4th c BC.,  in the heart of Rome. At first glance you realize how ancient Rome is quite lierally sinking right beneath the city streets and then you begin the visual search for- cats! About a 150 cats are sheltered among the ruins: neutered, vaccinated, surgically patched up, medicated, fed and loved by a group of volunteers. Beyond the ones that live outside, there are the halt and the lame living in an inner shelter. Old, blind, missing limbs, ears, tails. What a shabby mess of felines, living contentedly in a spotless shelter, each with their own bed, box, toys. All were peaceful and calm- what a place of respite care! There was one dilapidated old guy- Mantovanni-with end stage diabetes, drinking perpetually from a small fountain, in no apparent distress.

IMG_2781.jpg       IMG_2788(As we were leaving we noticed that someone had just left a large bag of folded newspapers outside the shelter gate. I think many people care for these cats!

I am totally and completely clueless as to how they figured us for cat suckers potential donors, but we were not only allowed into the shelter but into the inner sanctum of the shelter where they keep down visitors to 2 or 3 at a time and it’s all quiet and gentle. These cats will never live outside again but still, life seemed pretty okay, considering. A small young black cat, completely blind, was easily able to sniff out a couple of feline aficionados. A really wonderful place.IMG_2786 2.jpg

And then it was time to head back to the piazza and the Pantheon. An architectural marvel that I won’t detail much here; suffice it to say that St. Peters, the Duomo in Florence and countless buildings around the world including the U.S. Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. have been modeled on it. Originally built between 27-25 BC and rebuilt around 124 AD, with 39 ft solid (not stacked or pieced) Corinthian columns of red marble trotted over from Egypt- well, it is a wonder. I mumbled something about the invincible spirit of man and Misha appropriately commented about the world’s apparently endless supply of slaves.

IMG_2794.jpg(I know I think she is divine!)

The oculus-a 31 foot wide hole in the ceiling- is the only source of light- and it’s light in there! Designed and influenced by the solstices, it both illuminated “gods” who cleverly figured out where to stand in the glowing light cast into the dome as well as giving a view to the known universe up there. Arleigh was clearly impressed by both aspects.

IMG_2795.jpg (the view from a floor of marble that predates Christ, to the heavens above.)

Tonight I am planning to cook our first fancy Sunday dinner.

Big Night Out

IMG_2720.jpgDo we look tired yet? It seemed as though we should be out touring St. Peter’s or the Pantheon today but we all woke up and sort of stared blankly at each other, considered our options and decided to lay low. We did go shopping for work shoes for mommy and skid proof slippers for Arleigh for nido and then breezed through the park, where many families were busy flinging about giant bags of confetti paper for Carnevale. I guess that’s the tradition here before Lent sets in, in earnest.IMG_2711.jpg(confetti! bags and bags of it! Where do they think all his litter is going?!?)

Abby and Misha did laundry (I still haven’t gotten my hands on that damn drying rack yet. Tomorrow I’m doing my sheets and underclothing come hell or high water. I will string it all from the line outside my bedroom window. When in Rome…).  We watched a few minutes of the Olympics on the Italian news network and at some point when they flashed a photo of Trump in unrelated news I realized that I wasn’t missing that carnival, not one bit. I sometimes read a few moments of CNN online in the wee hours when I can’t sleep and then realize that I don’t even care that the government has shut down and re-opened again, the market ( and our retirement) is all wopsy or that some other high ranking guy has been punching women he purports to love while advising the President. I’m off duty in that regard for the time being.

Around 3 o’clock I wandered across the street and made reservations at Trattoria Etruria, directly across the street from our apartment for 7 pm. I knew that was pushing Arleigh’s bedtime but that was the earliest they opened and I also didn’t know the protocol on two year olds in restaurants here in Rome but we all desperately needed a little change of pace. So over we went.IMG_1364.jpg(Stylin’ in Ama’s hat and her favorite raincoat- she’s ready! and also looking totally fatigued.)

This little trattoria gets some of the very highest ratings in all of Rome. It is in a neighborhood where the locals dine, it is affordable, everything is made from scratch including all of the fresh pasta, the ambience is nothing short of perfect- and because of all this it has become quite the destination. By ten o’clock tonight it will be standing room only but we are already home, showered and getting ready to sleep.IMG_2726.jpg

They tucked us in a sweet corner near the kitchen where we could watch the orders come out and the bread being sliced; perhaps for most it’s not the best seat in the house but it was perfect for us. Paper over the tablecloth made it even better. And then the food arrived. Fresh bread with divine olive oil. Meat balls in the most delicate and fresh tomato sauce for Arleigh. Rigoletti carbonara for Ama, arrabbiata fettucine for Abby and some disgusting assortment of innards and fava beans for Misha. A carafe of the house red for 4 euros and zabaione (delicate custard) with fresh strawberries, one serving shared by all, for dessert. Arleigh served.IMG_2738.jpg(no, no and no. Misha had this all to himself.)

Arleigh was wonderfully behaved, in part because we were constantly holding, spooning, drawing, reading…and she loved the food. It was the absolute best. I plan to sneak in there for lunch along with a good book once she is solidly in nido towards the end of next week.IMG_2755.jpg(yes, we drew the whole fam damily on the table paper throughout dinner.)

Speaking of good books, read Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr. He wrote All the Light We Cannot See, won the Pulitzer Prize for that and then won the Rome Award given by the American Academy, to spend a year in Rome writing whatever he wished. It’s a beautiful, warm, funny and wonderfully  crafted piece about ancient history, the death of a pope and living in a strange country with babies. Right up my alley.pantheoc-P1000966a2.jpg

Tomorrow? We might go look up into the Oculus. We hear that family in the midwest is blanketed in heavy snow but it’s supposed to be sunny and mid-50s here. The violets are in bloom. Arleigh is picking them and flinging them into the courtyard fountain.

Buona notte!