The Papal City

The Papal City

In honor of The Young Pope on HBO, I thought I’d share some more journal reflections from 2004 and a poem – what? Poetry? Read to the end for that lyrical treat.

June 4, 2004 – Vatican City

The walls of the Vatican support the hills of Rome. A cathedral built over a dead body of a saint. And in its walls, building up from the earth, it grew into his name, San Pietro, making rotting bone into crumbling wall. An idolatry of architecture. Walking over a grave.

St. Peter, crucified and buried outside the city. A heretic, outcast. 260 years later and his cathedral is revered, so easily reversed. Being outside the city, it was easily defeated and soon enough the walls were wrapped around to protect, to hold up the hills. Its own city, The Vatican. More prized than Rome itself.

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Perugino has Christ give Peter the keys to Heaven, a symbol of the Renaissance. St. Bartholomew holds his own skin that was taken from his body in life causing his death. And in this empty skin that he holds, Michelangelo’s face appears. St. Catherine holding her own spiked wheel was covered and her head was turned towards Christ after the artist died. The bodies emerging from the green, yellow ground with gap-toothed ugly faces and skulls draped with linen, a covered hand reaching up to a fleshless chin. The bodies are huge, holding up books and crowded among pillars. God is in a human brain touching Adam’s finger.

last-judgement

The Sistine Chapel smells like air conditioning, coldness and slightly like paint or the stuff that cleans paint. It also smells like bodies, lots of bodies pushing and gazing.

I get dizzy, staring up and circling all the bodies moving and twisting, separating the light from the dark, night from day.

brain

Air conditioning, it’s all I smell.

There’s a demon in the orange, red glow of Hell. His head shaded in grey with fur horns or thorns circling his skull. They pull and push and throw the writhing bodies down into the pits. Pleading to be freed one last time. To be redeemed and resurrected like Christ, wearing holes in their hands and feet and praising the light.

Jesus on the cross pieced together like a plastic action figure with bendable arms reaching out on the beams. Blood runs from his ribs down to his thigh and streaks down his arms to his pits.

How horrible is the guards job in the Chapel, silencing people all day long?

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And now, a poem (apologies for the spaces between each line, unintentional):

A New Blue

A bird nesting in ash

rising with glistening new feathers

from its own death,

The columns of St. Peter’s

rise into a horseshoe of human 

forms and masonry

A grave beneath a city of God

on Earth

Handed to the red Cardinals,

a bird of a different color

Rotting bone into crumbling wall

Building into a new name

San Pietro

Holy City

A heretic crying dirty words

outside the city walls

Pentecostal pinnings, a bird

voice warbling an ugly song

turned on his side and drained

of life

Blood rushing to the Christ points

and draining into a pool that

no Pietà would care to show

The apostle rotted away

outside Rome centuries

piling up on his dirty bones

Ash upon ash 

Dirt and dust

Clay in shapes and rebuilding

A man in breaths

A wall is built up

A cathedral     A holy sight

A religion

And a man becomes Saint

Michelangelo paints us God

Creates a new blue

Sistine Chapel images from Commons.Wikipedia – Public Domain

Travel in Trump Era

Travel in Trump Era

For the day after Predator-in-Chief (thank you Jane Fonda) was sworn in for office, I thought it would be pertinent to repost this old article. Enjoy and see you at the Women’s March today.

I’m going to apologize right now. Things are about to get political, real political. And if you don’t like it or you don’t want to hear it, then I advise you stop reading right now…It’s your choice. I’m sorry that it’s come to this.

Things in America have been a little rocky these past few weeks, to say the least. I have been slowly moving through all stages of grief in the decision (that in my mind) is still pending for President (Electoral College doesn’t actually vote until Dec. 19th — he won’t be my president until after that is finally tallied and counted). While I am extremely worried for my home front, I also worry about what this means on an international scale. England tried to warn us with the last dying chirps of the canary during their Brexit vote, but we didn’t hear those furtive peeps, instead we kept marching, right into the heart of the coal mine just before all the air went out. More backlash populist movements could be rising up in countries all over the world. The refugee crisis is not abating, more acts of terrorism are happening around the globe, violent protests are targeting tourists. The world doesn’t feel safe right now. So what does this mean for world travelers?

One of the travel magazines that I subscribe to had a message to travelers telling them not to worry, to not fear travel or let that fear stop you from going to that destination you’ve always wanted to see. Having been in Thailand during the bombings this past August, I would say letting that fear go is easier said than done.  But I will admit, I didn’t go home even when my family was pleading for me to do so. Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t actually ever at a bombing sight. Would I still have had that strength and resolve to finish my trip if I had been standing near one of the flower boxes that exploded in a number of tourist locations across the country? Probably not. How do you come back from being targeted just for being an outsider?

And that brings me back to my own country. How do we come back from making our own citizens feel like outsiders? How do we make them feel comfortable walking through their own neighborhoods? They don’t have a home to go back to, they’re already there. The pain and fear they’re receiving is right in their backyards. Women, people of color, Muslims. To pretend that there isn’t a backlash of hate and racism clenching it’s dirty fist around our country right now is akin to staying in our bubbles with our hands pressed over our ears and our eyes closed tight, pretending that if we can’t see the bad man than the bad man can’t see us. How do we remove ourselves from our privilege to help those who are feeling disenfranchised, wondering if they’re going to be safe in their own home or rounded up and put in internment camps like the Japanese were during World War II? And if you don’t know anything about that, then you need to ask yourself what history you’ve been learning (or more appropriately not learning) in school.

During the Bush era, it was hard being an American in a foreign country. Your plans were to say you were from Canada if push came to shove or to pretend San Francisco was a country unto itself. “Don’t worry, I’m from San Francisco, I’m not like the rest of the country, I promise.”  But what does that say about you as a person, as an ambassador representing your home, that you’re so willing to rebuke it, rebuff it, throw away all that you are and all that you could stand for as a proud American because you’re afraid of what someone, whom you’ve just met, might think of you. I proudly tell people that I’m fifth generation West Coast, fourth generation Californian. I think of being from California as a demarcation of my heritage. I’m not of native descent, but I’m more closely tied to the culture and ideals of a liberal, free-wheeling California than I am the smattering of European countries that run through my blood. I have no connection to those places in body or spirit. I don’t know any Hungarian, I can’t make a homemade Italian pasta, the closest I come to being Portuguese is the time I visited, but put me on a snowboard and send me down a mountain in Tahoe, give me some flip flops and a pair of jeans and I’ll happily stick my feet up on any open chair to lay back and relax on, California is in the heart of me. And do I want to renounce that? Pick up my Italian passport (yes, I will have one soon) and leave? Do I want to travel around the world with Trump as our leader, proudly shouting that I come from America and gosh darn it aren’t we the Greatest (Again?).

No. I don’t want any of those things. I don’t want to leave. I want to see us moving progressive social ideals forward like women’s rights and gay marriage. I want to see this country bring our education standards back up. I want to see us explore a single-payer health care system and get people to understand that taxes are important but that reforming what they go to (education rather than the military for instance) would work better for us than cutting them. If that’s what people mean by making our country great, I’m all for it. If that can happen in my lifetime, I will be proud to travel the world waving my American flag and waxing on about how great the California Bay Area is (minus the rental costs).

But I fear these things won’t happen under a Trump presidency. I fear that I will have to explain to everyone I meet that I’m not one of those Americans…I’m the one who voted for the lady. I was with her. I will have to try to explain why we thought this was a good choice for our nation. I will have to be an ambassador for all the poor decisions we’ve made leading up to this one, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, choice of a “leader,” and I will do this because I won’t renounce my country. I won’t pretend to be Canadian…but I will, probably, continue to point out at that I’m from California, as if we were our own country, because that’s who I am.

And I do worry. I worry that Americans will be targeted in foreign countries. I worry that kidnappings will increase (to pretend that these things don’t happen is another way that we lie to ourselves but I will admit that the numbers have gone down from 12 to 0 in the last 3 years). I worry that I could get into confrontations that could be violent. I worry that I will leave, that I’ll have to leave because all my worst fears of who Trump could be as a president will come true and this will lead to a mass exodus and more refugees for the world to deal with.

I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that this is all hyperbole. I hope for the best in us. I hope that the electoral vote will be the biggest surprise in American history. I hope that I will move from denial into action. I hope that my brothers and sisters in world travel will support America and Americans when we most need it. I hope for us all to become a safer and more loving world to all its citizens in the future. I hope for hope. And with that…I will sign off, hoping that this article made you think, made you curious, made you mindful or made you care about what is going on in the world as well as what is going on in your own backyards.

Notes from Delphi

Notes from Delphi

Today my 23 year old self would like to say hello to you. I am directly dictating a few of my journal entries from 2004. This step back in time highlights when I traveled into Greece from Italy for the first (and so far, only) time.

July 8 2004 – en route to Delphi

The water is beautiful. It’s that turquoise blue right up to the shore like the water at a Caribbean island edge only creeping up to the mountains of the Sierras instead.

Stefiana has a hypnotic voice. In conjunction with the lullaby like rocking of the bus, I fall asleep. I try to listen and learn and keep my eyes open but I’m not even enjoying it because the whole time I’m trying to pry my eyes open.

I hear her, “Beware of the sea orchards!” As we pull up to the seaside restaurant, I realize she means, “Beware of the sea urchins!”

There’s all these pathways and trails in the water from the movement of the ships and boats. Watching the water mark their journey like footprints in sand.

The waiter reeks of B.O. We’re at a roadside family restaurant where we choose our food from a picture menu. We just dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. Kim’s lotion slipped her feet out of her sandals and now her soles are the red of the earth. This place smells like some sort of pickled fish, like squid or something. It’s not salty and it’s not solely fishy or sweaty, but a little of all.

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To get to Delphi, we travel up a large winding road along the hillside. When we’re almost to the top we look down and there’s a huge valley stretching between the mountains. It’s a dark olive green floor. The valley is composed of a massive olive tree grove.

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Olives must be soaked in salt water for a week, changing the water every couple of days before eating. Too bitter off the tree.

July 9 2004 – Delphi

Delphi, oracle city of Apollo.

Orange dust of walls turns to gold from noon day sun shining on them. Stones falling sounds like laughter.

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View from our hotel room. New part of Delphi

Delphi pulled the city-states together by making them write history in the same language with same religion, becoming one nation, The Greeks. Speaking water of temple gave Castilian girl power to prophesize. When water stopped talking, Ancient Greece ended.

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Ancient Greeks had two sayings left on the door that held their prophecies: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. One for balance and the other knowledge. In a place dedicated to a God, they were telling people not to believe a God controls everything and to believe in rational thought. Apollo and Dionsysus. Two opposites. Two paths. Two ways to balance yourself.

Kim and I are given a choice. Walk up the hill to the theater and temple or down to the museum. We take separate paths. I go up and she goes down.

On the way to the temple, Joe says to me, “Don’t worry, there’s a bar at the top.” These jokes are getting old. *

I am sitting under a tree writing, listening to birds chirping and watching yellow butterflies flit among the greenery. Kim and I pass each other on the road. We both decide to choose each path.

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On the right…the omphalos, the navel of the world. 

These Cypress trees are so strange how they spike out of the vast landscape in no general design or order. Loping hills of olive trees and then a lance of a cypress pointing to the blue sky.

In the museum – Charioteer Bronze Statue from 478 BC of a young boy who just won a chariot race in the Pythian games.

He looks content.

From a little further away, he looks slightly sad. From down the ramp, he looks mad. “Don’t walk away,” he says. “Watch my final lap.”

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*Sidenote: Joe was not making an old man joke. He was a 12-14 year old boy who was making fun of how much Kim and I drank on that trip. We were 23 and everyone else were teachers chaperoning children. Cut us some slack.