The Problems with Precipitation
I am used to this sort of American weather prediction ability that I must have. Corrie discovered it four years ago with our friend Erin, here in Italy, when they used to always bring the rain with them
when they went outside. Used to our advantage, we could probably win lots of money in bets (Will it rain today? I don't know--are the Americans leaving the house?). But instead we have just learned to always pack an extra shirt and a change of socks when we go out.
Today was our excursion into the mountains.
Once a week the Civitanova beach
job actually leaves the beach, giving the kids one full day either in the mountains or at a water park. Today was the first full-day excursion and, waking up this morning to fierce wind, I looked outside only to be greeted by storm clouds. I sighed. Just my luck. It was going to rain, and hard. I knew it.
It happened just as we were making our way back from a hike to the Valley of the Monsters. We passed under the passageway of a factory, and the rain began to come down hard. We kept the kids there, sheltering them under the passageway, and some gentile
Italian dropped down two sheets of plastic for us to use to cover our heads. It was fun for a while--all of us underneath this layer of plastic, laughing at our faces pressed against the transparent sheets and the way the water ran over us but did not get us wet.
But it was only a minute like this, laughing, before it started to hail. That's right--hail. It's the beginning of July, and it is hailing in Italy. The big red factory doors opened to welcome in 50 grateful, freezing Italians (and one American, often mistaken as Chinese), and we huddled inside, hurrying to make room for everyone and trying not to break any parts of the paper-making machinery.
We were back outside within ten minutes, and somehow the hailstorm had turned into a sun-filled, blue sky morning. We started over again, hiking back up through the town and to our lunches, and you could hear birds singing. And children laughing.
I laughed too, because maybe this is just how it is in Italy. No one questions hail in July here, and no one is in awe at the way a day can turn from one extreme to another. Painful precipitation becomes brilliant blue sky. Nature, in moments of brutality, shows herself in an instant to be filled with compassion. That is
Italy, as wide fields of sunflowers,
like stretches of sea, turn their heads to follow the movement of the sun.
Yesterday Corrie and I got home from the beach to find our roommate Fabrizio cleaning out his room. He said he had found someone to rent his room for the rest of the summer. Oddly enough, the day before our other roommate Vanni told me that he had found a Spanish ballerina who was interested in renting his room.
So this basically meant two new roommates. All in one day.
The nice thing about Fabrizio and Vanni is that they are never home. Never is not an exaggerated form of "only in the evenings" or "only on weekends." Never is never. Corrie and I have been living in a huge home all by ourselves, and we are rather spoiled to the idea of only having each other as roommates. But by 4 in the evening yesterday, we had a Spanish ballerina pirouetting through the bathroom and a 30-something Macerata business man home for lunch and dinner.
And I can just imagine what they are saying about their new American roommates.
"Friendship is not necessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."
-C. S. Lewis
"Time is a Tree
And this life is a leaf."
-e. e. cummings
What's Your Name?
Corrie and I started our beach jobs, and we found out that we aren't even going to the same beach. We are both in the same town, but the beaches are blocks apart. Therefore, we never see each other. This was our introduction to Monday.
It didn't get much better, honestly. I am paired with another English teacher and various other "camp counselors," and all together we are in charge of some seventy or eighty children, ages six to fifteen. It seems rather chaotic for me, standing in the background waiting for an assignment (no one told us English teachers what we needed to do), since I have never been to this program before, but the camp counselors must have a good grasp of what is going on. All of them seem to be on their third or fourth year with the program, and, despite the fact that the whole thing is pretty laid-back, with kids running from here to there, stopping at the coffee bar to get mint slushies or pizza, by the end of the morning all of the kids are rounded up and placed securely back on a bus bound for home. And that's all it is--a morning. 8:30 to 11:30 every morning. 18 days. Very do-able.
We played a few English language games when the children arrived, mostly consisting of the children asking the other children "what's your name?" and them responding something like "my name is Gabriella" or "my name is Luca."
This, of course, did not end when the game ended, and for the rest of the time on the beach various children came up to me and said "What's your name?" as shy as possible, and then ran away.
Due to my bad planning abilities, we ended up playing the "What's your name?" game rather continuously with each group of kids, and with one group we even played it twice. They know each other's names quite well now, I suppose.
Today was much better, since we planned out games in advance, but I still feel out of place, out of step really, with what is going on. There is no schedule, no real plan. Perhaps the most telling sign of my not-belonging was when I overheard a little boy asking his friend, "Now, I don't get it. We're learning English from a Chinese person?" and he pointed up at me and my brown skin. I laughed. Later I explained in a loud, slow voice that I was from America, and the children made collective "oh, I see!" sounds.
And then they ran off to drink their mint slushies.
"Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator; but among those whom I love, I can: all of them can make me laugh."
We slept much of the way from Pescara to Sulmona, and when I woke up, it seemed as if mountains had just sprouted up beside us and the light from the sun was dull and hazy--almost grey in color. It was not Le Marche at all, I noticed immediately, and I felt a sure sense of being in the South. We passed towns that barely clung to their cliffs, and others that sat in the low valley among heavy woods and sweet streams. The Abruzzo
region is often described as 'the border between northern and southern Italy,' but it was barely a border at all, just a sudden jolting move into the south, for me. A new country completely.
We all loved Sulmona. It was decided from the start as we stepped off the bus into a lovely strange-shaped piazza
with a brooding bronze statue of Ovid at its center--Sulmona's favorite son and practically the town's patron saint--that Sulmona was completely enchanting. Everything in Sulmona has to do with either Ovid or confetti
(Italian almond wedding candies) or, if possible, both together
. The Sulmonese know the art-of-monopolizing-on-town-treasures as well as Ovid knew the Art of Love.
We, at heart just everyday tourists, quickly partook in these town treasures as well, practically eating our way through Sulmona's almond candies and other gastronomical delights.
But it was the people that make Sulmona, and Abruzzo in general it seems, right in touch with the South. Our one-day rented apartment was in the center of a purely residential neighborhood, where nonnas shouted down to their families from balconies at dinner time, mothers rounded up their children in the street, and, in the morning, women cooking in the kitchen sang tonelessly to music on the radio, loud enough for the whole town to hear.
We sat outside one afternoon, drawing and writing on the steps of an ancient church while a service was going on inside. Halfway through the service, a handful of Italian men came outside to smoke cigarettes and talk, and when they saw our friend Kelsey drawing the horizon, they leaned over her shoulder like art critics but were friendly in asking her about her work. This, her vision of Sulmona, was as welcome in their eyes as we
were--fresh and unquestionably new.
People on the street would just begin to talk to us in English without even hearing our voices, yet somehow always knowing we were American. "Good Morning, I am Italy," one of them said proudly. And they all laughed because we were a novelty--three American tourists with writing material and drawing pads sitting in the crumbling piazzas
of Sulmona, copying down the loveliness of their city in our own way.
On the train ride back, the sky grew dark and it looked like rain, but I was mistaken into thinking that the sky of Abruzzo was always like this. A sort of grey, shadowy place, sheltered in by mountains, closed off to the rest of Italy. And this, in itself, was enchanting to me. I watched as we passed it by, with our train moving further toward the coast-- back to Le Marche and, eventually, back home.
Found these paintings
of Sulmona's fountains on the web, by painter Lucio Diodati
. Sulmona water is wonderful and very drinkable from its fountains. There are fountains everywhere in Sulmona, which makes sense due to the presence of a medieval aquaduct in the town's main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi.
The Art of Eating
Our trip to Sulmona has led to many questions...
Did Ovid like confetti?
What was it like to live through a cathedral-shattering earthquake in the early 18th century?
How many centuries of tourists have slipped on the polished travertine steps under the impressive acquaduct?
If I go to an artists' retreat and come back with a fuller stomach than notebook, is that necessarily a bad thing?
To be sure, Sulmona is an inspiring city. We were enamored with the medieval town the moment we crossed the first cobbled, confetti-ed street to glimpse the striking mountain range that encompasses the city.
The hometown-boy-made-good, Ovid's passion was love. As the foreign would-be-artist, mine was food. We ate well in Sulmona. I'm happy that crumbs from an alfresco lunch of crusty bread and well-aged cheese now stain my writing notebook. An incredible antipasti spread and a hearty mushroom and sausage pasta lead to a deep drowsiness that made even lifting the pen seem a superhuman strength.
But all artists need food...at least that's what I told myself while rereading the less than stellar passages from that greasy notebook page. So the artists' retreat was a success, just not in the way I expected it to be. More soon...ran out of time.
Back after a long weekend. Here's today's quote:
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."
-Henry David Thoreau