Changing Temples Pt. 8

“Tomorrow is another day”
Gone With The Wind

The Sister Of The Black Night

“All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream”
Edgar Allan Poe

It was a wake you up dream:
Dark, very dark, labyrinthine,
Oh so narrow, old Venezia street.
Sense rather than know
The four nuns coming on abreast.
Jump. Sidle. Dart to make way.
Whether sidle bumped or fallen,
A withered, disabled old Sister needed help.
Help instinctively given. On their way again,
How do we see or seem things in dreams,
The Superior called out: “God bless you Wayne.”
The thousandth of a second reply,
“God bless you Sister”, powered wakefulness,
And the constant reminder of mindfulness
Of the vulnerable hearts of others.
Vernal Equinox, Venezia 3/20/13

I honestly do not know if it is a “guy” thing or just a particular barnacle on my psyche, but notice that the vulnerability of hearts was deemed to exist in others. It is no deep insight to recognize that much of that exists within the inside heart as well.

I initially described this sojourn of mine as an “undertaking”, a Shakespearean excavation of my attempt to escape a broken heart. There have been brief moments in Venezia where the old, adventurous me seemed to make progress in treating that which ought to be buried with the spritely, gallows-humor of Hamlet’s diggers. However, like many of those weak of mind and spirit, I harbored hope. Please forgive the overly florid nature of what follows – sometimes merely reciting experiences of the human heart leaves only the shallowest of understanding. Also, i did promise Metaphor in this written enterprise! I frankly admit to harboring deep in the sea of my heart an always visible light house of hope. The real harbor has always very likely been my inability to take no for an answer. At any rate, yesterday, yet again, the no answer came, this time with the finality of a tsunami. The light house is now merely an historical structure waiting the eternal waves of memoryless time. Consequently, I’m a bit at sea. “And at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”.

Last night as I returned from my lezioni l’Italiano, walking the rainy, dark nighttime labyrinth of Venezia, I realized for the umpteenth time that an absolutely predominant feature of human culture is companionship – almost universally that of a man and a woman. Nary Ristaurante nor Trattoria, nary Cafe nor H’Ostaria contained anything but couples or people wanting coupling – well, OK, I did see one very attractive exception, but her conversation with another woman didn’t look amenable to any get to know you conversation. When one observes established relationships, it becomes readily apparent that true, meaningful, reciprocal companionship is so ferociously difficult to maintain, it is always a wonder that we almost instinctively keep trying.

I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting alone and eating while having only my mind to stare at. “The mind is a dangerous neighborhood, don’t go in alone”. I didn’t. I went home, drank wine, pretended to read news on the internet, and went to rediscover whether Tennyson still was correct when observing: “sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care”. Or, as Scarlett rightly observed, today is another day to appreciate and make significant.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 7

Changing Temples
Pt. 7

“[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances . . . .”
Viktor Frankl

I have long had a theory that is reasonably encapsulated in Viktor Frankl’s concept of attitude – for those not familiar, he was a Holocaust survivor who wrote ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ – but, more persuasive than those attributes is this descriptor: that he was forced to dig trenches in frozen ground along side his wife – his description of that experience is so heart rending as to be transcendent. She died before ‘liberation’.

My particular take on “attitude” is what I have for a very long time described as “The Power of Personality”. Perhaps it is merely Serendipity or Fate or “Lady Luck”, but I have experienced a dynamic in my life that has created remarkable, succeeding events based on the attitude one exhibits in any given set of circumstances. I do believe it is a rather universal experience, so I will give an example that will likely elicit a pointed memory in you Dear Reader – a pointed, and I would say relatively powerful, memory because such things are unique, unusual, and relatively rare.

This is a current travel memory, if you will. It began with an exchange of emails regarding my desire to rent an apartment in Venezia for an extended period (nearly three months). That last clause is important, because the extended period was a surprising obstacle. Cost was also an obstacle, just not surprising for one simple reason: Venice has been on the top of people’s travel for pleasure and “education” list for at least five hundred years of records I am personally aware of. The most illustrious of those traveling individuals from that far back are Michael Montaigne (he who invented and first popularized the modern idea of an ‘Essay’ – a “testing out” of a philosophy, or intellectual proposition, or, even, a far fetched idea) and Edward DeVere, the 16th Earl of Oxford (he who every evidence shows was the man who wrote the “Shakespeare” canon, one-half of which are the ‘Italian Plays’ filled with details that the actor on Avon could never have known, having never himself traveled outside the precincts of greater London). Yes, Venice is so popular that it is virtually overrun and expensive for that reason – there is another very interesting, key reason, but more on that in another “episode”.

This combination of obstacles resulted in countless hours and inquiries via the Internet. The language was not as much a barrier as one would expect, but enough to add to the stream of time and necessary messages.

One particular landlady was friendly and nice. Her apartment didn’t work because it was booked during the middle of my desired period, but “she had a friend with an apartment”, and she would forward my request. That friend was Deborah K., who had an apartment to die for: location, private garden, aesthetically so appealing as to make one salivate and place themselves in the unknown environment in a psychically calming and satisfying way. She wanted a fair price for the environs, but it was way over my head.

Well, it turns out that Deborah had a wit sufficient to make you laugh out loud – at the end of one exchange, she wrote: “It’s late here, say good night Gracie”. “Good Night George”, I wrote back – committing the ultimate error as Gracie always said: “Good night Gracie”. At any rate, we bantered back and forth. She agreed to allow this crazy, Montana greenhorn to accompany her on one of her twice weekly shopping trips to the over run but oh so amazing Rialto fish and produce market. She has graciously included me in other trips and in a 78th birthday party for her equally special husband.

There is an open friendliness in Venezia that lends itself to Serendipity, Fate, Chance. I’ve been able to tap into this (if only in ever so shallow a way) through a combination of serendipity and engagement – the latter being that human attribute that transcends Fate or takes advantage of Her offerings, and which overcomes reluctance, language, rain, social mores, and responds to peoples’ outreach in an enthusiastic and responsive way – in other words, the power of personality.

For instance. In the last several days, I’ve been just wandering. On each occasion I’ve seen an “artist’s” store front and, always interested in that fascinating subset of the universe which is art, artists, and the people who hang out with them, have looked in. On both occasions, someone (once the artist and once the artist’s son, who is managing Daddy-O’s work) have invited me in. In the latter instance, it was a party (for the Equinox I was told) with champagne and snacks. Well, I was immediately swept into relationship with several people (fell in love with a woman, who was “attached” to the artist’s other son, unfortunately), and I now have promises to get together again with both the artist’s son and a fascinating fellow whose mother is Venezian and father English – a combination, Venezian and English that is – which is very common here.

The first serendipity was much more the struggling, young artist scenario (4 years out of Israel, with a wife and a child). He has promised to teach me a printing style of art he executes in a very unusual form – mostly, but not all, doctored antique pictures, like U.S. Civil War figures with the head of Darth Vadar. So, I will go back.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 6

Changing Temples
Pt. 6

Well, here I am! Where am I? -:)

After two days of travel, one night pretending to sleep on the plane and one night pretending to sleep on the train (a “couchette designed for 5’11” and not 6’2 1/2″), my bio clock is going – “what’s up doc?”

Slept late today, and I’m tired, but not diminishingly so. Quite the adventure when I got to the Venice train station. Made the mistake of agreeing to meet the landlady at a cafe near a Vaporetti (water buses) stop instead of at the apartment. So, I’m supposed to email or call from the train station to let her know that I have, indeed, arrived. Naturally, despite what the official Venezia on-line story is, there is NO WiFi at the train station. You know how much I LOVE phones! Well, there is ONE phone at the train station, and that took some inquiry to find – did I mention how rather puffy proud of my self discipline I was that I worked my way through 16 CD’s of Pimsleur Italian? Barely sufficient to find the phone, actually. The sticker on the phone says (in l’Italiano, of course, and Pimsleur is no good here. But life as an English Major has its advantages e.g. Latin based roots, suffixes, and verbs) “insert payment card, dial, etc.” I insert payment/credit card, niente (l’Italiano for nothing). I insert coin, coin returns to bottom of phone, niente. I insert second, alternative payment/credit card, niente. I go through steps one through three several times more, niente.

Oh, did I mention that it’s raining cats and dogs and cold (wet cold) and the phone is outside, of course! (I know, everyone is supposed to have their own cell phone in this oh so modern world, but is it too much to ask for a world where one does not NEED to have a phone?). Needless to say, my sange froi (I don’t know how to say that in l’Italiano!) was sang went. The mind, of course, decides to work overtime – if I can’t contact the lady, I can’t get in the apartment, even if I know how to get to it. Do I ask that nice young lady with her modern cell phone if she will make a call for me? That is rather embarrassing, not to mention what language does she even speak??? Yikes!!

Oh, did I mention that I’m toting luggage around! Ah, travel light is such a wonderful concept, but I never follow it. So, I return to the one object in the world that offers me any hope – Telecom Italia. I insert payment/credit card, niente. I read the label (thank God, I’m a member of Garrison Keillor’s organization – POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors). It says something in the vicinity of “only carte Telecom Italia”. Well, that explains that. So, I trundle self and luggage to a window selling Venezia Tourist Passes and etc. I butcher the language sufficiently, and she is more than sufficiently patient to explain that, “no, we don’t sell those, but (and the translation gets very murky here) perhaps (as I also took a mime class once, I can combine that skill with my POEM skills) at the magazine kiosk just next door”. So, I trundle self and luggage to the magazine kiosk. The language barrier just went from low hurdles to high hurdles, and I never could muster the courage to even try the low hurdles – what if I miss and fall on the hurdle, etc, etc. But, though impatient with the continual stream of idiots, of which I am just the latest rather insignificant speck, “Si” is the reply. I would like to say that he added “no problemo”, but that would show more interest in me on his part than he would ever have mustered. So, for $6.50 US, he hands me a card.

Being rather proficient at all this by now – hope singing eternally, if barely loud enough to drown the incipient panic, in the human breast – I trundle self and appurtenances back to the phone. I follow directions, Magnifico – it works.

So here I am! Costello 1203, 30100 Venezia, Italy. That is the snail mail address, by the way.

I am also VERY hungry. It was hard to eat well and consistently while traveling – 3 days now, and my belt needs to go nearly another notch. For those who know my physique, that’s saying something. I would prefer a fine, American/English breakfast, but they don’t do it that way here in “refined country”!! -:).

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 5

Changing Temples
Pt. 5

“Sittin’ in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination . . .”
Simon and Garfunkle

Venice, Italy – my destination – is at 45° 26 minutes north latitude. The 45th parallel in the United States runs through Yellowstone National Park and, coincidentally, forms the Boundary between Montana and Wyoming. That may explain somewhat the average daily temperatures for my first three weeks in Venezia: lows 38 degrees +/- 2. Highs 54 degrees +/- 3. By all reports researched prior to arrival, and the dictates of logic, it is a very wet cold. My report is that it has been very cold and wet – definitely a give you pneumonia kind of wet cold. When it’s 41 and raining and the Venetians have put out the walking ramps in anticipation of high tide and exceptional moisture, you feel the cold. It actually snowed today.

However, it is, relatively speaking, balmy weather. Being from Montana, it hasn’t phased me so much – though the damp cold does give one pause. The key issue before departure was: how does one pack? First, of course, “travel light”. That wisdom has been drilled into me through travels in 23 countries (if, as my good friend says, The Holy See can be considered a “country” – it is, according to international law, a “permanent international legal personality”). Well, I’ve violated the travel light principal so many times, that I can only say I have proven its truth.

I did, however, pack with Montana Winter Wisdom intact – layers upon layers, but not so many that lugging all that stuff around when it’s high, dry Mediterranean summer will make me curse myself too much. That whole issue of weight e.g. goods to be hoofed around is a prime topic for detail – boring detail; for who hasn’t encountered that particularly individual problem each time they travel? Suffice to say that 85% of my approach has been to add stuff that I would have to buy in Italy anyway and I can buy at CostCo without the intermediary of a Euro priced currently at $1.34. Yikes. No matter how cheap the place, that still represents daily costs one-third higher than my daily normal.

However, I weighed the duffle today – at least 32 lbs. Yikes. I’ll rue that many a step along the way. I’ll probably ditch some of the books I’ve got in and my file folders containing fodder for writing projects. That’ll reduce it 6-7 lbs – he said, oh so optimistically.

Actually, it turned out that there wasn’t all that much rueing. For, I am, if you examined my life even cursorily, eating an extravagantly leisurely meal at ‘Express de Lyon’, near the Gare de Lyon, in Paris. If you are just itching to know: it is the le Plat: Pove de Merlu a la Bretonne. The Entree is Assiette charcuterie a l’Estragon. The Entree was very much in the spirit of tapas in Espagne, very chewy, undercooked pork with baby dills (quite nice dillness, I might add). Average to good on most standards, underwhelming en France’.

All this after un viaggio normale: a Colorado shuttlebus through snow and roads such that half a dozen vehicles were off of them; the indignities of modern ‘security’; a flight over the big lake; a not long enough stop over in Reykjavík to claim a new notch country in the travel saddlebags, aeroporto Charles de Gaulle, Paris, RTR train to Gare Du Nord, RTR train to Gare de Lyon; check bags in an unusual but accessible process – especially if you remember what it is like to check your bags in NY or Chicago (forget it) – so as to enjoy a 7 hour layover that allows a bit of wandering and stretching of the legs; a wine shop (for the overnight couchette with three other ‘strangers’, “of mixed gender” – as only the French can warn); and a strong intent to return to a Boulangerie of particular interest.

City hordes do not change much, no matter the locale. Weather plays as much of a role in determining one’s sense of uniqueness in a particular place as language, architecture, etc. If it is Spring time in Paris, well, let’s just say you NOTICE this city – or at least you notice particular members of the species inhabiting it! Being early March, however, it’s only subtle clues that tell you where you are.

As cool, sophisticated, and coutoured chic as they surely are in The City of Lights, they – the women particularly, smoke incessantly. How couture it must be to kiss an ash tray – perhaps one is only to concentrate on kissing other, often remarkable, attributes – ah, the French way of love?

Two men of an uncertain, but assuredly greater age than I, are truly enjoying their conversation (friendship) at the table next. Being in French, et iz only sure they are enjoying each other.

Being a little too anxious for my own good, I retrieved my luggage way too soon, so I have spent several hours on a Gare de Lyon bench humming Simon and Garfunkle, during which I could have wandered Paris. Somehow, each time I travel I think I’ll learn my lesson, but at 64 the opportunities just aren’t gonna crop up like weeds anymore. As Socrates will continue to remind me, I have assuredly taken myself with me.

Continued . . .

Changing Templates Pt. 4

Changing Templates Pt. 4
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
                                                                         The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien 
1633 miles, three passes, twelve summits, three crests, and several legitimate, but unnamed, candidates for several of the above, and I was standing by the Pacific Ocean just off Highway 1, “The Shoreline Highway”.  The day of departure was like so many of its predecessors – filled with unexpected hurdles on the way to accomplish simple, last tasks on the “To Do” list.  The plumber blew out the water pipes, we put RV Anti-Freeze down all the drains.  The electrical plugs were pulled and the door closed – but I forgot to check the door to see if it was securely closed!  I guess it’s fair to say that I never leave calmly.
But it’s been relatively easy days with very special friends, delightful cousins, and my loving Auntie Irene wineing and dining me for all but one of six nights of travel.  I like taking the old, U.S. Highways. So that is what I’ve done – given my thirty year old Road Atlas, I took on more of those summits than any right headed fellow with even a modicum of sense would have.
I spent one morning with tea and serene music watching the sun rise over the valleys and mountains of the Trinity Alps in Northern California; took ‘the Avenue of the Giants’ and ‘The Redwood Highway’; made the obligatory New Age, burned again Hippie stop to feel for the pulse of a giant redwood – which was entirely unsuccessful.  Did not stop at the ‘World Famous Tree House’ where it was clear that only a Hobbit who has drunk a substantial amount of Ent  drink would find it comfortable lodging. That last reference is not entirely off the mark, for not too much further on there was the ‘Elfin Glen’ tourist stop.  
I am writing most of this on a sunny, 50 degree day by the ocean.  It’s a fine, isolated, clamber down the bluff beach with a seal sitting on a rock some 200 yards from shore and some of his fellows bobbing in the water less than 30 feet out.
History – particularly that of the 16th Century Mediterranean – has been a major determiner in my utilizing Travel as antidote and in determining where to go.  While I recognize that it is not an entirely profound insight, I realized very quickly while crossing Montana that I was traversing History on my way to travel History.  Lewis and Clark’s astounding mountain, ridge-top journey – over a hundred miles of clefts, valleys, downed trees, and near starvation – Grange Halls, the Oregon Trail, El Camino Real (a name, by the way, that only was applied by travel hucksters in the American 1920’s to the ‘Route of the Missions’ in California established by Fr. Junipero Serra beginning 1769).  I guess one could say that it is a tidal pool type of history compared to the deep ocean history of Venice, the deeper history of Rome, and the nearly fathomless history of the Greeks, the Minoans, or the Phoenicians. Nevertheless, one very mortal and short life shouldn’t assign too much value or precedence to one depth of history over another.  As illustration, I’ve included a picture of a stunningly marvelous Art Deco building in Morro Bay, CA.  It is a superb example of tripping over history to get to history.  Unfortunately, the photo artist did poorly, so take a minute to examine closely.  There are three, stainless steel extrusions, windows in symmetry, and a flow and feel that rivals and beats anything Miami Beach has to offer.
The thought about a short life not assigning too much value to any particular depth of history was informed by the death of my cousin Jo’s husband Gary.  I knew him from the relationship one has with a favorite cousin, but he was also a fellow District Judge.  So I knew him better than might be expected.  I liked him a lot.  Calm, very conscientious and competent, and, I strongly suspect, a deep source of comfort and support for Jo who just lost her only son to suicide, and recently lost her beloved mother – my Dear auntie Em. He was younger than I.  Came home from playing racketball, went into the bathroom, had a heart attack, and Jo spent an interminable time waiting for the ambulance while giving him resuscitation.  My, the depth of sadness.
I continue my spiritual and psychic dance with my own mortality – more imminent not only because of thoughts of Gary, but also my 64 years and the very real lesson of history – that which I will soon be.
Continued . . .