Changing Temples Pt. 22 Music Hath Charms 2nd Movement

Music Hath Powers 2nd Movement

There was a time when I could write like a banshee with certain music playing – I could, quite literally, not stop the subconscious, or what ever that is inside of us speaking and seeking outlet; that flow of mind or soul or heart straight through a pencil onto the page. I cannot describe it accurately. It flowed out without stop, without censor, without the necessity for grammar. I wrote some interesting poetry and letters that way. Now some four plus decades later, the same thing can happen with just the right melody or tune or what ever it is that defines the nature of a song that compels the words to come out like water out of a hose. It closes down the censor, as I call it, and lets nothing but feeling or heart or soul or slop come out. Don’t stop that music!

Vanity Fair: ‘Hitchin’ a Ride’, Moody Blues: ‘Ride My SeeSaw’. In the old days I would lift up the record player stylus and put it down again and again and again just so I could keep writing and see what came forth. Not just so I “could” keep writing really but so that there “would” be an opening of that magic casement from whence unheard, unvisualized, unthought, unimagined treasures of word combinations would flow out in jeweled (or so I thought) strings.

Nowadays, the marvels of modern electronics allow multiple replay with a mere flick of a finger. The right music can still activate that casement – “Open Sesame” works each time. But not with the electronics I have available here and now. The song that just got me going in the old way, the song that gave rise to all this has ended. I was just feeling that old release. Was there depth available? Was there ever really any depth available? What is it in that soul of ours that seeks expression and pretends to depth? Insight? Hardly possible when one looks even slightly askance at that wisdom produced by so many over so many millennium – nothing new to be added there. New variations on the theme? Well, there is some hope there. The theme being of course – at least in this instance – the human condition. That marvel that compels the individual, defines the culture, describes the species. Who are we? Not just as that species but as that individual with desires rampant, mind so engaged that many religions, especially in their esoteric sects, spend their whole essence trying to get us to turn it off, if even for just the briefest of moments. We organize, we memorize, we collectivize, we quantify. We think! We agonize! We contemplate.

Yet, are we all of that merely in response to a recognition that is truly unique to our species – the prescience of death? Not just understanding after it has occurred – elephants have been shown to have a very real cognizance of a death occurrence. But we humans are part and parcel of a condition of temporality realized. I know, so what?

Because the what is that filler we create to add significance. The filler we use to override that horrible rationality that pervades the daylight of modern life and shovels that filler back into some place we can so easily close the door upon. How Keats filled. How Mozart filled. We think it genius. I think it merely some condition of spirit that allowed them to ignore the oppression of the norm, ignore the whole conception that we only pretend at the act of creation. How often have you heard: “I’m not creative”. Bah humbug.

One could say, of course, that we were made “in His image” – so creation is what we do, who we are, and what is to be hallelujahed in us. How many people strive to carve out from the necessities of this oppressive, demanding existence those brief moments of creativity? Think of your mother, your father, your aunt, your sibling – are there not ordinary people of ordinary existence who find a way to create, to seek to outlast temporality. It is not from taking the “long” view but that rare gift of living moment by moment where the mind finally quiets into the task, the censor finally being closeted for an all too brief moment, a moment not of survival but of art – however mean, however common. That is the art that leaps out at you throughout Venice. Countless people took the time – if only to hire someone else who could quiet their mind to let the creative leap out.

So much of political revolution is in response to censorship of thought, word, or deed, or community, or what ever the censor that dominates us finds expedient. Just as in the macrocosm so to in the microcosm. There is a censor that seeks to condition our human condition. Survival it might be. Replication of the species it might be. Responsibility it might be. But censor it is. Go not softly into that dark night. Rebel, I have only my censor to lose. Otherwise, I have a distinct sense that I can count on it marching with me into death, forever talking, forever overriding, forever demanding no until it is too late to recognize its shallowness.

Changing Temples – Pt. 20 Women of Venice

What is true of two very special women of Venice may be true of any woman one is attracted to – they are known only by representation. The first I spotted on the island Cemetery of San Michele in Venice. She emerges in high relief from what I swore upon seeing her for the first and second time was green alabaster or marmo verde more precious than many a gemstone. In reality, she is cast from mere bronze, but some how made alabaster or marble scrumptious by the patina of oxidation and the startling detail: obviously gorgeous hair piled, piled, circled, and pined; slender, oh so very appealing body draped in a gauzy, but permanent negligee sufficiently modest for a tomb. She lies upon a divan, the almost breathtaking beauty of a young woman in light repose; head turned toward you with lips that practically speak: “kiss me”, “wake me, Dear Lover”. She makes one believe the story of Pygmalion, where the poor fellow chipped, chiseled, and sanded so much love and beauty and heart into ivory that even Venus took pity and gave it a life of womanhood, motherhood, and death. Or the story of Daedalus using quicksilver to give his statutes voice. One aches to hear her voice, to know her womanhood, to age with her into death.

The representational facts are sparse: “Sonia” is engraved on the stone accompanied only by “Born 20 Febbraio 1885 a Za Bomgewka, RU. Died 6 Febbraio 1907 a Venezia”. Below, on the flagstone is Russian writing. Merely sharing her story and a picture was sufficient to convince several Italian University friends to join up for a second trip and to bring along a Russian speaking colleague to help ferret out more facts. Miscommunication prevented the rendezvous, but a mid-twenty something Italian woman named Mariagrazia accompanied me. She was intrigued by my effusiveness and desirous of visiting the grave of a recently deceased friend for whom she had made all the arrangements.

Mariagrazia looked at Sonia while I was waxing eloquent about all the poetic, romantic possibilities. She looked for awhile and said: “she committed suicide and drank something to do it”. I was not dismissive, but it did make me laugh for its ingenious inventiveness. I was skeptical, but it was an intriguing idea. Given all my predilections, this Sonia and that scenario seemed just too implausible. The next day I received an email from Mariagrazia with Google search results showing the astounding, surreal nature of her intuition. Sonia Kalinskey was, by one account, of Russian aristocratic origins who came to Venice during carnival and died from a self-administered dose of laudanum in the magnificent, Five-Star (then and now) Danieli Hotel “due to a disappointment in love”.

There is another whole story about the deep intuitive soul of Mariagrazia, but best left for a separate episode. I now wish I had asked her who she thought loved Sonia so much he dedicated his own, smaller version of Taj Mahal riches in order to realize such a careful, oh so very loving, homage. I say “he” because I was convinced from the first glance that no one but a lover would have scoured the Venezia Terra Firma for a modern Pygmalion. Perhaps that lover was the sculptor himself, though the evidence speaks against it. We know he was Enrico Butti (1847-1932). His age, the other sculptures he was creating throughout Europe at the time speak of solely a commission. Some patron, someone ensured that mere bronze was imbued with something so close to Sonia, so very close to a woman who would break any man’s heart that, like the Ivory Girl, she too emerges almost capable of being palpably touched, kissed, and very tenderly loved; A beauty who would otherwise have merely taken her forgettable place in that common parade of aging, birthing, laughing, suffering and disappearing into just another Mausoleum shelf – the kind of shelf where her long gone, loving representer resides unknown. But, his caring and his obvious love has left her to me these one hundred years hence – a dynamic specialness, a ravishing hint of companionship.

It is entirely possible, of course, that my conviction was entirely wrong. Perhaps longing obscures the deeply loving father or mother wounded the wound that life will never cure; parents forever diminished at the loss of so precious a child, at the loss of their young Darling on the cusp of bringing those deeper joys adult children bring into the life of the aging. Perhaps their sorrow was the love that gave her her last form from which she might well be saying: “Wake me to the day Dear Papa”. “Oh Mama, kiss your girl into life”.

Continued . . .


Changing Temples Pt. 19 – Magical Exceptionality

Magical Exceptionality

I did not know what else to call it but a gift from the Gods – in this case the Roman versions. A fine, life-loving Venetian named Davide, did a much, much better job than I – he called it “the magical side of an exceptional moment”. That moment was an electricity failure. Usually not an event one would categorize as auspicious or a gift from Olympus. That moment was an out door cafe in a broad street of three to four story 16th and 17th Century buildings, green window shutters thrown open to catch even the faintest of breezes on a 93 degree evening with high humidity. The various pastels of the buildings are nicely toned by the soft street lights and ever softening light of day. The cafes all have full tables spread out on either side of the street; one just down the way filled with a family and friends crowd of at least 40. The street is filled with many casual walk-abouts. Everyone is drinking something! The ambient sound is the buzz of laughter and talking, good humored social engagement.

Then, as middle dusk is settling in, the Spritz before me is mellowing my jitters from having just finished a long travel day from Odessa. I remember distinctly my breathing deeply and observing with consciousness yet one more time the deep ambience of Via Garibaldi and thinking about how much I love that particular scene and how much I want to imprint it into my memory. That moment was eliciting a pleasure in my soul that escapes the poet’s best efforts. Then the lights in the long street flickered, flickered and disappeared. All of a sudden, I felt ever so deeply a part of an exceptional out of time moment that returned me to what I believed in my heart Venice of 500 years ago would have been like with her beautiful pastels and greens and marbles highlighted by the fading daylight.

I extricated myself from friends whose interest was in finding artificial light. I wandered abroad in the now early nightfall neighborhoods. Stunned is the only word I have for it. In the last fifteen years or so I utter the word “Wow” when seeing something or hearing something of extraordinary specialness – Titian’s “Assumption of Mary”, Rembrandt’s “Saint Anne”, an exceptional moment where light and flower and shadow combine into absolute beauty. It is not a particularly intelligent expression, but it usually jumps out of my inner self unsolicited, untainted. Occasionally, I will catch myself repeating it because I can find no way of letting the joy loose from my heart. It is a weak, New Age, burned-again hippie kind of word, but it is my way of acknowledging a beautiful Zen moment, of reveling in this beauty that surrounds our daily existence. That street light deprived night was the first time I have ever caught myself saying “Wow” again and again and again and again; the complete sensory overload of antiquity, history, artistic sentiment in marble and mortar and architecture, softness, and ancestral humanity knocked that word out of me over and over again.

This was the Venice experienced by Lord Byron or Albrect Durer or Rousseau or Edward DeVere or Goethe. As I wandered the streets, I felt I was wandering with them, particularly with their sensibilities. Interestingly, our way would be lit by someone with a torch, with a “link boy”, who would be paid a small sum for the task. Shakespeare’s Falstaff makes reference to such a lad when teasing Bardolph about his shining red face: “Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern.” (Henry IV, Pt. 1, Act III, scene 3).

Occasionally people hurry past me, modern link boys, but oblivious to all but their modern torch being used to get to somewhere else. They leave behind them the last twilight showing steps of a bridge inviting one to say “Wow” and to keep walking in the midst of the Ancien Régime or any period when this city was what it has been for so many hundreds of years.

There was also an additional stillness – no air conditioners, refrigerator condensers, a lessening of foot traffic. Restaurant tables now dotted the way with candles. People were subdued, not so much by the lacking but by the magic of antiquity totally unadorned, unaltered, unfiltered, lighted by the last remnants of day. Windows showed the flickering of candles finally able to cast their shadows in complete abandon. A woman sits on a bench in a now near dark Campo. I am totally in the middle of the hundredth “Wow”, so I say, “Fantastico, Non?” “Yes”, she replies in English, “it is extraordinary”. How tempted I was to sit and share with this stranger who understood and who could speak English! But I did not want the apprehension of a strange man to unsettle such a divine moment; on I walked.

While I happen to cherish my own Romanticism, I think it is fair to ask whether this was truly such a unique experience aside from the cries of joy and pleasure in my soul? The first power plant in Italy was built in Milan in 1883 for the purpose of illuminating La Scala, the famous Opera House. Soon after, Molino Stucky coverted his giant flour mill in Venice from gas to electricity. The Arc lights used at La Scalla would have been in the range of 2000-3000 candle power. Modern, ordinary street lights are 250-440 candle power while an “ornamental” street light is around 400 candle power. So, for at least one hundred years my romanticism would be misapplied.

The torch light of reality also shows that romantic misapplication for many hundreds more years. According to one source, the oldest system of street lighting in the world was established in Venice during the 12th century. The Doge declared the lighting of the streets necessary due to the rash of robberies and murders which were easily carried out in the dark and twisting alleyways of the city. At first devotionals to various Saints held candles at each corner, later followed by oil lamps at the state’s expense. Another source has it that the Arabs had street lamps in Cordoba, Al-Andalus in 1000. Neither source noted the Chinese who, of course, beat everyone, and the word lamp is from the Greek meaning torch, so “lighting” by humans certainly predated even my romantic projections of a “natural” evening.

But I think it fair to say that even a few candles or torches here and there would not have rendered my wild imaginings less romantic during that brief twilight time. All in all I guess it just sheds a little light on something I find more and more convincing as I experience this city. It is best expressed in Davide’s final thought, “we don’t have the quality as humans to forget Venice”.

Continued . . .

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Changing Temples Pt. 18 – Music Has Charms . . .

“It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord.”
Pope Francesco

Thanks to a dear friend who had a traveler’s agenda I would never have pursued, and thanks to my desire to hear authentic music performed within the innumerable churches of Venice, I have visited fantastic basilicas, churches, and friaries. With perhaps one or two exceptions, these churches and their frescos are “depressing” – the greatest exception being a Titian entitled “The Assumption of Mary”. In it Titian inspires one to look through the eyes of Peter, who, with one hand in the coffin and head turned to watch Mary being taken to The Lord, was clearly being that same Peter I have always known and loved for his insistently questioning humanity – “Don’t wash my feet!”, “I’ll never deny YOU”, “We’ve fished all day”, “Is she really up there?” etc., etc.

By “depressing” I mean, of course, a constant refrain of suffering, suffering, suffering. From the Buddha onward, that thematic reference point for human existence is certainly not one which can be denied, but it does get . . . well, depressing.

This whole rendition has to do with another “serendipitous” moment – I want to Easter Sunday Service at a Anglican Church here in Venice. I had been aiming since my early planning stages to attend Easter Service at one of the Grand Basilicas because there is no ritual and ceremony of Easter that can beat the high Catholic. However, the small, comfortable, English speaking community of St. George’s Anglican Church was appealing. I had gone to Maundy Thursday Service (5 people) and to Good Friday Service (13 people), by which time I was considered part of the congregation and asked to read Scripture. I was, ultimately, attracted by the “acceptance”, and the English, of course. At the Easter Service there was a vocalist who sang during the Offeratory and the Preparatory for Communion who was clearly NOT, I repeat NOT, an amateur. It turns out she is an Opera Diva of some local and international renown. She and other colleagues have established a musical ensemble (Venice Music Project, Stagione Di Musica Antica), with several goals – to provide a bit of recompense in an expensive city, to promote Baroque Music with original instruments, and to raise funds for the restoration of Cheisa di San Giovanni Evangelista (the Church of Saint John the Evangelist) – all of which I clearly can support without equivocation. So, I found out from her (New Jersey born) that their group was having a concert that very afternoon to celebrate Pasqua (Easter). I went.

For $26 U.S. (“Ridotto e.g. Senior Citizen charge – my goodness an advantage to being old!!!) I experienced a minor epiphany. This was the music presented: “Musica per Venerdi Santo e Pasqua (more or less, Sacred Veneration Music of Easter/Passover) Musiche di: Vivaldi, Haendle” and “Stabat Mater di G.B. Pergolesi”. The Vivaldi and Handel were instrumental and the Pergolesi was with Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and instruments. I was so uplifted! I mean UPLIFTED! I saw with new eyes. I felt a degree of sublimity that is altogether too rare. I realized in my own simple-minded way that it was this very sense of transcendence that was what was intended by these masters of music – to lift the heart beyond the suffering and depressive nature of what was depicted around one and show beyond question why those soaring vaults, those frescoes, those statutes, those burial plaques, were meant to remind one of the transcendent nature of faith and hope and life. I will never enter one of these 13th C. – 18th C. churches in the same way again.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples – Pt. 17 The Constitution of Tragedy

The Constitution of Tragedy

Article I – Preamble

This is about Alberto and Deborah. I have made mention of Deborah here – that delightful Southern Belle with attitude and humor and a heart as big as the world. She came to Italy at 17 years of age and, to all intents and purposes, she has hardly left. Art History Major. Taste to die for. A true Chef. Wit that is instantaneous. Age? Not altogether indeterminate – but one does not, after all, ask a Lady, particularly a Southern Lady, her age.)

Alberto. 78. He was a professional boxer who fought 23 fights – the story of his 23rd fight is worth an episode in and of itself. He played premier league “football” (Soccer to the Euro uninitiated) for many years in England; one consequence is that you cannot tell whether he is a native English speaker or not. He won three dance contests in the 50s. Fisherman par excellance. Kind. Great Good Humored. Quick with wit. Can get by in six languages, but is almost totally dyslexic, so he can read only with great difficulty, and writing poses similar challenges. Native Venetian. A difficult, hard childhood – hard as in he was sold as a child; which he more than survived, he transcended. A man in love with the traditions of Venice. An unfailingly friendly man who does the Passeagato (the afternoon, or evening – hell anytime of the day – walkabout with his friends, stopping for a Prosecco or a Spritz, talking, enjoying).

Article II – Why Janus Has Two Faces

What significance does the word tragedy carry anymore? One can only hear it associated so many times with multiple school shootings, women kept prisoner in a basement, runners being blown apart just because of their love for the Big Race, and etc. before its application on a smaller, more individual level loses not only import but meaning entirely. Nevertheless, tragedy can sometimes be a blight, a calamity, a transcending adversity that asks us to refocus on its real meaning, to re-visualize the application of it to two everyday people and their personal Waterloo. As Aristotle noted and the Romans affirmed: Life is composed of the tragic and the comedic. Because the tragic has become so much of a constant staple of concentration in our media afflicted lives, I think we forget to laugh to relieve the pressure. Consequently, failing to laugh, I think we inure ourselves to tragedy’s true, emotional and spiritual impact. In Alberto’s case, only gallows humor could suffice at any rate.

Article III – The Best Laid Plans

Alberto and Fema lived together for some 20 years in a fine, fine Apartamento that she owned. They did not marry. They had a relationship, by all accounts, which transcended the “need” for marriage. When Fema became ill, they set a marriage date. The Commune of Venice cancelled that date – you have to know Italian local politics to appreciate that. Two hours before the new date and time Fema died. Fema was a practicing attorney. She left a will that was witnessed. The will left their 5th Floor Apartamento to Alberto. Fema’s sister fought the will in Court for years (and even brought criminal charges against Alberto saying he had forged the will). What can only be seen as a travesty of justice beyond description resulted in Alberto losing the case.

Article IV – Why?

Let us just say the word – avarice. This Apartamento is easily worth 1 million Euro ($1.3 million US).

Article V – A Classic Venetian Life.

How can words describe physical reality? It is damn hard. The glass of Italian wine next to me helps actually! Imagine a five story building (Palazzo in Italian) that sits right on the quay overlooking the Grand Lagoon of Venice – not the Grand Canal mind you. Still, this somewhat “lesser” cousin has delights that makes the Grand Canal rather ordinary. The Apartamento is on the fifth floor. It has floor to ceiling windows in bedroom, living/dining room, and extra room which overlook the expanse of the Lagoon as it sparkles in the sun light and hosts boats galore coming and going in their steady, necessary courses. One can see, in the near horizon, the many islands of the Veneto, in the far horizon the Great Adriatic. It faces basically South, so the rooms are light, airy, and sun-filled. Oh, and yes, just off that small, extra room, it has a small terrace. Venice is peculiar. Because space is so precious and valuable, what we think of as terraces in America are here rather – well much more than rather – small. It will fit two chairs, plants, and a small table. For the view it affords, see above and then add in that you can watch the passeagato of people on the Quay below. One could easily wile away hours just enjoying the sea, the sun, the sensation of a world quietly passing by for your personal pleasure and edification. The rooms are beautifully spacious and comfortable. Alberto and Deborah lived together in the apartamento for 10 years.

Article VI – An Italian Life

Alberto worked his whole life. Because he only had one year of schooling (remember the “sale”), he could not get a work card in Italy, because such requires 5 years of schooling. So, he worked at what he could get. One employer, who he was with for many, many years did not pay into the state system (we in America call it Social Security). He, you guessed it, did not tell Alberto. As a consequence Alberto has only the most basic of pensions that amounts to 500 Euro a month. The apartment was his retirement not just for living accommodations but, when the time came, to sell and have the resources to take care of himself. There is more here though. Alberto has spoken to me many times about his sense of responsibility for Deborah’s welfare. He knows that she has reasonably sufficient, independent means, but he is a fine, honorable, loving man, and he feels the deeper blow of failure in that regard.

Article VII – Pre-Nup

After court hearings at numerous levels, an appeal court ruled against Alberto and ordered him out of the apartamento in 15 days. If any of you have lived somewhere for many years, you know well what I refer to when I talk about the accumulation of a life. This was the accumulation of two lives well lived. The Courts also ordered that Alberto pay his sister-in-law’s court costs. Because he and Deborah married, her accumulated life goods are now under threat of confiscation to pay his debts – this despite their having executed a Prenuptial Agreement, valid under Italian law, that declared their goods as separate. So, in order to prevent their possible attachment, Deborah had moved to storage most of her valuable furniture, art, and those things accumulated over her years in Italy – accumulations which make a highly intelligent, art-historian’s house a comfortable, pleasant, and tremendously satisfying environment.

Article VIII – Consequences.

On the evening of the day of the court ruling and the eviction notice, Alberto got sick, very sick. Lung based.

Article IX – Consequences

“I am worn out, for the first time in my life, I am worn out.” Alberto repeated this to me a number of times as we moved their worldly belongings away from the home he loved. Actually, it was as others moved the belongings. Alberto was too sick to do much, something which affected him greatly as a man: “I’ve always been capable and strong”, he would say over and over.

Article X – Consequences.

Alberto lost 13 kilos in 30 days. He is a typical Venetian – small of stature, solid, definitely not heavy or “fat”. From solidity and tone, his arms and legs have turned to the loose skin that one sees in the nursing homes. He has now gone to numerous appointments for internal problems that could be quite serious.

Article XI – When A Heart Breaks.

Deborah told me of numerous occasions when Alberto would just break down crying. There is more here than words can ever express. Here was a confident, boot-strap scrapper, generous, full-heart Italian who cannot now stop tears when alone or with his Amore. There is still more. One of Alberto’s attributes is easily understood – he worries about not only caring for Deborah now and when he has died, but that she should not have to finance him. If anything could tear the heart out of a genuine man – besides losing his home of 30 years – it would have to be seeing oneself deprived of the ability to financially support the one you love or, even worse, in seeing her independent assets being put at risk because of you.

Article XI – How Far Must That Be Carried?

There are 66 steps up to the Apartamento. They hired a “moving” company to come for the big items – refrigerator, furniture, beds, marble counter tops, cabinets, etc all went by hoist out of and down from the window and on to a boat to be taken to storage. All the rest of the accumulation of their lives, had to be carried down those steps and then be hand carted off to various spots where friends were letting them store their now packed up life. Remember, in Venice it is either boats, hand carts, or hands – no pickups backed up to the door! I told Deborah that the experience had at least cured me of one important vice – that of envy for those Venetians who live in the top floor apartamentos!!

Article XII – I’m From The Government, And I’m Here to Help.

Midst all this, a representative of the Commune of Venezia (the city government) told Alberto in the presence of Alberto’s brother-in-law not to hand over the keys at the end of the 15 days (as ordered by the Court), for he was not supposed to be made homeless by such actions. When they refused the key turnover (against their own lawyer’s advice), the lawyer quit them, and the Commune Representative then said he never said any such thing. This all resulted in a police visit.

Virtually everything had been moved out of the Apartamento (remember the 15 day notice!) just when a representative of the court showed up to sequester any property for the court debts. Luckily, he was a considerate fellow, and he also did not know about the storage area on the ground floor chock-a-block full of goods to be hauled away the next day.

Article XIII – When Temporary Becomes An Affliction

Friends let Alberto and Deborah use their empty apartment temporarily for a month. So, we moved interim possessions into that apartment – only three flights up!. Af then end of that month it was off to another temporary apartment – only three flights up – for two months. The operative word here is temporary. Imagine your life thrown into the chaos of temporary living on fifteen days notice. To help that imagination note that it is high season in Venice, an expensive place at any time. Now with July well advanced and, more importantly, all of Europe set to take vacation in August (the owners do not leave their keys with their apartment managers, so when they are on vacation, you cannot view an apartment), there is a desperation setting in.

Article XIV – Pummeled Again

I liken the unfolding story of Alberto (and Deborah) to his being in the boxing ring. Except here, he receives blow after blow after blow and there is neither a ref to stop the fight nor a bell to end the round. One small example: Ordinarily, in the Italian system, someone in Alberto’s circumstances and limited pension would be eligible for public housing. Because Deborah has an apartment (which is rented out to help pay their daily living costs), which she owned prior to the marriage (see Article VII Prenup Agreement above), Alberto has been refused public housing.

Article XV – Kicking When They Are Down

Apparently, being awarded the fine apartamento was not sufficient. Now the former sister-in-law is using the legal system to seek back rent from the date of Alberto’s first wife’s death – at 2000 Euros per month. She is seeking to take Deborah’s assets since Alberto has none.

Article XVI – What is Tragedy?

What constitutes tragedy? What one sees in Alberto’s last 8 weeks is something you would swear could only be in a book or a movie or a fable meant to provide lessons to the young. From what was, he is now an old, vulnerable 78: Vitality sapped, humor, mostly forced. The passeagato is rare. The fishing he loved so dearly is rare, but returning slowly, thank goodness. He makes a good face of it, rallies as we say in the States, but it is heart-breakingly brief and only enough to make you sadder than you can imagine – having seen what tragedy can engender in two months. I have not addressed the effect of this upon Deborah and upon their relationship. In all conscience I cannot. It moves from the reportorial to the personal. I trust that your sense of the human condition can fill in the blanks.

Article XVII – Post Script

I now know more deeply the helplessness one feels in the face of tragedy – all one can do is lend a hand, climb and carry, trundle hand carts, comfort the afflicted, and fantasize about sudden wealth that would buy their beloved apartamento and move them back in.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 15 – Mindfulness

“There are days”, he reflected, ” when one sees as though one had been blind the rest of one’s life. Such clarity – perfection in everything, not merely in the extraordinary. One lives in the present moment; lives intently. There is no urge to be doing: being is the highest good.” “However”, he said, “doing of some kind there must be.”
Patrick O’Brien, ‘Post Captain’

Have you ever wondered, specifically and particularly, whether another individual, or a small group, or that larger mass we call humanity sees an incident, an object, or an experience in the same way as you? I mean by that, of course, the same way. Because of such wonder and curiosity, have you wrestled the language with another person in tandem to determine if there is similarity of experience? Have you parsed this slippery, all together too facile language of ours to determine whether, in fact, that incident, that object, or that experience was perceived, inculcated, understood the same way?

I, for one, am rather obsessed with that question, have been for as long as I can remember. I tend to believe, now that I am in my anecdotage, that I sought to know whether there are universals, archetypes within the human condition – and that I had experienced one (or more) of them. Naturally, I acknowledge that Plato and Jung, at least, have long since argued that there is – who am I to contend with those two?

One very particular experience I have wondered about in that context is damned difficult to pin down with words, no matter what language is used: Transcendence, Enlightenment, Nirvana, “The Peace that passes all understanding”, and their variously described ilk. Interestingly, Nirvana implies, to me at least, a mental/spiritual state, whereas the thesaurus has as many synonyms referring to what can surely be described as a locality: Elysium, Paradise, Happy Hunting Ground, Shangri-La. It is so fascinating to think about high spiritual achievement being part and parcel with place – in my own small way I have contributed to the lexicon by describing such as “the geography of contentment”.

During my first and only other travel experience where I had no agenda, no return ticket, and no calendar, one of my journal entries was about what I saw as a universal among travelers – the desire to discover that ONE (dare I say magical) place with all the attributes that the traveler’s spirit seems to seek: quiet, geography that is compelling (sea shores or mountains most frequently), handsome and oh so accommodating and accepting people, untrammeled culture, good food and drink, cheap – in other words a version of paradise. I think it is fair to say that even the cruise ship day trippers in Cancun, Bali, Venezia, Kerala, Santorini, Cozumel have a deeply embedded hope they will find a place that transcends, that satisfies by bringing a deep level of contentment and which will trigger a desire to never leave, to be forever within this Shangri-La.

Place and Spirit – how interwoven they are. Being and Doing – how interwoven they are. Are Spirit and Being, Place and Doing interwoven in the same way? Religions promise Spirit in a place – the 1000 virgins of Islamic Paradise is certainly a promise of some interest. Well, clearly not all religions promise such. One of the attractive features of Zen is that place is irrelevant. There are persuasive indicators that Zen Enlightenment is not a sudden conversion experience – somewhat different than St. Paul on the Road to Damascus, gotta love that lightening, or the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree. Place was not the point, spirit was the point.

I do not believe I have the ability to find Peace without place in this life time. Lord knows I have given the best half-hearted effort that a spiritual dilettante could muster. I am a person whose only success (dare one call it that) is finding Spirit in place, in geography, in Doing. I have to admit that “Do-Nothing Zen” founded by Bankei (1622-93) is more my style! Perhaps because the great lightening bolt or ultimate realization has never happened to me, despite my repeated efforts to “get there”, I have come to believe that transcendent experience is an incremental thing. I have some evidence for that.

But, first, an aside. My dear friend David, a man of living spirit if ever there was one, would immediately spend a significant amount of time, energy, and words trying to get me to understand that you cannot “get” it – you are it. He’s absolutely right of course. But, as I say: “I may be, but I ain’t!”

So, back to increments. I read a marvelous and insightful little book containing three biographies entitled “Three Zen Masters”. What a wonderful world we live in that gives us access to such gems. I have neither the memory nor the book with me to give much detail, but a simple Internet search refreshes sufficiently. Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481), Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), and Daigu Ryokan (1758-1831) rank among the greatest Zen masters in Japanese history-their names have become nearly synonymous with Zen itself. Iconoclastic, funny, and artistically vital, these men represent that which drew many of us Westerners to Zen in the first place.

What is to be gleaned? What is compelling? What the hell does this have to do with tourist desires? The answer lies in what I overlooked the first two times I read this slim volume. Only in a lonely, but inspirational moment, did I remember that each of these individuals was a poet, calligrapher, painter, scholar, administrator (often of large, important monasteries), mentor, benefactor. They each enjoyed drinking saki with the local farmers. One was a lover of many years standing (or lieing as the case may be).

So many possible illustrations. One is worthwhile. An old couple came to Hakuin. They operated a fan shop, but business was so poor that they were worried that they now would have no money for when they could no longer work. Hakuin quickly painted a small poster and told them to post it on the door of their shop. They did. It read something like: “on Sunday, Hakuin will come and autograph calligraphy and paintings”. His fame insured a large, large crowd. The couple sold all their fans.

As one follows these men through their lives, one “realizes” again and again that each frequently despaired about their own enlightenment. What is also clear is that such enlightenment for each came in incremental bits and “realizations”; no grand lightening strokes, just a transcendent moment here, a complete exhilaration of joy there, awakening experiences over there. They engaged in everyday activities like writing, painting, administering, partnering – but always, always with an eye toward mindfullness.

Today, I walked the fairly long walk to St. George’s Episc. Church where I have been going regularly since arrival. I am, you should understand, spiritual and distinctly not religious. I attend primarily because church is a community and one can create a bit of community for one self by the simple diligence of attendance. I was discouraged. I was unhappy. Too much baggage, too much of that self that Socrates assured me I would be hauling along with me from Montana. I crossed over a ponte (bridge) on a small canal, fairly far off the beaten track – so I was alone. At the crest of the ponte I heard music being played; it sounded like an accordion, as unlikely as that would be in my decades of walking experience. Rather than rushing on thoroughly immersed in my own mind, I stopped. I listened. I observed. I was mindful. It was, in fact, an accordion – played without elaboration but with an accomplished set of hands. The tune which I had caught by the 3rd. or 4th note, was “Que Sera Sera” (for Doris Day fans, the remainder of the phrase is “whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que Sera Sera”).

It was one of those small, incremental moments where there is a glimpse of spirit within place where manipulations and machinations of mind result only in frustration and the understanding that one has to just accept. Hidden in there is the connection regarding traveler’s desires for a transcendent locale.

Continued. . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 14 – Disneyland Mediterranean Pt. 2

Changing Temples Pt. 14
Disneyland Mediterranean – Pt. 2

“Even the most hopeful city planners worry that in a few decades Venice will not be a city at all, but a museum, a cultural theme park, a decaying Disneyland for adults.”
Rick Steves

Imagine being in the midst of a truly fine Roman Amphitheatre in Croatia. You are chatting with someone from Holland who asks where you are from. Rather than go through the long dialogue about America, Montana, why I left, the giorno per giorno nature of the stay in Venezia, I just say I am staying in Venezia. “Oh” comes the reply, “that’s a lot like Disneyland isn’t it?” If Venezia is not quite Disneyland Mediterranean, as I contend, then what descriptors would best capture it. For, if Venezia does “not quite” resemble a cultural theme park, what does it resemble.

The term “Venice” is a descriptor itself. To Venezians and Italians it is Venezia – what kind of magic does that convey, what kind of mystery? But, the image, the imagination, the mystery that is conveyed when I say Venice! Venice is probably easier to describe than Venezia, for many of us carry latent images of it in our memory, while some carry them in their hearts – having visited once. Have you ever met anyone who has been to Venice (even those numerous ones who landed in the a.m. and left in the p.m.) who does not convey to you some degree of ambience of delight in their descriptors about the city?

Venice: “Improbable”. Venice: “Otherworldly”. Venice: “A continuous surprise for the eye and the heart”. You walk along a Fundamenta, a walkway along a canal, there just ahead in the early evening light the prow of a gondola juts into view from an even smaller side canal, and rounds the corner in your direction. The gondolier crawls forward to lower the bow so that the magnificent, thrusting prow will not be sheared off by the low ponte he is crossing under.

You have no doubt seen pictures of traffic cops in foreign countries with peculiar white hats, white gloves, uniform always impeccable midst the chaos of traffic, arms extended, almost serene midst the endless stream. In Venezia, those traffic cops are precisely the same, except they are in Piazza San Marco and the endless streams are the swirling, swarming tourists – those waiting to get into the Basilica or the Campanile (Bell Tower) or just trying to transit.

I debate myself often whether Venezia is a city more for doing or more for relishing. I suppose either choice is a strong indicator of being a cultural theme park. Still, I see the difference as Venice being genus to the amusement park species that is Disneyland. For one, it is inhabited (albeit with ever decreasing numbers, as the native population has dropped from around 110,000 to 60,000 in ten years). Venice is certainly 15th, 16th and 17th Century relish for the eye – canals, pontes, houses, flowers decorating nearly every second window – the one rather plain exception, interestingly enough, to the profusion of flower lovers, is on the Grande Canale, perhaps because the wealthy can not be bothered to appear but on show-case occasions like Carnivale or Biennale.

To me, it is a city that startles the eyes: Around every corner is a canal, a ponte arching over, and pastel colored dwellings gently creating a more perpendicular curve with just enough foreground to create a mysterious longing to float down, under, around. Venice startles the eye as it catches the small shrine, they do not call them that, surprisingly, they are simply Maria or Jesu, but they appear in so many places and so surprisingly that they can be said to be common. Venezia jumps into your eye suddenly with the small marble inset sculptures, statues grand or delicate, majestic or touching, friezes. by some of history’s finest. There are constant, every so constant, reminders that those who built did not just build but instilled their faith, their esthetic, their pride (pompous or simple, as the case might be), their desire for a more transcendent atmosphere around them. I speculate it was so because it helps one rise above the pains of this world – pains I contend have scarcely changed in all these hundreds and hundreds of years.

The whole, tutti (all), captures one’s heart or soul just long enough that we too rise above. That rising has somehow occurred in people for all these five to six hundred year. Yea, it can be argued that it has done so for two thousand years if one remembers the floor mosaic – The Punishment of Dirce – in a Roman home in Pula, Croatia for example.

But, do not stop there. There is more, if not deeper, then appealing and absorbing. Waves lapping, church bells deeply toning their duty, rather soft sounds of boats, human voices. Nothing else competes for the ear (OK, occasionally a barking dog or the rather cacophonous sound of a sea gull). Unimaginable to the modern sensibility, there is no automobile drone – the drone that so dominates our world ear that we do not realize its ever present, unrelenting demand upon the senses unless we are lucky enough to escape far onto a mountain trail. One can hardly know anymore, really, what that drone has become in its own pervasive way. We drown it with TV, music, suburban enclave, but it greets us always, ever ready to climb into the ear and make a home where we do not even realize that squatting has occurred. Not so in Venice. Not so in Venezia.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 13 Deportation Pt. 3

Changing Temples Pt. 13, Deportation Pt. 3

“I am trying to move on to Italy as soon as possible as I hate this Catholic country with its hundred races and thousand languages. . . . Pola is a back-of-God-speed place—a naval Siberia . . . . Istria is a long boring place wedged into the Adriatic peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear little red caps and colossal breeches.” James Joyce

The grand experiment to be able to continue my personal version of the Grand Tour by avoiding Deportation concerns was largely a failure I am afraid. Almost exactly to the minute three days later, I am on the train back to Venezia.

The final important Avoidance Behavior was the “Exit” stamp from Croatia. If buried somewhere inscrutable, then my “exit” from Shengen Agreement requirements within 90 days would be a fairly respectable varnish. Of all the Passport pages to choose from, the border officer choose the same one as the Entry Stamp. So, there visible to even an undiscerning eye is clearly straight forward evidence of only a three day visit to a non-Shengen Country. Well, nice try. Now I have to rely upon other behaviors and hope Fate will smile a bit.

The sunnier aspects of the three days lend some solace. One very unprofound insight for instance. Pula was a nice and even interesting place to visit. The insight for me was a new one in travel. Nice to visit is significantly different than a place where you fell some deep urge to stay. Visiting implies moving on, and Pula was nice within that particular travel concept. I did not make it to Pula’s version of the famous Croatian beaches, which by all accounts are spectacular. But Pula was a place where you have to work the public transit system to get there – to the tune of 20 minutes or so, which wouldn’t be all bad of course.

But the reference point is the kind of place one is tempted to stay in, and by that I mean truly stay in – we’ve all been in a place like that or imagined one. Twenty plus minutes just to see the coast and beach (as opposed to the bay and harbor) does not bring a place up to my “want to stay” standards. I suspect the Croatian coast would reveal villages and towns of that type, but it would take a “back-of-God-speed” effort, concerted research, and either a rental car (meaning one is unlikely to do anything but visit anyway) or the challenges of rural, inter town buses. With only three buses out of Pula each day to the main rail hub of Trieste (65 some miles), you get some idea of the challenges referred to. Of course the discovery might be quite remarkable because no tourist hordes.

The price of living was also a sunny aspect. Roughly only one-half to one-third the cost of Venezia. Because I am paying rent in Venezia I didn’t save anything much really. Probably went in the hole some. But it was still nice to not pay such a premium.

So, I am back in Venezia. I have to say I am past the magic phase, though moments of sun diamonds or moon diamonds on the Adriatic – choose the gorgeous sparkling of your particular preference – belies that on occasion. Still, three and one-half months in, I have returned to the ordinary attempts to fill the day. That is a fascination for another time.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 12 – Deportation Pt. 2

Changing Temples – Deportation, Pt. 2: The Anatomy of Panic

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street
On The Sunny Side of the Street, 1930

There is a form of incipient panic in travel that I cannot but dread. Particulars: Because my Deportation Avoidance Behaviors were all undertaken within two hours – beginning at about 7:45 a.m. and me across Venezia and on the train by 9:12, there were things that had to give. No soap and shampoo with me. The little apartment I have in Pula has WiFi and nice space, but no soap or shampoo!

It also happens to be in the middle of suburban nowhere in Pula. A consequence of having to use an Internet cafe half way through the journey to try to get a reservation in advance. Foreign computer and internet usage is mostly . . . well, foreign. While the clock is ticking up Euros, you are trying to figure out which combination of keys will give you the @ sign. Seems simple, but I can tell you from the perspective of Costa Rica and here (my two experiences), it is not!

As I mentioned, the booking company map showed 4+ miles to city centre, which distance, of course, was only genuinely visible after booking. The landlords’ son speaks reasonable English and barely explained how to find the city bus but a great job of explaining which bus number to take. He failed to mention that the bus number coming back is not the same!

So, thanks to a nice fellow sitting by the side of his house this a.m., I found the bus stop. Thanks to very friendly fellows at the bus stop, I got off at the right spot. One of them, Swedish by some connection, so with a grasp of English, took the time to show me the bus stop to find when I was ready to return. He then proceeded to walk about with me to orient me. That was such a nice gesture. In part, however, it got me a little panicked about truly NOT being oriented, because we were making turns upon turns and he was using a vocabulary of one-third English to say “you can’t miss it”.

When I am faced with a totally unknown city (my iPad maps would be wonderful, but I do not have a Data Plan for Croatia – especially for 3 days) and only one orientation point for getting myself back to where I am sleeping, my pattern is to do a slow, circular or perpendicular walk about to get familiar.

At any rate, this friendly soul left me at a spot where I had some comfort about a return route, so I walked on thinking that the Roman Amphitheater this town is famous for would be near the water. Sure enough.

So, I whiled away the day (the Adventure of the Amphitheater is the subject of another edition). I decided I would eat an early supper to try to get the best time advantage in finding my way back to my abode.

But, incipient in the background was this panic about where I was to actually exit the bus on my return. It would have helped if I hadn’t had what appears to be the latest in an increasing number of moments of inadvertence on the inbound bus. When I sat down on the bus, but, limited seat availability notwithstanding, I completely forgot that I am supposed to somehow identify this one particular suburban bus stop within the repetitive, unidentifiable sameness of the streets and surroundings. I sit down “going backwards”, not the best for instilling something in memory about landmarks. Several blocks on I remembered what I was supposed to be about. Good luck. This suburb is like every other you have ever seen (especially one that, according to the landlord son, was all built in the last three years), winding streets not well marked. Everything looks alike. I took the kind fellow’s advice and got off at the spot recommended. But I recognized niente! I did not see the bus stop I had used in the a.m. The uphill street looked promising or memorable, but who the hell knows.

There was a nice old lady passing by. I showed her my address on a piece of paper (why try to pronounce a language I can’t). Sure enough she said the uphill street. Here I am. Unnecessary incipient panic, but only in retrospect. I have been in many a situation where it was not nearly as seamless. Dare I tell you about this time in Berkeley CA, full bladder, full failure to take any replica of the address, the phone number, or anything, and taking the wrong exit out of the subway?

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 11

Changing Temples Pt. 11
Deportation Avoidance Behaviors

“I am trying to move on to Italy as soon as possible as I hate this Catholic country with its hundred races and thousand languages. . . . Pola is a back-of-God-speed place—a naval Siberia . . . . Istria is a long boring place wedged into the Adriatic peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear little red caps and colossal breeches.” James Joyce

I am in violation of the Shengen Agreement! There is no perfect remedy for my violation, only a thin veneer of fakery. I can apply that veneer by going to England or to Croatia (or any country outside of the EU zone). Even that is not entirely accurate for I can come into total, acceptable compliance by just going back to America for 90 days before I can “legally”come back to the EU – which means Venezia to me of course. At this point I do not want to go home, let alone for 90 days. Croatia is closer than England and the transit cheaper, so I am escaping to Croatia.

I am escaping, as will be revealed in more detail below, very much like Bilbo Baggins running off without his pocket handkerchief and other things an altogether complacent Hobbit or human might need. In my case, no maps, an iPad choosing this moment to be completely balky with Internet connection, absolutely no idea of which town I should go to, only the intent to avoid a Shengen Agreement expulsion, fine, and embarrassment.

Perhaps if I work backward this will make some sense. By 9:12 a.m. this morning I had gotten out of bed (a major undertaking), exercised, packed, eaten breakfast, taken a Vaporatto Boat across Venezia, purchased a train ticket to Trieste (at the far Eastern part of the boot top of Italy), and was on the train to Trieste. From there Croatia is close – I cannot tell you how close at this point remember because I have no map and no Internet!

Where did all this start? To really show the instantaneous nature of the intent to be in this train seat at this time of day, I refer to last night’s dinner – which given custom and circumstance did not begin until 9:45 p.m.! I had asked a fellow from the ExPat Group if he would have a rational discussion with me about the “length of stay” issues in Italy. The she of the them is from the US. The he of them is Veneziano by birth, trained and admitted to the law in Italy, the UK, and New York. They have worked their way through all the issues regarding extended stay – all to say I could expect a very rational discussion.

It was way too rational! I had been just drifting along with regard to stay limits thinking because of the official Italian web site I had consulted that I was good for six months. He proceeded to outline the Shengen Agreement – which in short provides that someone from the US can ONLY be in the EU (that is, anywhere in the EU) for 90 days out of 180. I knew my passport had not been stamped or examined by Italian immigration, but I was not sure if it had been stamped by Swiss authorities when the porter took all the passenger passports on the overnight train from Paris to Venezia. At dinner we did not know, as one does not risk the carrying of their passport during everyday activities. But, given the actions of the train porter, it was likely.

The gist of the consult was go to Croatia, try to add a Croatian stay that might be veneered into 90 days just by having the most recent passport stamp be from a non-EU country. Croatia joins the EU on July 1 this year.

Sure enough, this morning I looked and my passport had been stamped on March 5th. By even the most charitable of calculations, as of today I am in violation of the Shengen Agreement. Thus, I am on my way to an unknown Croatian destination. I am hoping the cellular data network will work in Trieste – it will not be any good in Croatia at any rate (all country specific here). All this because I like Venezia, and want to stay for awhile!

I had some recall of my friends saying Poula or something of the sort. In the Trieste train station there were maps for sale. I looked at the cover of several and saw that Pula was indeed closest and near the sea. One bus ticket later, and off I go to find a WiFi spot since my cellular still refuses to give the necessary signal – it gives a signal, but not 3G and thus incapable of connection. Bars and cafes go by in succession. No WiFi signs. I begin to ask, each and everyone refers me to what I translate as an Internet store. After wandering (with bag, of course), I found, used, and got a reservation for lodging, as I am very disinclined to arrive in a strange place late, 5 p.m. in this instance – particularly a popular resort by the sea in high season.

Of course, despite the description, the place is four miles plus from the bus station. Gotta love it.

Continued . . .