Friday, February 24, 2012

Ah Rome! For centuries, artists, scholars and poets have claimed her as their first, last and only source of beauty, learning and inspiration. For centuries, tourists have flocked to her,enjoying the multitude of incredible bits and pieces that make Rome what she is and has always been, The Eternal City. For some, it is the incredible beauty and wonder found in Vatican City. For others, it is Michelangelo or Raphael, perhaps Caravaggio or the ever present Bernini. For this Italiaphile, it is one Claudio Montouri, the "Bird man".

Claudio Montouri is a one man orchestra, a street performer, a "busker". A pseudo-throat singer, he sings songs that mimic jungle animals, birds and frogs. Influenced by African tribal music, he uses a variety of self-made percussion instruments, an ancient concertina and old toys carefully laid out on the ground before him. Animal woodblocks, a bicycle horn and his own head are staples in his charming orchestra. When he dons his bird-scull hat and his orange bird beak mask, he's part clown, part self-styled musician. He moves his act from location to location throughout the city, earning his way as he progresses. As all good buskers do, he draws crowds of passers by, some of them lucky enough to get a playful bop on the head from his foam rubber hammer as he runs in circles for their amusement. All of them attracted by his natural and sincere style, especially the first time observers.

A head of long and unruly white hair tops off a pasty white face,highlighted by soft wrinkles,one that only a mother could love. His age, one can only wonder. A slight body wears blue jeans with torn knees, those usually reserved for younger men. Strapped around each ankle, a set of bells and cymbals, parts of his rhythm band. I'm a very poor judge of age. Oftentimes I find myself assuming the role of theater critic using one's performance on the life stage as an indicator of his or her age. That having been said, Bird Man Montouri is a youngster.

We first encountered Claudio on a stroll from the Piazza Navona en route to the Campo de Fiori on a December's evening. My heart was already full to capacity, or so I thought, with the pleasure of being in favorite place at a favorite time. Christmas in Rome's Piazza Navona brings new meaning to the word's "heart's delight". As we made our way, we spotted a small crowd, in its center, the most heavenly music poured out from a concertina, accompanying a strange vocalization. Honking horns, toys emitting little squeaks as they were stomped on just at the right moment, little bells, tiny cymbals and a little ugly man running around in circles. Heart's delight. I’m a child again, enchanted by the bird man clown, laughing at his antics, loving the music, thinking I’d arrived in temporary Heaven. Now my heart surely would burst.

I've since located a few YouTube clippings of Claudio, most taken by other tourists who were fortunate to have found him. Each time I click on one of these short takes I find myself transported back to that evening in December when I discovered my very own unique Roman treasure. Grazie tante Claudio. A presto!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

750 Words A Day

I subscribe to a website. It's called very simply "750". It's a website that encourages its users to write every day. Its not fancy, just a page on which the writer puts down words. Stories, ideas, anything the writer feels like saying. It doesn't get read by anyone, it's all very private and secure. When the day is over, magically, the day before's work is gone, to where I do not know. Every morning, by 6AM, I receive an email from a person called Buster, telling me that I should write 750 words today. Thank you Buster, especially for not coming over to my house and busting me for not doing what I am told.
Today, I made a little promise to Buster. Today is Ash Wednesday and for the next forty days, Christians world-over will be making promises in preparation for Easter. Some will give up food, some beverage, others habits, good and bad, that they have just been awaiting the opportunity to either ditch or bring to a new level of importance in their lives. For me, the Lenten sacrifice will be one part spiritual, one part intellectual and one part physical. All of these I find difficult to commit to. Daily fitness classes, no wine, no chocolate and 750 words a day. Promises to keep. Little steps along the road to a happier, healthier, smarter and holier me.
I'm reading a great book at the moment. It's On the Road With Francis of Assisi by Linda Bird Francke in which the author follows the path of Francis on his way to sainthood through Italy and on to Egypt. Francis, we learn, went to great heights to deny himself earthly pleasure, not least of all adding ashes to his food to deaden the taste as he criss-crossed Italy for over twenty years.
I'll never be Francis of Assisi. I'll never come close. Any ashes that I may eat will be those that have randomly flown in from an open fire in the backyard of a rented house in Assisi. I'll never work any miracles, heal any lepers, bring anyone back from the dead. I'll never found a religious order or become a saint. I'll never spend my time praying in a hovel that will become a shrine, surrounded by iron gates in a cathedral.
But Buster, I'll give it a good crack at learning how to write and maybe by Easter, I'll have 750 words on one piece of paper. How's that for a promise? And don't you worry Dear Saint Francis, I'm learning a lot from you. Pace e Bene my friend.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Simple Pleasure of a Best Friend

My houseguests left early yesterday morning. A weekend with my best friend and her husband, keeping me company during a weekend away visiting his mother for my husband. More than simply keeping me company. Feeding my soul with the truest of simple pleasures, a full plate of unbridled sincerity that can only come from the dearest of lifelong friends. We spent most of our time together talking as women friends do. We know each other so very well and that makes for an easy flow of words between us. No need to explain the family who's who's. No need to detail the past, the school years, the marriages. It's all there all the time, at the ready, very much like a library. The volumes read "The Teen Years", "High School", "College Notes", "Love and Marriage" and so on and so on. Well read and easily accessed.
An early departure, their need to return to their home in New York underscored by a party invitation. Sad good byes and I'm left alone. Tidy up, load of laundry. Tidy up some more. I could have spent the day in my house. I have a beautiful view from the two most occupied rooms and the sun was shining making it another unseasonally warm and carefree winter day. Instead, I brought myself to a favorite stretch of beach, dressed for a no-excuse walk that I much needed. The low tide left large amounts of sea weed, different from that which we fought all summer. This was a feathery, orange and brown seaweed, distributed along the hard packed sandy shoreline and beautifully fragrant. Salty air with just the right amount of bouquet to awaken my senses and ready me for the walk ahead. My beach walks always lend themselves to great thoughts. I rarely look out at the water but this time, I took note of the calmness as each little lap hit the shore. Ducks and seagulls floated on the glass-like water. I wondered what the gulls were trying to verbally communicate to each other, what do the different calls mean. I listened to the gentle sounds made as they approached the shore and landed softly upon the water, making groups. Were they a family? A group of friends enjoying a day out? Was there food nearby?
Most of this walk, like hundreds before it, found me with my head down, studying the sand, looking for treasures and inspiration for one art project or another. I have a mental file folder. It has a tab which reads "you'd think after all these years, she'd find something to do with these shells....". I add files as my thoughts range and my little stories grow. All of those, I'll keep for another time, another story or a little piece of "art". In my head, I store titles for these future endeavors. Today, the scallop shell, my favorite of all the locals, reminds me of simplicity and fills my heart with the joy of the friendship that I have shared with Cam for so many years. It is uncomplicated, open and honest, a flat baseline from which it fans upward and outward. Lines of life reaching from the heart, located in the middle of the base. Simple and beautiful along the shoreline of my life.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I have friends who have homes that belong in magazines. Coffee table books. Fund-raiser house tours. Some, for their size, some for their location, others for uniqueness and then those for the exhibition of the decorating skills of their owners. A few for all of the above. I've been blessed with the gift of many friendships, here and abroad, along with countless invitations to luncheons, dinners, cook outs, parties, sleep-overs and extended stays. I know houses. I know homes and can easily tell the difference.

Mine is a little home. It is part of a big house. It is an apartment. I share it with my husband. It was carefully selected after giving up a few former houses, none of which I felt were "home". Funny, this little place I easily refer to as "home". To me it especially has all the elements of a home. A safe haven. A place to come to. A place to return to. There, ever-ready whenever the need for haven arises. That need arises often as the realities of life, cloaked in the armor of maturity, shape and reshape my world. Up the stairs, a turn of the key. A surge of energy that tells me things are okay if only for this moment.

What is it, I ask myself, that transforms this tiny space into the sacred space that it has become? Certainly not size. Not the inconveniences suffered by lack of a personal laundry room or garage-under. Although the walk across the driveway to the laundry room or the garage won't exactly kill me not is the gathering of quarters for the machines the worst that I could experience. It's not the occasional intrusion into our personal space that is made by visitors to our downstairs neighbor. By the way, we make a lot more noise and invade her space every day without one complaint heard. So, there is something special. It's that room.

Some call it a Family Room. I call it my Life Room. It’s a large room. White walls. Two closets. One holds the variety of items that constitute my creative life. Paints, beads, sequins, glues and pretty papers. All set to go. A regular mini craft shop. Move over Michael’s. The other, simply a variety of clothes, mostly from the uncurrent seasons, awaiting their turn. On opposite sides of the room, our desks, each with its own personality, owners easily identified by the obvious. Two distinctive personalities that, in the Life Room, come together. My desk is the one with the view. I overlook the pond and it is when I am seated at my desk that I take full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy an even greater Life Room. Ducks, birds, sun rises casting what appear to be yellow jewels on the water, snowfalls that mesmerize, rain and wind. Life.

Oh, but Life Room does have a flaw. Nothing is perfect. In this case, the lesion comes in the form of too much dull beige wall to wall carpeting. Not one speck of wood floor to be found in this room, unlike the others. We cannot change it. We don’t own, we rent. I force myself to abandon for a few moments my show of nature out the window and focus my attention on the poor step child beneath me as I sit on the beige sleeper sofa. The carpet is not dull. It has a life of its own. There’s the remnant of the red wine that went flying across from the hands of a good friend who came to visit. Over there, near the closet, a vivid memory of the delicious strawberry-sauced dessert, a surprise for my husband. Here, there and everywhere, little brown circles, left behind from the endless cups of coffee that accompany us here in this room while we live the most precious moments of our lives. Thank you Carpet. You really are the fabric of our lives. You pull this room in this house together, just like the decorators say you should. You are a part of what makes this home. Indeed.

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Oceans of love

Just say the word “ocean” and a whole world opens to me. Like schools of fish, my thoughts collect and my emotions get into line, waiting for their chance to weave their way and come for air. Patiently they await their turn to surface, each with an urgency to be heard.

Let me start by stating that my birthday is January the twentieth. That puts me on an astrological cusp. I am free to teeter between Aquarius and Capricorn. I choose Aquarius, a bearer of water, with its associated element, air. Both thoughts at the very mention of the word ocean, co-mingle into one. Sea mist, water being carried into the air. Can’t you just hear it as it ascends and whispers to the sky on a calm day? On a cold windy day, can’t you hear it as it roars upward from its home of shiny silver or aqua blue, pushing the air in its path, screaming it’s presence? Oceans of emotion. Waves of happiness. It isn’t hard to understand these word combinations.

A retrospective look at my life bears witness to my love of the ocean and, for that matter, all of it’s tributaries. Bodies of watery color have played major roles in who and why I am. My love affair began when I was young, the daughter of a woman who had the same urgency to experience all that is the ocean. Mine are memories that are soaked with visions of a young mother, clutching me as we went deeper and deeper still. Her beautiful smile, the pure joy, the laughter we both shared. Oh the buoyancy, the freedom, the special trust developed between mother and child as we dipped into the blue-green waters. Years later, this same scene played itself again and again. A young mother and an adoring grandmother this time, each grasping a small, slightly apprehensive child. The ritual of introduction to the purest of pleasures as we circled and bobbed up and down to a cartoon theme song. Dee dump dee dump, dee dump dee diddily dump dee dump….. The awakenings of the trust that would get us through many years to come.Now, its my turn to be the grandmother, greeting the arrival of summer. It won’t be long before the large raw bar of the shore line gives way to the slapping of tiny waves and once again, the salty smells and briny foam calls us back into our ritual.

It is said that Aquarians oftentimes exhibit eccentric behaviors. They love to surround themselves with lots of people, preferably family and friends. They are happy to give and give back as much as they can. For those, amongst a host of other reasons, I am a true Aquarian. I’m ready to surround myself with my little loved ones, giving to them, giving back to my mother in my own eccentric song of the sea…. dee dump dee diddily dump. Myself and my grandbabies, surrounded by an ocean of love.