May 3, 2002
Two post-it notes left beside a dead blue jay Julia found on the sidewalk and put in a shoebox on my workshed porch:
- “Fred, a blue jay, found recently dead, was a good bird. He was a father. He was a friend.”
- “Instructions: Get a shoebox and bury him with paper towel. Don’t put him in the compost. Respect your Elders. He was 79.”
Sunday, October 13, 2002
Train from Charleston to Charlottesville. Old man across aisle—thin, long, and bony. Out of it? Talks with great effort. “Maybe…maybe…maybe…maybe…thass my ride.” But sometimes makes sense. On his way to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Here to go to DC? No. Just to Charlottesville. “I want to get home so bad.” Then old, possibly retired conductor who’d been on PA system to give us a guided tour: “Kanawah is an Indian word meaning river of white stones. The capitol is by the distinguished architect…” He can’t think of name. Now he is standing behind us (rear across aisle and me) and talking. I think at first into a cell phone or two-way radio but nope it’s to us—or to me. “You can catch the 51 and go back west. Runs ever’ day. Good train. An hour. That’s good. We’re not so far off. An hour and a half.” Then he wanders off.
One nice thing about this trains is that there is an unofficial smoking section near the café car—“NO SMOKING” shining clearly over the door, but tin pie plates* filled with butts at every seat (it’s a fraction of the car—maybe six rows of seats set apart by walls or storage space).
*On closer look, saucer-sized paper-plates carefully wrapped in aluminum foil.
Wednesday, November. 6 – Thursday, Nov. 7, 2003
On plane to Rome, about 9 pm EST, three hours into flight, remembering Clare and me on first day in ’98, headachy, jet-lagged, bravely walking down from the American Academy into Trastevere by the zigzag footpath. Clare six but very robustly companionable (“Wall as old as Jesus.”) but obviously a bit overwhelmed. The thought of her then of the two of us then made me cry is making me cry now.
On way here after train from Fiumicino to Ostiense station, puzzled about where I was, come to Piramide and saw rosticerria where Ros, Julia and I ate several times (Clare was being jet-legged and/or poisonous, 14 or 15?). Same thing: tears as I pulled my wheeled backpack up the hill. This isn’t just fatigue. I’m being pierced—by presence and absence.
Saturday Morning, November 12, 2002
Okay, Julia – here goes from memory. Thinking of you in a convent garden in Rome, just down the street from the house we stayed in a few years ago that looked down on the Circo Massimo.
Had I the Heavens’ embroidered cloths
Enwrought with gold and silver light
[&] the blue and the dark and the half light
I would spread [the, these, my] cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, leave only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams
November 12, 2002
Santa Cecilia – Cavalinni freschi – Oh yes. Even better than twelve years ago. Meandered around Trastevere – train to Largo Argentina – Feltrinelli bookstore lunch and coffee at café Sant Eustachio. Read today’s La Republica (had to look up a dozen words).
Clare’s Christmas present. More meander – Santa Maria sopra Minerva Fillipo Lipp(i)(o) worth some euros of lighting. Meander; prove it’s true that walking around Rome gives me something either beautiful or interesting (of course I was in the center) every few minutes. Mild weather, beautiful light, esp. on hill above Teatro di Marcello.
On the terrace of the Villa Rosa: 83-year-old nun with a basket of laundry. We said to each other what a lovely day to be outside. She added, “And it’s the first day of winter. The feast of St. Martin.” I remembered he was the one who gave half his cloak to a stranger. What odd pleasure the odd details of childhood memory.
November 28, 2002
Morning: Les Invalides. The French can do a courtyard. I remember N’s tomb, but not the huge military museum. Armor, crossbows, endless muskets, pistols, swords, sabers. How Tom Allan would like it.
Afternoon: “Adolphe” film avec Isabelle Adjani from Benjamin Constant novel. They managed to make something bien quelconque out of the novel. The costumes, the buildings were gorgeous – the part of count well acted but —.
“Le Regard” – by Murray Schisgal. Good idea for a short play, two painters, two models. Casting excellent, esp. old man painter, but it did go on far too long at the end. Also commonplace.
French comprehensible. (Odd how it came back. Linda called this afternoon and without thinking I picked up the phone and found myself saying “Allo, j’écoute” in a way that surprised us both.)
We speak 4/9 Italian, 4/9 English, 1/9 French – When it comes to asking directions, she does the heavy lifting.
Wandering around this morning after Invalides, I had another pang—some of the things, physical things, some postcard set things like the Metro sign, some particular like French bulldogs (Uncle Drew had a French bulldog named Adam) set off this thought: how my memory that takes place in words is finally a feeble net in which to hold things. Without the things—or with the things brought back only by words—the world is seen through a fog. Only a glimpse of a thing and then it’s lost again.
Before “Adolphe” and “Le Regard” Musée d’Orsay. Ex train station redone by Italian architteta. Style called, by sarcastic Italians, ‘Assiro-Milanese.’ Spec. show – see catalog-Velazquez – Manet (Tho’ a good deal of Goya). Point is Manet heavily influenced by Spanish painting – tho’ in his letters he also talks about the whole deal (corrida, for example).
November 29, 2002
“au pied de fouet” (rue Babylone) bay scallops and leeks (4 stars)
“chez nénesse (rue Pastourelle) tete de veau with spicy sauce (2 stars)
l’écluse (near where Boul. St. Michel hits the Seine) matelot de Seine (?)
Institut de la France. Courtyard on Seine splendid. I’m so used to vertical Rome—that is, each baroque dome is pretty much its own show—that I was struck by the baroque dome and the wonderful proportions of the half-oval courtyard and the vast wings of the whole building. Should look for Uncle Drew’s old apartment and courtyard –Rue du Bac. Can’t find. Too much new stuff. Jack White was at 11 (I think) Rue de Lille.
“L’Homme sans passé”. Finnish. Liked it a lot. Boy, are these Finns laconic. My favorite line (in the subtitles), after Salvation Army worker learns that the amnesiac she’s fallen for has a wife: Le marriage est sacré. Je sais l’horaire des trains.
Supper: “Au coin des gourmets” 5 rue Dante (metro Cluny)
December 2, 2002
La Mattina – le spese. Lunch – octopus sauce with peppers on spaghetti, octopus salad. Pomeriggio. (Tour of Domus Aurea, base of colosseo of Nero, glimpses of Arch of Titus).
Give a lecture: dare una conferenza
Le bestie nere degli Italiani:
1. La brutta figura
2. I correnti d’aria
3. il mal di fegato
4. le domande indiscrete
E quali sareberro le bestie nere degli Americani?
(Ho detto che non ho uno specchio…)
1. to be taken for Americans immediately
2. to be held responsible for American foreign policy
3. to have been too trusting OR to have been too suspicious
4. to have raised an indiscrete subject
Toast at Nell and Jesse’s wedding dinner:
Here are two sentences you have probably already recognized as useful components to conversations with your about-to-be in-laws.
ONE – “Oh yes—good story—how interested I was the first time…
TWO – “That’s not how I remember it.”
(In fact I’ve heard you use the more polite form: “That’s not EXACTLY how I remember it.”)
I mention these two sentences pre-emptively.
If the following brief plot outline is not EXACT, it is in essence true.
New York, New York. Nell and Jesse are pals. They are both funny, smart and attractive; both hard at work, both on their way in their careers. Nell gets an assignment to write about personal trainers. For research purposes Nell gets personally trained for…seven weeks. Already gorgeous, she emerges dazzlingly chiseled. Nell and Jess are still pals.
Nell’s sister Maud is in a hospital that is an hour away by subway. Nell visits Maud five days a week for seven weeks.
Jess is moved by this. Yes, he has seen the chiseled good looks—yes, he has seen Nell get standing ovations for her performances at the MOTH—but when he sees the heart Nell has, he falls in love.
This much is exact: They are two good and well-suited hearts. To these two hearts.
Saw a wild turkey (male and his harem. Just up the slope from the driveway between the stable house and the forest cottage. Females nipped into the woods. Male set up his fan and gobbled at me. Strutted in a circle so I saw him from every angle. Did he think I was another male? Or is this how he protects his females—by looking as big as he can—or by being so elegantly on display he distracts the stalker?
I went away for a minute or so—came back. So did he. Same display, minus gobbles. I stood still for a long time. He let down his fan and exited with dignity. Must take a lot of energy to keep the fan up and all aquiver.
Were there two appendages from his chest? Looked like the things drooping from some goats that Kate Crosby said were vestigial gills. (Her father was a vet, so…)
October 9, 2010
Georgetown to Nashville
Julia: “What’s the word for the view of leaves in a treetop?”
“Hmmm, no I’m thinking of an actual word. Also why would I ask you for a simile? ‘A school of green fish fanning their fins’? Come on dad, you won the national book award.”