Tag Archives: tradition

A Note On Love

28 Oct

How much do I love spaghetti?

PESTO FACE. I love spaghetti almost as much as I love when you decide not to make fun of me for the giant bathing suit wet spots in this otherwise-choir-of-angels-worthy picture.

How much do I love jello wrestling?

So after giving it some thought, Jess isn't sure she should answer this question. After all, Jess's father reads this blog, too. (But if you really want to know -- I LOVE PIERSON JELLO WRESTLING. It's like the cause and effect lovefest of "If you give a mouse a cookie" but with "If you give a girl a handful of gooey gucky yellow jellow")

HOW MUCH DO I LOVE MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND THAT ONE RANDOM WAITER AT THE NEW YORK RESTAURANT WHO GAVE ME A SOMBRERO FOR MAKING MY 21st BIRTHDAY SO INCREDIBLE?!?!

Yeah, that’s right. I love that crew most of all.

A Strawberry Daiquiri, Scotch, and Cosmopolitan, in that order, at my "Costumed Cocktails" celebration. Don't all of your classy drinks usually start their evenings with a few giggles?

My childhood in pictures. Thank you, Grandma, for surprising me by digging these out! Thank you, dance competitions of my youth, for putting me in that fashionable delight of a purple tutu on the upper right!

P.S. In the upper right, there is something eating my mother's head as she cradles my baby self. I've heard rumors of it being one of her 80s-style perms. Not so sure I want those rumors confirmed. XOXO MOM I PROMISE I'M (MOSTLY) DONE MAKING FUN OF YOUR YOUTH NOW

(I don’t have a picture for this one, but THANK YOU Nana & Grampa for the card and for the advice on “not getting too sloshed”! One of the wisest – and most fun – things I have been told all year.)

Only the best dads take their daughters to celebrate a birthday in a restaurant where they make her wear a sombrero! In other news, yeah, that happened.

I can't even feign sarcasm for this one. I just love my family. Though I can add a shoutout to all of you who weren't present that evening -- I, and everyone else making thorough fools of ourselves, missed you in our conga line.

My friends made a scrapbook of 21 pages about me for my birthday?!?!?!?!! I know. Pinch me, please.

AND a surprise birthday chair in the dining hall?!?!?!

Feelin' like the luckiest gal on the planet. Or at least the luckiest gal on the planet wearing her very own giant "It's my birthday" button.

So, in sum:

I love spaghetti. I love jello-wrestling. And I LOVE YOU for making me feel, at 21 years old, that life is goofy, fun, and oh so good.

THANK YOU, CREW!

infinite xos

J

From Nation-Hops to New Haven

26 Aug

This is no travel post. This is no cute-baker-with-coercive-pastries post, nor vino-et-veritas-and-professors post, nor even a ramble-about-Rome post. In fact, this is not much of a typical post at all, for “Jess on a whim” has grown roots, and gone home, and moved in, whimsy and all, to this room in New Haven.

During the weeks right after I last posted, I cooked at least six different spaghetti sauces and got into regular, heated debates about the value of affordable, fresh food on every street corner. I narrated my way through hours of pictures for my patient, smiling-through-their-yawns family members and even considered buying the occasional coffee-related beverage. In short, I was in cultural withdrawal.

Now (fast-forwarding through some Mickey ears and my parents’ TWENTY FIFTH anniversary — now that’s something to emulate), I have come here. To this place for which I, like many college students, have made room in my heart for a second home, one connected more to a web of people, places, classes, and clubs than to a Thanksgiving table. And all of a sudden the patterns of streets and paths and faces are automatic again; my mind at ease in this hammock of familiarity.

And it is in this state of mind, and in this place, and with this sense of still having something that I want to say, to challenge, to peel apart or hold up to the light, that I start blogging again.

Besos,

J

P.S. But seriously, three cheers for my parents, who are now mortified and probably dialing me on the cell phone to make me remove these words off this post “or else we will take away all of the books on your bookshelf, young lady” (their atom-bomb-level threat for when I am really out of line), but who also taught me so much about respect, love, and gratitude for each and every day and each and every person in our lives. Not to mention the fact that they look supah-supah stylish in mouse ears. I love you, and thanks.

P.P.S. But seriously, Mom, don’t you lay one finger on that poor, innocent bookshelf in my absence…

And City By Morning

22 Jun

I wake up fourteen minutes before my alarm to a combination of light soaking my bed from my massive storybook windows and the talking going on outside of my doors. It is, barring one dim morning, always sunny. There are, barring three quiet nights, always accordion players who played me to sleep the night before. And I am, barring nothing, always pinching myself I’m in Rome I’m in Rome I am waking up in Rome.

Some mornings it is a drag to get out the door, generally due to wine-happy antics the prior evening and an early class time. Most mornings, though, are like this one: we emerge from our rooms slowly, we slip into clothes (it is now our fourth week of the trip, so the girls have started swapping dresses. Also, we are all out of appropriate-length church clothes), we put our bags together with whatever syllabi and guides and water bottles and sunscreen we will need for the day.

Then, breakfast. This morning, we made crepes filled with honey and fresh cherries, sugar and cinnamon. Often, I eat whatever I’ve bought from the outdoor fruit and vegetable market down the street. The first time we went there as a group, we turned into humans who had never seen fresh strawberries before – we bought buckets of fresh figs and grapes half the size of my palm and fed them to each other like couples in love, juice dribbling all over our faces. More than the ruins, perhaps, I will miss this fruit.

Other mornings, we eat breakfast at San Calisto, our bar (bar in Italy is a multifaceted institution – it acts as cafe, gelatteria, and permanent home to old men playing briscola.) Another morning, I will give San Calisto the homage it deserves. But for now, think of a group of four girls crowded around one rickety table outside, licking creme off of the pastry that the only-Italian-speaking owners now anticipate us ordering and hand us right when we arrive. Imagine drinking espresso out of cups that, to us, seem doll-sized and making it last for an afternoon. Imagine the unspoken rule of saying “ciao” into the air of the bar as you walk in and “ciao” into the air of the outdoors as you leave. This, too, I know I will miss. It is a morning ritual for me, someone who has never had morning rituals, and it offers far more to me than the coffee shop clusters around campus.

Good morning, Italia

And then – or, for this morning, “and now” – it is time for work or class or explorations. Yesterday I walked around the city and saw the innards of five churches; today I have a writing assignment due and a reading about St. Peter’s before seminar tonight outdoors on the Aventine Hill and our final fancy class dinner.

By this, my fourth week in Rome, it is a way of living that has embraced me, and I am glad.

Caesar’s Notes: Wednesday, June 2 – Parades, pizza, poetry, pub

6 Jun

Belated and abbreviated post for this past Wednesday

Our syllabus for Wednesday reads as follows:

“June 2 – ITALIAN NATIONAL HOLIDAY: FESTA DELLA REPUBBLICA. Enjoy the parade! Think about Roman triumphs! Nationalism! The role of the military in the identity of the state! This is an assignment; you will be expected to share your astute observations as they relate to the themes of the course. Please note that stores, markets, banks, etc. will be closed.”

Okay. So. That’s our day, then. I put the assignment sheet down, roll out of bed, look at my wardrobe, and immediately wonder what I should wear to a national parade. Do I go all “Jessica-on-the-fourth-of-July” on them and smother myself in the colors of the Italian flag? Do I dress up and put on impeccable make-up to compete with the bella Italian girls who will be surrounding me? Or do I not care about any potential traditions and put on my shorter dress so I can save the longer ones for our church visits all next week?

I go with the latter option and a pair of crossed fingers and end up doing just fine. The piazza is packed by the time the ceremonies and the parade start, and the band tries to warm the crowd up with a rendition of the national anthem, but only a few of the people there know it well enough to sing along.

This is where the ceremony takes place. It is one of the biggest and newest monuments in Rome; visitors adore it, while locals call it "the birthday cake" with a complete look of disgust. As in, "tomorrow we will be meeting at - ugh - the birthday cake." Does this make anyone else's stomach growl?

Important people arrive for this parade, including Silvio Berlusconi, who walks up the gigantic steps of Italy’s memorial commemorating the republic and places a wreath in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He descends to watch the parade, which starts at that moment with tank after tank of military officials. Then the soldiers. And more soldiers. And a marching band. And more soldiers. I am beginning to see why we are supposed to think about the relationship of the military to this whole celebration. Best of all, the soldiers sing as they march, which makes a nice counterpart to the stiffness of some similar American processions. Here’s a video I took of the singing soldiers during an excerpt of the parade. And here’s a random but necessary picture of soldiers wearing pompoms:

"Timmy, what did I tell you about jousting with feather dusters? Not inside the house!"

Also part of the parade (probably one of the most famous parts) is the flyover of military planes streaming the colors of the Italian flag behind them. If that sounds crazy to you, check it out:

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a -- no, wait. That really is a plane.

While the rest of the group leaves to grab an early lunch, Frances and I stick around for a concert of national songs sung by a children’s choir and a military band. And at that moment, I really start to ponder the assignment.

This parade began to commemorate the founding of the Italian Republic. In 1946, a referendum was held for the people of Italy to decide between a monarchy and a republic for their government, and after a (quite close) vote, they decided on a republic. This was exciting, but also meant that Italy had a ton of catching up to do; it is, in this sense, a very young nation, and one that still doesn’t have a strong sense of Italian national identity in the ways that we think are customary for patriots. For example, the flag, songs, parade, holidays, etc. all kicked in within the past 50 years, so many Italian teenagers don’t know the words to their own national anthem and instead just mouth along to the tune. From the point of view of an American, this seems strange. After all, don’t we see Italian flags all over the place? And what about “Jersey Shore”? But here, there is a much stronger sense of regional or metropolitan identity than a national one. Even the language varies so much from region to region that my professor, who is completely fluent and has been translating Italian for years, has trouble understanding some of the people she meets from the south of Italy. According to her, it is only through television that any sense of common language and traditions is shared.

So this explains the lack of little flags and some of the mumbled singing. But what about the military? Italy on the whole teeter totters on its past; it wants to diverge from the brute force of Mussolini while still maintaining its ancient tradition of battlefield valor, and so it constantly runs up against the question of how to build national pride without stepping into bad memories. When it came to the parade, this meant that the military was the focus, but no epic, battle-ready speeches were made, and it ended with a children’s choir. It meant that tanks with exposed guns rolled through the streets, but so, too, did nurses and firefighters. It meant that despite the fact that they had assigned the parade as our daily class, our professors did not go themselves; they said that no one they knew would be caught dead going to such an elaborate but empty display of state power. For me, the whole shebang felt very distant from the town parades of my youth. There were no local performers, no young children dancing, no wives or floats. Just orderly marching, and the soldiers’ songs.

A tank rolling through the parade.

After the parade and the mini-concert, Frances and I walk back to Trastevere. I haven’t gone out yet for a sit-down lunch, and she is in the mood to enjoy the afternoon, so we look around for a place to eat. Thankfully, Frances speaks Italian, so we go with my favorite method of finding food here: avoiding any place that speaks English (this includes bakeries and supermarkets, a tactic that has turned every one of my solitary shopping expeditions into an adventure and/or debacle). After darting down a few side streets, we find it, and boy, do our stomachs (and our wallets – the prices drop the farther you get from piazzas) thank us. We have bruschetta (correctly pronounced brus-KET-a in Italian) and fried artichokes for appetizers and split a pasta and a pizza dish between us. Here’s the damage done:

Before.

After.

Before.

After. And yes, we do give autographs.

Just as we are about to head out (rolling ourselves all the way home), a musician walks up and starts performing at the front of the restaurant. Watch my video to check it out. And no, Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore.

That night, I head out with some people from the group to my second poetry-related experience in two days. This time, Mark Strand is giving a reading of his work instead of a workshop, so I grab my notebook and go. He is phenomenal – down to earth with his phrasing and incisive with his words, and I am soaking up the language as quickly as he can release it with his tongue. After each poem he reads, his translator steps forward and delivers the translation, and that’s when I really start to get goosebumps. Since I can’t understand the Italian, I am reduced to measuring his success in sounds, in tumbles, in crispness and reverberations. I let myself be carried by the dips and curves between consonants; I am imbibing, and tucking it within me. In short, I am remembering and reawakening myself as a poet, and oh — oh, the pen feels nice between my fingers.

At the end of the reading, I buy the book. I buy it in Italian, on purpose, where the original English is on the less dominant page, and I read it aloud to myself at the reception. I roll my “r’s” into the air like a fool, and I am so resonant with that sound that I am buzzing. Mark Strand signs my book before I leave. I already know I will keep it on my permanent bookshelf.

Post-poetry-reading, we are all full, some of us with words, some with the hors d’oeuvres from the reading, so we whip up some light bruschetta, grab a quick pint at a local pub, and call it a night. And that’s what I call an inspired evening.