Sunday, October 21, 2007

#27: Interlude

No header save the day of the week. Tuesday. Unexpected transformations, girls stumbling on cobblestones, back to apartments and closets on a single-minded flight as the ribbed grey doors of Palazzo Farnese threatened to slam shut for what could be another ten years. Next, morning and the Barberini bees.

One wide-ruled line in between. Tuesday afternoon would have to share one line with Tuesday evening. With all the English. And Chinese. Spanish and Italian. The latter, un po’. But enough!

Late afternoon on a weekday in Roman September, and the siesta was waning under a crush of people and things that spilled into the street. They did not go quietly. The broad newspaper littered sidewalk on the Largo Torre di Argentina was awash in streams of rollercoaster Italian. Some streams rose as others fell, and then there would be screaming as if the rollercoaster’s riders started free fall. Screaming came from car tires, burning and screeching past a line of taxis that somehow enjoyed its own separate lane, a ribbon frozen in the middle of a busy nexus of transportation. The tires’ owners did not seek the protection of their glass and metal; instead, their heads protruded from windows, hair slicked back, rippled by wind. Strands tickled the side mirrors of the parked taxis, any laughter drowned by the rumbling and squeals of smoking rubber underneath. This was Determination, where not even the glass of a windshield dared separate the seeker from the goal.

Leaning against the bus ticket dispenser I learned of unfocused eyes in chaos. Washes of color blended together and dimmed all shades until they faded into darkness, so one second was no different from the rest – the same movements, the same swirling colors. And then audio glimpses punctuated the black. Some Italian, words I just learned. English in snippets, their speakers obviously distressed; nothing new...

And words that rang like home and childhood and vacations in Hong Kong, memories made eight thousand miles away and now suddenly right around the corner. No, not dreaming. Two white bucket hats over jet black hair bent over an open palm of coins and confused fingers. The young couple spoke Cantonese! One dollar a ticket, right? Yes, but no ticket. It says here, the coin slot. Right, I know. Looking up, a man’s dark eyes framed by black wire, square but delicate. Thin like his hands. Behind the glass were eyes that expressed uneasiness first, then relief as they met mine. Saw a familiar face he has never met, never known, but understood even without words.

Scusi...Termini? The man’s pointed fingers left his pale hand, motioning towards the ticket machine in uncertainty. The machine motioned back with little words scrolling across a cracked green screen: INSERZIONE…

Yes… I knew, and answered. È rotto. Broken. Cantonese and Italian in the same breath! His eyes brightened and the swirl of noise began to wane.

Where do I… Pause.

Buy a ticket? I finished the sentence for him, cringing inwardly at my rough American-accented Cantonese. Too much twang. Over there, at the newsstand. You can say ‘vorrei un biglietto, per favore’ - I want a ticket. The woman at his side turned her hat three degrees. Red, white, black. Or ‘due biglietti.’ For two. And Termini you can reach by bus, the 64 or 40, the stop is on the main street.

Smiles and bows. We laugh at our coincidence, our luck. Three cultures, two languages, one sidewalk in Rome. Thank you, thank you. You’ve been a great help. Ah, what brings you to Italy? Tourist?

No, study, with an American university. And you? The man nods, adjusts his glasses.

We’re from Hong Kong, touring Europe for the summer. Where are you from?

Fourth week. Sono di Roma.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

#29: Silent Lights

There is no sound in photographs.

Breaking glass. I learned to love the times when Rome awakened and shook us into consciousness with the dawn. Her transparent dead were everywhere, empty and prostrate but their spirits still watched over the Campo, haunting in the grey light, framing the littered expanse. Wounded soldiers joined them, grudgingly, still weary from a long night at their posts. These armies of stalwarts, garrisoned in alleys, under cars and bridges, seemed to explode from sheer boredom. Anything to punctuate a cloying silence, or a crowd’s monotonous hum. Sometimes a Roman would assist them and they flew through the air in shining arcs piercing the air with their sound. With time enough for just one cry, and then they were silent, sprawled against walls and cobblestones.

Rarer were the tall sentinels trained not to break with such ease. Vino, acqua naturale. Or frizzante, but birra was better for quenching that kind of thirst, thirst for cold acid and air. Towers of plastic cells all around us imprisoned their healthy kin, safe but not free to feel the stones we touched. Our feet knew Rome. They conversed with the little warriors, the conforming, the branded, the all, spent on that road - within their caste, some heavier, but outwardly each the same as the next. Until they spoke. As they fell by height or hand, unique voices rang out with surprise and shock. Different tones in different lengths. In their sound they were as varied as the shapes and sizes of their bones, which were scattered far and wide in the night but collected in the crevices between cobblestones, lying reposed in lingering channels of black water until they appeared as shards of flint bound to the stones inlaid, more rock than glass.

Some cries ended abruptly, as if plunged into water. Others rattled in sustained chords. Shattering in ones, sometimes twos, rarely threes. Triads of pitches and harmonies reverberated across the piazza and snuck up through the windows and under the covers; I learned to welcome the perfect, the fourths and fifths beautiful in violent crashing elegance. The meshing of others did not fall so well on the ears, if not in tone then in volume. Rome emptied her dishwasher each morning, one piazza at a time.

Pictures without sound. Sound without visuals. Video would provide both, yet damper each by leaving less to the imagination. Even if photographs could capture the morning’s welcome fanfare, would it be of the trucks and containers circling the square, sweeping and cleaning? Or would it be of the drunken revelers stumbling home, glazed and cracked like broken glass kicked to broken walls?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

#1: Roman Journal

“Mindy! Come on, don’t be lame. Come to the journal shop with us!” Familiar Seattle voices spoke from behind a row of parked Fiats, Alfa Romeos, and the tiny toy-like Smartcars that could comfortably park in less than half the space its neighbors required. In the hodgepodge of vehicles, Vespas plugged up every available gap much like how I stuffed spare underwear in my suitcase a few frantic hours before my flight. Thus, an imposing solid wall of metal and rubber and black glass obscured all but the very top third of the journal shop’s front window. I couldn’t see the coveted leather-bound journals everyone was anxious to buy our first week in Rome. Everyone, it seemed, except for me. Now, I love leather and all its appeals – especially the buttery smooth feel and the smell that brings back fond memories of early childhood, when I would read the newspaper in my dad’s lap, my face buried in the leather jacket he always wore, even in the house. But brain said yes, wallet said no. How much my wallet would say no I had no idea.

Perchè no? Why not have a look? Somehow everyone was able to pile into the tiny shop all at once; we must have looked like the books on the shelves around us. I was the weary bookend pushing everyone closer together as I stepped across the threshold. All was quiet except for a few whispers and some ruffling of pages. This was a shop, not a library or a church! But we fell silent as if in solemn reverence of a distinguished scholar’s study, with its hardwood floors and intricate furniture. Everything looked ancient, slightly chipped, worn down.

Tiny journals! The pages were half the size of the credit card in my pocket, and the edges were uneven, as if touched by a flame. I loved the rough texture. Over and over the smooth leather rolled in my hand. Che peccato! The underside was marred by the price sticker. 21 euro! Handmade? Probably. Troppo for my budget. I didn’t even bother to look closely at the larger journals, didn’t want to fall in love with something I could not have. My credit card was burning a hole through my jeans, and I hastily left the shop, before the temptation to buy became overpowering.

I ran over to the office supply store, the only thought in my head being the fact that I needed a journal right away, to start organizing my scattered paper slips filled with jots and thoughts. The run quickly turned into a run-walk when I recalled that running to a destination is a very un-Italian thing to do. Had I ever seen a local in a hurry? I could not be sure, because no matter what they always sauntered along, never running. Sono studentessa, non sono turistica.

La cartoleria. The façade was all glass with the large shop logo far above the display window. No cars were there to hide it from view. The propped-open glass door welcomed me inside, and an array of bright cardboard winked from the many tables. This merchandise lay flat on low tables against the walls; it was meant to allow an easy browse through, unlike the shelves of the leather journals. The latter would require a footstool, and maybe a call for assistance to pull one off a high ledge. This arrangement was much simpler, and right away the 3 euro notebooks caught my eye; now this was something in my price range. “Abbiamo chiuso! Cinque minuti,” an elderly lady in a pink sundress informed me. Quickly now, choose a cover. Birds? A landscape? A can of spray paint? Oh, at the bottom of the pile, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The enticing shades of blue and black would be excellent encouragement to extract the notebook from the depths of my bag and begin writing.

A bored-looking ponytailed girl at the cash register jingled a set of keys, as if that would further accelerate my headlong rush to the counter. Probably a studentessa my age, she was clearly displeased with having job responsibilities during summer vacation. She chewed a wad of neon-yellow gum and smacked her lips, opening her mouth wide and showing her tongue (which had turned the same color as the gum) as well as most of her teeth with every chomp. Revolting. Eager to leave the shop and the girl as soon as possible, I shoved the coins into her hand, taking off into the street before “grazie” had fully left my lips.

My first all-Italian transaction! That was the first thing I wrote about in my brand-new journal. Looking at that entry now, the pencil blemishes that litter that inaugural page are a testament to how excited I was at making progress towards surviving in Italy. Vignettes, images, and interesting Italian words will follow.

Fast forward to four weeks later and picture a stone park bench in the heart of Rome. My hands were tired from taking notes without a flat surface to write on, so I propped my feet up and flipped through the now-worn and battered journal. It was quite a shock to see almost all the pages covered with notes, observations, and funny situations – “Ci vediamo, see you later” one line read. There is a half page bearing the heading “The Gelato Mishap,” light humor at a friend’s expense follows. I’ve never used up an entire notebook before! I’m getting close this time, and am more than satisfied with the results – this is Rome’s doing, my greatest source of inspiration to date, powerful and unprecedented.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Noon at the Pantheon

On the steps by the fountain in front of the Pantheon. Sprawling bodies with tired feet are everywhere, but I manage to curl up on the bottom step to
enjoy a granita from Tazza d'Oro. One step up, a middle-aged American tourist speaks of his first impressions of Rome. He discusses the implications of having the Pantheon door wide open, which it is right now, as usual, admitting the constant ebb and flow of tourists. And the currents of air, carrying Roman smoke and dust freely through that open door into the monument's interior. Ruins the art, he says. What's being done to prevent this?

He muses for a moment, going silent. After a few seconds I hear murmurs grumbling outward from deep inside his chest. The American spits. Nothing, nothing! He exclaims with fury and throws up his hands in anger and frustration. Anger directed at the government, the tourism board, at the ignorance of all Italian authority. Passionate indictments of a dispassionate European attitude towards history, archaeology. Wait, did he just accuse Italians of being a dispassionate people?

I begin eating faster.

I wonder if this guy reads Noam Chomsky.

The man lounging on the ground beside him offers a quiet affirmative. How bored and listless he looks in the face of this emotional fountain, which now outburbles the obelisk-topped water behind us by far. A strong accent, maybe Czech, obscures his full response. But the horse attached to the (tourist trap alert!) carriage in front of us seems to comprehend every word, and it nods vigorously in agreement, licking and flapping its lips. Little white flecks of wet fly everywhere.

Today, I learned that profanity is a medium for universal understanding. Foreign curses... probably denouncing the horse's mother and all its relatives, or something like that. It's a common theme for insults here. The emotional fountain stops gurgling to roar at its Czech companion's distress at the involuntary shower. You think this is funny...?! said a murderous look in return. This sort of fountain does not wash horse spit from clothes.

Two globs of drool fall near my shoe, glistening like baby oysters. I twitch a little but I'm much too tired to move my feet. The lacquered wood of the carriage echoes the coachman's creaking groans.
He wipes the horse's lips with a white terry cloth, trailing in surrender, banner-like in his hands.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

#6: Folle Vole

The smell and sounds of the leather market greeted me every morning in Florence. The vendors began setting up their stalls shortly after 4am, bringing a rumble of wheels and voices to the deserted street in front of the hotel. The arrival of each new cart, hand-drawn by its owner, amplified the rumble in increments. With them came the rich warm smell of leather. It came in waves like those at the beach in Ostia, except these waves brought memories of new cars and mountain lodges instead of stinging salt.

The leather smell was everywhere. Mornings, it was the first thing that registered in my mind, and at night it lingered in my hair and clothes. I didn’t mind; indeed, I liked it enough to bring some of it into my room, in the form of a new jacket. Ultimately, once my nose got used to the smell it blended into the Florentine backdrop, overshadowed by the dazzling art and architecture.

That was before I knew about the bag, a textured dark-red leather handbag that was incredibly smooth and supple to the touch. The thin, ethereal material demanded careful handling. I gingerly guided it off the shelf and immediately discovered that its color changed dramatically depending on the quality of the light. A deep wine-red in the shop corner’s dim shade, it was absolutely striking under the intense fluorescent light, where it glowed like blood and muscle and life. The rich aroma had a unique depth that revived my leather-weary nose.

But was it worth 65 euro? What an exorbitant amount for such a small purse, no matter how attractive. The burly shopkeeper quoted bags more than twice its size at around 80 euro. I tried to bargain and offered 50, only to be rebuffed with a gruff “No!” and something that sounded like “great quality.” I agreed on the quality remark, but I was sure I could easily find the same bag at a much lower price somewhere in the hundreds of other shops and stalls outside. Or at least a nicer shopkeeper. 55 euro? 60? Still, “No!” and “Ma, no. Non mai!” Never, he said, and he refused to settle for anything less than 65 euro. “Great quality.”

So I stepped back out into the sun and bustle of the San Lorenzo market, on a quest for the perfect Mindy-bag. Everywhere I saw flashes of red from the purses lining the stalls, and I was reminded of the wine-red gem I had just left behind. I stopped occasionally and pointed at various red items, and miraculously a six-foot pole would appear in the merchant’s hand to retrieve them for me. Invariably, I was not satisfied. Too crimson. Too shiny. Too stiff. Was that even leather? That felt like plastic.

The Duomo and a date with Michelangelo’s David distracted me from the quest, but each day I took some time to walk through San Lorenzo or Mercato Nuovo to chase those glints of red leather. Each day I returned to the hotel with nothing. Nothing was good enough, and no other stall had the same bag in stock.

Living above San Lorenzo was at first a blessing, a dependable kind of daily aromatherapy. But now it was a curse, and my heightened awareness of the enticing leather smell that wafted in through the hotel’s breakfast room windows each day was paralyzing. Every time I smelled leather, I thought of that bag’s warm, robust scent. Its luxurious silkiness was beyond compare. After one too many trips wading through the market, I braced myself and returned to the only place that sold it – the one with the stubborn shopkeeper.

Who was no less stubborn that day, it turned out. He opened with 70 euro, and told me that the earlier “group discounted price” of 65 was no longer valid. I was indignant. His colleague (or should I say accomplice?), an older and very severe-looking man - this did not bode well – produced a calculator, and after a flutter of his fingers punched the keys forcefully. The display shoved in my face read 70. I shook my head vigorously and took the calculator from his wrinkled hands. Just as forcefully I tapped out a 60 and passed it back to him. Without a word, he clicked the keys and dropped the calculator into my still outstretched hand with a venomous look of disgust. 70 again. He would not budge. “What about 65?” I asked in my most confident Italian. No such luck. His finger jabbed the calculator so violently that the display rippled blue and black. They refused to spare me even 5 euro. Criminal. Once more, I turned and left, this time with a slight pang of disappointment.

Like a scarlet cloud that always hovered over my head, the memory of the Florentine bag followed me all the way to Venice and haunted my return to Rome. With every glass of red wine, I was reminded of its living, shimmering red. It mocked me at every turn, at every leather shop I visited, and with every purse I saw. Its distinctive smell even made its way into my dreams.

On our next trip to Florence, I left my common sense behind and went back to the same shop. And bought the red bag. To make that merciless cloud disappear? Worth every penny of the 65 euro I paid (I think everyone had gotten better at bargaining by then). I told myself I would deal with my damaged pride and bank account later.

Friday, September 14, 2007

#16: Faith and Time

Time. For me, cloisters in Rome are defined by their effect on the passage of time. Depending on which cloister I chose to visit, time could move so quickly that I would leave unsettled and exhilarated, or so slowly that minutes would stretch into hours and days.

The cloister of Santi Quattro Coronati had the power to stop time. The morning I spent in that serene space was a peaceful lifetime of silent meditation. Most passerby would never guess what the castle-like basilica, topped with a 4th century bell tower, hid within its imposing walls. This fortress on a hill was not the least bit inviting. From a distance, it looked as though the building had been neatly sliced out from a single block of sandstone by a cleaver, sharp and unforgiving. Extreme age notwithstanding, its exterior angles remained defined and powerful, supported by the strength of a noticeably substantial foundation. Images of a giant hammer pounding a stone stake into the ground came to mind; with metal bars over squinting windows, this square stake looked like a prison. Indeed, bricks forming the outside walls near the ground were warped and cracked, as if someone had forcefully driven the entire building into the surface of the earth. Bricks versus ground. Ground won, and the bricks buckled in defeat; now the stones wanted revenge. I half-expected to see a glint of cannon in the tower. I see you. Now leave.

Surely this could not be one of the most beautiful churches in Rome?

Past the shadowy pews. The church still threatened. A marble basin jumped out from behind a column, ready to strike. But the blustery and very talkative nun beckoned us into the inner cloister, coaxing and fussing all the while. Sunlight! The marble behind me fell motionless and shrunk backwards against the pillar, as if chastised by the light. An arcade of delicate round arches obscured a better view of what lay ahead, but somehow several small slivers of sun made their way through the crush of bodies into the darkness of the church. They pierced the crowd, cut through the darkness like an array of flying knives, transforming and multiplying as people shuffled through the doorway.

Waiting to greet me on the other side of the door was it – a hulking brown bleacher-like stand of postcards for sale. Its careless coarseness was completely out of place in the neat brick hallway that, like the arcade of arches, ran the perimeter of the cloister. I was happy to discover that if I sat in one of the archways, the corner columns hid it from view.

My eyes could finally leave the unsightly brown, and traveled across the sun-soaked central space to rest instead on the fountain, the focal point of the cloister. The fountain was one of the plainest I had ever seen in Rome, a rough-hewn angular stone bowl resting on an unadorned column. The fact that it was so unusually plain made it all the more alluring; we usually saw lavish decorations, statues (I recalled the seahorses of the Trevi) and detailed carvings, even gold leaf - not the case here. No stone gargoyles or animals spouting water from their mouths. In each corner of the fountain’s bowl, a hole allowed water to drip straight down in into the surrounding shallow pea-green moat. Framing the moat was a gravel path that branched out to meet patches of iridescent grass, so dark green even in the direct sunlight that it was almost unnatural. The white gravel paths, like the grass, also had a blindingly iridescent multi-dimensional quality that I could not place; I could have stayed forever to ponder this and watch the water fall, meditations to the sound of the fountain’s gentle trickling.

All of a sudden I was hit by wave of extreme self-consciousness; I felt like I had intruded into someone’s private space. The tones of burbling water rose and fell like a human voice, but these were the subdued tones of private thoughts, not of public conversation. And yet I wanted all else to be quiet so I could hear the fountain spill its soul. Opening the Velcro fastenings on my bag was a source of unbearable cacophony – should I rip the Velcro more slowly and try for subtlety, make it less audible? Or should I tear my bag open as fast as possible and get the terror over with?

As I pondered this new dilemma, the water burbled on. The stone under each spigot was worn and eroded away from hundreds of years of water tracing paths down the side of the bowl and gouging a deep notch into the surface. I would not be surprised if the inner cloister continued to look exactly as we had left it for a thousand years, save for the deepening of this gash in the rock; a seemingly insignificant trickle of water carving stone.

An Alfa Romeo sped out of the Santi Quattro Coronati as if heralding our return from isolation to the modern bustle of Rome. Would a visit to the cloister to the Bramante cloister in Santa Maria della Pace provide any respite?

Not at all. No vegetation, no benches, no fountain to ponder. The Pace cloister was a simple courtyard, with two white concrete strips forming an “X” centered about a small concrete mound that covered a drain. Despite the lack of scenery, time was of the essence in this bustling cloister. Sounds from the open-air internet café on the upper level drifted downwards, past the immaculate stucco façade, into the courtyard below where I sat. Is the café still open? Faster! Where’s my coffee? You didn’t forget my order did you? It seemed like everyone, a mix of tourists and locals alike, was in a hurry that afternoon. Cell phone chatter was a constant presence. True, it was a confined, walled space, but chaotic Rome had moved in and was here to stay.

A sparkling new white stucco façade encased the ground level, faded gray and yellow columns resided farther up, and crumbling apartments occupied the space next to the sky. Different degrees of wear for the different stories of the building. Whereas time had forgotten to touch the pristine Coronati cloister, here it made its presence felt constantly.

Time had moved in with Rome, wallowing in Pace like some couch-bound welfare dad. Dad had told his crumbling household that it would be alright, things would work out, everything would be fine - sorry everyone, I think God has left town for now but I'm sure he'll be back soon. You can go ahead and leave him a message. He might get back to you, or he may not. But keep hoping, kids. Things are gonna get better from here on out, I promise. How about you make yourself some coffee?

The milk is tan and broken with bubbles on the surface, smooth foam in the middle, solid white near the ground. Such are the walls, like espresso and steamed milk.

Out of a back room emerged group of young priests in long black robes. Make that priests-in-training. Some members of the group were no more than teenagers, fresh from school, looking to make their way in the world. Standing together in a tight circle, they pulled at their robes and stiff white collars uneasily, clearly not yet used to the feel of their new garments. Occasionally they would exchange wardrobe check votes-of-confidence with their neighbors, followed by some hopping in place or nervous giggling. Yes, priests can giggle. Learn something new every day. One particularly youthful-looking priest with curly hair held a silver-pink cell phone to his ear. Unbroken shoes echoed on the smooth walls and miniature cobblestones as he left the group.

Wait, wait. One second. The service can wait, God can wait - I have to take this, it's my old bud from high school. What God? One who cannot curb Time, lets it run wild? Hang on, I have to make a call.

The circle grew to include more senior priests (easily identified by graying hair and perhaps a potbelly). And then the sounds of mirth were dying, slowly and reluctantly. The curly-haired priest hastily ended his phone conversation and returned with a jog and a sheepish grin. Maybe he would get a lecture later about running from neglect, responsibility.

Did the young priests feel it too, abandoned by Pace's absent God?

Faith was Coronati’s unspoiled strength. Resilience. Timelessness. Solitude. And Pace was humanity, laughing without certainty. Opposite in its imperfection and chaos.

#23: Photographs

At the Florence Market

“Hello, watchesss.” The sinister hiss sends chills down my spine. A seemingly disembodied arm, dark and wiry, reaches for my face, as if about to grab my nose and run off with it, disappearing into the crowd. Deprive me of a nose! No difference, I left my nose in Rome. The arm takes sight from me instead, blinding me with dazzle and sparks an inch from my face. My eyes become accustomed to the stars of light and after a long second I begin to see other things: a crown, a “G” and its inverted partner, a stylized “D” on an iridescent faux leather wristband – trash quality, the watch will break in a week, I tell myself.

A good meal on a fleeting temptation? Beauty over brains, form over function, fashion over common sense. I hesitate to dò un’occhiata – I am only here to look, and bask in the lucid dichotomy.

Seven stars beckon
Fool’s gold, glass gemstones – you know
When the watch is cheap

The View

Rustic Roman stones and high walls hide more subtle gems, ones that do not dazzle right away, but with appeal growing slowly over time, like a fine wine. My path of chalky gravel and dust clouds meets a stairwell, at which point I concede that all profound thoughts and observations must be temporarily placed on hold. I have always been paranoid about going up stairs and must focus all my mental faculties on conquering each step. Otherwise, I know I will stumble embarrassingly and raise another unsightly cloud of dust, much to the amusement and subsequent dismay of those farther down the stairs. Shawn would give me a quizzical eyebrow and ask if I am wearing the forbidden flip-flops.

I shudder at the thought and look down at my feet, taking care to observe only the steps and nothing else. Behind me is a strange quiet. Where is everyone? Oh, they have run ahead, past the emerald lawns bedecked with trees bearing oranges still green and unripe. End of summer, but the fruit has yet to fall. The trees offer another sort of fallen fruit - a pigeon with a broken wing, speckled with the light trickling down through the leaves. It blinks and cocks its head ever so slightly as I pass. These little things that tear at the heart are glimpsed only if one is willing to move at a slower pace.

The view! Everywhere there is a yellow haze blanketing the churches, the monuments, the ruins. Smog – the best of the old meets the worst of the new. I am disgusted and turn away.

Walk to Civita

How dare they laugh! I was simply trying to get a better look at the footbridge to Civita, which was no more than a thin grey noodle peppered with humanoid dots of seasoning from where I was. Also, a tour group - identified by the prevalence of fanny packs, cameras slung around necks, and matching lanyards - was about to box me in by the overlook’s railing, jockeying for the best spots to take a photo. After extracting myself from what was probably the first Civitaean mosh pit ever, I ran to catch up with the rest of the group.

Bad choice of locomotion! An open-air restaurant filled with Italian locals was just around the corner, and the men at the tables began to clap rhythmically, inexplicably, while the women chuckled and tittered. A comedian? A show, perhaps? My first thoughts. I stopped jogging and looked around for the source of the hilarity. None found; I then realized that all eyes were on me, my red blouse and blue jeans, hair sweaty and disheveled, sandals that sharply slapped the dirt with each hurried step. “Hello, running Chinese.” I was the source of the evening’s entertainment – the silly girl with yellow skin and quick feet.

My blush trumps sunsets
Light laughter soundtracks running
But the hilltown calls