Thursday, July 19, 2012

30 November 2011 German Christmas Market in Piazza di Santa Croce

It's 2.30 in the afternoon and I've just collapsed, exhausted, here on a nice plastic chair in Piazza di Santa Croce. This is the annual German Christmas Market which has been setup all week. I'm lucky to have visited this market for the past five or six years. There are no tourists here, although there are plenty down near Ponte Vecchio, which is only a 10 minute walk away.

I wanted milk but settled for water and a not too sweet German pastry which resembles a cinnamon roll. It's made with raisins and thinly sliced apples and topped with a little white icing with lots of fresh walnuts.

I've been watching a gypsy girl go round and round here, aggressively shaking her cup of coins, with a pleading voice. The reactions here are mostly to ignore her. She went to a dozen tables and no one gave anything. The gypsies have competition in Firenze. There are people with dogs, musicians, artists, horribly crippled beggars, along with grandmothers who lay face down, arms outstretched in prayer, on the cold pavement. I give once or twice a day but never to the gypsies. This is their day job. I'm always intrigued by their lifestyle. How sad to be ignored daily in their interactions with non gypsies. Often, at the end of the day, I see them happily greeting their friends or gathering in groups, socializing after a day's work.

I organized my money this morning to make sure I have cash to pay for the extra bag tomorrow morning. I left the hotel at 10:00, heading toward Piazzo Santo Spirito and the morning Mercato.

I've used up my supply of bus tickets, so I stopped in at a Tobaccaio. This is the place one buys matches, tobacco products, phone cards and candy.

I bought 10 city bus tickets from a very rude man. He told me it was better to buy a combined ticket. When I explained I needed them for next Spring, he was clueless. Alessandro used to lose patience with people like this who can't seem to think outside the box. I then asked to refill my phone. He snapped at me with the names of three phone companies. Luckily I understand better than I speak. 'Vodafone per favore!' I refuse to let these unhappy people ruin my morning. I've read here that some shop people have less and less tolerance for tourists. One doesn't have to be American to be labeled as a tourist. Yesterday in her own Arezzo, Laura standing next to me, was treated like she was a tourist. We're all feeling stress these days.

Today the little morning market was setup in the piazza in front of the Santo Spirito Church. I saw the copper salesman was in town. Hurray! I'm always looking for a certain copper pan, like the antique ones Rosa and Marta have from their grandmother's country house in Strevi.

Hanging from a rack, I found a treasure. I bought an adorable antique brass handled copper cheese tool. It's round, slightly curved and covered with holes. The vendor told me it was used to remove cheese from vats. It's old. I've been carrying it all day, inside my new Gucci Museum bag.

Next, I bought a pannino sandwich of proscuito and cheese for take away at the small bar near Alessandro's university. The proprietor thanked me for the obituary I left with him last week.

I walked to Piazza San Marco and took the 25 bus up to Trespiano, location of the cemetery. I bought purple cloth flowers on Monday at the little store near my hotel which is part hardware store and mostly carries things for the home. They carry cleaning supplies, shoe polish, kitchen utensils, and nail polish, olive tree wooden spoons and cutting boards.  I'm intrigued by the selection of items they sell. I think I'm recognized now because they patiently let me look around and I always buy a few items. On my list this time was a stove top bread toasting tool. This one will be a Christmas present for my son. Alessandro gave me one years ago. I use it all the time make crostini: toast bread on both sides, then place on a plate. Drizzle bread with olive oil, a pinch of salt and dried oregano.

While entering the cemetery today I notice a sign at the entrance: No dogs, no photographs, no bicycles. It won't deter me from taking pictures.

I climbed the ancient staircase up to the highest part of the cemetery and located the family crypt. I watered the hyacinth I left last week with Alessandro's mother.

I took pictures of the two angels, carved on the family marble headstone. I remembered coming here with Alessandro many years ago to place flowers on his parents' tombs. He wanted to introduce me to both his mother and his father.

Those two angels have special significance to me. From the beginning of our relationship, I had told Alessandro I felt two angels had helped to bring about our meeting. On that day, we were focused on arranging the flowers equally between his parents. When I stepped back to take a picture, I saw the two angels. Odd that Alessandro had never noticed them. It was an emotional experience for both of us.

Last week, I was all alone in this area. Today, there's a woman moving about, nearby me for a few minutes. I've seen her before, in other older sections of the cemetery. She carries a big woven basket and gathers wilted and spent flowers. She empties her basket at a trash can and moves onto another area.

I easily made my way down the stairs and then down the hill to Alessandro's marker and organized the new flowers. I pulled out my sandwich and ate it slowly, looking out over the cypress trees in the hills below. I had a little conversation with Alessandro.

An hour later, I began my walk back to the main road to catch the bus back down to Firenze.

As I walked, the sun suddenly became so bright I had to stop to get my sunglasses from my purse. I was standing still, zipping my purse closed against pickpockets, in preparation for the bus ride down. I looked down and saw these words, in Italian, near this angel.


In the comfort of faith

Secure in our eternal reunion

Some non believers may think I'm slightly obsessed or have an over active romantic imagination but to me the message was clear and direct.

I caught bus 25, but decided to hop off early to see the gigantic glass green house in the public gardens (Orti del Parnaso) near Ponte Rosso. It resembles the Blue Fairy's house in Roberto Begnini's film of Pinocchio.

I first discovered this enchanted green house in a book, while browsing a book in the Casa Buonarotti bookstore. The helpful attendant told me how to find this garden. I've been here before for weekend garden shows. Today it was mostly deserted. I saw only a few people sitting on park benches. The train tracks run directly behind the park and I heard rather than saw a train whiz by.

I decided to walk back to Piazza San Marco, but I got lost and had to ask for directions twice. I need to look on a map to find Piazza Savonarola, which is where I lost my bearings.

Then suddenly, I recognized my old neighborhood, where I had stayed as a student. As soon as I found Borgo Pinti, I knew how to get to this European Christmas fair.


I was planning on taking a porchetta sandwich back for tonight's dinner. A vendor has a big full pig roasting over coals. It's now 4.30 and it's way too early for Italians to be eating dinner. Tonight at 7.00, these stands will be deep with crowds waiting in line. I keep passing by the porchetta stand.

Finally he has some clients. They are happily speaking in German to him. I lingered, wanting to see portions, etc. I was disappointed to find he was not selling pieces off that pig on a spit. Another walk round and I saw him unpacking plastic wrapped, already sliced hams, which he placed on the grill. Disillusioned, I gave up my plans for porchetta. I bought instead a thin salami from Austria. I went back and bought another delicious cinnamon roll.

Walking back to the hotel, I found a small grocery store, right in the tourist center. I need to remember its location. I bought milk and yummy cheese. I was set for dinner and a 4 am departure breakfast.

I really wanted to make one more stop at Edison bookstore, but at 6.30, with my bags packed, exhausted by the day, I ate my picnic dinner in my room and decided to call it a night.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

29 November 2011 Arezzo

The trains are cleaned when they reach their termination points. I'm on the 9.20 am train bound for Arezzo, but we're still stopped in SMN. In my carriage, a cleaning crew just boarded, swept and emptied the small trash receptacles located between each grouping of seats. A few minutes later, a cleaning supervisor boarded to spot check their work.

Laura sent me a text message. She is waiting for me at the Arezzo station. Sara is working in Firenze this morning, but will be back shortly. We're going to all meet this afternoon and have lunch together.

I bought some pasta named 'Pici' and lipgloss from Laura's favorite shop KIKO Cosmetics, based out of Milano.

We had an emotional reunion. We haven't all been together for at least four years, although I have seen both girls separately in between.

After a simple lunch, I asked Sara to tell me about her work with Rondine. She helps foreign University students from third world countries. I need to research this organization which has connections with San Francesco (Saint Frances).

Leo took me to nearby Assisi and La Verna, both important spiritual locations for San Francesco. I discovered the stories Leo told me about San Francesco are not common knowledge in CremonaRosa and Marta had never read the 'Preghiera Simplice' ('Simple Prayer).

Simple Prayer
St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith.
Where there is despair, let me sow hope.
Where there is sadness, let me sow joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Preghiera Simplice

O Signore, fa' di me uno strumento della tua pace:
dove è odio, fa' che io porti amore;
dove è offesa ch'io porti il perdono;
dove è discordia, ch'io porti unione;
dove è dubbio, ch'io porti la fede;
dove è errore, ch'io porti la verità;
dove è disperazione, ch'io porti la speranza;
dove è tristezza, ch'io porti la gioia;
dove sono le tenebre, ch'io porti la luce.

O Maestro, fa' che io non cerchi tanto:
ad essere consolato, quanto a consolare;
ad essere compreso, quanto a comprendere;
ad essere amato, quanto ad amare.

Hear the prayer in Italian here:  Preghiera Semplice

Anyhow, I offered to translate their website into English. The organization runs on low funds and I am happy to do this for free. I have Sara's business card. We'll communicate later by email. I used to translate for Leo and I miss the work.

Sara and Laura were not friends at the Univeristy of Firenze until Leo paired them up for a research project. They bonded as soon as they met.

They both live in the Arezzo area but mostly keep in touch using FaceBook. Laura travels a lot with her singing career. Sara recently returned from an internship with Ferragamo in New York.

We all agreed, we felt Leo close by today. Our friendship was his gift to us.

Leo's students loved him as much as he loved each of them!

Prof Alessandro Trojani

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Class Paper -- The Passenger / Il Postino: A Theme of Identity

The Passenger/Il Postino: A Theme of Identity
Italian 454
May 7, 2012

Both the film The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) and Il Postino (Michael Radford, 1994) contained a similar theme. They each tell a story of a person who undergoes a change in Personal Identity. The films both ask the question: “What is Personal Identity and how can it be changed?”

The Passenger:

In the film The Passenger, its main character, David Locke, decides to escape his own life, by stealing an identity. He does this by exchanging passport pictures and wearing a dead stranger’s clothing. The stranger’s appointment book then becomes David’s guidebook for living.

By switching places with the stranger, we know David wanted to change his life. But how could he have hoped to magically achieve this without changing his own method of experiencing life?

The British philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) is known for his “Theory of Personal Identity,” which states our minds are blank slates when we are born. He believed knowledge is determined by experience. He wrote:

“What then, can grown men never be improved or enlarged in their understandings? I say not so, but this I think I may say, that it will not be done without industry and application, which will require more time and pains than grown men, settled in their course of life, will allow to it, and therefore very seldom is done. And this very capacity of attaining it by use and exercise only brings us back to that which I laid down before, that it is only practice that improves our minds as well as bodies, and we must expect nothing from our understandings any further than they are perfected by habits.”

A contemporary researcher, Paul T. Costa, Jr., PhD, the co-author of Personality in Adulthood, Second Edition: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective (Oct 19, 2005) was quoted in the New York Times in 2009.

''I see no evidence for specific changes in personality due to age,'' said the researcher, Paul T. Costa Jr. ''What changes as you go through life are your roles and the issues that matter most to you. People may think their personality has changed as they age, but it is their habits that change, their vigor and health, their responsibilities and circumstances - not their basic personality.''

In the film, David Locke was merely “role-playing” as he attempted to live someone else’s life. The Oxford English Dictionary defines role-playing as “the changing of one’s behavior to fulfill a social role.” He lived that false life, drifting rudderlessly, without ambition or planning. For this reason, David Locke, at the convergence of two mis-lead lives, his own and the stranger’s, met his death without resistance. His own underlying personality had never engaged in either life. As himself, or in the stranger’s life, he was not willing to fully participate in living nor to practice new skills, in order to improve his personal circumstances. He had carried his own Personal Identity into the stranger’s life and for this reason his character was labeled “The Passenger.”

Il Postino:

In the film Il Postino, we see the small town postman Mario Ruoppolo, awaken from being a simple, marginally educated man and transform himself into a more well-rounded, whole person. Mario is befriended and nurtured by the exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Under Neruda’s influence, Mario’s hidden talents and capabilities emerge and mature. This maturation took place because Mario was a willing participant in his own life.

At the beginning of their relationship, this dialog sets up the role of teacher and willing student:

     Neruda: It's unfair of you to shower me with similes and metaphors.

     Mario: Don Pablo?

     Mario: Metaphors.

     Mario: What are those?

     Neruda: Metaphors?

     Neruda: Metaphors are--

     Neruda: How can I explain?

     Neruda: When you talk of something, comparing it to another.

     Mario: Is it use in poetry?

     Neruda: Yes, that too.

     Mario: For example?

     Neruda: when you say, ''the sky weeps, what do you mean?

     Mario: That it's raining.

     Neruda: Yes, very good.

     Neruda: - That's a metaphor.

     Mario: - It's easy then!

In the same conversation, Neruda says: “Better than any explanation, is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it.” This statement underscores Personal Identity as one of the themes of the film: Mario is open to learning and ready to experience something new. His personality will not change, but his Personal Identity will grow. Instead of merely being in awe of Neruda, Mario is eager to pursue his own path which will in turn change his own life. He becomes more aware of his self-potential and sets out to pursue new goals.

     Mario: How do you become a poet?

     Neruda: Try and walk slowly along the shore as far as the bay, and look around you.

     Mario: And will they come to me, these metaphors?

     Neruda: Certainly.

Mario concludes the film by acknowledging Neruda’s influence and he tells us these changes weren’t easy, but they made him happy.

     I wrote this poem “Song for Pablo Neruda.''

     Even if it's about the sea... it's dedicated to you.

     If you hadn't come into my life, I never would have written it.

     I've been invited to read it in public.

     And even though I know my voice will shake, I'll be happy

These few lines from Neruda’s poem, “We are Many” shows the real Pablo Neruda also gave some thought to the topic of different selves which make up Personal Identity.

     Of the many men whom I am, whom we are,

     I cannot settle on a single one.

     They are lost to me under the cover of clothing

     They have departed for another city.

     When everything seems to be set

     to show me off as a man of intelligence,

     the fool I keep concealed on my person

     takes over my talk and occupies my mouth.

In conclusion, Personal Identity does not change, however it does contain many layers of self, each part ready to be developed and brought out into the life of its owner. We each have our own unique Personal Identity, which should be utilized to its fullest potential. Our life path can be altered with effort, practice, good habits and a bit of good luck. We should not be merely “passengers” on our life’s journey.