Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A brush with Life, and Rome

I began to walk with a solemn countenance, understandable for a man wracked by past terrors and present torment. I hit an emotional trigger this afternoon and it all got pretty gruelling for a while. The past few weeks, in fact this whole trip so far has been wonderful, I've been happy. This afternoon it hurt a bit.

With a splash of water to the face, a pair of trusted and comforting companions on my feet and a fresh piece of fruit in hand I embarked.

The brilliance of life in our world assailed my mood and I almost ruefully smiled and shook my head, 'right you are existence, you are joyful'. I passed many sights on my walk east across the Tiber and into the old city. The vision that shook me to light was a family of four desperately manning their defences against an attack of gelato.

Each person was tested their full measure by the heaping cone of delicious Italian ice cream that was occupying their resources. The distribution of gelato to cone surface area was bold to say the least, one could almost describe the exuberant portion as reckless. Once combined with the presence of the warm afternoon sun the ice Cream pressed its advantage and this content family of tourists found themselves in the most serious of afternoon treat situations.

Licking was combined with leaning, biting with bending and as cameras, maps and day packs treacherously wriggled in their already heavily occupied grasp the only option was to surge forward with bold heart and broad lick.

This snap shot of a wonderful family scene pierced my mildly melancholic mood as I continued to move through the city and my own emotional complexity. I was grateful for the irrepressible magnificence of life that has repeatedly presented itself to me recently.    

I walked onward to one of my new favourite locations. On the back of a small hill, looking down at a long ago drained swampland. I sat and thought, thought and looked.

I am forced, thankfully forced to accept that to live here, in our world, is something that will be a source of joy and pleasure as well as occasional distress and disorder. I can expect the full variety, and importantly I suspect that if I'm open to it, the ice cream episodes will resolutely continue to follow the melancholic moments.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hair cut in Firenze

 It has been coming for a while, one failed attempt in Boglietto, and a couple of months of concerted growing find me in a position of intermittent grooming distress. Really only the most benign state of distress mind you, however on occasion over the last fortnight I have thought to myself, "I could do with a hair cut".

With five days planned in fair Florence and with no actual plan to fill the days, my goal of arresting the exuberance on my head seemed highly manageable. Upon mentioning my primary goals for the day to my ragazzo Erjon up in reception this morning, "look at some statues, get a hair cut", he promptly proposed a solution.

"I don't know the name of the place but it is around the corner and it is where I get my hair cut". Based more on his choice of fashion forward shoes than his perfectly acceptable hair cut I decided to take Erjon's advice. Plus it was just around the corner.

With a passing remark about the hairdresser's frequent state of being "in demand" rolling in my mind I set off to make an appointment, or with fortune's favour boldly surge forth into the chair. I struck out through the market and scanned for the crucial corner to in action, go around, via Faenza.

A smooth run through the streets, with the relaxed air of a man on a mission that need not necessarily be done, and I soon found myself across the narrow traditional feeling lane that is via Faenza from a hairdresser. The store was indeed difficult to remember the name of as I'm not sure it had one. The thematic fashion decoration on the window and the ranks of chairs beyond gave away its purpose, my shaggy head gave away mine.

The salon hound greeted locals and tourists alike as they milled around the street or attempted entrance respectively.

I crested the entrata and was brought face to face with a signore who I'll elect to describe as looking like an Italiano hair dresser. Proud and effortlessly lofting hair, a brisk white button up shirt with sleeves rolled up in workmanlike fashion, delightfully stripped pants and a glorious pair of green shoes. Now to call these things shoes is an unfortunately accurate under description. They were more of an achievement in mans' never ending conquest over the realms and principality of comfort, design and aesthetic originality. The man looked the business, and for the second time that morning I was making a not completely inconsequential evaluation based on footwear. Close, but not completely.

This is either a sign of my slow absorption of Italiano customs and ideas, an inspired, inventive and effective new method for determining my life direction or a fundamentally flawed and potentially useless decision making matrix. Perhaps a combination, suffice to say that if I knew the Italian word for shoes I would have said, "nice shoes".

Gratefully as I approached he reined in the galloping morning music and we pretty effectively bridged our language gulf to organise a cutting of hair right then and there. Success! I believe now that I was the unwitting benefactor of Italian time management. I think I walked in at the very beginning of the day's trade and slipped right into a window between the day's first cafe and the day's second cafe slash first appointment.

The salon assistant had not arrived and between the hound, hairdresser and potentially my mentioning of a recommendation from a friend at the Hotel Corti de Medici we resolved to get started immediately.

This man who I will now refer to as Michelangelo set to work with a level of precision that I found most impressive. With the only real guidance given by me the word "shorter", he began the process. Scissors, texturising scissors, clippers on the long blade, clippers on the short blade, smaller clippers and finally a strait edged razor. This initial attention was almost exclusively applied to the hair line.

When I checked later the English word 'precision' does in fact translate to 'precisione' in Italian, which I'm thankful for because I said it and I meant it, precisione. I say Michelangelo because; one, I don't know many authentic Italian names. two, I appreciate a hopefully only slightly offensive national stereotype. three, the city I'm currently enjoying, renascence cradle, etc, etc. and four, my hairdresser's impressive attention to detail on the job, masterful. I mean it affectionately and I was a fan immediately.

As I was sitting in the chair enjoying this experience a few observations began to form into a thought, the time that Mich was taking, the comment about "high demand" from Erjon and the quality of the man's shoes suddenly made we wish I had checked the price beforehand. "This could get rough" I thought. Fortunately I'm skilled at releasing uncontrollable factors in life from my care and I quickly settled in to the experience, both in the chair now, and at the register later.

Some more scissors, a second wash, the hair drier, a second cafe and some hair wax later and the job was done. A simple wash, cut, wash, brush, shave, style, eyebrow trim all knocked over while the day's first booked customer and signorina Kate the salon assistant casually arrived.

Michelangelo did his work well and as I discovered from signorina Kate, who spoke fluent English with her native Ohioan accent, that he had been doing so for 15 years. "He is from Napoli and they start their apprenticeship young down there, when they are 13".

We agreed that you could tell, he is good and really precise. We also agreed that Ohio was a great place to grow up and then great to move away from, to Montana, Florida or say, even to Florence.

A Firenze hair cut, not so grand an event, but maybe a little moment worth rambling away about.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Firenze moment

Once I got clear of the street merchants selling all manner of gear Firenze turned out to be beautiful. The Palazzo Vecchio and it's adjoining piazza del Signoria form a special place.

Tonight the moon was full, a wonderful acoustic guitar player was caressing the evening and the grand buildings and statues of this 'cradle of the renaissance' were lit up beautifully. There was a magical moment tonight that is already hard to capture and I expect soon to be hard to remember. The spirit of the place was alive and while it wasn't necessarily gentle or benevolent, exciting or invigorating, it was palpable. It didn't grab you and say "feel me, experience this!" The moment was there if you decided you wanted to be still long enough for it to all come together and emerge to be experienced.

The music occasionally muffled and then soaring as it danced with the crowd noise, the moon, easily lost amidst all the other structures and sights, sliding through cloud drifts to gently illuminate the city. Rambling streets that forced the buildings to gather together like people standing and talking in a crowded room. The never before seen and yet uncomfortably familiar shadow of one of the David replicas standing in front of the Palazzo. Tall statues, taller buildings and upward facing lights. A large crowd of people that steadily move into the absent foreground given enough time in one place to observe all of the other factors that are waiting for you.

I sat on the stone ledge of a magnificent colonnade for long enough for this magical scene to become accustomed to me and swim up out of the depths. Showing itself as a fleeting whole to only briefly be glimpsed and appreciated. Once I noticed it I realised that of course it had been there all along. The living spirit of a place, delicate and precious that I suspect has been robustly here for an age.

It was a beautiful first night in Firenze and I'm very thankful to be here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Northern Italy

Tuesday's plan was to drive around the local area, get a look at the Piemonte region, Wednesday it's off to Alba for morning tea, walking around and then Lunch. Thursday is an Italian holiday so we'll just take it easy and then head down to the local town fair, Friday we are heading to the coast for a day at the Mediterranean, and on Saturday we will get a hair cut.

The only event on the packed calendar for Saturday was to get my hair cut. The whole family was committed to this plan, Clare and girls would stay at home playing outside in the morning, Jason and I would head down to town and i'd get the local Italian special.

Unfortunately the Saturday morning hair cut seems to be a broadly appreciated plan here, and finding myself at the end of a five deep line some quick thinking was required. It was quick and in relatively unusual fashion for me decisive. Eh, my hair isn't that long.

So with the single plan for the day having promptly failed the only choice was to spend today, eating, drinking and taking a cheeky jog up the local version of heartbreak ridge.

It has been a magnificent day in the Northern Italian hills. Breakfast, relax, run, lunch, kids, nap, Saturday night footy on the internet, phone call home, dinner and now vino and sunset on the patio.

I'm loving the time up here with Jason, Clare, Zali (4) and Chelsea (2). It has created a nice feeling of home for me to relax, review and rev up for the next little section of exploration in. In a couple of days I'm heading back south to Firenze and then back to Roma. Both cities continue to captivate my imagination and i'm really looking forward to wandering through the streets and enjoying the blend of history and the present that exist in these wonderful places.

I'm wondering through my own history and present life internally most days, so it feels appropriate to cruise the streets of a place like Florence that shares its modern day city centre with the Roman camp that it began as.
Mum in case you were wondering Firenze was created as a town by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the late days of the republic as a place to settle his veterans. You'd remember Sulla as Marius' friend, general and eventual arch enemy. Dictator of Rome, mum, anything?

Anyway i'm looking forward to the next section of my trip, however it is going to be pretty difficult to turn my back on this Piemonte farm house full of love and friends with it's spectacular sunsets.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Most August

The August sun refuses to set here in Roma, it's 7:55pm, dinner is over and this is the view:
The lights just came on here at the outdoor seating of the restaurant. As far as I can tell it still looks like 4:30 in the afternoon.

Perhaps this summer evening is just attempting to keep pace with its name sake, Augustus Caesar the first emperor of Rome. Young Octavius whose great uncle Gaius Julius Caesar lifted himself so far above his peers that he ripped the republic apart and gave birth to the spectacular Roman Empire, may have struggled his whole life to eclipse his adopted father. Gaius Julius Caesar who's name gives us the month July, was followed on the path to history by Octavius, who became Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filus (son of a god if my suspect historical fiction education can be trusted) after Ceasar's assassination. He then later emerged from a titanic struggle for power as the first emperor of Rome, Augustus.

August follows July like Octavius followed Gaius. The summer evening seems to powerfully hold sway over this day as night seemingly gives way to the irresistible power of an August afternoon.

For me sitting here in the beauty of an unrelenting and yet soon to be bested August evening holds a certain perspective. Part of that perspective may come directly from the mouth of the half bottle of Merlot that came with dinner. 375ml of Italy's low to mid level finest. To me it seems borderline awesome, my palette could probably use some work.

Perspective: The earth has been here for an age, people have been scrapping it out for thousands of years and my life is just a vino drop in the ocean of red grape juice. Parts of it have been challenging, the majority has been spectacular. Many have suffered loss and disaster. Here in this city pain has been mixed with delight for thousands of years.

The challenge is to strive like the August (or July) sun to shine while you can and maybe light your corner of the world for a while.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hola Colombia

Colombia has been a great mixed experience. Some frisbee, some holiday time with team mates and friends, some looking at stuff. I'm really grateful to have been here.

As always frisbee comes first. The team was good, our connection was strong and everyone seemed really happy to be a part of the unique experience. We played pretty well and won the silver medal. aussiecrocs.net is the place to get all that info.

Having the World Games in Colombia definitely added an exciting level of interaction to the event. Four years ago in Taiwan it was obvious from the decorations, facilities and city wide organisation that the games were a big deal in town.

This time in Colombia it was obvious that having the World Games in town was a significant event because of the way the local people interacted with us. The level of interest, engagement and excitement that came from the Cali locals was massive. They seemed to love having us in town and I don't think we exhausted their enthusiasm for photos, autographs and pieces of our apparel and equipment.

It was a remarkable experience of interacting with locals who craved our attention because of the Australian team shirts we were walking around in. Sharing this magnificently foreign experience with our small group of team mates was an absolute highlight. The people on this  team will look at each other in years to come and laugh and shake our heads at the incredible experience of being on team Australia at the 2013 World Games.

The frisbee is over now and the fans are gone. We'll they have probably just moved on to Canoe Polo now. My post tournament experience has been excellent too. Jonno and I headed up to Bogota to spend a few days with Manuel and Lilian who lived in Brisbane for a few years and are now back at home in Colombia.

Excellent hosts and a portal into Colombian life that we were not able to access from the police escorted coach we travelled around in at the tournament. Dani from the team has been in Bogota as well and together with our local friends we have climbed Monserrate, explored the old down town area and spent an evening dancing like the Colombians do. It has been a nice come down from the semi ecstatic experience with the team in Cali and a gentle way to face the reality that the mission of our lives over the last six months is over.

Bogota has been a great pit stop and now the journey continues. I'm off to Italy tonight and no one is coming with me. I'm definitely feeling a yearning today as I detach myself from the company of my friends who have been a mighty source of strength and joy over recent weeks and months. Moving ahead now by myself for a while feels a little daunting, i'm not sure what i'll find with an uninterrupted period of my own company.

The course is set now and i'm sure the next piece of my trip will hold some expected and unexpected experiences. I'm pretty sure i'm interested.

Love to you folks out there. Thanks for your continued company on the journey.