Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quick Takes from Our Last Evening in Rome

It's hard to believe that we're heading north to Florence by train this morning, or that Katie and I only have three more days together in Europe before she breaks off for a workshop in Spain. Then she heads home to the USA, while Marian and I head to the head of the Camino de Santiago. Life is short if also very sweet.

About that sweetness: yesterday I consumed seven scoops of gelato, using two sugar-delivery systems (cones to you). My friend Ferde warned me about fattening up on this Italian ice cream but I trust that whatever weight I gain in Italy I will lose on the road to Santiago de Compostela. As I joked to Marian last night with Katie beside us, "Your mother thinks we're in Italy for a honeymoon, but this is really all about carbo-loading." Then I forced another shovelful of pasta in my mouth the way I like it best, alla carbonara.

Yesterday was not supposed to be a church day, the way Friday was or the way today will be once we get to Florence in time for noon Mass. But as Marian noted while we walked to Trastevere for dinner last night, "Rome has churches the way New York has Starbucks."

As we headed toward the Tiber, Marian paused in front of an icon on the side of a building at an intersection. "Just Jesus and Mary hanging out on the corner!" she said.

Trastevere means "across the Tiber." It is the name of a restored neighborhood too full of bars and restaurants, too fraught with noise and alcohol for my blood. But we had agreed to eat our last supper in Rome here, so we crossed the river and plunged into the swarm. Fearlessly clutching her Italian phrasebook, Marian asked someone for directions to Santa Maria in Trastevere, a church she had heard about, I guess. It was news to me. Before we knew it, we were in front of that church and then inside it, awed to witness the end of the Saturday evening vigil mass of the Community of Sant'Egidio.

As a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a lay organization within the Catholic Church, I had only heard of this second lay organization, based in Rome. What I did not know is that the Piazza di Sant'Egidio is just around the corner from Santa Maria in Trastevere or that the community seems to more or less own its neighborhood. For a few minutes last night, they owned me, as the entire church, packed to the side aisles, joined in a recessional hymn featuring many Alleluias and the many priests and altar servers, notably both white and black, receded up the aisle toward us, following the crucifix.

Katie was especially moved by the experience. "The first time," she said with fragments of feeling, "I've been in a church where it was all Italians — and singing — and joyous!" The three of us sat with our journals for fifteen minutes after the Mass ended, and Katie and I wrote notes to leave at the feet of St. Anthony, whose statue was literally piled with petitions, like a funeral pyre with kindling.

We had a lovely dinner in Trastevere and walked home through the ruins of old Rome under a moon that was all but full.

If it's not obvious, I'm very happy for and proud of the daughter who returned to us from Asia three days ago. And without tattoos! This may have been a temptation, what with being surrounded in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand by flocks of Western backpackers with too much time and money on their hands. Marian admitted that she had at least thought of a tattoo and considered what she might have chosen to have written on herself. Two quotations suggested themselves:

"One could do worse than be a swinger of birches." (from "Birches" by Robert Frost), or —

"Go forth and set the world on fire." (from St. Ignatius of Loyola)

That made me wonder what I would tattoo on my body if I ever thought this wasn't a completely crazy thing to do. I too thought of favorite lines from poets ("Afoot and light-hearted," the first three words of Whitman's "Song of the Open Road") and from ("Nevertheless!" which is not really anything except Paul Scofield's shout as Thomas More in the film "A Man for All Seasons" when he finally turns on the court and tells them just why he refuses to sign off on Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn.)

It didn't take me long to come up with a good tattoo for myself, meant to be read by anyone finding my body and wondering what to do with it. I would want them to read this:

"Return to sender."

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