Archive for August, 2009

The Belch

August 20, 2009

The belch was sentenced to forever ridicule by the court of Western values.

The same that gained fame by ruling that the literature would depict the Almighty as a pillar of fire, rather than pink and fluffy cloud.

(and who could put a number on the procession of values which emanated from that call.)

The belch, like many of his organic brethren, lacked the intellectual capital

For a good defense.

Slunk up into the chamber from his slick gray alleys.

Where everything is so wet with determination, that one might think…

This gaseous millipede, offered up from below by throngs of bacteria.

Rubbing hopeful hands from seas in crannies.

Would be coronated on his way

Up he rose, into reason, rigid, unforgiving.

Erupted in a ripe mew, freeing the kernel souls

Of stewed potatoes,

Releasing the beef from the injustice of the buttered pan

From within him they soared, spectral, on the backend of an instant

Hooting for homes of their own, less crowded than the soil

Not imprisoned in the bowl.

But like so much grace they were

Dispersed, with a grimace

A blush, a wave of the hand,

A belly clutch

Thus disrobed of their pleasure

Cast into the ether

Disinterred alongside more formidable plaintiffs



August 14, 2009

He is napping. Until 4:30, he asked. It is now 5:36

I feel so powerful.

I think:

Maybe I’ll let him sleep all night.

Maybe I’ll let him sleep into next week.

While the shoots of baby’s teeth push on up into that angelic cavern.

Maybe I’ll let him sleep into a bud, which I will plant in the ground,

And wait for spring until a new husband emerges.

Maybe a smaller husband with a leaner face.

Maybe a more saturnine, mercurial, martian husband.

Like Schopenhauer said, we purpose after new problems.

(Schop’s purpose was, in part, diminishing ‘women’ whilst chasing teenaged tail. One wonders if his views on the former were shaped by his experiences with the latter.

Who could hardly be called women.

Too perfect and complete and capricious, are teenaged girls.

To be called women.)

I hear thuds. The wooden door shushes back in the periphery and in the perpendiculary to the triangle of my leg.

My husband emerges. In blue underwear.

It’s 5:30. You didn’t wake me.

It’s 5:39. And I was not going to.

Dating differences…

August 13, 2009

Here’s a funny Expat Article meant to steer Roman men towards greater success in their pursuit of the foreign female. Enjoy.

update: the anxious other

August 12, 2009

Rome is drained of her Italians, as always, for August. The majority of natives have fled to nearby beaches to bake and crowd and chatter somewhere else. The corner shops, fruit shops, shoe shops tucked away in our neighborhood, off the main thoroughfare, have imprisoned their wares behind dull metal walls, which teenagers have thoughtfully livened up with political and emotional slogans:

“You don’t buy freedom; You take it.” “Ti Amo, Francesca.” And so forth.

The few of us still here are under the guard of funereal cypresses and their nights, unadorned by the ticking roar of vespas and the yammer of tvs shouting through open windows. I am sitting on our rooftop balcony. It is that non-temperature peculiar to summer nights. Our dog Helwa is gnawing a bone into nothing. I don’t know where the bone goes. If you mapped out all of space-time topographically, as I heard once was possible, you could see that each instant remains fixed in place, as we move around between them in this semi-illusory trajectory called time. I am sure the bone is wishing it were relocated back to that instant where it was safe in its plastic shrink-wrap. The problem being, as always, that it, and I, can never be certain when we are safe, but only hearken back to those elsewhere instances when life is gnawing away at us with canine fervor.

Speaking of illusions and dangers, I’ve been operating in the shadow of semi-certain doom for some months now. That flat gray face of a cloud that sweeps over an otherwise green gold prairie. An oddity or an augur.

My sniffing out of doom is manifest in fits of manageable panic.

Fits of absurd and obsessive thought, which are identified by some more rational quadrant of my brain as such, so that I don’t even get to enjoy the conviction of actual danger, but rather feel nervous, and then nervously calculate how crazy my nervousness is.

Well, I hear my rational brain remark, there is no 747 spiraling furious towards me in the park, foaming flames; no Scythian Amazon pulling hardened bowstring across a half-breasted chest; there was that back cancer–but it turned out to be a fatty tumor. And, well, the tip of my left index finger has been vaguely numb for a month now. As convinced as I am that this is latent leprosy, probably it is just a little carpal tunnel from perching the baby on the same side all the time.

Helwa and I just returned from the park. The flora is showing symptoms of summer fatigue. The flowers peek out more seldom. Slump more readily under the ministrations of their bees. The spiny weeds, which sprung from nowhere to tower over me in just a few weeks of spring, are now skeleton gray, leaning Pisans, I’ll call them to my husband. Their vivid yellow pompoms have gone a dirty white way. Their snail colonies have bled them dry and moved on, and the fissures in the ground which seep ants into the high grass, innumerable soldiers swarming on unknownable missions, seep less fervently.

Or maybe I am projecting. I’ve always found summertime annoying. I grew up in central Texas, where summer lays siege to most of the year, but never adapted to the way the heat would leech out all of my imperatives, as if the sun bore a personal grudge against prerogatives. I still speculate that the heat is responsible for serial killers and various other forms of stridency.

In the park, I spent an hour chatting with Francesco, while Helwa alternately played and exploded in furious barking at Grissou, Francesco’s dog. Grissou is big and black, with a chain collar, and is more intimidating than my skinny, yellow Helwa by a half–not that she troubles herself over such details when going inexplicably batshit. On one of these eruptions, I yelled ‘no’ and slapped her on the nose. The only way, I was taught as a child, of getting a dog’s full attention.

Actually, it makes zero difference.

At least when carried out hesitantly, an effete, postmodern, progressive slap. A self-hating slap. One that leads to soul searching about negative feedback loops of violence and somethingsomething Buddhism.

Francesco is recovering from major surgery. Early on in our conversation, he unbuttoned his thin, cotton shirt and showed me the thick keloid scar loping down his back. Myriad moles swarmed around it, a cosmos lentigginoso. He had had a malignant tumor removed. It had been deep and pervasive, and the choice had been between continually shrinking it with chemo, or this perilous surgery which would leave him sans muscle, a third of one lung, and an agony in recovering, over which even morphine couldn’t throw a blanket.

He chose the surgery.

I asked if he had been scared.

He laughed. He’s in his seventies.

If I died, I died. Better then than slowly over a long period. I’ve seen a lot of the world. I have three happy children. Have had a lot of experiences. I’m not so egoistic anymore. After awhile, he claimed, you just get less attached to life. It’s not so urgent to keep going at my age. I still miss smoking.

He told me then that I had a nice husband. I agreed. He told me that, in Korea, the men on the street don’t look you in the eyes. They don’t want trouble. And the women stay at home while the men go to massage shops which are really full of whores. He expressed astonishment that this didn’t seem to bother the women.

They just think it’s normal!

Italians, men and women, have this way of yelling at each other. They aren’t angry. Maybe enthusiastic. The way we Americans use profanities to make a point. I call it ‘friendly yelling.’ I can’t imagine what an Italian woman yelling with sincerity at a promiscuous husband sounds like. And by ‘can’t,’ I mean ‘wouldn’t want to.’ Maybe you need a culture where people don’t look at each other and women stay at home to go whoring without penalization.

He asked me if I thought there was a difference between American men and Italian men. When someone shows you giant surgery scars and tells you smiling that they are ready to die, I advise you to be prepared for any question. Francesco had already told me that I was getting too thin, that my husband was kind of chubby, and that I should not have had a c-section if it wasn’t necessary (it was, I replied, or as necessary as a thing could be).

I said: Well, in Austin, where I’m from, in the South, people, men and women, are pretty friendly and family oriented, not unlike here. But yeah, I think there’s a difference in men. When he says ‘men,’ he means it romantically. It is written in his inflection.

What’s the difference?

Huh. Which douchey ex-fling thing am I supposed to trot out as the whipping boy for 150 million Americans with penises? I thought naturally to the one who littered our first post-coital conversation with remarks about never wanting to be a parent or a husband. For really deep, philosophical reasons, naturally. Who went as far as to recite “This Be The Verse ” by Larkin.

How contrived and self importent my generation’s obstinacy regarding adulthood and responsibility seemed when filtered through him. A million whines for one reason. Everything came down to not growing up: irony, cynicism, atheism, that fad with the geometric shapes tattooed over joints, or the one with moustaches.

 Out of all that I strained:  American men are (I clambered in my head for the Italian word) more cynical? Less interested in family. Maybe more egoistic? I don’t know. It’s a different culture.

This response came easily also because we’d just been talking about something similar the night before. We included G, my husband, and myself, another couple who are new friends of ours, and some friends of theirs. We were out at a cocktail get-together for ex-pats, many of whom were Italian. Not ex pats, but I don’t think you can keep Italians away from a get together in Italy.

They reached similar conclusions, with the added caveat that Americans work too hard. The man is a first gen Italian-American who spent five years living in Manhattan, working on Wall Street, before relocating with his Argentinean fiancé to Rome. A good friend of his was about to return to a well-compensated position at an investment bank.

After a decade in Rome, I think he’s going to die from the stress.

These differences come up in a million conversations.


G: Americans find Italian movies boring because there aren’t car chases and explosions.

Me: Well, Italians can’t watch a movie without a graphic sex scene that results in something funny. Like a goat is watching through the window. So there.


G: You can always tell Americans among the tourists. They have just a different look in their eyes…hopeful.

Me: Thank you for not saying ‘deluded.’ A German would have said deluded.

I even had occasion to think about this when my friend N, back in Austin, commented that American opposition to public breast feeding was religiously oriented. Don’t get me wrong, conservative values, often religious, seem to bank on opposition to something or other. But I live in Italy and the religious cause doesn’t jive here.

Two facts demonstrating this:

1.      The rate of church attendance here is, percentage-wise, just a point or two different than that in America. And here we’re talking 98% Catholic, which most would agree is not the most liberal of sects. (In combination with…)

2.      The pronounced normalcy of public breastfeeding. There is breastfeeding in a Pamper’s commercial; two women on those molded benches at the mall, last and every Saturday, breastfeeding in full view of the swarming clientele; the woman yesterday, breastfeeding on a park bench as traffic hurled by. All normal.

I think the fact that I am American may be the only reason that I notice them. In fact, when our daughter was still tiny, every little old Italian lady who stopped me on the street to admire her, which included all of them, had three predictable questions: Boy or girl? How old? Latte tuo? (your milk?)

Coming from them, breastfeeding seemed to be its own religion. Or at least a commandment in the church of baby worship.

As for American cultural opposition, where it exists, I blame Hooters and Playboy. Men don’t want to see boobs in their natural state (sometimes small, and even lacking those tiny, boy nipples which point at the ceilings), nor being used for their biological purpose, since they have been led to believe that breasts are mountainous erotic toys. Bonus points in that great video game called ‘getting laid.’ In fact, reviewing objections on American listserves it seemed it was mostly men equating public breastfeeding to public defecation. Please don’t do that to our toys!

I’m just going to hope their knowledge of anatomy permits them the eventual consideration that what is coming out in one scenario is vastly more appetizing than that which comes out in the other…

But I digress.

My question then: If Italian culture is so laid-back, warm, welcoming (if intrusive) why am I panicking?

Well, my therapist responded, holding out her right hand to enumerate, there are four or five major life changes which—even when good things—basically freak out everyone: graduating/changing jobs; moving; getting married; and having children. You did all of these in one year. Without a break. Now you have to figure out…

What I’ve gotten myself into? Geez, I should have exploded by now.

But even with understanding, anxiety remains a beast. Mine happens to be a fitful hen. Or maybe one of those carnivorous plants, except this one feeds on souls. So, like, an HP Lovecraft plant.

As long as you can’t get at its roots, it works its tendrils blindly through the soil of imagination, finding openings that never would have existed without it.

To wit, some things I have uselessly obsessed about:

  • Whether the power being off for six or seven hours provided a window of opportunity for killer bacteria to grow in the refrigerator. I spent about half a day agonizing over that. The internet did not help.
  • Whether a scrape on my leg, received jogging through the park, might harbor tetanus, since it may have been a rusty object that scraped me and/or since there are sheep in the park and I think I once read something about tetanus camping out in sheep dung. Maybe. But the pictures of people with lockjaw on the internet were very compelling.
  • Whether I might be a secret sleepwalker and sleepwalk on the baby. In her crib. There was a “This American Life” about sleepwalkers. It was very persuasive.

Last night I got worked up for about half an hour because the dress I wore out had shiny material and apparently it was something about the shiny material on a bra that gave me a horrible allergic reaction. This occurred on our wedding night and persisted for our honeymoon. It’s not that some men wouldn’t find a woman clawing desperately at her breasts sexy. But, fortunately, I did not marry one of those.

My MD friend here helpfully added that I was lucky that the reaction hadn’t led to anaphylactic shock. Who needs enemies when you have friends who attended medical school?

Google is a good companion for anxiety, incidentally, since if you google the most mundane of symptoms, you are sure to discover that they result in imminent death.

I explained to my therapist that this is unlike me. After all, I lived in a co-op with twenty five people for five years. I’ve had swine flu sneezed onto my cereal; eaten infinite dishes prepared on a scanty budget using ingredients heretofore unknown to man; thrived in a rickety old house, which was on its last legs when my grandfather was still spry.

In Qatar, where I studied, we returned to a little Indian joint called Tally night after drunken night, dining on meat and curry, always waking with a stomach-ache, until the place was finally boarded up for ‘health code violations’…in a country without health codes.

This was funny. And now I am worried about the fridge?

The doc says it’s perfectly natural. It will pass.

Talking to Francesco, I have hope that it will. When I am seventy-something, exhausted and cancerous.