January 14, 2008
The first day of Physical Chemistry, Sarah Keller (who is a titanic lecturer) assured us that despite the uniform reluctance of the class to take Thermodynamics, the subject was indeed useful. She gave an example from when she was a graduate student and how her undergrad thermo class had failed her and she had no clue how to calculate the thermodynamics of the reactions she was studying. The moral of the story was that no matter what people in the sciences are trying to do, thermo can be a great tool in helping them do it, even if it does not immediately appear useful.
As it turns out, what a lot of guys in the sciences are trying to do is women, and a tool that can be useful for them is thermo, although it may not be immediately apparent. But in fact, the laws of thermodynamics most eloquently double as laws of women, and they will come in handy some day at the bar.
Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics. If two bodies are in thermal equilibrium, they have the same temperature.
Now this law has a lot of interpretations, only some are applicable. The first is an explanation of why people want to date a hot significant other–after a period of equilibration, the less hot of the two bodies will become slightly hotter, depending on the original hotness gap. Temperature is also related to internal energy, meaning women want a guy that will increase their internal energy, which may translate into overall better quality of living. A common misinterpretation of this law is when men of science who may have the flu and are running a high fever try to capitalize on their elevated temperature and attract women. Unfortunately, the application of this law is a bit more subtle.
First Law of Thermodynamics. Change in energy is the sum of heat and work done by the system.
This equation is a state function, meaning that the end result is independent of the pathway taken to arrive there, or the total change in energy depends only on the start and end positions, and not on the specific balance of heat and work. For example, let’s take as the system a woman in her mid-twenties. To calculate the energy of this system, simply sum the heat and the work, which incidentally are inversely related. This means that a woman can be very productive, and produce a lot of work, but would lose minimal energy to heat (she’s not hot). This kind of reaction is reversible, it happens in small steps and is the most efficient. The irreversible reaction is one in which minimal work is produced, and most of the energy is lost to heat or noise. This is equivalent to a hot woman: very unproductive, but hot and sometimes very loud. But for most guys this is a wasteful option, one, because energy is lost, and two, because the reaction is irreversible. After getting emotionally mangled by a hot woman, the effects are often permanent.
In engineering, the ideal system is one that acts as reversibly as possible because the most energy is conserved as work, and minimal energy is lost to the environment as heat and sound. However, when it comes to women, it would seem that most guys prefer the opposite system, despite it being loud and energy inefficient. One would think that with the current energy crisis, a woman of non-traditional charms would be the hottest, pun intended, item on the market.
Second Law of Thermodynamics. The total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value.
This law comes as a surprise to most guys, even though it applies to most women. Despite this, it is very basic. Girls seem clean, sane, and orderly when you first start dating them, but over time they will become increasingly chaotic and disorderly, physically and emotionally. They will leave surprising and unwelcome things on you and around your apartment, physically and emotionally, as the entropy of the system increases. Therefore, before entering into a long term relationship, check your lease agreement and your sanity. The few men who have outsmarted this law are the ones that don’t wait as the inevitable entropy increase sets in, but instead trades in periodically for a system of lower entropy.
Third Law of Thermodynamics. As a system approaches absolute zero of temperature all processes virtually cease and the entropy of the system asymptotically approaches a minimum value.
Um, I guess building off the second law, if your girlfriend becomes too entropic or chaotic, you can try to put her in the freezer. Or liquid nitrogen, though this may be an irreversible reaction.
November 19, 2007
I came to Rome to study art history. But really, I came to Rome for the shopping. As I flipped through the pages of my Vanity Fair on the plane from Seattle to Roma (in between reading my assigned books), I dreamed of visiting the Dior, the Moschino, the Miu Miu—if only to become a half a degree more beautiful by proximity to perfection. What I didn’t think about was another kind of shopping: shopping for things I actually needed. Here in Rome, this kind of shopping is far from perfect. Unlike our prim QFCs, here, the shopping is human. Simply buying tomatoes in the Campo di Fiori is taking part in the organized chaos that takes over the square each morning.
The vendors here love you. They love me, and I am amazed because they must bring their love here along with their heavy wares early each morning. They are surprisingly unlike other Italians: they don’t ever seem too curious about me or if I am Giapponese, as all the other locals seem to be. What they want is to sell vegetables. On a morning of my first week here, I ventured up to one of the vegetable spreads and was immediately greeted by an elderly grandmother. Buongiorno, she smiled. She was about half my size but well rounded into her wrinkles. That morning, her family had one of the few stands open in the Campo since most were still closed for the August holiday. I mumbled a reply back that was neither Italian nor English, but more flustered.
I loved just looking at the produce. The vegetables were lovely and happy. The old woman waved a pepper at me. She already had a plastic bag ready to weigh out my purchases. He talk came in a continuous stream, half to me and half to the other vendors, and they replied back with an amused smile. I imagined them discussing my vegetable purchasing ability: Does she have the guts to buy the strange smelling leafy greens? Will she know what the orange flowery things are? Their Italian raced by, barely touching me, and was lost in the market. It was my first week and my word recognition was low, so I focused on the veggies. I had to make some choices.
I was surprised to find one carton held a medley of chopped vegetables, including zucchini, carrots, and celery. It looked scrumptious even raw and in a crate. I pointed to the pile and asked if it was cut fresh that morning. I tried to avoid the American foreign relations speech pattern of talking loud and slow, so I ended up simply speaking very clumsily in my own language. Um (making cutting motions with my hands), this morning? I realized how little Italian I had (almost none), and I fought the urge into Spanish. The old woman peered up at me with a confused look (a look I have come to know very well in the past few weeks) and started speaking quickly again, every once in a while looking back at the younger vendors as if for translation but simply continuing again before they could answer. Her arms in the old blue cotton dress were flying everywhere. Italian…Italian Italian…zuppa…Italian…minestrone. Ah! I thought. Zuppa: a word I knew. The mix was for soup! How wonderful! I nodded emphatically to show that I understood, that we had made a connection and communicated, and forgot that this was not the answer to my question at all. I bought half a kilo of the mix.
Even though I don’t live near the Campo, each time I walk through there in the morning I am drawn into some stand or the other and tempted to make a purchase. Now that all the vendors have returned from holiday, the place is livelier than ever. One day, I bought mozzarella from the cheese man, and now as I walk by, he always calls me over just to smile and wave with a cheerful Ciao! I haven’t met that many people here in Italy, but perhaps the most accessible locals in Roma are here in the Campo each morning. They come, they are cheerful, and after one o’clock they disappear. But still, it is nice to be greeted like a close friend in a foreign country, in a way that few of my real friends in Seattle would even be forward enough to do. And all for only a small round of cheese.
On that morning in Italy I ran
away from Rome, searching
for an old, disused castle.
Having been there twice before,
it should have been a straight run along the Tiber:
two bridges down from my own
Ponte. The stone archways holding one end
of the city to the other were my
points of reference, but from below I found
each was all the same: stone.
I looked for the angels long after
I passed them by, my neck craning up
to search, once in a while, while
my feet pattered on
the stoned riverbed. No sounds fell down the well
of the snaking water, green filth drifted
by me, a sickly bright green that clashed with the mute sky.
My disorientation of losing a bridge, of losing
several oversized angels, did not dissuade my
intoxication on an ancient morning. How
did the goal of finding a known landmark
weigh against the lightness of running, endlessly?
When at last, both my feet and mind knew
they had run too far, that the angels were now
at my back, I left the river and climbed the steep steps.
Here, noise, cars, tunnel, concrete—pavement! And this Rome
was not one I came to,
but one I found.
“I wasn’t thinking about it, but my dream was.” –Elice
Notte Bianca was a night of madness. It might have been the hordes of teenagers out in the streets that threw me, but it seemed that the entire city had become children. The night offered everything on a dark gleaming platter: beer, food, music, scantily clad women. It was a dream, or a movie set with too many extras.
We went out as a group, ten of us eager-eyed Americanos. We raced through the streets at a snail’s pace, pushing through the bodies. It was madness to think we could keep a group together, but we tried. At times I clung to the finger of the guy in front of me. It was my lifeline to familiarity, to strength in numbers.
The lights were orange and out of focus, like a night picture without flash. The edge of street lamps blended seamlessly into the noise, so that there was no line between brightness and loudness. Each sound flew into the next. Drum groups, rock bands, vendors, drunks. Crowds standing swayed, each person pulled in unison by an invisible puppeteer. We tied our own satin strings to our wrists and ankles, joining the locals.
In some ways though, the night was no different than any other Roman day. It was too much, too everywhere, but then, it usually was. At times we stood together, crushed and slightly bored, because we didn’t know what was going on. Still, we are unsure of ourselves, and it is magnified by the responsibility of a group. When the mood swung this way, I began to tune myself out of the group. I imagined I was alone in the crowded eternal night. I turned by body towards the crowd, leaving the protective circle of my classmates. I was jostled and pushed, but I held my ground.
Halfway through the night, I left the group. Mentally first, then physically. I walked for hours, while around me, nothing changed. Perhaps it was only minutes. I went to the Vittoriano, where listeners shuffled with music and inebriation. I had neither inside me, but I mechanically leaned my body this way then that. Slowly, the movements began to smooth out. At one point, I even closed my eyes. I usually hated crowds, but I let them close in on me. With my eyes shut, I imagined my new companions: faceless Italians with expressions frozen in an incomprehensible enjoyment. Tomorrow, I might see these people drinking coffee, or serving me lunch. I didn’t want to know their faces.
Between songs, I slipped away amidst the thunderous clapping. Hands grabbed at me as I passed. I twisted and shoved them away, finally tumbling out onto a less crowded street. Here, there was walking, people striding. Occasionally, I heard conversation. Along the sidewalk groups lounged in piles of ripe flesh. Men stretched out fully on the cobblestones, cradling their women or liquor. Some yelled after me as I hurried along. Their harsh Italian words disguised as compliments crashed into my skin, bruising me, at times drawing a prick of blood. Their love and admiration wearied me. I became exhausted.
I turned away from the main street onto a smaller alley. Still, the crowds pursued me, but they took a different form. Everywhere there were couples. They walked two by two, taking up the entire width of the street with their hand holding and their darkened eyes. They soaked away the lamplight. I walked slower, with my hands in my pockets. Anyone could have picked me out of the crowd here; the distinct line of my body gave me away amongst the Siamese twins that melted together, their faces tied together with string so they could see the other. I stared at them openly, amazed at how they could kiss with their eyes closed and walk at the same pace. Hands felt everywhere. Watch, I told myself. These are Italians. This is love.
A dark man materialized beside me. We were the only singles on the street. Without stopping, with only his head turned towards me, he asked, Are you lost? His sudden apparition startled me, and although his voice was quiet it was the clearest in the crowd. In what way? I thought, but I replied, No. I shook my head for emphasis. We kept walking, loosely together. He didn’t make a move to approach me, so we continued along with room for a small elephant between us. Here I was on this street of twosomes, now dangerously close to becoming a due. But my initial panic was leaving. Every few steps I stole glances at my mysterious escort. He was young, but wide enough and tan enough to hide it. His face was smooth like a dark olive. The top of his hair was dappled gold, the only place on his body that reflected light.
We waded through a sea of lovers. At times, they passed between us. I looked the other way, taking in the darkened storefronts. Slowly, I eased into an imaginary conversation with my stranger.
Are you out alone? I asked. Even in my imagination, my openings were dull.
I wasn’t, but I got separated from my group. His accent was heavy, with each vowel rounded out like fat plums. I forgave him since we were in his country.
I considered the imaginary reply. I debated whether or not to say Anch’io. Me too. If we had this in common, it would be harder to part ways. Luckily, he picked up the silence. In my mind, he told me that he was working in the city, that he was originally not from Rome, that he was raised elsewhere. My mind wasn’t clever enough to supply realistic or interesting place names though. In reply, I pursed my lips and gave a slight nod. A large crowd ran past, and we were jostled and inched together.
To my right, a clown jumped out of a dark doorstep and grabbed my arm. I yelled out, hugging my arms to myself. The orange wigged man laughed. He threw his head back into the night. I shuddered and kept walking. As I looked to my left, I saw that my stranger had stopped too, and was glaring at the clown. He gave me a concerned look, but I smiled gratefully and kept walking.
Now we had reached a noisier street. Every few storefronts, loud dance music sliced into my mind and tumbled my thoughts. Drunk kittens tripped out of the open doorways. Their clothes were bright like their laughter. I couldn’t remember our conversation. He isn’t from Rome, I thought lazily to myself. I looked for a way to continue the discussion. As I clung to this bit of personal information, I felt him reach out and touch my arm lightly. I looked over, surprised by his physical presence beside me.
Are you sure? You are not lost? His concern was genuine. I suddenly thought how out of place he looked. His shirt was pressed and buttoned, and tucked neatly into his pants. This was an important detail I had failed to notice. I was certain that this was some joke, that someone had put him up to this: showing up and asking such seemingly innocent questions.
Yes, I’m sure. I paused. I’m not lost.
Looking around, I did not recognize the street. Still, I gave him a tight, dismissive smile. My stranger looked down with a nod. His face was expressionless. When we began walking, he quickened his pace until I lost him in the crowd. He melted away in front of me, with his hands in his pockets and his back slightly hunched.
And then, I was alone again.
The Romans partied on. They forgot about me, their little visitor. I came across a large looming doorway. I first saw it across the street, and I came closer to look inside. There were no stragglers around the step; the crowds seemed to walk around the small area. I stood with my feet on the cobblestones, and leaned in across the threshold through the one open door. The door was huge, heavy and wood. It was such a dark green that in the night it was black. With my head inside, I saw only an empty space. The floor was a smooth, cold marble. It appeared creamy and seamless. The only light came from the open doorway. It eased its way carefully into the dark, bringing with it the heaviness of illumination.
I glanced around, but no one seemed to notice me. I stepped into the room, moving slowly along the strip of light from the door. The air resettled behind me where I had disturbed it. It was cold. The room was a large square. There were no other doors along the walls. It was completely empty. The marble floor was white, with only a light green design around the edges of the room. Otherwise, there was no other adornment.
I was so tired that I sat down in the center of the room. The felt as creamy as it looked. I laid down on my back and looked up. I found that the ceiling was a mirror—one smooth continuous piece of glass that covered the entire room. I lay with only my head in the light, the rest of my body angling away into the room. The cold marble froze me little by little. The small icy needles came up through my skin. Staring up, I found I was beautiful in only a very few angles. I turned my head slowly from left to right. The light was too dim to be sure.
I replayed my earlier conversation in my head, both the real and imaginary portions.
Are you lost? Are you sure?
How does one answer these questions? I asked in my best philosopher’s voice. I put a slight accent on answer.
The questions repeated themselves until they tired of each other. They ran out of room in my head. No more noise from the crowd now. I imagined it was almost morning. Inside my room, it was still dark.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
There is a secret window inside my apartment. Elice and I discovered it on our first day. It is in the bathroom, above the toilette—a freezer-size window that hangs opens like an upward clam. The trouble with the window is that it is too high for us to see out of, even when we stand on the toilette seat. We can’t get any taller, and we can’t crawl up. Our little necks don’t crane nearly far enough.
It is a troubling architectural conundrum. Our apartment is on the ground floor, and the front door opens to the street. From the outside, the large faded orange building looks like one solid block. The three stories above us are filled with apartment-dwellers who bang pots and hang their laundry to drip down into the street. Once in the front door, our apartment runs lengthwise along the façade of the building. The troubling thing is, our bathroom is on the far side of the apartment, and our bathroom window faces away from the front of the building, where our other precious three windows face.
In the past month, we have settled into a comfortable life inside this apartment. Its bareness has given way to our laughter and clutter. It has become comfortable home. But even as we grew into the flat, the bathroom window still eluded us. All day long, noises come through the small rectangular opening. First, it was voices. As I lay in bed one afternoon catching up on sleep, I listened to the voices through the window.
First, two Italian women argued over the noise of a television. I listened to the flow of their words. One was young, and the other older—maybe mother, daughter, may friends. Their voices swam around each other’s, alternating crescendos, sometimes lapsing into the silence of the television.
I dozed in and out of sleep, and when I woke they were gone. Then, there were small creaking sounds. It sounded like little doors. A turning creak, a sliding sound, and then a muffled closing. It repeated itself several times. And it was quiet again. In the evening there was music. First it was Italian, and then it was Justin Timberlake. At night as I fell asleep, I could watch the faint light spilling into the dark of our apartment from behind the triangular opening.
Elice and I often discussed what could be behind the secret window. From our walks around the city, we had an image in our minds: a cozy yet colorful courtyard like ones we’ve ducked into from the street, planted with pink flowers and perhaps even a small orange tree. We imagined tenants from our building would gather there at night. From their folding chairs, they could be discussing anything! Politics, childhood, what it meant to be Italian. And here we were, unable to join them, not because we were two American collegiates, but simply because our apartment opened out to the street.
Several times on our way home, we planned ways to find the entrance. Elice thought it might be on the other side of the block. I had no better ideas myself. If we could only find the door! But somehow we were always too busy or too tired to go in search of it. So, weeks passed with the window remaining a mystery.
In some ways though, not knowing what lay behind it was liberating. The charming voices, old and young, remained simply voices. And across the wall in my own apartment, I made plenty of noise as well. At night, I talked on the phone to friends across the Atlantic, and didn’t mind if strangers across the window could hear me. When I was alone, I played loud Disney hits and sang at the top of my lungs. Judging by the clarity with which I could hear their conversations, I could only imagine what they must make of me. Sometimes I wondered what I would do if I found the secret courtyard. After being so nonchalant about my sound impressions through the window, would I have the face to join the locals?
Soon however, this question became irrelevant. After listening more closely, we heard the intermittent opening and closing of a heavy door with a metal latch. It sounded suspiciously like the door to a large apartment building. Listening to the rhythm of the footsteps that passed, we also deduced that there were stairs outside out window. The architectural logistics of the idea still confused me; it didn’t make sense for a door to be on that side of our apartment. How could our window open to someone else’s hallway? It meant that their door had to open to some Harry Potter train-to-Hogwarts kind of place. But I couldn’t argue with my ears. Over time, our curiosity only grew. We heard more and more voices, in addition to the incessant television. Still, I tried not to curb my singing. Without faces, it is much easier to say Let them talk.
One night, the boys came over to visit, and Elice had her ‘great idea’. She shoved her camera into Scott’s hands and pushed him into the bathroom.
“Stand on the toilette seat and take a picture!” she demanded. Her eyes were wide with excitement, her head bobbing with impatience.
Scott was bewildered, but he complied. I explained Elice’s behavior to our other guests, but I omitted our secret ideas of the courtyard and also my singing. I told them that we just didn’t know what was back there.
When Scott returned to the living room, he held the camera out with an apologetic look, before hastily snatching it back again.
“You might not want to look,” he said slowly. “Maybe you two should just keep whatever image you have in your imaginations, because…” he trailed off.
I considered this, briefly. Then I grabbed the camera from him. I still wanted to know. Elice and I sat on the couch together, hunched over her slim, stylish Canon. We were both silent.
Scott’s photograph showed a narrow foyer that led in from a green wooden door. The stairs curved up to the left, and on the right, a row of mailboxes clung to the wall. But it wasn’t beautiful. The walls were once white, but now the paint was either browned or chipping. The door looked weary. I was large and heavy, scratched and dented. The mailboxes were rusted metal and covered in dust and cobwebs.
“Oh,” Elice whispered.
For once, the window was silent.
It is always difficult when a fantasy is faced with reality. From the beginning, Elice and I were so willing to bestow our own ideas of beauty on anything Roman. Where did we get these images? Some are from books, movies, magazines, and some are from our own experiences of the city. Still, we are less willing to take in the unpleasant images we come across, the persistent unbeauty that is as common her as Vespas and churches. There is poverty, and overflowing garbage, and a family that lives under the bridge I cross daily. But given the freedom of imagination, we still chose to believe in a beautiful Roman idea that could have existed behind our little window. Had we thought more closely, we would have realized that the street we live on is not one for private gardens or manicured courtyards. The complex across the street from us is surrounded by high walls, but around the corner, through the metal gate, I can see a dilapidated yard with rubble and rusted metal piled in one corner. Our upstairs neighbors include an Asian family that hangs their distinct laundry over the window each day. These ideas don’t fit our imagination, so often we tune them out. But finally seeing out of our secret window, it has become easier to take in all of Rome.
On our second day here, the girls and I went to the beach at Ostia. And as we were walking along the sand, Anyie said, “Some of the girls here are so hot.” At the beach, that was the right word. Most of the girls wore swimsuits that I would only use to hang laundry with, and I am no prude. They were all uniformly tan, smooth and bare. But in the city, the women are more that just hot. Elizabeth Gilbert thought that Rome’s word was SEX, but I don’t agree. Any city can adopt this word, any beach town with a healthy bikini population. But in the eternity it has stood here, Rome has cultivated women that deserve a much bigger word.
The women in Rome are themselves worthy of a pilgrimage. In the weeks I’ve been here, they still elude my understanding. I have developed a routine of observation: I come several days a week and sit at the same table at Café Farnese, facing the piazza. I sit one row of tables back, because the most beautiful dues and quattros always sit at the outer tables so they can be seen most easily. And plus I’m in the shade. I can stay here for hours as the couples and doppio couples move in and out, drinking so many tonics and cafes and juices I cringe to think of their bill. Unlike the busy Campo cafes just around the corner, here it is mostly locals. I come here to learn from their beautiful ways.
On this morning I arrive around ten. My table is waiting for me. The waiter already knows me (there was an embarrassing incident my first time here involving a pen, but I have persisted in coming), and I order my espresso, which I am still learning to stomach. I spread out my writing utensils, and carefully place my cell phone on the table to appear as local as possible.
At the table in front of me a couple lounges (not ‘sits’), awaiting my observation. They are around thirty. She is a red head (by choice) with tight curls; he is a blonde with curls just as tight. He sits facing the square, leaning back so that his arm is on the chair facing my table. She has her dark round sunglasses on and reads the paper. They are both smoking furiously. On their table lies no less than three packs of Marlboros, one opened with a lighter on top. They have already accumulated a flurry of empty glasses and espresso cups. I watch as he plays with his camera phone. He takes pictures of himself (without a hint of embarrassment), pictures of her, and pictures of the people around them. He could be four.
I want to yell at them—It’s Monday morning! It’s ten o’clock! But of course, theirs was a beauty that can only be achieved through perfect idleness. Would they be so alluring if she wasn’t so tan? If they weren’t sitting at this table when in any other city they should have been working at a desk?
He finally distracts her from the paper, and she puts it down to give him an exasperated smile. Her smile swallows her creaseless tan face. She is all limbs beneath an orange sun dress. All the women here wear colors that have not even arrived on our continent yet. Arancia—how amazing. They lean in towards each other, and they are telling secrets. Then they lean out and lounge back in their chairs, daring me to ask.
In a few minutes two more women arrive. All four are standing now, smiling hard. They make a symphony of laughter and noise as they scrape their chairs across the cobblestones. My red head throws her hands up and grabs first one blonde, then the other, in greeting. Her gentlemen friend kisses both enthusiastically. They all sit and wave to the waiter. They need more drinks! One of the blonde women orders champagne. My mouth almost hangs open. Both of the blondes are in dresses, one purple that comes to mid thigh, the other yellow that comes even higher. They sit without adjusting their skirts; they carelessly sway their legs and torsos, swirling them inside their musical conversation. Unlike American women, they are not constantly aware of their forms or imperfections, if there even are any. Their bodies are superfluous. They move them with excited animation, but really, their personas are all contained in their huge white smiles.
The smoke from their table drifts into mine, but in exchange my curiosity flows into theirs. They are seated in such a way that I could be the fifth person at their table: they are almost facing me. And yet, none of them notice my presence. They were graceful without affectation, flamboyant without excess. Hot does not define them. Beautiful is too dull, and really, none of these women would grace a fashion ad. It is the way they move that lets everyone know they are enjoying themselves. It is the effortless way they order sparkling wine before noon. And they are not afraid to eat—they order pastas and cornettos and lick the chocolate from their ringed fingers.
As they finally rise to leave, I notice the cash they leave on the table. Two twenties and a handful of coins, for a mid-morning coffee! (Although after several espressos my own bill is also quite steep.) What word can embody all of this? Maybe DECADENT, or LAVISH. But it is something else, too. I doubt if there is a word in English that can encompass them. In the end, perhaps it is only their equally fluid Italian that can sum them up with a perfectly lyrical parola.
September 20, 2007
Villa Borghese and the Bernini Statue Groups
For any art lover that comes to Rome, the Villa Borghese is a must-see. It lies just outside the historic city centro, and is a relaxing and quiet retreat from the noise and traffic. The entire estate covers almost 700 hectares, and it is one of the largest parks in Rome. Despite the beauty and calm of the tree lined park, the true value of the estate lies in the art collection housed in the central Casino Borghese. The majority of the collection reflects the exquisite taste and collecting ability of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who also build the Villa. His proficiency as a collector and patron is one of the major factors that have put the Borghese family on the map. The Casino Borghese houses a tremendous collection of art ranging from ancient Roman to Renaissance to Baroque. The organization of the Casino Borghese collection now serves as a model for the modern art gallery. Perhaps the most astounding works that the Villa boasts are the four statue groups by Gianlorenzo Bernini, all commissioned by Scipione. They serve as an important milestone in the Baroque artistic movement, and also as a reflection of the family who commissioned them.
II. History of the Borghese Family
The Borghese family came from humble roots. Originally from Siena, they rose in power based on ability demonstrated in civic administration as opposed to military success. The first important character in their rise to power is Marcantonio I, and ambitious patriarch who had ambitions of relocating his family to the eternal city. A natural diplomat, his break came when he became the Siennese ambassador to the Pope, which meant he spent the majority of his time living in the cosmopolitan Rome. He eventually was able to move his family and establish roots in Rome. In addition, his marriage to Flaminia Astalli, who was from an ancient noble Roman family, strengthened his arrival as new aristocracy. In 1554, he served as a conservator of Rome, one of the two highest ranking officials. His diplomatic skills also helped to keep his family in favor by remaining neutral when the power-hungry Medici conquered Siena. However, the true value Marcantonio’s success came in the placement of both his sons in the church. Both Camillo and Orazio Borghese entered the church at an early age, but only Camillo survived long enough to rise. In 1605, Cardinal Camillo Borghese was the surprise win in a heated papal election that favored two other candidates. As the new Pope Paul V, he worked on many projects to beautify the city. He also canonized six individuals during his reign.
But in terms of the rise of the Borghese family, his most important decision was to instate his nephew Scipione Borghese in the traditional role of the cardinal-nephew. Scipione was born to Ortensia Borghese in 1576, the sister of Pope Paul V. On his father’s side he was a Cafarelli, another noble Roman family. Scipione became Cardinal when he was only twenty-six years old, but his was ambitions and competent. Under his uncle’s reign, he held a number of lucrative church offices that brought wealth and prestige to his family. He was a proficient builder in both public and private realms, although his true successes came in the three private estates he built for his family. In public works, he restored several important churches, including San Sebastiano Fuori la Mura, and church built under the rule of Constantine. Despite the fact that San Sebastiano held the largest collection of relics at the time as well as its historical significance, Scipione’s taste was for modernization. He remodeled all the interior decorations and rebuilt the entire façade.
Scipione built three major private estates, aimed at glorifying the Borghese family and establishing their position in Roman society: Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi, the Villa Borghese, and Palazzo Borghese, where the modern day family still resides. Following the death of his uncle in 1621, Scipione retired from public office and spent most of his time perfecting his art collection at the Villa Borghese. He was both tireless and ruthless in his acquisition of art, and did not refrain from using extortion and theft to complete his gallery. He held lavish courts and was a well known entertainer, and along with his jovial personality, earned himself the name “Delizia di Roma.” Despite this, he was instrumental in guiding the rise of his family amongst Roman nobility. His impeccably discerning taste in art and artists also established the Borghese as important art patrons in history. He was the first patron of the young Gianlorenzo Bernini, who went on to leave the largest mark of any single person on the city of Rome. Scipione was also shrewd enough to maintain good relations with the succeeding Pope Gregory, and in less than a year his friend Pope Urban VIII was elected, bringing Scipione back into favor and wealth.
After Scipione, the Borghese family never again attained the same heights of fame and power. Although the family later made a connection to the Bonaparte family through marriage, the relation was actually very detrimental and resulted in the loss of hundreds of pieces of art from the Borghese collection. Then, following the crash of the Bank of Italy, the family lost another large portion of their wealth. By the time of the fascist era, the Borghese name hardly wielded any more political power. Nonetheless, today the Borghese family is still respected as Roman nobility, and travel in the highest social circles. Perhaps after so many centuries, this would still be the greatest hope of the very first Marcantonio.
III. Villa Life in 17th Century Rome
The role of villa life in seventeenth century Rome was a continuation of a trend revived in the Renaissance. During this time, noble families looked back to the idea of the villa from antiquity, wanting to connect themselves with the ancient Rome. The villa often served as a seat of power for prominent families, as it did for the influential Lorenzo d’Medici in Tuscany. They were also an escape from hectic city life, but were often times within easy reach just outside the city walls. The sprawling estates provided relaxing space and rejuvenating country air for powerful and wealthy, who retreated here to frolic and socialize. Another purpose of the villa was to promote social status. Building a grandiose and lavish estate for seasonal retreat and pleasure helped ancient and rising families to display their fortune and status. At their villas, nobles could also host extravagant parties, entertain guests, and carry out important political dealings.
By the seventeenth century, villas also served another important function: as centers of both art collection and creation. Nobles of the baroque era strongly revived the ancient Roman practice of acquiring art, and coveted both ancient and contemporary works. Their villas, including Scipione Borghese’s, were adorned with ancient statues that were though to lend power and status to the properties. Art was collected as much for their value as a social symbol as for their artistic merit. In addition, collectors could use allusions and symbols in artwork to promote their own political agendas. Aristocrats also served important roles as patrons of rising young artists. They identified talent at a young age and sponsored the artist’s development in return for an exclusive bid for the art that was created. This practice allowed artists to create more freely and comfortably, and also provided seventeenth century villas with a ready supply of beautiful creations.
IV. History of Villa Borghese
Construction on Villa Borghese began in 1610. Cardinal Scipione wanted to build a villa that would fulfill all of the grand purposes of a magnificent country estate. He wanted to establish the Borghese family amongst noble Roman society and impress both his friends and rivals. While his uncle Paul V was more concerned with public building, Scipione knew the political value of prestigious private estates. He first hired papal architect Flaminio Ponzio to undertake the design and building. Ponzio worked on the estate until his death in 1613. Subsequently, construction continued under Giovanni Vasanzio until its completion in 1625. The villa then remained unchanged for one and a half centuries during which time the Borghese family produced no remarkable heirs. Finally in 1775, Prince Marcantonio IV undertook the renovation of the estate. The remodeling continued for fifteen years until 1790, and produced the Villa Borghese much as it stands now. The renovation also including the rearrangement of certain art pieces and the construction of new bases from a few Bernini statues, which is how we see them today. However, Marcantonio IV’s son Camillo would cause great losses to the gallery. His marriage to Paulina Bonaparte caused him to sell over three hundred priceless pieces of art to his brother-in-law, Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, these pieces form the central portion of the Louvre’s collection in Paris. In 1891, the Bank of Italy crashed, and Paolo Borghese was forced to sell the Villa to the Italian state, which then converted the property into a public museum, today called the Galleria Borghese.
V. Bernini Statue Groups in Villa Borghese
The Galleria Borghese is currently home to thousands of pieces of priceless artwork originals. However, the four statue groups done by Gianlorenzo Bernini form the nucleus of this amazing collection. In addition to being astounding works of art, they also reflect some of the political agenda’s of Scipione Borghese, as well as embody the style and aesthetic of the rising Baroque era.
Going backwards through the museum, the first statue group is Aeneas and Anchises, which also happens to be the earliest of the four. This first sculptures differs from the other three in that it is one of Bernini’s earliest works. As such, it shows a lot of the influence of his father, Pietro Bernini, as well as traces of Mannerism. Unlike his other three greatly baroque creations, this sculpture has less movement, and three characters are arranged in a single basic column. It was commissioned by Scipione Borghese in 1618, and finished in 1620. The sculpture depicts the strong Aeneas as he flees from Troy, carrying his elderly father and leading his young son. Anchises, the father, carries with him the household goods while his grandson Ascanius holds the sacred fire of the hearth.
The three characters of Anchises, Aeneas, and Ascanius represent the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age, as well as a more general idea of past, present, and future. In a sense, it also propagandistically reflects Scipione’s own ideas about his family: their noble ancestry, current power, and imminent continued success. The idea of uprooting from one city to another, especially founding and building up the new city, also fit into Scipione’s wish to relate his family and their move from Siena to Rome to Aeneas, the founder of Rome.
From 1621 to 1622, Bernini completed the statue group that occupies the next room, Pluto and Persephone. Scipione originally commissioned the statue as a gift for Cardinal Ludovisi to appease the new Cardinal nephew, but it was later bought by the Italian state and returned to the Villa in 1908. Even though Pluto and Persephone was completed very soon after Aeneas and Anchises, the differences between the two works is very striking. Pluto and Persephone is inspired by the Ovid story of Persephone being captured by Pluto and forced to live six months of the year in Hades. However, Persephone’s mother, Gea, is able to negotiate with Pluto to allow Persephone to spend the other six months on earth, which relates the ancient story to the changing seasons of the year.
The sculpture group by Bernini depicts three figures: Pluto, Persephone and the three headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. Frozen in marble is the moment in which Pluto grabs Persephone around the waist while she vainly tries to flee. Despite the hardness of the marble, Bernini’s development into full baroque style is evident in Pluto and Persephone as the sculpture is full of movement, and shows distinct images and moments in time as the viewer walks around it. Because of this, the originally placement of the statue was very deliberate to manipulate what the viewer saw first: the statue was indeed originally situated such that a viewer entering the room would only be able to see the left side of the statue first. From this angle, the first striking element is the aggressive stride of Pluto’s right leg. Only as the viewer walks around do they become aware of Persephone, and her involvement in the action. From the front, the viewer can see the expression on Pluto’s face: bewilderment, but also amusement. It is as though he is surprised that Persephone should struggle at all, so confident is he in his own power. The energy of the scene is evident as Persephone’s hand on Pluto’s face actually creases the skin as she tries to push away. From the angle, we also begin to understand Persephone’s struggle in the way her body twists away from her capture. Further to the right, however, the story moves entirely to her point of view. Viewed from the far right angle, Pluto is barely visible. Instead what we focus on is the anguish in Persephone’s gaze and the tear that is rolling down her face. From this angle, we can also see the three headed dog that was not visible from the left. Suddenly it is clear that they are at the gates of Hades, and that Persephone’s despair is absolute because she knows she is about to be taken back to the underworld. Pluto and Persephone is an important milestone in Bernini’s development into baroque style of dramatic movement. It has also been related to Giovanni Bologna’s Rape of the Sabine, due to a similar spiraling composition.
Bernini was a very prolific worker, and in 1622 he began work on his next masterpiece, Apollo and Daphne. The statue was also commissioned by Scipione and was completed in 1625. Unlike Pluto and Persephone, the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne has always stood inside the Villa Borghese, although its placement was moved during the renovation by Marcantonio IV. During this move, the statue also received a new base. The scene depicted also comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and shows the exact instant in which Apollo is about to catch the chaste nymph Daphne and she begins to turn into a laurel tree. The sculpture is also heavily influenced by the works of several of Bernini’s contemporaries, including a ceiling fresco by Annibale Carracci, and a poem by Giovanni Batista Marino called “Dafne”. The sculpture, like the poem, shows Apollo’s obvious frustration while he fails to notice the increasing allusions to Daphne’s eventual fate.
Like the Pluto and Persephone, the original placement of the Apollo and Daphne played an important role in directing the viewer’s approach to the story. After entering, the first angle that is meant to be seen is Apollo’s back on the left side of the sculpture. From this angle, it is clear that he is in swift movement, but not yet why. As we move around to the front, we see the frustrated pose of his body and facial expression, and also the first glimpse of Daphne, who we could not see from the back. From the front, Daphne is mostly woman, but we can see the beginning of the transformation in the roots that grow delicately from her toes. As we move more to the right, we notice that Apollo’s hand is curved around Daphne’s torso to grab her, but in the exact place where his hand is placed, the bark has already covered her skin. At the far right angle, Apollo is no longer visible and Daphne has almost completely melted into the illusion of a laurel tree. From the successive angles from left to right, Bernini is able to tell a story as if one piece of marble could show multiple points in time. After its completion, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who was a good friend of Scipione’s, added the engraving to the base:
“Those we love to pursue fleeing forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands.”
Despite the pagan story that is depicted by the sculpture, this inscription ties the lesson and moral back to religious piety.
In chronological order, the last of the four statues is David, which was completed from 1623 and 1624. Despite the intricate detail of the statue, the work took Bernini only seven months to complete, when he was still only 25 years old. It was originally commissioned by Scipione for the centerpiece of a main room in the Villa, which is where it stood until the 1785 renovation. The statue depicts David just as he is about to loose his slingshot, at the moment when the action is most intense and his muscles and face are most taut. This contrasts heavily with Michelangelo’s David, who is shown before the action begins, with his weight back on one leg as he stands in thought.
The original placement of Bernini’s David forced the viewer to approach the statue from the right side. From this view, David’s action is ‘unintelligible’. It appears that he is hunched over, but it is clear that his muscles are straining in action. As we move around to the front, we begin to notice the tightness of his torso. We see that his face is furrowed in concentration, and even that he is biting his lip. More to the left, we can see how tight his sling shot is pulled and we can feel the imminent speed and action of its release. As the viewer moves around from right to left, they are forced to become involved in David’s emotional experience, and by the time they reach the left side of the statue, they can understand the dramatic feel of the sculpture.
This sculpture is one of the few commissioned by Scipione that held religious significance and depicted a biblical scene. The triumph of David can also be related to the Borghese family’s modest beginnings and their steady rise to power under Scipione. At David’s feet lies a harp, which is not biblically accurate. However, the inclusion of this piece is very important. First, it reflects both David’s and the Borghese’s connection to art and music. Further, the harp is adorned with an eagle, which is the symbol of the Borghese family. In this way, the family is propagandistically tied into the power of the sculpture.
Taken together, the four Bernini statue groups at the Villa Borghese are an astounding display of artwork, as well as the embodiment of Baroque style. They show drama and tension, and most importantly, movement. The sculptures are also an important portal into the aspirations and ideas of the Borghese family, and of one important player in particular, the immaculate collector and patron, Scipione Borghese.
Today, the Villa Borghese still stands as beautiful architectural structure and a priceless art gallery. The surrounding grounds provide a peaceful and relaxing retreat from the busy city. It is a treat for locals and travelers alike. It is also a fascinating piece of history, demonstrating the heights of power and wealth that the Borghese family once held in Rome. Specifically, the grandeur of the site is a testament to the artistic taste and collecting ability of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. His foresight and knack for picking talent has provided the Villa with the four priceless Bernini statues that are still housed there today. Furthermore, his patronage of the young Gianlorenzo has also influenced the shape of Rome in countless ways, as Bernini went on to do work for important churches and Popes, including the famous St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The Galleria Borghese is an important stop the true art connoisseur who comes through Rome, and for old regulars, it is a popular favorite.
Bauer, George G. Bernini in Perspective. Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 1976.
Coffin, David R. The Villa in the Life of Renaissance Rome. Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 1979.
Fiore, Kristina H. Guide to the Borghese Gallery. Rome, 1997.
Kenseth, Joy. Bernini’s Borghese Sculptures: Another View. The Art Bulletin: Vol. 63, No. 2, June 1981.
Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini. Almquist and Wiksell International: Stockholm, 1982.
Majanlahti, Anthony. “The Borghese” in The Families Who Made Rome. London: Chatto & Windus, 2005.
Moreno, Paulo and Chiara Stefani. The Borghese Gallery. Touring Editore: Milan, 2000.
Peterson, Robert T. Bernini and the Excesses of Art. Artout-Maschietto&Ditore: Florence, 2002.
September 20, 2007
I miss glass that gleams.
I am always reflected, and stretched
this way and that: tall and then fat.
I miss buildings
that flow, seamless,
into the grey cream sidewalk.
I miss curbs lined even,
flush with potted flowers,
thick green and little pinks—tickled.
I miss my own
His black elephant coat,
even in the summer,
jingling our kind of coins with
his voice so thin only I can hear it:
he is losing his hair, slowly.
Perhaps when I return,
there will not be much left.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Here there are three doors. From the front, what does the outside reveal about the space inside? Can you tell if, after entering, the space will enlarge? Will Newtonian physics be refuted? No, it is a simple rectangle. We enter from the side door. The central entrance is too large, we would lose each other there. The first few steps are always slow because our eyes need time to adjust. We walk hand in hand, our free hands on the cold marble. The columns are covered in it, and rarely match. That is, it is rare that they do match. At the end, and off-center, is the ascending Christ. There are stifled giggles concerning the grape leaf, and the rear view. In this church is the Jesus of eating disorders. After a time, we gather around the front with our quizzical faces and borrowed criticisms. We pull open our zippered packs very quietly, and pull out our art historian hats. I don’t see that, we say. We fall over each other to be polite, but try not to knock over any statues. We let the Germans pass us. (They photograph the wrong things.) We know this would have been in a niche. We are lucky to know the way it should have been. Not in the open like it is here. So much now has been taken from in situ, put in places it is not meant to be. Only we can replace it in its own idea. This idea of controlled movement—it makes sense.
Pilgrims were people who knew when they were lucky.
San Gimignano is a high place. It is small and walled; it is hard to pronounce. Sometimes, the towers race into the sky, mistranslating vertigo. The townspeople forget them. Only when the travelers come do they stand up straight. We climb to the top, and the metal grate stairs let us look down with each step, so we can remember. We rise slowly. Intermittently, warning signs ensure our safety. Climbing up is good, but it is coming down that can kill you. The signs advise stairs for going up and down; they advise against jumping from the top of the tower. Later, they advise thinking carefully before jumping, and also, arranging for our belongings to be collected. The sign-placers knew what seeing can do to a person. At the top of the tower, the girl with the bubble gum backpack is highlighting her book. Her wares are self-explanatory: parachute, ten euro. Alternative for the frugal traveler: first-aid kit, three euro. I ask my companions to hold my shirt as I lean over the edge. The walled yard is more comfortable than the horizon. I am amazed by the efficiency with which bodies are cleared away. From here, it looks bloodless. As my face hangs, the wind rolls one tear downward, makes it fall away from the tower. I know it is lost—no one will collect it beneath. It did not heed the warnings. I watch it break on the stones, spreading the cracks in a rose-window pattern. The courtyard below is always beautiful. Outside, the town slips slowly from its perch on the hill.
Pilgrims were people who jumped without looking.
In my backyard is a small town, and each day, it rises later than me. The buildings curve voluptuously around the small side streets. At night, it is all mainstreet. This morning I have selected cappuccino with a mele strudel. I select by pointing, the apple word sticks to my tongue and does not come out. Across the way a woman smokes in a dark doorway. Behind her upturned chairs rest from a weary night of eaters. The late hour surprises this street as the sun cajoles the orange building. Each ray fades the paint more; each moment tires the building’s inhabitants. They are slowly appearing on the balconies. Robed Romans. As ugly as any other people when the morning arrives too soon. How different this place is at dark. Always, the orange lamps are brighter than the sun. Travelers push through the amber liquid flowing in the street and down the throats of locals. Birra. They are looking for their beds, a place to rest their suitcases so they can join the throngs.
Pilgrims were people who drank without asking, not needing language, only understanding.
September 20, 2007
I’m sitting at a fabulous internet Cafe right now. Light pours in from soaring floor to ceiling windows, the chairs are brightly colored and the Italians around me all have slim applebooks. The internet is fast and free, the coffee is reasonably priced. It is right around the corner from my house, and yes, I had to discover this place on my last morning here.
Actually I’ve passed this place several times, but always at night. Like all establishments in Rome, be it a coffee shop or a dentistry office, after nine pm it pulls out its liquor license and suddenly it is a bar. At night, this is a pretty busy place. It is right by Ponte Sisto and when the alcohol is flowing, beauties tumble in and out of the wide glass doors. So I didn’t think of this as a place to come during the day. This morning, on my way to the Rome center to use their internet, I saw how calm and inviting the place actually looked, and how many people had laptops out. I’m glad I came in.
Discoveries like this make me wish I had more time here. As the trip draws to a close, I amd finding everything good about the city, small things that you have to be a local to enjoy. Like the tabacchi shop down the street from me, where they truly don’t speak English, that sells everything from toothpaste to cell phones. I had to charge my phone there and use all the Italian I knew (mostly hand gestures). I finally went into S. Maria in Trastevere, which does happen to be one of the cooler churches I’ve seen in Rome, and all the time it was in my backyard. The ceiling hangs down in irregular shapes like nothing I have seen before.
When I look out the window from where I am sitting, I can see down one of the ‘main’ Trastevere backstreets. After dark the vicolo is packed with people, and it is made even more narrow by the intrusion of cloth covered tables at every turn as the restaurants open their doors. Tourists and locals wander holding clear plastic cups with amber beers. But right now, it is peaceful. Delivery truck block the street to unload supplies for the next evening; restaurant owners smoke in the doorways of their darkened establishments, looking weary. Waiters start bringing out tables and laying the places for lunchers. This kind of Roman time is perfect. Of course the sky this morning blue, and it makes me not want to leave.
In some ways, this trip has made me aware of a possibility that I previously relegated to movie plots: that I can leave, go somewhere and live there. This might be a given for other people, but I didn’t leave a window for wandering in my ten year plan. When I walk around Trastevere, I really think I could live here. I could waitress, teach English, or sheperd Asian tour groups holding a yellow umbrella, like an Oriental Mary Poppins. Somehow, I could scrape a living here, rent a tiny apartment, and spend my spare time smoking famously at coffee bars and writing and drinking espresso. I would finally have the gusto to walk into the open garden of the artist studio on my street, hold my head up and say, I’m a local, let’s be friends. And then I could drink wine with that painter and her friends.
But always on second thought, Seattle comes back in. I guess I still have to graduate, find a career and all of that. It’s funny how when I think of going back, there are so many tiny strings that maintain the connection with my real life. Like, I have to buy a textbook for Physical Chem. I need to talk to English advisor about honors. I need to pay my credit card bill, boo. I need to sign up for the career fair, and buy something businessy to wear. While on one hand there’s a once in a lifetime chance for adventure and travel, on the other there are only these small threads that weave into a life.
Of course, there are other reasons that I couldn’t really live in Rome. For example, the cobblestones. They hate me; I’m always tripping. And, I would go broke from buying American fashion magazines (a Vanity Fair costs 10 euros! that’s like, a whole sandwhich!). Their milk containers are too small, and I go through them too fast.
I also can’t stand the men here. Two words: low standards. I get catcalled here in my basketball shorts and glasses. My luck with men here has not been good. What passes for lawsuit worthy sexual harrassment in Seattle is commonplace here. Then there was the awful scooter incident. And then I threw the wrong number of coins into the Trevi which apparently means I will never get married (which is the most idiotic superstition I’ve ever heard of). I’m sure it will be strange when I get back to Seattle. Walking down the street will make me feel invisible, no catcalls.
Anyways, enough rambling when there is still work to be done. Italian final today.
My favorite phrase in italian: Ce vediamo. It means see you later, but also, we’ll see. It is a promise and also slightly optimistic without real committment. We’ll see.
September 20, 2007
Here is a writing assignment. It’s a found poem from an Italian newspaper.
The popular guide to the universe Do not devote your time to walking.
Double the time on this article.
There have been
57 letters, all about the stress
Some, it seems to me,
have declined to complete
their forms, concluding
with a cordial salutation.
Very small. In reality,
it is this citation:
where you walk, when starting at zero
is the new age—
the method of representative
democracy does not represent
This form is simply hypocrisy.
Il Popolo Che Cerca Il Giudizio Universale
…Se ne devono andare…
Dopo il mio articolo su Grill ho ricevuto 57 lettere tutte dello stesso tenore…
Alcune, non tutte ma parecchie, scagliano il loro “Vaffa” declinator nella versione completa contro di me e la riga sotto concludono con un “cordiali saluti” in omagio alla buona educazione d’un tempo…
Argomenti? Pochi. Uno in realta ed e quello gia citato: dovete andarvene, si deve ricdominciare da zero, la nuova “agora” sara la rete, il metodo della democrazia rappresentativa non rappresenta nessuno, la forma non e sostanza ma pura semplice ipocrisia…
Diving up the dark cranium
of the black domed skull
of some giant—now long dead,
(or dying very very slowly)
I emerge on top by
slipping through the last opening,
spilling out into the spotted sky.
Here, the sun resides
as a light orb atop our offering
of a green half sphere.
Here, gravity relents its grip.
Here I have grown, softly swaying the railings
along, as the wind comes
and then, lazily goes again.
I wonder (to myself) why the railings
will stay here, beneath all our grips
holding them. Down,
I wonder where the river has gone to.
Searching beneath, I find nothing
of our aging forests
of stone history books. The City
is flattened to a dirty orange tile
carpet: inviting, and still, so old.
There are no streets anymore.
But where has the river gone to?
It was green and sickly: it has
flowed away; it has
left this domed town.
But the hills,
so green and patched too, are still
too green to roll into this uneven arancia mess.
Yes. We are all visitors here, but
we too have emerged
on top. Our quiet unfaked awe-shuffle,
our eyes too small for the view,
our sheepish smiles—now, we are here too:
we are green and not orange,
we are spheres and not boxes.
We hand strangers our silver memory makers;
(suddenly, the people are real, or useful)
we ask them, ‘Would you mind?’ and against the railing
we grow closer, smiling and sealing
the us of that moment into
the fate of a memory:
of feeling frozen,
or dying slowly.
June 12, 2007
Go, love, beneath the blossom tree, find zzzz
in dreams and skies in clouds, and waking, me.
Leave off melodious pasts as you curl up,
best, love, to clear the mists from long ago,
end all the ways it used to be. We will
remain as flowers pressed in books, so when
the raining comes we will not wake. Silence
kept up our I’s until the un-o’clock—
even before this violin played, you slept
near me above the dew wet blossom gair.
Love, you, believing time would keep us here,
oakened in rev and rhapsody, took ebb
past tide, and tumbled me into your all
encompassing mind— turning place, where I,
zirconium drunk, will stay: sleeping, dreaming.
January 18, 2007
I got coffee tonight. So here we go.
I got a nice little Christmas present: a moleskin notebook, one of those small black leatherbound contraptions. I’m still learning the functions and commands but it’s been helpful. But man, it really takes one concentrated place for you to write all your jumbled thoughts to make you realize how truly incoherent you are. At first I was hesitant to write anything in it at all. The insert said that Hemingway used one just like it, and that furthermore, it would last forever. The thing is, I hardly ever have a thought that I’d like to last forever. But to be bullied by a blank lined page just larger than the size of my palm was too girly (ie feminine), so I did eventually dive in with a regrettable fervor. At least I didn’t pay for it.
In the past two months, pre and post little black book, my thoughts have been on the concept of bottom lines. I stole this term for sex and the city, so if you’re wary… In any case, it’s a term that means the most solid of the metaphorically physical: your bottom line includes your must haves–qualities in life, work, relationships, cake frosting techniques–and also your must not haves–abusive relationships, failing marks, cocaine, friends who believe in LaRouche. These seem pretty solid, but I’ve found that this term invites ambiguity on more levels than bad song lyrics: not only in establishing what your bottom lines are, but more curiously, when it’s ok to revise and rework your bottom lines. The very idea of a bottom line should indicate ‘written in stone’. But when a Britney Spears Crossroads moment is reached, does maturity mean sticking to your guns, or rewriting your bottom lines to fit better with the newer, and potentially better, you? The latter option seems to negate the purpose of bottom lines at all, and furthermore, in practice it is often too difficult to judge objectively which changes are for the better, which is why we established supposedly immoveable guidelines in the first place.
Convoluted? Yes. But it’s best embodied by one of the most ubiquitous and silly situations around me, and it goes like this. Sally is in a situation that she finds problematic–namely, her boyfriend hits her. Sally asks her best friend what should be done, and not surprisingly, her friend advises her to leave him. But Sally says, no, you don’t get it, it’s more complicated than that. More complicated than what? It’s more complicated than the simple black and white guidelines that were established before the difficult situation arised. Sally gets caught up in the details of her situation, and she believes that no one else can understand or advise her specific situation. But to everyone else, the solution is simple, because they are not burdened with specifics and can thus fall back on black and white judgment. Really, it’s not complicated, but complicated is a great catch all coverup term to hide from ourselves the fact that we’ve traded our bottom lines for nebulous sentiment.
Sally’s situation is, apart from being partly fictional, also extreme (though sadly not uncommon). I think there are a spectrum of situations, some in which falling back on bottom lines should be mechanical, and others where really there is room for growth. But selfembroilment makes even this first distinction hard to make. Maybe because I’m judgmental and maybe because I only give two dimensional advice, I would say most problems around me, including mine, are of the former kind. Pretty much, given the strength to stick to some rudimentary bottom lines, the solution should prove simple even if the problem is complex (though this rarely happens). There are situations though that truly warrant the phrase ‘it’s complicated’, and in these kinds of situations there is room for growth and ammendment of a personal canon of values. But it’s just that such a situation requires such depth that I hardly ever encounter one. Actually, this isn’t true.
So if you have a problem, here’s my advice. Do the right thing. What’s the right thing? You should know. (Laughable how simple life really is, isn’t it?)
I don’t know what I’m talking about actually. And certainly, I would reccommend you don’t take advice from my blog anyways. Moving on…
I went to Cafe on the Ave for the first time in a while tonight (thanks for the brownie, Mick), and I ran into, or more accurately, was accosted by, my old boss from when I worked at the Transplant department. I only mention it because I would have thought that seeing her would raise some emotional content, but it didn’t. So, how much do the words ‘at peace’ really mean ’embrace apathy’? On a scale of one to ten.
Next Friday is my birthday, and it’s going to be my last year in the teens. Well, my last biologically accurate year in the teens. With new technology I may well take a second stab at it in a decade or so. And if I did, I would do a few key things differently. I would never buy sevens from Mercer again, because even if they do have such a neatly displayed selection, they just don’t offer the same hemming service that Nordstrom does. Actually, its just that one thing. But in all, or at least some degree, of seriousness, I feel like I should give myself a pep talk, or a pep rally, to really drive home the things I’ve learned in the past year.
Oh and I’ve noticed, in writing this entry, that I way overuse, as I’m doing right now, the embedded clause. I apologize if this tires the little silent reader inside your head.