Parliament of the World’s Religions, Salt Lake City, Utah

In 1893, approximately eight thousand people came together from many religions and spiritual traditions in Chicago, hoping to create a global forum for religious dialogue among many diverse faiths. In 1993, on the centenary of that meeting, another gathering was held, billed as the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since that time, gatherings have been held at irregular intervals in Chicago (1993), Cape Town, South Africa (1999), Barcelona, Spain (2004), Melbourne, Australia (2009), and again this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was invited to speak there on a panel about reconstructing Pagan religions.

The journey started with a train trip down to Mestre to get to the airport on the day before my flight. I was in a particularly reflective mood and felt very open to the land around me as I traveled, thinking about issues of relocation, of inhabitation, of touching something larger than myself. I was feeling in need of connection while in the midst of a sense of rootlessness, and finding similarities to other places.

the train, Trieste to Mestre, October

give me time
to know this fallow earth of autumn
furrowed
mist rising from the waters
egrets wading
or still and watching
the complex, fractal augury
of starlings
curling across the sky

there should be time
for this slow decay
of leaves
gone from trees
of grapes
gone from vines

melting into loam
melting into wine

melting slowly into winter rain

 

Mormon temple

Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City

The long flight was difficult and I was running on three days with about five hours sleep in total, but I was met by friends I hadn’t seen in about three years, and I was happy to have that opportunity. We drove into Salt Lake City and got to the hotel, then registered at the conference. The venue is large, with lots of glass, though I was a bit disturbed to see signs acknowledging the open carry laws. I am not someone comfortable around guns. I didn’t think of it as a particularly auspicious start, but most of the conference was better than this.

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you know you’re in America when…

According to the Parliament materials, 50 religions were represented at the conference, and there were about 10,000 people registered to attend. Many of the sessions were Livestreamed, and you can view them here. I saw one lone protester outside the venue, with a garbled message about how there had to be One True Truth, and if it wasn’t Jesus then it wasn’t anyone. I’m not sure his signs quite said what he thought they were saying, though. As a polytheist, I found it kind of amusing – I’m perfectly comfortable with there not being One True Truth. It is, in fact, a foundation of my worldview that such a thing doesn’t actually exist.

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Kirk Thomas, Ar nDraiocht Fein

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Diana Paxson, Hrafnar

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M. Macha NightMare

On the first evening, I attended the Pagan meet and greet, getting together with a few old friends and acquaintances and just catching up with my body, trying to adjust to a new time zone again. Out in the main hall of the conference center, Tibetan Buddhists were working on a sand mandala, to be constructed during the course of the long weekend, and destroyed at its end, a symbol of the world’s impermanence. I visited every day, watching the progress, and the infinite patience of the monks.

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Very close by, the Jains had set up a small temple for people to visit. The Sikhs provided a free lunch every day for the attendees, called Langar. Each day, they sang in a group to bless the meal before people entered the hall to sit together and have vegetarian food. In the exhibition hall, the Sikhs had a booth where they would turban anybody who came and wanted one, explaining the origins of the practice. Apparently, back in the day, long hair and beards, and the right to wear a turban, were only afforded to the very wealthy. When the Sihks embraced the turban, it was a radical act of equality and a protest against the inequity of the society of the time. It was a fascinating process to watch, and the smiles everywhere were wonderful.

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Jain temple

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blessing Langar

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Langar service

There was a room where shrines for many religions had been set up, and some of the Pure Land Buddhists had a chanting ceremony several times a day on the hour, where you could go to sit and participate with them.

Japanese Shin Buddhists

Japanese Shin Buddhist ceremony

In the exhibition hall, there was a stage with music, dance, and storytelling performances from many different cultures. There were spiritual art displays throughout the venue, and conversations going on in every corner.

Sunday's performances in the exhibition hall

Because of the sheer size of the Parliament, it was impossible to attend everything. In fact, I went to very few things simply because I was tired and had to pace myself. I went to a session on protecting women’s rights – the session was supposed to consist of two speakers, though only one was able to attend. I very much wish more of the Parliament could have been streamed, as there is so much I would have loved to see. At least I can watch some of what I missed, and I’m grateful for the opportunity!

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T. Thorn Coyle, Gus diZerega, Diana Paxson, post panel discussion

As a part of the Parliament, films were also screened, and I attended two of them, dealing with Native American issues and with veterans. The first was a documentary about the Doctrine of Discovery, which is the result of a Papal bull granting European Christians the authority to own anything they landed on, despite it already being occupied by Native peoples. This profoundly racist document is still cited by the US Supreme Court and other governments all over the globe. Its existence as a driving force of colonialism effects nations all over North and South America, Africa, Australia, and an incredible number of other places.

The other was a documentary called Healing the Warrior’s Heart, on Native sweat lodges at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, and their effect on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a vet with PTSD, this was right up my alley, and I talked briefly with the producer afterwards about some things that my own spiritual community does to deal with these issues.

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our panel on reconstructed polytheist religions

The panel I was on was not a part of the officially filmed sessions. We do, however, have a rather shaky youtube recording of most of the panel discussion in three parts. Probably best just to go with audio and not bother watching the video, as it was filmed on Rob’s iPad. The title of our session was Rebuilding the Altars: Reconstructing Indigenous Pagan Faiths for Today. I will note that I have some serious issues with the use of “indigenous” here, but that I was asked to speak on the panel before we had a title or a panel description. That said, I think some important things were shared, and we did have a good turnout for the small room we were using.

Despite the focus on women’s issues, racism, indigenous issues, and religiously based violence at this Parliament, we still had sessions on the program that were profoundly homophobic, transphobic, and problematic regarding women’s rights. One session on the “gender war” brought about by “gender feminists” was quite insistent that it was okay for women to vote but we shouldn’t want, you know, bodily autonomy, and that people loving people of the same gender was destroying families. We are making progress, but there is still so very much work to be done. It can be hard to remain optimistic in the face of things like this, but it is necessary to continue. Change does not come unless we insist on it. Nobody ever won their rights by sitting there accepting the status quo.

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Goddesses from around the world

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and sacred images of the feminine

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from an installation at the conference

After the Parliament, I was in town for one more day, as I didn’t want to fly home on the last day of the conference itself. The day of my flight, my friend Lorrie and I went out to the Great Salt Lake to have a look. Having been raised and living most of my life by various oceans, I recognized the scent of salt water, but this was very very different than any of those larger bodies of water. The scent of it was very “chemical” to my nose, and just smelled off to me for reasons I could not quite put my finger on. The lake is far saltier than any ocean, but less so than the Dead Sea. The only life in the water is brine shrimp, but that does support a large population of water birds, and it is a major stop on the migratory flyways of many bird populations. The mountains are beautiful and the light on them was really glorious. There was some rain, and occasional bits of rainbow made themselves known.

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at the Great Salt Lake

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this may look like tidelands, but it is not

After such an intensive trip, emotionally and spiritually, it was really good to get back home to Trieste. I’m looking forward to next month’s Irish music seisiún at Taverna ai Mastri d’Arme. I’ve been to two so far; I’ve heard that Trieste has one of only three traditional concertinas player in Italy at the seisùn, and he goes to Ireland annually to study with players there. My friend Anna keeps insisting that I sing, but I don’t know enough lyrics to participate. I did, however, promise to memorize a couple of Gaelic songs again and sing next month. Did I mention I was in a Scots Gaelic language choir in Seattle for several years? About a dozen years ago now, anyway. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I ought to get back on that horse.

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Venice, Film, and Food

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

Yesterday I got up at 6am to take the 7:15 train to Venice with three other intrepid travelers: Michelle from the My Creative photography blog, her husband, and one of the folks who also works at the school where they do. The object of our early morning trip – the 71st annual Venice Film Festival. Sunday was the last day of the festival, and we were going to watch a little film, and catch some good food and a lovely day on the Lido. Yesterday was also the #1day12pics for this month, so you get the benefits of both right here!

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the offerings at Pasticceria Dal Mas

The train from Trieste takes a couple of hours, but there was good company for the trip and some good conversation. I’d grabbed a cappuccino and a brioche at the train station before we left, but by the time we arrived in the city, coffee and pastry was in high demand. We picked up tickets for the vaporetto so that we could go out to the Lido, then headed off into the crowds for Michelle’s favorite place, Pasticceria Dal Mas, founded in 1906. They sell most of their very tasty pastries by the etto (100 grams), rather than by the piece, and the coffee was good too.

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view from the vaporetto to Lido

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a young couple courting along the way

After being suitably caffeinated, we headed off on the vaporetto for the Lido. Three routes will take you there from the Ferrovia station – the 1, the 5.1, and the 5.2. We took the 5.1 on its circuitous route around the city, past La Guidecca, and out to the long, narrow island of the Lido. If you want to take the vaporetto around the city and to the various islands, your cheapest ticket is the €18 for 12 hours, or €20 for 24 hours, depending on how long you’re staying. You get on and off however many times you want within that period and can go anywhere on the public transit system, which also includes the buses on the Lido. The day was lovely, sunny, and warm without being intolerably hot or muggy.

a Lido market

a Lido market

Once off the vaporetto, we walked to the Film Festival grounds, down quiet streets, along a canal, and then along the beach facing out into the sea, though the street is separated from the view of the beach proper by a tree line. I had come to see one film, Words With Gods, while the others were also going to attend a showing of The President shortly afterward. Words With Gods was a series of different vignettes intended to offer some perspective on a variety of different religions, with a piece on Atheism also included. The stories and perspectives of each director were very different – the film began with birth and ended with death, as life tends to, with some fascinating stories in the middle. I found it really interesting and, in places, quite moving. Being the only one among us who had a wide background of spiritual experience, I had more context for some of these vignettes than the others, so some of it made a lot more sense to me, I think.

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

While they went to view The President, I had a couple of hours to myself. I sipped a spritz and then went for a walk down to the beach. It was the first time in probably a couple of decades that I’ve been able to wade barefoot on a sand beach with warm water. Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest beaches tend to be rock, and the water is very cold most of the time. Being in the sun, with my toes in the sand and the warmth of the water lapping around my ankles was a species of ecstasy that I haven’t experienced in ages, and it reminded me of how sometimes simple joys can bring tears to my eyes. I walked a fair way down and back again, arriving back at the festival site maybe ten minutes before my friends got out of their movie. We walked back to the vaporetto station and took the 1 to the Giardini Bienalle dock so that we could grab an aperitivo at the Serra dei Giardini, a greenhouse conservatory that has been transformed into a small restaurant and a learning and activities space. One doesn’t tend to think of Venice as having parks and green spaces, but they do have some lovely ones, and the Serra is located in the midst of one of the largest. They sell plants and some other items there, as well as sometimes hosting live music. I had a hugo, which is a spritz with Sambuco and sometimes a little mint, where one might instead have Campari or Aperol. Very tasty stuff. While we were having our drinks, we made reservations for a 7pm dinner at Osteria al Portego.

Serra dei Giardini

Serra dei Giardini

As we walked through the park toward our dinner destination, we found ourselves in Piazza San Marco right about dusk, and the place was gorgeous in the evening light. I still haven’t been in the cathedral, but I’ll get there at some point, I know.

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

Venetian glass

Venetian glass

Venetian flags

Venetian flags

More walking, and down more alleys, and there was our goal. Osteria al Portego is a tiny place with only six tables, but the food was amazingly good and the service was excellent and very friendly. There are no printed menus, but the daily offerings are on the chalkboard, and they do have vegetarian things that are not on the board. Two of our number were vegetarian and both of them got items not listed, that they really enjoyed. The prices were quite reasonable, with the total meal and local wine averaging out to about €22 for each of us. Given the small size of the place, if you want to be sure of a seat, I’d recommend getting a reservation.

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there’s more than one leaning tower in Italy

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gothic arches, evening light

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the marble of San Marco

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mezzo litro di rosso at Al Portega

Stuffed to the gills, we walked back to the train station. They already had return tickets, but it took only a minute to get mine from the ticket dispensing machine. We took the last train back to Trieste and arrived just before 1am, tired but having had a really fantastic day.

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

All your books are belong to us!

I went to the Questura in Pordenone last week to sign some forms, as noted in my last entry. I’ve been in a sort of legal limbo regarding identity and legal residence for a couple of months now because the people at the comune of Montereale would not give me a Carta d’Identita, apparently due to not having a clue what to do with an Elective Residence visa. The woman we talked to at the Questura was very confused as to why he hadn’t given me the card, as he was supposed to. This led to some questions about my being in Trieste rather than Montereale and we explained the situation and why I had rented here and had not yet legally changed my address and registered with the comune of Trieste.

I apologized for being a problem, even though the situation was largely beyond my control, and said that we’d been trying to make it less complicated. She said that since I am living in Trieste, she will transfer the forms I need to sign to the Questura here, which will mean that once the papers are signed, I can take the required classes here in Trieste rather than going to Pordenone for them. “You are not the kind of problem we have here,” she said, assuring me that everything would be all right, and that I should take the form she gave me to the Questura in Trieste sometime this week, and then register with the comune here to get my Carta d’Identita. Once that’s done, everything will be legal and proper and all the bureaucrats should be happy. The Permesso di Soggiorno is still approved and the current kerfuffle won’t change that; I’ll still be getting it about a month after I sign the papers here. My brother will be in town Thursday so we can take care of this.

After the appointment at the Questura, we stopped and got me an oven (combination microwave/convection) for the kitchen. I had to email the company to get a user’s manual in English; I couldn’t find a download on their website anywhere. I managed enough Italian to set the clock on it, but I didn’t want to take any chances misunderstanding the rest, considering that microwaves can actually catch fire under certain circumstances. Better to know what the different settings are supposed to do!

We also stopped at Ikea, where I got a bunch of bookshelves. I still need about three more, but most of the books, and all the dvds and cd’s are now up off the floor. The packing materials are broken down and consolidated into a mountain in the corner of the library, and some of the art is up on the walls. I feel so much better and more settled now that the clutter has been largely dealt with and that I have my books around me and accessible once again. Disorganized clutter tends to raise my anxiety levels a lot, so dealing with it as quickly as possible was as much for my mental health as anything else. One of the women at the American Corner said that she’d been here in Trieste for seven years and still hasn’t unpacked all her boxes. I do kind of understand that, if you haven’t got a place for things, or if you have closets you can shove less-needed things into and forget about them. I’ve done it before, usually with boxes of papers. Before I left Everett, I sorted through those and recycled about 95% of what was in them as the papers really weren’t relevant or needed anymore. Lightening that load helped a lot, as well.

I spent three solid days building bookshelves and shelving books. I finished up on Friday with what I had here, and am still aching like crazy.

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Books in the office

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Books in the library

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Less of a mess at the desk

Sunday I met some new people. In the morning, I met with Michelle, a young woman originally from South Africa, who came to Trieste by way of London with her partner, who is working at the university here. She’s a photographer. I was introduced to her via Twitter by one of my writer friends, who’d met her in #blogchat a couple of weeks ago. We went to Caffè degli Specchi and sat out with tea (me) and a cappuccino (her) until the rain rolled in, at which point we went and had lunch at the pizza place here in Piazza della Libertà. She’s very interested in museums, as am I, so we are going to see about going to some museums together, possibly this coming week.

Later in the day, I was invited to an art opening at a small bar called Juice, on Via della Madonnina. The art is the thesis work by a woman who is, I believe, the sister of a friend of Giulia’s. We were told to show up at 6pm, only to find that the bar didn’t open until 7, so four of us – me, Giulia, another American, and an engineering student who is a friend of Guilia’s – went looking for a little snack. We grabbed a quick bite in Piazza San Giovanni, then headed back to Juice. Which opened twenty minutes late. We were going to meet Giulia’s boyfriend at Cinema dei Fabbri for a showing of The Imposter at about 8, so we didn’t really have time for more than just ducking in to see the art and leaving. The show was a bunch of sequential art, nicely done, with a manga influence.

Cinema dei Fabbri shows films in the original language. This one was an American film in English with Italian subtitles. I liked being able to see the subtitles to help with my Italian skills, which really do need a lot of work. I’m doing a little better and catching a bit more of the conversations as they go by, but am still having trouble actually speaking much. I did use a little of my Italian over the course of the evening, though.

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Film projector at Cinema dei Fabbri

After the cinema, we went to Taverna del Giglio. It’s a burgers and beer place popular with the university students. They had a pretty extensive menu of flavored grappa, as well. I had a grilled chicken and cheese sandwich with a grappa rosmarino. Usually an herbal grappa would be a digestif for after dinner, but the rosemary flavor was really fantastic with the chicken and cheese. Several of the tables of younger people had ordered a long series of grappa shots, which were brought in on skis. It was an interesting presentation. I hadn’t realized that grappa came in colors, but these were creamy pinks and greens and other milky colors, with sweet flavors like strawberry and chocolate. I’ll have to try some of the other grappas when I go again.

We parted company after dinner, as it was about midnight, but I had a really good time and the people I met were very nice. Giulia’s boyfriend has done an extensive academic history of Masonry in Trieste and is doing a presentation at the university sometime in the next week or so. He’s apparently also done a short film on some of the Masonic locations in the city that I would like to find. I need to ask him if it’s up on YouTube.

An apartment, a film festival, and coffee

On yesterday’s trip to Trieste, I signed the rental contract for my apartment! I’m getting the keys on Friday, and having most of the utilities and services swapped over to my name, though the garbage service doesn’t get swapped over until the 31st. I’ll be able to use the place to bring things in and will stay for a couple of nights while I’m working through a few things there, but will legally take possession of it on February 1st. I’m perfectly okay with this, as I won’t have my Permesso before then anyway, and can’t legally change my residence until that happens.

Friday morning, I’ll go to the rental office to pick up the keys. This means that I still have to get up at an ungodly hour while it’s still dark, but that bit of it will be done, at least. I’ll be going by myself; my brother will drive me to the train station at Pordenone and drop me off and I’m actually on my own in Italy for the first time, just me and my phrasebook and dictionaries. It’s a little intimidating.

Okay, it’s a lot intimidating.

At 12:30 I’m meeting the woman who owns the building, at the fountain in Piazza Unità, so that we can go to swap the utilities over to my name, and in the evening I get together with the folks at the American group for their Trieste orientation evening. It’s also their TGIF and there’s food, so I had to get a ticket (€7) to cover for expenses and I’m supposed to bring along something to share to drink. With any luck, I’ll learn some useful things to help me get by.

My plan is to haul the air mattress and a few other things I’ll need over to my new place so I’ll have a place to stay for the weekend and not have to take the train back on Friday night after the gathering. I can spend the weekend exploring Trieste and getting acquainted with what’s there, both in my neighborhood and around the more accessible parts of town. Until the 1st, the landlord and the various workers will have access to the apartment, so I won’t be leaving anything valuable there, but I will be able to start getting things into the place.

Starting this weekend, Trieste is having a film festival. It runs for, I think, about ten days, and the program at the link is in both Italian and English. Most of the films are subtitled in Italian (if the film is not in Italian already) and English, and I’m considering going to one or two, if something I’m interested in is showing while I’m there. One film that looked like a possibility was about an Italian language teacher and his students – the teacher is an actor but the students are apparently all immigrants learning Italian to integrate into Italian society, so it seems like a thing that’s very relevant to me at the moment. I’ll have to look at the program again to see what day it’s playing, and where. The festival has about a dozen venues located around town, from cafés to theatres; they have dramas, animation, documentaries, and a variety of other genres playing.

I don’t have any new photos to share today, but I’ll be taking some of the inside of the apartment when I am there this weekend. I can’t even tell you how excited I am about the whole thing. I was able to give a delivery address to the people who are shipping my things, so that is finally out of the way.

Today I spent a little time getting a few small, light things to take to Trieste with me and leave at the apartment. I also got a bilingual Italian-English visual dictionary to help me along with the everyday things on a slightly larger scale than a phrasebook. I also discovered that I may not have the same violently bad reaction to Italian coffee as I’ve had to the coffee in Seattle. I had some at home earlier today and had only a vague sense of queasiness that might have been psychosomatic because I’ve had bad reactions before, or it might have been the acid on a nearly-empty stomach. I wanted to wait until I’d settled a bit, and to try it here at home rather than out at a café so as to avoid problems if it did make me ill. In either case, it would be nice to be able to have a bit now and then so as to be a little more sociable with the people here, for whom coffee is a way of life. We shall see.

Learning Italian, one word at a time

There’s an Italian film festival currently running in Seattle called Cinema Italian Style. Sponsored by Seattle’s sister city of Perugia and organized by the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), it has been bringing Italian films to our grey, drizzly city for several years now. There’s an interesting looking lineup for this year, and the festival runs through the 21st.

Yesterday I got on the bus and went down to Seattle to meet my friend Irene and see Slow Food Story with her at the Uptown Cinema in Queen Anne. We grabbed some Thai at Racha before the movie and talked about moving and travel and immigrant cultures. My friend Mimi was selling tickets at the cinema so we spoke briefly before moving along. I was glad of this chance to see her again, even if it was only for a few moments in passing.

I have been interested in the Slow Food movement for several years now and had read a little about it. I have appreciated and supported the ideals as I understood them. There’s a Slow Food Seattle that I’d heard about but never become involved with, as I learned about it after I’d moved north to Everett. I was eager to learn more about the people behind the movement.

The film itself, I found funny and charming. The leftist politics of the founders didn’t surprise me at all, though the evolution of the movement from those roots was fascinating to watch unfold. There are criticisms of the movement, of course, though they were not addressed in the movie. My enthusiasm for my move to Italy was massaged a bit by the movie; I’m eager, but it’s easy to forget that eagerness sometimes, in the midst of everything going on around me and my disappearing life here. I’m delighted to still be engaged with my friends and doing things with them as I am preparing to leave, so sharing this movie with Irene, then some hot chocolate at the Cintli Latin Folklore cafe with her and another friend, R, afterwards, was a delight.

One of the things I realized in watching the movie — Italian with English subtitles — is that I’m starting to get a little bit of Italian language in my head. People were speaking at normal conversational speeds and I was getting words and phrases and, sometimes, entire sentences without the help of the subtitles. I hadn’t expected that, but it pleased me greatly. I am not going to claim any skill with Italian at all, but it was good to see how much progress I’ve made from my “doesn’t know a single word” status back in June. I’m encouraged by that progress, even if it’s not much yet.

Learning a language without anyone local to converse with in that language is always a challenge. I learn well from books, but language requires context more than many other subjects and, for living languages at least, it requires conversation to actually understand the flow and cadence of the words. As a poet and writer, facility with language is important to me. The ability to reach into the heart of something with words, to express it so that others can touch that space with me, is a core part of my identity.

English is my native language and, though I have occasionally been able to translate from other languages with the help of dictionaries and grammar books, it is the only language in which I have any fluency. My grasp of English is a thing I’ve always had pride in and enjoyed. Yet here I am, moving to a country where I will struggle to understand and be understood. I’m going to sound like the village idiot for a long time. I will lose that everyday, taken for granted ability to know and be known, to express myself clearly and concisely, and to sound like an intelligent adult.

My intention is to learn Italian, and to learn it well. I want to be able to have conversations about things that matter to me, beyond asking where the bathroom is, doing the shopping, and figuring out how to get to the closest museum. I want to be able to read and write about complex concepts, and to write with fluency.

I have always been a fan of poetry in its native language, even if I can’t understand it that way. I love poetry books with facing page translations so that I can try to get some idea of what the original must sound like, what the flow of the language is like. One of my brother’s friends recommended the poetry of Alda Merini to me (there is very little about her in English), and I have an edition of some of her poems translated by Susan Stewart that I have been dipping into, Italian on one page, English on the next. It’s not going into a box, but on the plane with me next month. Poetry in any language can be difficult to follow. It tends to extend language to its limits, relying on allusion and reference, deeply enmeshed in the culture in which it is created. The Italians go as far as saying traddutore, tradditore — translator, traitor — a phrase that has its roots in Latin, omnis traductor traditor, every translator is a traitor.

Poetry, taken from its original language, can never entirely express itself as the original author intended. It may come close but, as Robert Frost said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” A translator can attempt to achieve the meaning and lose the original poem, or to work on a literal translation, in which case it frequently loses the beauty of what makes it poetry at all. It is a complex issue, and one that can’t actually be entirely drawn in absolutes. The skill and facility of the translator as a poet in her own right does make a difference. The translator’s understanding of the culture from which the original poem arose also affects the translation.

When I step off the plane, I will be living a life in translation.  I hope someday to be able to live my life in Italian.