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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Mad Poets on an Island

Be not afeared; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Shakespeare, The Tempest

A few weeks ago, I was invited to go to Croatia by a friend who would be spending about a month there, on the island of Mljet. It’s a small island off the coast near Dubrovnik, largely composed of national parks and a few tiny villages. He’s been working on a book of “shadow plays” and poetry for Scarlet Imprint press and was hoping to finish up work on it while he’s there. Both of us have previously been published in their anthologies of esoteric poesis, edited by Ruby Sara.

I met Geordie, a Vancouver BC poet and hip hop musician who writes and performs as Slippery Elm, a few years back, when he was 18 or 19. He’s 23 now. I could have sworn we’d known each other longer, but it really only feels like a long time. He’d contacted me by email, because he’d read some of my work and really liked it, and we have some mutual friends, as well. We talked, I invited him to come down to Everett for a visit to talk more, and the rest is a still evolving and really rather exciting history.

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Gruž harbor, Dubrovnik

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the ferry Nona Ana

Dubrovnik, where the ferry for Mljet departs, is a 15-hour bus trip away from me, and buses only leave from Trieste twice a week, so that was a constraint for our time. I had to be able to get there and back between the periods when he would have other guests staying. The long haul buses aren’t that bad. They’re actually more comfortable than the short hop planes used by Ryan Air, for instance, but that wouldn’t be hard. My journey took me through Slovenia, the northern section of Croatia, a ten-kilometer strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then back into the southern fragment of Croatia, tucked between Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the country of Montenegro.

The bus arrived in Dubrovnik at about 8 in the morning, and the ferry Nona Ana doesn’t depart for the islands until 5pm, so I had several hours. I was, however, too tired to do much of anything at that point. I walked along the waterfront, then had a little lunch and some tea. There are a lot of small tour ships, including some lovely sailing ships, in the harbor that will take people out around the bay or to the islands for the afternoon. There were also bakeries everywhere, though I didn’t sample anything. That’s an error I shall have to rectify next time I go to the city. One thing I found odd about the place was that at the little coffee houses, they only served drinks. I didn’t see one that served any food. Perhaps I was just too tired to get it right, but that seemed awfully odd to me. Who wouldn’t want some of that wonderful looking pastry with their coffee?

The day was pleasant and fairly sunny, if a bit windy, so I spent the rest of the wait sitting on a bench on the dock. While I waited, I met a couple of young women from Quebec who were going out to Mljet to backpack in the forest there. We talked for a while about Canada and Seattle, and about traveling, and language, and places we’d been.

There was enough wind that the sea was slightly rough, but it wasn’t at all problematic. The crossing took maybe 90 minutes or two hours, with a stop between Dubrovnik and the port of Sobra. Geordie greeted me on the dock at the port of Sobra; Vera, the woman who runs the place where we stayed, had driven him down to pick me up. The island is tiny, with only one main road through. The largest town only has a couple of hundred people in it, and Okuklje, where we stayed, has 32 residents. It’s located on a tiny, isolated bay with gloriously clear water. We stopped on the way in at the grocery store to pick up supplies for the next few days. The Croatian currency is the Kuna. When I was there, the exchange rate was about 7 Kuna to the Euro, so I was constantly having to remind myself that things were not as expensive as they seemed just based on numbers.

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detail St. Nicholas church, Okuklje

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view from our porch to Okuklje harbor

Mljet has a submarine. It’s a miniscule red sub with a glass bottom, moored in Okuklje’s harbor. It’s used during the tourist season for viewing marine life, and apparently owned by the national park. I found myself rather wishing we’d been there in June, but it was nice to be there while it was so quiet. There is also a tiny St. Nicholas church up on the hill above the town, only opened once a year, presumably for the saint’s day. The view from there is incredible.

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Church of St Nicholas, about halfway up the hill

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Okuklje harbor, with the mainland in the distance

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a poet in Okuklje, photo by Geordie Kennedy

Because there is no real public transportation on Mljet, I didn’t get to go to the park or see the lakes. It would have been too long a walk for me, in the heat, and on the hills. Geordie and one of his friends, who had visited the previous week, climbed the hill above the town, only to discover there were no trails, and that it was considerably steeper and taller than it looked. It took them several hours, but he said they’d had fun. They came back all scratched up from thorns and branches, but quite satisfied with themselves. There are wild boars on the island, but the only time Geordie saw one was down in Okuklje, while he was taking a walk late at night; it was a young piglet, at the edge of the road.

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home made produce and local olive oils

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in the garden, next to the wood fired oven

We both spent time every day writing, and walking along the little waterfront. One of the women in town had a little stand where she sold local cheese, olive oil, wine, and liqueurs. We bought some of the goat cheese in oil, and some myrtle liqueur, which tasted somewhat like blueberry. It was quite good. The plum, however, tasted more like banana for some reason neither of us could fathom. We got a second bottle of myrtle to make up for it.

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local wildflowers on the table

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writing, with myrtle liqueur

Geordie is, among other things, a flamenco dancer, so we listened to a lot of flamenco music every day while he practiced. The rest of the time, it was mostly Arabic music from Egypt and Tunisia; he’d been visiting Tunisia a month or two previous, working on his Arabic and writing poetry.

Most days, Vera made a little food for us. One day it was some local fish, battered and fried. Another day it was a sort of sponge cake with apple in the middle, which I couldn’t eat because of an apple allergy. (It smelled amazing.) There were tiny fried dough balls kind of like doughnut holes, and also a cheesecake sort of thing with berries. It was all wonderfully tasty. She would show up at the door or on the porch with a plate in hand for us. If you want to go visit Mljet, I highly recommend staying at her place. She is just fantastic, friendly, and very accommodating.

She really did go above and beyond, because the ferry back to Dubrovnik leaves at a very early hour in the morning, and we got up at 4:30am so that she could drive me back down to Sobra to catch the boat. I have no idea how I would have got there without her help.

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the harbor at Sobra

My last day in Croatia was spent wandering around Dubrovnik. I left my pack at a tourist luggage drop, and got a suggestion for lunch from the woman working there, then walked from the port down to the Old Town and the castle. I am not much of a tv watcher, but apparently they film parts of Game of Thrones there, as there were Game of Thrones walking tours, and several shops advertising official merchandise. The city was, for a time, a Venetian territory, and the old town felt rather like Venice in some ways. The tiny pedestrian alleys and streets looked similar, but the view from the hill down into the main part of the Old Town was quite spectacular. Venice, of course, has no hills. It rained a bit that day, but it was warm, and the rain was more drizzle than a downpour. I stopped in a bookshop and got an English-language cookbook of Dubrovnik recipes before having lunch and walking back down to the port to catch my bus.

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city walls of Old Town Dubrovnik

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church detail

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pedestrian street in the Old Town

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view from the hill within the walls

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statue of Baroque era poet Ivan Gundulić in the market square

When I arrived back in Trieste, I had to get ready for a poetry reading at the American library. One of my friends, Anna, has translated several of my poems into Italian, so the reading was in both English and Italian. I wasn’t expecting much turn out, but about twenty people showed up, including three of the teachers from my Italian language class at the library, and a couple of the other students. It went well, and I was pretty pleased by the whole thing, though I always do get stressed out before I do any public speaking. Poetry readings are no exception.

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the poet and her translator, photo by Denise at the American Corner, Trieste

A couple of days ago, I went up to a friend’s house with Anna and Bianca. The apartment is beautiful, and the view is spectacular, up above the Adriatic. I had only anticipated staying a couple of hours, but we were there until fairly late in the evening, talking, having prosecco and snacks, and then pizza for dinner. I have an invitation to go up there in the fall for the Barcolana; they can see everything from there. If that works out, it’ll be really amazing.

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Faro della Vittoria, from my friend’s apartment – Trieste at sunset

And, finally, I got an invitation to speak on a panel at the Parliament of World Religions in October. This year it will be in Salt Lake City. I’ve registered for the conference, but now I have to deal with flights and lodgings. I have a couple of potential places, to stay, but all that has to be firmed up in the next month or so, and plane tickets bought. On top of that, I’d like to go to Klagenfurt, Austria for a weekend and visit a friend there.

It’s going to be a busy year.

***

Poet’s Colloquy

it is said that Odysseus spent seven years here
with Calypso
on these pine-scented shores
amid olive and oak and fig
walking this greenest of Adriatic isles

I blew in with the impending storm
to Sobra
over the steel-jade sea as it rolled

a wind at my back and the branches dancing
like mad things

we made lentil soup, with tomato
and the roasted flesh of paprika
red onions, garlic, and rosemary from outside the door
secure in our small rooms
sheltered
with the wind rushing, wild
through the open windows
singing its hollow song

two poets speak
long into the night
of writing and books and our art
and of Odysseus, his feet upon these shores
of Geordie and his pressing through the thick brush
as he climbed the hills nearby
of bread and honey and coffee, dark as starry night

there is cheap red wine
there are oranges
there are branches, tossed and flailing
there are books shared through a haze of exhaustion
fifteen hours on a bus
two hours on a ferry
the sailboats and the grey stone houses
the subtly moving dock in Dubrovnik
in the hours while I waited

we speak of our travels
of Spain and of Tunis
of London and Ljubljana
we speak of dates and honey and grappa

we speak of the bookbinder’s art and of grimoires
and the calling up of daemones
and there is tea
and there are stars
and pine needles
and curtains fluttering in the wind

Moments of Absence

Editing at Caffe degli Specchi on a drizzly morning

Editing at Caffe degli Specchi on a drizzly morning

Life in the last couple of weeks has been busier than I’d quite anticipated. A writing project that I’d been poking around the edges of for a couple of years finally came together, and last week I signed a contract with my publisher for a collection of essays, articles, and other (mostly) previously-published works to appear under one cover. What this means is that I’ve been busy collecting files, making sure I had permissions from original publications, and messing about with the idea of self-publishing, though that has gone by the wayside, as it is just too much work for me.

The thing about writers is, ideally, that we write. It means that sometimes we disappear into ourselves and our notebooks or computers for days or weeks or months at a time as we work our way through our projects. Stuff gets neglected. Like, say, eating and sleeping. Also, blog posts.

My printer is out of ink and I need to get some more to finish printing out the draft manuscript. I’m spending a good deal of my time editing. In a couple of cases, it means taking the draft file and the published book to make sure that the two match, because editing happened between file and print.

Admittedly, a compilation is a lot easier than starting something from scratch. I’ve got about twenty years of material here to go with, and folks who are familiar with my work are looking forward to it. I’ve been asking around for cover blurbs and have got people working on front matter for me. Once something approaching layout is done, I’m also going to have to work on indexing the book, because nonfiction books without indexes are an affront to humanity.

Poems that I composed earlier this year for an anthology were accepted, so now I’m just waiting to hear about editing, printing, and publication dates. My friend Slippery Elm is editing the anthology and he’s back in Vancouver, BC from his cave in Spain. He says he’ll be returning to Spain after the end of autumn. He also sent me Spanish translations of a couple of my poems that he likes; they look lovely, even if I can’t read them very well. I’m enjoying the bits where Spanish and Italian have similarities.

Italian metal band Rhapsody of Fire in front of Teatro Verdi

Italian metal band Rhapsody of Fire in front of Teatro Verdi

Triestino pedestrian street at night

Triestino pedestrian street at night

My brother is here in Trieste, and we celebrated his birthday last week. We went out for Indian food to a place we hadn’t been before called Krishna, which was pretty good. It’s located just off Viale XX Settembre, across the street from an Indian grocery. I was very pleased that when I ordered chai, I got an entire pot before the meal arrived, as opposed to a small cup at the end of the meal. Of course, this also meant I didn’t sleep that night, but chai is worth it.

Most of Italy right now is shut down for Ferragosto (the Italian Wikipedia site is far more informative.) and the annual summer holidays. Ferragosto began in about the year 18 BCE as a festival introduced by the emperor Agustus, as a time of rest after hard agricultural labor. Today it’s apparently associated with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by the Catholic Church. Lots of shops are closed outright, or have much reduced hours. Quite a few of my friends are or have been out of town. Ginger, the tea shop I like, has been closed down for the better part of a month now and will be re-opening on Wednesday, so I’ll have to drop by and say hello and see how the motorcycle trip went.

The heat here has been pretty intense for me, with my delicate Northwest climate sensibilities. We’ve had a lot of humidity and quite a few thunderstorms. I’m supposed to start Italian classes in early September. The Venice Film Festival is coming up, and I might go down for a day with some friends to see a movie or two. If I go, there will be pictures and review(s)!

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Ballerina performs in Piazza della Borsa

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More dance in the piazza

This is the Boat of Millions of Years

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painted linen from Gebelein excavation, pre-dynastic period, ca 3500 BCE

Lost Text

From the Book of Coming Forth By Day; the journey of the Boat of Millions of Years

praise and honor to the gods of this place
praise and honor to their eyes which are the sun and the moon
praise and honor to their tongues which speak creation
praise and honor to them who sail the boat of eternity

this is the boat of millions of years:
the night sky
my body

i am filled with stars and every part of me is filled with stars
the night sky
my body

my belly, my breasts
are filled with stars
my hands, my thighs
are filled with stars
my tongue, my lips
are filled with stars
the boat of millions of years is filled with stars

the sun rides in the boat of millions of years
nut is the sea upon which it sails
night is the sea upon which it sails
it is ra at the rudder
it is horus at the oar

praise and honor to the gods of this place
praise and honor to the openers of the ways
open thou the gates of the horizon
shine forth from the eastern pillar of heaven
sail forth upon the sea of day
sail forth in the reed boat of the sun
sail into the sea of night
day and night are the face of eternity
day and night are the eyes of the gods

this is the boat of millions of years:
the night sky
my body

 from Fireflies at Absolute Zero, by Erynn Rowan Laurie

The high-speed FrecciaBianca from Trieste to Torino only takes a few hours. It makes a stop in Milano and a few other places along the way, but overall, it’s a much more comfy train than the local/regional trains I’ve taken so far, and they actually do have plugs so you can power your electronics. The city is nearly at the other side of northern Italy from Trieste, near the borders with France and Switzerland. The final approach to Torino is through a tunnel and the underground, which gave the end of the trip a bit of an unearthly feeling, like monks in catacombs. It was fitting way to enter the city that houses that fascinating medieval forgery, the Shroud of Turin.

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Shrine of the Shroud of Turin

The shroud itself was not on display while I visited. They only haul it out every few years, for a little while, but the church where it’s housed is open to the public, and an enlarged replica of the alleged face of Christ from the shroud is hung over the platform where the shroud itself is shown when it’s visible.

In Torino, I met Dan and Marta. They arrived not long before me, on a plane, and greeted me at the Porta Nuova train station, which is apparently quite the architectural spectacle, but its façade was entirely obscured by scaffolding for repairs and renovation, so I didn’t get to see it despite the fact that I spent quite some time wandering about in it the day I returned to Trieste. It’s from about the same period (1860s) as the central train station across the street from me here in Trieste. The station is also a part of the Torino underground system, the Metropolitana di Torino.

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National Museum of Cinema in the Mole Antonelliana

The city of Torino itself quite impressed me. The food was excellent, the buildings were beautiful, and there was a lot going on, though much of my free time to explore was on Monday, when most of the interesting stuff was closed. I did get some ideas for the next day, though.

The region was originally inhabited by the Celto-Ligurian Taurini tribe, and to this day the symbol of the city is the bull, which is on the street light pedestals, the buildings, and a lot of other stuff around town. There are apparently still Celtic linguistic elements in the Piedmontese language spoken by the locals.

Our first night in the city, we had dinner at the Porto di Savona, which has a thoroughly annoying website complete with non-consensual music and sound effects that almost put us off the place entirely. It took forever to find the menu online, and had problems loading on both my phone and Marta’s. The reviews on Trip Advisor, however, were quite good, so we tried it anyway and they had absolutely fantastic Piedmontese food and a very nice staff. It’s been open since 1863. They’re located where Piazza Vittorio Veneto opens out from Via Po into an immense public square, apparently one of the largest in Europe. There was a huge screen set up across Via Po for the World Cup matches that night. The piazza itself, and Via Po, are lined with a covered arcade of shops on both sides for quite some way. The piazza ends at a bridge crossing the River Po and directly across the bridge is the Neoclassical Chiesa Gran Madre di Dio, built between 1818 and 1831.

We weren’t able to go into the Museum of Cinema, as it was closed on Monday. We’d been told there’s a spectacular view of the city and the Alps from the top of the spire. Instead, later that afternoon, Dan and I climbed the Monte dei Cappuccini, to the courtyard of the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, which had an equally fantastic view that included the Mola Antonelliana. Mara wasn’t up to the climb in the heat, but Dan and I got a lovely walk through the park on our way up and down from there.

 

Torino from Monte dei Cappuccini

Torino and the Alps from Monte dei Cappuccini

Piazza Vittorio Veneto and the Po River from the steps of the Gran Madre di Dio

Piazza Vittorio Veneto from the steps of the Chiesa Gran Madre di Dio

Interior ceiling, Museo del Risogriomento Italiano, Palazzo Carignano

Interior ceiling, Museo del Risogriomento Italiano, Palazzo Carignano

The next day, we went to the Palazzo Carignano, which used to be, among other things, the artists club in town. Now it’s rented out as a venue for presentations and conferences, from what I understand, and there’s a little café in the building that’s just outside the rooms where the artists once met. The paintings on the walls and ceiling are in the process of being cleaned and conserved, which led to a somewhat interesting effect in the artwork there. Dan’s talk and panel discussion was about his recent book, Panaesthetics: On the Unity and Diversity of the Arts; I’d hoped to get a copy of the book in time to have Dan sign it for me, but it was not to be. The visuals for the presentation were put together by his partner, Marta, though, due to the shortness of time, some of the material had to be cut. The panelists were an intriguing set of Italian academics of literature, art, and music, on of whom has translated Emily Dickinson and a number of other English-language poets. Afterward, I was invited to join everyone for dinner, which was a really lovely discussion. All of them seemed quite shocked that I wasn’t an academic myself, but I appear to have redeemed myself in their eyes when I mentioned I was a published author. Funny what a little talent with words will do for you.

Early on the third day, Dan and Marta hopped on a train to Aix en Provence, for the next part of their grand travels. I had the better part of the day alone, with quite a number of choices before me, and decided to go to the Egyptian Museum, founded in 1824, and which is said to have the most important collection of artifacts outside of Cairo. It claims to be the oldest Egyptian museum in the world. The collection is definitely impressive, though I think the full temple at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a winner for sheer scale. The museum allows photography – I made sure to ask before going in – so I was able to get some pretty cool images. Unfortunately for my photos, a lot of the pieces were behind glass, so it was very hard to avoid reflections and lights marring the view of the artifacts themselves. I was told that a polarizing filter could help with that, but I have a very amateur CanonPowerShot SX260 HX, and you can’t put filters on one of those. I’m considering upgrading my camera later this year or early next, once I’ve paid down some of my credit cards and got a little more necessary furniture in the place.

Having finished what I am certain was only my first visit to Torino, I hopped back onto the train. It arrived home in Trieste about 9:30pm, and I then had to pack for my impending trip to Greece, having to be at the ferry terminal by 4:30am, so I got no sleep at all. But that trip is a story for my next post…

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Antiquarian bookshop, Via Po: Torino has a huge annual international book fair

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Outside the Gran Madre di Dio

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Metal gate outside the Teatro Regio, the Royal Opera House

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I believe this is the first time I’ve ever seen a monumental sculpture of a guy with a gas mask

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Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?

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From one of the many Books of the Dead in the Torino collection

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A spell for the dead, to pass into the Duat

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Ram’s head

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Gallery of statues

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Street lights of Torino

Anxiety

Anxiety. It’s a thing I’ve struggled with most of my life. I deal with a level of it that occasionally requires medication for panic attacks, and I also spent about two years of my life so embedded in anxiety that I couldn’t even leave the house without someone accompanying me. I deal with post traumatic stress as well, and it’s probably not a combination that usually lends itself to solo international travel or relocation overseas. It’s also been kicking me in the teeth a lot this week.

This is something that I knew was inevitable. High stress situations intensify anxiety, as does feeling isolated, and moving to another country pegs high on both of those scales. Not knowing the language lends itself to a certain feeling of helplessness as well. I’m doing my best not to let it all get to me, as I know from experience it is a passing thing, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

I’ll admit I spent a day or two just hanging around the flat writing. I got an email from my friend in Granada soliciting some poems for an anthology he’s going to publish with a due date of June 21st, so I do need to actually put words on paper for that. But there are necessary things that need doing, and places that require going, and no amount of avoidance (a big thing when the anxiety hits) is going to do things or go places. Even when I lived in Everett, surrounded by friends, I had days where just taking the dog out for a walk was a fraught activity but, when you live alone, nobody is going to walk the dog for you, no matter how awful you feel for whatever reason.

Part of me knows that if I actually put on my shoes and my jacket and walk out the door, I will feel better, but it’s hard to convince that tight knot that’s made its home in my chest that this is true.

I went to my first Italian class on Monday. The teacher had been waiting for four people to sign up; they did, and I was the only one who actually showed up. That meant I got a lot of really good intensive time with her, so I was pleased. I was told that after I took the first class, I could decide if I wanted to continue, and to pay before the second class (this coming Monday). I told her after our first session that if she was good with teaching one person, I would be happy to keep coming and working with her. Today I went and paid the class fee. The class is twenty hours, ten weeks.

We started out with some reading, not for comprehension but for the sound of the language. There was a reading for comprehension exercise, some fill in the blank stuff for the verbs essere and avere – to be and to have – and personal pronouns, answering questions based on pictures, and a read through of a short newspaper article. She’d chosen the article after skimming the first couple of (short) sentences but hadn’t realized that the article then evolved into lengthy sentences with semicolons and dependent clauses. We read it aloud, her first and me following after, as I struggled with pronouncing things. We worked on translating the article as we went along. Between her rough English and my appalling Italian, I would break out my dictionary as she struggled for the right word to help me along, and we got through about nine column inches of text.

The class was intended to last two hours. With just the two of us, we did a little over an hour and 45 minutes, but I felt like it was time very well spent. If there had been two or three other students, it probably would have run a lot longer and we wouldn’t have got through everything. She gave me homework to write three sentences sort of on the theme of being a child and things I did as a kid. I didn’t do short, three word sentences, but I wasn’t going for dependent clauses, either. I did get three sentences together, though I know one of them has some issues because I’m not sure how to say a particular thing, but she’ll correct it when I see her again. That’s what this is all for, after all. A class is a safe environment to make mistakes.

We’ve had a couple of nice, sunny days in Trieste, but I’ve been too busy to go around taking photos. I’ll try to have some more for you this weekend, as I want to get to the Aquarium soon.

I have spent a fair bit of time since I got here trying to locate a rice cooker and a water filter pitcher around town, both of which I finally found today at a little kitchen supply shop. The rice cooker is larger than I’d like, but cooked rice keeps and can be frozen. The water filter is going to help immensely for reducing the chalky taste and the film on top of the water here, so my tea will actually finally taste like tea again. Both of these are things I consider really necessary maintenance items. I eat a lot of rice, and clean water that doesn’t taste weird is mandatory.

On my walkabout this afternoon, I found a larger grocery store with a better selection of fruits and vegetables than the one on the corner, and a somewhat different selection of meat and cheese. There’s a larger selection of a bunch of other stuff, as well, which is good. I bought some of what I think are beets, but they’re neither the deep red I’m used to nor the gold sort, so I’ll find out what they taste like. They looked nice, though. The store is not all that far, and it’s great to have so many choices within easy walking distance. I know there are a wide variety of others in the area as well that I haven’t yet explored, and that doesn’t count any of the small shops that are just for fish or meat or diary or fruit and veg. Because of the anxiety, I tend to be a little hesitant to go into new shops, particularly when I am struggling just to ask basic questions, but I’m very happy with the fact that I have actually been doing these things. I might get myself one of those little carts I see some people pulling along behind them for when I have to get heavy things at the grocery.

I talked to the people at the American Corner this morning. They had a coffee and conversation group from 10 am to noon, and it was really nice to get out and talk to people for a while, even if almost all of it was in English. I asked about finding a doctor who speaks English – I’m not going to put my health issues on the line with my bad Italian if there’s any choice, because some of my problems are rather complicated – and was referred to a doctor whom one of the people there had been going to for several years. Now all I have to do is conquer my phone anxiety to call and make an appointment, as I’ve run out of one of my (less vital) medications, and I don’t want to even come close to running out of the antidepressants!

Depending on the weather tomorrow, and how my hip is recovering from its creakiness after my wandering, I may stay in and work on some poems. We’ll see what happens.

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.

33 Days

Calendars are inexorable things.  There are times when I think they hang on walls just to mock me. The one beside my desk is a Hark, A Vagrant! calendar, so at least I’m being mocked by the best. They remind me how swiftly time moves. My only work is my writing, when I have the focus to do it. It’s not on a schedule, so half the time I don’t even know what day it is unless I have an appointment scheduled. When I look up at the calendar I’m surprised, because wasn’t it just June a few days ago? Was I supposed to be doing something today?

I check the calendar on my phone. No, today really is November 8th. I have 33 days to wrap up my life here, tie up my loose ends, say goodbye to those I can actually see before I get on a plane. 33 days to make sure my apartment is empty. 33 days to deal with utilities and notices and sorting and selling the last of my things.

33 days to wonder who I will be when I step off the plane.

Many years ago, I wrote a poem called Reefs.

we grow in reefs
like coral
moment on moment
image on image
touch upon touch

we are congregations of experience

each memory leaves its sign
its fossil trace
we are colonies of memories armored with our past
your eyes
the way you breathe
the twining of your fingers with mine
at dusk

we grow in rings
like trees
encircled by time by stars by the moving
breathing sea

we are touched by fire

each memory bends us
shapes us
like fingers in clay
strong as moving water
we mould ourselves around them
our shapes are the shapes of trees on the rocks of a deserted shore
bowed by the hand of the hard north wind

we are spells of making we are words
we are ancient magic
the sum of memory
we grow like roots in stony ground turning
on rough pebbles
we are shaped by love and terror and the sweet depth of longing
we are memory

below the surface of our  lives
we grow in reefs

This place has shaped me and left its mark in me and on me. The friends I have made and the people I love and my experiences here have been the wind and water that have formed what I have become in the last three decades and more. But when I step away from this place that has so strongly affected me, who will I become? When the context in which I have spent so many years is removed, who is left? What remains? What part of me is defined by Seattle and what part is defined by the core of my being? What part will be defined by Italy, reshaped and sea-changed? Will my eyes become pearls? Will I become coral, sharp-boned and beautiful?

I hope this blog can be a conversation with you, who are reading my words. I have so many questions and muddled thoughts, so many hopes and fears, so much formless, breathless excitement, and very little knowledge to go on right now. I’ve had a short visit to Italy, conversations with my brother, and a lot of poking around on the internet to shape my initial perceptions. I know that my experiences when I step off the plane will be different than what I might imagine right now. I’m trying to go into this with as few preconceived notions as possible. Consider this an invitation to sit with me, to have a cuppa, to speak around the table and be heard.