The Golden Streets of Italy

While watching The Young Pope, I found myself impressed by how well the cinematography captured the golden glow of Italy’s streets at night. I remembered an essay I wrote last fall that captured my memories of those streets, which I walked during my honeymoon in 2015. Below is that essay, and I plead the fifth on how much chianti I’d had before writing it. Enjoy, and have a good weekend, everyone.

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The Golden Streets of Italy

It is a dark autumn evening in Arlington, and I remember the rain-soaked streets of Florence. The nights were dark but the streets were illuminated in golden light, bathing the sidewalks in a shine only magnified by the rainier weather of fall. Leaves clung stubbornly to the trees, but autumn appeared in the chill of the wind and the huddling of pedestrians close to one another.

Every day I walked beside my love, crossing the path along the River Arno into the Florence square. Though a bustling city, it wasn’t reminiscent of the smog and hardness of American equivalents. It had a warmth, exemplified by how beautiful the city looked by lamplight.

Our first night in Florence, I saw this beauty firsthand. We rode in a taxi through narrow alleyways and across cobblestone streets. Everything looked like a country dreamer’s dream of what a city should look like, or a romantic historian’s notion of what the past was. But this was very much the present, and Florence did well to preserve its allure.

We drove by a building that even in nighttime was almost too beautiful to comprehend. It was black and white with perfect tiling. A design with soul, architecture done with love – not simply a space, but a place to see. I gasped audibly and asked, “What is that?” The cab driver chuckled and politely told me it was the Duomo. One of Florence’s most famous places. I could see why, even at night.

Many of our dinners took place outdoors and by candlelight. Two restaurants we visited had seating where you could see an ancient church while you dined. Candles lit the tables as waiters brought wine darker than the sky around us, and we dined on pasta and bruschetta much later than we’d ever eat at home. There was a quiet to the city despite its popularity with tourists. You could almost hear the stars blinking in the sky. Or maybe it was the wine. Whatever it was, there was a magic there that couldn’t be denied.

The magic extended into neighboring cities. We walked the streets of Siena and made our way over hills of brick, illumined by street lamps in the dark of night. I felt as if I walked upon man-made fields of gold, Italy proving to me that man was capable of the beauty nature came by so easily. Corners dark and sidewalks bright, all were beautiful.

It was a beauty I’d never forget. The final golden light came from the runway as our plane departed from Florence to Paris, and Paris to Dulles. I felt my soul ache with joy as we descended into a red sunset. I was home, and it was beautiful.

But even though home is beautiful, I find myself walking the golden streets of Italy in my dreams. The cobblestone wears on my shoes, the rain gets in my hair, and I kiss my husband with wine-soaked lips, taking in the beauty that a night in Italy has to offer. It’s a night that is too powerful to be interrupted by dawn. It’s a night that lasts forever. It’s a dream I need not wake up from. It is golden.

9.28.16

Asides on Crows

When I write a story, I have a very hard time letting it go. When it’s in my head, it’s all mine – mine to love, mine to mold, and mine to protect. However, stories are at their best when shared, and as the stories I’ve written come to greater form, I’ve made it a point to talk about them more with others (one of the reasons I started this blog was to increase my comfort in sharing my writing).

My initial hesitance with sharing is admittedly rooted in fear, fear that the stories I love so much won’t be quite as loved by others. I don’t expect every word I write to be read with steadfast devotion, but I have the fear every writer has of something that means so much to them being outright rejected by everyone else. My rational side knows this isn’t true, but fear is not rooted in the rational.

Still, it is a fear I must face, and one that ultimately subsided in favor of wanting to share things that mean a lot to me with others. As I’ve shared my work over the past couple years, I’ve happily found most of my fears to be unfounded. Further, I find great satisfaction in discussing these stories with people, getting their ideas and seeing how the stories are interpreted by others.

What, however, does any of this have to do with crows? Well, one of my favorite things to come from sharing my writing is receiving asides from my friends that relate to the stories I’ve shared. They saw something, and they thought of the story and/or me, and sent it my way. This has happened a few times with The Crow’s Gift. The cover artist I’m working with told me that as he finished up his email discussing our work, a crow flew by his window; and we joked about that moment of kismet. Another friend of mine, the first friend I shared the story with, sent me the following tweet with no other message:

My friend and editor also sent me the following story from Reddit user pinball_schminball:

“I used to live near a crow-hangout and occasionally smoke cigarettes on the balcony. I would put my pack on the railing while I did. In the meantime I would hand the cellophane and gum wrappers and sometimes snacks to the crows that would come sit on the balcony with me.

One day I went on vacation for 3 days and when I came back there were multiple empty packs of cigarettes on the balcony. I assumed that maybe the neighbor that was watching the house was just hanging out on our nicer balcony or something but turns out no, he wasn’t. They kept appearing, too.

Turns out I caught one of the crows bringing them. They didn’t know what they were but they knew that I often had one on the railing while being out there and I was their friend so they would bring them to the porch.

I was trying to quit. The less often I went out, the more packs appeared. I feel bad for whoever moved in after i left.”

“By the way,” my editor said when she sent it, “I came across this post on Reddit and thought of your first story. Thought you might enjoy that.”

I did enjoy it, and very much. Such asides make me happy because, in a small way, they show the story living with others the way it lives with me – something all of us can share.

A Quiet Place to Read

The National Mall is a wonderful place to read. I remember starting Harry Potter for the first time on one of its benches, and finishing Of Mice and Men on another. It is also one of the most popular destinations in D.C., which sometimes interferes with its more peaceful elements. I wrote the essay below when I was feeling a bit sour about all the distractions keeping me from my book of choice (I believe it was Between the World and Me, which was excellent). My outlook on finding peaceful reading spots is typically more optimistic, though I maintain that Heaven will be filled with both books and places to read them.

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A Quiet Place to Read

The other day I walked to the National Mall to read while I waited for my husband to meet me downtown. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, with cooler weather than we’d had in weeks. I found a bench under some scant shade, and could only hear the wind.

As I read, I heard some noises you’d expect in a busy park. Cars here and there. People walking by and taking pictures in front of the Capitol.

My flow was interrupted by machinery. I looked over and saw construction underway on one of the mall’s many lawns. It ceased. I continued to read.

The sounds of cars came ever closer. I looked up, and saw a pick-up truck driving on the mall itself.

Don’t cars have enough space as it is that they don’t have to take up ours? No matter. It drove away, onto the road where it belonged.

I heard a small hissing. I looked at the ground, and saw a squirrel walking expectantly towards me. I shooed it away, and it slowly kept creeping back, until I shooed it away a few times and it finally saw that my book was not food. I silently cursed those who’d fed that squirrel and thus sculpted its natural instincts into something altogether unnatural.

The squirrel returned to a tree, and I returned to my former tree. Suddenly a pop song blared through the air. I looked up and could not find the exact source, though I guessed it had something to do with the stage a few blocks away with giant white letters saying HOPE. Ironic, given that it was dashing away any hope I had of a quiet afternoon of reading.

It was just as well, for around that time, my husband texted me to let me know he was coming downtown. As I put my book away, I decided that, if Heaven exists, it is a library; for only in death will we ever find a quiet place to read.

~September 15, 2016

The Park is Gone

I have a folder called Daily Writings, where I write quick entries that come to mind, usually on walks, and which have no other theme or connecting purpose. Below is one such entry. I wrote it in response to my walk to work being disrupted by construction, rather ugly construction that’s still underway as of this writing. The sidewalk itself is now completely gone, and pedestrians take other routes. The routes are convenient, but I can’t help but miss the park.

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The Park is Gone

On my walk to work, there was a little park. It was next to a high-rise and across from an elementary school. It consisted of a lawn, some trees, and two gazebos covered in wisteria vines. I usually saw residents of the high rise walking their dogs in it, and children walking through it with their parents.

Sadly, that park is gone.

I was walking home from a baseball game and stood in shock when I saw the gazebos torn down and the trees uprooted, lying in piles. There was now a chainlink fence separating pedestrians from the carnage, keeping them on one remaining sidewalk interrupted by dirt and a lone tree.

As the days went on, the remains of the trees disappeared, as did the grass. The machines began digging a large hole in the ground, regularly breaking into the land and digging deeper and deeper into the dirt. Pipes are exposed and brown dirt fills the space. Where once was a park, there is now a gaping hole. Soon it will be filled with concrete. I cannot say which will be uglier.

Today, the sidewalk is gone. The chainlink fence had been moved over it so they could dig more dirt. The sidewalk was replaced by gravel and dirt, which pedestrians once again had no choice but to take, maneuvering around each other as there is little space left to walk.

The lone tree is also gone. There is a flat stump and a single sprawling root, a wooden vein, where it once stood.

It is a shame that the beauty of the park was not enough to withstand progress.

~July 22, 2016