Posted by: 4initalia | March 6, 2009


This European episode is inspiring me to write some really turgid poetry. For example, here’s a poem called “The Mime”:

See? I think I can be good at this.

To find more literary inspiration, I need to take a walk. So I stroll to the center of Modena. A slim woman wanders by. She’s in basic jeans and a black coat, but her ballerina flats are scaled in flashing silver; they throw off sparks like sunlight skipping across the sea. Italian fashion is like that; it’s all in the details.

Walking in town helps me to hone my language skills. I am learning Italian in snippets of cellphone conversation, which is easily available because it’s usually delivered at top volume. Right now a woman in a crisp white coat and tufty yellow hair is shouting into her phone. Yelling so loudly that other callers shouting into their cell phones have stopped to listen. She’s bending at the waist and throwing out her arms, like a Roller Derby queen rounding a curve. Now the Blonde Bomber is shouting at other people, and is inciting a small, arthritic knot of senior citizens into starting a rumble. I have no idea what that is about, but I can’t do hand to hand combat with septuagenarians.

Danger is all about. With the warmer weather came the bicycles. Elderly people ride them on the coldest days, to the market, or just to show off their macho oldness. But on warm days, everyone rides a bike, and it’s impossible to avoid them. Along most streets in Modena there are bike paths, usually set back from the street, and marked with yellow to separate the paths from the sidewalks. So when you cross a road, if you survive a direct hit by a speeding Fiat, you can always be taken out by a bicyclist. It’s good to have options.

Lord knows I try to avoid them. I walk on the sidewalk. If there’s no sidewalk, I stick to the outermost right edge of the bike path, following the yellow line. But precautions are useless; they find me. Like a camper always in the line of fire of campfire smoke, wherever I go I am directly in the path of a biker.

Waiting at a stop light I’ll stay to the right, and as the light changes, wobbling gobs of metal careen toward me. I see how it will unfold: the light changes, I move right, and wham: A direct hit to the solar plexis by the bike basket will drop me to the pavement, and then as I roll onto my side, asphalt grinding grit into my eyebrow, I’ll form a little speed bump, which will ensure better traction for the tires. As a further insult, from far above the bike seat I’ll hear a petulant “Signoooorrra.” Because it will be my fault.

For the last few days there’s been slow, seeping rain. This is not conducive to wanderings in search of poetic inspiration. Like a cat, I don’t like getting my feet wet. And I don’t have a raincoat; I couldn’t fit a raincoat in my luggage. When we packed for our year in Italy, the four of us could each take two suitcases weighing 50 euros each. Or 50 kilometres – I never get that right. But anyway, there were limits. So I brought two pairs of pajamas, two pairs of shoes, and four black turtlenecks. I didn’t have room for a raincoat.

Andy, who was theoretically under the same luggage weight restriction, has a specialized outfit for every occasion, including Amish barn raisings and underwater weddings. His carry-on must have been the carpet bag that Mary Poppins used to furnish her room. He has a raincoat, sweaters in every texture and hue, heaps of t-shirts, and pants in every length and fabric: I suspect that in the spring, he’ll pull out fashion-forward Man capris.

Why did he bring all these clothes? This is a man who could pack for a week using only a Pez dispenser. And his clothes are huge, of a size not found in nature. He’s almost 6’4″ (that’s 20 stone in the metric system) and an extremely long limbed individual. My entire wardrobe weighs less than a pair of his socks. I am 5 feet tall and a size 2-4, and I had to take out my pajamas with buttons because they were too heavy.

I do not understand how he got all these clothes here, and when I change from my pajamas into a black turtleneck, it irks me. I am extremely irkable, but being perpetually dressed for Marcel Marceau’s funeral is not helping.

The last straw came on a sloshy, slushy day, when I made a hideous discovery. You think you know someone, and then, like a pedestrian staying to the far right of the bikepath, I was hit from out of nowhere. I looked over to find that Andy was wearing…winter boots. His winter boots are tough, old leather – the dirt on them weighs more than I do.

I had a flashback to the final moments of packing for Italy: When I wondered whether to bring boots for the kids, Andy scoffed – scoffed I tell you! In a scoffy voice – as God is my witness, he said “We don’t have that much room in the suitcases. They won’t need boots.” I didn’t have room in my suitcase either, what with taking shirts with buttons, so I left my boots at home. And so, on a chilling February day, when the slush was seeping into my ankles, and one of my two alloted pairs of winter shoes were soaking up the drippage of dirty ice and snow, I looked down and…BOOOTS?!! These are the moments that the insanity defense is made for.

Nothing generates literary inspiration like a stroll with your spouse. So here’s my latest poem, called “Let’s Talk About the Relationship”:

&&@@!!* **##!!!

I think I’m on a roll.

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