I Forgot How Wonderful Italian Men are for the Ego

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Upon my first look at the David, in 2002, all I needed in life at that moment was to reach up and curl my fingers into his oversized hand.

Ten years ago I studied in Florence, living down the alley from the Ponte Vecchio that glimmered with gold jewellery for sale, eating gelato at least once a day, and feeling history with my own two hands.

My first boyfriend/love/etc. had broken up with me a few days before I embarked on a semester abroad in Italy. I lived with such heartbreak in those few months, healing through the support of friends – late nights at bars drinking the rum and pear special, walking an hour to get to a restaurant and peeing in an alleyway on the return – and healing through the support of time – centuries of color, revolution, renaissance, marble, dualities, brilliance, enlightenment, struggle. To live in Florence was to live in art – stepping from one painting into another.

In those days, I built a self-image in the wake of what I thought was rejection of my raw truth. And, to cope, I built stories into my identity, to justify everything I felt that I needed to justify, to hang onto some kind of arbitrary ground under my feet.

And returning to Florence ten years later, I unexpectedly recognized the places where I had sunk into blurred and meaningful conversations with friends, passed over the misjudged cobblestones leading to my apartment, and rounded the corners where I turned into memory.

On the second visit, traversing the same streets, I noticed different details than I did previously – the way the light sprawls against Florentine walls and the rhythmic movement of rooted statues – and I acknowledged that I am deconstructing the self-image that I tried so hard to build ten years before. I know, for now at least, that I actually don’t want to have ground under my feet. To have no ground and no image is to be free – accepting – intentional – loving.

Looking at the David, now, I still cannot will my eyes away from him.

Instead of needing to reach out to his hand, though, my eyes gravitate around his body to recognize his adam’s apple, his curving hip bone, or new feeling from the look in his eyes. We view the same image years apart, connecting to different details at different times – whatever we need to notice in that infinite moment – and it is exactly what we need to see.

Michelangelo, in the early 16th century, sculpted David disproportionately – an elongated torso, an oversized hand, a shifty left eye. He is acknowledged as a perfect image of man, and perhaps his misproportions are man’s truths. Our truths that we create, fondle, change, reform are each perfect in their time and place. They are an oversized hand we want to hold. Or they are a new look that we recognize in our own eyes.

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{See Cloud Cult, You’ll Be Bright (Invocation Part 1)}

There’s No App for That

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The piano player keyed a few bars of ‘Piano Man’ as I found a corner spot at the bar. The Shiloh Inn – always with a restaurant and always with a flashback to 1956 – offered a haven from the rain and traffic near the Portland International Airport.

As a transitory hub, I sat at the bar with other single travelers. Our eyes cast downward as we checked email, and Facebook, and email again. I momentarily laid my phone face down on the bar to glance at the Navy football team on TV, but soon picked up the phone again. Just to see if I had received another email in the past 30 seconds.

Then I noticed the bar tender fumble somebody’s bill and I made some funny comment about Tom Cruise and Cocktail to break the tension. The woman next to me replied to the comment, and we started talking.

I soon found myself sharing admissions to her good humor, such as expressing my once indecision about having children (side note: a friend – who held a similar viewpoint – and I once partook in an “ambivalent baby” party in her front lawn, which was pretty awesome). The woman at the bar confided to me that she had felt the same way, but once she had a child it was like “putting on an old sweater. I knew that I was meant to do it.” As she said that, it suddenly became clear that when our destinies (or the things that are meant to be) are realized, you know because they wrap you up in warmth and love and comfort and relief and safety, just like the fit of an old sweater.

Then on the other side of my corner seat, a man pulled out a bar stool and ordered a Crown. He quickly fell into conversation with us and I soon felt the tension building between the man and woman next to me, both about a decade older than myself, and I happily played a lubricating role in the flirtation.

“What do you do?” she eventually asked him.

“I’m in nuclear engineering,” he replied. “What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m in wind energy.”

“HA!!” I emitted with a clear lack of control. “What do you guys call each other behind your backs?”

“We call them propeller-heads,” he said with good nature.

“Well, he is part of ‘the other green energy'” she shot back with a smile.

Another howl of laughter erupted from me, enough to garner the attention of the rest of the bar.

Soon we conscripted the other patrons into conversation. The white-haired man drinking vodka tonics, with one hand gesturing and the other hand dancing, taught me some Italian to use in Firenze: “Be-a-cherry” (or nice to meet you).

My initial bar friend and I agreed to never sleep with any firefighters (although wild land ones are ok) since learning that one of the patron’s recently estranged wife had posted on her fb page (that night in fact) that she was now dating a firefighter. We deleted it off our mental Bucket Lists, and it was definitely worth the sacrifice.

The young Navy man down the bar also had us promise not to sleep with any battleship men (although I’m not really sure what that even means) but we gamefully agreed.

In that bar, we organically formed a transitory community while listening to the piano man play into a previous generation. Instead of sitting on the stools with eyes tuned to a moving screen to escape our silences, close ourselves to humanity, hoard our energy we think we need to conserve, and combat our fear of the present, we put our phones down and opened. And bonded. And laughed. And shared energy that actually made ourselves feel worthy with generosity.

And we fell a little bit back into 1956.

We Heart Boobies

October is breast cancer awareness month. People wear pink and gather in supportive communities to promote understanding and support a life-changing cause. One in eight women and one in a thousand men are diagnosed with breast cancer. Twenty-three percent will die from the disease.
The statistics are harsh, and they are real.

Dive for a Cure (DFAC) is an annual event that has raised more than $150,000 for breast cancer research in the past five years. Scuba divers, such as myself, are able to manifest their passion into a larger meaning. I am not really a runner – well, not outside of my head at least – so marathons for good causes have never really been a realistic goal for me, although I happily participate in the walking portions.
DFAC, on the other hand, is a perfect opportunity to mix my own love of the sport with…well, a larger sense of love.

Fin races, raffles, a beanbag “octo” toss, and an underwater poker game are some of the events that raise money. In the poker game, divers don their gear and swim underwater to various dealers to collect a hand of cards, with the winning hand receiving a new dry suit. Some good friends will even blow on you and your gear, for luck, before you descend underwater.

After swimming to each dealer and reaching the lake’s surface, I Quasimodo-ed out of the water with a poker hand of three clubs, one heart, one diamond, and numbers that spanned the spectrum. I decided to go for a flush. After exchanging the two off-suited cards with the above-water dealer, I received another clubs and….a heart. I didn’t get my flush but I did have two tens in my hand – enough to beat my diving partner. So, in some ways, I guess all that blowing worked.

“What did you get?” someone asked me after the dive.

“Oh, two tens,” I replied.

Jokingly, the diver retold me a second-hand comment she overheard from a similar interaction – “Well, at least you’ve got a pair” – which made me chuckle. I pride myself on occasionally being gutsy, or on occasionally “having a pair,” so I found humor in the response.

A few days later, though, I was wondering about it: a pair – a pair of tens, a pair of balls, or a pair of breasts. How much does our “pair” identify us?

My favorite part of my female anatomy is my breasts (particularly the left one). Just like I am sometimes proud of “having a pair,” I am also sometimes proud of my breasts (particularly the left one). I identify with them, and I can’t comprehend what it would be like to not have part of duo (even the right one).

I have no personal experience with breast cancer, our family has fortunately been spared of that disease (although not of others), and I know that this is a serious, sensitive topic.
So I want to express how much I admire all of the women and men who fight the disease – fight to understand it, fight to live with it and live without it, fight to eradicate it. But, in a twisted way, I want to thank these diseases too – for bringing us together in a loving, supportive, humanly empathetic community.

Because, I think, we all heart boobies. And we all want to Dive for a Cure.

To Walk a Mile(ish)

People identify with shoes: with strappy (or chunky), classy (or chancy), boots (or heels). Shoes allow us to play with our identities – and to periodically slip on new ones for awhile.

I have always been one of those “comfort” shoe girls –  flip flops over princess heels, hiking boots over stilettos. On occasion, though, I try on something different: a new pair of shoes.

It’s weird how a new pair of shoes can make you feel, a friend recently informed me. How true.

A new pair of heels make my hips swing differently, make my shoulders shift back, and make me stretch myself. They may be out of my comfort zone but I try them anyway, just to see what might happen.

A friend owned a pair of ‘smoking shoes’ instead of a ‘smoking jacket.’ Whenever the veranda door shut, she would slip into the beautiful, white, sparkly flats. I tried them on  – my toes wiggling into the worn grooves, the giving leather, the established comfort – and it felt as if I were playing dress-up, trying on an unfamiliar story of history.

                               In Dubai, I indulged in my ‘Sex and the City (II)’ moment at a shoe stall. Bright blues, deceptive pinks, and astonishing greens sparkled in strangling piles behind the displays. I somehow talked my way into the storage space to try on different sizes, and I cramped myself in the corner with the shoes peeking out of plastic wrap. So many choices. So many decisions.

And it is the pair of shoes that we decide to buy that symbolizes parts of our identity. These decisions, sometimes impulsive and sometimes logical, illuminate different parts of our personalities: rash blue surprises, encompassing earth-tone security, rubber tire chances.

Some shoes we wear out, applying layers of duct tape over holes to prolong an over-worn life. I have a series of Montrail hiking boots in my closet that my mother will not let me throw away (no matter how much I faux-complain about it).

I created a relationship of reliability and trust with those hiking shoes – one pair retains the red hue of African dirt, another hosts leather made soft from Scottish rains, and a third pair has a worn sole from treading over European cobblestone streets. They are artifacts of my own history.

Now, according to my physical therapist, I require extra arch support in my shoes. But (shh-don’t tell her) every once in awhile I slip on a pair of very bright, very flat, very Dubai slippers.

Just to see what might happen.