Thursday, December 27, 2012


Huh? Even though you probably knew I was bad at math, you may be saying what's she talking about? For a start, I am recognizing that although I turned 66 on December 25, this is my 5th birthday year in Orvieto. Here's the sequence of events that culminated in the rough night that produced these musings.

Getting ready to leave home

I was not entirely recognizing myself in the old woman who actually had it together to go to her tap dance class the very morning of her flight, but when her son heard about it, HE did: "Mom, why should you be surprised? After all, by going to Italy, you are going to your second home." He was the smart one who had figured out that his transition-averse mother might be able to travel without freaking out, if it meant going from one nest to another.    

Lessons from baseball

The poetry of baseball is as old as the game, and literary evidence of the desire to return to home base goes back to the Greeks and beyond. So what's new? For me, a gorgeous tooth and a mouth guard to wear at night to protect me from myself. Thanks to modern dentistry, after many months, I finally have a beautifully implanted canine tooth to fill a space formerly the size of New Jersey. And then there's my new mouth guard that's supposed to keep me sliding--not grinding--into home plate.

Ah, to be able to read a map! (When you come to a fork in the road, take it?)

This search for home makes me think of my dad, an appreciator of maps who always worried about being lost, and who died at 63. Although I did not inherit the map-reading gene, I had always thought I resembled him in other ways--that the apple does not fall far from the tree (more about that in a minute)--and I never thought I would make it to 66.

Which way to the bathroom?

The question of the difficulty I have orienting myself came up during our first night back in Italy. When I woke up to go to the bathroom, I felt disoriented about which way to turn. Sensing that something was not right, I waited before taking a step. I recalled a remark Jim had made in our American home about waking up at night and not knowing which way to turn for the bathroom. Something finally made me realize that I was no longer in New Haven, and I found my way. When I had made it safely back to bed, I had a flashback to the time when my young self nearly walked off the edge of a high staircase, thinking I was elsewhere. We had had a houseful of guests, and I had been elected to sleep in our playroom with my visiting grandma, who woke up just in time to prevent me from walking off the edge into nowhere.

What happened to terra (sort of) firma?

Next, I flashed to the time in Maui after a storm had swallowed up the beach. I relived my shock as I peered down at what used to be the stairway to Kamaoli Beach Number Two, which now led right into an abyss filled with ocean, where soft sand used to be. 

More liminal zones

I was on a threshold then, too, but did not know it, since while living in Maui, I was writing the dissertation that was like birthing a first “baby.” A few years later came a less metaphorical birth—that of my son--about which I was just reading in my scrapbook from those days. It was the Metropolitan Art Museum's "Baby's Journal" adorned with old French block prints, the latest version of which we'll be giving our now adult son, and that will mark a new phase of life. I'm remembering learning in my freshman Intro to Psychology class about Erik Erikson's stages of life, as I now get ready for my grandparent stage. It was there that I also learned for the first time about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of dying. My dad was especially good at the denial stage. Am I denying anything? Not so much. 

After the flood
We arrived this week in Italy a month after the worst flood in recent memory. We could see the trees that had been uprooted, swept away, and that were now lying on their side--the new lay of the land. The flood had not done our own already impossibly bad roads any good, either. Of the two ways to access our house, the one that appears to date back to the Etruscans always reminds me of the opening to Longfellow's "Evangeline":

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

The opening to Dante's "Inferno," however, contains the essence of the entire mishmash of what I have been babbling about--journeys, life stages, transitions, thresholds, floods, dental wizardry, baseball, birth and rebirth, the thirst for home, losses and feeling lost: 

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. 

--all of the above was scribbled in the mental fog of a bumpy first night in middle-of-nowhere Italia, and subsequently unscrambled (?) on 12/26/12 by the post-birthday girl, D  


Since this post opened with a mention of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” maybe it’s fitting that it close with a coda. I said above that I would be getting back to the expression, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Well, as you can see, here at our house in Umbria, even in December, not so many apples have fallen from the tree at all. And they still taste good, too.

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