Debra Darvickenhance your now in word and image
How Was Your Trip?
Fabulous. Amazing. Wonderful. I’m not given to sports analogies, but Martin knocked it out of the park. And then some. I won’t give you a day by day description, but will offer somewhat ordered stream-of-conscious impressions and memories. In the Bookshelf, Martin mentioned Firebird Tours who provided the tour. They get huge shouts out from me as well. This was our third attempt to take a trip that had been in the planning since early 2019. They went above and beyond; every staff member responded to our concerns patiently and with good information. I cannot recommend Firebird highly enough.
Traveling during a pandemic
What was planned for a spring 2020 40th anniversary celebration finally happened in the fall of 2021. There was a lull in Covid cases. Italy’s vax stats were much better than those in the U.S. We set off with some trepidation and yet once we arrived we felt more at ease than in the States. Entry into the country required proof of two vaccinations and negative Covid test results no more than 72 hours before arrival. Proof of vaccinations were requested in restaurants, shops, and museums. In addition to verifying our vax status, the hotels also took a quick temp check before we could register. Mask compliance inside any building was universal.
Everywhere we went, we were thanked for coming to Italy. The country was hit hard, fast, and early in the pandemic. Tourism evaporated. During our three weeks, we encountered no other Americans save for those on our trip and two couples in Como. As I write today, the overseas travel situation has changed. We hit a sweet spot for which we are eternally grateful.
Language was no barrier. Everyone spoke English and with my French and Spanish I was able to decode what was written. I could understand directions, order in restaurants and even make out bits and pieces of conversations. My attempts at speaking Italian were appreciated even when I guessed at a cognate from French or Spanish. One of our guides complemented my Italian accent, saying that most Americans she encountered couldn’t manage it. Made me feel like a million Euros.
All I can say is that is was flawless. Sunny nearly every day. Two hours of rain one day. Warm to cool needing only a sweater. Perfetto!
Italians are delightful. When they speak it sounds like champagne bubbles. They are warm, welcoming, and their joie de vivre is contagious. We clicked nearly immediately with one couple on the tour. Randy and Katrina, who were close to our ages, were on their honeymoon. They were as enthusiastic about walking and exploring as we were. Enjoyment is always multiplied when shared with others and the two of them added so very much to our experience.
Like the hotels, the trains were first class. Never crowded, complimentary treats (sweet, savory, and wine if you like), and fast! My ears popped a time or two. If only we could do this in America.
Read on — How Was the Food?
Photos courtesy of Martin Darvick
What About Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast?
Forget about San Fran. I left my heart in Sorrento. It was lush. We could see the Bay of Naples from our hotel room. Below us were lemon trees and olive trees, a beautiful pool and a pink-blooming tree I couldn’t identify.
We wove in and out of the the narrow cobblestoned streets, enjoying a gelato here, some limoncello there. We walked to the waterfront to watch the fishing boats come in filled with the day’s catch.
The day of our Amalfi Coast drive was our one day of rain, but even that was a light drizzle that lasted only two hours. Unfortunately, the drizzle was falling on Positano, so we drove on to spend more time in Amalfi. Though we were in a van with six others, riding on a narrow road high above the sapphire sea, I felt like Audrey Hepburn. All I needed was a white chiffon scarf wrapped around my hair, casually tied beneath my chin.
Before reaching Sorrento, we spent a half-day in Pompeii. So many thoughts ran through my mind. What a tragedy. What terror to have lived in the shadow of a mountain only to have it explode and kill you. As fascination as Pompeii was, it was also horrifying to see ash-preserved beds, bodies and the mere stuff of daily life in such good condition that it could have been plucked from glass cabinets and put to use once again. What a tragic twist – the ash that destroyed Pompeii preserved it to be discovered generations later.
I met Rosie on an early morning walk down to the beach. She belongs to the proprietor of the little seaside cafe and bar near our hotel. When we returned in early evening for drinks before dinner, Rosie was nowhere to be found. It seems that she is only there in the morning. Things get too hectic by lunchtime and so she goes home for some peace and quiet.
Well, that about wraps up our Italian adventure. It was indeed the trip of a lifetime. Just this evening I learned that Italy has been placed on a do not travel list due to Covid-19. This saddens me a great deal. Doubtless many of the Italians we met – our guides, the restaurant owners, those working in the hotels, shops and museums – have not only suffered financially due to the lack of tourism, but may well have lost relatives in the first wave of cases in 2020. My heart goes out to them. Martin and I were so fortunate to have been able to travel during this narrow window. I hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling with us.
Until next time,
Photos courtesy of Debra Darvick
How Was Rome?
ROME — a big, big city. Too much to absorb in the few days we were there. Not even in a lifetime could one do it. Here are a few highlights:
The Colosseum — astonishing for its age as well as the familiarity of its purpose and shape. You entered through gates numbered with Roman numerals. It was easy to imagine ancient Romans sitting on the tiered stone steps watching the spectacle below. Peasants received free tickets made of wood. The purpose of this “gift” was to distract them from the misery of their lives.
Gladiator Day at the Coliseum was all-day family event. Women caught up with each other; kids entertained themselves playing board games; picnic baskets were unpacked and enjoyed. The gladiators shed blood. Lots of it. The artifacts in the musuem attached to the Colosseum were fascinating. All that was missing was a Little Caesars pizza kiosk and a knitted scarf striped with maize and blue.
Arch of Titus — this monument evokes much sadness as it depicts the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Holy Temple. I laid my hand on a part of it taking quiet pride and satisfaction that Ancient Rome is just that and we Jews are still here.
The Jewish Quarter— Jews have lived in Rome for more than 2,000 years. Martin and I toured the city’s Great Syngagoue whose construction began in 1870 after the walls of the ghetto were torn down in the late nineteenth century. In a city of round domes, the synagogue is instantly recognizable for its squared dome, the inside of which is painted in colors of the rainbow, God’s symbol of His post-Flood promise never again to destroy the world.
A Papal bull in 1555, forced Jews to live in the ghetto, segregated from the rest of the city behind gates that were closed each night. After the ghetto walls were torn, the area was demolished. Rebuilding began again in the late 19th century. Demolition of the ghetto did not spare Roman Jews future violence. It was from this area on October 16 in 1943 that Nazis sealed off the ghetto. Two days later, 1035 Jewish prisoners where deported to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived. Jews live in many of Rome’s neighborhoods today but the ghetto, the Quartier ebraico, is still home to the Jewish school, many kosher restaurants and a trilingual bookstore offering books in Hebrew, English and Italian.
We arrived in the square just as school was letting out. It was such a familiar scene, reminicent of the years when I’d pick our kids up at a similar school here in Michigan. But instead of cars and minivans, parents put lifted kids on the backs of their vespas and bicycles and off they went!
Another day we made our way to the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains to see Michaelangelo’s Moses. It was powerful, mighty, and nothing like the image of the elderly bearded prophet I have carried in my mind all my life. His arms are well muscled; his posture is upright. Michaelangelo portrayed Moses holding the second set of tablets after his descent from Mount Sinai
Alas, this is also the sculpture that perpetuated the myth that Jews have horns. The Hebrew word keren means many things: horn, the specific ram’s hown known as a shofar, a ray, or something projected from a point. In the Torah Moses’ face is described as radiating light — karan or (Exodus 34:29). This radiating light was mistranslated as horns of light giving birth to a calumnious falsehood that still circulates today.
Two more events from our first day in Rome. By the greatest of luck dear friends and former neighbors were in Rome for one night before embarking on a cruise. Their hotel was not even a mile from ours and we met for dinner. It had been too many years since our last time together and what a way to have begun our trip!
Before meeting up with Shelby and Chuck, Martin and I visited the Borghese Gallery, a hefty walk through a beautiful park. On our way there, we stopped to watch a hip hop dance competition between different school teams. Music’s rhythm is universal. The words were lost on us but not the enthsiasm and beat.
The Borghese exhibit featured the work British sculptor Damien Hirst paired with priceless paintings and sculptures from its own collection. Hirst’s solo exhibition was titled “Treasures for the Wreck of the Unbelievable.” Hirst took as his inspiration an imagined shipwreck off the coast of East Africa. Barnacled and encrusted with all manner of ceramic pieces, the sculptures were creepy and captivating. Interspersed among the Borghese’s classic marble sculptures made for a dramatic and disturbing experience.
I returned again and again to Bellini’s Madonna and Child. There was such peace emanating from the painting. The simplicity of color blocks of blue, yellow, red and green lent a solidity to the the holy pair made even stronger against the slender tree and silky blue sky in the distance.
From Rome we went to Cinque Terre. Read on.
Photos courtesy of Debra and Martin Darvick.
How Do You Wrap Up Your Day?
Since Covid’s first spring, a group of women and I have been meeting for study, meditation and conversation. Last week, one of our members said something about wrapping up her day and how she tries to pay attention to how she does it.
I thought it was such a wonderful phrase: “wrapping up one’s day.” Do I have a practice of doing this? Not really. Before Martin and I say goodnight, we sometimes review the day. Or go over the next day’s plans. Some families go around the dinner table and offer up a rose and a thorn, ie something good and something less than stellar that happened during the day. But that’s not exactly the same as wrapping the day up, sifting through one’s day to review its entire contents. And then after the sifting there is the considering, the measuring, the assigning of gratitude and regret, perhaps remembering a close call or even a spirit-lifting surprise.
Do you have a ritual to wrap up your day? What is it? How did it come about? I’m thinking maybe I could wrap up my day while I am brushing my teeth, linking a new intention to a lifelong habit. I’ll let you know how it goes.
photo courtesy of Martin Darvick
A Conversation With My Younger Self
I was nine or so when this photo was taken. The girl that was me looks into the camera a bit peevishly. I’d likely readied myself for bed and was reading before lights out. My mom had bathed and put my sisters to bed. Seeing me in my room as she left theirs, she probably went for her camera. She would have asked me to look up, wanting to capture the sweetness of of the moment and her bookish daughter’s face in the lamplight. The moment I saw this photo I remembered the nightgown. It was made of a cotton that was not too soft nor too starchy. For some reasons the apples were pale blue, not red.
What would this girl think if we were to meet? Would she want to play a game of Scrabble for old times’ sake? I’d gladly share my great new set of Crayolas with her. She’d want to trade me periwinkle for cerulean. I’d trade her magenta for red violet. She’d probably thank me for still liking licorice, dancing in the rain and jumping in leaf piles. She loved to do that when her father raked fallen oak leaves each fall. What would she think about having become an author?
She might well envy me that my hair is long enough to braid. Back then it was the pageboy or a pixie; she settled for the pageboy and wouldn’t get to grow her hair out for another few years. “Thank you for taking me to Paris,” she might say. “But I didn’t care much for the running of the bulls. The bullfights were gory and oddly mesmerizing.” Yep, she knew words like that back then. “I loved hiking in the red rocks and I love those red cowboy boots; you should wear them more often. Be sure I get to have some pretty dresses, OK?” Our mother bought her wonderful dresses. I wish I had pictures of some of them. Around this age Mom bought her two dresses for a wedding in Florida. One was a long-sleeved A-line in a white taffeta strewn with flowers, akin to a Gucci print. The other dress was cut like a smock, long sleeves gathered at the wrist and shoulders. It was made of moss-green sateen printed with rose and blush colored peonies. I bet she’d be surprised that I still have Godfrey, the little plush monkey our parents bought her when she was four. Maybe she’s glad she got frozen here in time, a book in hand with several years to go before her family fell apart.
I’m glad I found this photo. I keep it on my desk where I can look at her, smile and take in her expression of indulgence and patience. “I love you,” I tell her. Sometimes, in the quiet, if I wait long enough I hear her reply, “I love you, too.”
But Isn’t Today Beautiful?
How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful.”? Maybe the sky’s grey. Or it’s raining buckets. Or the mercury plunged unexpectedly. I heard that phrase last week felt sad on behalf of the day at hand for having been summarily dismissed because it wasn’t living up to someone’s idea of a beautiful day. And what if tomorrow isn’t “beautiful”? Will it get dismissed too?
There are plenty of days that are truly ugly, horrific and filled with terror, grief and fury. I’m not denying life here. I’m merely suggesting that when those oh-so-easy words of dismissal begin to form, we take a moment and find beauty. Today. On this day. If we’ve been given the gift of breath today, surely we can discover something beautiful and proclaim it.
And now something else to share.
I had a poignant upsetting experience yesterday that has stayed with me.
Martin and I were out for a walk when we came upon a baby robin that had fallen from its next. But it wasn’t a robin yet. It was a bird-to-be: wet, cupped in its turquoise halfshell, eyes sealed behind dark grey lids, bony wings plastered to its side. Its beak was a good half an inch long.
I stood rooted in place and began searching for something to scoop it to the grass edging the sidewalk. And then I saw its tiny chest pulsing. The birdling was alive. What was I supposed to do now? Surely its mother wasn’t coming for it and even if she did, for what? Other than mourning?
I couldn’t bury it. It was alive. I didn’t want it to be stepped on, either. I grabbed a couple of sticks for a makeshift travois and scooped it onto the grass. Its beak opened in silent protest or perhaps pain. The life of this pitiful near-bird was ebbing before my eyes. Maneuvering it onto the grass I placed a curved piece of bark over it hoping it would stay undiscovered. I placed a small stone upon the bark. “You held God’s breath for such a short time, little bird.” We resumed our walk but it felt terrible to leave it dying alone.
Don’t ask me why I went through such motions . I just had to do something to mark the bird’s brief time on a sun-baked sidewalk in a random midwest neighborhood on this third rock from the sun.