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My name is Nancy Zimmerman and this is my blog.  I write mostly about art, travel and the bits about life that make me smile, think or piss me off.  

Enjoy!

STRASBOURG: September 12

nancy zimmerman

On the train to Brig and Bern and then on to Strasbourg, which is apparently close to Nancy.  I should probably stop there.  The views are spectacular.  I just left Basel and no one seemed very happy to be there.  Everyone was wearing dark clothing and marching around as though they hate everything about the place.  Maybe it is because it is getting chilly or maybe they are all really happy inside.  I remain the only person in colour.  I suppose it is time to shop for some dark warm things.  I love the clocks at all these train stations.  When I get home I shall make an album of clock pictures once I finish my blurred sheep album.

Arrived in Strasbourg early enough to check out the city centre and the palace.  Truly, truly magnificent.  Sitting in an outdoor cafe, this feels very much like Paris.  I am definitely in France.  Having a bowl of onion soup, Quiche Lorraine and Creme Brûlée.  Some moments give me a wonderful sense of joy and contentment.  This is one of them.  So proud of myself for making this trek.

It's such a beautiful day.  The leaves are starting to fall and feels like autumn.  I went to Old France and then back to that glorious cathedral.  I am feeling comfy and warm in some new threads and though my shoes have taken a beating, they have been rewarded with new inner soles.  It seems the memory foam of the last ones had forgotten it's task.

This trip has been full of nursery rhymes and conjures memories of a beautiful book we had as children illustrated by Eloise Wilkens.  It was part of a Childcraft encyclopedia collection and it never failed to light my imagination.  We read it to rags and I missed it for so long, until the grand invention of the internet.  I found a copy and when it arrived I cried at the sight of it.  Like ours, some naughty child could not resist drawing in it, but as I flipped through the familiar pages, it's magic was still there.  

I have visited Pinnochio, Hiedi, enchanted forests, castles and kingdoms.  Today I am in the land of Hansel and Gretel.  The smell of gingerbread is everywhere and I bought the cats each a little gingerbread man toy.

I stopped for dinner and wanted to have onion soup again, but in my butchering of the French language, ordered a very large vart instead.  It is like a flat bread pizza smothered in cheese and onions.  What a glorious error!  

I bought some new gel inserts for my shoes and are sliding all over in my shoes.  I feel like I am walking on Jello and can't seem to navigate with them.  I stepped into a cab and one of them slithered out of my shoe and on to the road.  The cabbie picked it up and handed it to me.

I'm on the train to Luxembourg now and pondering the inserts. All the mysteries of my world are revealed in pondering and I should do it more often.  It seems I had put them in upside down.  They make more sense now and feel fabulous.

This train sounds like a very angry donkey.

Arrived late in Luxenburg too late to tour, but in time to find my hotel and the nearest bar.  There is always a bar near my hotel and there is always a table for one waiting in the darkness for me.

"Can I get a glass of red wine?"

"Yes, bottle."

"No, just a glass."

"No. Madame, one glass bottle."

"Fine bring me a bottle."

"No glass?"

"YES A GLASS!"

Wine arrives; one glass of Bordeaux which is pronounced Bottle in Luxenburg.

This place seems a little like Milan.  Lots of high end shopping I am not interested in.  I do love the buildings and it's a glorious place to stroll around in fancy gel inserts.  The bag people here seem to all have dogs.  The dogs look equally forlorn and I don't know if I like the idea or not.

Nite.


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: GOODBYE ZERMATT, HELLO STRASBOURG

nancy zimmerman

Woke up this morning to the same sparrow convention quickly followed by a half hour of bell ringing.  It starts off innocently enough with a rendition of "Three Blind Mice."  It then accelerates into the bell equivalent of a  very enthusiastic College marching band.  Just as number was ending, the Swiss decided to do some road work outside my window and the jack hammer was just the push I needed to rise and shine.

I am still on a quest to find the one and only souvenir I shall take home.  Today, I think it may be a bell.  A bell or a sheep.  I am the only person in Zermatt wearing a flowery shirt.  

Went wandering around Zermatt, not lost in the back hills but like a normal tourist.  I wanted to come here because on line,  it looked like one of those little Christmas villages old ladies like me display on their mantels.  I am amazed that it actually does!  For such a small town of only 5,000 people there are a lot of animals here.  Cars are not allowed in Zermatt, but apparently sheep, massive Clydesdale horses and dogs are free to wander where they like.  Who would have thought the whole Saint Bernard rescue squad was an actual thing?  

I went to the Matterhorn Museum and in hindsight should have went yesterday before going up the mountain, but my experience made the museum more chilling indeed.  I like museums.  This one did an excellent job of romanticizing the past.  It was rustic and authentic with lots of hand written documents (which I especially adore) from climbers and observers.

The story of the first accent up the Matterhorn is frightening and fanciful.  It is shrouded in mystery and seems to have stuck with me.  A rope from the climb is encased in glass; the heart of a controversial inquiry as to how 4 of the 7 men died.  Equally controversial is the description of the climb by the survivors.

Decide for yourself:

20 year old Edward Whymper (who had never before climbed a mountain), joined Lord Francis Douglas, Zermatt guides Michel Croz and Peter Taugwalder,  his son Peter, Rev Charles Hudson and Douglas Hadow. 

On July 14, 1865 they made the clim and reached the summit in early afternoon.  They had forgotten a flag, so they hung Croz's shirt from the summit. While the rest began the descent, Whyper and Peter stayed behind, wrote the names and then caught up with the rest.

 

Hadow slipped and fell into Croz and Hudson and the three were catapulted to their deaths.  Two quite different versions of the event were recorded and we are left to decide which is the truth;

Whymper wrote, "

“For a few seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding on their backs, and spreading out their hands, endeavouring to save themselves. They passed from our sight uninjured, disappeared one by one, and fell from precipice to precipice on to the Matterhorngletscher below, a distance of nearly 4,000ft in height.”  With apparent difficulty,coaxed the Swiss father and son down the mountain. Whymper  claimed "they cried like infants,"  and brought the news to Zermatt in the morning. “The Taugwalders and I have returned.”

Whymper was heralded as a hero and claimed his title as the first man to conquer the Matterhorn.  

150 years later, descendants of the Taugwalders found documents that challenged Whymper's claim.

HONOURED SIR:

I am now 75 years of age, but in spite of the 52 years which have passed since then, I can remember many things that occurred just as well as if they had happened yesterday.  Indeed, such was the impression made by that fearsome disaster that I shall never forget it as long as I live.

At that time I was very young indeed and the first down was just sprouting on my upper lip; but I had enough spirit to feel that no rock was too high, no glacier too steep for me.

On the way up, the night before reaching the summit: All around us stood the great peaks in all their majesty; above the green of the valley the dark pine woods swept up to the edge of the eternal ice.  My heart was uplifted with joy and I could hardly wait for the next morning to come…I slept the sleep of the Angels.

In the morning;  We roped up at once; Cros led, followed by Hudson, Wymper and Hadow, with my father next then Lord Duglas and myself…I was nimble as a cat; so I had always time to watch the others and to plant Lord Douglas's feet for him.  He was not a good climber.

At about 2 o'clock we reached the summit.  We did not stay long.  My heart was so light that I could have taken wing, far away and out across all the mountains, heaven knows where to - down to my sweetheart in Zermatt, perhaps.

We prepared for the decent. Whymper now changed places with Lord Douglas and was therefore next in front of me on the rope…Suddenly the four of them shot out into thin air like a small cloud.  The rope broke as if it were a piece of string and the four young men disappeared from sight.  IT was all as swift as a lightning flash. Nobody uttered a sound. Down they went on the instant into the fearful abyss.

It may be imagined what we felt like. We could hardly move for a while, so terrified were we.  At last we tried to move on; but Whymper was trembling so violently that he could hardly manage a safe step forward. My father climbed on in front, continually turning back to place Whymper's legs on the broken ledges of rock.

My heart was well-nigh breaking and the tears ran coursing unchecked down my cheeks.  Our poor, poor friends! Only this morning they had been so gay and keen; now their battered bodies lay lifeless down there on the cold glacier.

If only that good Mr. Douglas had not changed places, he and not Whymper would have been safe; certainly he would have proved a better and truer friend to us than this man Whymper, who had been remote and aloof from us throughout and remained so, though we had saved his life.

For without us, he too would have perished, even if later on he vaunted himself as the Lion of the Party and reported a variety of matters which had no truth in them.

The searchers found our poor friends lying on the glacier at the place we had indicated.  Lord Douglas alone was missing and no trace of him has ever been found to this day.

I have climbed the Matterhorn more than a hundred times since but never without thinking of my dear companions who came to grief that day. My father and Whymper have already followed them to their eternal rest. Very soon, the Angel of Death will be calling me too.

I have told you simply and unreservedly what I saw and experienced on the first ascent of the Matterhorn. If you use my story for posterity, I leave my reputation in the hands of those who will read it; thus I finish my account.

-Peter Taugwalder

 

 

SWITZERLAND: September 9

nancy zimmerman

Got up early, went to the Duomo in Milan and wandered a bit before boarding the train to Brigg.

 I love the person who invented trains.  It's like driving without traffic or holding the steering wheel.  You just get cozy in your seat and watch the beautiful world float by.  Everyone sees a different view.  I see a glorious world and endless magic.  I can feel the earth rising around me.  The mountains are getting bigger and the villages are shrinking down into the bosom of luscious valleys.  Of course as soon as I feel wonderful, we hit a patch of rail repair.

One of the most beautiful things in Switzerland is the colour of the water. It is a blue I have never seen and it is as cold as it looks.

Stopped in the charming city of Brigg and laced my sachem with local coins. I don't know why but I am so tired and fighting to stay awake to enjoy this loveliness. 

Arrived in ridiculously picturesque city of Zermatt. I am so glad to have two days here! There is post office and I can't wait to unload more of my suitcase.  I cannot believe how chilly it is.   sweater weather has arrived and though I am happy to greet it, I have no sweater. I am the only person wearing shorts.  The people here are dressed for winter.  The selfie-stick sellers of Italy are replaced with walking-stick sellers.  Everyone looks incredibly fit and ready for mountain climbing. 

My hotel seems to be a distance from the town and closer to the Matterhorn, so that may be very nice.  Tomorrow I am getting my hair cut.  Not because of Milan, just because I can't see through my bangs.  In England I will get my nails done and buy some clothes.

This vacation has been so much more than I could have hoped for.  Every new place excites me and I could not be happier.

I am sitting in a lovely restaurant and on my plate is a giant slab of cow meat.  It is slathered in butter and herbs. Heavenly au gratin potatoes nuzzle against bright orange carrots.  A side of onion and tomato salad completes the treasure trove of yumminess.  Another glass of wine and I shall curl up in this booth and weep from contentment.

Reluctantly toddled to my room at the Hotel Astoria.  My room is so adorable I just can't stand it. It has pretty little windows all the way around fringed with fluttery white lace curtains. I can see the Matterhorn from everywhere in the room. I am so tired, I am going to lay here in this big fluffy white  bed and watch the sun set over the mountain.

Thank you God.  What a wonder. 

btw I have broken my iPad screen.  It was just a matter of time as I drop it thrice daily.  I am not upset as it is pretty much full of photos of blurry animals and scenery blurred by reflections of said iPad. 

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

Woke up startled by the sound of clanging bells ringing all over Zermatt.  Thee is no snooze on these things and I suspect no one sleeps in.  From my bed, once the bells stop, fat little sparrows start choir practise on my balcony which is yodeladen with overstuffed flower boxes.  I can see the mountain and watch climbers heading up the Matterhorn like tiny dots.  These early bird hikers snake up in neat little rows of orange, white and red.  They meander through the pines and in every group there is one or two stragglers and one exuberant orange dot leading the charge.   I see a faster, even tinier line of dots wiggling up the mountain and can only assume these are kids heading for the school.  Oh we are ants indeed.  I could watch this show all day, but I need to get up and buy a sweater.  Perhaps a full on winter coat.  I seemed to have missed fall completely and plunged into winter.  The air is fresh, the sky is bright and it's gonna be a fabulous day.  Today I go up the Matterhorn! - Later.

This has indeed been one of those close call sort of days where mischievous sprites seem to follow me around trying to fuck up my day. It went like this;

I packed up a great deal of stuff in Italy but there was no post office so I have been dragging them around for a few days.  I happily went to the Post office first thing in the morning.  The Post office does not open until 2pm.  Why? Because I have big heavy packages which I need to lug around Zermatt all day.  I returned at 2 only to find they do not take Visa.  I did not have enough cash, so I schlepped them back up the mountain to my hotel.  Of course I cannot find my way and circle up and down mountain trails until I hit a clearing and finally could see my hotel.  It was down in the next valley a million miles away.

After my three hour trek over hill and dale, I made it back to my hotel and considered a nap, but seeing as I had done nothing but walk, it was imperative I retrace my steps back to the Post office with my bundle.  So much for lightening my load.

On the way I found a hair salon and felt this was a good place to park and rest.  I would leave with a renewed sense of purpose and a fabulous hair cut.  To my surprise the hairdresser seemed ecstatic to see me as if we were old friends.  I smiled and we laughed, but I did not get his Swiss humour until he told me he saw me walking down the street yesterday and was thrilled I planned on cutting my hair. hmmm.

I told him to just clear a path through my bangs, and in his Swinglish he said "NO! Yoo an awtist! Yoo hair shood b edgy and cool!"  Without warning Edward Scissorhands pulled out a razor and started slicing away.  For about 20 seconds I liked the cut.  I gave him a 20F tip.

Back at the Post Office feeling fresh and confident, I unloaded my packages, filled out a mass of paper work and with cash in hand approached the teller. 

"Yoor 20F short.  Ofcourse I am.

Undaunted, I grabbed the brown paper beasts and headed across town to get my ticket to ride the Glacier Express.  Once there, I was informed if I wait until after 4pm it's half price! I wander around Zermatt sightseeing and looking for a sweater that does not look like one my grandmother made.  No luck, so I return to the ticket booth.

"One ticket for the Glacier Express!" Says I.

"Yoor Visa decline." Says she.

No problem.  I know the route to my hotel like the back of my freezing hand.  Back up the mountain I go to get the left over euro from Italy in my suitcase.  I need an Advil anyway for my very sore feet.  These little Sketchers are doing their best, but even they know we  have bit off more than their little soles can chew.

I head down the mountain and just for effect, it begins to rain.  Not Canada rain, fat relentless, ice cold Glacier rain.  Halfway down, my feet remind me I forgot the Advil.  I exchange said euro to francs and with cash in hand, like a frozen wet rat with a crazy hair cut I buy my damn ticket.  I call the accountant about my Visa, but they are in California and fast asleep.  I reason I will be just fine as all I have to do is get up the Matterhorn and decide if food or postage is more urgent when I return.

It's almost 7pm when I finally board the  train. To my surprise there are only 4 of us.  Me and three men with bikes.  I cannot imagine why they have bikes, but I dismiss the curiosity when I realize I am terrified five minutes into the trip.  I am the only person in town without a coat. My t shirt and shorts are soaked so I huddle with my giant packages to keep warm. 

The view is spectacular once I accept my impending death.  I take a million photos of sheep as I can see Zermatt shrinking to the size of a postage stamp.  The dots have been obliterated and there is nothing but snow, rocks and a beautiful approaching sunset.  Truly magnificent.

Just before we get to the top, the bikers get off and I realize they are going to ride down the mountain back to town.  What an incredible thing to do! I watch them high five and zoom down the edge of the mountain, then realize I am the only person on the entire train.

When we get to the top, it is mind-blowing.  The glacier's claw creeps so close to the tracks and the Matterhorn is nothing but awe inspiring and threatening.  I wonder who would win in a fight; Mount Vesuvius or The Matterhorn.  Tough call.

Just as I am pondering and taking it all in, the conductor yells from the front, "Yoo get off."  But I don't wanna get off.  I shake my frozen head.  "Yoo go."  I point at the restaurant further up the track, "Can I go there?" "No, yoo can't go there.  Yoo come back one hour and one half. I go now."  The bossy door opens and I go.

The train rolls away and I am standing in my shorts and t shirt on the top of a glacier all by myself  in snow lit darkness.  The good news is my clothes are no longer wet.  The bad news is they are frozen as is my hair and my ice block packages.  

Now I like to believe I am an optimist, but in that moment it all made perfect sense.  My Visa was declined because I would not be needing it any longer.  My Sketchers and I were at the end of our lives and my new fancy haircut was so my children could have an open casket service for their edgy mom.  God must have wanted me to look my best for our meeting and I sadly accept Heaven must be like Milan.  

Standing there on the glacier it was so remarkably quiet I was convinced this would be my final shut up.  I had no Advil, because I would no longer know pain, I had no money because ghosts are frugal. For whom the bells toll?  Got it.  For me.  But why God did I need to bring these packages? WHY?  I set them down in the snow and decided to take my last walk in this world.  Hypothermia won't care if I walk or stand still so I set out on the Glacier.  

I didn't think I went very far and realized I just didn't seem to care anymore. This was a glorious place to die and they would bury me down in the town in the little cemetery of all the victims the Matterhorn had claimed.  It was not how I expected to go, and I did want to cry, but my eyeballs were frozen and the whole idea seemed pretty exciting for a moment.  I could see the headline, "Mother of Deadmau5 found dead on her solo trek up the Matterhorn."  My children would tell stories of how their brave little morbidly obese old mother travelled from Canada to Greece, to Italy and Switzerland on a journey of self discovery and adventure.  

My diary would become a best-seller and of course a movie.  I was no longer a free spirited traveller trapped in the body of a chicken shit.  I had taken my fear of flying to task, climbed mountains taller than my greatest fear of heights!  Why I had been lost, injured, without wine and suffered innumerable bouts of credit.  I had become edgy indeed.  No, I had become what edgy aspires to!  This was an excellent moment to die!  I forgot to take photos! Oh these would be my best photos ever! Why one of these will make an excellent cover for the book!  

No chance. Some fool filled the iPad with blurry photos of farm animals and like my phone, it was dead as I would soon be.  More confirmation.  Dead people don't tweet.

That whole confident scenario only lasted about 5 minutes.  I reverted back to freezing and hating my packages so much I felt the need to kick them and then felt bad that I did.  I picked them up and started to head back to die closer to the track so they could find my body.  Almost immediately I fell through the snow so deep that my packages sat on the edge of the snow like a shelf at my waist.  Heaven forbid they should go under.  Fucking packages.  I couldn't even remember what the hell was in them!

After a bit of clever snow stair making and flailing around, I got back on the crispy surface and considered my plight.  Surely I had been there for an hour by now.  Surely the train would return any minute.  Surely if I have not died yet there is no reason to do so now.  It must be the packages.  God must want desperately for me to get to the Post Office!  

So with that grand hope, I trudged toward the tracks.  As anyone can tell you I have no sense of direction and in none did I see tracks.  I believed I was going mad at this point.  This happens to us explorers often. Because I cannot decide which way to go, I choose to just stand there.  I could follow my foot prints, but oh look, lots of people have been walking around up here and they seem to all have chosen different ways to go.

In my insanity I hallucinate I hear a voice. "Halloooo!"  "Halloooo!"

"Hello" says I to the voice I can only assume is Jesus.

It IS Jesus!  Jesus and his sheep!  He's wearing a parka  and snow shoes, but it's definitely him.

"Yoo don't be here! Go to train!" says he.

He is far away and pointing to what are obviously train tracks and relatively close after all.  How did I not see train tracks and who grows sheep on the top of a mountain?  Just as I have that thought, I see the train coming down said track.  The  shepard is waving madly. He clearly does not want any sleep over guests tonight.  I wonder if my chances are better to get to the train or wrassle him for his coat and snow shoes.

I  realize my chances suck at both, but I launch into a clumsy Quasimoto run and just when I think I will make it, one of my Sketchers gives up and leaves my foot.  I know I swore at it and hurt it's feelings, but it was a dire time and there could be no mercy.  I retrieved it and ran waving my packages in front of me as if that would stop the train.

With literally seconds to spare, I locked eyes with the conductor and heard the shriek of brakes.  The doors hissed open like the gates of heaven and that so cold train was all of a sudden a balmy resort in Spain.  The train did not move for a bit and a curious stillness set in.  A moment later, the conductor came along with a blanket and some sort of Swiss scolding which ended with him pointing at a train shelter on the other side of the tracks.  

Ah yes, a train shelter.  Why that must be for people to wait for the train rather than standing out on the glacier. I am willing to bet my almost lost life it is heated.What a fabulous idea.  Well done Swiss people.  Well done.

As the train headed back down the mountain I tried to lock the views  into my memory.  My memory sucks so bad.   When I got back to the station, the sheep were posed in stillness at the gate for that perfect photo with Clydesdale horses nodding above them.  My hair and clothes had thawed and the brown paper of the packages had turned to a slippery mucky skin.

Making the trek back up to my hotel was easy.  People looked at me with what I believe to be awe.  I'm sure it was my edgy haircut.

At the hotel, the concierge greets me.  He notices my sopping packages and tells me I can leave them at the desk as the postman makes a pick up there each morning.  I can't even make words so I just smile and leave them on the counter.

 In my room I run the hottest bath the Swiss will allow and bubble it up with two rations of complimentary shampoo.  I open six tiny bottles of rye and line them up on the edge.  Between each I put a chunk of Toblerone.  I  climb in and ponder.  The bathtub is long and thin with a glass enclosure.  I feel like I have been laid to rest in a bubbly coffin.  So much better.

Pondering is a good way to understand when you zigged when you should have zagged.  The packages did not have to be a part of my day.  Two bottles in, I remember tucking 200 euro into a pocket I made in my bra (for emergencies) weeks ago.  I flubbed over the side, found said soaking wet bra and said funds.  Not only could I have mailed the packages and paid for my haircut, I could have bought my ticket AND eaten steak again.  Three bottles in I remember the other clever pocket in my shorts for holding much needed Advil.  Flub flub…yes…soggy, but there all along.   I get so smart after a few tiny bottles of Rye.  I remember my pin for my VISA.   It is not the same as my checking account.  As I knock off the last bottle I realize Toblerone is not a meal, so I get out, dry my crazy hair and put on every piece of clothing I have left.  My shoes are still squeaking with water, but they are the only ones I have so I put them on and waddle back into town for dinner with my stash of cash.

In a sweet little Italian restaurant I sit by the fire and look out the window at the mountains.  After only one glass of wine I have become a genius of recall.  I know what is in the packages!

When I get back to the hotel I plan to retrieve them, but the desk is closed and the man has gone home for the night.  

Here in my bed, I write all this and draw a few pictures of the matterhorn to make up for the lost images.  Insane as the day was, it was also remarkable and from the warmth of these blankets I have only one regret.  I should have listened to the packages.  They tried to get my attention all day and I blatantly ignored them, even scolded them for their inconsideration.  Who knew that if I would have opened them up, I would have found not only a pair of dry running shoes, but also the only sweater I brought (which I decided I would never need) and ditto on a pair of long pants which seemed a ridiculous thing to have in Italy in August.

I make a note to remember where there are mountains, there is probably snow and where there is snow, I should not be an idiot in shorts.

Out the window a million stars are shining and the Matterhorn has returned to the distance where it belongs.

Nite



 



MILAN, Tuesday, September 8

nancy zimmerman

On the train heading to Milan.  I am passing through Carrara where blue white marble gleams like a fresh fallen snow on all the mountain peaks.  I am not a fan of marble in counter-top form, but I have always loved the idea of trying my hand at a giant sculpture.  I daydream about Camille Claudel who took the door off her studio in France just to get a massive block of this stuff into her studio just before she went mad. Camille was Rodin's lover; the first woman to be offered an apprenticeship in his studio. At the time, women in France were either wives, hookers or dancers and not allowed education or entrance to art galleries.  In those days, galleries were gentlemen's clubs.  The porn hub of the time if you will; full of nudes with downward gazes who were objects to look upon but who dared not look back.

 Rodin gave Camille a chunk of the hardest marble to work with hoping it would deter her.  She returned with a glorious marble foot and Rodin was smitten.  When his model failed to inspire, Camille sent her off and lay nude before him in the pose he desired.  She was 19, he was 25 years older with a wife and family. During their ten year affair she worked with him on The Gates of Hell, on which is perched the infamous "Thinker." Camille is believed to have been Rodin's inspiration for his famous sculpture "The Kiss."  He promised in writing he would leave his wife Rose and have no other love or model but Camille.  

He lied.  

Camille enjoyed a bit of fame and much notoriety for a few years. The affair for Rodin ended as they do, but for Camille it was an unending romance fraught with betrayal and an abortion. 

After she got the marble block into her home, the door did not return to it's hinges.  The rain came in, mice took up residence and the distraught Camille slowly went mad.  She tossed most of her work into the river where it still lies likely with all manner of dark secrets of the French. 

Finding her dishevelled and incoherent, her brother took her to the Montdevergues Asylum.  She spent the next 30 years locked there in the madness of a broken heart.  She was found dead in her room and buried innocuously under a tree.  I don't know why I love that story so much.

MILAN

Arrived in Milan to find I had no reservation.  I know I had a reservation and after much discussion  it seemed the hotel had given away my room due to the urgent needs of the rich and famous during Fashion Expo.  I blame my Canadian attire.  The snotty and condescending concierge offered me a  ridiculously expensive room up the street.  His plucked brows arched and his tiny little French mouth puckered like an asshole when I said I would take it.  It took me four hours to find the hotel up the street, but it had a glorious bath tub and a giant bed.

I don't know what a Fashion Expo is, nor do I care.  This place is full of gorgeous, busy young people.  I don't think anyone over 30 is allowed. I thought Toronto was a trendy and busy place, but Milan is majestically monotonous.  The pace is set by a million Gucci and Louboutin heels clicking masterfully along the cobblestone.    I was the only hobo sneaking along in Sketchers, a hot pink tube top and dragging a rickety suitcase.  As I walked, I waged war with my flowery shorts that seemed to want nothing more than to retreat and hide bunched in my crotch. I  Even the dogs were better groomed than me and I had an urgent desire to brush my hair and shave my legs. I suppose I should have been embarrassed, but I like to think I was the most noteworthy woman on the street. This is one of the joys of being a stranger in a strange land and of travelling alone.  It provides a forum for rich delusion.

The quest for red meat was foiled in the land of the anorexic.  My only option was a Chinese place, but it was different enough from Italian.  I gorged on spring rolls and separated enough slivers of beef from peppers to form them into the illusion of steak.

I am not going to stay in Milan for long.  Fashion and Fashionistas bore me to no end.  I will never understand the need to impress with clothes and bags you cannot afford.  It all seems trite and silly when no one will remember you for more than a moment.

Back at the hotel, stuffed with protein and glee, I filled the tub and emptied a bottle of red wine.  


Nite.


AND SO ENDS ART CAMP

nancy zimmerman

Tuesday, Sept 8

 

Our final breakfast was a bit sober, but still fun. AntHony is in excellent spirits today as he has been each day.

I ditched Chrissy and her bro for a ride because fun as it seemed, it was a long way off my route and I am eager to get to my boyfriend’s house in Amsterdam.

I should mention that on the way home last night, AntHony and I were going at it and he said something derogatory (shocker).  Miss Chrissy took great offense when AntHony retorted YOU LIKE IT! Hehehe.  Chrissy will not stand for such things.  AntHony and I, however, will.  Cuz I do enjoy your antics sir and I will miss you most of all.

I am leaving here relatively unscathed and without having slug many arrows. Tonight I shall be eating a massive chunk of red meat. I am also quite excited to get back on the rails, because I am a hobo now and that’s what hobos do.

All in all Tuscany was great. I should mention we finally raced in the pool.  AntHony had said he can swim the pool in one length.  I have no idea what that means, but I was soundly beaten by the 84 year old.  The greatest thing about AntHony is he has changed my perception of the elderly.  Freda, too, has inspired me to want to live long, see more and do more. In essence, stay alive, care about who I am and do all there is to do.

I said goodbye to the pizza oven, my bench and the dog. I am trying to live this trip so slowly but it is spinning by relentlessly. I hope the fab four have not given me fake email addies and I did to some. I look forward to keeping in touch with the Brits and hallucinate that we will remain pen pals well into our old age.  Then we can regale in exaggerated detail what fun we had.  I hope Chrissy and her lover find happiness, that Di masters her skill at dragon sculping and that Jane has continued success in fluttering for help.  For AntHony I do hope he always finds a sparring partner worthy of his banter.  Such an odd little group and so much excellent chemistry.  

We packed up and headed to Pisa where Anthony said a hasty goodbye and left Jane and I both puzzled and a bit sad.  We had hoped to spend a bit of time in Pisa with him, but his hasty retreat suggests he had his fill.  Jane and I wandered like idiots for a bit and finally said goodbye.

 Now trecking along the coast toward Milan, I don’t know if I am looking at an ocean or a sea, but it is glittery and pretty.

Thinking of art camp does make me smile regardless of the nonsense.  I think without the nonsense it may not have been as fun.  I find great humour in nonsense.  Our hosts were hosty, and though the arting was not what I was looking for, it was good enough.  The British are not without their charms and I shall take away the fun and fond memories.  It was not what I expected, but it’s always the unexpected that makes my world interesting. Thank you all for a most entertaining week!

 

ANTHONY:  A fond footnote to a marvelous man.

I wrote these words on the train for my own amusement;

 Strong straight shoulders hinged the the arms of a much younger man. The tanned long body lesser men strive for at any age, in which women find the fodder of fantasy.  A body so pleased with itself, it struts and poses as only a Sagittarius can.  A body carved into marble repeatedly, haunting my journey from Greece to Italy.

The classic nose worthy of any ancient sculpture (I suppose because it is an ancient nose), the flawless tan brightening the discerning eyes and every hair seems in place where there is none. A wonder indeed.

 And of the man; eloquent, travelled, masterful, accomplished.  The timbre of the voice, oh the lyric. To be soothed by song or soundly scolded, they are equally enchanting.  Always the gentleman. Offering assistance, not jumping at every request but meeting a select few lest grace becomes advantage taken

Do demigods watch you with jealous eyes?

That right there was some great writing. lol.  But as the veneer fell away and you allowed yourself to join us mere mortals, a far more interesting, mischievous and endearing AntHony emerged who truly enamoured us.  Without further adieu, I give you my fondest AntHony moments: (some have been embellished for my amusement without tainting the spirit of the speeches)

My favourite AntHony lines brazenly embellished:

 Would you shut up?

I have had three books published.

I built a city in Japan. The people love me there.  I work with many Japanese people. They practically worship me.

 I started an art colony.  It's practically world wide.  

 If you would move your third ass there would be room for all of us.  

 Just how much do you weigh? 

Shut up Freda and eat your food.

 When asked - How many languages do you speak?  - "I don't know"  as if there were too many to count.

 I will bet you 500 lbs your painting will be dry by tomorrow night.  (no AntHony it was not and a debt remains)

 Design my grotto - "No"

Straighten the buildings in my painting - "No"

 Come to Pinnochio - "No"

 Get me a tea.

 Get me a tea.

 How many strokes does it take you to swim the pool?  I can do it in one. 

 Say thank you.  

 Brush your teeth.

 Brush your hair.

 You are NOT going to Pinnochio.

 Shut up.  Just shut up!

Be humble. (what I heard in my own head was Shut up AntHony)

 Get in the pool.

Get out of the pool!

 You can't have a fire.

 You are coming to the opera.

 Get me a tea.

I sing like Elvis.  (yes. Like Elvis under a blanket with a mouth full of cotton)

I designed a city in Japan.  They built it.  They worship me there.

 Eat your food.

Don't eat your food, she will just give you more.

 I am a great pole vaulter.

I have never met the queen.  No, I had forgotten, I have met the queen.  The queen adores me.  

 You WILL do Tai Chi (no Svengali I will not)

 I'm rich I can afford it. 

I am taking all your comments in. (on my elaborate critique of your lame grass and tree painting...translation..I am NOT taking them in.

Twas I that spoke these words, but I was channelling you completely:

Shall I don my bikini for you ladies and hide it seductively beneath my royal towel?  Perhaps my door will be ajar while I strip...perhaps not...do you dare the awe as you pass?  Solely for your pleasure I shall pose by the pool so you can enjoy my  tan and the girth of my loins.  Let me just strut over here and get some wine. I look so good in my bikini with a glass of wine.  Remember ladies, I am a man spoken for, but there is no harm in your enjoyment of this extraordinary physique.  It would be cruel to deny you.

I hope you have enjoyed this little tirade.  It was a joy to write and unforgettable to experience you....the man, the myth, the legend they call AntHony.

 

ART CAMP DAY 7: September 4

nancy zimmerman

 

Monday, September 4

Went off to SomethingorOtherTown and drew fancy pictures of random things.  All of these towns seem abandoned, but the reality is, only tourists would be outside climbing hills and painting in this heat. I wandered away from the group to enjoy the scenery and explore a bit.  This place is full of old buildings and tiny churches.  It was once a stronghold and there is a massive bell tower in the center of town. The bell clangs like a ladle on an iron frying pan each and every hour. The first time it is quite charming, but I can’t imagine how Europeans handle all this regulated racket.  There are two friendly white dogs who toddle along behind us looking for hugs and treats.  Ironically, Jane happens to carry dog treats in her pocket for her dog. Her dog is in England. She is not, and yet, these treats did not go unappreciated by the two.  That’s Jane in a nutshell.   When the bells start to ring, the two dogs run off like maniacs toward the tower.  The take their position, look skyward and bark for the duration of the bells.  It’s adorable and funny to watch.

 Jane and I found an old car to draw and laughed and talked. She is excellent company and forever amuses me. The drawing came out well and we rejoined the group to rip them up, paste and redraw them into something new.  As usual, mine was not good, but Diana and Chrissy seemed to have a bit of a knack for it. 

I don’t know how they manage it, but everyone seems to look neat and tidy at all times. I tend to sport a more bridge troll look.  The heat frizzes my hair and my flesh is burned, blistered and gleaming with a slimy sweat.  My clothes are tired of making the effort to contain me and my shoes resemble the ones you see along the side of the highway. I have long since abandoned trying to look presentable. This is a battle I cannot win and one I care little about.  I reason I cannot see what I look like and it’s more the problem of the onlooker.  I also reason what I lack in presentation, I make up with my dazzling personality and surely the sparkle of that spiffs me up a bit. ;) 

Chris took us into a cool little church full of curiosities.  I enjoy that he knew I would appreciate it and I did indeed.

Finished all our paintings and had a little art show. Everyone did well.  I only like my charcoal, but I may paint the man with the hat over the towers, or work up the car.  Probably not.

Back at the home, Chrissy’s brother Mike and his wife Pam came to see her.  It was very sweet as they have not seen each other for a decade.  I invaded the kitchen and made them some tea, because sometimes I do nice things. The wasp buzzed over them and gave them no peace, though Jane, Di and I made every attempt to ensure Chrissy’s work was being done.  It seems intruders are not welcome here and I felt bad for them. Tempting as it was to bark, I did not.

I am going to ride along with them to somewhere I have forgotten and look forward to it.

While in the midst of our final cocktail hour, Kris presented me with a thoughtful gift.  She was holding an armful of my laundry; giant underpants and tired bras dangled from the mass.  I did not take said mass and thought it odd to present them at cocktail hour.  I said nothing and she said, "Shall I put them in your room?" Why yes, that seems like a much better place for them… No wait! Let's strewn them around the dinner table and play dress up.  As she toddled off, Anthony squished my arm and said, "Say thank you."  And though I had other things running through my head, I did say thank you (as quietly as I could). We had lasagna for dinner and I am almost sick of cheese.

 Chris made a great dvd and we gathered, sipped lemoncello and regurgitated the week. Though on my best behaviour, I endured commentary of my manners and the sorrow inflicted on all.  AntHony sensed my displeasure and tried to engage me, but alas, I was enjoying a bit of a pity party and soundly glad to be leaving in the morning.

 So that’s it.  This is our last night.  I am glad I came. I saw so many cool places and I look forward to painting the wasp. 

I bought one of Krissys paintings which reminds me of her and what I thought Tuscany would be.I am excited to get back to Pisa and on to Milan and Switzerland. It was nice to have people around, but I am happily reminded why I would rather not.I plan to see sweet Jane and Di in Wales and intent to bless their socks off. Jane suggested I arrive in a carriage and if I remember to, I shall.


ART CAMP: DAY 6

nancy zimmerman

 

Sunday, September 6th.

Stayed at the asylum today and did washes of acrylic and scumbling over the images of yesterday.  I do enjoy roughing up pretty pictures, so though I do not like mine, it’s very therapeutic.  Chris does a fabulous job of it and he has found his style, which is something I envy a great deal.  I have no style and I doubt I ever will, but I love to create and I am happy in my random skin.  Diana picks everything up instantly.  She has such a great sense of colour and technique I really look forward to seeing more of her work.  I bet she is as good as AntHony. She is certainly the most studious of all. 

Jane was scolded in class today for being noisy.  It was great because I was painting beside her and was soundly responsible but took no blame.  She has toddled over to the dark side and seems to enjoy being a little trouble maker.  This both pleases and amuses me.  It’s the sort of thing a good girl does while away at summer camp.

We had a very fun day everyone is beginning to loosen up a bit. Spent some time watching Kris and Maria try to plug a hole.  Kris was up on a rickety old spindle of a ladder and Maria at the bottom barking orders in Italian.  The foam missed it’s mark repeatedly and the rest of the crew offered advice from safe vantage points as the goo dripped down along the stone wall.

We are going to dinner tonight to what is being described as “a wonderful meat lovers feast.”  I cannot contain my joy and have been salivating all morning.

AntHony told me I should brush my hair for dinner, and just this once, I might. 

So the meatfest was a bust. I skipped the appetizer of cold cuts saving myself for the main event.  Sadly that was the main event. I wonder if there is a red meat shortage in Italy or if they just don’t like it. After the meal Anthony pointed out there’s a pub down the way which has marvelous burgers. Had I known in advance, I would have escaped, which is probably why he did not share this tidbit until the ride home.

Chris and Kris did not join us for dinner, but when off with Tony to visit friends.  I envision them all chewing on giant legs of beef.  Though the meal was a snore, the event was fabulous.  Everyone was in good spirits and the laughter and chatter was loud and robust.

Jane spent the time doing an awesome imitation of me. “Anthony, what are you about?  If I put my hand over this bit it’s all just orange!”  Perfect.  Freda said people were offended scolded her immediately.  Chrissy quickly demanded to know just who had complained.  Freda had no answer and Chrissy made it clear that no one seemed remotely offended and thus another battle won but not forgotten by enemy troops.  It was good to see Chrissy letting herself out.  The woman has the best sideways grin on the planet and she flashes it often in conflict. 

Diana was once again trapped beside Freda, but at least across from AntHony and seemed to be having a good time. As a public service I listened to stories of Freda’s past life as a dancer, her fancy home and how she was a rare talent in the choir who could reach notes no one else could.  It was all familiar, but because of the wine and the freedom it allowed everyone else to talk, I took one for the team and played listener.

Chrissy is having an affair with the very young, dark and handsome waiter boy.  She is so smitten it is remarkable and wonderful. He is half her age, but played into her hand like a kitten and she was giddy over it.  Who knew she was such a temptress?  Not I dear diary, not I.  Well done Chrissy.

I heard about the opera and how I would have liked the building.  Most had a good time, Chrissy was not impressed with the lead singer and described exactly what I hate about opera.  No sooner has she finished when who appeared but the singer herself. Kudos were given and knowing glances exchanged.

Came back, sat around with the fab four gossiping about the absent. One thing I do really like about me, is I can be amused by most anything.  So though this is not the art camp I hoped it would be, I am enjoying these people very much.  All in all, it was another fantastic day. 


ART CAMP DAY 5…continued.

nancy zimmerman

Saturday, September 5…continued. 

After Pinocchio we came upon a pleasant surprise across the street. The Garzoni Garden and Butterfly House is one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy.  It was created in the 1500’s and was originally a fortress and then became the country mansion of the Garzoni family where Napoleon visited.

 Reminiscent of a ziggurat, this massive tiered garden is built up and along a steep Cliffside.  The staircase is daunting and delightful and the rewards for the climb are countless.  For starts, the view from the top is as beautiful as the view looking up.  There is a fountain spilling down the center flooding ancient baths where the rich and famous frolicked. There are statues of Gods and Goddesses, fanciful mythical characters and sinister stone monkeys who peer down at on comers.

 If one dares to venture (and I certainly do), there are stone paths that lead into glorious hideaways.  An orange cat followed me like a shadow down the first. The prize at the end was a pen of tiny goats who seemed thrilled someone took the time to say hello. The next led to peacocks and fat white chickens. To my absolute glee, the orange cat and I came upon a statue of AntHony, regally clad in his royal blue towel.  Just around the corner, we found one of Krissy.

After an hour or so of exploring, I returned to the stairs and once at the top ran my hands along two glorious sculptures who lord over the garden.  Fame and Triton battle for my attention and the view from the nymphaeum is nothing short of majestic.

It was a gorgeous day and though Nicky chose to wait below and find phone service, I was glad to have enjoyed the climb alone. Once down the mountain, we popped into the Butterfly House, which was full of butterflies and not all that inspiring for me.

We had a long slow meal of scrumptious spaghetti, bread and wine in a little bistro.  It was great to hear her stories of Italy and I romanticized about perhaps starting a life here.  While buzzing through town in her tiny Austin mini, we were pulled over by the Cabinierri for driving the wrong way on a one-way street.  We had done this several times en route, so I suppose it was only a matter of time.  We were questioned as to why we had no identification (which is apparently required in Italy at all times).  It is also against the law to not take your receipt from a restaurant or store.  So bizarre. Regardless, the cops were mean and cold hearted.  Poor Nicky was so upset I thought she would cry and I knew they were hoping she would.  After an hour of berating and badgering, she was released with a hefty fine, which I added to my enormous ride fee and never looked back.  As the sun began it’s retreat, we headed home like Thelma and Louise enjoying the Tuscan views and reliving Pinocchio.

Back at the seniors home now, tempted to swim, but not too sure.  It did not rain as promised and it was another perfect day.  I can hear his majesty in the pool, so I suppose a swim is indeed in order.

Chrissy came out and gave an outstanding reading of the play and I am excited to see it in print. I am sure it is Oscar worthy. I suspect they will all chicken out but the idea of it still amuses me to no end. After a bit of hustle and bustle the troupe is off to the opera and I am finally a free woman once again.

I went back for another swim as the sun went down and the stars began to fill the sky.  It’s colder up here now and I wish I could have a fire, but instead I have wrapped myself in my blanket and taken up my place on the bench.

The stars are out and the darkness is wonderful.  The dog and I are listening to critters in the woods and I am completely content in this silence.  My intent is to drink this bottle of wine and pass out long before the cast returns.

 

Thanks for a glorious day,

 

Nite.

Saturday, September 5 PINOCCHIO DAY HAS ARRIVED!

nancy zimmerman

Had a great time at breakfast this morning.  It was just Diana, AntHony and I but an excellent start to the day.  I asked AntHony how many languages he speaks and he responded, “I don’t know.”  As though they are countless. ;)  He also remembered (not to be outdone by the worldly Freda) that he too had met the queen. 

Today is a free day. Apparently our beloved teacher needs a day off. We are clearly overworking the poor soul, and tonight is the infamous opera and dinner in town.  I am not allowed to go to dinner in town, as it is far too difficult to arrange return travel, so in my stoic grace, I have opted to stay home alone and starve.

It is a perfectly glorious day and I am so excited about heading to what Trip Advisor dubs “the worst attraction in all of Italy” I can hardly wait for my carriage to whisk me off to PINOCCHIO PARK!  Later!

BEST DAY EVER!

No words can do Pinocchio Park justice.  One really must experience this macabre and magical place to understand, but oh my goodness I shall try to give you a taste;

Pinocchio Park was built in the town of Collodi in 1956 to celebrate the long-nosed lying marionette. The author, Carlo Lorenzini changed his name to Collodi after the town his mother was born in and where he visited often as a child. 

An adorable skinny (British of course), girl named Nicky, dressed in red in honour of the puppet, came to drive me to Collodi. She was great fun and the ride in her little clown car with the roof down was an adventure in itself. We meandered up and down mountains, honking at every curve and laughing our way in and back out of one way streets like a marble in a maze until we finally sighted the massive statue of Pinocchio towering over our destination.

We first enter what looks like a classroom with large windows and threadbare drapes dangling off dusty rods.  Like children in gym class awaiting instruction, a crowd of dreary and dilapidated characters stare at us as though hoping for adoption or at least restoration. Most are renditions of Pinocchio but they are dwarfed by creepy half human/half animals.  They are crafted from grandma’s mink, Paper Mache and duct tape. For no obvious reason, Edward Scissor Hands and Pippy Long Stocking have joined the party.

Outside I am drawn immediately to an awesome, out-of-service and filthy ride of vintage Volkswagon vans and Austin minis.  It is decorated with Christmas bows and aluminum foil. The sun dapples through decades of bug corpses that have fossilized on the torn tarp above.  Next to it is a merry-go-round of awesome old Pinnochios and a random Elvis in a gondola.

A dirt path leads us on to a caravan of erie circus carts and I cannot get in fast enough! The door is rotting off its hinges and the walls and floors are faring no better. Inside, small dioramas depicting the infamous tale are protected by glass smeared by generations of dirty little hands.  It is clear maintenance has not been an issue since 1959 as each of these fabulous little scenes is thick with dust and mouse droppings.  The final cart houses the Blue Fairy; a bored looking store mannequin with a dollar store wig and a forgotten wedding dress.

The map is completely useless, as most of the rides in the park are closed and trails are blocked by do not enter signs.  Regardless, the paths are full of intrigue and we find all sorts of delights.  Nicky (brave soul) climbed into a mold covered giant fish in the middle of the lake just to provide me a photo op.  

Down the dirt paths sculptures appear of characters and scenes from the book. One makes the trip completely worthwhile; it is the coffin of Pinocchio held on the shoulders of mourning mice in top hats.  I don’t know what it is about this work that I love, but if I could, I would steal it.  I will paint an egg in it's honour.

This place is lost in a time warp and it makes smile. I fantasized about coming here and offering to spruce it up, but now, I rather enjoy it’s glorious decay. 

I heard a puppet show going on and as I headed toward the tiny outdoor theatre, appropriately, a rat dashed across my path. Who wouldn’t want to bring their children here?

 Beyond there is a stone play yard surrounded by primitive tile décor and a creek with two massive plastic snakes crawling in or out of it. 

Back inside, there are more scary characters and a place for kids to do art. A few cool displays of Gepetto’s workshop follow and finally we land in the gift shop of forgotten souvenirs. I bought the worst souvenir on the planet. A plastic faded bottle opener whose label ( faded cartoon of Pinocchio) clung reluctantly by one corner to the plastic handle.

 I am so glad I went. There were so many things in bad or original shape it was whimsical fascinating and frightening all at the same time. I absolutely loved it.

 I will stop here lest I bore you, but a photo is worth a thousand words, so enjoy the gallery and I will continue the rest of the day in the next blog.

ART CAMP DAY 4

nancy zimmerman

 

Friday, September 4

I stayed up far too late last night, but I have no regret because I love the quiet and peace of it all.  I finished the Rome egg and have to find a post office.  I don’t think I will paint one here. I was about to go get coffee, but it seems there is a Tai Chi class going on so I shall lay low until the madness passes.  I am in a very good mood today and optimistic about making an effort to shut up and be nice.  It’s only a week so surely I can get through without any bloodshed.  I shall try to be kind to Freda and will focus my mischief on AntHony and Jane.

Diana is wearing my favorite skirt yet. It’s dark with light flowers and she has a pink sweater.  She told me today about her garden and it was an excellent way to start a new day.  She is carving dragons and it sounds absolutely beautiful.  

Kris is flustered as to how to get me to Pinocchio.  I can’t tell her enough I can figure it out, but she seems to get something out of the drama, so I shall leave her to it.  Kris is Chris (the instructor’s wife). She is not an artist, but rather lord and master of the kingdom.  From the little we have spoke, she loves animals, her home and entertaining. I think we started out fine, but since rejecting the opera and brazenly making plans to go to Pinocchio, she seems to be on edge every time we talk. Today I was told if I stay behind on opera night, I shall have no dinner as it will be too difficult to get someone to drive me back.  I told her I am happy not to go to town for dinner and would just stay at the home, eat cheese and bread and drink all the wine.  She responded by telling me there was no bread as I had eaten it all.  I have no recollection of raiding the bread stores, and because the comment amused me more than it offended me, she toddled off without injury.  

Chrissy is not feeling well and I hate that for her.  She deserved great health and much laughter.  She told me when she was a kid she had no friends.  It may be an exaggeration, but if true, a lot of kids missed out.  I adore Chrissy. I wish she lived in Canada, I would force her to be my friend.

AntHony is yelling for me. Such a bossy thing.  He must see this as The Taming of the Shrew.  He seems determined to make me obedient or at least British.  Neither will ever happen, but I appreciate the amusing effort he makes.

We are off to some other town to paint.  I shall relay the deets later.

So this is how the day unfolded;

As is my custom, no day here is without conflict.  Today, it was about one missing canvas. I hunted around for it and found it on Lucinda’s easel.  Given yesterdays nonsense, I was not really up for a confrontation, but I came to paint and I reasoned my canvas was a vital part of that.  “Lucinda, is that my canvas?” “No.”  I had to smile, cuz ya, it is so.  It was so hot today, but down the hill I went like a five year old to find the teacher to tattle on Lucinda.  Tony is teaching again as Chris is leaving us for another opera rehearsal.  This whole opera thing is ridiculous.  So are the tutorials and the discussions. But I do enjoy Chris and I digress.

Tony goes up, has an argument with Lucinda about canvasses vs. the board he brought her. She says she wants the canvas, so I say I want the canvas too, because it is MINE.  We leave Tony to play King Solomon and he gives it to me.  I head up the hill and paint yet another crappy bell tower.  I want to paint the inside of the bar and the guys playing cards, but I know there would be a shunning so I paint crap instead.

I stayed out of everyone’s way today, but wandered around to see what the girls were up to. I couldn't find anyone but Chrissy who I met doing wonders with a curve on a dirt path.  We talked for a bit  about how we love dirt paths and how they rarely disappoint.

Diana is three for three. I really love her work.  AntHony is leading the pack with one stellar painting after another.  I don’t know what I expected from art camp, but I doubt I will go to another.  I am not a landscape painter.  I don’t think I really know what sort of painter I am.

There are no people out and about in any of these little towns.  This one is particularly curious with bizarre little voodoo socks dangling from walls and scarecrows leaning against ancient houses.  I came upon a little niche with a dirty little Mary tucked inside on a tower wall.  I like this place.

We went for lunch in a dark little bistro with beaded curtains and a bathroom door, which looked like a freezer entrance.  The well-laden bar was surrounded by all manner of Italian kitch thick with dust and ambience. A quintessential plump and verbose bar maid/owner loaded us up with plate after plate of deliciousness.  AntHony warned not to eat all my food, lest she dump more on.  Wise advise after the pound of motzerella served bare and imposing landed on my plate. Who eats this much cheese in one sitting? Not I, dear diary…not I.

A table full of men sat in the corner laughing and barking.  I wished I knew what they were saying and longed to join them.

It was nice to get out of the sun.  Today it was relentless and the stairs are brutal.  I got all the way up to my easel only to forget my paints…down, up, down, up.

Back at the home, I was dying for a swim.   AntHony and I are the only ones who do.  Though the other day, I looked up and Diana was floating by. It was funny because I saw her sunbathing, but didn’t see her come in. It was all very loc ness and amusing.

Anthony gets in before me every time, and then by the time I do, he is out and posed like Ceasar in his throne at the end of the pool awaiting amusement. He critiques my swimming and brags of his glorious pole-vaulting days and various other things he is better than me at. Today as I came out in my swim suit sausage casing but stopped to talk to Chrissy, he barked, “GET IN THE POOL!” I was obviously going swimming sir.  Unlike you, I do not just sport this overburdened hunk of spandex to lounge around in.  As I was about to jump in, my dear AntHony said in absolute sincerity, “Just how much do you weigh?”  As if the behemoth beside him was something he had never encountered in all of his 84 years.

 We seem to have found this odd little time to relentlessly tease each other.  He gets some very good lines in and I wonder if he is a Sagittarius.  If not, he has to be an Aires or at least a Scorpio.  Regardless, it makes my days in the asylum tolerable.

Kris came to hover and repeat how difficult this whole dinner and Pinocchio thing was for her to organize.  I repeated I could do it myself with the greatest of ease.  She returned to tell me she had found a friend who will drive me to Pinocchio, but there would be no dinner for me in town or otherwise.  No problem Kris. I only paid for meals, but can’t be bothered with your nonsense.  I shall not die.

This is another thing that irks me.  It was suggested we could wander into town at any point as though it was a short little hike.  It is not, and we are captive.

Chrissy took photos of AntHony’s nose for me.  I intend to paint his portrait.  

Oh cocktail hour.  It is torturous indeed. Freda told me of the time she met the queen again and how when she rides her bike, men honk at her because she is so lovely from behind.  She has told me three times.   I want to tell her that when I take off my shirt in public, men offer proposals of marriage, or that perhaps she could avoid the honks if she didn’t ride in the middle of the road…but I am content to listen to my alternative reel in my head.

 I am absolutely not going to the opera.  AntHony is adamant that I am NOT going to Pinocchio and I AM going to the opera.  Wrong on both counts mister.  These are battles you cannot win.  I wish AntHony and Chrissy would come to Pinocchio.  They would see what I see and it would be good for their souls.  I shall try to convince them, but they are duty bound Brits who shall not break the rules. Poor things.

Chrissy is doing wonders with the script.  It’s so funny, and AntHony of course wants the lead role.  We talk about the sets and lines and lighting as if it will happen, but we all know it will not.  In fact, it is almost an inside joke now.  A satire for the home.

Dinner tonight was self serve as our hosts were yet again, detained by the opera.  We dolled out our rations and took our places at the table.

AntHony bet me 500lbs my painting would be dry in the morning.  I am trying to decide how to spend my winnings.  He also reminded me I should brush my hair when I come to dinner.

I get to stay home all by myself tomorrow night.  I’m almost grown up!  Kris is probably worried I will go through her underwear drawer, but I have bigger plans. I’M GOING TO PINOCCHIO!

Chrissy told us a story of noisy youngsters on the beach.  She complained to her husband and thought she might call the police when her husband said, “It’s only 9pm.” If that’s not funny enough, she replied, “Then I’ll go back to bed.”

She also made a very Shakespearian statement regarding AntHony “I see you often in a casket.” Hehehe. Funny woman.

This has been my most favorite night. Though I was given a sound refusal regarding a fire, AntHony used his charm to seduce permission from Mom.  He rearranged the furniture like only a master of design could, filled our glasses with wine and we stared into the glow. It was very thoughtful and sweet. This is the sort of night I hoped for. As fate would have it, only the fab four were present.  There was hearty laughter about the play and Diana’s multiple roles.  She will be a witch and then dash into the woods to return as a ghost and then she will scurry down to change the set.  Diana seems up for anything and appears kind and sweet, but I just know that woman is full of fight and fun.  She can play any number of roles because she clearly knows exactly who she is.  AntHony kept begging for bigger roles and was soundly over ruled by all.  To end a lovely evening, AntHony crooned out Elvis. Not to be outdone, Jane did her own adorable redition of the king.  Jane has a sweet little giggle that turns into a wildly contagious cackle.

It was a beautiful summer evening where warm conversation drifted up like smoke into a glorious star dappled sky.  An unassuming moon tipped his ear to enjoy the marvelous banter of genuine and endearing friendship.

My favorite speech of the night was listening to AntHony wax poetic about his wife whom he clearly adores and misses. “She has long beautiful silver hair but she never wears it down.  She pulls it back in the most lovely way.  She recoils when people stop her in the street to tell her how beautiful she is.  They really do.”

The evening lasted well into the 11th hour and I am heading to bed feeling content and happy to have met these people. I would like to say I will stay in touch, but we both know how these things work out.  I know better to just enjoy the now and be glad to know their wonderful spirits.

 

Thanks for a beautiful night,

 

Nite.

ART CAMP DAY 3

nancy zimmerman

Thursday, September 3

 

Had the same breakfast as yesterday. I fear a pattern is developing. Freda began a familiar story telling rant and AntHony said, “Shut up and eat your food Freda.” She seemed amused and obeyed. I sense there might be a little love interest afoot. Sat next to Diane.  She is so neat and tidy.  I feel like a bridge troll next to her.  We talked about clothes and she sews her own little skirts, which are floral and perfectly paired with matching sweaters. They are hemmed exactly to the knee and AntHony approves. He ranted about some lady at his coffee shop who is old and dresses like a hooker.  I love his disdain. He then went on again about the art colony he established and said he doesn’t like to sell his art there lest the others suffer. Hehehe.  Oh AntHony.  He also told us he can sing like Elvis and gave us a whispery redition of Blue Suede Shoes which was enjoyed by all, but especially by AntHony.  Chrissy is dressed in awesome billowy cotton all the time.  I like her.  She looks like an artist. 

We went to some town and painted all day.  Of course, it was a slow start and once there, everyone sat down for coffee.  WE JUST HAD COFFEE!  I couldn’t bear it, so I wandered around the galleries and came upon our substitute teacher Tony’s work, which was beautiful and delicate. After a long demonstration, Chris left early for opera rehearsal. He's a good painter and I like his teaching style.  I just cannot bear the demonstrations in 100 degree weather. It seems we only paint in places with countless stairs.

Finally, we got to it. I wanted to paint a bell, but Tony said it would be a waste to not paint the glorious surroundings.  I conceded defeat and included the whole damn tower and some houses.  I had to scale a little wall and paint on a slant all day, but I got lost in bricks and mortar  quickly and painted through lunch.  I chose this scene in part so no one could hover around me and I enjoy a good chunk of shut up in my day.  I saw Freda above considering the wall and was glad she did not make the attempt. The time flew and in an instant it was 5 and time to go.  I don’t like the painting at all and will not fall prey to peer pressure again.

Jane did a great scene as did Diane and AntHony.  I can tell these people are all quintessential landscapers.  I am not.  I would have liked to paint Tony’s face. He is dark and has an engaging smile that cuts across his face like the Cheshire cat's.

There was a great little garden below where I would have loved to have drawn the gnarled vines of watermelons and beans, but, alas, it was out of bounds.  It would have made an excellent place to toss a body.

At the end of class we lined our paintings against the stone wall and admired ourselves.  The ladies from the town both do good work. Lucinda and another Diane I think.  Diana is a studious painter and today her work was beautiful.  Jane is much better than she thinks and chose a perfect view.

While everyone disappeared down the hill, Tony and I were left to lug the remaining equipment.  It was a nice walk and we talked about his life in Italy, his art and his family. A very charming man indeed.

At the bottom, Jane, Diana, Chrissy and I popped into the pub and had a round of cold draft on the patio.  Like everything else so far, it involved much debate as to whether we were allowed or not.  The obedience of these people is amazing. I am tempted to organize a coo as it seems we we are only allowed to dabble in fun.  We had to rush back lest Kris or Chris wonder what happened to us.  Again I am 5 years old being led around on a rope.

I am back on my bench feeling a little sad and a little pissed, waiting for my center of gravity to return.  If there was a bus out of here, I would be on it. 

This is how it went down; A very seemingly happy little troupe boarded the bus homeward bound after a lovely day of painting.  AntHony was in top form and suggested I move one of my three asses over so we could all fit in the seat.  This does not offend me, because AntHony and I have developed a very fun banter. And to his credit, my ass does spead out like a small family.  He has taken some bossy little role and I enjoy my usual role as loud mouthed brat.  Jane, Chrissy and Diana all seem to get on with it and chime in more each day. 

So there we were, laughing and carrying on about who knows what, when little miss Freda, perched between AntHony and I like a pissy little bird, turns to me and says “Would you just shut up?” “It would be a courtesy to the others”  Yes Freda, I will shut up.  I appreciate that you are old and I am loud and this is a small van.   Jane was behind me squeezing my shoulder in morris code for “are you okay?”  Yes Jane, I am fine.  Chrissy’s head spun round like Linda Blairs to send daggers into the back seat.  Likewise, Diane was speaking volumes in silence laced with arsenic. These acts of solidarity both surprised and comforted me.  I can’t remember what AntHony was doing.  He was probably talking about China, oblivious to it all.  So I did shut up, but Freda did not.  She went on and on and on and on and on and on about it until we rolled into the asylum. 

Every night we are expected for cocktail hour, and so far, it has always been the same cocktail. I have no idea what it is, but there are bits of something in it and I can’t stand it.  I spilled mine the other night only to have it reappear.  I shall try to dodge cocktail hour as often as possible. Tonight we heard tales from Freda about her career as a dancer and her regal home. Thank God for Pinocchio. Whenever I am bored, I float off to the idea of romping through Pinocchio Park.  I do a lot of romping during cocktail hour.

These British folks are all atheists.  I wonder why, but really I don’t care why.  Ironically, Jane is forever blessing me.  Clearly I am in dire need of absolution.

 I asked Mr. Architect to design my grotto.  He said no. Later everyone talked about his or her homes and they all sound lovely.  AntHony’s sounded more decadent than Freda’s and when I asked how that could be, he answered it was because he is richer than me. I will take that bet. 

I asked about having a fire and Kris made it very clear that fires only happen on Thursdays pizza night, which is cancelled this week due to opera rehearsal.  This opera has become a pain in my giant ass.  I argued that we could have a fire with no pizza and it seemed to set her into a dizz so I left it alone.  I fear this is a creature of habit and does not like to deviate from the agenda. Chrissy apparently set some big place on fire as a child, so perhaps we will just torch the asylum next time mom and dad go out.

Dinner of gruel was more of the same.  Sadly after sitting in bored silence for the better part of another meatless meal, I decided to let it go and start yapping at AntHony. Freda seems unaware  that once she starts talking, there is no end in sight and what seemed charming in the beginning is now a relentless repetitive drone I cannot bear.  If anyone dares to start another conversation (heaven forbid there should be more than one), Freda gets offended. So when I began talking to  AntHony, not only did I get a pinch on the arm but a sound "NANCY! DON'T INTERRUPT ME!"

Patience is not my strong suit, but nor is cruelty, so I shut up for a bit, waited for her to take a breath and resumed chatter with AntHony.  The little bird chimed in and without warning,  I heard myself scold Miss Freda when she interrupted our nonsense.  I can’t remember what I said, something like “Freda PLEASE don’t interrupt me!” I know I made everyone uncomfortable, but Chrissy chuckled and held my gaze as if to say "Well done."  I felt bad instantly and cared less even sooner. I give Freda a very long rope due to her age.  If she were my age and we were on even footing, I would have devoured her.  Everyone went off to bed at some ridiculously early hour, and  I was not at all disappointed to find myself alone on the bench again with you.  Diaries are wonderful.  I get to write you forever sympathetic and forgiving.  I make you justify every stupid and glorious thing I ever do, and this, my friend, is why I adore you.  You are always completely correct. ;)

I have to do my laundry.  The fact that I wrote that means I am returning to normal.  I like Maria the Italian cook. She pretends to not understand English and AntHony is hell bent on teaching her.  He is such a control freak and she plays him marvellously. The woman knows exactly what is going on.  I should ask if we will ever eat meat here.  I feel like I am on a cleanse. 

That’s enough bitching for now, I feel purged by the writing and ready to start tomorrow with a big giant smile and much hope for the rest of the week.  I will try not to talk much, and that sucks, but when in Britain. 

Nite.

 

 

ART CAMP DAY 2

nancy zimmerman

Wednesday, September 2

 

Breakfast was bland and British. The only warm was toast, but I assume they will mix it up through the week.  I had a great conversation with Chrissy about life, Rembrandt, art and her travels. I am jealous for me and happy for her, but we are both having stellar European vacations.  She is my kindred spirit indeed flitting around Europe from art camp to art camp.

 

AntHony, Jane and Diana (like the Princess as she says) were at my end of the table. Anthony does not know how to pronounce his own name and insists I call him AnTony.  I will not. I choose to exaggerate the H at every turn as I enjoy tugging a grin from his tight little British lips.

 

 Jane and Diane are from Wales. I have no idea where exactly that is.  They seem live close to each other and went off into chatter about grandchildren and common ground.  I am glad they are becoming friends. Chrissy lives on a beach as far as I can discern with a man who has informed her that when he stops loving her he will let her know.  This amuses me. 

 

We went up to the studio and did a few clever little exercises with drawings we did around the property. There are two other ladies from the town…I don’t know their names, but surprise! They are also British.

 

Went to the pool finally and was shocked into paralysis by the coldness of the water!  It’s not just a little cool, it’s freaking freezing. It’s not refreshing or stimulating.  It’s ridiculously and uncomfortably cold.  Regardless, I swam and swam hoping it would warm, and it did, but I think it was my body that warmed it up.  AntHony and Chris came in and we had a good giggle. It seems building a pool or anything else in Italy is an absurd dance of protocol and fines.  You can dig a hole for a pool but you get fined for moving the earth.  Silly Italy. 

 

I think Anthony enjoys his vanity.  For an old guy, he is very talI, tanned and well maintained.  He wears a tiny blue Speedo which he enjoys parading in it and when we have all been blessed with the visual, he struts to the end of the pool, wraps himself in a regal blue towel and takes up his throne.  From there he runs commentary on my swimming, my hair, my volume and anything else that he thinks might provoke a reaction.  It’s all ridiculously amusing.

 

Eventually, I was beckoned out for school, and though I thought I could do as I pleased, I submitted to the authorities and went to class.

 

We did a charcoal abstract deal, and it felt good to create.  Everyone is very good.  I like watching the works emerge from the blank canvases.  I should mention I had a very hard time finding a sponge for this camp, and now that I am here, I see there is a giant bottle of sponges.  For no good reason I am horribly resentful about it.

 

Chris has dubbed Jane “Sweet Jane.”  I have no idea the reference, but it is clearly appropriate and she loves it.  Jane, it turns out, is a very girly little thing.  She reminds me of a bird.  She is a clever bird.  When she wants some one, (a man) to do her bidding, like lift a canvas or open a jar, she simply stands in front of the thing, makes a pitiful face and flaps her wings until someone (AntHony or I) comes to her rescue.  I have called her on this and she giggled well aware of her power.  I shall not lift for Jane again.

 

I forgot to mention the infamous Freda arrived.  I was quite wrong indeed.  She is neither Spanish, nor glorious, but she is full of stories and seems to fancy herself quite a bit of work.  I like that. She is a hundred or so; spry and small. Between her and AntHony I may reconsider my distaste for aging.

 

After class everyone seemed to scatter like mice into holes, so I sat on my bench drawing nonsense and talking to you. We are going into town for dinner tonight.  I didn’t realize we leave so much. I don’t know if I like field trips or not. Anthony has ordered me to brush my hair.  I doubt I will.

 

Our hosts abandoned us for dinner, but it was nice and Chrissy was outstanding. I was so glad to see these people loosen up a bit.  It could have been the wine and if so, I shall buy a case.  Jane was giggly and tipsy, Diana was charming and her and AntHony seemed off in their own chatter, while Chrissy and I began writing the play of Dorothea and Guiseppi.   I felt bad for Diana as she seems to always end up beside Freda in the van and next to her at dinner.  I shall try to save her tomorrow.

 

 Chrissy is very poetic and I am guessing she is an excellent writer.  We laughed loud and conjured characters out of the night sky. As there must be ghosts at the home, the play is about star crossed lovers on a chesnut farm, Guiseppi is cuckhold and only Chrissy can say the word with the passion it deserves.  The play includes a murder and a hauntingly tragic end for all.  It was decided to perform this play on our last night as a parting gift to Kris and Chris.  It amuses me they all seem very nervous about that. I know it won’t happen, but the idea is fabulous.

 

It’s 10pm and once again, the village sleeps. I can hear Jane walking around upstairs and realize I can never go up to the studio at night lest my trouncing bothers his highness below. I will stay up and paint my eggs on my little homework desk.

I can see the stars out my little window and I feel content and happy with the day. 

Nite

 

ART CAMP

nancy zimmerman

ART CAMP

Tuesday, September 1

I woke up early and headed out to explore as much of Pisa as I could in a few hours.  I watched the town wake up from an outdoor café.  Vendors rolled out racks of souvenirs; the doors of shops were set ajar as their contents began spilling out onto the sidewalk.  Handsome men in street clothes entered restaurants and reappeared as waiters hustling chairs off tables and setting out places.  The sun is washing the cobblestone in peach and rose.  Children are being herded by parents and for no good reason a gaggle of military men just jogged past. Sleepy tourists are spilling out of hotels and boarding houses while students with sketchbooks and lovers bounce by, leaving that aire of youth that makes me smile.

I wander toward the Piazza del Duomo and as I round the corner, there is the Tower of Pisa.  It appears so suddenly and seems out of place and small, I don’t really know what to make of it.  Countless tourists strike the usual pose of holding it up.  I take a photo of them instead of the tower.  Postcards do these things justice. My photography does not.   I take a few photos for strangers and head to the river Arno.  I love these stone bridges that span the waters of Europe. No man made material holds the warmth of sunlight as well as the natural stone of a place.  I walk to the center and look out over the water and wonder about Pisaro and Galileo. They knew these roads, this water. 

I only had time for one museum, and again, I leave with regret.  I pop in and out of a few shops, pick up a David head wine stopper and the perfect souvenir for my trip; an alabaster egg.  I have to get to the airport and meet my dates for the next seven days.

Sitting at the airport looking for my sign and a welcoming wave hello.  I get another coffee and wonder about Pinocchio Park.  I am here at the correct time, but I am getting a little nervous about being forgotten.  I call the number on the website and an Italian woman answers the phone.  She has no idea what I am saying, nor do I her.  We babble at each other in broken baby talk for a bit, and finally she understands.  Chris to phone Nancy.  Si!

In that very moment my sign arrives in the hands of a roguish smiling Brit.  We exchange hasty hellos and he takes the phone and speaks to the woman, then leads me to a table where two ladies are sitting with an old man in a straw hat.  All are very nice and all very British. My hopes of finding an Italian lover here are almost dashed.  I don’t give up, as others will be joining us at the camp.

So here I am, apparently in Tuscany.  I see none of the cedars of the brochure.  I see a mountain, a scary dog and a pool.  All of which I can live with because I have wine in my room.  There are 6 artists here. I have met 3 and eagerly await the arrival of Freda (yes Freda) whom I imagine as some Spanish  goddess and whose reputation seems to precede her by 20 miles. They all sound like professional painters and I may be out of my league.  I was expecting a horde of wildly passionate Italian men, but seem to have landed in some British boarding school.

I have not really talked to anyone yet except for Di, who seems very sweet, down to earth, and whom I think may be able to tolerate me.  There is Chrissy from Australia but whom I count as British who sat up front with Chris the instructor who seems enthusiastic about the whole thing, and then there is Anthony.  Not Tony.  Heaven forbid.  Anthony.  I listened to him and Di wax poetic about this place from Pisa to wherever it is I am, and his illustrious career as an architect, artist and who knows what else.  He is an arrogant old guy that does not seem to be aware of either fact.  I like that in old guys.  Diana has a cool little mischievous streak in her I think.  She has warned that I had better not be a tea tottler, so I am hoping she is a wino.  So off we go.  Seven days of British people…I should fit in perfectly! Let the festivities begin! 

My room is really cute. I feel like Heidi. My bed looks like something a small child might enjoy and comes with an equally tiny desk for me to do my homework on. The chair is again, the Van Gogh sort.  The man who invented this spindly little thing must be a billionaire. I’m outside sitting on a bench facing a mountain of sorts. I shall make this my hiding spot.  It’s surprisingly much cooler up here and I am having second thoughts about having sent my sweaters home.  I suppose this flowery thing will be my wardrobe for the week.  I have only been with these people for a few hours, but I feel like I have already talked too much and alienated them.  No friends for me at camp.  Oh well.

We won’t be doing any painting today and that is a bummer.  For the most part, I listened to tales of Freda and something about an opera trip.  I will not be going to an opera. 

There are some really cool pig huts on the hill that I would love to paint. I would actually like to climb into one and get drunk.  There is also an old stone oven and I hope we have fires at night.  I shall enquire.

Apparently I have to go have cocktails now.  I would rather swim, but it’s too soon to be belligerent. 

Dinner was nice and Kris and Chris seem to be charming hosts.  I like Chris.  He has a good easy laugh. I listened to more reminiscing about the good ole days.  These sort of conversations are so bizarre to me.  It’s as though the present is not good enough, we have to dig up fun from the past to get through a meal. It’s an excellent way to make newcomers feel like outcasts.  I am tempted to reminisce out loud about my high school days just to see what they would say. Kris has informed me that fires only happen on pizza night, and the oven is not a fireplace per say.  She then add this particular Thursday there will be no pizza night. I find it odd to have such a beautiful thing and to only use it on Thursdays.  If I lived here, I would blaze that thing every night. At dinner, AntHony told me to forget about having a fire.  No AntHony, I shall not forget about it.

I suppose most were tired, so they toddled off to bed when it seemed the sun had barely set. Thankfully the wine stayed on the table and AntHony in his seat.  He told me again about the city in China and because he is as arrogant as me, I think I will make him my bestie.  I really like Diana, she seems very sly and clever.  As AtHony was about to call it a night, in came Jane.  Jane is a little British lady too and I think I like her.  She has just begun painting and came in with no boasts of her talent or achievements.  She is from Wales, has two sons and this trip was a gift from her husband. 

  She came in very tired and giddy.  I hoped to keep her up til the wee hours, but she faded fast and everyone has gone to bed. My fears have been There will be no Italians here in Italy.  am sitting on the bench again, listening to things creeping in the woods and looking up at the stars.  So ends day one.

 

PISA

nancy zimmerman

PISA

 Monday, August 31

I have just arrived in Pisa.  It’s 9pm on this glorious summer night and I am sitting in an outdoor café 100 yards from the Tower.  Cars are not allowed in this area and the quiet and stillness of it all inspires me.  No music is playing, no beggars, no trolleys or children; just the sound of soft conversations drifting in the air and the clatter of tableware.  This is no place for rebel rousers.  I am tempted to yell just to see how Pisans react to loud and obnoxious folk.

 This city is ancient, lovely and steeped in art. My cab driver is an artist.  He told me this is a university town full of creative souls and historians.  I like those sorts.

I am having spaghetti, red wine and grilled vegetables.  I relish it like the day spent.  This vacation is going beautifully.  It’s hard to believe I am almost halfway through and I wish I could stretch it into winter.  There is so much to explore and I doubt I would tire of wandering through all this newness.

 I am heading out to Tuscany to spend a week at an art camp in the morning and I can’t wait to start painting.  Though I love the silence of travelling alone, I look forward to conversation.  I hallucinate a nice group of passionate artist who stay up late painting and drinking wine.  I imagine fabulously long discussions of Rembrandt, Degas and Rodin with handsome Italians. 

 

It will be nice to be still for a bit.  I love that this place has a pool. I miss the water and intent to float and daydream often.   It is somewhere in the hills of Tuscany near the town of Lucca.  The online brochure sounds fabulous and the idea of roaming around 23 acres is intoxicating indeed.

 

SACRO BOSCO: The Park of Monsters

nancy zimmerman

SACRO BOSCO: THE PARK OF MONSTERS

 

As is my custom, I zigged when I should have zagged and got on a direct train to Florence from Rome instead of making a stop in Barmoza to visit the Park of Monsters.

 

I have decided to back track the three hours as the idea of this place has haunted me for months and I just can’t leave Italy without seeing it.

 

The train ride into the countryside was lovely and I have arranged to meet Paulo at the train station in Vertibo, and he will drive me into Barmoza.

 

Paulo is a giant of a man, jovial and kind.  He speaks as little English as I speak Italian, but I introduce him to the translator app and we get on just fine.  As we make thetrekalong miles of winding dirt roads and through the woods, I realize I would never have been able to walk this without tears and regret.

 

We arrive at Sacro Bosco and all I see is a massive parking lot and a dirt path.  I wonder if this is the place, but Paulo assures me it is, gives me a bottle of water and a croissant and promises to return at the end of the day.  I feel like a child leaving the bus for a field trip.

 

There are few cars in the lot and as I walk up the path, I sigh relief at the sight of a visitor center.  I pull on the door and it does not budge.  I panic a little, as Paulo is long gone.  I may be in shock, as all I can seem to do is stare at the door, which clearly states the place is open.   I realize I am squishing my croissant and when I look up, a smiling woman opens the door.  I try to act nonchalant when I realize it was a push not pull door.

 

Once through the circa 1960 building, I am handed a ticket, a map and a bottle of water.  Italians seem to be big on hydration.  I don’t know what I expected, but what I see is a park like area of mowed grass dappled with some small sculptures, washrooms and a modern playground for children.  To my relief, this is not it.  An iron gateway beckons and I enter an absolutely ancient and enchanted forest.

 

Along the stone dappled trail, little birds and chipmunks seem happy to see me.  The air is fresh and earthy.  Sunbeams dance with curled leaves being tugged by a gentle breeze.  A bubbling brook with waterfalls seems to disappear and reappear from behind the mounds of mossy rock.

 

I am so happy and content to be in this wonderland, I almost forget I am supposed to be looking for monsters.   In that moment I realize the massive chestnut and fig trees are looming over me. This forest is getting much darker and I feel suddenly small.   A warning scribed on the gate revisits me in a menacing whisper“He who does not visit this place with raised eyebrows and pursed lips will fail to see the wonders of this world.”  I realize my brows are indeed raised and the eerie transformation of the woods makes me wonder about the exorcism, which was performed on this place hundreds of years ago.  I fear it did not take.

 

As intended, the first monster startles me.  A massive fish with a grotesque human face glares at me in silent distain.  With bared teeth, his mouth is open wide enough to consume me.   A castle is perched on a globe, which balances precariously on the head of the beast.  The angst of this place is as undeniable as the beauty.

 

The park of monsters was created through the misfortune and grief of Prince Francesco Orsini. He was a prisoner of war who returned distraught only to lose his one true love.     Orsini hired sculptor Pirro Longorio (the architect who finished St. Peter’s Basilica when Michelangelo died) to help realize his vision.  The battles of good and evil, man vs. nature, myths and primordial visions are played out here. 

 

Orsini insisted the massive sculptures of underworld demons, mermaids and monsters be carved into the rock formations of the forest and without relocating them.  These rocks, called Tufa, are the violent creation of volcanic eruption and represent the perfect medium to reflect Orsini’s passionate struggle.

 

The park is a surreal labrynth of mysterious riddles.  It reminds me ofWilliam Blake’s writing, “ I give to you the end of a golden string, Only wind it into a ball: It will lead you to Heaven’s Gate, Built in Jerusalem’s Wall.”  The massive monsters stare down at the viewer, suspect and menacing.  Though it’s unnerving to stand in the presence of these beasts, hidden verse entices one to stand and ponder their meaning.  It’s hard to know if the park is to be taken as a whole or if each monster has a message of it’s own.  One condescending yet inspiring script suggests they can only be “Understood by the learned ones.”  No wonder Salvador Dali was intrigued by this place. His ego would have revelled in the challenge.

 

When Orsini died in 1585, the once colourful and meticulously manicured park fell into a 350 year slumber.  Overgrown and forgotten, the forest tried to reclaim it’s own.  The paint of the monsters was licked away by time and rain. Moss and vines softened the sculptor’s cuts as the earth tried to lure the rocks back into it’s bosom.

 

What a wonderful adventure it must have been for the Battini family who purchased the park in 1970 to gently unearth it. The rest seems to have done the place good and the forest has been groomed to reluctantly embrace it’s scars.

 

There are more than 25 monsters looming in the shadows.  Much as I would like to revisit them all, in harmony with the voice of the park, it’s better to entice you to visit yourself with a tease of a few of my favorites.

 

Tartaruga (The Turtle) looks as though it is lumbering through the forest on some mysterious quest.  On it’s back rides the figure of Liberty suggesting a return from or entrance to battle.  Rising from the earth and hidden in the brush is another gaping fish-like monster.   The Turtle seems to tread along either unaware or unconcerned by the threat.  Both the turtle and fish are completely covered in moss, but as enchantment would have it, Liberty seems immune to decay.

 

Carved into a cresent wall of rock, The Nymphaeum surrounds me like a forum.  Four of five life sized nymphs beckon from arched niches.  One niche is empty suggesting one wandered off. Orsini’s “virile” Venus is perched on a dragon eluding perhaps to power or a dark side to her loving.  But as I stand before her, she looks off into the forest, seemingly bored and uninterested.   There are phallic stones and two obelisks, which stand like viewers in the foreground of this theatre.  One simply says “Vincini Orsini in 1552” the other reads “Only to relieve his soul.”  I look back up at Venus and wonder if she misses the rumored orgies, which may have taken, place here.

 

As I walk deeper into the forest and look into the faces of mermaids, demons and mutants, there is always another looking over my shoulder or peering from the darkness of the woods.  Even the rock stairways are precarious and tilted.  An open crypt is dug into the ground almost inviting me to climb inside.  It’s all very unnerving and I love it. 

 

I finally arrive at Orcus, the ogre.  Carved from one massive rock and hollowed like a Jack-o-lantern, it’s bulging eyes are windows, the toothy mouth a door into the darkness.   I stood in front of this for a bit, but could not muster the courage to step inside.  On it’s lips, an inscription reads, “All reason departs.” Indeed.

 

There is a dragon doing battle with vicious wolf-like creatures, but it’s hard to tell if the one on it’s chest is biting or suckling.  I am not smart enough for this place.  I ponder coming back and trying to figure it all out, but the sun is lowering and I need to pick up my pace.

 

I visit more nymphs, Neptune, Hercules and an elephant trampling a soldier.  I fall in love with The Harpies, two beautiful temptresses with wings and dragon tails remind me of the Campe in Greek mythology.  Two lions wrestle between them and I hurry by lest I draw attention to myself.

 

Finally I come to the Leaning House.  I was curious about this when I read about Monster Park.  The remarks by people who have visited here seemed a bit exaggerated.  After all, it’s only a crooked building right? 

 

The scroll on the wall reads, “By virtue of stillness, spirit becomes wiser.”  A praying figure by the door tells me there is more to this fun house than I thought.  From the outside, it looks like an out of place two storey.  As soon as I put one foot in the house, the boundaries of my reality are skewed.  My other foot does not seem to know where to plant itself and I have to steady myself in the doorway.  I give my head a shake, blink a few times and try to navigate across the room.  The feeling is overwhelming and bizarre as I bounce from one wall to another trying to find my center of gravity. 

 

Equally bizarre about this place is how those verses, spoken in silent eloquence, come back to haunt me once I give myself to the moment.  I decide to do as it says, and stand still.  Though the room continues to spin and nothing seems to make sense, an angel whispers; “exactly.” 

I close my eyes and imagine Orsini trying to bring his grief and struggle into something tangible. His world was spinning out of control and I think of my own experience and realize this is indeed how our world can so instantly be turned into something surreal by the hand of fate.

 

Barmoza itself is a dark grey town, content to exist in the past and seemingly happy to be consumed and bared by the elements.  The same spirit embodies Monster Park.  It is hard to find, difficult to navigate and completely unwelcoming.  I suspect few people make the journey, but I am confident those who are awarded an unforgettable, surreal and absolutely enchanting experience.

Once again, I am thankful to have taken this journey solo.  I doubt one can really experience the artists intent but in silent contemplation.  I for one, cannot hear angels with people nattering in my ears.

 


VENICE

nancy zimmerman

Sunday, August 30

Venice is one of those places I have always fancied.  I thought it would be romantic to go during Carnival with someone who liked me a lot.  I would wear an emerald green gown and a feathery mask.  Revellers would wonder and whisper as to the identity of this beauty gliding around the dance floor and chatting gaily with strangers. My lover and I would drink champagne, eat petit fours and walk along the canal at dawn.  We'd ride in a gondola and kiss under all the bridges on our way back to our lush apartment where breakfast of espresso and croissants awaited.

As fate would have it, I never owned an emerald gown and no lover showed, but as I would have it, I went to Venice anyway.  I arrived early with thousands of other tourists. As I emerged from the train station I was welcomed by a throng of selfie stick and souvenir vendors.  I hallucinate I am some sort of celebrity surrounded by paparazzi clamouring for my attention, but am almost disappointed by the business and clutter of it all. I press through undaunted by the first 500 yards of concrete and by the time I step on my first arched bridge I am completely enamoured. I buy a cup of strawberries with a fancy little fork and nosh while I wander.

Venice is luscious and little.  409 elegant bridges join 117 tiny islands surrounded by the same number of salamander green canals.  I have never been to a place like this and it makes me smile. For no good reason, it reminds me of childhood forts over creeks where adventures of pirates and fancy were launched with newspaper hats and boats of bark.

Though there are a million people here, once enchanted, they seem to vanish.  I like walking over the bridges.  One invites me to the next along a trail of colourful barber poles where gondolas wait for hire.  As the sound of tourists is replaced by the quiet lapping of water against stone walls, I realize I am soundly and happily lost.  I wander through piazzas, look up at Gothic shuttered windows and peek into open doorways.   Every brick seems interesting to me and each curved path begs exploration.   

It's funny how we romanticize certain places only to watch the veneer curl and fade, exposing the  disappointing reality of it all.  Some places invite deep exploration and others, like Venice, deserve to be held in an enchanted state of fantasy. For a moment I try to envision what living in Venice is really like, but opt to think of Titian, Bellini and Tintoretto and how inspired they must have been by this place. 

I imagine the Merchant of Venice being played out on these well worn alleys where Shylock demands a pound of Antonio's flesh if he cannot pay his debt and Portia in the grand court house protesting he can have the flesh, but no blood.  Ah  Shakespeare, so clever indeed.

After a few hours of daydreaming, the heat of the day reminds me to find shelter and sustenance.  I walk along the river past patios boasting seafood and pasta.  The sour sweet smell of the river mingles with the aroma of bread and sauce.  It almost makes me want to try to enjoy fish, but I duck into a charming pasta place instead.

I love these little restaurants. Mismatched china and cutlery, dusty chianti bottles, wobbly chairs and plump smiling waitresses; everything you need for a perfect italian lunch.  These places offer no apology. Cleanliness is not a priority and I am sure one of these adorable bistros will result in a bout of food poisoning, but I'm on vacation, so what the hell.  I walked past the Chinese place I ate at last night,  and was amused to find it boarded up this morning.  

Some people hate the idea of eating alone.  I am no such soul.  I enjoy savouring. Today I am having lasagna, soft gorgeous warm bread and a delicious half bottle of red wine. Every bite is heavenly and between them, I scribble these notes to you, lest we forget.

There is a man sitting alone at the table next to mine.  He has tried three times to engage me in conversation. Thrice I have smiled, nodded and lowered my eyes to my so important text.  He has bantered with the waitress, the barkeep, and everyone else who has wandered near his space.  Currently, he is discussing Venice with the patient honeymooners across from me.  When I took out my map, he lunged to assist, but I quickly put it away and squashed his dreams.  

I will never learn to resist drinking wine on hot days when I have far to travel.  It's rather pitiful to be so immature, and even though I end up toddling and faint, it's not likely I will change.  

Back in the street, I am amazed at how the sun finds a way to beat down on me regardless of how tall these building are and how narrow the streets.  Much as I would like to call it a day, I press on as there is far too much to see. 

There are so many shops boasting masks and costumes but I can't seem to tire of them.  Lush red walls drip with lace, gold and empty eyed faces.  In one, an old man at an ancient workbench is fastening pearls to a white feathered beauty.  I love the idea of being a mask maker.

Light dances across rooms of Venetian glass figurines and whimsical chandeliers. Closet sized bakeries lure me to pastel macaroons and S shaped butter cookies.  The shape is for the sesame seeds they are often sprinkled with, but I opt for the scrumptious citrus version.  No description does these temptresses justice. I will try to make them when I get home. I bought several tins to send home as souvenirs, but we both know they will make no such journey.

I am sitting on a patio with a glass of wine regretfully waiting to board my train back to Florence.  I have seen Saint Marks, The Grand Canal, The Piazza San Marco, The bridge of Sighs and everything else on my list.  The art in Venice is spectacular and though I have seen so many master works here, I am sorry to not have another day to immerse myself in these awe inspiring galleries.  I love Venice.  The sun has come down to cradle this beautiful place in a golden glow and is planting crimson good night kisses on every face. Perhaps, someday I will return in an emerald gown during Carnival.

 

 

BACK ON THE RAILS WITH ME's AND MY FAILS

nancy zimmerman

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Sunday, August 30

There is nothing more annoying than a hipster who runs through Europe in two weeks and regales their experience as though they lived there for years.  They offer advice on where to eat, sleep, see and avoid.  So high on their interpretation of a place and ego, they overload their social media with selfies and witticism.  The worst fancy themselves as wordsmiths and post drones of minutia on blogs no one reads.   I am not a dreadlocked hipster, but guilty of all of the above.  I conclude we all want to be uniquely remembered.

Here, on the train to Venice  I ponder this phenomenon as little towns drift by and hoards of people appear and vanish on platforms, roadways and little back yards.  Nosey me wonders who they are and what they are up to. I consider the irony of a well polished police officer and a train captain leaning against a wall of violent graffiti.  An old lady sits on  a bench with her groceries, a middle aged skinny one is lost in a book.  Men in suits and well heeled ladies hastily drag pet suitcases and harried parents drag reluctant children enroute to destinations unknown to me.

The train groans and squeals as it leaves so many behind. Busy little humans all heading somewhere with hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows uniquely their own.  

Noticed or not, in a moment they are gone and soon forgotten.  Yet every one wishes to leave a mark and be remembered.

Curious me wonders where that desire comes from? Did cavemen draw on walls to say "HEY, I WAS HERE!" Do I write to record my life as though it is so original it should be a feature film? Is it an innate desire to teach or inspire or am I just a clown seeking an audience to tickle?  Neurotic me asks if someone in my world makes me feel so inadequate I need to justify my existence in clever prose?   

The people on the train are a smorgasbord of personalities and lifestyles. I spend some time doing what we all do. I let arrogant me  measure myself against them, partly out of curiosity, but more likely to fatten my ego.  It's the whole Honey Boo Boo Effect.

I listen to the man on his phone across the aisle doing business. He sounds important. I fancy there is no one at the other end. I would not want his job.  Too intense and boring for me.  He is pompous and arrogant. I am better than him. The woman across from him is dressed in designer clothes, her accessories scream label worship and I assume she is posting selfies on her laptop. Adored in well worn bargain basement clothes, utilitarian sneakers, fake pearl earrings and a plastic purse, I am so much better than her.  Such a waste of money to chase trends.  Who, save celebrities, was ever remembered by what they wore?  Who wants the crux of their eulogy to read, "She could really put an outfit together." I write her off as shallow and vain.

I can tell by the back of the heads of the young lovers in front of me they are on vacation.  They talk about Milan and Venice, and are making a plan to ditch the friend they were meeting there. They justify it by saying their time is limited, but it's clear they do not like Dan.  I am better than them because I feel sorry for Dan.

Once I run out of targets, I move on to the ones who flash past on streets and in fields at 300 miles an hour.  In a instant I gauge if I am doing better than this one or that.  Bag person, yes. Kid in a field, Yes, Cylist, Yes, Lady in chicken coop Yes.  I am better than all of them. This is a useless exercise so I abort.

Euphoric me takes the helm and  I decide being alive should be enough. To be myself, live, love and never tire of the wonder and awe available in every day.  I know I am not better than any of these folks.  Nor am I worse.  I concede to be content with the norm I am. I will be remembered for the happy, generous, loving funny person I am.  For my good works, sensitive acts of compassion and the ability to record life as I see it  from my humble view.  I can learn from these people.  I could use a haircut, work harder and be more kind to the one friend I have.  I feel smug in my altruistic deduction for 30 seconds until bitchslap me starts her own rant.

You are so full of crap!  What the hell is all this?  She decks euphoric me and takes the podium.  Why cut your hair? It's bad enough you dye it from grey to brown.  Like everything about you, it's false advertising and no one is going to stop in the street and say "WOW! I love your haircut lady! Will you marry me?"  And what job do you think you should be doing? CEO of some fortune 500 company?  You can't even go to bed or get up on regular basis!  You have ONE friend Nancy. ONE. You suck at everything you think you do well!  You are a mediocre painter and your writings are long winded drones of blather!  I will tell you how you will be remembered. I can write your eulogy in one word: FORGETTABLE.  

I cannot tell you how much I hate this me.

The bitch goes on about my unending to do lists of places to see and world problems to solve.  You can't even solve an entire crossword puzzle!  I remind her I don't particularly care for crosswords.  "THAT'S BECAUSE WE CAN'T DO THEM! SOME FREAKING WORDSMITH!" Do you really think you will do something amazing? You spend half the day in fantasy and the other half eating!  I don't eat that much.  YES NANCY! YES YOU DO.  Do people become morbidly obese from moving mountains and putting their hands to the plough? No, they get fat sitting on their lard making lists of ideas and projects they will never get to!  That's you in a jar of Nutella.  Why don't you get off our ass and just do something! ANYTHING!  Well, I am going across Europe all by myself.  WHOOPTY SHIT! IT'S A VACATION!  YOU ARE ALONE BECAUSE NO ONE WANTS TO TRAVEL WITH YOU! HOW IS A SELFISH EXPENSIVE FREAKIN' VACATION DOING ANY GOOD IN THE WORLD?"  We aren't even going anywhere dangerous or exciting! We are just exploring cushy suburbia in ten different languages we don't even speak! Hey! I get us  lost plenty.  That could be dangerous.  

We don't get you. We could have been somebody.  We had potential. I think I still have potential. You are too old for potential. So what? Should I just head to the back of the train and jump?  Oh that's the spirit, make a hilarious joke.  Do you really want your children to remember you as the mom who never got a real handle on life? You are a long list of fails; marriage, jobs, friends, art, kids.  My kids are not fails.  They are spectacular.

 Not them, YOU FAIL.   They will remember sitting in the rain waiting after soccer games and school plays you missed and then forgot to pick them up.  How about little 3 year old Jen shaking you in bed saying it might be fun to have breakfast today or toddler Joel rousing you from sleep because he can't see through the smoke.  Smoke from the pan you left in the oven which almost burned the house down.  How about the time you left an event and teenage Chris had to run after you and ask for a ride home because you forgot he was with you!  You slammed all their tiny fingers in car doors, left Easter baskets on heating vents, and made your shyest child a bush for halloween! Who the hell makes their child a shrub for Halloween?   It seemed like a good idea at the time. You don't even have a mom tag line.  You used to always say what? Wait! You DO have a tagline, but SHUT UP is not a good one. I take back the eulogy, it should just read FAIL.  Put that on your headstone.  

Why are you such a bitch and how did you become a part of me?

OMG I can't even believe you are bringing that up.  I have one job in your head. ONE JOB: To make you a better person.  

Thanks, I feel so much better. 

There is a commercial break in my head as we go through a tunnel and I look at the ghostly white  reflections of the faces on the train.  I hallucinate they are all looking at me in agreement with me.   I consider the rant and appreciate though she is hostile, she is not the liar.  The liar plaits me with delusions of grandeur and whispers all sorts of devious plots in my head.  I remember the time she fancied a career as a cat burglar.  Her logic was we could break through the most ingeniously locked doors by sawing through the walls instead. We didn't need anything in particular, so we were all unclear as to why we would burgle in the first place, except to chop through walls.  She was outvoted, but to her credit, we now have an unsettling fear of clever burglars. 

 The bitch is honest.  I close my eyes and try to conjure the judge.  She will make sense of it all.

Laid back me appears and let's me know the judge is not in today and this is not really her forte.  I stretch my legs, recline in my seat and welcome me.   I like laid back me.

 So what's goin'  on Nanc? Why the concern about how we are remembered?  I dunno, I see all those people I will forget and I suppose it seems I will be too. So?  We will be dead. Dead people don't sit around taking inventory about how they scored, that's the bullshit of the living.  So you don't you think I should be working on a grand finale or something?  What kind of finale and for who?  I dunno, something to be remembered by. A really really good painting.  A book maybe.  A book by Nancy Zimmerman.  I will call it "A book to be remembered by."  Me winks and grins.  I knew she would like that.

Who do we want to be remembered by?  I dunno, my kids, my friend.  Maybe the cats and the dog. Maybe the people who read the book.

So you want us to be remembered by strangers we never met?

Not really.

So just the four people then.

I guess.

No delusion of grandeur there I suppose.  Are we dying soon?

I don't think so.

Well we have time then.  What kind of a final tada do you think would impress them?

I dunno.

Shall we write an email of enquire?

Maybe.

Do you think we will enjoy living in an institution when they put you away?

I dunno. Maybe we should just surprise them.

How do we remember the people we loved who have died?  How did they measure up? What great deeds were done or mountains moved?

We only know ordinary people.  Uncle Rosy had a metal plate in his head from being shot in a war.  But I remember Lucille Ball.  Did you know Lucy?  No, but I loved her. Another wink.

You are missing the point Nanc. We don't care what people we love achieve. We remember their spirits that drove the smiles, kindnesses and silly quirks which made us love them.  Did we forget Uncle Doug or aunt Doreen because he was an ordinary man and she a janitor? No. We remember the twinkle in his eye and how he welcomed us as though Santa had arrived every time.  Aunt Doreen was laughter loud and coarse. We remember the energetic life she was. True.  

I know what's coming.  I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge right now being visited by ghosts.

You have the same hair.  Wink. So what about Mom?  No great novel or prizes.  No celebrity. Shall we forget her?

Don't be mean.

I remember the looks of pride and joy in her eyes when I got something right, the regret I felt when I hurt her.  I know the comfort of her warm embrace and how her bed could protect me from ghosts, thunder, stomach aches and nightmares. The smell of her powder and the stain of her red lipstick kisses are marked on my heart. 

 It not what she did, but why. She could sew anything, but sewed whimsical costumes and beautiful dresses just for me.  She could cook, but she made fat sugar cookies for me.  She made boxes into castles, egg cartons into treasure chests and set my imagination on fire. She saw my mischief and creativity and fed them both with  crayons and books of make-believe.  She loved so many, but she made me believe she loved me most.

In the now silent darkness of the train, I visit her.

 Hi Mom.  How am I doing?  You're doing fine.  Do you think I need a hair cut? Yes.  Is this trip is stupid?  No. It's been wonderful.  Am I am a good mom?  Yes.  You are a very good mom.  Am a good person?  Yes.  Did I do enough? You do the important things.  I'm trying hard.  I know.

Do I need a grand finale? No.  How about a mom tag line?  No. I never had one.  Yes you did. My mom always used to say "Who do you are the queen of Sheba? We both smile.

Do you think my kids love me?  Yes.  

Am I gonna be okay?  Yes, Nancy.  You are okay.

Do you think I will be remembered even if I don't write a book?

I remember you.

 

 

 

FLORENCE: HOP ON SPIRT ANIMAL - HOP ON

nancy zimmerman

MY SPIRIT ANIMAL

MY SPIRIT ANIMAL

Friday, August 28

Florence is beautiful and appears to be flat!  This excites my feet.  It also smells like leather, which is not a bad smell.  There are knock off purses, fancy footwear and pretty leather gloves waving hello at every turn.  Like Rome, Florence is a web of  tiny streets and piazzas  stuffed like stockings bursting with curiosities. 

I have walked in and out of shops all day.  I rarely buy anything, but a cool little cigarette smoking frog charmed me.  I believe she is my spirit animal. I have set her on the table to join me for a glass of orange whatever in the Forum, the oldest square in Florence.  I don't know what the drink is called, but I have jealously watched Italians  enjoying it, so I have ordered one. It looks delicious and tastes like grown up koolaid.  To our delight, it comes with free slim little fries and chips!  I love surprises that involve food. We nosh and ponder.

The towering building around us are dusty chartreuse and turtle dove grey.  My frog queen is impressed with that description and suggests I get a job as a colour namer for Benjamin Moore.  I like this gal.

The sun is relentlessly lovely and painful today. We agree it feels good.  A moment later an angelic mist sprays us from heaven (or from the little squirters in the awning we are under). A ghost plays accordion music from somewhere in the shadows. Horse hooves clatter in rhythm across the cobblestone.  We bounce from past to present at the similar sound of wobbly luggage being dragged on tormented wheels.  Giggles from children rise and fall as the Merry-go-round twirls them in and out of sight. The place seems staged and surreal.  Church bells ring in the distance as if to agree.

I imagine the bygone era when this was created and consider how many masters sat here and the great conversations had. In our silence, we hear so much.  "DaVinci is at it again." "A genius!" "Stupido! We no fly!"  "Michelangelo, I tell you a thousand times, we hava no work for you here!"  The frog and I laugh at our cleverness.

She looks at me with sexy Betty Davis eyes and takes a never ending drag from her gold tipped cigarette holder.  We have an unspoken conversation about the surprising number of single women out today.  I am not the novelty I assumed.  Of course I am not alone, so I feel a bit sorry for them and the frog suggests I tell them to all move to one big table and get drunk. She smiles at her smug little self.  I imagine her voice raspy and spent from a pack of Marlboro Reds a day.  

The Italian language sounds like music to me.  Sometimes it's soft and seductive, and then rises to a crescendo of passionate scolding.  Everything ends in a high note implying a question I never know how to answer. 

Refreshed and revived, we head off to find the wonder which is the Hop on Hop Off Bus.

There are six bridges in Florence which gracefully span the Arno river.  The most famous of which is the Ponte Vecchio, the only one spared by German bombs.  It used to be full of butcher shops, but because of the smell of rotting meat, King Ferdinand 1 made it law that only goldsmiths and jewellers could set up shop.  Maybe it's not leather I smell rather cow ghosts.

The stairs at the first two bridges lead down to the water's edge where rows of white tents full of goods and bads entice tourists.  We saw the Hop go across the next bridge, so we delay our mission and tent wander for a few hours. As we ascend from the depths, we just miss the Hopper and decide to cut it off at the next bridge.

On bridge 3 we see it double back to bridge 1.  This confuses us, so we opt to move toward bridge 4 as there must be more than one.  The sun is trying to evaporate me, and as I mount 4, the wiley Hopper stops and sits idle on the bridge we just left.  Neither of us are amused and we know it will leave as soon as we get to it, so we move on to 5. 

These bridges seem to get further and further apart and we somehow end up in a military compound full of soldiers with guns who look at us like we are not allowed here.  We are not.  What I interpret as a friendly wave is actually the international sign for get the hell out of here lady.  The frog and I wonder why the guard in the tower didn't stop us, but then we remember we are middle aged and invisible, so it makes perfect sense.

We turn back and choose a different route to 5.  A gun toting soldier stops us and empathetically scolds us in Italian and while we nod through his rant, over his shoulder we see two Hoppers like the ilusive Pokeroo cross bridge 5.  We move to 6.

The trek to 6 is exhausting, but offers a stunning view of the river and the ridiculous distance back to 1.  There are no Hoppers here.  There are no tourists.  The sun is starting to fade and so are we.  

We are in a little village of normal stores and where there are stores, there is air conditioning and water.  We pop in and out of shops, turn all manner of corners until the bridges are long gone and we are soundly exhausted and lost.  As my intention was to Hop today, I have brought no map, so you guessed it, we find a restaurant and decide this time, for sure, we will get a cab home.

The restaurant is old and tiny, with red and white checked table cloths, Chianti bottles with candles, plastic grapes and vines that dance around beams overhead.  Everything I expect in a cliche Italian restaurant including those tiny ladder back wicker seatchairs with the two posts that jab into the underbelly of my thighs. I am sick of these.  From now on, I will choose restaurants based on chair choice alone.  

I am beyond tired and surprisingly sad about missing the Hopper and being lost. I order a glass of wine and lasagna.  The waitress does the usual clearing of the other place setting, my menu and the 20 glasses she assumes I won't use.  My table landscape is stripped to a sad salt and pepper, a napkin I assume is hiding silverware and a paper touristy placemat.

She returns with a generous pour of red wine and plants it in front of me.  It makes me feel better. When I reach for it, I realize my placemat is actually a place map! It speaks to me like only a red arrow can "YOU ARE HERE."  

I tip my glass to it.  Yes I am.  I  am in Italy.  All by myself. I am here and I have nowhere else to be. Here is fabulous and here I am.  Thank you.

My lasagna is perfect and I can smell the calories.  Gloriously cheesy, filly and warm.  One of the best things about eating alone, is you get the whole basket of bread.  I love bread baskets, especially when a napkin hides it's contents.  It's like a surprise.  Is it white, brown? Buns, sticks?  You just dunno.  This is the basket you want.  Big fat slices of warm Italian bread.  I ask for butter, because I love butter.  In Canada, some Italian restaurants give you a puddle of oil to dunk your bread in.  I do not want to eat oil.   Even worse Canadian Italian restaurants claim they don't HAVE butter.  Bullshit.  I HATE this response and it ruins my whole experience.  They say, "We try to offer an authentic Italian experience"  This pisses me off more than you can know.

But here, in actual ITALY, if I don't get butter, I ask "Burro per favore?" and without fail, they smile and return with butter. They come back to ask if I have ENOUGH butter!  In one restaurant, they set out a quarter pound slab of the stuff, sliced like Mozarella!   So screw you Canadian Italian restaurants.  You are just cheap, dumb and neither authentic in culinary prowess or customer service.   This might be my favourite meal so far.  I can't wait to get back to Canada just to visit every Italian restaurant I hate to show them a slide show of slabs, blobs, bricks and bales of butter slathered all over my authentic italian bread.

The walk back to the hotel is tolerable regardless of the countess Hoppers still zigzagging over whichever bridge I am not on. Bells are still ringing somewhere and I wonder if it becomes annoying for locals.  

As I approach my hotel I feel happy fattened, flush and vindicated.  I realize I treat my days like childbirth.  They all begin with optimistic enthusiasm, followed by spurts of pain, horror, fear and disgust.  Finally, as the sunsets, I always seem to feel happy to have made it through and all the negatives get erased by the darkness. 

I hear the bells again and they do not annoy half as much as the Hopper parked directly across from my Hotel.  Too little too late bub, I've seen it all so I'm going to pretend you are not here.

Nite

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CONFESSIONS OF A CONTROL FREAK

nancy zimmerman

Sitting in a train to Florence, I am pondering my need for control and personal space.  I am usually a master of squashing any idea one might have of sitting beside me on a bus or a train.  I slouch in my seat with my legs spread like a woman giving birth.  My arms hog both arm rests and I put my bag on the seat next to me.  That's amateur, but I take it to pro by putting both little tables down and loading them with my iPad on one, diaries and whatever snacks I'm sporting.  

I up the ante by putting headphones in my ears from the Hop on Hop off which lead to nowhere.  I use my spidey peripheral vision from a bowed head vantage and either act consumed with all the work in front of me or distraught.   No one wants to sit with a fat distraught lady.

And yet, every once in a while, someone does.  

This infuriates me to no end because I have to pack up my temporary apartment and smell stranger for the next few hours.  Once someone is next to me, I cannot concentrate on anything but them. I hate everything about them so I pretty much pout the entire trip regardless of how bright and shiny nice they are.  These are the rules and they do not bend.

I am so demented I even hold a ridiculous double standard.  When I see a me on a bus with her stuff all over the extra seat pretending not to see I sometimes DEMAND the seat.  I DON'T EVEN WANT TO SIT BESIDE HER! I do it on the insane principle it's not hers and it's not fair.

I am the same on the street.  I walk on the left because it's what civilized humans do.  If I see an oncoming wall walker approaching and giving me the "Oh, I'm not looking" attitude so I will move, I do not.  I have perfected my reaction which is to stop in their path.  I don't say anything.  I just stand there looking at them and they usually pass, but like the train, there is always that one kid who has no regard for the rules.  That kid pisses me off to no end and we either have a wild west stand off or a wild west swear dance.

I like to bust through Asian girls who hold hands as though they are lost 5 year olds.  I walk into anyone who tries to cross my path.  I get great joy from creeping up behind slow text walkers and breathing on them.  Equally satisfying is passing them and then walking directly in front of them with the same Zombie gate.  Like a Chicago Bull guarding the net I move like a ninja turtle with my back in their face instinctively anticipating their every move.

I have literally walked past my destination just to harass people, and though I am without remorse, I have time on this train to question both my motive and my sanity.

On stairs going up, the right rail is mine.  Down I claim the left.  I have no regard for age or ailment.  If you are old you should already know the rules.  If you are crippled you should take the elevator.  

I do not tolerate people who butt into lines and without fail shame them out.  I have a below zero grocery line tolerance.  I watch people dodge from this one to that.  I note the twofers who try to divide and conquer by having a person in each line.  If I see a singleton standing in a line with nothing, I immediately get in front of them.  When I feel a buggy nudge from behind, I ram it back into their ribs.

I despise the brazen fools who ask to go ahead because they only have the one item.  I don't care if you are poor.  I have 1,000 items and I have done my time so do yours.  I was once about to check out and a man came rushing over and asked the cashier for change.  She proceeded to open her cash.  As though my very kingdom was being attacked, I put my hand on hers and said, "I WAS HERE FIRST!"  The poor girl had no idea what to do.  

The man got irate and said, "I just want change!"  I said "I JUST WANT TO PAY FOR MY GROCERIES LIKE THE REST OF US WHO STOOD IN LINE FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES!"  I looked back at my team for solidarity but there was none.  The man started a rant and called for the manager. I enjoy managers and countered his rant while we waited.  The manager asked what the problem was.  I said "No problem, I just want to check out and this guy wants us all to stop what we are doing and cater to him because his change is SO FREAKING MUCH MORE IMPORTANT!"  The manager asked the man to wait until I had checked out.  Not good enough mister.  I demanded he get in line and wait his damn turn.   While I am checking out smug in my victory he calls me an ass.  

I turn to him and say "SO I'M AN ASS? I'M AN ASS BECAUSE I DON'T THINK SOME ASS SHOULD BUTT IN LIKE KING SHIT DEMANDING SPECIAL TREATMENT?"  I AM AN ASS MISTER!  I HAVE TO BE A BIGGER ASS THAN YOU SO I CAN STOP ASSES LIKE YOU FROM BULLYING EVERYONE ELSE WHO HAVE JUST AS MANY IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO AS ASSES LIKE YOU!

 That's not verbatim but I do remember saying ass so much it started to feel like the only word in my vocabulary and the needle was stuck.  Suffice to say, it was a victory.  As soon as I was all packed and paid I saw the manager hand the ass his quarters and could not resist screaming at him.  "ASS!"

I shouldn't regale you in bad behaviour stories, but there could be a moral somewhere.  

This one was at a movie theatre.  I needed 2 tickets and 3 gift certificates.  I heard the man behind me sigh when I said gift certificate and I ignored him because I have a certain amount of grace.  The girl had a problem with her swiper thing, then with finding the right card to swipe.  She was getting more flustered as the line grew longer.  I hate this for cashiers.  It is usually not their fault.  Asshole behind me starts yapping at his wife about it all.  I ignore him.  The girl is flustered, but I want to see the movie like everyone else, so I wait and smile and offer peppy comments to let her know I have the patience of a saint.  Asshole can't take it.  He knocks me on the arm and says 'Do you mind if the rest of us have a chance to buy tickets?"

Volatile sweary script runs through my head, so I wait for it to subside into normal people words.  "I'm not doing anything. I am waiting for my tickets just like you.  She is having a hard time with her machine."  I have no idea why this sent the man into a rage but he starts spit yelling in my face about my gift certificates, my bank card, my laughter.  Lunatic.  The friend I am with presses herself against the counter as though she is trying to be absorbed by it.  She knows me well.  I turn to the asshole and retaliate.

 "IT'S NOT MY FAULT ASSHOLE! I DON"T FREAKING WORK HERE!  AND IT'S NOT HER FAULT EITHER! IT'S HER FREAKING BOSS WHO THINKS ONE CASHIER CAN HANDLE A LINE FULL OF ASSHOLES LIKE YOU!  Enter manager who escorts asshole to a new wicket.  Asshole gloats.  I scream.

HEY! I'M FIRST IN LINE HERE. GET OVER HERE AND FIX HER DAMN MACHINE OR GIVE ME A TICKET FROM OVER THERE BECAUSE I AM FIRST!  Asshole grunts, turns red and leans like he may want to fight me.  Said manager stops, gives girl grief about machine and hands me a ticket. I could have walked away, but had to do my signature final word yell.  "YOUR FREAKING MACHINE IS BROKEN.  YOU'RE THE MANAGER.  IT'S YOUR PROBLEM ASSHOLE NOT HERS!"  Two ladies in line give out a little back up cheer and asshole number one looks at me says, "CAN I GET MY TICKETS NOW?"

I love applause. It soothes and validates me.  In a beautiful calm voice I answer " I don't work here sir, but I'm sure that more than competent girl at the counter can help you as soon as this guy fixes his machine."  More subtle cheers, a few giggles and much laughter from the audience and I am healed.

So there it is. I am a control freak extraordinaire.  I've studied examples, considered outcomes vs damage and here on this train I feel I can learn to surrender some of my personal space issues. 

I kick off my shoes and stretch my legs across the four seater I am hogging and put my bare feet on the seat across from me.  I ponder my suitcase acting like a guest on the seat next to my big feet. My purse, hat and miscellaneous soft things sit like children beside me, and together we have unloaded all manner of crap on the four tables between us.  It looks like a pathetic garage sale and I feel a tad selfish, so I clear the table and the two outside seats.  I reluctantly lower my feet.

As if on cue, a man at the next stop sits beside my foot perch facing me.  He smiles in silence.  This is the international sign for Hello, I am sitting here but I don't want you to talk to me or look at me.  Thank you.

I nod and smile because I speak fluent control freak.

In that moment I feel mature and generous.  Kind even.  Virtuous.  

I stare out the window contently looking for sheep.  I hear the familiar rustle of a chip bag.  Yes, by all means sir, enjoy a snack.  I try not to listen but I can hear him chewing. An incessant crunching and swallowing that grates my nerves like a wire brush.  I hallucinate he is doing it on purpose, somehow sent to test my resolve.  I am wise to you sir.  I shall endure.  He pulls countless chips out of the bag like circus clowns out of a tiny car.

Trains in Italy are often and suddenly gobbled by dark long tunnels.  I use these to make faces, glare and regroup.  Once back in sunlight, I appear normal and calm during the chip assault.  I am impressed at how keen my sense of hearing is in tunnels.  He has moved on to lip smacking, digging for crumbs  and finger licking which means  it is almost over.  I am glad he enjoyed his chips.  In the sunlight, the crushing of the bag hardly bothers me at all.  We are done here sir.  In the the next tunnel I hear the pop of a soda and cringe.  I clench my teeth as though I am inspecting for parsley.  I see my reflection in the darkness.  I see his.  We see each other.  None of my faces or silent curses have gone unseen.    

I don't care.  I surrender. You win mister.  You are a jerk because you eat chips and drink soda.  I am a jerk because I think that.  I have no excuse or apology.  I put my feet up on the chair and decide trying is not really my thing.  If I knew how to fart at will I would.  

I dig into my purse, find those peanuts I was saving for Florence and savour the oh so crunchy little darlings one at time for the next 40 miles.

 

 

ROME AND OTHER BLOOD CLOTTING STORIES

nancy zimmerman

Friday, August 28

Had a really great sleep for a change!  Sitting in the restaurant listening to opera stirring cappuccinoit with a tiny silver spoon.  I have a new egg and we are heading to the Vatican and the National Gallery.  There is a lot of graffiti here, so when in Rome!  Yes, I am going to vandalize Rome with my tag.

Wandered around museums of sculptures by the 3 B's, Mike and Rodin.  I have wanted a giant block of marble since I was a teenager.  I am so arrogant I think I could do something pretty fancy. I wonder where they get it.  I will ask Joel to buy me a hunk of marble for Christmas. I will ask for a chisel as well.

The bust of Constantine was incredible to see as was Caravaggio's Head of Medusa. I am not a big fan of snakes, but I enjoy a good Medusa.

It is so hot I don't even care anymore. Thank you God for inventing air conditioning and awnings.

Got in a taxi and managed to slice my foot open on some jagged bit of metal under the driver's seat. I don't know how to say I am hurt, so I say  "Mi scusi, sorta di morti."  The driver looks at me as though this is not important information.  In retrospect, he may have suspected some terminal condition I felt the need to brag about. I try again.  "Mama Mia Attenzione!"  Nothing.  Because I cannot raise my leg over my head to show him, I get what I feel is an adequate amount of blood from the wound and hold up my hand. "ATENZIONE!"

The cab stops so fast we almost smash heads or have the best kiss ever as he cranes around to see and I lurch forward.  I hit the head rest instead then check for blood.  Yes.  There is much blood and I am horrified.

The blood is not from the head bump, but the forgotten blood of the pantomime which has now been transferred to my face and which stays there until I get back to the hotel much later in the evening. I suppose Italians feel no need to mention things like bloody fingerprints on your face, but I don't know how to hear that in Italian anyway.  I make a mental note to look in mirrors more often as this has happened to me before.  I shall now digress.

My son has a massive entertainment centre which has a small ledge about 3ft up.  One fine day, I decided to dust it and though smart me said "Get a step stool," Brilliant lazy me said "Nah, you have long legs, you can do it." I went up with one grand step and once perched, dusted all manner of stupid things.  Smart me suggested I turn around.  Idiot said a reverse  dismount was in order.

I had used the same legs for my descent as my rise, so it made no sense they seemed shorter going down and that the ground had somehow vanished.  In my split second of airborne panic, I assured myself it would be okay as there was a lovely plush red rug below. I also reasoned no one plunges to their death from 3ft, so I let myself fall. 

In an instant I hear an amazing bang, followed by a scream, a thud and then silence.  I lay on the floor staring at a light which immediately turns to darkness.  I know I did not die, but I can make no sense of what just happened.  Smug smart me reminds me the massive new coffee table arrived this morning.  The top did not.  The base was solid,the edges sleek and sharp.  The perfect tool for cracking a head open.

In the darkness I tried to take inventory of my injury.  I could feel blood pooling around my head and already wanting to pass out, the smell of it marinating with boy carpet was almost enough for me to call it a life.  Confident I had broke my neck and these were my final moments, I did not want to move lest moving end me.  I lay there for a good 20 minutes until smart me mentioned something about blood loss and those shows where people do amazing things and save their own lives just in the nick of time.  I am in no mood for smart me, but after a few attempts, roll over and crawl to the furthest point in this ridiculously large condo where my phone is. 

I get my phone and after trying to sop up blood with a towel, I resort to just letting it drip into the sink while I call all three of my beloved children.  I then call Carl.  

I will digress on my digression and say I am not okay with the whole I need a cell phone for emergencies argument.  No one I call answers.  I always have to wait for the call back.  ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONES PEOPLE!

I am in no mood to explain so I leave incoherent messages then call a taxi.  The hospital is only a few blocks away, so it seems more practical.  Besides, I can stand and walk so I am probably fine.  I am concerned about the partial blindness, but feel my way out the door and to the elevator.  The elevator is not working.  The elevator always works. Walking down 11 floors in the darkness is dizzying on it's own, but this head trip makes it surreal.  I accept the notion someone will find my body in the stairwell around 2017.

I get to the street and Carl is there.  Startled and concerned, he takes me to the hospital, pulls right to the door and refusing escort, I tell him to go park. All is well.

It's the wrong door. The right door is around the block. As I navigate my darkened world, people step aside and stop to stare as though Jesus has arrived.  I am sure it is the bloody towel and appreciate the compassion.  Within minutes of being inside, I am wisked into a room and told to lay on my stomach.   I wonder why people complain about waiting.  Impressed by the efficiency and all alone, I feel safe.  I need to pee so I get up and find the bathroom.

I open the door and want to scream, but I have no voice.  There is a long haired man standing in front of me who looks like something out of a horror movie.  His hair and face are thick with blood and his eyes and teeth look so white I can only stare.  He holds a crimson towel to his head just like me.  He dresses like me.  I need to stop listening to idiot me. No wonder the seas parted as I walked.

I try to wash my face, but it makes me dizzy.  I go back to the bed and decide to feel my head.  How bad could it be?  Everyone knows head wounds bleed a lot.  I may need stitches and I am reluctantly okay with that.   I put my fingers through my crusty hair and lose two of them in a deep hole.  I am so grossed out, I can't measure the wound or the gross out level. 

In comes Carl and the doctor.  "I need you to hold her down." he says as if I am not present.  I hear Carl's voice but as usual hardly listen.  Suddenly and without warning, I feel a knee on my back, hands on my legs and shoulders and experience the unbelievable shock of having a nail gun shot straight into my already damaged head!

I scream, swear and kick.  "It's okay, I need to staple this.  Just 6 more".  I am yelling "Three is good and all manner of pleas. He completely ignores me, apologizes and I feel the knee retreat.  I glare up at both of them.  The doctor then says what people love to say after an injury.  "Another inch and you would have severed your spine."  How about saying, "That's a bad cut and nothing serious came of it."  What is with the need to always mention how close you came to something that didn't even happen to you!  " I fell off a roof and almost landed at the bottom of an empty concrete swimming pool." BUT YOU DIDN'T!  IT WAS A SHED AND YOU FELL 5 LOUSY FEET INTO A DAMN LOUNGER!

Thus ends the digression.  Back in the cab, we have  a meeting of the minds and I am wisked off for repairs, pay everyone handsomely and find a cafe in which to regroup.  I tweet to my children and friends how I am having a wonderful time and the stitches are healing nicely.  I get a few stars from strangers, but no one in my world responds to said tweet. My maternal instincts kicked in and I immediately wanted to tweet something mean about my each of my children.  Perhaps some Joel baby pics or the story about Jen photocopying pictures of the girl who stole her boyfriend in high school.  She wrote all manner of nasty things on them and posted them all over the halls and lockers. So mean.  I decide not to post anything else.  I will shun them with social media silence and omg will they worry!

I go to the ruins, wander for a few hours, photograph a seagull as though they are some unknown species to me, and then head to another gallery.   I see nuns and priests, handsome men and fat babies.  I paint my egg and sketch out the vatican and call it a day.

Rome made me cry twice today.  I wish I had more time here.

Also, the media ban seems completely ineffective.

Nite