Sunday, May 31, 2015

Omaha 10

May 31, 2015

Dark morning. Diarrhea for travel, thank you very much. Fine closing party, at which I got finely and sweetly drunk. God a big glass trophy which I expect to be smashed in my luggage (and which is too pointy to take in the carry-on) but which it was fine to have for a night. What do I feel about this experience? Won’t know for a couple of days. On stage, I won. That I should hold in my heart and not speak of again.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Omaha 9

May 30, 2015

My readiness to go home is evidenced by the fact that I am obsessing about my ride to the airport tomorrow. I ask, and am told that “there’s a schedule” and “everything’s taken care of” but no one will give me a time and place, and the plane will be leaving. . . well, about now, in 24 hours. I don’t even know my address, with which to summon a cab. Sometimes I can soothe myself, but the finished-with-this-ness of it is clear in the fact that I demand an open path and clear markers. Getting off campus the last few nights has eased this a little. Last night we went to a beautiful venue downtown somewhere –was it called “Omar”?--and witnesed a series of skits and testimonials about the last ten years of GPTC history, which meant next to nothing to those who weren’t there and didn’t know the people spoken of. But it was festive, and we mixed and mingled, and I had sort of a date with Tommy afterward, who brought me hobbling home in his car. One attracts unexpected people, cherishes them with attentiveness, wondering the whole time “why?” Met Lee Blessing. He’d seen my play, but I didn’t ask him about that, but rather gushed about a production of Chesapeake I’d seen at NC Stage. Figured he’d rather talk about that,

The reading of Washington Place was flawless. My gratitude forever to cast and director. It had been scheduled oddly, so there was no time for comments from the audience. My resentment of that grows as the hours past, for I am attentive to ways in which I am cut bad deals, worse deals than those around, and, only partially because of that inclination, discover them. Comments from the official respondents went as one expected. Connie, the one I respected from the first, said she had nothing to say, that it was perfect and wondered when I would put it on the stage. I had not heard that before at a session here. Some other comments sounded odd, until I realized they were critiquing my lousy synopsis–wherein I do “give away the ending”-- rather than the play itself. Sighed for that opportunity lost. Part of the skill of playwriting is to anticipate points that will veer the weak-minded off on paths of their own, but one didn’t expect that skill had to extend to introductory material, or to the supposed sages of this event. One smiles, thanks, stumbles on. But at the downtown gala, Kevin, the director of the whole event, bought me a drink and volunteered, even while I tried to conceal my disappointment in the critique session, that the play was wonderful, and that he had read more plays than anyone else there, and that among them Washington Place was singular and profound. Ok then. I knew whom to believe. One excellent observation was that the play would be good for high school or college, because the cast is mostly girls, it’s educational, and there are no cuss words (in English).

Had breakfast. Chatted with sunny DF. All is better.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Omaha 8

May 29, 2015

Early on the day of my reading. The Mainstage readings so far have been flawed but excellent. I hope that much for mine, but fear that all of a sudden it will be revealed as a piece of claptrap that will leave people wondering, “how the hell did THIS get chosen?” Unlike most of the work this week, mine has no knotty philosophical problems, no intellectual intricacy. Will it seem unique in simplicity, or just dumb? The first of the Mainstage plays was The Wolves, a sensational piece about a girls’ soccer team. So far we are the vanguard of simplemindedness. I’ve seen my four responders in action twice now: two of the women are wise, perceptive, helpful; the other two are, in this context anyhow, useless. One goes on an on about the play that she has written in her head that was somehow suggested by the one we just saw; the other cannot form an English sentence. It’s the good ones I fear. What if they see through to the soul of my unworthiness? What if I can’t control myself and slap one of the bad ones across the face?

K was dissatisfied with dinner last night, and so organized a trip to Sullivan’s steakhouse downtown. I was so happy to see a chunk of Omaha that I all but peed myself with eagerness. I, however, had been satisfied with dinner, so while they were having famous Omaha steaks, I was having a salad, which I nevertheless threw up in a dark corner of a parking lot in Omaha’s block of charming bistros. Add Omaha to that list. After some taxi drama, home to much talk in our living room about the theater, L and K and I, L promising to get K’s scripts (his show has already been read) to all his contacts in LA, something that no one has ever once done for me. Try to put that aside. Try to think it will be my turn tonight, after my genius is revealed, which is the alternative possible outcome of the reading this afternoon.
Bought a lump of magnifying crystal in a variety store in Omaha. Don’t know why.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Omaha 7

May 28, 2015

Clouds again after a day of shine. My heel was a little better, and I was frantic with cabin fever, so I set out on foot a little way from campus. Came to the Sonic drive-in you can see from here, and sat down and had me a diet cherry limeade– surprisingly refreshing– and contemplated how comfortable I was in the redneck drive-in beside the highway roaring with semis.

Made a friend of Chicago playwright E, and went to see her play, and it bothered me, and is perhaps partially responsible for my restlessness through the night. A rape victim becomes a homeless harpy who relates all matters in her life to the rape. She abandons husband and daughter. There is never a rapeless moment in her life, no relationship not measured by whether a person is fully on board with her fury or not. She has slaughtered children in Iraq, but that doesn’t haunt her dreams; the wrong done to her does. She had insured that there was nothing in her life but rape. When someone in the play suggested “try to get past it,” the audience hissed audibly. When she commits a brutality intentionally equal to that done to her, the audience suggests that it’s “not enough.” I didn’t get it. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t get it, obviously. If the Restoring Angel came to her and said, “All things can be restored to you if you leave off rage and vengeance,” she would have kept her rage and vengeance and gone on living in her Chevy, self-exiled, and the audience seemed to be with her. Unless they were just jollying the clearly excitable playwright.

I wonder why my life isn’t better than it is, since I seize every ghostly promise of redemption. Or maybe that’s why it’s not worse.

I’m a little tired of people trying to win arguments, or rule discussions, with the phrase, “You just don’t get it,” as if they were privy to special wisdom lying outside the parameters of normal scrutiny which makes their prejudices somehow sacred. Four people said of the male character in the play that he avoided monstrous culpability only because “he didn’t fully comprehend his male privilege.” The very unverifiability of that–in all directions-- makes it irresistible to people who want to win without increasing understanding.

Sat home last night working on my new Nighthawks play. Hobbled too far.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Omaha 6

May 27, 2015

Thought I had awakened late, but instead there is a blazing sun in the sky, and for the first time things look as they ought.

Hobbling home after rehearsal last night, stood in one spot and watched (or rather heard) the nighthawks wheeling above me. From the Midwest I miss nighthawks and red-winged blackbirds.

Though the second lead was absent and 19 pages went unrehearsed, last night’s rehearsal made me feel better about the enterprise. It will fly, and the merits or demerits of the event will be mine rather than (as I had feared) the performance’s. M is inexhaustible and detail-oriented, but labors certain points in an odd way. Her across-the-board insistence on beayTEE rather than beauDee and the like gives the show a precise and inappropriate conservatory feel. These kids are English-as-a-second language factory workers. Though she claims never to give a line reading ( I do; it saves time) she will tell an actor how to pitch a syllable, where in her voice to place the syllable, how must uptick to give to the ending pitch. . . all notes I would not tolerate, but which beginning actors (as most of mine are) apparently will endure. No great performances, but uniformly good ones. I note that, of all my plays, this one relies least on bravura skills from actors, so all that came to even keel.

Saw two excellent plays yesterday, one about a driven career artist who unexpectedly becomes pregnant, another based on the supposition that Hamlet did not act on his father’s entreaty, and it’s thirty years later in Elsinore, and Hamlet is marrying Ophelia and Fortinbras’ daughter. Didn’t expect that one to work, but it did. Terrible melancholy during the artist one, as though my own whole life were in review, and found, to my own shattering surprise, wanting. Rehearsal allowed me to miss what was apparently the gawd-awfulest piece of crap that anyone had ever seen. My roommates came through the door rolling their eyes. It was meant to be the crowning achievement of some cherished local playwright, and perhaps it was.

Do not like sharing a bathroom with strangers.

Everyone is convivial, approachable, and if there are cliques, I do not feel excluded by them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Omaha 5

May 26, 2015

I rise later each morning, my housemates still later after me. Slow everything down to fit the time. Because of my foot, I’m even denied the ancient solace of long walking and exploring. I wait for evening so I can watch the nighthawks high up. I wondered for a moment at dinner if I might even be a little homesick. Speaking of dinner, the design people gathered around me at it and shared their design ideas for Washington Place. Their ideas were bold and wonderful. Part of the boldness and wonder comes, as they themselves said, from actually being listened to, from being included in the compass of artists rather than bidden in later as technicians. The play workshops are beginning to blend together. I saw three yesterday. The first I went to because it was sci-fi, and how often do you see that? My hopes were high, but, oddly for a play set during an alien invasion, nothing happened. It was one of those female wet dreams where a host of men stand around trying to please and properly honor an outstanding woman, who insists on her own will because it is her own will, and is somehow still to be considered noble even though her selfishness annihilates a race. Talked to the playwright afterwards and she is sweet and smart. The second was the best I’ve seen yet, about a family whose son was a heinous criminal– a boy rapist-- who commits suicide. How to mourn someone you loved who turns out to be a monster? Compelling. Wept at the end. The third was the second of a kind I assume–because both were by women– to be an aspect of feminist theater at the moment: a cast not only eliminating men but, in one case, eliminating mention of them, a form like a game show or a TV variety show where a number of images can be presented in quick succession, wittily written and very funny from moment to moment, but coming to nothing. I suppose the “coming to nothing” part is quite intentional, and meant to underline the patriarchal taint of plot and meaning. It COULDN’T have been just a fault. The “special instructions” posted by the playwright made clear that she meant only to be praised. I couldn’t submit my comment sheet, partially because it was so scornful, partially because I wondered if, perhaps, I simply didn’t know how to watch the material properly. In the evening there was a “play slam” of short pieces in the Mule Barn, which were wonderful so long as I could endure to stand upon my throbbing foot and watch them. Philoctetes. Slammed down enough Bailey’s to go to sleep.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Omaha 4

May 25, 2015

Sweet Ireland votes for gay marriage, the first such plebiscite in the world. Bless it forever.

I keep feeling boredom loom like a cloud on the horizon (with the real clouds which I have not lifted since I arrived) but it never quite descends. One stretches out the moments, settles in for conversations longer than one could endure if one had all one’s resources at hand. Hobbling from site to site on my tortured heel adds a certain thickness to events as well. They food is exquisite and abundant. Saw three full-length plays yesterday. In conversation afterward I realized I liked them better than others did, and better before discussion than after. The first was about a gay marriage, witty and plotty, but little more than a Modern Family episode, if a good one. Then it was a lunch seminar on using the energy of your socio-political indignation to make plays. If the women actually meant or practiced what they were saying, then it was a seminar in how to write truly and especially bad theater. Then a seminar on using my socio-political indignation to make plays (I took these because my dramaturg taught them). The second play (to which I was again lured by the influence of my dramaturg) was an avant-garde feminist TV spoof, which I thought was wonderful for the first forty minutes, but when it hit hour two, was praying for the roof to cave in. Just fucking know when to stop. Interestingly, at the outset we were warned that the one comment which the playwright would not find helpful would be one involving possible cuts. We all resist what we know we need, trying to make it look like a choice rather than a flaw. This experience was complicated by the dressed-like-a-parrot harpy behind me who laughed piercingly, commented aloud, and generally tried to wrench the focus of the event onto herself. You fail to punch such people in the mouth because you think maybe, just maybe, it is some kind of genuine and heartfelt response, but it never really is. The third play, after supper, was outside on the wet lawn under the mottled gray and gray skies, and involved a baseball field. . . somewhere. . .with which both Cy Young and Willa Cather were involved. Or something like that. The sound system failed, and the poetry was impenetrable (imagine a wedding between John Greenleaf Whittier and Dylan Thomas) and one section got a laughing fit over the absurdity of it all. But it somehow managed to be a pleasant experience, watching the guys move out on the field, being surrounded by the curious, twittering martens, and, high, high overhead, buzzing nighthawks heading for the prairie.

Conversation late in the living room after. Politics. Art.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Omaha 3

May 24, 2015

Left campus with Lara, my director, at 10 AM yesterday, did not return till 11:30 PM. This event represented one of the things I loathe most in life, which is not to be in control of my own coming and going, to be stranded in another person’s schedule. That aside, it was a learning experience. Lara is one of the most committed theater people I have ever met, small and bristling energy, always with several projects at once, that one cannot quite unwind one from the other in the narrative. Not only is she directing the reading Washington Place, but she is stage-managing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Omaha Community Theater. At breakfast we had to stand beside our cooling food while some local criticized the Albee because the fights (which one wouldn’t have noticed, as it turns out) were not convincing, because he hadn’t choreographed them. He said that in so many words. Lara was patient. I got a tour of the Omaha CT, which she claimed is the largest in the US, and it certainly looked gigantic compared to anywhere I have worked. She gave me the million dollar tour, which to some degree was energy wasted, because I stopped retaining the flood of information pretty early on. She pointed out the myriad apparatuses and areas that I sail blindly by on the way to the stage to say my lines. She is the complete theater person and I– as I note whenever the issue comes up– am not. I create plays and characters, and the rest runs by magic, so far as I’m concerned. In directing my play she has employed that detail-oriented meticulousness, and I am grateful. It will be done as well as the actors will allow, and they are good enough. The boy playing Avi is so sweet and had such a beautiful voice he will carry that part. The take was too solemn and subdued, and I never quite got used to the accents (the Yiddish sounds like Norwegian to me), but all that could be a function of its not being performance level yet. Is the play itself any good? Must ask myself that later.

Walked across the highways to have a lonely meal at Fuddricker’s while Lara prepared for Virginia Woolf. Red neck Omaha is even red-neckier than red neck Asheville.

Their performance of Virginia Woolf was outstanding, the Martha the best one I have ever seen. Better is hard to imagine. Every note, every tone, every turn she hit right. No one was inept. Their Honey is my Yetta. I’ve played George twice now, and remembered while this George was speaking all my lines, all my blocking and onstage emotions, all the differences between this production and those.

But the play is–one cringes to say–really not very important for as long and as loud as it is. As Nick describes Martha, Albee swings wild and hard, and even when he connects it’s with nothing substantive. There are no real problems or dilemmas in the play, no real characters (well, Nick, maybe), only braying caricatures through which the playwright seeks to make vehemence seem like passion. It’s a play about nobody, whose brutal slog cannot end in catharsis because no real issue has ever been addressed. Albee may be the greatest of all playwrights who have nothing to say. Nor did he learn. My experience at A Delicate Balance in New York was the same, or worse, because I had actually bought the ticket. I think VW holds the stage first because an audience is typically well-disposed, and will accept something they are told is a masterpiece as one for as long as they can. Second, it has become, like Hamlet or much of Shaw’s work, a touchstone for actors, a rite of passage which delights us actors and delights audiences with the bravura touches of each new interpretation. Still, I will never have those three hours back. . . .

Howard was working in the living room when I got home. We had a long talk about theater, during which I was disadvantaged because his experience is many times over mine. He once helped Liza Minelli walk across a stage. His best friend is the lovely lad, Tony, I saw bravely beating the waves of On the Town under him. Howard said of Virginia Woolf that the problems those people have are so white than even most white people can’t relate. I liked that.

On the grounds of the Community Theater were at least a dozen rabbits.

I’m so far from my context that I almost forgot today is Pentecost.

Omaha 2

May 23, 2015

Did take that nap, did retire finally before 9 Pm, and slept all the way to what I call morning, though the other slumberers in this house would evidently disagree. Robins sang all through the night, as they do under my streetlamp at home. My misgivings about this week were melted by the few hours after I arrived. Went to a gathering at the President’s house, where I met some of my fellows, all jolly and friendly and full of enthusiasm for past years together. I seemed to be the only freshman, but I felt sufficiently at home. I do not yet know the hierarchy, who are honored playwrights, who are featured playwrights, who are guests, who are actors, who are administrators, though the distinctions do not seem to mean much to anyone, so all is well. One of the– administrators I guess-- understood our car-less plight and took us shopping. I bought nothing but liquor. Must emphasize that last night was lovely, a river of dreams each one sweeter and stranger than the last, sleep as recreation rather than a strict necessity, as I think I made up for the previous night’s sleeplessness on the plane. I must feel comfortable. I must feel somewhat at home.

The campus is studded by the most bountiful herb-robert I’ve ever seen.

The bird you notice is the purple marten, friendly, fluttering near the ground, close, as though to take a good look at you, twittering its confiding twitter.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 22, 2015

Slept my way through the leaden skies to Omaha, where I am now on the campus of the Metropolitan Community College, in housing that was once family housing for a military base. There is no desk, so I type with my knees jammed against a dresser.  Got Handel on Pandora, so the airwaves are well, anyway. The accommodations– well, it’s been a while since I’ve shared a bathroom with a stranger. Reading the printed information is not completely clearing up my uncertainty, so will wait for things to unfold. There is no wine. There is no liquor. I have no transportation. I am, so far, alone in the house.

Nebraska from the air is buff and dun marbled with green. The land is indistinct, as though a wash had been applied over watercolor.

Slept terribly last night, though I hesitate to nap, in case I will be wanting a good solid sleep through this night. The sky is dull yellow.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21, 2015

    A bobwhite has taken up residence in my back thicket. This makes me happy.

    Isabella is posting pictures of herself by her father’s grave. It is not always possible to know what to do or say. . . .

    Acceptances from The Kentucky Review.

    Sweetest, smallest rain when I awoke–

    W may come to be writer-in-residence in the department. I almost wept with joy. I miss him. Some of my colleagues are resentful because he arrived another way than they did. That’s because he accomplished something they did not.

    Harry’s voice on the phone, after twenty years, spreads a smile across my face.

    The idea that I will be on the campus of a community college in Omaha longer than I was in Rome fills me with misgiving.

    Still hobbling on my annihilated foot. Nothing visible.

    The Mr Lincoln rose, which went through so much and nearly died getting transplanted from 62, blooms. The calla lilies I despaired of arise. The climbing bleeding heart that I thought was frozen (and which was) regrows and twines among the pansies.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May 20, 2015

Head clear this morning. Yesterday obliterated by travel aphasia. I did make a lovely bouquet of peonies whose heads were dragging on the ground. I did send a revision to the people in Omaha, who wanted to know why a baby to be born at Christmas should be quickening in March. I never gave it a thought. A cast of women would. Glad I gave myself time between flights, but bewildered by what to do since there’s so little of it. You don’t realize how complicated your daily routine is until you have to restore it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19, 2015

Dark of the morning, home, where it is so quiet after the Roman streets that the ears strain toward the single bird chirping in its sleep in the encircling woods. I feel better spiritually than I usually do returning from a trip like this, invigorated and fulfilled, as though I had been on holiday rather than having closed a turbulent chapter of my life, whether in success or defeat. Physically, twenty hours in transit is bound to wear on one. The last leg was delayed, of course, but I did finish before the stroke of midnight. When I finally lay down on my own bed I had a throbbing heel, diarrhea, a racking endless cough, tinnitus, and some of the most monstrous and persistent muscle cramps I have know. They came across my torso like ripples. I was in such a bad way that I had to laugh, and that, of course, brought on new cramps. But when I shut my eyes that other mind that’s in control when the mind isn’t was giving me fertile and beautiful images, of Roman luxuriance, and that was a good country to dwell in for a while. My cabbie from Via della Vita was an adorable Sardinian who was, in a kind of Angle-Italian patois, a heroic talker. Never had a moment to contemplate the situation, which, because of a wreck on the normal airport route and horrific traffic elsewhere, looked dire for a while. Only my perpetual impulse to be early and leave plenty of time saved me. We passed the anacondian line for the Vatican Museum, and he hit his forehead and said, “Why you the people do that to themselves?”
He said “Where you from?”
“North Carolina,” says I.
“Ah! Michael Jordan!” and it rolled on from there. He knew everything knowable about Michael Jordan and the NBA.  He began many sentences with “You mention,” as though I really had. Learned that cab licenses are inheritable and very expensive. He can’t visit America because his mom plumped down 150,000 euro for his license, and he has to pay her back before he goes anywhere. “I am in the prison,” he says. He was studying to be an engineer when mom suggested the cab license. There is a story there. Sat beside a giant Italian on the flight from Rome. We looked out after each other in sweet bashful little ways.
Ran into Harry Johnston in the Atlanta airport. It was grand to see him, though I had forgotten what a chatterbox he is and at the point all I wanted to do was sit quietly somewhere with my face in my hands. The babies I knew are in college. He showed me one of them winning a race on his smartphone. There was real love left in my heart for him, and when I gave him a card and told him to use the numbers, I meant it.  Sat beside an lady called Beebe Whitsides to Asheville. She might have been Ann Deagon, but for the soberer apparel. She is an Episcoplian lady and we have many mutual friends, and Harry said that listening to us talk was like listening to a play. Again, I wanted to sit with my face in my hands, but when she started in, I knew I had to see it through.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


May 17, 2015

Via Frattini darkening. Heard Will preach this morning at St Paul’s, and he was wise and direct and enlightening. Coming from that baby face it was a little startling. I think his parishioners will think so for a long time. The Spanish priest made the Gospel, et al, a labor. Why didn’t he just say it in Spanish rather than dragging English through the briars? Sweet guest choir from Marymount International Academy. The Tallis was a little beyond the St Paul’s choir’s ability that morning, despite one angelic soprano. Much wandering for me, staggering after a while in inexpressible exhaustion, not wanting to crawl back into this little room. Basilica of St Alphonse (is it?) and St. Charles. I was invited to pray at the relic of the heart of Saint Charles Boromeo, and I did. Felt– something. Maybe he will overshadow me in the night. I am the most credulous, the most faithful of humans. God had to wear his whip arm raw to turn me into the snarling cur of contempt I am.

Still want to be part of the life in the darkening street.

Last glimpse of Tevere through the plane trees.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rome VII

Afternoon. Homs Hotel, din of the Via Frattina below my window. What I said about the recovery of my foot was premature, and I returned here literally faint with pain, so every now and then I had to touch a wall for support. Before scurrying back, I went to Castle San Angelo and to the Vatican, where there were such colossal lines I am content this time to see everything from the outside. Clergy of all sorts fluttered en masse around Saint Peter’s. Chairs for something gobbled up the Piazza. It was good to be in the neighborhoods I knew the first time I came. It was almost familiar. Was drinking and eating my salad when two girls from Glasgow sat down. We had a lively talk, and they were the first ones who ever pointed out to me definitively the location of the Jewish Quarter. Will go there soon if my foot wills, if not, tomorrow.

Evening. Strolled Via del Corso for as long as I could before pain sent me staggering back. Would still be there, just watching, watching. . . “and we fain would stay out long and late.” Attended a service in one of the twin churches on the Piazza del Populo, the one nearest the river. The organist chanted and a choir of men, whom I couldn’t see, responded sweetly, angelically. Outside gathered the youth of Rome, mostly in black, Gothed-out and high on one another, boys chasing girls, girls chasing boys, a little violent and desperate. I couldn’t read the signals being sent by the black clothes and the make-up and the decorations, but, then, I wasn’t meant to. Such strutting and posing!  Most of it was simulated rapine, engaged in heartily by both sides. The same could probably be seen in the same place four hundred years ago, with a slight alteration of dress. I don’t think these were the A list of Roman youth, but a mixture of middle class rebels and aspiring street kids. They were too unsure of their identities to have very firm ones. No Pamphili or Colonna among them.

The African panhandler/vendors fold up their leather goods and sunglasses and cheap crafts into sheets and run down the alleys when they see the carbonnieri approach. Then when the danger is past, they haul everything out again and begin arranging the goods in the same meticulous rows. Seems a terrible way to run a business, nor have I ever seen anyone actually buy from them. The carbonnieri wear faintly ridiculous hats, I assume so that they may be seen coming and everyone avoids actual contact.  My attitudes toward poverty and begging have been challenged by this journey. I’ve sat at a café table and been approach eleven times (I counted) by different hawkers selling the same rejected item. One time I bought a carving, and was approached the next night at the same place by the same man, certain that if I’d been a mark once I would be again. On one hand, this should not have to be endured. On the other hand, one should always be reminded of the poor and needy. On another hand, these are generally NOT the poor and needy, but parasites who count on irking or shaming a few euros out of their victims, whom one has seen parking their cars and getting out, perfectly healthy, and adopting a limp or a miserable look on the way to the hunting grounds. Will says the gypsies are liars and thieves and the African or Bangladeshi immigrants are frightened and without resources. If true, this cleans things up a little. Why shouldn’t one be punished for pretending to be needy as one is punished for pretending to be a doctor or a PhD.? Real harm is done by all.

On the Piazza di Cavour I played a tiny game of soccer with a tiny boy.

Sounds from the street in my window. It is almost enough.

Rome VI

May 16, 2015

We went by bus to see Will’s friend Larry out in-- Garbetella? I have forgotten the name, a suburb of Rome built by Mussolini to be a sort of workers’ paradise, and in truth not falling far short of that. For “public housing” it is idyllic and elegant, the people living in the streets and the playgrounds as they might in any neighborhood or village. The architecture is simple, evocative, elegant,  what Mussolini called “rational.” I suppose it is that, too. The roses are enormous, and when we arrived, at sunset, glowed like embers. Larry is an energetic and talkative man of exactly my age (he was born the day after me) who is Senor Warden at St. Paul’s, and, believe me, there was a good deal of talk about that. He loves his community and is a fount of information that we, alas, left largely untapped. He took us to a seafood restaurant where we were the only tourists. Huge groups sat on long picnic tables, loud, boisterous, long-enduring, much hugging, much consuming, as in the movies where you think it’s an exaggeration, but it is not. So many courses! I’d make a bad Italian. You say goodbye for half an hour at the table, then at the door, then outside the door, then at the car or taxi as you’re getting in, kissing and exclaiming the whole way. I disappear into the night when no one’s looking. Garbetella is unlike Via Nazionale. It is another country. It is the country. Downtown Rome could arguably be New York or London if you didn’t take in the history. At the end of the bus line is Italy. Best evening yet. The busses were on strike–for no particular reason– so we took a taxi home. Packing my bags for the move to the Homs Hotel.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Rome V

May 15, 2015

Gray in the sky this morning, though it never quite rained, and in late afternoon it has not rained yet. A couple of milestones: the haughty Romans are beginning to look at me, beginning to speak to me or share a gestural joke in the street. They can’t have changed, so it must be I, sinking in a little, Romanizing a little, a little less foreign. Nor do people automatically speak to me in English. In woman in front of St. John Lateran asked me in Italian to explain an obelisk, and I did so, in Italian. The second milestone is that the pain in my foot is ebbing, and I came back to the room after my wanderings today far less sick than on any other day.

Will’s belief is that the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square oversaw both the flight of Israel out of Egypt and the crucifixion of St. Peter.

Up Quattro Fontane, blundering into the Palazzo Barberini, which I didn’t know was there. The best of museums it is, each piece fantastically beautiful, though oddly lit, with occasional glare so that one must swivel one’s head like an owl to see certain passages. Dwelt a while in the quiet garden, listening to the blackbirds from one wall and the gulls from the surrounding roofs, watching a red cat rule the center. He would leap, and you would see momentary red, then all would be green again. Last night at supper I watched a gray cat move across the edge of a very high roof. Bought a tiny silver owl in a store. Il Bufo. Which is “toad” in Latin, but let it be. Across the heights above Piazza di Spana to the Piazza di Populo, where I ate and fed sparrows from my hand. Home, I thought, before the rain, but it never did rain.


May 14, 2015

Melancholy this morning. There’s always this morning at some point in the journey. Who are you roaming the ancient streets? Will your shadow even cast upon the stones?

Will and I had one of those five hour Italian suppers last night at his favorite establishment. Long, long talk, many revelations. He mentioned the startling fact, “I have known you all my life.” One never thinks of oneself in that way.

Pain in the foot almost unendurable. I hobble for hours, miles, yet hobble I do.

Went online to discover that someone has hacked my OptionsXpress account, and sold 100 shares of GOOGL. The money is still there. . . but. . . also 1000 bogus email messages. Frantically changing all passwords. It is 2 AM there, and I must wait to get anybody alive.

5 PM. Financial panic calmed. I must assume that whoever it was meant, or was capable of, no more than mischief, for I can’t figure how he actually meant to get the money out.

Hiked–limping all the way– to il Colloseo and the Forum, through Constantine’s arch to Saint John Lateran, which is the first destination which is absolutely new to me. Big Baroque church, with the giant stone saints all about exhibiting their attributes. It would exhaust me just to walk the whole way to the Pope’s throne. Bought a grass-green glass rosary to remember it by.

So, here I am, lounging on a bed in Rome, listening to the street noises, to a hearty laughing Roman woman, wondering why my father never loved me. What a thing the mind is! This probably springs from Will’s conversation about his parents, his love and respect for them, his longing for them at this distance, things so far removed from my experience that I have half imagined people are making them up. All through my life I noticed this and wondered about the source of it, why my parents weren’t–what shall I say?– attached to me in the way other parents seemed to be. No answer at all. I think it must have been my fault, but I cannot fathom how– it was so long ago. What could I have done? What could they? It was not a natural thing.

Brilliant green parrots blast through the air streaming behind them bits of grass for their nests.

The church bells chime “Pange lingua gloriosa” at evening.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rome III

As I napped, the voices of workers were boisterous and merry in the alleys below. It well disposed me toward the Italians, even if nothing else had done.

I intended of have cappuccino on the Pizza Novona, and that’s exactly what I did, in the shade of the café awnings while the sun blazed blanco e azzura over the sugar-white piazza. That I arrived at the same moment as a hundred elderly bus-taking American tourists I tried to put behind me. I can order fine in Italian. Only if the waiters try to engage in chit-chat am I lost. All the fountains of Rome are undergoing some repair or other. Triton was holding rags for the workers. Then back to the Pantheon, which can be quite crowded and still convey a sense of holiness. Arrived at noon and the oculus beat its shaft upon the floor direct. Everybody is happy right now in this city, and that makes me happy, too. The beauty of the Italians is a little rough, as though they had achieved so much n the past they need not try so hard now. Ate lunch at a café that took up space in a via already so narrow that vehicles had to stop and edge through, backing up pedestrians behind them. Got a little lost coming home. At one point, after the ill-advised lunch, my stomach was acidic, I was nauseated, feared imminent diarrhea, limped upon my ravaged legs and bruised feet, and was generally in a quite bad mood. Cursed the Via Nazionale for being as long as it is. Came home and slept it off. Dinner with Will in a few minutes. I came in just as some terrible internal row was ending– Will says the F-bombs dropped incessantly. I don’t know what the trouble was, but this place seems a little toxic. Certain people are not feeling the way they want to feel, not getting the feedback they want to get about their labors. You’d think a church would run upon smiles and backslaps, but this one does not. Will valiantly clings to his vocation, even while noticing it all. I think he was always meant for this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rome II

May 13, 2015

The morning light comes pink through the window, reflecting off the wheats and melon-y oranges of the surrounding buildings. Was off early yesterday, making for the Keats house and the Spanish Steps. Of course I was early, so had cappuccino on the best-named street in Rome, Via Boccha di Leone Though the Steps were already thronged with tourists, I was first into the Keats house. I made my homage. No place is a good place to die, but I’ve though on both my visits that his apartment would have been a terrific place for healthy young men to live. Stopped, returning, at the Exhibition Center, where the kids were drawn away into rooms about math, and adults into paintings by David LaChapelle called Dopo di Diluvio, immense, kitschy, sexy depictions of a stylish world recovering after a flood. I’ve used the word “kitsch,” without being certain what I mean– maybe antique and extravagantly dramatic poses by figures too contemporary and real and recognizable. I suppose, though, that the same literalism was intended by the Baroque, which depicted contemporary fat ladies as Venus and Dido. I did like the work. I don’t know if I approve of it.

The Trevi was dry, the gods arising from metal scaffolds.

Later to Santa Maria Maggiore, whose Renaissance exterior hides the fact that it was a century old when Hagia Sophia was built.  It was Palestrina’s church, and one of the most impressive I’ve ever entered. It used to be called St Mary of the Snow, because there was a lovely sweet snowfall in Rome once, and some saint begged for a church to be built on the site of the snowfall to honor the Virgin Mary. At just that time she had been named Mother of God (as well as mother of the mortal Jesus) and so all things worked out well for her. Paid the extra 5 euro for a tour of the archaeological site under the church, where was discovered a huge villa from the first century BC, which went through 400 years of life and growth before the church was built on top of it. Old frescoes, floor mosaics, taberna graffitti. The guide asked me how old I was, and I said “twenty five.” She said, “Each leg, maybe.”  I thought I was going to get a discount, but I didn’t. Soldiers were stationed outside the basilica, to guard against a threat by Isis. They were so good looking I thought they might simply have been another attraction.

Will set me straight about the street vendors, how they are desperate rather than merely irritating, having been deceived into coming here and then abandoned, so when one stopped as I was eating supper, I bought a carved giraffe and a carved turtle. Will is running and trying to finance an operation to keep the African emigres alive after their rescue in the sea. The woman who sat beside me at supper at Flann O’Brien’s bought a measure of pretty cloth and made it into a wrap because she was cold. She is a Chinese-American (Asian American of some kind) named Victoria, who has two daughters and a son and once lived in Paris in considerable splendor, the wife of a diplomat, I assume. Now she lives in DC. In the course of the conversation she invited me to go with her to a concert in this very church, and I did. The interior of the sanctuary is very Burne-Jones, and quite lovely, though the acoustics are unexpectedly dry. One step back in the extravagance would have made the interior beautiful. The concert was–though it was not called this–greatest opera hits for tourists. All the faves, well done, except the soprano did not quite take her bite out of “Der Holle Rache.” Victoria waved me away when I offered to walk her to her hotel. I was rather glad that she didn’t perceive that she was in no danger from me. So, two nights in Rome and already I have had a date.

Construction all around, preventing sleeping late.

Rome I

May 11, 2015

In my airy room in St Paul’s Within the Walls. It was built in the 19th century to serve the English speaking expatriot population of Rome and has, in the sanctuary, mosaics by Burne-Jones. Will Bryant met me almost as soon as I arrived, and will take me to lunch in half an hour. The flight was without much incident, except that I landed amidst a knot of aging lesbians– who are indistinguishable in their deportment from teenaged boys– and my ears were doing interesting things as the pressure changed in the cabin. Caught a glimpse of the Alps over the bent heads of the nattering lesbians. It is 7 AM back home.

Roamed Rome a second time at twilight, to the Piazza Venezia and surrounding locations. Drank Bulmers at the Irish bar, very much and ver fast, so that I had to stagger home.

Just before midnight: extreme exhaustion made me lie down before it was quite dark, payment for which is to be up now, padding through the empty upstairs rooms. Wifi is not working, so I’m frustrated in my contact with the world, and with Will who has probably sent me ten invitations I haven’t received or responded to. It’s always something. Rooted around in the very old and specific library and found Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting, upon which I am counting to put me back to sleep.

Will recounts the loneliness of the priest, who alienates those closest to him in order to serve the more general good. In that it is not much different from the lot of the artist, except that the artist is freed, for the most part, from the burden of being exemplary.  Will’s beloved, he reports, understands this and backs his ambition fully. I was careful never to tax a lover with any expectations, and it still resulted in isolation, so how one wins at this I don’t know.

Sculpture (whimsical little sculptures) by Norman Rockwell’s son dot the rooms. Will says he’s the most difficult person he ever met, a wilful boy of 13 well past 70.

Street vendors are selling this device that is a charging mechanism attached to an antenna, whereby one is meant to understand that one can charge one’s phone without contact with electricity. I made the mistake of looking too long at one, and had this gypsy boy following wherever I went, hounding me as though I were a creditor trying to escape. Finally, seated at my Bulmer’s at the Irish bar across the street, I had to stand up, menace him and say, “I want you to go away now.” He squeaked “OK” and disappeared. I think I would have punched him had he not done so, and I think he knew it. I’m a target for these people because I smile at passers-by, trying to make contact, trying to support the network of souls. Vandal vending cannot be very easy or rewarding work. Maybe the joy when someone forks over a few euro just to make you go away has an intensity I do not understand.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

May 10, 2015

Dark before morning, essaying the last chores before my flight.

Commencement yesterday was sweet. Wily covered himself with glory in his Commencement address, funny and profound. He referenced me, which shouldn’t have me as happy as it did. The mockingbirds called against the din of the loudspeakers. Party at Merritt’s later, a brawl of kids, which used not to be the custom. They are all about their families; we were, or pretended to be, all about the calling.

Travel jitters. That I shall ever actually Rome seems a remote unlikelihood.

First birds calling. I wouldn’t know how to react if, one time, I were not setting out alone.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

May 9, 2015

Gray day. The fate of Commencement rests upon whether the gray is just a color or the veil of rain. Our new chancellor covered herself with glory by returning the ceremonies to the Quad after an outcry from graduates and alumni. Let’s hope it wasn’t vain grace.

Friday afternoon the first hummingbirds came to their feeders. It was a day of intense gardening, as though departure for Rome tomorrow were some sort of deadline. Destroyed half of Stewart’s hosta monoculture in the back, uncovering four roses from their barriers of leaf, planting lupines, morning primroses, scabiosa, leaving great spaces open for the light to penetrate. Woke sore, taking a minute to understand why– an old man at hard labor who neglects to stretch afterward. The last bag of topsoil had developed an ant colony, and when I poured it out it boiled with shiny black ants. Happily they seemed to be too confused to bite as I spread their erstwhile empire around.

The herbacious peonies bloom. The black iris blooms.

Friday, May 8, 2015

May 8, 2015

Before dawn, under the gibbous sinking moon, when there was just enough light to tell weed from cultivar, that was me in the garden hoeing, spreading mulch on the places hoed. The bird families in the hollies peeped a little and then went silent till the coming of the light. It was mystical. Less mystical but still sweet are my muscles aglow and limber.

Charles’ retirement party at St Mary’s last night, a trip to the Reynold’s Mountain Thirsty Monk afterwards. Reynold’s Mountain is one of those sad attempts to create a neighborhood out of pure greed. I remember the foxy fields that lay there before, studded with boulders the size of trucks. They were better.

Mumford & Sons on Spotify.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

May 7, 2015

Yesterday one of those days of such mental agitation the next day is largely dedicated to not repeating it.

Sat in the yard in the afternoon. It is a sacred space. A bluejay came twice to a space in the maple beside me to feed on something he had found, something with a shell that he had to work at for a while.  I hoped I was so still he didn’t know I was there.

Went to a pottery shop and bought something I really didn’t want because the person who had made it was manning the store.

Enlarged the back garden slightly. 

Today has been far better. Painted. Talked at the studio with Jolene, whose life has become– I would call it a catastrophe; she calls it an adventure. After thirty years her husband’s eye wandered. She went away for a couple of weeks, and when she returned there was a new woman in her house. She is essentially homeless. But she has bought a trailer, intending to head south and find a new home, while overseeing the sale of the Phil Mechanic. One laments one’s solitude, until one sees the betrayal that can come from alliance.

Pitiful thin rain.

A titmouse carefully explored the corners of my porch, looking for a likely nesting site. She was quick and decisive. She did not find it there.

I sat in the café and wrote poetry, which has saved, for the moment, everything.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May 6, 2015

Contemplating my lack of success in getting people to meet me for coffee. Stephen turns me down in Dublin, inventing a death in the family as an excuse; Jeremy in Omaha replies to the invitation with silence; Lucio in Rome replies to the invitation with silence. I look in the mirror wondering, what?

Last exams, grades turned in, even for those who–as happens imponderably every year–don’t bother to take the final. What are people thinking? Students choose to do one thing rather than another, to fix some personal problem by ignoring class, which is fine, but then they expect there to be no consequences. I think this generation has not been shown actual consequences; everything is forgiven, everything but personal inclination is optional. Yes, each soul is sovereign, but each soul must consider what happens to that sovereignty when it rubs against other souls. The isolated soul is sovereign.

The great blooming is upon us.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May 5, 2015

Watched a pair of catbirds building their nest in my hollies. The lawnmower had torn up a plastic bag, which I had been too idle to pick up. Glad I didn’t , for the birds chose the right pieces and dragged them into the trees, God having provided a material of amazing durability and malleability.

Second day of fast.

Second day of realizing I need a new keyboard.

Glorious morning at the studio yesterday. Painted in oils Today is 1) waiting for the plumber, and 2) exams. The plumber lady called yesterday to see if they could reschedule because they had an “emergency.” I said no. If they’d had an emergency, they should have been taking care of it right then. Stayed up until 1 listening to old Rock songs on You Tube.

Purple lupines, almost erotic. 

Struck with terrible longing for the swimmer in the Racket Club pool this morning. Very solemn and Nordic.

Monday, May 4, 2015

May 4, 2015

The lamentable anniversary.

Guilio Caccini on Pandora

DJ and I went to see the latest Avengers movie after church. The critics rather undersold it; I enjoyed it. Regretted the loss of so many hours of blazing light, but it looks like today will be a repeat, so all is well. I’d ask God to be a superhero, but seeing how niggardly he is with ordinary life, that would likely be futile. I would be the Covering Cherub.

Sizzling with energy, wondering where to put it first.

Purple water iris and purple Dutch iris in bloom. They may be the same thing. I want the blue tree I saw abloom at Esalen.

Almost unbelievably good coffee from Starbucks this AM. Drink coffee hungry: it’s ambrosia. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

May 3, 2015

Blazing Sunday morning following a blazing Saturday. Saturday morning I went at 7 to the studio. Had my half hour of rage in having to put it back together after L moved everything about, but calmed then, and painted, painted, mostly in pastels, and was happy as a child with his toys. Took one to be framed. The delicacy of the finished pastel still bothers me, though there are French pastels that have lasted many years. Then to First Pres. for the final concert with ACS, at which I was at about 60%, but at which the chorus as a whole triumphed with its audience. In the evening went to the new Magnetic Theater, which is in every detectable way superior to the old one. It LOOKS like a theater, and shares space with galleries where one might wander about looking at paintings during intermission. No din from the adjacent bar. It rather reminds me, in lay-out, of the Project Theater in Dublin. Better sightlines, better– I don’t know what–feel. It’s a place where one could put one’s energies. The fare was rather a bell curve, two of the plays lamentable, two fun and witty and bright; one, by Greg Nanni, whom I distantly know, brilliant. I’d see the program again for another audition of that play. The acting was spare and classy and adept. The level of acting everywhere in Asheville is increasingly smooth and accomplished. Used to be you’d have to cringe past bad acting to see a play; now you almost never see a misstep in stage. The directing, too, was blameless, so far as I could tell. Victory first time out for MT.

Reading the scripture of Philip and the eunuch in mass this morning. What an odd story. Hope the homily gives exposition. Afternoon free, God be praised.

May 2, 2015

 Actual performance better than the rehearsals, as it almost always is. I still did feebly. A pair of doves scrabbles in the yard for sticks to build their nest.

Friday, May 1, 2015

May 1, 2015

Beltane: shifting light and dark, but every minute too cold. Like high summer in the Ice Age, all the flowers blooming, me in my winter jacket.
I have feeling of unspecified richness, as though the day had been the Day of Days. I will not investigate too far. Feeling physically better than I have in a while.
On a morning drive to and from the Racket Club, I noted how many people actually sped up near on-ramps to prevent me, or someone else, from entering the highway. I counted four. One was very blatant. I watched in the side view mirror as she pressed the gas so I wouldn’t be able to get on 19-23, with three lanes completely open to her left. I pressed my gas and got on anyway. She flashed her lights and shook her fist as she passed. As this was happening eastbound, in the westbound lanes a cop sped up and hugged the right to make a semi hit the brakes as it was trying to enter the Smoky Park Bridge.
Horrific rehearsal at First Presbyterian last night. I sang badly on top of it, surrounded by people singing badly and with no way to catch my note out of the chaos. Steely concentration tonight, I swear. Cantaria’s collaboration sounded like a good idea, but it has turned out to be, for me, labor and stress without compensation of any kind. It shouldn’t take two and a half hours to get through five songs. But did have the best Caesar in the world at King James afterward, and was given a drink. So, fine.