She’s Old But She Likes Chocolate

So, we’ll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright…

Lord Byron’s poem, sung like none other by Leonard Cohen, is probably descriptive of my feelings about roaming the ink-black stairways of Praiano after dark. Once was a scary thrill. Twice won’t be necessary. Not when there are sunrises like this, and days bathed in gold.

As luck would have it, this February has been unseasonably warm and sunny for Praiano – a walker’s dream. And I am, dear friends, a walker! Not the White Walker Game of Thrones type – just an ordinary, past-middle-age-but-still-young-at-heart woman who loves to walk. And today I’m taking you with me to the Piazza San Gennaro where I hope to see the inside of the church with the beautiful blue dome that has captivated me since I arrived.

But before I go, I want a bit of background. The Encyclopedia Britannica says: Saint Januarius, Italian San Gennaro, (died 305?, Pozzuoli, Italy; feast day September 19), bishop of Benevento and patron saint of Naples. He is believed to have been martyred during the persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305. His fame rests on the relic, allegedly his blood, which is kept in a glass vial in the Naples Cathedral. Of solid substance, it liquefies 18 times each year. While no natural explanation has been given, the phenomenon has been tested frequently and seems genuine.

Until today I didn’t know there was a saint for my birthday month. Nice. I mapped my route and was off .

The photo hasn’t been touched-up. That water is really as turquoise as it looks. But it’s a lot farther down than it appears and diving is not recommended.

As soon as I could, I abandoned Via Roma and ducked into Via Rezzola, a series of stairs and pathways for pedestrians only. I passed one. I could tell he was a local man by the way he said Buongiorno with a nod and the curl of sound around the o-r-n followed by the slightest lift on the ‘o’ at the end. I’m becoming a connoisseur of this melodic language.

Of the paths I’ve trod so far, this one is the prettiest. Bright painted ceramic pots line the wall. I love this depiction of my sun sign, Capricorn, the sea goat.

It was unmarred tranquility until I heard something coming toward me that sounded like children beating on wooden bowls. It wasn’t children. This time I didn’t miss my opportunity.

There were four of these lovely creatures. I think they’re mules, longer manes, nicer tails, more shapely legs. They’re the only vehicles allowed – the only vehicles that can do steps without assistance. They’re the haulers, essential for any construction that happens on these cliffs.

And then I was in the Piazza. Two young boys were using the massive square as a playground. A couple sat on the side sharing a picnic.

I walked the circumference then sat in the sun, watching.

There are three entrances to the church: the doors in the middle and one on either side. Nobody was going in or out and the metal gate was closed. A woman, beautifully dressed in a fuschia coat and scarf, with a crown of white hair, walked in my direction. She smiled, “Buongiorno,” she nodded then said something that must have been wonderful if I’d been able to understand.

Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano, I said. I’d practiced all morning to get that down. If I learn nothing else I need to at least be able to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.”

My new friend walked over to me and beamed. “It is beautiful day, no?” she said.

We talked.

No, you don’t understand…we TALKED. Together. Communicated. She owns the hotel by this square and interacts with guests so she speaks English.

Over the course of conversation I asked her if the church was open to visitors. She said of course, I could just walk in. It was always open. Had I not met her, I wouldn’t have gone inside.

Thank you beautiful lady in the fuschia coat.

The interior of the Church of Saint Januarius did not disappoint.

Image result for the tile floor of san gennaro church
The tile work on the floor is spectacular.

There were people praying so I didn’t take pictures of the Rococo and Renaissance style art, sculptures, niches, and stations of the cross. But one stood out: a woman serving her breasts on a plate. I found a picture on the internet. The one in the church was similar to this:

Image result for Renaissance painting of woman serving her breasts on a tray

I looked her up. She’s St. Agatha, patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, and (her name is) invoked against fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

Church bells pealed as I left the square.

I took the road uphill to Tutto per Tutti with a quick detour to check out Che Bonta. It was open! I spoke to Claudio, actually, Claudio spoke to me, holding his hands cupped together in front of him the way professionals in the service industry often do.

He explained it was only their second day so the menu, which was on the chalkboard in front of us, had the specials. He apologized there were only eight options. But I could also order off the regular menu which he produced for my perusal. I’m guessing there were at least another fifty possibilities there – pizza, pasta, panuozzi, antipasti, salads, and a dessert of the day. Oh, and they deliver…

Claudio, Claudio – you rock my world – you and the lady in the fuschia coat.

Tutto per Tutti was closed.

But Centro Market was open and I needed chocolate. Tomorrow at noon I will go to Felicia’s house to watch her cook. What a privilege to spend time with an Italian family. The chocolate is a hostess gift. I asked Nicola if she likes wine. “Not so much,” he said. “She’s old. But she likes chocolate.”

What does being old have to do with liking or not liking wine? I didn’t ask. I’m quite certain I’m older than she is and I have no problem with wine.

I found assorted chocolates. Here they are, wrapped and ready. That’s the Che Bonta takaway menu. And the Rosamundi is my latest wine-tasting trial. It passed – I couldn’t wait for 5:00. I think that rule is only known to Minnesotans. The rest of the world tends to pour a glass whenever they want.

I’m a quick learner.

Monsoon Yoga

Holy buckets of water Batman!

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What do you do when the house is clean, you’ve already written the great American novel (unpublished as yet…a minor detail), the laundry’s done, and rain is thundering down? Build an ark? I could, but that’s kind of stealing someone else’s idea.

First I slept in. My phone said 9:18 a.m. when I peeled back the mosquito net and rubbed the sleepy dust out of my eyes.

Then I made a boiling mug of Nescafe, mmmm, drank it on the yoga platform contemplating the sheets of water cascading from the roof.

Then I made another boiling mug of Nescafe.

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Serious rain. This calls for Leonard Cohen and incense. I found Leonard in iTunes and lighted the sweet, tangy dupa. Ahhh, the perfect environment for monsoon yoga! If you’ve never practiced yoga two feet from cascading sheets of water with the inimitable Leonard’s dark, scratchy voice just barely audible above the downpour, I can tell you, it creates a rather rare and wild mood! Truly delicious!

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King Dancer in the rain

Here’s a glimpse of my world. Who took the photo? I had 10 seconds to position the camera, hit the button, and strike the pose. So for you perfectionist Iyengar yogis out there, cut me a little slack if my form isn’t perfect!

I wish I could put into words the exquisite thrill of this morning. I’ve always liked the rain, but here I’ve grown to love it. When water forms a solid wall of sound, and the wind brings a dewy film of moisture to my skin, a shiver of excitement vibrates through me.  It is as though the rest of the world disappears. I have shelter, and music, and the day is mine to explore uninterrupted. Does that make sense?

Oh! Gotta go! Leonard’s singing  Nightingale and I have to join in. It’s like singing in the shower. There are some things you can do better during rainy season. Belting out a song at the top of your lungs is one of them. And I’m told a lot of Balinese babies are made in January. The communal lifestyle where everyone hears everything puts a bit of a damper on some activities, until it rains!

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

Hand in hand with golden days and balmy nights, if you live in the tropics, it rains. I’m not talking drizzle here, the kind that goes on for days until you want to wring out the clouds and shout “QUIT ALREADY!” No, I’m talking gushing, pounding, torrents of water.

I’m thrilled by the power of it, both the sight and the sound, unless it happens to be pouring through the roof into my kitchen. (That happened last night.) Or possibly just slightly worse, I’m on the back of a motorbike.

This cruiser didn't have a poncho and he wasn't stopping for anything!

This cruiser didn’t have a poncho and he wasn’t stopping for anything!

It was on one of those epic journeys to Kintamani that the weather turned. Fortunately, Ketut saw the storm coming and pulled into a roadside warung just as the first sprinkles hit.

This warung came in handy in three ways: 1) hot coffee, 2) petrol 3) shelter.

The warung had what was needed: 1) hot coffee, 2) petrol 3) shelter.

It was the perfect opportunity to fill up. The proprietor grabbed one of the amber bottles. She unscrewed the cover of the gas tank, uncapped the bottle, poured, then secured the gas cap again, all while holding an umbrella in her other hand. Rumor has it that the government is trying to outlaw these hazardous, do-it-yourself gas stations. I’m guessing it will be awhile.

Do you recognize this? It's the petrol station. One of those little jugs about fills the tank of a motorbike.

Here’s the petrol. One of those bottles fills the tank of a motorbike.

We sat and enjoyed steaming cups of thick Bali kopi just inches from the drenching downpour. Brown eddies swirled past our feet. This smiling fellow had stopped only to don his poncho. No coffee for him! He was on his way to work.

These ponchos come in all the colors of the rainbow. Everyone hopes they remembered to pack it when it starts raining. My smiling friend is getting ready to leave.

The ponchos come in all the colors of the rainbow. Everyone hopes they remembered to pack it when it starts raining. My smiling friend is getting ready to leave.

And off he goes.

And off he goes.

The warung was across the street from a temple that had an impressive flight of steps leading to the top. When we arrived a little trickle of water had started. After only fifteen minutes, the steps looked like this. When I say it was raining hard, I want you to understand what that means. Folks…it was raining HARD.

No, this is not a waterfall. These are the steps to the temple across the street.

No, this is not a waterfall.

The gutters were overflowing, completely flooding the street, and a man with a bright red umbrella tried to dislodge a huge branch that was blocking the culvert. He was unsuccessful.

Leonard Cohen does a song "Famous Blue Raincoat" and here's the Famous Pink Umbrella to go with it!

Leonard Cohen does a song “Famous Blue Raincoat” and here are the Famous Blue Slippers to go with it!

Eventually the cadence of the drops slowed and Ketut fished out his rain gear. Pulling it on, he seated himself and started the engine. In one flying leap I whipped the back of the poncho over my head and flung my leg over the seat. “Ready!” I yelled through the din.

There’s only one thing scarier than riding in the rain, and that’s riding blind in the rain. I could see nothing. My head was underneath the poncho. I tend slightly toward claustrophobia. I’ve gotten better, but for a few miles I had to sing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. (That’s a great technique, by the way, for those of you who tend to panic!) Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. I pulled my head out from under. “You wet?” Ketut shouted over his shoulder.

“No! You?” I yelled back.

“No! Big rain!” he said, and I guess that tells it all.

The inimitable Leonard

Where, where, where is my gypsy wife tonight? I’m obsessed with Leonard Cohen. His lyrics are heartbreaking, haunting, and too real at times. They’re complex. They make me think while I’m crying. They explore delicate subjects that may even be considered tabu, with raw honesty. The melodies seduce in dark minor keys, and the man can’t sing. What can I say. His voice is a gravelly cross between Bob Dylan and laryngitis.

But that doesn’t matter. I can’t get enough. When I hear the opening rift of “Take This Waltz” my feet automatically go into the 1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3 of that classic dance step. I can’t stop them, my feet that is, and I am elated even though the words paint a forlorn and dismal picture.

Now in Vienna there’s ten pretty women
There’s a shoulder where Death comes to cry
There’s a lobby with nine hundred windows
There’s a tree where the doves go to die
There’s a piece that was torn from the morning
And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost… (Take This Waltz)

…a piece that was torn from the morning…I can’t even articulate what those words do to me. You can’t tear a piece from morning, right? But have you ever awakened not wanting to face another day? Something big and dark has happened in your life and there’s a gaping hole?

Well, maybe its not for everyone…?

But I think I’ve figured out what it is for me, this fascination. It has everything to do with the craft of writing. Leonard Cohen is a master of the art. He sings about the same things that everyone sings about, but he says it in ways that nobody has ever said it before. Even if I don’t understand completely, even if it doesn’t quite make sense when I examine the individual pieces, he creates a mood that resonates. His words, incongruously strung together, make the message even more poignant.

I aspire to write like that. Maybe not as dark…definitely not as dark! But I want to own words the way Leonard does. He makes them his, twists their meanings, and bends them to his will. His work is sheer genius.

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