Wednesday, May 24, 2006

With age comes wisdom so now I'm 40 I have had two revelations with the help of this weeks Guardian (one of London's newspapers). An editorial by Anne Krapf titled "There is no such thing as Mary Poppins" and Nigel Marsh' "Fat, 40 and fired" rested side by side in this past Saturdays Family Section and put in print two life truths.

1. There is no such thing as a perfect life.

Just the opposite--life needs to be that tumultuous ride. Being tumultuous doesn't mean something is wrong in my life. It usually means I am alive and not stagnating. I can not create that perfect Christmas or summer holiday because they are not real. When the kids come home with problems I can't find the answers in a parenting magazine. The magazines make me feel anxious and inadequate and my kids are unique as are the solutions to the problems they face. I no longer pray for God to take away the chaos of my house. Instead I invite Him to be part of the turmoil. That I can do.

2.You can't have it all (work and family) .

The mornings I go to work I am usually neglecting the dog , yelling at the kids or complaining about the school notice just handed to me as we walk out the door . I feel guilty arriving late at school dismissal time when I am held up at work and when calling in to be home with my sick child (if I go in I feel like an awful mother). The days I work the dishes stay in the sink and the vacuum isn't touched for 2 weeks. What I can't do is do it all. Realizing it is liberating because it frees me from blaming myself. I don't have to say "What am I doing wrong? " but appreciate the times when juggling that it all stays in the air and laugh (sometimes cry) when it doesn't. It also frees me to make the decisions I need to make like cutting back my hours to put family first sometimes or teaching the kids about helping others when I pick up an extra shift to fill in for a colleague. Work and family do not balance --whenever I choose one the other feels it so I try to choose carefully.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


When I was 8 my parents took a trip to Italy and came home with images of things that seemed bigger than my life. I thought, "One day I will go to stand in the colosseum, see the mosaics and the statues of saints that peer down from St Peter's and are as big as me". Last Monday, on my 40th birthday I stood in Rome with Eamonn and did what I had hoped ever since I was 8 years old. It is an adventure I continue to savour.

The best part about adventures are the surprises and that is true of Rome. The things I want to blog about are the unexpected, the details and mishaps I don't want to forget.


Eamonn and I arrived in Rome on Friday evening at about 8pm. On the plane I realized I didn't fit in--pale skin, freckles and English speaking--a tourist. I decided I wasn't going to blend into the crowd and no matter how many Italian tapes I had listened to I wasn't going to sound Italian either. When someone speaks to me in another language I intially panic and in my anxious reply to our taxi driver I mixed my poor French with my even poorer Italian. The poor guy was confused by this couple with American accents saying they came from London but speaking a mix of French and ill pronounced Italian. His broken English bridged the gulf as he drove us to our hotel.

This was my first view of Rome. It was all alight and I restrained myself from pointing and out all the sites to Eamonn and recounting facts about each from the guide book. I guess I was still hoping to blend in if I just didn't speak. We arrived at our hotel and happily opened our rooms windows. It was a balmy night. No screens, no bugs and lovely wooden slotted shutters. They let in a cool breeze. We braved a restaraunt down the street. Restaraunts don't start serving dinner in Rome util 7:00 at the earliest so at 10:30pm the Antico Arco was still serving. The waiters spoke English when they heard our accents or lack of and served us our first and best Italian meal. We only had two courses that evening(antipasta or appetisers and a first course) but vowed to return sometime during our stay to have a proper 6 couse Italian meal. I learned two things that evening. Our Italian wasn't good enough but their broken English would be and Italian wine has a lovely aroma that even an untrained nose can enjoy when drinking from a wine glass that has a narrow opening.

Through the night I realized one other thing. Rome is a busy city. The traffic never stopped all night long from trucks to cars to hundreds of scooters(which fill the streets and seem a great way to zip around Rome). They all ran under our open window whether it was 2pm or 2am. Sometime in the night I closed the shutters and the window to shut out the noise.


A breakfast buffet was included with our hotel room each morning. Pastries,quiches,meats(salami,proscuito,cheeses) and rolls filled us up for a good part of the day each morning. We headed off for St Peter's Basilica with our map and guide book and back packs. Our hotel was situated on Garibaldi Hill so when we had walked 5 minutes up the road we were met with a panoramic view of the city. You know how a master of ceremonies will say formally "I give you(drumroll)..or Presenting..." That is what it felt like to stand there with the city presented in front of us.

We climbed down through the narrow streets off our hill and wondered about how we would climb back up eventually already fantasizing about getting a cab back up it at the end of the day. Walking in Rome is not easy. Sidewalks when present are made of 4 inch square black granite stones that are hard on the feet and uneven. The real problem is sidewalks have a tendency to disappear suddenly. There are pedestrian crosswalks in Rome but I don't think pedestrians have the right of way when crossing the street. Crossing a street is an act of will and you must be brave and determined in the presence of ever approaching vehicles. We followed the locals.

Our first destination was St Peters Basilica. My first impression of St Peters was how small it made feel. My second impression was amazement over the vast number of people anxious to see it. The church seems alive at least at the piazza in front of St Peters. We stood in a long line in an attempt to get into the church only to find the line was a dead end (the church closed for a Swiss guard ceremony). We shuffled back down away from the church in shoulder to shoulder crowds desparate for our own space. We headed for the Vatican Museum and we hoped away from the crowds as we thought everyone must be at St Peters and perhaps we could slip into the museum. The line for the museum wrapped two street lengths away from the entrance. We waited until realizing we would only have an hour in the museum once we got in as it was closing early. We abandoned Christian Rome for Ancient Rome.

Map in hand we began our cross city hike. The last weather forcast had anticipated rain in Rome on Saturday but the initial clouds had cleared and I started wondering if I should have packed the sun screen instead of rain coats. It was a summer day in the upper 70's and Eamonn and I had our first gelato(ice cream) down by the Tiber River listening to a flute player whose music resonated under one of the arches of the bridge as we viewed St Peters Dome in the distance. The ice ceam in Italy looks like pans full of icing and is served with spatulas they use to smear it into your cone. I highly recommend the chocolate(Bacio). It was cool by the river so we planned our route along it and walked down river. Where ever we went in Rome we saw ruins. An old piece of a column here and a piece of ancient wall made into a seat there. We would see a piece of carved stone under a bush and arches carved into the hill as we turned a corner.

As impressed as we were with the bits and pieces of Rome scattered around the city our jaws dropped as we turned a corner and entered the Roman Forum. The mother load of ancint Roman ruins. To me this is and was Rome. The fact that the new is built in and amoung the ancient is what defines Rome. The new is literally built upon the foundations of the very old.

On every street in Rome there seems to be running water much of which travels they say the same aquaduct routes established 2000 years ago. If there is not a fountain in sight there is literally a spout of drinkable flowing water within walking distance. We were not brave enough Saturday to drink from them but by Sunday as we watched the locals drinking the cool water we began filling our bottles as well. It is fresh. It is clean,cold , plentiful and very drinkable especially in 78 degree weather. Along with wine,the spouting water is for me Italy's national drink.

We ended the afternoon at the Colosseum. Standing in line to get tickets at the colosseum was a European experience that made me appreciate the English ability to que patiently and politely. Standing in a que in Rome we had whole families suddenly appear next to us and cut in line and as you approached the ticket counter mad dashes were made to vie for positions at the counter. After purchasing our ticket all lines were abandoned as we joined a literal mass of people moving toward turnstyles for actual entry .

The Colleseum captured my imagination at 8. I had visions of gladiators and cheering crowds. At 40 the reality of exactly what happened in this ancient arena gave it is a grim aura. Architecturally it seemed better laid out than modern stadiums I have been in and you can feel what it must have been like to be part of a crowd attending an event. I try not to imagine what it was like to be a participant in the games.

Lunch that day had been a doughy bread spread with tomato paste and a slice of cheese from a vender -the worst pizza I have ever had but it gave us the energy to get back to our area of town. I realized how difficult it is not to speak the language well. We got to the restaraunt (Da Lucia) we had wanted to try but they were not open for another 30 minutes. We knew how to ask for a table for 2 but didn't have the ability to explain we would like to just sit at a table with a bottle of wine and wait until they officially opened so we shrunk away. We found another restaraunt that was open instead.

We collapsed into bed that night wondering if we would be able to walk in the morning after our 10 mile hike of the day. Eamonn woke sometime in the night to shut out the city noise.


Eamonn and I both were heartened that we didn't have any aches the next day. Fitter than we thought but still sunburned and weary, we spent the day in a local park near the hotel picnicing with olives and beans and nuts and absorbing local Italian life. It was a slice of Italian life and reminded me that I rush around too much and don't spend enough time lying in a park with my kids having a picnic. We were surounded by Italian families doing just that and life was very good.

We returned to the restauant Da Lucia this evening and got a table for two. This restaraunt is in an alley. The paint is peeling off the walls of the apartment buildings surrounding the tables. Scooters are parked a little way from he tables. The wooden tables and chairs rocked slightly as you sat down on the uneven cobblestones. They were so busy they were turning guests away. Da Lucia is family run restaraunt established by the owners grandmother whose picture (taken in the same alley at one of the tables) is on the menu. It still serves her recipes and they were delicious washed down with red wine in snubbed thick glass cups.


Refreshed by the day absorbing local culture we headed out early for St Peter's Basilica on my birthday. Our tour began with the crypts under St Peters where it seems every pope from Saint Peter to John Paul II is buried. Pope John Paul's grave is plain and reverent and humble as he was in life. St Peters tomb lies under the churches main altar and it is very dramatic seeing how you can actually descend into his tomb via stairs leading down under the altar. We were able to attend mass at St Peters at the altar of St Jerome. We left the basilica after seeing the Pieta by Michaelangelo. What amazed me is how young he made Mary appear(he did this on purpose) and it made me think how I do not age inside and feel the same joy and sorrow at 20 as at 40.

We left St Peters to join the long line for the Vatican Museums and Sistene Chapel. Massive crowds--dangerous numbers of people all massing towards one chapel was the result. But the tapestries of the last supper(I still don't know how they weave pictures with such detail) , the small pottery oil lamps, paintings covering every inch of many of the halls ceilings, Michaelangelo's passionate and disturbing depictions of the Bible and Last judgement are what linger in my mind as we left the crowds behind.

We did go for our 6 course Italian meal that evening back at Antico Arco . We had guispachee (cold soup) to start ,a pastry filled with mozzarella as a antipasta, first course cod ravoioli in red meat sauce, second course pasta in a white cheese sauce, lamb medallions (very rare-I admit I ate the cooked bits and hid the rest under some spinach afraid to offend the chef), a cannoli filled with soft cheese and a chocolate souffle with cappuchino mousse as we savoured a last bottle of red wine. We were worried about being able to eat everything and were stuffed by the end but portions were small so we made it!!

What I want to remember about Rome is how the Italians embrace life as they do their history. I had a wonderful 40th birthday .