Give the Dogs a Bone

Sun kissed. That’s Rome in on this particular day. The city is glowing softly from the inside out and the outside in. My friend Massimo and I are taking a walk through a hilly park. The path we’re walking is made up of large rocks embedded into the ground and sticking out at awkward angles. Of course, I’m not wearing appropriate footwear, so I’m trying hard not to wipe out. Massimo tells me that I am walking very elegantly for someone in high heels, as I desperately clutch onto his arm for support. Sure I am.

We pass dogs. Lots of dogs. I am in dog heaven. I try convincing Massimo to get one. “I have not time for a dog,” he says.

I am amazed at the amount of pet dogs in Rome. I had heard that strays  – or “bastardino”- ran amuck in Italy, but here in Rome, all sorts of dogs are beloved pets. More than any other breed, I’ve seen a lot of labrador retrievers.  And there are a lot at the park today. The sight of them, especially the blonde ones, make my heart ache for the loss of Sadie, my beloved yellow lab who died eight years ago. RIP.

There are also a lot of people in the park, naturally. The park is called Monte Mario, which I think is just a fabulous name. People love to stroll in Italy, and why not? Older women, arm in arm, taking in the sights, the smells, the air. Groups of youths sitting on the benches, smoking hash. Couples walking with their hands in each other’s back pockets. Mother’s with daughters. Generations of families all out together.

To our right is Rome. A clear view of the entire city, lit up by the sun, who was in the mood to shine today. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Rome shares three out of four of her name’s letters with the word Romance, but I doubt it. Everything about it is sensual, beautiful, miraculous – especially from this angle.

Massimo and I are walking, talking and laughing. Laughing at our language differences. Laughing because most of what he knows about North America he learned from watching Southpark. I ask him inane questions like,”how do you say lab in Italian” (it’s Labrador, btw). And then, to ruin the moment, my phone rings. It’s a text message from a North American number that I don’t know. For a moment, I am filled with a rush of homesickness. And then I read it.

“I have a belly full of last night chinese, and I’m hungover. I woke up sweating with a boner. westcoast”

I have no idea who this could be from, and it totally catches me off guard. Massimo, seeing the shocked look on my face as I stare at the screen of my cellphone, asks me what it says, so I let him read it. I figure we can have a laugh over it. He starts reading the text out loud. Then, near the end, he looks up at me – puzzled.

“Boner?” he says. “What is boner?”

I start laughing.

“What?! What is this word, ‘Boner’?” he says.

There seem to be people all around us now, and even though I’m sure 90 per cent of them dont know what the word boner means, I am caught between being mortified and wonderfully amused.

“Tell me, please. Boner. What is it?!” Massimo says. “Carla, what is boner!?”

He seems to be repeating the word on purpose now.

I bury my hands in my face and then look at him through my spread out fingers. “Ok, I’ll tell you,” I say back.

Apparently, this exchange has turned me into a 12-year-old girl who can’t say anatomical words without bursting out into fits of giggles.

I finally compose myself and say, “You know when a man gets excited?” No response.

So, I put my arm down to my knee and then slowly raise it up, bending it at the elbow. I’m praying to God he catches on soon, as people are definitely looking at me now. Even the dogs seem to know what I’m doing.

“Ahh!” he says, “Erezione!”

I’m still laughing.

“Boner?” he repeats.

Sistine Chapel and the Preserved Pope

I went to the Vatican today. More stories about that adventure coming up soon.

In the meantime… I couldn’t help but be bad and take a picture of the Sistine Chapel, even though the scary guards were sssshing us and screaming “No Photos!!”

The Sistine Chapel is amazing in person. Of course, pictures, especially secretly-taken no-flash pictures, will never do it justice. Your brain can’t even process the magnitude of the beauty your eyes are taking in. Michelangelo, I worship at your altar.

I also couldn’t resist taking a picture of the dude below. It’s Pope John XXII, otherwise known as Il Papa Buono (the Good Pope). He died in 1963, but apparently his body never decomposed. To me, he looks like a wax figure. Who knows. I love his burgundy slippers and matching Santa hat.

There is so much to see in the Vatican and St. Peter’s, and everything is HUGE. I felt like a little ant.

Welcome to Rome

As I stood there, my body was hot and tired from the trip, my mind was wandering and weary, but my heart was full of excitement. People – some couples, some triples, some bigger groups – stood all around me talking to each other about their plans, about their families, about their lives. I was alone. But not really. You’re never alone in big cities like these. If nothing else, the soul of the place is always with you. It’s in the air you breathe there. And what a soul this place has.

In in this city, people like to look at each other. They look for the sake of looking, they look to judge, they look to enjoy each other’s faces, they look to fall in love. And I was looking at all of them. Their clothes, their faces, their mouths. How when they talk, it’s a kinesthetic experience in which their entire bodies – arms, legs, hands, fingers – get involved. And the sound of their words, pure magic, flowing out like an aria. I already couldn’t get enough.

Then, he called me over, and so I went. He said nothing at first, just looked at me. His deep dark brown eyes didn’t blink. His gaze was burning, and I was beginning to get nervous. Nervous from having such a gorgeous man look at me so intensely without speaking. I wanted to tell a joke or something equally dorky to quell the awkwardness. But I didn’t. I just stared back, because that’s all I could do.

“What do you dream of?” he said to me in his thick, beautiful accent.

“Pardon?” I said back.

“What do you dream of, standing there?” he said.

I smiled.

“Rome, of course,” I said.

He looked at me with that alarming intensity one more time, and as I held his gaze, he smiled.

“Rome dreams of you too,” he said. Then, he handed me back my passport and gave me a wink.

Welcome to Rome, where even at customs, the men will do their best to make you melt.

The Roman bus driver

An Asian man and woman sit together on the bus, halfway from the front and halfway to the back. They have their heads down and pointed towards each other, anxiously studying a piece of paper. It’s 8:30 p.m. on a cool April night in Rome.

The petite woman gets up and pensively makes her way to the front of the bus. “How long does it take get here?” she quietly asks the driver, pointing to the name of some Roman place on her piece of paper.

The driver looks up at her from his newspaper. He takes the paper and studies it. Casually, he raises both arms, his eyebrows and his shoulders, while his mouth goes down into a frown. Italian sign language for: I don’t know.

The woman looks distraught. The driver, who is balding and looks to be in his late forties, with kind eyes and a slender build, gets out of his seat. The Asian man comes to the front of the bus to join the conversation.

“Ok,” says the driver. “You sit here so see where get off.”

The man and woman smile at each other. They happily take seats at the front of the bus with their new friend, the helpful driver.

“Thank you,” the man says to the driver. “But do you know how long the ride is to here?” He points to the same piece of paper his wife had. The driver takes the paper and studies it. “Will we be there by 9 p.m.?” the man asks.

The driver looks at me. I’m sitting in the fourth row, watching the scene go down. The driver asks me if I speak both english and italian. “Parli Italiano e Inglese?” I say I speak English, but I understand Italian. “Parlo inglese, ma capisco Italiano.”

Then, in Italian, the driver asks me to tell the couple that to get where they need to go, it will take 40 minutes.

“It’s going to take 40 minutes to get there,” I say to the couple.

“40 minutes!” they say in unison.

“Yes-a! 40 minutes! It’s-a true!” says the driver raising his arms and smiling.

The couple looks disappointed, but they simply say “thank you” to me and the driver, sit down and begin whispering to each other.

The driver points to me. “You-a, come to the front, please, with me,” he says to me.

This being my first time alone on a bus in Rome, I’m a bit freaked out by this. I have my ticket, it’s validated. Am I on the wrong bus? Did he not like what I said to the couple? What the hell is going on? In any case, I follow him to the front.

He gets into his seat and closes the glass gate that separates him from the passengers.

“Where are you from?” he asks me.

I have to lean over the yellow rail, standing on my tip toes, and poke my head around the glass divider to answer him.

What follows is a slightly awkward  ital-glish conversation about what I’m doing in Italy, what my background is, where he’s from, the bus, and of course, Rome. He also tells me I look eighteen, which makes me quite happy.

After about eight minutes, there’s not much more to talk about in my broken Italian and his broken English. So I begin to gaze out of the front window of the bus to watch the incredible ancient streets of Rome unfold before me.

“Ahem!” The driver suddenly clears his throat.

Awoken from my Roman reverie, I look over at him.

He leans his head down and very quietly says: “You want see me sometimes, not on bus?”

And then it dawns on me. I am being hit on – by my bus driver. I’ve been in Rome for four days, and this is the first honest attempt a man has made to hit on me.

I smile nervously. I suck at being hit on in normal circumstances with people I am actually interested in, so being totally caught off guard by the bus driver on my way home after a long day is not something I’m going to handle with grace, no matter how hard I try. “Oh. Um, ok. Sure,” I say.

“Yes?!” he says.

I nod. I then proceed to tell a little lie about not yet having a phone, so I’d have to take down his number, which I do. Maurizio is his name. I also ask him if this is his route, so as to avoid any awkwardness when I have to take this bus again. Because I already know I’m not going to call him.

I look behind me. The bus has filled up with people, but the Asian couple from the start of this story are still sitting up front. They have been watching my exchange with the driver. The man smiles at me and the women is hiding her mouth with her hand, giggling silently. I give them a nod.

I see a couple of landmarks that indicate it’s time for me to get off the bus, so I ring the bell.

“You light up the night,” the driver says as I get off the bus.

I walk down the street, and when the bus drives past me, Maurizio honks the horn three times. I can’t help but smile.

My first two days in Rome – Le mie prima due giornate a Roma

Yesterday, I got to Rome. I sat next to a Priest on the plane ride here, and somehow that made me very calm about the whole flying over the ocean thing. An older man named Angelo drove me to my new digs from the airport. He had about 4 teeth and said “Mamma Mia!” to everyone he passed. He was sweet. As we got further away from the airport and closer to the center, everything got crazier. I was overwhelmed and jet lagged, but I still went for a walk, and got a pizza and a gelato.

From my little room, I hear the constant hum of traffic and the whizzing by of mopeds; I smell strange things and wonderful things wafting in from the open window; the language that is being spoken outside my window is foreign, yet familiar. I am happy with myself for not breaking down like a sissy in front of my roommates on my first day here…One of those roommates is a 3-year-old boy named Darius (or Dario? I still don’t know). But he likes to scream. More on him later… I am in an amazing location – by the Piazza Navona. I can’t even believe what is right outside my door. Here’s my window. Pretty, non?

I suck at speaking Italian, and when I do manage to string together a sentence, people keep responding to me in Spanish. So I guess I don’t have the right accent. But today was a little less overwhelming than yesterday was, and I hope by days continue to get better.

Piazza Navona


history. easter. rise up. grandmas. grandsons. granddaughters. uncles. aunts. cousins.

springtime. flowers. chocolate. warmth.

purple. yellow. crosses. death. resurrection.

getting drenched by the Priest’s “blessing” because  you’re sitting too close him as he walks by dipping leaves into water and then throwing the water onto the congregation. my cousin and i laughing too loudly as we get hit by the water. laughing even more watching others wince when the water hits them.

the leader of the choir is tone deaf. the priest is hard to understand. i wish the pope in Rome could be better. i don’t understand much of what this church stands for anymore.

but my grandmother is smiling, so it’s a great afternoon.

easter is always one of my favorite days.

Weighty Ghost

I love this song. Every time I hear it, it stays with me for days. It’s haunting but not melodramatic. Light but not kitschy. It’s simple, melodic, beautiful. Just right.

Wintersleep is a Canadian band from Halifax, Nova Scotia. They’ve won Junos and have released four albums. The latest is New Interiors, and it’s brilliant. Weighty Ghost is from the 2007 release Welcome to the Night Sky, also a sweet album.

I saw Wintersleep at Virgin Fest in Calgary last summer. They played right before Pearl Jam – and did a great job. When Pearl Jam came out, Eddie Vedder made a point of saying he is a big fan of Wintersleep.