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Mandingo meets Anita

Trevi

From the twang talk coming out of her  nose I’d say American piggy pink caucasian of the vintage dyke persuasion in khaki shorts nice hair on the legs a life is fun t-shirt fishing hat mirror lens shades camera dangling to the waist  the 70-200 zoom lens jutting from her poon zone like a dong.

I flash on Mandingo.

Fontana di Trevi corral and herds of sunbaked diet pepsi tourists trudge along behind raised umbrellas ruminating pizza wedges and/or lapping away at dripping gelati pushing shoving mindlessly towards a digital shot at the splashing white sculpture apparently not bernini’s though who’s bernini anyway in a chorus of gringoisms like awsome make a wish  marcello toss your coin say cheese and hell we got two of  ’em in vegas.

Mandingo has bulldozed her way to the front line.

A veil of chagrin comes over her as she peers into the penny-pocked basin of water.

She pines for Anita.

A Keiko and a Susumu by the badges politely tap on Mandingo’s shoulder asking prease to make  loom for taking photo prease.

Mandingo Anita-less alas  whirls around and tells them to fuck off.

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And that is that

You were only six the first time you came to visit. Your mother had packed you off onto a direct SAS flight from Copenhagen to Rome and I’d come to Fiumicino to pick you up and take you home to Tuscany.

I remember you bouncing through the Arrivals gate with more tags hanging from your neck than a prize-winning pony at the county fair. I also remember the ground crew stewardesses giving me skeptical looks when you hopped into my arms and wrapped your legs around me. I’d had to show them my passport to prove I was your daddy. We’d headed straight for the parking lot, chuckling away like ding-dongs, and had stopped dead in our tracks, laughing even harder, realizing we’d forgotten to claim your baggage.

Your stay had been so lovely, though far too brief for my taste; we’d laughed and played and on the last night I’d kissed your forehead as you slept and cried but this was not for you to know and the next day we drove back to the airport and that was that.

More than twenty years have passed since then, and once again you’ve come and gone, this time together with you husband, a fine young man who claims your baggage and kisses you with a smile as you sleep, as surely you must know.

Your stay with us has been so lovely, though far too brief for my taste; we’ve played and laughed a lot, and hugged the trunks of century-old oaks; we’ve broken bread and raised our glasses to this wondrous, fleeting life and now the two of you are gone and home again.

And that is that, and all is as it should be.

Smoke on the Lager

Dedicated with affection and respect to C.F., my all-time favorite golem….

During our tour in Germany, my friend and colleague Josef suggested we stop over at his parents’ house in Schwerte and spend the night there. This sounded great to me.  We both needed a good night’s sleep and Josef’s Renault 10 needed servicing.  Josef told me about how his mother would take care of us boys while his father took care of the car.

Josef’s parents were of solid, German-Catholic stock, most formal in their informality, extremely kind, hospitable and very parental. Vatti, Josef’s dad,  was an amiable man in his late Sixties who stood very straight and told a lot of droll jokes, whacking you on the shoulder on the punch line, thereby giving you the green light to laugh, something he always did first. Vatti was a retired mechanic who had worked with the Renault racing team in France for several decades, a true wizard of the engine, a real pro who could tell you everything about a vehicle’s motor by just listening to it turn over and idle. He prided himself in saying how he knew cars better than women.

Mutti, Josef’s mother, was a very sweet, white-haired country Frau that smiled a lot and kept quiet most of the time. You could tell she was much more relaxed when Vatti was in the garage fussing over some vehicle than when he was wandering around the house telling droll jokes to guests.

That evening Mutti made food enough for a regiment, worried as she was about the long drive we had ahead of us in the next days, knowing that we wouldn’t be stopping except to tank up and pee until we reached Rome, where we were to perform in three days.

For supper we were served a delicious goulash soup with freshly baked bread, huge slabs of Jägerschnitzels smothered in fried onions, coleslaw and fried potatoes. Vatti kept our glasses filled to the brim with a Kölsch beer made by a friend of his. To finish off, we were served huge portions of Rote Grutze, a dessert made from fruit topped with a blob of freshly whipped cream. After supper, Vatti invited us to adjourn to the living room while Mutti cleared the table. I started to help but Vatti shot me a horrified look like I had just raised the subject of butt plugs or something, so I didn’t push it.

Coffee was served and Vatti offered us cigars and a “very special” Schnapps that smelled like nail polish remover. This he poured out into little glasses with the words Souvenir of Checkpoint Charlie etched into them. I sat there sipping away at my nail polish, struggling to keep my eyes open in spite of the Sumo wrestlers that were hanging from my eyelids, drowsily listening to Vatti go on in his Brieftaube English about ze olt racink dace. At some point he switched back to Deutsch and started describing exactly what he was planning to do to Josef’s car. It all sounded porno to me at this point, how he was going to “really get her goink” and make her “kik ess.” He couldn’t wait to get started, he might just give the car a first look over this very evening.

At some point, Mutti poked her head into the room and meekly suggested that it might be bedtime. I was so drunk and happy to hear her say this that I could have kissed her on the mouth, but I didn’t. We all struggled to our feet and said gute Nacht and schlaff wohl to each other and I was shown to my room. I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow. That night I slept like eighty kilos of undigested Jägerschnitzel.

The next morning after breakfast we hit the road, headed for Italy’s Caput Mundi. Josef, however, had planned a slight detour between Hamburg and Hannover. He had decided to visit the KZ lager of Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi concentration camp in Lower Saxony, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle. Between 1943 and 1945, an estimated 50,000 people had died there, up to 35,000 of them dying of typhus in the first few months of 1945.

This is something I have to do, he told me. I told him I understood. When we reached the site he asked me if I wanted to join him. I said no thanks sounds like fun but I’ll just sit this one out, which is exactly what I did in Josef’s newly tuned, washed and primed Renault 10.

About an hour and a half later Josef came wobbling back to the car, looking like someone who’d just visited a concentration camp or something. I was about to ask him if he’d had a good time, but decided against it. He was obviously very screwed up in der Kopf and far beyond irony. He asked me if I would drive please and I said no problem.

Finding my way back to the Autobahn, I nudged the R10 up to a cruising speed of 150km/hr and kept it there for as long as I could, driving in silence to the purr of Vatti’s mechanical prowess.

It was difficult for me not to wonder just where Josef’s Vatti had been 45 years ago, as the thick, oily smoke of smoldering human corpses was billowing out of the chimneys of Bergen-Belsen, but I spared Josef that question because I’m pretty sure my friend was asking himself the same thing.

The Story of Maiden Obispo

THE STORY OF MAIDEN OBISPO

To Irena and Julian

In the land of Beuns, near the city of Moue, where of rhyming and garments folks hadn’t a clue, lived a most lovely Princess, a fine peaceful lass whose official title was Maiden Obispo, otherwise known as Miss Moe.

The Chateau de Meude was Moe’s family domain, one she shared with her Grandmamá, known as Sightless Loraine. Far from the crassness of the crude world without, with its unhappy moans and cultural drought, the ravishing damsel and unseeing crone lived quite happily together within the great Chateau’s ramparts.

Thus removed from mundane existence, in a realm of serenity and weather so fair, Maiden Obispo went bare. Miss Moe wore no clothes. Not a stitch. Since ne’er an eye upon her did set, no glimpse was ever caught of her beauty unclothed and the Princess could peregrinate, stroll here and there, to her sweet heart’s content, wrapped only in folds of her long, golden hair.

Sightless Loraine was an excellent nanny and a loving companion, but was no fun at all. Often Miss Moe got bored off her Beuns and would venture away in search of some fun. She would visit the village of Moue. De rigeur, she would cover herself, of course. Though blonde and quite beautiful, Miss Moe wasn’t dumb.

As mentioned before, the Princess possessed neither dresses nor shirts, nor trousers, nor vestments to don. No closet of garments. She did have an armoire of sorts, very special: Miss Moe’s private wardrobe was the Chateau de Meude’s gargantuan greenhouse! In this vast garden paradise Moe would dress from head to toe in a myriad of radiant flowers, velvety leaves and tightly clinging vines.

Thus wreathed, the gorgeous young Princess was a sight to behold, the talk of the village, the apple of every lad’s eye. “Moe, Moe, give us Moe,” the boys would all shout, as the Princess passed fleetingly by. For, alas, Miss Moe was destined to hurry. Her floral device was beauteous indeed, but terribly evanescent. The leaves quickly wilted, the flowers would fade and the vines would soon loosen their grip. The humors would swell in the village, compelling poor Moe to rush back to de Meude.

On just such a day, while scurrying home, Moe took a wrong turn, completely losing her way. Bare as a newborn baby’s bottom, she decided to hide in a grotto. There she sat, shivering with cold shedding tears of despair when in crawled a spider named Otto. “No, I won’t sit down beside you in your deshabille. I’ve come here to chide you for un-dressing that way!” Then, smiling, Otto continued, “Flowers and leaves and vines are just fine in themselves, but you can’t walk around in them! You’re the butt of all jokes! It won’t do! You’re a wonderful girl with a story to tell, we must make special duds just for you!”

Otto the Spider was no common arachnid, with nine legs he could spin like no other. But, best of all, Otto shared this wondrous grotto with some talented artisans who helped one another.

In the spirit of Raga Man, Otto the Spider raised three hands to his mouth and exclaimed, “Earth Nice! Earth Nice! Last Elk Of Pearl Rap!” On hearing this cryptic command, Otto’s cohorts appeared and the grotto burst into life!

A scurry of chattering squirrels stormed the place. “My tailors!”, said Otto, brimming with pride. “With their razor sharp teeth and cunning precision, they fashion choice buttons and buckles from acorns and shells, and cut out fine patterns from the fabric I spin!”

Then a charm of finches filled the air, swooping and gyrating and chirping with glee. “They gather berries, tree bark and stones,” as a wrack of pink rabbits burst onto the scene, “which they give to my pounders, the rabbits, who thump them to pulp with their mighty hind legs. This we use to carefully dye my fine textiles in our coloring kegs!”

Confused but somewhat less troubled, curled up in a ball, the Princess was wondering what to make of it all when Manager Fox cried out with a shout, “Time to gussy her up, make the Princess stand out!”

“Earth Nice!!, exclaimed the spider again, invoking the Raga Man, and there in the grotto, in the land of Beuns, near the city of Moue, where of rhyming and garments folks hadn’t a clue, a miracle started to happen. The finches flew in length after length of fabulous fabrics. The squirrels began carefully cutting and clipping. Otto turned into a blur of activity, his nine maestro legs sewing and joining with unmatched proclivity.

Calling the shots was the French feline stylist, Minou la Coule. “Mais, wow,” she meowed, and started to drool as each article fell into place on stunning Miss Moe’s splendid figure. “C’est parrrfaitment purrrfect!,” la Coule exclaimed.

Thus impeccably tailored, the time finally came to return Miss Moe to her chateau.

In clippity-clopped Perry the Pony, an equestrian dandy if ever there was one, draped in Otto’s best rags, so-to-speak. “Hop onto my spine and for a glass of good wine you’ll be home in less than a week.”

“It’s a deal,” said the Princess, weary of all the brouhaha.

And the two set off on their way.

Six days later the Princess and Perry reached the Chateau de Meude, safe and sound. On their arrival Sightless Lorraine burst into tears of joy. “My darling, you’re home,” cried the blind Grandmamá, and threw out her arms, confounding Miss Moe with the quadruped and before he could side-step, poor, perplexed Perry received a big kiss on the mouth.

The fortuitous kiss, however, proved a blessing for Perry, it transformed him from pony to king! Whereas Sightless Lorraine did her vision regain and the two of them started a fling!

Clippity-clop, and hippity-hop and mais wow and parrrfaitment purrrfect!

Now, to wrap up the story: Moe escapes from de Meude and runs off to hang out with Otto & Friends, where she finally ditches her knick-name “Miss Moe” and prospers forever as Maiden Obispo.

The End

P.S.

The original “Earth Nice”,”Catherine” Panofsky Pardeilhan can be discovered here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/FolktalesApparel

The “Amazing Animals Panel” artwork is by Julie Paschkis: http://www.juliepaschkis.com/index.html

Ave Maria!

Coming home from a mid-afternoon walk, I decide to check in on my mother-in-law, Maria. I knock on her door. This is a pure formality because Nonna (“Grandmother”) Maria is ninety-two years old, can barely see and is deaf as a bell, as the Italians say. I enter her apartment hoping not to catch her in an awkward moment. But then, every moment in her life has become an awkward moment, an ongoing tête-à-tête with evaporating thoughts, speech lacunae and unsavory bodily activity.

I peek into her bedroom before going in and in doing so unwittingly become privy to one of her countless coughing bouts. In a fusion of wonderment and revulsion, I behold my wife’s mommy’s ancient frame as it shudders and convulses, her diaphragm contracting in an attempt to ratchet up a reticent gob of phlegm.

Hack, hack-hack, hack-hack-hack, like she’s trying to kick-start a vintage Harley.

Not exactly what I had in mind, I think to myself. That is not quite correct. I have indeed come in good faith to manifest my love and affection. But I’m also here as a voyeur, a grisly paparazzo, to witness and record, to catch a whiff of the foul smelling thing that awaits us all. I’m training for death, as though by rubbing my face in it I could get used to the smell.

On the bed beside her lies Nonna’s faithful companion, the transistor radio. It’s her last link to the outside world. The dial is tuned to one station only – Thou shalt have no other station above me! – the Vatican City’s RADIO MARIA, relentlessly piping the Musak of God into Nonna Maria’s private waiting room to heaven. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Presently, as Nonna coughs, José Carreras begins to wield his Schubertian battle-axe, Ave Maria. The ensuing duo is surreal, sublimely grotesque.

“Ave Maria…”

“Hack, hack-hack, hack-hack-hack.”

“…. gratia plena.”

“Hack, hack, hack.”

Together again.

There is a hiatus in the duo. Gasping for air, Nonna Maria fishes a paper napkin out of a plastic bag. She carefully unfolds it and hurls a wad of mucus into it, collapsing in relief.

Ok. Enough funereal fart-sniffing for the moment. I take a step back into in the other room and make noise as though I were just coming in. I call her name.

“Maria? Nonna?”

No answer. The volume’s too high.

“Maria gratia plena…”

“Maria?”

I go in. She turns her head in my direction.

“Maria, gratia plena…”

I walk over and sit on the edge of the bed. She brings me into focus and her grave nonagenarian countenance morphs into a radiant, smiling face. I gently wrap my arms around her and press her to me, careful not to break anything. It’s like hugging a sackful of eggshells. I noisily kiss her parchment cheeks and softly pat her shoulders.

Is this my luscious wife forty years from now?! It’s her mother, my mother, all the mothers that ever were and will ever be.

And this “mother” is also me.

Amen.

“Hello, Maria! So, how are we doing today?”

“Huh?”

The perfect Old Person parody. It makes me smile. Nonna smiles back. Where smiling for different reasons, but a smile’ s a smile.

“Ave, ave dominus…”

I take her hand in mine. It feels cold and smooth like a stearin candle. She begins squeezing my hand in a kind of pulsing rhythm and her thumb starts caressing my knuckles, back and forth, like a windshield wiper.

I speak to her again, more slowly this time, raising the volume of my voice, mouthing the words like I’m voice dubbing myself in perfect synch.

“How – do – you – feel, Non-na?”

Pause. I sense she knows the answer, but simply can’t put her finger on it just now. No hurry, I can wait. José intrudes and answers for her.

“Dominus tecum…”

We sit in silence. She’s struggling to breathe regularly, working her jaw open and lifting her head, inhaling with deliberation, like some ancient beached carp. On the in breath there is a faint sound, like fizzy bubbles, a grotesque, champagne-like effervescence that sends chills up my spine. I sit there, transfixed. I must witness this, it is my duty, the tuition I must pay for this Master Class in dying.

“Benedicta tu in muli eribus…”

Laboriously, she begins to mold sounds into words.

“I’m … done… for…”

She says this with no emotion, no inflexion of the voice. It’s not intended for effect nor to evoke pity. She doesn’t have the energy for that. It’s a mere point of information. She catches her breath and repeats her message.

“I’m done for.”

We’re all done for, I’m tempted to retort, to lighten things up, as though we were in the same boat. But that would be bullshit. I AM NOT IN THE SAME BOAT! Not me, not yet.

I cowardly opt for silence instead, my hand in hers, the windshield-wiper thumb still busy reading the knuckle Braille of my thoughts. This is beginning to irritate me. I place my other hand over hers in a display of affection but mostly to bring her prying pollex to a halt.

Nonna opens her mouth to speak. I hear the sound of fizzy bubbles.

“The sink…”

“Pardon?”

“… the sink… is…”, fizz, gasp, “… the faucet is leaking…”

Sudden hot flash of irritation. My kingdom for a blunt object! The goddamn sink business again! The fucking faucet is not leaking. We’ve just had two hundred Euros’ worth of plumbers go through the entire house. Every goddamn faucet in the place is perfect.

I know, how terrible of me to think this. How unlike Mahatma Gandhi I am.

Meanwhile, Nonna has a mission, she has something to do, and there is no stopping her. She twists herself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed. She tap dances around in search of her slippers and then grasps her walking stick, clutches my shoulder for support as she struggles to her feet. We shuffle off to the kitchen to fix the fucking faucet.

“There… look!” as she runs her hand over the white porcelain and faucets.

Bone dry.

“It looks ok to me, Nonna.”

“Looks ok, “ she repeats.

False alarm.

Nonna leads me over to her chair by the French window. I help her sit, easing her down onto the inflatable rubber ring that she refers to as her ” butt saver.” Nonna sits peering out window and I sit at the kitchen table, in silence. She no longer distinguishes shapes clearly but enjoys the light and the warmth it sheds on her face. She leans forward, rests her left elbow on her knee and cradles her slightly hirsute chin in her hand. The windshield wiper effect is now transferred to her walking stick. Slowly, ever so slowly, Nonna’s stick traces a hundred-degree arc that goes from the wall to her right to leg of the chair I’m sitting on to her left.

Tic, tock, to the right and to the left, and tic, tock and tic and tock…

A living grandmother clock, marking its own remaining time.

Nonna is restless. It must be the wind outside. With great effort, she rises, joins me at the table and just stands there, a doting old waiter come to take my order. Her impulse to speak is nipped in the bud by a coughing attack.

“Hack, hack-hack, hack-hack-hack.”

I walk her back to her chair by the French window. RADIO MARIA is still blaring away – Damn them to hell! – and after a short commercial break, Carreras is back and bringing home the cows.

“Sancta Maria… Ora pro nobis… Nobis peccatoribus…”

“Hack, hack-hack, hack-hack-hack.”

“Nunc et in hora mortis nostræ… Ave Maria”

Silence. Pause.

“I just want to die… go back to Rome… be with Tony.”

This catches me off guard. I don’t know what to say, not that she wants me to say anything. She’s not really talking to me, she’s talking to herself. She’s talking to Tony, her husband, the father-in-law I never met, the daddy my wife doesn’t remember, the man who died over fifty years ago of war wounds after only one year of marriage. He was forty. Tony is buried in Rome’s Verano Memorial Cemetery along with thousands of other people, some quite famous. Statesmen, actors, historical personalities like Giuseppe Saragat, Edouardo De Filippo, Marcello Mastroiani, Vittorio Gassman, Clara Petacci.

Nonna is eager to join him there.

“I’m tired, ” she says.

“I understand, Nonna, ” and I place a kiss on the back of her gelid hand.

I feel like I am buckling under the crushing weight of an invisible burden. I notice that my cheeks are drenched and that I’m breathing through my mouth. When I look up at my mother-in-law my vision of her is blurred. My eyes are welling with tears.

For the first time, I’m seeing Maria as she sees me.

Time Tick

Normally, I respectfully toot my horn at her as I drive by. It’s a tradition that I’ve inherited and that I always respect. For me, it’s like tipping my cap to an elder lady, or using the third person plural when addressing senior citizens. Yes, these are memes that belong to the past, but, as with all memes that risk extinction, I defend them tooth and nail.

I’m on my way to Montalcino to get my six 52 lt. demijohns filled with the “rosso dei vignetti” for the Osteria. It’s early in the morning, I have plenty of time and I’m alone, so I pull over and park the pick-up and go pay my respects to this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.

The “Queen of the Orcia Valley” is a Quercus pubescens Willd, referred to locally as the “Quercia delle Checche”, the “Great Magpie Oak”. This grande dame is over 22m high, nearly just as wide, with a trunk measuring more than 4.5m in circumference and 1.5m in diameter. It has been calculated that this tree is over three hundred and sixty years old.

Oh, I know, to her I am no more than a fleeting object, a grain of sand borne on this morning’s breeze, the trillionth leaf to tumble by. Nevertheless, I stand in awe, hungrily hugging her girth, head askew, heart pounding in my breast, eyes clamped shut, in a vain attempt to hear the thousands of liters of water that pump through her, above me, below me, for hundreds of meters in all directions, like a pathetic tick pinned on the the trunk of time.

How many have been here! Did 13 year old Mozart pause in this place with his father on their way to the Vatican, where he would attend Gregorio Allegri’s execution of “Miserere” and rip it off after hearing it only once? Did Goethe schtup some country Fraulein here on his way to Venice? How many pilgrims have paused under these branches to eat their victuals and repose on their way to Santiago de Compostela?

I respectfully turn away from my beloved sylvan sovereign and pee in the bushes. It is time to move on. Today’s wine awaits me. I take her picture without asking, knowing that stealing her soul is impossible: it is she that has stolen mine.

Horn-dog Moon

Under the humping, horn-dog moon

slick-backed female frogs and toads

bear their croaking, sperm-crazed mates

to the swampy pools of procreation.

No passion or nomenclature there,

no love or hate, no Dick or Jane, just creatures

pumping, swapping slimy chemicals

in cacophonous amplexus.