“Good Morning, Teacher!”

George Washington HS. It was a beautiful school, built when people cared about education.

Each year, George Washington High School, whose total enrolment was about 4,000 students, admitted nearly a thousand students “over the counter,” which meant that they were most often kids straight from Santo Domingo and parts thereabouts.  They spoke only Spanish, and often could not read in their own language.  Of course, when we gave reading and math tests, our students “underperformed” and did so spectacularly.  We could have told the Board of Education that, without all the money wasted on testing.  And of course, as far as the Board of Ed and the New York Times were concerned, these kids “underperformed” not because they spoke no English, but because of bad teaching.

As our students learned English, these Dominican students were shuffled into regular English classes, and some did remarkably well, much like previous generations of immigrants had done, while many did not.  It is much easier to teach English speaking middle class students than it is to teach the poor and the foreign born.

The year I came back from Italy, I was assigned the worst senior English class in the school, a fearsome assignment entailing involvement with guidance personnel, probation officers and more than average difficult students.  The first day I entered my noisy and crowded classroom of 35 students, I saw a large young man sitting at my desk.  When he stood up, he was almost as tall as I was.  He was well muscled and goateed, and wore a cut off T-shirt with the simple motto, “Fuck Everybody”.  To my surprise, when I asked him to go to his own desk, he did.  It was then that the idea struck me to do something that had never been done in any classroom in any slum neighborhood school in the city.  I didn’t know, and I didn’t care, if it had any educational value, but I was going to do it anyway.

First I told the class that I liked a friendly greeting when I walked into a classroom, and to that end I would teach them the greeting I expected each morning.  It was, “Good morning, teacher kind and true.  A happy day we wish to you,” which they learned rather quickly.  I made the goateed T-shirt, whose name was Pedro, my class president, and it was his responsibility to lead the choral speaking when I walked through the door each morning.  My students immediately saw the humor in the situation, and each morning as I walked into my classroom, these refugees from the probation office stood up, the class president moved to the front of the class and led the recitation of an enthusiastic, “Good morning, teacher kind and true.  A happy day we wish to you!”  After that, those kids were mine, and I was able to teach whatever I chose without any trouble whatsoever.

This didn’t last beyond the first day I was out sick.  A substitute teacher panicked when my class president moved to the front of the class and led the class in the formal greeting they had been taught.  She ran out of the classroom, right to the principal’s office, and complained about this large student who had taken over the classroom in a loud and boisterous manner.  When I came back to school the following day, the principal asked for an explanation, which I gave him, but I was forbidden to do anything like that with my students again.  It was fun while it lasted.

 

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Back at Mount Desert Island

After we left Italy, we returned home and decided to spend a week at our regular campground in Maine.  We drove all night, and arrived in front of the ranger station at about 5:00 AM, and went to sleep, second or third in line.  When the rangers opened the station, we were able to set up our tent as usual, in the “A” loop (the closest to the sea) of the Seawall Campground.  No sooner had our tent gone up, it began to rain, and it rained without stop for six of the seven days we were there that year.  It wasn’t that there was nothing to do when it rained, but it just felt nasty and cold, especially after the splendor of the weather in Italy.  It was a disappointment, but there were things to do on the island.

Each year there was a book sale in Bar Harbor Library, where each year we checked out the books without buying any.  I have no idea why we went, possibly just to avoid the rain, but we also went when the weather was good.  Each year I also needed shirts for work, and we always bought some of those at the Hathaway discount store.

Linda and I also seemed to need shoes when we got to Maine, and the Dexter Shoes outlet always had some shoes we could use.  Those stores are gone now.  What remains are the barns full of moldy books and other assorted junk sold as “antiques.”   We explored them all.  However, it was impossible to do any of Linda’s beloved mountain climbing and quite difficult to do any hiking at all, although we did do some when the rain let up to a drizzle.

Jordan Pond House and Bubbles

On the afternoon of our last day on Mt. Desert Island that summer, we visited the Jordan Pond House, a combination restaurant and gift shop, whose specialty was serving popovers with butter and strawberry jam at about three o’clock each afternoon, on tables set up on a lawn overlooking the Jordan Pond and two distant small mountains at the other end of the pond, The Bubbles.  It was a beautiful setting for tea time, but since everything was either damp or wet outdoors, we had to settle for our popovers indoors.

When we left the Jordan Pond House, before we reached our car in the lot, I happened to glance up, and there it was!  Overhead was the most beautiful double rainbow I had ever seen.  It seemed to signal, as in the old story, the end of the flood.  It had finally stopped raining, and we stood there, looking up, watching the double rainbow fade away.

The rain had stopped, but it was now late in the afternoon, and we had to get back to our campground where we had supper at our almost dry table.  After supper, I built our usual  campfire, and we sat in front of it, reading by lantern light, overhead trees and stars.  Later in the evening, we walked over to the beach to look at the millions of stars and count meteors, if there were any.  When we got to the rocky beach at high tide, just above the horizon, floated the largest, brightest moon I have ever seen.  We sat there on a log and took it all in.   It almost seemed that the afternoon’s rainbow and this full moon were trying to apologize for the terrible weather of the past week, and they succeeded.  I barely remember the rain, the drizzle and the cold, but the splendor of that rainbow and that Moon, were simply unforgettable.

 

 

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Souvenirs de Florence

In Florence there are three Davids.  One, the original, by Michelangelo, is in the Accademia Gallery, where tourists come to stare at him.  I did that too, but I wondered why.  What can one know or feel about a piece of art after staring up at it for a couple of minutes?  This young, beautiful David, when it was sculpted, was supposed to be a symbol of resistance to Rome and Pisa; I just didn’t see how.  To me, David, besides being the hero who defeated Goliath, was also proof that if you were a king, you could get away with murder, as he did with Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, whom he made carry the order for his own execution, to cover up the fact that Bathsheba was pregnant with his own child.

The other two Davids are replicas; one located at the top of a column at the center of the Piazzale Michelangelo and the other on a pedestal in front the municipal building, Palazzo Vecchio, where the original used to stand.

The David at the Piazzale Michelangelo was the one Linda and I came to know best, as our campground was located only half a block away.   It was a wonderful campground, with showers and a taverna, and a panoramic view of the Duomo (at whose top the David was originally supposed to stand), the river Arno, and Ponte Vecchio (where I later bought my first boater), and everything else in Florence.  In the evening I’d sit on the grass, overlooking the city with some of the other campers, young Germans mostly, drink cheap red wine, and just talk about the problems of the world, philosophy, the history of Florence, the most interesting sights, anything and everything brought to mind by wine under a starry sky in Florence.  And some evenings, Linda and I would join the hand-holding, loving young couples slowly circling the David on the Piazzale Michelangelo, a Florence tradition, although we were definitely beyond the age for doing so.

Ponte Vecchio

The third of the Davids  stood in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which earlier had been known as the Palazzo della Signiora.  From the outside, the building looked like nothing special, an aged, red brick, Romanesque structure with only the David making it somewhat special.  Inside, however, it had the most extraordinary room I have ever seen.  It was the Salone dei Cinquecento, the meeting room of the 500 member, original governing council of the City.  Every wall, and the ceiling, had paintings by great Renaissance artists.  Although Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo never completed their commissions to paint murals of some of the great battle triumphs of the City of Florence over some of its enemies, Georgio Vassari, as their replacement, had not done badly.  Every exquisitely executed painting, on ceiling and walls alike, no matter how large or small, was framed in gilt edging.  Below the paintings, against the walls, on pedestals, stood at regular intervals a series of large,

Salone dei Cinquecento, without chairs

seemingly unfinished, white marble sculptures by Michelangelo.

We heard that in the evening there would be a concert given in this magnificent room, a performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and of course, neither Linda nor I wanted to miss that.  When we arrived in the evening, hundreds of gilded chairs, with red plush back and seats, were neatly arranged in rows, the room was filled with people, and a young orchestra was up front, facing the crowd.  It wasn’t the greatest performance of the 7th I’ve heard.  The performers were talented young high school students, and the performance could have been better; however, that didn’t matter much.  That music, in that room, in that setting, was something very special.  Sadly, it was also the last of our musical moments in Italy.

 

 

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San Gimigniano and Nabucco

The towers of San Gimignano. See how I could have gotten confused?

San Gimignano is a small village in the Chianti producing district of Tuscany, not far from Voltera.  When I first saw it in the distance it looked like a series of skyscrapers against the horizon.  However, I caught myself, realizing there could be no skyscrapers here, and when I looked again, there was only a series of stone towers which, because of distance and scale, had fooled me into believing I was seeing what couldn’t be there.  No cars being permitted in San Gimignano, I parked the Fiat outside the wall of the town and walked through a narrow, cobble-stoned street into one of the loveliest of Medieval towns.   There were signs advertising this or that Etruscan museum, and we tried to see them all, but in the central piazza was a big sign advertising a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Nabucco, the following day.

First edition?

It is impossible to love opera and not to love Verdi.  When he died, in 1901, his funeral brought together the largest crowd in Italian history to this day.  Verdi and the Risorgimento (the revolutionary movement that freed Italy from the Hapsburg yoke and united Italy in the 1860’s) went together.  Viva Verdi had become a political slogan, which stood for Viva Victor Emanuel Rei d’Italia, expressing the wish that the then king of Sicily become the king of a free Italy. At Verdi’s funeral some anonymous person had begun singing the haunting chorus of the Hebrew Slaves in Babylon, probably the most famous chorus in  Nabucco, and was soon joined by the entire crowd of over thirty thousand, all of them singing Va pensiero. . . Every one knew it, because it had become the unofficial anthem of the Risorgimento.  The story still gives me goose pimples.

And here we were, Linda and I, in Italy, and there was going to be a performance of Nabucco which we would not be able to attend.  We wandered around the ancient town, and somehow Linda and I became separated.  I returned to the central square (actually it was a circle) and had a glass of Chianti at one of the tavernas in the piazza.   While enjoying my wine, I thought I heard some singing.  It was faint, far away, but I decided to investigate.  I paid my bill and followed the sound of the singing, which got louder as I neared it, and suddenly found myself in front of a door from which the singing seemed to be coming.  I entered. By now the singing was quite loud, and I walked on until I came to a large, cave-like basement in which the entire cast of singers and other musicians were rehearsing for the next day’s performance of Nabucco, and what they were rehearsing was Va pensiero . . .   I stood there, transfixed.  I couldn’t get to the opera the following night, but I got the next best thing.

Now I have a confession to make.  The story about the crowd at the Verdi funeral singing Va pensiero isn’t strictly true.  It is even quite false.  But I really believed it at the time.  Yes, there were some who gave political significance to that chorus, but it was not intended to be so by Verdi, just as his name was only accidentally an acronym.  The music at Verdi’s funeral cortege was Mozart’s Requiem, but I still feel it should have been Va pensiero.

 

For those of you who have never heard of Nabucco or of its Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, here’s a clip that might be of interest.  The intro may be a bit long, but stay with it, although the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc7mlQkV9R4

 

 

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More Music in Venice

Piazza San Marco, yesteryear

Our last evening in Venice was an interesting one.  As usual, we had come into the city by ferry, and now had to make certain that we would catch the last ferry back to Punta Sabioni at 10 PM, which seemed no hardship.  We spent the day walking around and gaping at the various sights of canals, gondolas, beautiful churches, and reading commemorative markers about where famous poets had lived.  Although much is made of the canals, and deservedly so, Venice is a wonderful city for walking.  By supper time, we were exhausted, and found rest and shade in a lovely restaurant on a side street where we ordered a delicious supper.

At the next table, sat a young couple.  The man had obviously had a bit too much to drink, and kept trying to engage us in conversation, while the young woman sat demurely by without saying a word.  Eventually it became impossible to avoid a conversation without being rude, and as the young man wasn’t really being nasty we began talking across our respective tables while eating, and it became a rather interesting conversation.

The young man, who it turned out was an Irish TV producer, introduced himself as John R.  and the young woman was Elizabeth..  He seemed exceedingly proud of the fact that Elizabeth was three months pregnant.  As we talked some more, it turned out that he was not the prospective father, as Elizabeth (who still sat there quietly and was an odd match for her voluble companion), was not his wife, but the wife an American real estate magnate in Boston.  Each summer, for several years, John and Elizabeth had met in various resort towns of Europe and spent several weeks together traveling from the Riviera to the coastal towns of Italy.  Being American, I was interested in how her husband felt about this arrangement, but it appeared that the gentleman was not informed of whom she was traveling with, being told only that she was with a girlfriend.  I had seen Same Time Next Year, a movie with Alan Alda, about a situation like this, but I really didn’t think such things actually happened in real life.

Of course, it wasn’t all a one way conversation, although John did most of the talking.  He was interested in us, what we did professionally, the fact that we were Jewish, and that we were in Italy celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  By this time it was getting late, and Linda and I were eager to get out of the restaurant to make it to our ferry by 10 o’clock, but it was difficult getting away from the voluble John.  Finally, we said goodbye, paid our bill and made it to the outside.  No sooner were we outside than I heard John’s voice calling me, and there they were, John and quiet Elizabeth, in the dark street of Venice, still talking up a stream while we urgently tried to get away.

And then it happened.  John began to sing to us.  What he sang for us was totally unexpected.  He sang A Yiddishe Mamme.  If you are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Bahai, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Taoist or of any other persuasion but Jewish, you probably have never heard about this song.  It is universally known and loved among Jews, a treacly composition about how wonderful it is to have a Jewish mother and how sad it is when she is no longer around.  To say that I was surprised by this Irishman singing this particular song to us on a street in Venice, is but to put it mildly.   I was flabbergasted!  After John had finished his song, we said goodbye again, and separated, they in one direction, Linda and I in another.  We missed our ferry that night.

Having missed out boat, Linda and I decided to take an expensive-but-fun water taxi somewhat later.  We now had some time to kill, and around midnight wandered over to Piazza San Marco, where we noticed a small crowd gathered in the middle of the Piazza, some standing, others sitting on chairs they had pulled out from some of the closed nearby restaurant.  We walked over to find out what was happening, and saw John and Elizabeth at the center of the group.  As usual, Elizabeth was just quietly sitting there.  John, in the middle of Piazza San Marco, was teaching the gathered Italians, When I’m Sixty Four.  We left them there, hopped a water taxi, and returned to Punta Sabioni.

Piazza San Marco today, another view

 

 

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Venice, and More Music

Alex in his cool camping outfit

When we visited Venice, we didn’t actually stay in the city.  We camped just outside of it, at a campground in Punta Sabioni, from where we could reach Venice by ferry in about twenty minutes.  The ferry ride was picturesque, passing as it did the Lido (where Mann’s Death in Venice takes place), with views of several of Venice’s churches.

The canals of Venice are wonderful, and so are the colorful gondoliers.  Because we had seen gondoliers do it in too many movies, we tried to get our gondolier to sing.  He absolutely refused, insisting that his job description did not include singing.  Possibly, for some more money, he could be induced to sing, but he admitted that his voice was terrible, and so we declined his offer.   It was wonderful visiting all the places about which I had read so much.  The Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto, the pigeons on the Piazza San Marco and the Quay Riva  Degli Schiavoni all exceeded our expectations.  It was almost like living inside a movie, but with free will.

One of the smaller canals of Venice

Linda at the Rialto

Linda and I were sitting at one of the outdoor tables of a coffee shop on the Quay when a group of about ten to fifteen men dressed in black velour, medieval costumes appeared, playing beribboned guitars and mandolins, singing as they strolled from one coffee shop to another, stopping only to pass a floppy hat for coins among the relaxing tourists.  I don’t remember what it was they played, but the setting made it even more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been.  However, in the back of the group there was a tussle going on as an obviously drunk and combative tourist tried to join them by muscling his way into the group.  His friends tried to pull him away, and the costumed musicians in the back tried to shoo him off, but he was not to be put off.  He wanted to sing.  Finally, the leader of our strolling musicians gave in and agreed to let him join them, and he began to sing.

Quay Riva Degli Schiavoni

He knew the songs in their repertory and sang them, but his voice, compared to theirs was extraordinary.   He was a tenor with an obviously trained operatic voice who dominated the entire Quay, even in his inebriated state, and suddenly the audience of tourists sat up and began to notice, as did the leader of the musicians.  Now, as the group moved from coffee shop to coffee shop, there was an audience that followed them wherever they went. For the strolling musicians this was an unexpected bonanza.  Linda and I did as the others did, and we followed the group.  Eventually, the party moved to where our ferry was waiting, and the singer waived goodbye to his new found friends and boarded the ferry to Punta Sabioni.  While on the ship, he continued singing, and the passengers stayed with him and listened.  Eventually, he ran out of steam, or possibly the booze he had consumed got to him, but he stopped singing, much to the relief of his friends and the disappointment of everyone else on the ferry.  Not to worry, however.

No sooner had the tenor stopped singing, than a German tourist pulled out an accordion from its case and began to play some lively tunes, and before you knew it, almost everyone on the ship began to dance.  It was the most joyous ferry ride I’ve ever taken, and one I will never forget.

 

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Ravello and a Musical Interlude

Panoramic View from Ravello

On one of our outings from La Tranquilita, we had lunch in Amalfi, complete with digestive liqueur, and then drove up, up, up to Ravello by way of a long, winding road.  To say that Ravello is incredibly beautiful is but to state the obvious.   It had tiny, crooked streets, with various flowers, most of them blue or purple, with some reds and yellows thrown in for variety’s sake, that grew out of the cracks of whitewashed wall, and there were flowers everywhere.  The piazza (and there was only one) had its taverna and its assortment of old men sunning themselves while sipping their drinks and talking with one-another, possibly about the tourists who were looking at them.  From the high terrace of what had been a Papal retreat there was a view of the wide blue sea, the never-ending sky, and the grey cliffs below not to be matched by any other.  There is a story (that may not be entirely true) that when Satan tried to tempt Jesus with the beauty of an earthly kingdom, he took him to Ravello.  Good tourists that Linda and I were, we spent the afternoon there just wandering around, and at dusk, we got into our Fiat and drove back to La Tranquilita.

Ravello Piazza

It was quite dark by the time we got back to our hotel, and the door was locked.  We rang the doorbell, and the owner opened the door.   Although I didn’t speak Italian and he didn’t speak English, the man had developed a liking for me because of the fact that I often banged my head on his low doorways.  As he ushered us inside he placed an upright index finger across his lips in the international sign for “hush!” and led us on tiptoes to the grapevined terrace on which earlier in the day we’d had breakfast.  The sea shimmered in the light of a huge, full moon.  There were a dozen or so people sitting on the terrace, whether locals or tourists I could not tell, listening to a young man singing Italian patter songs to the accompaniment of his own guitar.  He was very good, and deserved the applause he received from his audience.

While the young man played his guitar and sang, there was a grey-haired, handsome, Italian man quietly sitting in a corner.  When the young man finished his songs, there was a demand from the several Italians in the audience that the older man sing.  Obviously, they knew him.  He seemed reluctant, but after some pleading, he picked up his guitar and began to sing.   I once again regretted not knowing Italian, as the lyrics to his songs must have been worth understanding.  He sang the most beautiful Neapolitan love songs I’ve ever heard.  It was fantastic.

The combination of this man’s voice, whose name I didn’t even know, with the huge moon over the sea, and the terrace itself with its grape-leaved trellised ceiling, was one I will never forget. It was again, one of those unplanned musical events which seemed to happen by themselves wherever we went in Italy, and each with its own character.

Part of patio (without grape leaves) of La Tranquilita

 

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Priaino

In southern Italy, the Amalfi Coast stretches from Naples to Sorrento. There may be morebeautiful places in the world, but I don’t know of any.  It is all joined by a high coastal highway of one lane in each direction that winds its way snakelike, with hairpin turns and poor visibility, between cliffs and the Tyrrhenian Sea, the whole dominated by Vesuvius in the distance.  Our destination was Positano, a much photographed town with small, red-roofed houses which sort of descended in steps from the roadway to a tiny harbor.  It was reputed to be home to many artists and writers, but we didn’t know about that when we first noticed it in posters advertising the area. It seemed too pretty not to visit.

La Tranquilitat, perched on its rocks

Somehow, through a navigational error, we wound up in the next town, Praiano, in La Tranquilitat, a hotel overlooking the sea, which besides renting rooms, also rented tenting spaces, on several narrow strips of terraced cliffs.  From the lowest of them, you could make a fun 50 foot jump into the sea, and then use a rock-anchored ladder to climb back up.  We found out we were in the wrong place when we registered, but it no longer mattered.  The place was incredible.

On its North side stood a stone tower, one of a series of towers erected long ago along the coast of Italy to ward off attacking Saracens and pirates coming in from the sea.  Several rooms of the hotel were located in this tower.  La Tranquilitat also had a stone patio which overlooked the sea, but was shaded by trellised grapevines overhead.   Breakfast on this terrace was memorable not for the taste of the food, although that was no cause for complaint, but for the view of sea, cliffs, and occasional red-roofed houses.  It was during the course of a breakfast that we met Carlo and Joanna, a young couple who raised buffalo for a living.  You may wonder about buffalo being raised in Italy, but buffalo milk is essential for the production of quality mozzarella cheese.  When they left, we were good friends, and they suggested we install ourselves in the room they were vacating, which we did, and for us that was the last of camping at La Tranquilitat.

Tenting on the rocky ledge

It was in its own way, the most beautiful room in which we had ever stayed.  It was located on the top floor of the tower, with and excess of windows in all directions.  Some of the windows overlooked the Tyrrhenian Sea, some displayed hazy views of distant Mount Vesuvius, and some others gave us a view of the Afrikaner Disco, located next door, which each morning required a catch of live fish to install under the glass of its dance floor.  Please don’t ask why fish were needed  under a dance floor.

This is beginning to read dangerously like a travelogue, but it was just all too beautiful.  I apologize for that.  I just couldn’t tell about our musical evening at La Tranquilitat without introducing the place.

One of the towers. Also, a netful of fish on their way to the Afrikaner Disco

Naturally, we also visited the nearby ruins of Herculaneum.  Herculaneum had been a smaller and wealthier town than Pompei, and so it inhabitants fared better than Pompei’s in 79 AD, when Vesuvius erupted.  More of its inhabitants survived.   Some things never change. . .

 

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Visit to the Vatican

When in Rome, do as the Romans do; and so I joined the  Roman population which seemed to enjoy standing still in traffic jams in Fiats.  I rented a Fiat, and joined the “fun”.

In Rome there were so many things to see!  First there

was the Tiber, whose width we’re told in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Caesar tried to swim when he experienced an epileptic fit.  I expected a grand river, something like the Hudson under the George Washington Bridge.  What a disappointment!  It was little more than a ditch, seemingly not quite as wide as your average swimming pool.  It may have been larger in Caesar’s time,  but it was disappointing.

Laocoon and I finally meet

A grand moment came for me when I finally got to see the Laocoőn, possibly the world’s greatest sculpture, standing there, in the garden of the Vatican in its all its glory.

Laocoőn’s story had always had a special resonance for me.  Laocoőn was one of the three seers of Greek mythology, the others being Cassandra and Tiresius, each of whom had the gift of being able to see into the future, but who were also cursed with not being believed by anyone.  In Laocoőn’s case, he foresaw that the wooden horse dragged into Troy would be the disaster that destroyed his city and recommended that the horse be immediately set afire.  As a matter of fact, he was the one who originated the warning, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!”   In any case, the Trojans paid no attention to him or his warning, and either Athena or Apollo sent snakes out of the sea to punish him by killing him and his two sons.  It is not clear whether he was punished for having struck the Wooden Horse with his spear, when Athena wanted Troy destroyed, or for having sex with his wife in a shrine holy to Apollo.  The Laocoőn in the Vatican is a sculpture capturing  in marble the dramatic moment  when Laocoőn and his sons struggle against the great snake that is about to kill them.  For me, this was often what it felt like to be a teacher working for the Board of Education of New York City.  It wasn’t so much that the Board was incompetent, but that it was willfully destructive of the best school system in the country.   I saw it very clearly.  My colleagues saw it also.  Our representative appealed to the city.  There was nothing we could do about it.  We just wanted to teach, but the gods did not want the system to survive, and we were helpless.

Inside the Vatican, there was also the Sistine Chapel, with its glorious ceiling, which at the time was quite faded and being restored.  Still, I was struck by the thought of what early worshippers would have felt as they entered that room.  Most people, until modern times, had never seen any paintings, and suddenly this room!  It must have felt like entering heaven itself , a heaven alive with people, angels, and biblical characters they knew, a world almost as real as their own.  What they probably would not have noticed is that at the center of it all sat God and his angels, in a space that looks suspiciously like a human brain.

Happy to say I'm not the only one to have noticed the resemblance

 

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Rome, the Spanish Steps

From pasta to opera, I’ve always loved things Italian, and have always regretted not being able to speak the language.  So, when Linda proposed that we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by going to Italy, I was delighted, although I’m generally not eager to leave home.  However, this was different, as we were going to spend part of the time in Italy camping.  We packed our camping essentials, and off we went to a truly memorable vacation whose high points almost always had a musical accompaniment.  There are many things I’ve forgotten about this trip, but there are some that are simply unforgettable.

We arrived in Rome in the middle of the worst heat wave anyone could remember, with temperatures around 107 degrees Fahrenheit.  We spent the first night in a hotel just off the airport runway.  The air conditioning if it existed wasn’t working, and between the noise of the jets thundering overhead and the heat, I was ready to go back home almost as soon as we arrived.

Rome, the Spanish Steps

The second day, and for several days after that, Linda had managed to book us into a pensione just to the right of the Spanish Steps.  A pensione is simply a well-ordered bed- and-breakfast, which serves good buns and the vilest coffee for breakfast.

The Spanish Steps have been repaired many times since their construction in the early 18th Century, but it is still the widest staircase in Europe, and one of the most romantic spots in Rome.    Since the 18th Century it had become the spot to gather for young lovers.  The amount of deep kissing taking place on every one of its 138 step literally took your breath away, or at least it did for the young women there.  After many hours of this salubrious pastime, some of the young women looked both glassy-eyed and comatose.  The kissing was particularly active as a late afternoon activity, when the Steps were most crowded, but it also seemed to be taking place 24/7.  You had to wonder about what the young men ate (or their technique) who could induce such glassy-eyed unconsciousness in their girlfriends with kisses.  While it was not listed as one of the wonders of Rome, it really was, and for more than one reason.

Fontana del Moro, by Bernini

Naturally, we did the regular touristy things, visiting the Gian Lorenzo Bernini fountains (his father is given credit for the one at the bottom of the Spanish Steps), the various other public places, such as the exterior of the Castel Sant’Angelo.  Although Castel Sant’Angelo was first erected around AD 139 as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his family, I knew it only as the dreaded and somber prison in Puccini’s Tosca.

Ominous Castel Sant'Angelo

We also visited the Vatican, and were properly awed by both its exterior (again by Bernini) and the treasures inside.  It was all magnificent beyond description.  It was also still quite hot, and we welcomed any bit of shade we could find, and inside of the Vatican, it was cool.

Piaza San Pietro, in front of the Vatican, also by Bernini

In the evening, when we returned to the Spanish Steps, on the way to our pension, the young people were still at it with their deep breathing exercises.  However, a group had recovered sufficiently to raise their voices in song.  They had guitars, and together they sang and swayed quite well.  What they sang was, “We are the world; we are the children. . .”

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