Category Archives: Holidays

Rome…years later

We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and I turned eight when we were living in Rome, Italy. This spring I went back for the first time since then, and while some things are eternal, a lot has changed.

The day after I arrived, I took the metro out to EUR, Mussolini’s urban experiment, where we’d had an apartment. Looking for the street address, I was reminded of a Dr. Who episode in which Peter Capaldi says, “intuition is memory in reverse.” I found my way back to the building more by intuition, rather than memory. I never would have found it without the address.

Wandering the old neighbourhood, I think I found the coffee bar we used to go to on Saturday mornings, but the interior has been completely remodelled. There was no more gelato, so I settled for a cappuccino. I may also have found the newsstand where my Dad used to buy me Topolino (Mickey Mouse) comics, and I bought myself the latest issue.

I walked to Luneur Park, which I think is a rebranded version of the Luna Park I remember. It was much smaller, but some of the rides were updated versions of rides I remember. I tried to visit what was once my school, and what is now the Canadian Embassy. My pre-trip emails went unanswered, and even brandishing my Canadian passport, I was not admitted.

With the nostalgia cleared, and the conference ended, I did more touristy things.

The Pantheon, a pagan building re-purposed by the Church

I approach Vatican City via the dominating fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. Once I find my way into St. Peter’s Square, its size is daunting. Specifically, I want to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. The problem is that the Sistine Chapel is at the far end from the Vatican Museums entrance. Although I stop to investigate a few canvases and tapestries along the way, far too many people crowd the halls. It’s an hour-and-a-half forced march jostling along with an unforgiving crowd, sometimes pushing through doorway bottlenecks, in sweltering heat, with nowhere to rest and nothing to drink, to finally arrive at the Sistine Chapel. I can’t imagine trying to do it with small children or seniors.

The Sistine Chapel is smaller and the ceiling higher than I expect. It glows with the recent restoration. It is a truly spectacular and vibrant work.

There’s no seating in the Chapel, and the crowd mills about looking up. It’s virtually impossible to see any of the other masters’ works on the walls. Constant announcements, with increasing volume and frustration, urge tourists for silence. A burly guard watches the watchers, yelling “No photos” at the guilty parties. (Having survived the unpleasant experience of getting to this room, I sneak a picture, undetected. It is a subtle form of resistance against a heavily felt oppression.) Another announcement tells people to leave the Chapel so others can enter. There’s another struggle to leave, but then the crowd disperses and I can breathe easier again. I leave feeling sad for the artwork, and for this little Chapel.

Spiral exit from Vatican Museums

Even though the Colosseum is crowded, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic, maybe because it’s outside. The ruin is very different from the way I remember it when my school bus drove past it in the morning (the road has since been re-routed). Now, there are a lot more people, and very few cats (although I did see cats lounging in less touristy ruins).

One day, I walk from my hotel near the Spanish Steps to the Tiber, then along the shore to the Bocca de Verita (proud to say I still have all my fingers!), to the Baths of Caracalla. I am astounded by their scale, and the elegance and completeness of their many mosaics. I continue walking to the Piramide and the Non-Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley and Shelley’s son William are buried. It’s a moving place, with verdant gardens, and many well-cared-for resident cats. I take the metro back and drink a full litre of water with dinner.

On my last full day, I do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I walk part of the via Appia, starting at the Aurelian Wall, and going as far as the Capo di Bove. I stop to explore the cool, dark subterranean Catacombs di San Callisto (nothing like I saw in Paris, as here, there are no bones!), as well as the massive Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella with its many statues and reliefs. The via Appia is nothing like I’ve imagined it. Because it’s a narrow road with high walls on either side and few sidewalks, it’s dangerous for walking. Cars take it at speed. If I were to walk the via Appia again, I’d start further out, where more monuments and ruins lie.

I saw various other buildings and fountains. After careful consideration, I threw three coins in the Trevi Fountain, before being shoved aside by another tourist. In Piazza Navona, I managed to avoid the most aggressive hawkers, but watched them fastening bracelets to strangers’ wrists, trying to engage them in conversation, and then demanding payment. I was relieved to find no crowds around the Triton Fountain, so I could truly enjoy the experience. I guess it hasn’t yet appeared in a movie and been quite so overpopularized.

This large cat has been trying to get a drink since 1575

Even before peak season, Rome’s sites are flooded with too many tourists, often rude and pushy. Security, police and military units are on crowd control at all the popular sites too, and with so many tourists, they don’t feel the need to be pleasant. I was yelled at for walking the wrong way in St. Peter’s Square, for not moving along fast enough in various religious buildings, and at the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) for walking in without paying when it wasn’t apparent how or where I was supposed to pay.

Even in early June, temperatures were in the mid-to-high 30s; I can’t imagine it in August. I had gone for an international two-day Visual Culture Conference, but experienced so much more. Overall, it was a mixed trip with a few pleasant surprises, but more disappointments.

Cat napping in planter at Villa Borghese

Bubbles for “Ferrari, Dentist and Socks” at Villa Borghese

 

 

 

 

© Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

 

The Three Rs: Reading, Writing, and Re-charging

This summer, I took the longest sustained pause since completing my PhD. I knew I needed a break, but my time kept getting eroded. I decided a year ago to safeguard this summer to recharge, and also to focus on my non-academic writing. With caring for aging parents, and then launching right into the PhD, life had been taking priority over the creative work for more than a decade. Six manuscripts had been parked that I wanted to get back to. I brought three with me on retreat, knowing that my writing focus tends to change with the weather.

It rained six days out of seven quite consistently, sometimes with violent wind, thunder and lightning; so while not a good summer for painting and outdoor cottage repairs, it proved very productive in terms of one of my writing projects. A poetry manuscript that I’ve been working on for a while, but hadn’t figured out how to bring together, is now nearing completion. And it feels so good! It’s like taking back a vital part of my self that’s been lying fallow for far too long. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but I find that academic writing just doesn’t allow for the same level of free-thinking creativity; it just doesn’t offer the same buzz. And for me, creative work requires quality time that also supports the energy required.

Doe on the front lawn looks into the cottage to watch me knit

I took my writing retreat at the family cottage, a log cabin in the woods on a lake north of Peterborough. I was there for nearly six weeks, which proved to be an optimal amount of time. It was long enough to get good work done, but by the end, I was ready to come home. I also got some fun reading done; I caught up on almost a year’s worth of National Geographic, and read five novels, four of them YA fare. I knitted most of a sweater, noting my long association of writing with knitting. And in spite of the weather, I got out on the lake in my kayak several times.

Sitting on the front lawn, you can see and hear all kinds of birds: ospreys, blue jays, chickadees, scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, herons, loons, ducks, geese, wild turkeys, crows (few things in nature sound as goofy as an adolescent crow), and woodpeckers. The woods are also full of animals: black and red squirrels, chipmunks, racoons, porcupines, groundhogs, fox, and deer. It’s amazing to see them in the wild, but they tend to disappear on weekends when more people are around and the lake gets noisy.

Pileated Woodpecker’s snack

It’s quiet there. So quiet, that I sleep heavily through the night. So quiet, that you can hear insects, and when a Phoebe snatches one from the air, you can hear her beak snapping shut. The air sometimes has sweet undertones. Sunsets provide amazing light shows, and then the night is truly dark and still.

I feel well rested, relaxed, and more like myself than I have for a really long time. As with all holidays, one tries to hang onto that feeling for as long as possible. I’m back in Toronto, with the teaching term starting, but I’ve scheduled regular writing time, hoping to move forward with some other projects that’ve been on hold. I’ll let you know when I get a publisher lined up!

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

“Time, time, time…

See what’s become of me” (Simon & Garfunkel 1966). The things one remembers, the things one forgets, in the quick-quick-slow foxtrot of life. Wondering at 30, when the brain feels too full already, how memory can still be possible at 50, but somehow at 50 managing it with ease. And wondering at the selectivity of memories that pop up over and over, when others are forgotten—like the last time I felt truly affronted at being treated like a child. In the hallway of a Spanish hotel, my Dad quickly responding to my choking on a hardboiled sweet going down the wrong way by bodily upending me. The indignity! I was, after all, eight years old, and well past the stage of being picked up by a parent, this stance perhaps embellished by my being surrounded by adults; my parents and older siblings, then about 13 and 15, so adults to an eight-years-old’s mind. This fall, I’ve been reflecting on time quite a bit, and thinking about other writers’ reflections on time too.

I came to Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics only in the last few years, although they were published in Italian in 1964-65, and English in 1968. Each of this series of twelve stories begins with a scientific fact, or at least something understood to be scientific fact in the mid-1960s. Narrated by Qfwfq, a reincarnated Being who morphs from shape to shape, retaining memories from the inception, the stories follow the development of the Universe from the beginning of Time. Although each conscious form is true to its own nature, the stories offer very human reflections on love, complicated relationships, evolution, extinction, the search for signs, writing, and the urge for immortality.

I read physicist Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams when it was published in 1992. Told as a dream diary of the young Albert Einstein as he works out the theory of relativity, each of the thirty brief chapters explores a unique conception of time, and its impact on day-to-day life and being. Similarly to Calvino’s work, Lightman brings scientific concepts into his imagined time conceptions, although some may be pushed beyond their known limits. If time stood still, for instance, parents would forever hold fast to their children; if time were circular, we would be fated to return to our successes and failures ad infinitum.

Most recently, I enjoyed psychiatrist Francois Lelord’s Hector and the Search for Lost Time (2012, translated from the French, Hector et le temp, 2006). I stumbled onto the Hector series after watching Simon Pegg as Hector in the 2014 film, Hector and the Search for Happiness, based on Lelord’s Le voyage d’Hector ou la recherché du bonheur (2002). Hector’s examination of time takes him on an adventurous trek across continents, as did his previous searches for Happiness and Love. While Calvino and Lightman based their imaginative explorations, however loosely, on scientific constructs, Lelord focusses on lived and cultural perceptions of time. Lelord counters our current cultural anxieties about pressured time, our sensed lack of time, with alternative cultural constructs of time that encourage an expansion of our perceptions of time, allowing us to take a breath.

At this time of year, when Father Christmas “Did gyre and gimble in the wabe” (or some such, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, 1872), as we ring in the New Year (at least on the Gregorian calendar, 1582), and “settle our brains for a long winter’s nap” (thank you Clement Clarke Moore, 1822), this is a time of reflection, when memories stir. Tonight, I hope you’ll join me in reflecting on the past, as we move into a bright new future. 2017. Bring it on!

Nearly Midnight

©Catherine Jenkins this last day of 2016 all rights reserved

Update from Dr Jenkins

In the last year, I’ve seen nighttime overhead highway signs cautioning drivers not to stop due to high crime risk, and overhead highway signs cautioning drivers to be aware of moose. And I don’t feel like I’ve done much travel either. I did, however, take my first trip to South Africa. I lost a friend, attended a wedding, helped a friend celebrate his first birthday, and gained a cat. I built cat shelters and traps at Toronto Street Cat, attended a series of Graphic Medicine reading workshops, and went to the first Canadian Writers’ Summit and Taste of Little Italy with my long-time friend and fellow writer, Kathy Mac.  I went to Shaw Fest where the 2015 highlight was Peter and the Starcatcher, and this year’s highlight was Engaged. I went to Stratford for the first time in years, where I saw an amazing production of Shakespeare in Love. I attended a lot of concerts, with tickets both bought and shared by friends. I caught up on a lot of quality TV and some movies I’ve missed on DVDs from the Toronto Public Library. I enjoyed some non-academic reading for a change.

I taught a lot (and I mean a lot) of students, did a lot of grading, and had the joy of watching a few of my students gain awards or entry into grad school. I presented papers at conferences in Kingston (Queens) and North Bay (Nippising). I submitted a few things to peer-reviewed journals. I defend my PhD dissertation and convocated, so now it’s official and school truly is out.

This last year I breathed out, I walked, I observed, I took photos, I pondered, I cottaged. This fall, I’ve signed up for a wine course and an Italian course, because I finally can. I’m back to working out and I’m decluttering my apartment. I’m writing inventive academic work and applying to conferences in more exotic locales. And I’ve got six non-academic book projects to pick up again, now that I actually have the time and energy and focus. Stay tuned…

Meditation from a Hammock

This is my favourite place in the whole world. When I feel stressed, this is where I picture myself to relax and calm: lying in the hammock, gently rocking. It’s slung between two oaks, trees that I remember my older siblings jumping over, so these trees must be about my age. And as I lie resting, relaxing, I feel myself suspended between twin sisters, gently rocking me. I look up through their entwined branches, and realize that these trees’ roots must be similarly entwined, extending into the earth to similar depths though soil and past stone, that their branches extend into the air. And here am I, nestled in the hollow, between their branches and roots, caught in the air between. This is a safe place, a quiet and nurturing place. A place where I can relax, rest, read, a gentle smile on my lips. Where the day is timeless.

View from my Hammock

View from my Hammock

From here I can watch Loons and King Fishers, territorial Blue Herons quibbling over shoreline, and an Osprey with a clearly silhouetted fish caught in his talons. Nuthatches explore the ample branches and trunks seeking bugs; finding none, they move on.

Bluebottle casts a long shadow

Bluebottle casts a long shadow

Bluebottles sometimes alight on the canvas, soaking up the sun and casting long shadows. These trees are part of the Red Squirrel highway between the lakeshore trees and the trees in the woods. Sometimes, a Red Squirrel stops, puzzled by my presence, and stays a while looking down at me trying to figure me out.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a hammock, so I’d go over the hill to my uncle’s cottage and lie in his. It had a yellow floral pattern with a fringe on the edge, and was strung between two trees near the lake. At some point in early adulthood, it occurred to me that I could have a hammock of my own. I purchased one for $8 at a local surplus store. It was a string affair, barely big enough for me, and required ample rope to suspend it between trees. Nothing fancy, but it worked.

A few years ago, a friend donated her canvas hammock to the cottage after an essential tree in her Toronto backyard collapsed quite spectacularly. This is the hammock I’m lying in now; it’s much nicer and bigger and firmer than my previous hammock. The yellow twine I used to tie up the old hammock has given way to tree-friendly webbed ties that offer support without damage. The new hammock is big enough to hold a whole day’s worth of reading, and has spurred me to master the fine art of sipping wine while suspended.

Reading and relaxing

Reading and relaxing

Catherine Jenkins 2015 all rights reserved