Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shawn Assignment # 4

Floating Memory: A Retrospective Analysis of Italy

I have a truly terrible memory. Especially when it comes to chronology. When I think back to Italy, I see everything through a soft focus lens. My memories are fuzzy, and they swim together in the part of my brain labeled “Summer: 2007.” I reach in to grab a story or a feeling, and I struggle to place the when, where, why, how...

I remember most the times when I was alone. I guess, when I was with the others from the program, I passed the torch of remembrance to them, and absolved myself of the details. Now, months later, I read the stories and writings of the others and relive otherwise forgotten occasions. What else have I forgotten? Why was the journal such a burden, when now all I wish is for more direct link to my own experiences in Italy? But regret has no place here.

My most pervasive memory, the sensation that unifies my trip, is the heat. It invades every part of my life in Rome, Florence, Naples, Cinque even began the journey with me in Pennsylvania, dampened by thunderstorms. A friend that wrapped itself around my body, moving with me in and out of buildings. The humidity sinks into the landscape and into my bones. I never lost the slight sheen of Italy. I reflect the light in pictures, and am reminded of my discomfort.

Every morning I awoke to the sound of glass bottles being dumped into trucks to be taken away, somewhere; the clanging overrode every other sound. Now I live next to a hotel, and I hear the same ringing of glass recycling that now reminds me of Rome. Our apartment was the fifth story of the building, and all sound was muted by the time it reached us. The background noise lulled me to sleep. Hundreds of voices collided to create a comforting rumble. The sound of the garbage cleaners at two in the morning. Vendors setting up their wares at five in the morning. My Campo sound machine. I never sleep without one.

The smell of leather. Not pleasant. It permeates the air, emitted from carts laden with the supple carcasses of Italian domestic animals. Florence. Even now my bag and jacket insist on reminding me that something was killed to make them. Americans don’t like being reminded that the things we use and eat were once alive.

The city of Naples fades into the smog at the top of Mt. Vesuvius. It is a clear day but the pollution absorbs the rays of the sun. The climb is steep; the paths gives way to your weight, like walking through sand. Pebbles accumulate in my shoes, and I am forced to stop and remove them and dump out a stream of geology.

Waves crash over the jetty in Riomaggiore. I am homesick. I call my mom and tears run down my face as the sun sets into the ocean in the most picturesque scene. The artificial lights illuminate the brightly painted buildings after dark. I eat the freshly made pesto pasta in a tin with a plastic fork and think of home. I hide in the shadow of the cliff and talk quietly to hide my shame. I feel like the locals are laughing at me but I don’t think that’s true. Life gets better quickly.

I trust my memory to include the most important things. I will rely on the triggers of the others to remember the names and details, and the few words I did write down. The rest cannot be said or captured anywhere but in my head.