Tag Archive: vacation

What’s in a Name?

I had my very first Italian lesson this past week at the ItalCultura in Chicago, probably more commonly referred to as the Italian Cultural Center, and I made my first blunder within seconds of opening my mouth. I enthusiastically greeted my instructor, Giovanni, only to discover that she much prefers the feminine version of her name, Giovanna.

In general, I fluster easily and am mortified by silly mistakes, but what I learned, more than how to say my name, is that mistakes are inevitable when learning a new language, and when you make a gaffe, apologize and get over it. We talked about how some people in group classes are inordinately shy of speaking up unless they are certain that their pronunciation is perfect, and Giovanna reassured me that this is not the best way to proceed in mastering a new language.

Italians, from my understanding, are a vociferous, talkative lot who freely employ gestures to better make their point. Part of cultural immersion involves letting go of behaviors that handicap us in communicating more effectively. I have, in high school and first year and a half of college, taken French which is another romance language, linked in many ways to Italian, yet quite distinct. It remains to be seen whether my partial mastery of French will help or hinder me in my quest to become familiar with the Italian language and culture.

I hope one day to travel there, and though this remains at this time a pipe dream, I’ve nevertheless learned to plant seeds if you are to have any hope of growing a garden.

Buon Giorno,



The Trip to Italy

No indeed, I have not been to Italy yet, though I hope to remedy that in the coming few years, but I recently saw the film “The Trip to Italy,” starring Steve Coogan from “Philomena” and British humorist Rob Brydon. I have not seen the original movie, “The Trip,” on which this sequel is based, but one key element to any successful story is whether you would want to spend two hours in the company of the main characters, and in this case, I can answer with a resounding, “yes.” Their impressions of actors Christian Bale, Al Pacino, the Godfather Marlon Brando, and Robert DeNiro are spot on target. I have heard, however, that many of the impressions are retreads of those done in the original movie and they might not seem as fresh the second time around, and also, there is not enough plot. We learn about the main characters’ individual penchants and foibles, but much of the screen time simply follows them aimlessly around. In some ways, it’s meant to be a meditation on life and death, and a crucial scene takes place when Coogan’s character meets his son and a woman who join them on their journey at a burial site, attendant with shrunken heads, and references to Hamlet.

I was also not particularly taken with the anti-gay slur/attempt at humor in the first few minutes of the film, and found it off-putting. I don’t think two men should feel compelled to justify spending time together or taking a trip together without first establishing that they are clearly heterosexual.

Maybe I’ve read too many plot driven narratives lately–I’ve been immersing myself in murder mysteries as I prepare to write one–but this movie came up short in terms of a compelling storyline. One of the main plot points is that Brydon’s character, doing his best Godfather impersonation, lets Steve know he really, really wants to go to Sicily, yet he abandons this interest abruptly when Steve’s son promises to fly overseas for a familial reunion.

I have to admit, though, that in terms of tone, “The Trip to Italy” succeeds brilliantly, and reminded me a bit of the “Before Midnight” film series, starring Ethan Hawke, only more humorous. It’s worth two hours of time to be entertained by these two engaging characters, but I wish they had drawn more conclusions about what it means to suffer with existential angst.


I’ve heard certain bodies of water, in particular parts of the Mississippi River, described as having turgid waters, meaning distended and overflowing. The primary definition of turgid is in reference to something that is pompous and overcomplicated, but to me, the word has always had a different connotation, as something that is muddied or unclear, but perhaps I’m thinking of the wrong word.

Using the word turgid in the way to which I have become accustomed, I have to say that since my 10 day trip to Ireland in mid to late June, my world has been somewhat, although not altogether, muddied and unclear. At first after I got back, I simply slept, and jet lag, I’ve discovered, is a very real thing. And since I had six sessions of ECT–Electroconvulsive Therapy, in October of last year, I’ve put on 35 to 40 lbs, and with the body slowing down, so has the mind. I’ve heard that ECT is supposed to reboot the brain, and that it is quite effective, and may indeed prevent future hospitalizations, but I’ve had to get used to things being different in how I function.

With ECT is expected some short term memory loss, and indeed, much of October and November of last year are a haze, but I’ve had some difficulty retrieving older memories as well, and I even developed a bit of a stammer, a kind of stuttering that comes out when I’m overtired, overstressed, nervous, or just overwhelmed. They just don’t tell you these things when you sign on to have an electrical current passed through your brain, that after you’ve had six carefully controlled induced seizures there might be serious side effects in how you think and process information. I do, however, remember them bringing me upstairs just as soon as the anesthesia had worn off, and having them get me to practice writing my name. For someone who hopes to be a published author someday, this activity has stuck out in my brain as being especially relevant.

The good news is that I’m once again hopeful about my future, hopeful that with effort and determination, I can achieve my goals, graduate from Northwestern with an MFA in creative writing, and indeed finish and publish a novel. At that time I had lost that faith in my abilities and had become overwhelmed by trying to care for my older, handicapped cousin who is wheelchair bound and morbidly obese, unable to take care of those activities of daily living that you and I take for granted. The phrase, “Physician, heal thyself,” has seemed especially pertinent, and I’ve realized that if I don’t manage my own health and well being, I won’t be able to be there for someone else. Fueling the fog of my thought process was my feeling that I just couldn’t cope with the responsibilities of being able to care for my cousin who had become reliant on my for her well being.

I’ve slowly crawled out of the turgid waters of my brain, and resumed my place among students, hoping that I can regain my abilities to think my way through a plot, even if it’s only to plot my own trajectory through life.

Broken Dreams

I don’t read much poetry. I find it an art form somewhat inaccessible to our modern age, discordant to our modern ear, and yet of late I have been much drawn to the work of Irish poet and Nobel Laureate William Butler Yeats who lived between 1865 and 1939.

A pillar of the Irish literary establishment, Yeats wrote traditional verse poems about Irish fairy tales, Irish legends and folklore and was much interested in such taboo topics as the occult, but who nevertheless simultaneously concerned himself with politics, serving as a senator for the Irish Free State. He’s not only one of the greatest Irish writers ever to have lived, he may indeed be one of the very greatest poets ever to walk the earth as well.

I was fascinated, in particular, by one of his poems, “Broken Dreams.”

It starts:

“There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.”

. . .

“Your beauty can but leave among us
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
A young man when the old men are done talking
Will say to an old man, ‘Tell me of that lady
The poet stubborn with his passion sang us
When age might well have chilled his blood.’

“Vague memories, nothing but memories,
But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.

“The certainty that I shall see that lady
Leaning or standing or walking
In the first loveliness of womanhood,
And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,
Has set me muttering like a fool.

“You are more beautiful than any one,
And yet your body had a flaw:
Your small hands were not beautiful,
And I am afraid that you will run
And paddle to the wrist
In that mysterious, always brimming lake
Where those that have obeyed the holy law
Paddle and are perfect. Leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed,
For old sake’s sake.

“The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories.”

The line that repeats, the line that recurs is that memories are vague, that all we have to hold on to is nothing but mere memories. It is the work of the poet to conjure these insubstantial images and spirits and memories to live on in the minds of others as the read the poem in later years.

W. B. Yeats had a lifelong love affair with Maud Gonne who started out more political than Yeats, and in fact, later in life, married Irish republican John MacBride who was executed for his participation in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Yeats steadfastly maintained his love for Gonne, proposing to her four times before their marriages to other people, and he made her the focus of several poems, including, in fact, the beautifully constructed “Broken Dreams.”

I really liked the image that men might no longer catch their breath at the sight of you, yet something lives on, even if it is so insubstantial and vague as a memory.