photo by Patti Smith
Read: Roman Nights and Other Stories: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Listen: "Wooden Ships": Jefferson Airplane
Brew: espresso in a paper cup

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June 27/July 29

1. The Water


I'm on a plane. The same music from the last flight is piping through the system into the economy cabin. Although this is an entirely different plane going to a new destination it is still the same track—the night song from Cats. "Memory." It is a good song but much more effective with the vocal and to my embarrassment I notice I have been singing the lyric aloud.

The moon is full. It is my daughter's birthday but I am far from her, although in truth we are never far from one another. I go through the moments before her birth and the moments after when a double rainbow appeared outside the hospital window as it was raining through the sun.

I am rereading 2666, specifically The Part About Archimboldi, plodding diligently through the digression concerning Sisyphus. It appears as if I have had the entire myth wrong in my head, and had a few years back written a poem based on my false impression, illustrating it with a photograph of two siblings carved in relief that I had photographed in a boarded up basement cafe in Hamburg. Of course I am also aware that Bolano may have reinvented the myth to suit his own purposes but I am paying attention nonetheless.

I stopped reading as I was momentarily distracted by the garish cover of the Iberian trade magazine featuring Mariah Carey with skin like a pale grape ready to burst. I went back to my reading until I felt sleep taking over and closed my book and put away my glasses. But as I was about to enter the land of Nod a voice stated in my ear, with the authority of a distant lover, everything is preliminary.

I felt disoriented. The woman to my right was smiling at nothing. I concluded she was a nun. She had a grey habit and was drinking from a plastic bottle. I was parched and needed water myself. My seat was in the first row behind the drawn curtain separating us from business class.

I opened the curtain and observed the stewardess scurrying about serving coffee, wine, and snacks to the business passengers. Our eyes met and she stared at me as if I was a muskrat or some benign yet undesirable rodent or large insect. I did everything to get her attention but she refused to acknowledge me. I started back to my seat but changed my mind, parted the curtain and entered the business lair. Three men were reading El Pais. Two were reading the review of our recent performance and there was a large picture of myself pulling the strings off my electric guitar. Yet when I entered they viewed me unpleasantly. I was quite a bit taller than the stewardess.

"I need some water please, I said, plain with no ice". She put two large ice cubes in the plastic glass, poured water over them, and handed it to me somewhat triumphantly. I have an aversion to ice and removed the cubes when I returned to my seat. I wrapped them in a small cocktail napkin and put it between my knees and continued reading the part about Lotte.

I never drank water when I was in my forties. I only drank coffee. Then I fell ill and the doctor said I was dehydrated and asked did I drink water. After that I forced myself to drink water. I was sure it was too late and that I had already damaged some organ, possibly a kidney, but I continued to drink water. Every time I drank it I thought of coffee so eventually I had a black coffee with my water. I rarely drank the coffee but the comfort of the smell, the having it near in some way made the self-inflicted water regimen bearable.

The nun needed to go to the bathroom. I rose to let her pass and the ice fell to the floor. She immediately got down on her hands and knees, despite my protests, to retrieve it. She handed me the limp cocktail napkin and the remains of the two ice cubes about the size of translucent dice and smiled. Suddenly I felt very tired.

Obviously the plane descended and landed. I got out of my seat and let the nun go first and followed her to the exit. Her empty water bottle tumbled from her tote bag and I picked it up and disposed of it. There is really nothing more to report as I never finished this particular entry and I can't remember what happened next so we must view it as merely preliminary.



2. The Wafer

I slept well on the tour bus as we sped through the night from Carpi to Ostia. I slept so deeply that I did not awake, as is my custom, an hour before arriving, so to watch the landscape pass like a panorama on a child's lamp from my narrow horizontal window.

The bus stopped so abruptly that I was awakened by the jolt. We were neither at the hotel nor obliged to refuel but had taken an unscheduled side trip that was deemed so unconditionally worthy by the driver that I accepted the decision made over my head. He had detoured to a popular site within a military installation some fourteen kilometers out of our way. I disembarked to inspect the so-called wonder but I did not bring my camera.

What I saw really astonished me. Not in the aesthetic sense, just due to the size and the sheer absurdity of an attraction more suited to a State Fair outside of Minnesota than to the Italian hills. It was billed as the biggest water bottle in the world (as if there is a competition). It was at least three stories high with spigots at the base where boxes of small paper cups where stacked for the use of the ogling crowds.

The people filled their cup and drank from it, filled with gratitude, as if it was the water of Lourdes, or the fountain of youth. Soldiers gossiped in small clusters. There were two guards in lightweight camouflage flanking the monstrosity, and a third distributing the paper cups. A new bus load of Korean tourists exited and filed diligently before it, as if it were the monolith worshipped by the apes in Kubrick's 2001.

I stood there dumbfounded, wondering how much water this bottle contained and what kind of disaster would ensue if it were to burst. Another busload of tourists of mixed origins arrived. This time the people fairly stampeded the area to get their paper cup and a shot of themselves standing before the great water bottle. Suddenly I felt waves of indignation. It was the last straw and I cried out in protest. Why do we need a three-story water bottle? Who could have possibly dreamed up such a thing!

At that moment all motion stopped. I opened my eyes and saw the sea before me. The sea of God not contained by man. Ostia! I sat up trying to fully awake as the image of the giant bottle floated transparent in the sky above the sea.

I wasted no time. I gathered my belongings and staggered into our hotel. The people were already gathering on the small beach. I deposited everything on the bed next to the channel changer. Though I could not immediately find the TV as it was inexplicably mounted close to the ceiling.

Thankfully breakfast was still being served. The coffee was not great but I was so happy to drown all traces of dream residue I had two cups. I had a large slice of green pear not yet ripe and crusty bread with olive oil. I surveyed our spot. The sea was before us, a littered beach, and a beach hut named Hello Jonny!. The name was emblazoned on a red surfboard embedded in the sand next to a small elephant sculpture completely covered. My friend Stefano and I strolled over to examine it. Where did they find the perfect elephant tarp we mused.

We decided to look for the Pasolini Memorial. The desk clerk gave us extremely convoluted directions that indicated that it was only ten minutes walk if you know where to find it, twenty if you lost your way, which we did. It was very hot and I had no sunglasses. The glare was strong but so was our purpose. We passed the Casa Populare, which seemed the name of the projects. The circus had just left down and paper streamers curled in the sun like the discarded skins of small snakes. Stefano has a good sense of direction. He unraveled in his mind the route taken and readjusted. We walked down the road he was looking for as the cars moved very fast. There were not many of them but each time they seemed more interested in us than the road. We walked in single file the two of us. Across the road was a car-demolished head on. Stefano stopped a worker and asked about the Pasolini monument. He pointed diagonally across the street. We were there.

Stefan crossed over to untie the gate. I was attracted by a stone and picked it up and put it in my pocket. He opened the big gate. I followed him in. There was no souvenir stand. There was no one there. The doves cooed in unison, and in the distance, cocks were crowing.

The small park is situated outside the Roman airport. Planes that look completely white, as if carved from cloud flew low overhead. A fenced-in lagoon to the left, and behind to the trees to the right, the beach where the poet was beaten to death without remorse. Beneath pale green glass tablets, his work was listed and a series of his quotes mounted on sizable boulders. There were three benches. Even with my nonexistent Italian I was quick to translate the quote as I had accessed it many times. It was peaceful there, yet alive. Dry scrub, scrubby pines, a sole olive tree young and determined, and a monument with an abstract dove of peace. All arranged on an arid patch of land reminiscent of that in his Gospel According to Saint Matthew.

It was a suitable place to sit and contemplate him and his work. I took the stone out of my pocket; it was O shaped like a communion wafer. An O for Ostia. I slipped it back in my pocket and headed back to the hotel. We stopped at Jonny's for water, but we had no money so Stefano went back to the hotel to get some. I sat there thinking of Pasolini, examining my small souvenir of Ostia. When Stefano returned he looked at the stone and said, "It's like a communion wafer." "Yes," I said. "But you know, he said, "Ostia is meaning Host." Then it's the perfect remembrance stone I said, and we walked back.

It was then that I realized it was the birthday of my father. My dear father who loved Socrates and Bertrand Russell and Mark Twain. Sometimes I can hear his sonorous voice in my ear, repeating the same phrase over and over. "Man's inhumanity to man." My father's favorite phrase.

I lay down on my bed. My window gave me a small view of the sea. I remembered William Blake writing of the view from a horizontal window that he and his wife Catherine used to gaze while laying in bed. Where the sun on the Thames appeared like a bar of gold. I fell asleep with the stone in my hand dreaming of the end of Pasolini in his white shirt lying face down like a swan in the dust.





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