The back patio at La Estancia Restaurant in Rosarito holds birdsong and sunshade umbrellas, a fountain waterfall telling its stories in waterspeak as it finds the narrow pool below, and seven writers gathered at a table to sharpen their verbs and polish nouns.
Robbie presents the exercise we will undertake which includes four categories (People, Places, Things, Themes). The task of listing four items after/under/within/whatever each of those categories is ours individually. Once we’ve given the initial four their four items, the neighboring writer to the left (without knowing what items we’ve listed in the various categories) chooses two of the categories. Our objective: Find new ways to connect old things.
Ready. Set. Write!
We have ten minutes.
My lists run thusly:
PEOPLE: Maya Angelou, Elsie Ivy, Mama, Friend
PLACES: Todi, Italy; Mira Loma; Pub; Casa
THINGS: Weeds; Books; Clothes; Hearts
THEMES: Angst; Loneliness; Confidence; Strength
Jen, the writer on my left, chooses Places and Themes as the two categories from which I then select Todi, Italy and Strength as the items I will connect. This is what I wrote:
FOR SIX WEEKS after my return from Italy, I cried. Not all the time; not uncontrollably; and, often, not visibly. The thing is, just because mascara doesn’t run, dancing charcoal rivers down cheeks, doesn’t mean the heart isn’t sick.
I was heartsick for the small hill town with its thick Roman walls and crenelated roofs where I (and six other retired women) had spent four weeks. All liberals, all democrats, we were sorely disappointed and angry when — on Italian TV — President Clinton announced he “did not have sex with that woman.”
Not one among the seven of us gathered wanted to hear our President lie. But this is an aside meant to inform of the era when I was there — in Todi, Italy.
After my return to the states, I was homesick and heartsick because of the ease among people in Todi, the Italian hill town. Every evening people met in the piazza, strolled arm in arm, young with old, men with men, women with women, boys with boys, while children raced around and between them, hid in shadowy alcoves and jumped out to tag another among them.
The Italians of Todi had the strength of thick Roman walls surrounding their town, the strength of centuries of knowing skin-touching-skin meant nothing more than human contact.
At home in rural America, skin touching skin happened infrequently and seldom in public. Boys walking arm in arm or leaned into each other on a bench in a public park would be (or could be) attacked, bullied, vilified.
Writing this, coming to terms with the “then” and the “now,” I am crying. No tears on the outside, but oh the ache, the pinch in my heart, the bruise of knowledge … of how we are.
And, how we could be (what to call it?) a little more Todi-an.
I’ve made a few edits to the final two paragraphs above 1.) for clarity’s sake; and 2.) because I couldn’t read my handwriting.
The thing is, I can still hear the birdsong surrounding us on the back patio of La Estancia today; I can still hear the water tumbling hard into the pool near us; I can still hear the words other writers shared at our table, and I want to say Thank you to those who made it happen.
Thank you, each and all!