Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick or Treat!

Happy Halloween!!!!!

    So what’s everyone doing? Whatcha dressing up as? I do love me some Halloween, I’m kinda sad to be missing it. Someone please save some candy for me… preferably some peanut M&Ms, thanks! Oh, and shoot me some pictures of all your ghoulish fun.

    Since my last blog covered so much ground, this one will be much shorter I promise. Saturday night was dinner at ‘The General’s house. It was the same crew that was at Shivapuri on Prem’s birthday, minus Ed sadly. Let me paint you just a brief picture with just names alone; The General, his wife Sunita, Prem, Shiva (a man), Sashi ( also a man), 'Miss Margarita' (can't remember her real name), 'The Iron Lady' (her name escapes me as well, but I believe she is Shiva's wife), Milo, Raj and myself. I felt like I was in a game of Clue. The food was amazing, the company even better, and laughter was in abundance.  The General gave us a very generous tour of the house, aka the roof to smoke. I’m sorry let me restate and rephrase that for the full impact. I was a guest in the house of one of the oldest families in Nepal. No, let me try again, I had a dinner of mutton and dhal bhat, a bottle of wine, and a lot of weed with a three time decorated General of the Nepalese army. AND this guy has pictures of my arm tattoos on his cell phone. BOOM! How surreal is that?! My mind is blown at my time here in Nepal from everything I’ve learned and experienced to the amazing people I’ve met and would now consider my friends. In fact, I was supposed to go to my hotel today and Prem kindly offered that I stay till Tuesday. Who does that?! Like I said, mind blown …and heart overflowing.
    Now let’s move on to my previous “To stay or not to stay” quandary.  And the answer, tis ’ ‘to stay’.  It seemed more of a hassle to change my ticket this last minute and struggle to find a way to fill 2 weeks in South Africa without spending too much dough.  So I will be headed to DharmaShringa Vipassana Meditation Centre on Tues November 1st. It turns out it’s back towards Shivapuri, right at the base of the park entrance.  From that evening till the morning of the 12th, I will be in silent meditation. That means I will be completely incommunicado till the early afternoon of the 12th (the evening of the 11th for most of you).  In addition to the no talking rule, there is also no writing, reading or listening to music. Oh, and no eating after 5pm. The day begins at 4am and goes till 9-9:30pm. Uh, I like extremes…I guess. I also took it as a sign that as Eddie was packing, he mentioned his sleeping bag that he wanted to chuck once back home or see if Prem’s family could use it. I couldn’t believe it, gawd bless kismet! If you all remember, in my acceptance email I was told I needed to bring my own bedding and or a sleeping bag, or both.  According to him, it’s the worst sleeping bag in existence as far as comfort and he seemed almost hesitant for me to take it. I could have it on one condition; that I do not curse him when the thing drives me crazy too. I soooo did not care, because it’s compact, perfect temperature wise, and it’s FREE! All I need it to do is keep me from freezing for 11 nights. Thank you Ed!!! And thank you Raj for the sheet sack thing!
     Now that the decision is made, it feels right and I’m getting kind of excited for this challenge and experiment. Whether I actually manage to fall into some transcendental, meditative state where I master astral travel or I just sit a bit uncomfortably and let my mind prattle on for 10-12 hours a day it will be an unforgettable experience.  The biggest challenge for me will be the ‘no writing’ rule, because there will be much to download and process I’m sure.  I’m hoping though that my mind will eventually exhaust itself and shut the hell up. Prajunna was insistent on getting the number so he could call and speak to someone, in order to make sure this thing was really legit and that I wasn’t just being trucked off and sold into slavery gawd knows where. Raj, Milo and I were hanging out with Prem, Shiva, and The General last night when Prajunna came in to tell me it was a go. The General quickly piped in that he knew several people who had gone there, including his sister, and that it was quite rigorous and intense. He said though that if you can really get into it and get past the discomforts, then you feel amazing for like 2 days. He was being very serious, but it struck me as quite funny. I laughed and said, “So basically its ten days of really hard work to feel good for 2 and then it’s back to the same old shit.” They all laughed but that seemed the truth of it. It will certainly make for an interesting chapter in the book if nothing else. 

    Raj and Milo leave today, and I will be sad to see them go.... I am determined though to get myself to London sometime 'soon'! Today then for me will be spent getting all necessary communication and internet work out of the way.... as in, I want to go ahead and change my ticket home so I can make a pit stop in Savannah for a good ol' Southern Christmas. I've never had one, and the South is definitely a culture onto itself so in no way will my adventure be over just because I'm stateside. I also may take myself out for a stroll and a bit of window shopping. I wish I could be buying everyone all the fabulous 'souvenirs' I've seen, but alas my presence back home will have to be gift enough. HA! I'm already seriously adding to my load with the sleeping bag alone.

   Please check Facebook or the link from my last post for some final pictures..... 

Wish me luck tomorrow!! 
I bid you all Adieu till the 12th or 13th.
XOXOXOXOX!!!!!!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I'm a Nepali stoner and other fun facts....

Part II

I know, I know ….where the hell have I been??!!  …. I missed you all too!!
We’ve much to discuss,
so I’d say grab yourself a little nosh and a cup of something because seriously, this is a long one.
 but before I say anything else I must say:
 Happy (belated) Birthday Wendy…
I love you sooooooo much, and I’m soooooo sorry I wasn’t able to call or email!
 I thought about you all day though,  devoted my meditation to you and drank a beer in your honor! I even wrote you a haiku:
For Wendy
Though I’m far away
my calla lilly sister,
Happiest Birthday!
You’re the best sister EVAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

    Ok, so now let’s get ya’ll caught up….

    4 countries, 28 hours, no sleep and I stepped off Air India flight #213, into the blanket of pollution everyone warned me about, and into my Part II.  Wednesday the 19th started at 5:30a. I flew out of Rome at 9:30 and arrived in London at 11:30a. Because I was switching from Alitalia to Air India I had to go through customs, reclaim my bag, and check in again. Thank Gawd I had 2 hours or I would have been screwed!  3 movies, 2 screaming children, no napping and 8 hours later I arrived in Delhi, India at 2am and hung out for 5 1/2 hours, without WiFi mind you because they were gonna charge me $60 for one hour!!! My first stop was actually breakfast at a Coffee Bean for some Jasmine Dragon Pearl green tea and a giant chocolate croissant. Oh Coffee Bean, how I love thee! By 9:30am Thursday morning (the 20th) I was in Kathmandu, Nepal…..  CRAZY! After all the rigormoraul of exchanging  enough Euros into Nepalese Rupees for a passport photo for the visa application, taking the photo,  paying the visa fee and having the thing processed I was finally able to get my bag and be met by Prajunna from Shivapuri ‘Village’.  I was sure by now someone else would have registered for the yoga, but nope, twould only be lil’ ol’ me as Prajunna informed me immediately upon arrival. I suddenly began to wonder, What was I about to walk into? We drove through Kathmandu’s rush hour (their work day doesn’t start till 10am) and then to his office to pick up my Yoga ‘guru’ and the jeep that would take us up to the National Park. When I met my guru, Rajendra, my suspicion increased namely because he did not seem to understand much if any English, that or was insanely shy. Not to mention the fact that (and no one else will understand this except for Bub and my mom) this guy was the Nepalese doppelganger for Scott McAlpine (a friend from my Ohio days) circa 1996-97, with a little of his brother Chris thrown in. Because of this sometimes, ok most times, it was difficult to take him seriously. The website also didn’t say anything about the free internal organ massage or rather the re-positioning, but that’s what I got as we spent over an hour on a ‘road’ that would be considered seriously primitive on a good day. I got to experience it after weeks of rain, so you can only imagine.
     The off road commute was fascinating though. From the relatively accurate ‘armpit’ description of Kathmandu itself into the rice and buckwheat/millet  (I heard both, so not exactly sure which it really is) fields of the countryside. Outside of the city, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, and children littered the streets. There were women washing their hair and doing laundry in the village well.  Men and women, more women than men, out in the fields were cutting the last of the rice harvest. They beat the rice bundles on the ground in order to release the grains, which are then spread out on either a roof or straw mats on the side of the road to dry.  They keep a year supply for themselves and sell whatever is left over in the market. The buckwheat/millet is primarily made into wine which apparently fetches a good price in the markets.  The buckwheat/millet is boiled with a kind of yeast, covered in a mud urn, and left to ferment for 20 days at which point it is ready. It is not bottled, but rather sold from a kind of ‘keg’ and must be consumed and/or sold within 5 days. The buckwheat/millet is also used to make their own Nepalese beer, appropriately named Everest. It’s quite good actually, a slightly bitter lager.  The higher we climbed and I could look down on all the fields, the terracing makes the landscape rich and intricately textured. That set against the snowcapped mountains is stunning!
          With my organs in their new configuration, we arrived at the gate of the Shivapuri National Park, and I soon found out that the website did NOT give an accurate description. Just like when you say ‘a couple’ people understand that you generally mean two, and a few generally means three. SO when you describe a ‘retreat center’ as a village…… you see where I’m going. It also is supposedly considered one of the top 50 destination ‘resorts’ by National Geographic 2 years running. So I was more than a little surprised then when I saw there were only 4 or 5 small buildings on the property and that’s including the kitchen and dining hall. I am staying in a glorified mud hut, glorified because it does have indoor plumbing. Okaaaay….. And there is no room for yoga, it is all done outside. Again, okaaaaay, but it does get quite nipplely and rains often.  Soooooo….  
It’s funny how when you think you had no expectations about something, your subconscious is like “Booyah!  Oh yes we did!” The term village alone made it so I didn’t even think to clarify beforehand if there would be internet access. Of course there is not, and of course my cell has no reception. Prajunna ended up taking me back into town the next day for a quick internet session at his office. A few of you received very hasty, misspelled, and rather cryptic emails and Skype replies… my apologies. XOXO! 

     Also not only was I the only person registered for the yoga but after my first day I was the only guest period for four days. There were 3 guys from London, Raj, Eddie and Milo, who’d already been there over a week and were headed back into Kathmandu the next morning.  I could write a chapter on each of these fabulously fascinating men, and I will with their permission of course, but we've got a lot of ground to cover so I'll press on. Let me say this though, these are three goooood men with amazingly big hearts! And I feel so blessed to not only have met them, but to have them make me feel so welcome and included. Eddie, if you're reading this, London concerts and trekking plans will begin as soon as I get home! But back to the topic at hand….so not only was I going to be the only guest but I was the only woman. The entire staff (that I saw anyway) was male. This was all veeeery interesting.  Needless to say my mind was reeling a bit those first couple days.
    Now, let me make it clear that none of this was bad by any means.  As most of you know I am no princess and quite accustomed to living rather rustically if need be. If I can live in a garage, shower outside and shit in a bucket for almost a year and not think twice about it, this was nothing. It was lovely and quite charming, but like I said not what my subconscious apparently had in mind.That being said, I knew this was all playing out in this way for a reason. I was exactly where I needed to be even if I didn’t understand why in those first moments.
     The first morning of asanas (the poses) made me realize there is a chasm of difference between Eastern and Western yoga.  There were some almost laughable calisthenics to start, no instruction on form, and there were a lot of real exercise no-no’s in general. For example, ballistic stretching, the bouncing kind, (think Jazzercise and Olivia Newton –John’s video ‘Let’s Get Physical’) went out a loooong time ago when people realized it was dangerous for the muscles. I started to follow him but my left hamstring quickly warned me to stop with the threat of snapping. Also in every yoga class I’ve ever taken that has done tree pose, the teacher explicitly says do NOT rest your foot against your knee, either go above or below. Yet there he was, foot pressed firmly against the side of his knee. When he saw my foot against my inner thigh, he started to correct me and pointed to his knee.  It’s bad for the knees I said but he clearly didn’t understand and just smiled.  I told Prajunna later that day that while I appreciated Rajendra’s efforts and did not want to offend him, I would prefer to do the morning session by myself. I know what my body needs. I still had afternoon Pranayama (breathing techniques) sessions with him, and evening meditations. 
    With the overall lack of guests, and the fact that this was not the kind of yoga I anticipated, I was more or less already practicing the art of silence and meditation. It made me wonder if in fact I really needed or even wanted to stay in Nepal for that next retreat.  I mean the evening meditations were great, but was I really prepared or even have the desire to do that for 12 hours a day for 10 days?!!! My legs started to fall asleep in just our 30-45 minute sessions alone.  I just spent 6 ½ weeks in Italy tweaking my initial plan and learning the lesson of ‘Balance’, and knowing when abastanza e abastanza,  enough is enough.  And yet here I was with another first draft itinerary of extremism. Did I really need 26 days of what I was already receiving in my first 10? Stay tuned for that answer ;-)  
      Even though the yoga was not the kind of exercise I was hoping for or that my body really needed, my favorite part was the breathing exercises, the Pranayama. Last October I bought 5 yoga classes via Living Social at a studio 15 minutes from my house. I had done yoga half-heartedly on and off for years. I couldn’t stick with it because it always bored me. I was coming at it from a purely workout based mindset.  And in fact for awhile Bikram was the only style I could really tolerate because I felt like I was actually DOing something, even if that something was just sweating my ass off. But last year, I didn’t care about the workout I really just needed something to take my mind off my relationship drama for an hour and a half. In my very first class, the teacher Jules introduced me to oujai breathing, the kind you do in the back of your throat. I focused all my attention on keeping my oujai breath throughout the whole class. I was completely present but totally zoned out at the same time, I was meditating! The class was over in what felt like 20 minutes and I hadn’t felt that peaceful or happy in I don’t know how long. I literally floated out of there. It wasn’t till the next day that I actually felt in my body the work I had done, but that was just the icing on top of the cake. I’ve been doing yoga 2-3 days a week ever since, and it’s still the oujai breathing (ok, and the fact that it has totally healed my back!) that keeps me going back. It’s funny because breathing is obviously something we all HAVE to do, but something for which most of us just do the bare minimum, just enough to get by.
    But I have really digressed, my apologies. I have fallen in love with my upgraded lungs, and really did learn a lot from Rajendra. He’s a very sweet guy, who’s clearly very passionate about yoga and it was fun to learn from someone so enthusiastic to teach. And as it turned out, he’s 30 and not 12 like he looks, and is also a Physics professor. It cracked me up (for 2 reasons) when after our last session, he wanted me to not only write down my name and email, but my Skype and Facebook as well.  Firstly, I was surprised because Nepal is a country veeeeeery slow to develop. Prajunna said other than mobiles, it hasn’t changed too much in 30 years, and up until 4 years ago the country was still fighting a civil war. Secondly, because I’m dying to know what a young yoga guru seeking enlightenment says in his status updates. “Om-Shmome, I’m sleepin’ in.” Hahaha, oh wait, that would be mine.
      When I wasn’t sitting and Om-ing and alternate nostril breathing, I spent most of my time writing. After my own morning yoga/stretch session and breakfast, I spent the 3 hours before Pranayama filling my notebook. The words just poured out of me in a steady stream; daily journaling, poems, notes for this blog, the preface for the book based on the blog. My creativity was on fire!  After Pranayama ‘class’ and lunch, I usually went for a short walk, then took a couple hours nap. I always woke up just in time for my evening meditation. I skipped dinner most nights, but still spent the hours before bed in the dining hall next to the fire filling more pages. DeLise, thank you again so much for my beautiful journal!! It was heaven actually. One of the reasons I wanted that travelling writing fellowship so bad was to be able to do exactly this….have the space to do little more than write and marvel at being somewhere new. 
     One of the days Min, the chef and general manager when Prajunna isn’t here took me on a healthy 2 ½ hr hike down into some of the actual ‘villages’.  I got to see some home distilleries making the buckwheat / millet hooch.  It was so interesting to see the daily routines of these people; working in their gardens, making the alcohol, carrying straw baskets of whatever on their heads, etc. I wish I could’ve taken pictures of them, but it just didn’t feel right. Even though if I had asked Min or them directly it probably would have been fine, it felt intrusive to me.  I felt honored enough that they let a white Western Amazon woman traipse through their backyards. 
     While that time just to myself was wonderful, I did worry a bit that between that isolation, only a couple days in Kathmandu, and the upcoming silent retreat I would be missing out on opportunities for any kind of real social and cultural exchange.  The universe in its infinite wisdom along with what I like to think are my fairly strong manifestation skills brought Raj, Eddie, Milo and a group of 8 of their Nepalese friends back to the village for a couple days. Raj and Eddie have been coming to Nepal and specifically Shivapuri for almost 30 years! Their friend met Prem, Prajunna’s father on his first trip and they've been coming back at least once a year ever since. The 5 day festival of Tihar was in full swing. It was also Prem’s birthday so he and several friends including R.E.M came back up to celebrate. Everyone was so eager to have me join their little group, which was so lovely and for which I am so grateful! From one of the women, Sunita, I learned the simple and beautiful practice of eating vegetarian on Tuesdays to honor Ganesh (the elephant god, remover of obstacles) She told me that years ago on her husband’s birthday his horoscope said to incorporate this very practice for the year. He was away in war though, so she did it on his behalf. After the year was over, she enjoyed it so much she continued the practice not only for herself but for the continued luck of her family. I think this is such a lovely idea that I’m planning to do this back home. She also told me about Tihar, the 5 day Festival of Lights that was going on. It’s associated with Yamraj, god of death, and Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and good fortune. It’s the second biggest Hindu festival in Nepal, the first in India. Wednesday the 26th was Diwali. It honors Lakshmi and is another day when people either go vegetarian for the day or fast completely. I went vegetarian because the food is too good to fast and who wants to piss off the goddess of wealth and good fortune?!  Tuesday though, the night of Prem’s birthday, we ate a big dinner of roasted goat, and other traditional Nepalese dishes. Raj’s mother (who’s 80) years ago started sending some money along with him to buy a goat for the staff, since they don’t get to eat much meat, as a thank you.  After dinner, while the rest played a card game called Marriage, Raj and Eddie generously shared their hash/weed blend with me, Sunita’s husband The General, and one of the other men. I think we went through 3 joints and this thing that looked like a walkie talkie which according to Raj was healthier because it was pure vapor. I felt part of this hilariously random British and Nepalese boys club… it was pretty awesome! It was a great couple of days and just the kind of social shot in the arm I was wanting. After taking a group photo and some cell phone pics of my tattoos, they all headed back to town. Raj left me a ridiculously hearty stash of smoke and The General with an invitation to his house on Saturday for a little get together.  I would have two more days just to myself before heading into town on Friday, the 28th for the 5th and final day of Tihar, called Bahaai Tika. Prajunna invited me to stay at this house that evening to witness the ceremony, where I was reunited with my beloved R.E.M. Bahaai Tika is the celebration of Sisters and Brothers. It’s when sisters remember the myth of Jumuna who tricked Yamraj into postponing her brother’s death indefinitely. Sisters honor their brothers with flower garlands (tika), fruit, and sweetmeats and brothers in return usually give their sisters a little bit of money. Once again I had encountered this unbelievable generosity and kindness, letting a perfect stranger come into their home and be a voyeur into a beautiful ceremony and holiday. I certainly am meeting the most amazing people on this journey; brilliant souls with the biggest hearts.

     For me anyway, today is the 29th. It seems strange that I have officially been gone two months. It actually feels like three or even a little longer, probably because I’ve already done and seen so much. What’s strange too is that while on the one hand I feel exactly the same, on the other I feel lights years away from the person Rochelle left at the airport. While the start may have seemed a bit iffy, my time at Shivapuri proved ideal. Having learned the value of balance from Italy, I believe that energy followed me here as a gift because in equal parts I received the benefits of isolation, cultural socialization, and a shit ton of good weed.  I feel complete with Nepal, at least for my first go-round.  And I still have 3 days here in the city, which according to Eddie is probably a day and a half too long.  You apparently get your fill rather quickly. So then where will I be come November 1st…. headed to the DhammaShringa center for the 12 day Vipassana retreat as initially planned, on a plane to South Africa 2 weeks ahead of schedule, or still in Nepal somewhere? ….  There are so many logistical questions and factors involved. For example, if I skip the meditation and go to S.A early, where do I go? Naomi at the horse ranch is out of town from Oct 31-Nov 12 and Brett at the other farm said December was better for him. I can email a friend of the person subletting my place for accommodation and sightseeing recommendations, but that means shelling out a fair bit of dough considering I will have 2 weeks to fill. There’s also the Baz Bus, which is a backpacker’s bus that goes from Cape Town all the way to the east coast.  See?! I know though once I start doing the research of all possible scenarios, the answer will become clear because it’s entirely possible that I may not even be able to change my ticket.  I have to laugh at myself right now, at my cockiness not naïveté for thinking I wouldn’t need or want to change any part of my itinerary.  BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Ah, yes well, c’est la vie.

TO BE CONTINUED…. 


xoxoxo


And for the pictures, please go straight to Facebook or use this public link:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150435723368474.418666.770763473&type=3&l=7370d99e85



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

....and that my friends, concludes Part 1


      Today was my last day in Rome, in Italy altogether, at least for a little while. I will be back soon enough, rest assured Italia, and hopefully with money for shopping! I don't even really like shopping, but I saw some clothes and boots to die for!!! Allora.... the word for Italy; Part 1 was not EAT (except of course at Ristorante Riccardo, hee hee!) but was in fact BALANCE. Some of that balance was gifted to me as in the case of the farms. Kylie arrived to be a mirror, empowering me to stand up for myself and leave a negative situation. I was then gifted with a beautiful and positive experience at Riccardo's to balance it out. The extra time in Rome was a gift I gave to myself. The time in the city balanced out the time in the country. Balance is a lesson I seem to need to learn over and over again, *sigh. I've known from the beginning that while I modeled this journey after my beloved Eat, Pray, Love that I would inevitably find my own words. I do find it interesting though that through all of Elizabeth's eating, praying, and loving what she was ultimately striving for was..... yep, balance. 
       I leave tomorrow morning for Nepal; Part 2! I have my first layover in London. WEE HOOOO! If ever you should be scared of me not coming home from some place it would be England.... the UK in general. I still so desperately want to live there one day or better yet, have a second home there. From London, I head to Delhi and then finally arrive in Kathmandu Thursday morning. 
I will be just outside Shivapuri National Park for my 10 day yoga retreat. My body can hardly wait! I'm hoping to have the same luck with internet access as I've had thus far. But remember that from Nov 1-12 is when I will be in my silent meditation and will not be reachable AT ALL. More details on that later....



Pictures from today:


Isola Tiberina



Villa Farnesina



Loggia of Galatea





The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael



The Loggia of Cupid and Psyche




up to the 2nd floor

The Hall of Perspective Views




The Room of the marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxana




     

....and that my friends, concludes Part 1


XOXOXOXOX

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rome-ing

** This blog contains a video and pictures, note to those whose phones may not pull them up

LOL!!!!

    


    It feels like forever since my last blog. I suppose that’s because I have experienced so much including a total 180 in weather in such a short amount of time! Ummm, let’s see…. Well first off, I arrived in Rome last Friday (the 7th) and met Muriel in Trastevere, our home base for the weekend.  Without having any sort of plan, me being of no real help because I was in a weird place of transitioning from the country back to a city and unable to make any decisions, we actually managed to cover a healthy bit of ground!  I mean on our first day alone we wandered all through Trastevere stumbling upon sites such as the Portico D’Ottavia, Teatro Marcello, and Dante’s house, mind you all while in the rain! That night we even ended up in Testaccio, a trippy part of town, in search of a cheesy Tex Mex bar Muriel wanted to try that led us to M.A.C.R.O – the contemporary art museum, or at least a branch of it. Saturday, gorgeous yet very chilly (I had to dig to the very bottom of my backpack to reach my fleece) took us to Santa Barbara’s Chapel, Campo de Fiori market,  the Pantheon,  Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and finally Castel Sant Angelo. See?! For Sunday, Muriel rented bikes for us. Denying bike helmets and choosing to live dangerously given how people drive in this city, we were off. We pedaled around the Forum, and through an organic farmer’s market, to the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese park where we enjoyed our lovely Campo de Fiori picnic AND where I found my buckeyes!!!! Score! , and finally took a turn around the Colosseum. A friend of Riccardo’s had suggested that I go see the Basilica of San Clemente, off the beaten path but being 3 churches in one was a definite must see. We returned the bikes and headed straight there, and man was he right! This church, along with finding my buckeyes, was my favorite part of Sunday! Don’t worry I’m not going to go into the history of every church I saw, just this one because it truly was fascinating! So… or rather allora, (my new favorite Italian word, It just makes me smile every time I hear it, and clearly is a word I use a lot) the first level or at least the one in which you enter  is 12th century. And it is stunning, relatively simple in comparison to other basilicas, but the apse mosaic above the altar is breath taking! It really gripped me and made me take a seat. Also there were some amazing frescoes , perfect, in the Chapel of St. Catherine towards the back.(Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed…so ask to see the postcards  when I get home) The energy felt so inviting and easy in there, not like the cold distant feeling I get from most churches. I wanted to just hang out in there for hours. Instead I was eager to make my way underground, so I happily paid the the 5 euros and down I went. The second level is 4th century, and as soon as you walk down the stairs it feels a bit warmer and has that musty smell. There were a lot of frescoes, once again – perfect condition. But I had to keep myself from running past them all because my main reason for wanting to visit this multilevel wonder was for the 1st level, a 1st- -2nd century Mithraeum, a pagan temple to the god Mithras. Come on! How cool is that?! Yet again, it was all in relatively perfect condition! The temple or altar itself still had a stone statue of Mithras who was believed to have been born of a rock to bring salvation to the world. In the room opposite that one, you can still see some of the stucco on the ceiling! As you walk through the maze, you eventually hear water running and make your way into a room with a very active spring in the corner.  Each level definitely had its own unique energy, and I loved each and every one. I even made a second visit here later in the week , although saved the 5 euros and just soaked the lower 2 levels up through my feet as I sat staring at that apse mosaic. Ok, ok, enough history.


 Testaccio.... this is a strip of one cheesy bar after another...Tex Mex place was a bust

 M.A.C.R.O:  It's housed in an old slaughterhouse......
They had a cool photography exhibit

 Santa Barbara Chapel

Campo de Fiori market




The Pantheon



Piazza  Navona



The view from Castel Sant'Angelo
 The castle

The Forum


Libbicho and the Almost Blues Band: 
really great band playing at the organic farmer's market along Fori Imperiali 


 Spanish Steps

My buckeye tree!
 See?!

in Villa Borghese park



right before throwing my coin in, Trevi Fountain...although I forgot to do it over my shoulder, oops!


      Muriel left on Monday and I settled into my new neighborhood of Vatican City. I dumped my stuff and headed straight for St. Peter’s.  
 Matteo B&B in Vatican City

15 years later, back in St. Peter's square 


Michaelangelo's 'Pieta'

by Bernini with bronze taken from the Panteon





551 steps to the top of the cupola (dome)
via a very narrow staircase

 Ta Da!



    For those who don’t know this is my third trip to Italy and my second time in Rome, although I was 16 at that time. It’s been really interesting to recognize everything and yet at the same time look at it with fresh eyes. I have vivid memories of my friends and I snapping pictures inside the basilica and climbing the steps to the top of the dome as I saw similar groups of teenagers, but obviously my appreciation or rather reverence for it all is obviously on a whole other level. I am so happy I get to experience it again at this point in my life. I also at 31 have finally learned how to read a map, ha! I know, I know, but seriously there was always something in my brain that couldn’t really ‘see’ the map. It would look at this dense matrix of streets, become dyslexic and short circuit. With Muriel gone though and having no other choice, I managed to find my way around and then soon could lose the map altogether. Soon, with no map and no camera in hand Italians were asking ME for directions. Sometimes the question was simple enough I could at least answer left ( a sinistra) right (a destra) or straight (diritto). Other times I had to reply, Mi dispiace parlo solo nemmeno un pochino d’italiano (I’m sorry I only speak a teeny weeny bit of Italian). That always got a smile, a laugh, and then the question again in English. In general, I’m receiving an interesting response from the Italians. By interesting, I’m getting a lot of what I would consider strange looks. I’d like to think they’re stunned by the surreal and ethereal Roman goddess gliding past them. Buuuut actually I think they’re fascinated and frightened by my tattoos, what they infer could only be cryptic and pagan symbols of blasphemy….that coupled with my long tie dyed skirt and they’re probably thinking, “Who is this hippie freak? Oh, she MUST be American” HA! I have to say though I am walking these past few days with a kind of confidence and ease I don’t quite recognize, but am totally enjoying. Even being in a crazy bustling city such as Rome, I am really grounded. I am feeling each and every step, really feeling my feet on and in the earth. It’s kinda trippy actually. And even though I need to have my guard up a bit, a little of my “Don’t f&*k with me” vibe to keep myself safe there isn’t any negativity in it. It’s more as if I have just encased myself in this bubble, think Glinda in the Wizard of Oz … so maybe people on some level are seeing or sensing my Glinda bubble and that’s what their reaction is based on. Enough ‘woo-woo’, don’t want to scare off my 10 readers :-)

      Almost every day this week I averaged about 5 hours of walking. Almost every day, because I ended up with blisters so bad I had to take a couple days off and revel in the art of doing nothing; dolce far niente.(*Sidenote: on one of my days off I rented Horrible Bosses through iTunes = HILARIOUS! I highly recommend it!) With the weather having switched back to summer temps, I wandered back to the places Muriel and I had gone to as well as visiting lots of new ones. I went to the Mondrian exhibit at the Vittorio Emmanuele monument, saw Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni  in Laterano, the Palatine, Circus Maximus, an outside glimpse of the Baths of Caracalla, an Irish pub for a pint of Harp and a pint of cider and some rocking lamb stew, grocery shopping at Trionfale Market, and as of last night the Vatican Museum.  The line for the museum, which yes, is where the Cistine Chapel is housed, was wrapped around the block and then some. I had resigned myself to the fact that I had seen it before and was gonna let seeing it again slide. Then I was researching events in the city and Friday nights ‘Vatican Under the Stars’ came up. The crowds are a bit smaller, and because they require a reservation there’s no line waiting. I pulled out my fancy dress and wasn’t all that surprised at the extra tight fit. That first month of all pasta, no protein plan put a little more junk in my trunk than I’d like so it’s a goooood thing I have my yoga and meditation retreats coming up, but I digress.

Largo di Argentina


Santa Maria Maggiore
(where Bernini's non descript tomb is)

Yes, the ceilings are really that gold....even more so actually

If you don't know to look for it, you would NEVER see it

San Giovanni in Laterano


Visit #2 to Basilica San Clemente

The Baths of Caracalla
 Didn't go in though, all those entrance fees begin to add up

Circus Maximus and the Palatine

Friday night, headed to the Vatican


     
      Let me just say that I realize that most people when I mention all these basilicas and the Vatican think, “Boooring” or “Too religious” or whatever. Tis not true though! They are works of art. And then there’s art within art within art! While I have my very own set of spiritual beliefs I am in no way religious, and am not really into history all that much, but the incredible, ridiculous detail is what pulls me in and then knocks me down flat. In the Musei Vaticani, there is something for everyone, seriously. There is the amazing Egyptian museum,  the Gallery of Maps, all the sculptures, the tapestries, and the Contemporary Art hallways blew me away….some of the best I’ve seen anywhere.  And I don’t care who you are or what you’re spiritual beliefs are, you can be a militant atheist for all I care….but when you walk into the Cistine Chapel and you see ‘The Creation of Adam’ first hand, those two fingers what seems like mere inches apart your heart stops for a moment. And if you have more than the mere presence of a pulse, mayhaps it will bring a tear to your eye…. If for no other reason than the “simple” fact that Michaelangelo spent 4 years on his back painting that ceiling! Actually when you first walk in, the end of the ceiling nearest you is of some dude leaning away and out of a marble seat and his dangling legs look as if they are actually coming out of the ceiling and dangling! Hello?! Amazing! I am so glad I went at night, because if that is apparently LESS crowded then I can’t even fathom the clusterfuck it must during regular hours. I am happy I saw it again though. I did not remember the Egyptian museum or the Gallery of Maps. Next to the Cistine Chapel, the Gallery of Maps was my favorite!

View of St. Peter's from the museum courtyard

Egyptian museum 



 Gross? yes, maybe but how incredible is that?!


the detail!!!


The 'Laocoon' : 
story of a Trojan priest who warnings about the wooden horse angered Athena and she sent 2 giant serpents to kill him and his 2 sons


A roman Wonder Woman :-)

gorgeous mosaic floor

The loooong hallway of the Gallery of Maps
 the ceiling
 map painting of Corsica

the Contemporary Art section:
Matisse
 Matisse
 and again

Chagall

wasn't able to remember or write down all the names:
don't know



Salvador Dali

Don't know




...and here I go again
and yes it made me cry...again


staircase by Giuseppe Momo

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     Today is Saturday, and I have 4 days left. I’m not sure what to do at this point, maybe I will look into some cheap day trips outside of the city. I believe there’s a little wine town called Frascati that’s only a 30min train ride. Hmmmmm, what to do…what to do? I think a nice stroll in the park with some of my market purchases will suffice for today.



Happy Saturday AND Happy Sweetest Day!
 XOXOXOX