“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” – John Keats to Fanny Brawne
Today was the day we left our little B&B in paradise, sadly. As much as I love the city, it would’ve been nice to have spent just one more day here, lounging and enjoying each other. Maybe if we were here for ten weeks instead of four that could have occurred, but I’m just glad it happened. As my darling friend Elizabeth Bennet says, “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
We woke up and packed our things and then went into the little dining area, the indoor one, to take breakfast. I helped myself to a pastry and a cup of coffee, along with some yogurt and fruit. I savored the homemade jams and the wonderful coffee, and wrapped a pastry in a napkin to take on the road. We had a full day ahead of us, with multiple stops before we would return to Rome.
Saying good-bye to our hosts and waving good-bye to the dogs, we boarded our bus and headed out. Maurizio put on some old-school Italian, and I shocked some of my classmates with my enthusiastic rendition of “O Solo Mio”. They were quite surprised I knew it, but then I reminded them that I was, in fact, Italian, and that my grandfather drunkenly liked to sing this song at literally every family occasion, with drunken aunts joining in. It was fun to regale my surprised classmates.
Our first stop wasn’t too far from where we were—our lovely hosts not only owned the B&B, made fantastic wine, jams, and coffee, BUT they also owned the local buffala farm.
Not gonna lie, though, you definitely could smell this place a mile away. If you’ve ever been to Enumclaw, WA, then you know what I’m talking about. Dung for days.
We exited, and I was like, oh, god. It was hot and there was dung and I was like, WTF are we doing here. Learning how buffala mozzarella was made, I suppose. I definitely was not in the correct shoes for this.
Breathing from our mouths, we stumbled out of the bus, feeling truly like city children in a clichéd Disney Channel original movie (I’m personally thinking of the 1996 classic “Kidz in the Wood.”)
But I digress.
Our lovely tour guide showed us around the farm. There were several large enclosures with a decent amount of buffala in them. They were mostly in one corner, a watering hole of sorts, trying to stay cool in the heat. They were huddled together, but there was more than enough room in the pens for them to move freely around. We wandered close to the railings, hoping for a closer look, and a few brave and sociable souls wandered close to us in return.
Tessa Chilton, who I believe rides horses, was delighted. It was a funny sight, the girl who looks like a cool, unaffected princess, graceful and lovely, like a Disney one, with a big smile on her face as she petted the smelly and large buffala. They really are like large dogs, though, friendly and curious.
Our writing pitch of the day was titled “synesthesia” in which we were to describe one sense by using the language of another sense, so, for example, to describe the sense of hearing by using the language of the sense of touch. In our course packs was an “aroma wheel” that had lists of words that were associated with each of the senses. We were encouraged to use some words from the wheels.
I honestly couldn’t tell you statistics about this farm, but essentially the buffala were separated by use: milk, breeding, or meat. They were also separated by age as well. The newborns were separated from their mothers while they ate, but as far as I know this wasn’t some sort of veal operation, so they weren’t slaughtered for meat. I don’t think these people would lie to use about it, either, because Italians love their veal, sadly. There were also the “teenagers” or older calves or young adults, that were 1-2 years old, not ready to be with the big bulls, and not ready for breeding either. We saw the mother’s close by to their babies, happily eating hay and whatever else buffala eat. The babies were in a clean, open area, tied with ropes, like puppies on a leash, to clean, sweet-smelling hay bales, where they wandered around with each other, eager and calm.
We were led to the babies next, and some were very shy, yet some were curious and eager to be petted. They were all very sweet and adorable and we took great delight in cooing over them. Milan, in his dry, morbid way, pet them and cooed to them, “I’m going to eat you. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.” My mother would be horrified, and we all were, too, but we also started laughing because that was typical Milan for you.
We said good-bye to the babes and carried on, where we saw the teenagers, the pregnant mothers, lying in filth and rank water, and the bulls, who stomped aggressively towards each other.
Finally, we were lead a little ways away from the animals to a decently sized, nondescript, sort of building. This was where they made the mozzarella.
But first, another digression.
When any young-blooded person comes to Europe, let alone Italy, there are certain expectations one usually has, especially related to the locals. To make myself more clear, Americans want to hook up with hot Italians. Alas, alas, Roman men are freaking creepy as hell. Obviously, I would not be doing any hooking up due to having a lovely boyfriend back home, but I’m keeping it real and saying what I know all the single ladies in my group want to do. Although some of the people in my group went out on a regular basis and did encounter some locals, for the most part, any sort of liaisons that went down were with other students studying abroad, as far as I knew. Most of the locals were deemed too old, too creepy, and alas, alas, this was not a Lizzie McGuire movie in which some hot young (manipulative) Italian stud is going to whisk you away to live an European pop star dream.
Today, folks, all our dreams came true when it came to meeting hot young Italian men. We were just looking in the wrong places.
Turns out, they were not in the heart of Rome, but instead at a Buffala farm all along, making buffala mozzarella. Although most of the men in there were young, tan, and ripped, there was in particular who stood out, whom we quickly nicknamed, simply, “The Cheese God.”
Cheese God had arms that were so perfectly, wonderfully toned, with enough muscles that indicated he worked out, but not too big in which he was deemed a meathead. The jury’s out as to whether he was showing off for us, but suffice to say, the men in our group were not amused, and the women were in seventh heaven.
The process in which mozzarella is made does require a lot of arm strength, so Cheese God got a daily workout AND a paycheck (holllla!). From what I could tell, there was cheese in a large vat that they were stirring to get the correct consistency. Then the mozzarella was put into an open container and workers looked like they were kneading it together and separating the curds from the whey. They then grabbed sections of it and looked like they were braiding it, I think? This would be easier to make hand-shaped balls, but in addition to that, the mozzarella also went through a machine that plopped them out into perfectly round balls as well. Let’s be honest, I don’t remember the process, and I couldn’t even tell you if I heard it the first time. Let’s just say we weren’t necessarily taking pictures of the process………
After we left, giggling away, we were then able to go to a little shop they had in which we could buy mozzarella and/or gelato made from buffala milk. Hell yes to buffala gelato! Kim had a gay old time buying mozzarella to her heart’s content and I indulged in a cone with the delightful mix of ricotta con pera e ciccolato. Molto buono! We sat down in a little covered area with picnic tables and ate and wrote down things. Not long after that we rambled back to the bus and left our little B&B forever.
At this time, I was plucking away at Keats’s now dear-to-my-heart poem, Ode to a Grecian Urn, a lovely, long poem about the narrator’s thoughts on mortality while looking at the frozen scene on an Grecian urn. No one knows which urn Keats was writing of, or even if there was an urn at all, but it’s been much speculated about, and is considered one of Keats’s greatest works.
I was several verses in, and was trying to catch up to Kelly and Milan, the latter of whom was trying to help the former, who was trying to make up funny innuendos and euphemisms to remember the long, complex poem. I wanted to get it done sooner, rather than later, so I could focus on my final project, a personal talk on something Roman in relation to my poetic journey during the past month.
A few hours later, the dusty roads turned into long stretches of highway, and then gradually we saw a city by the sea.
Before you get too excited, however, let me burst your bubble and say that this city by the sea was just Naples, or Napoli, if you want to get authentic.
What’s wrong with Naples, you ask? It’s a multi-faceted answer, let me assure you.
We could tell, even from a distance, that Naples was an ugly place, in every sense of the word. If Naples were a person, it would be your seven-year-old cousin who, no matter what kind of nicely expensive or tailored clothes your barmy aunt and uncle put on him, was still just a grimy, snot-nosed brat. It was evident that there was, or had been, some sort of history to Naples, and there were some buildings that seemed pretty, but really, it seemed cluttered and drab and awful. I could immediately understand why Keats, a couple hundred years before, hated it so much when he came here, his first stop in Italy upon his self-imposed exile from England. It seemed as though there was no incentive to better the city in the couple hundred years that followed.
Unfortunately, that was exactly where we were headed, more specifically to the Archaeological museum there, to see more artifacts from Pompeii and Paestum.
Things only got worse as we entered the city. Crowded, filthy, and musty, Naples has frequent garbage strikes and it’s evident that after the garbage strikes end there’s no sort of effort to clean up the excess filth. Half-rotted shrubberies, seedy-looking establishments dotted the streets. We were anxious to leave almost immediately as we entered.
The buss navigated around the cramped streets and dropped us off in front of a meager park, where a creepy old man on a bench watched two enthusiastic young people make-out. He eyed us as well, and we shuddered and scurried away.
One more surprise awaited us from our beloved B&B—our instructors arranged for them to pack us lunches, with sandwiches, fruit, a drink, and some cheese. We found some places to sit in the wilting park and ate gingerly, already wondering when we would get the hell out of this purgatory.
After the park we finished our sandwiches and from there walked the few blocks to the museum. They had some Egyptian artifacts, some from Pompei and Paestum, some other ancient Roman ones, which, by now, were standard fare for us, but what made this museum stand out was that it had a dirty room.
As I mentioned earlier, Pompeii in particular was a very sexual place, with lots of equal opportunity brothels, and a generally unsavory reputation. We obviously know this from the various artifacts collected—it just so happened that a lot of those artifacts were taken here, to the archaeological museum. These racy, phallic objects were collected and put into a specially guarded room so curious youngsters and appalled elderlies couldn’t unintentionally enter, called the Gabinetto Segreto, the Secret Cabinet. A fantastic name for a poem, if I’ve ever heard one.
Although all of us were of age (though of dubious maturity), we could enter, but our instructors had to make an appointment for us to do so, and we weren’t allowed to go in beforehand. So, we had an hour and a half to kill until then, essentially. The rest of the museum, however, was ours to roam, and so we did.
The museum itself, on the outside, looked a bit worn down. It stood apart from the decrypt buildings, both literally and figuratively. There seemed to be some effort to preserve the once majestic building, simple with a salmon pink exterior and white columns, but it looked, like the rest of the city, to be tired. The inside was spacious, with high ceilings and large, open areas. We explored the Egyptian area, which was small, but immaculate, and then went to look at the other statues. One in particular caught my eye, a monstrosity of a carving, which showed not just a figure, but an entire mythological scene. It was two figures roping a bull, with a woman standing by and a dog barking at their heels. The attention to detail was spectacular.
Upstairs past the grand, sweeping, pronged staircase were more rooms, smaller. It was uncomfortably warm and I was over this place, but I gamely explored, although I resolutely stayed away from the few Etruscan pieces they had. I had enough of Etruscan pottery to last me the rest of my life.
What was really magnificent was the large ballroom the museum had. I wasn’t sure if they hosted events here, or what its purpose was, but it was magnificent from ceiling to floor. Frescoes and paintings spread across the ceiling, tall windows let in the sunshine that spread across the floor, which was decorated with astrological signs and symbols. This was Naples’s hidden gem, right here.
There were some benches in the ballroom and I was content to sit there for a while and drink it all in. My classmates wandered in. Some sat with me, some moved on, but I was quite content to stay and scribble thoughts down, or pull out Keats to memorize a few more lines. Eventually, I got up to go find the Gabinetto Segreto, a room tucked away in the corner of the museum, behind some rooms that housed boring things like mosaiacs and pottery.
Kelly, predictably, was lined up and ready to go, and the rest of us were eager to get started as well. We were finally let in and eagerly explored the room, which was set up in a tight u configuration. If Paris is the city of love, then Pompeii is the city of sex, because those bastards were damn horny and weren’t afraid to show it. Phalluses, of all shapes and sizes, lined the walls. Erotica (read: ancient porn) lined the walls, taken from the walls or pottery or what have you that they were taken from. It was the Roman Kama Sutra in here, with a variety of positions and genders configured in traditional and impossible poses. We were mortified and fascinated, and it was as though all of us were transported to that horrible time when we were sixteen years old and in sex ed.
To everyone but Felicia’s delight, inexplicably there was a phallus with her name carved right above it, made for her. Kelly snapped a picture.
Haven gotten our pervy curiosities filled, we filed out of the Gabinetto Segreto and eagerly left the museum, eager to get back on the bus and to our Roman home.
The bus ride home was very productive for me. Although I was tempted to sleep, I knew from experience that it usually didn’t last long and wasn’t usually very satisfying (that’s what she said…) so instead I dedicated my time to writing my prompt poem and memorizing Keats.
To refresh, our writing pitch of the day was titled “synesthesia” in which we were to describe one sense by using the language of another sense, so, for example, to describe the sense of hearing by using the language of the sense of touch. In our course packs was an “aroma wheel” that had lists of words that were associated with each of the senses. We were encouraged to use some words from the wheels.
I decided to describe the sense of smell, but instead portray it using language one would associate with the sense of touch. It kinda turned out to be more creepy than I originally anticipated, but there it is:
You are the hand of the Italian man
Who yanks on my curling skirts
Who keeps me surrounded in smog
Who forces the unwanted intimacy,
The invading musk that permeates me
So thoroughly. It sinks into my skin,
A thin layer of Vesuvius’s ash that settles
And saturates into its new home.
You are dry death, the remnants of a
Burnt match, a greasy head of matted hair.
You are the possessive caress I can’t escape,
The tightening of a glinting gold chain.
I try to douse myself with acetic acid,
Singe the fine hairs of my forearms to
Burn what I can’t scrub , but
You are not so easily dissolvable.
My hands are only free when I cut through the mildew with a butter knife,
Plunge myself into sulfur seas
And cleanse myself of what I cannot lose.
You are what I cannot avoid,
But what I have to bear.
Memorizing Keats proved to be more difficult, but I’ve always been good at memorizing things on short notice, so I was able to memorize it fairly easily. I was prepared to present it to my cohort the next day.
About a couple hours away from Rome, Rebecca and Johnny came on the speaker to let us know what our plans were for the next day, which were to meet at our usual spot at the Campo at 9:00. Johnny then asked if anyone was ready to recite Rilke or Keats and that it would be a treat for someone to perform it over the handy microphone.
I didn’t volunteer, but I thought about it. I was fairly confident in my abilities and didn’t have a fear of public speaking. I could get it over with and have another day to focus on my last talk. Kelly and Sarah urged me to do it. “Get it over with,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.
So, about five mental recitations and twenty minutes later, Kelly yelled out that I would recite it.
Making my way up to the bus, I wondered what the hell I was doing, but I did it remarkably well. I only blanked once, but I recovered well enough:
Ode to a Grecian Urn John Keats
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness
Thou foster child of silence and slow time
Sylvan historian ,who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme.
What leaf fringed legend haunts about thy shape?
Of deities or mortal or of both
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheared are sweeter,
Therefore ye soft pipes play on,
Not to the sensual ear, but more endear’d
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.
Fair youth beneath the trees never canst thou leave
thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare.
Bold lover never never canst thou kiss
Though winning near the goal yet do not grieve
She cannot age though thou hast not thy bliss.
Forever wilt thou love and she be fair.
Ah, happy, happy boughs that cannot shed
your leaves, nor cannot bid the spring adieu.
And happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs forever new.
More happy love, more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
For ever panting and forever young
All breathing human passion high above
That leaves a heart high sorrowful and cloy’d
A burning forehead and a parching tongue
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green alter, o mysterious priest?
Leadst thou that heifer, lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands dressed.
What little town by river or seashore
Of mountain built or peaceful citadel
Is empty of this folk, this pious morn?
And little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.
O Attic shape! fair attitude with brede
With marble men and maiden overwrought
With forest branches and the trodden weed.
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste
Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man to whom thou sayst
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty
that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
(Note: over a year later, I still have over half of it memorized—not bad, eh?)
Anyway, so I rocked it and sat back down, feeling relieved and having heart palpitations. Enjoying myself, with nothing else to memorize, I began jotting down things randomly.
When I was younger, I enjoyed taking popular songs and re-making the lyrics so that the song would be a parody. I did it with Avril Lavigne and NSYNC songs in particular, making a mockery of “Complicated” and “Dirty Pop”.
For whatever reason, I found myself taking the form of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo” and changing the theme, ruminating on buffala instead of a work of art.
Once I was done, I shared my masterpiece with Kelly and Sarah, who begged me to go up on the microphone (again) and share it with the bus. I wasn’t sure how amused Rebecca and Johnny would be—I didn’t want to seem ungrateful by essentially writing a poem about how much buffala shit stank, but Kelly, once again, yelled out that I had something to share and I found myself, once again, trudging up to the front of the bus. I can’t say I minded too much—I just hoped people found my poem as funny as I did.
Buffala & Co.
I wish I didn’t know the putrid smell
Like biting into rotten fruit
And yet the baby buffala are so cue with
Their big eyes, like little puppies, in which their
Gaze, so innocent and true, makes the farm smell
A little less sour.
Otherwise that shit-tastic smell would
Bother you so, would make you vomit
Out delicious coffee and jams and make
The smell of that rank watering hole unable to bear.
Otherwise this place would seem a waste,
But the translucent cascade of a cheese boy’s shoulders
(here I had to pause for the laughter went on and on)
makes our mouths water, our delicious aesthetic cure.
Though our hearts, from all the borders of themselves,
Burst like a star,
For here there is no smell that cannot reach you:
You must take a shower.
I got some good applause for that, and I sat down pleased for the rest of the journey. It was fun.
Exhausted and dusty, smelling of buffala shit and Naples, we finally came back to our beloved Rome. We emptied our bags from the bus, and with a saddening realization that we wouldn’t see Maurizio again. He had fit so well with our little Italian family and we were sad to see him go, so we insisted on several group pictures, much to his delight.
Returning to our little air-conditioned apartment was a god send. Kendra and I pulled out our mattresses back to the living room, showered, and fell asleep almost immediately.