You know what they say about what we once did, forgot about and then picked up again later like a salsiccia (sausage) e patate al forno (roasted potato) pizza to go: it’s just like riding a bike. Except when we hop astride a bike after not having wobbling around on one in a while, it’s not always easy. Although at some point, it becomes natural again, carefree, self-perpetuating. I find this a perfect metaphor for me — the girl who may or may not have been born on a bike, only mom can say — as I cruise merrily along in a new direction.
Note: Yes, I did promise a Rome blog and we will be back to our regularly scheduled program faster than the Italians at the bar this morning can slam their caffe macchiatos.
But first, let me say, there is nothing quite like riding a bike in Italy — for body and soul. The mountains and hills are steep and challenging, and there are as many as the legs can handle. I have been riding as much as I can between visits to Florence, Rome and just now, the enchanting alleys and canals of Venice. On my bici (bike, pronounced bee-chee), I have precious time to think, revel, hatch adventures and plans and to work on some really interesting tan lines. Afterwards, there’s always a chance to attack a bacio e crema (dark chocolate hazelnut and custard) gelato like a lion on a slave at the Colosseum.
While we’re on the food theme, let me first equivocate the freedom and lightness I am cultivating now with an unexpectedly foreign taste. Even though I’d been craving it more than I crave a good cappucco (aka cappuccino) after a sleepless night (or after any night, really) it was a sharp flavor on my tongue. But now it’s draped over me in a most intriguing way, like a thick slice of proscuitto crudo atop a ripe slice of cantaloupe (a la proscuitto melone). The taste is ever so welcome on my pallet; I would not relinquish my freedom proscuitto melone even if you paid me with Italian citizenship. Shoot… or would I? That puts me in a real pickle… or as the Italians would say it, in a very nice pie (essere in un bel pasticcio).
I can say I’ve finally returned to my natural state, a tumbleweed armed with curiosity and spontaneity. Currently, all my crap is in an 8×10 storage unit in Denver, Colorado (another shout out to Ashton and Lindsay for the help!). I have no home, I do not crave one; I am not homesick. At this juncture, I only miss people, not a certain place or things.
My suitcase, my old pink road bike (whose name I’m afraid I cannot mention in front of children) and I are calling my friend Lisa’s charming apartment home for now. I refer to it as The Castle. For now I am princess to Lisa’s queen, presiding over the courtyard where the neighbor kids create masterpieces of chalk and cardboard and the humid air plays games with the everyone’s rusty bikes. Soon I’ll be blown to Oregon for the summer and then… I have the skeleton of a plan, whose flesh fills out by the day and involves nothing other than — of course — a bike 🙂 More on that later!
Now I subscribe to a great many mystical things — there’s a reason why during these 33 years in the planet I’ve been independently labeled a hippy, gypsy or free spirit more times than I can tally. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been able to adhere to much in the way of a traditional life. Or because I have always approached life as a dreamer, with a child’s curiosity. Or maybe it’s because I read things like quirky Rob Brezny’s weekly horoscopes which present — with corny authenticity — the astrological omens via email. Surrounding his horoscopes like a pasta sauce whose ingredients may be too obscure to label are a series of observations on life, self reliance and positivity. One of these spoke to me yesterday, from the poet Kabir.
Now because I am an uncultured young lady, I had to consult the World Wide Internets to learn Kabir was a15th century Indian poet and mystic philosopher. Today he is still revered from India to the west for his beautiful and affecting prose. It’s easy to see why, with beautiful themes of nondiscrimination, thoughtful disobedience, self-actualization, reverence of the meeting between mind and body and an adherence to “the earthly particulars of everyday life,” says poetryfoundation.org.
And having stumbled across a bit of his poetry like an out-of-the-way gelateria on one of the hot days we’ve been enjoying lately, just like a nocciola (hazelnut) and amarena (cream and cherry) gelato, I couldn’t put it down. Two prominent scholars apparently translated Kabir’s poetry. The first (boasting the coolest name ever) was Rabingranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941). Tagore was a Bengali polymath who, among many other notable achievements, claimed the first non-European Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Read more about this fascinating human here.
The second prominent translator appears to be America poet and activist Robert Bly. Throughout his fifty-five year career, he has translated the works of twenty-two other poets including Chilean Pablo Neruda and of course, Kabir (thank you http://www.robertbly.com).
In the following powerful prose, Kabir speaks of “The Guest,” an elusive and lovely entity that supposedly never appeared in the originals, was “cobbled” together in Tagore’s renderings and inserted fully by Bly (I learned from reading the afterward by John Stratton Hawley in Bly’s “Kabir: Ecstatic Poems). Regardless, it’s an incredible passage:
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think… and think… while you are alive.
What you call ‘salvation’ belongs to the time
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten—
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment
in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the Guest is being search for,
it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest
that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
Kabir’s insightful, bold and lovely prose sums up something else I’ve been learning with so much more grace than I can muster: why hold back? Why hold ourselves back? Each of us alone can answer this question, the Big One that encapsulates why we are here, what drives us and charges through our blood like a whole race course full of bikes. And yet, not all of us are able to actualize what we want to do and what we are doing. Instead of floating in a lukewarm vat of “coulds” and “shoulds,” what if we just did?
Each day — on or off the bike — I have become a student to some teacher, be it the open (pot-holed, narrow) roads, a talented, evolved poet who died 76 years ago, a beautiful, kind Italian man I met in Faenza or a French family on the water bus that picks at the dusty vocabulary in the cobwebs of my cranium. As I open myself up to this evolution, the Universe repeatedly replies to my fervent requests. I find myself a slave to the intensity of my unknown quest 🙂At 33 years old and young I feel I know both more and less. I find it humbling and exciting to imagine everyone I meet as a guide, someone who also knows more than I do. And I am not holding myself back any longer. The by product is re-realizing once again that there is magic everywhere, if only we stop to look — or hop on a bike and go find it!