Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cortona: First published article

So, here's my first attempt at professional writing. It was published by FraNoi, in...2005 or 2006. I really should know that......but I don't. I have the most astonishing memory. I can remember my telephone number from when I was a child, but I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night.

Ah well.

At any rate, this article was a giant step for me. I really tried my best to sound like I knew what the hell I was talking about, and tried to sound as interesting as possible. For the most part, looking back on it now, I find it a bit floofy and contrived. There are nice bits in there though, and even the inklings of things to come. Some Very-Terri lines.

I am only a bit embarrassed by the last line...but after all, I can say it was only my first try, eh?

Casa Dolce Casa

When I first set foot in Cortona a little over five years ago, I told myself I wasn’t leaving until I didn’t see the beauty of it anymore. When looking out over the Valdichiana valley didn’t move me, when the nearly 3000 year old walls didn’t fascinate me, when the color of the light in the late afternoon looked like any other, I would then know it was time to move on. I realize now, that I can never leave Cortona.

Things have changed quite a bit for me though since those early days. I see the tourists arrive daily, with their eyes sparkling, their mouths open, wonder plastered on their faces like a pie in a 1950’s television variety show, and I remember that feeling. I remember that first day. I remember climbing a very steep hill in 90 degree heat, toting with me what few, but heavy material possessions I’d left myself after leaving the United States. I was hot, sweaty and irritated but driven. I remember finally finding the convent of Santa Trinità, where I had reserved a room for an few weeks. I remember discovering that my Italian wasn’t as good as I thought it was, when trying to converse with the three foot tall, 900 year old nun behind a metal grate at the reception desk. We managed to communicate well enough though, and I got the key to my room. With an enormous amount of waving arms, she indicated that my room was up two flights of stairs, and would be found on the right hand side. I smiled, nodded, and I thought to myself, “What am I doing?!?” I had just left my life in the United States, and was going…where? Somehow, I ended up in Cortona, a place I’d never heard of, but a cheap room had been suggested to me there, so I went. Back in the States, my fiancé had left me, my sister had moved away, I lost my job, and my late-start-in-life college career had finished…so I felt I needed a break. But in that moment, I was wondering if perhaps I had made a mistake. Maybe I should have taken a cruise?

As the nearest cruise ship was I-don’t-know-how-far away, I decided to make that last effort. The thought of two more flights of stairs with one HUGE suitcase, one small suitcase, one very heavy backpack, and two or three bags of what I thought to be necessities, didn’t really appeal to me. But I knew at the end of it, there was a bed. And I was feeling a very strong compulsion to lie down. 

Clump-thunk! Shift weight to the right. Clump-thunk! Shift weight to the left. Clump-thunk! Shift weight…and so on, up the two ancient flights of stairs. The building had been there for 700 years, and my tired body was feeling to be about of the same age. This was still 200 years younger than that lovely, kind nun downstairs, so I was determined to carry on. I got to the floor where my room was, found the door, inserted the key, and was in. The walls were a Holy Mary blue, with white trim. The air was stuffy, and had a strange perfume, but it was not an unpleasant smell. Just the smell of time.

I plunked my cases down in the corner, and switched on the light. Blue. Everything was blue. The walls. The bedspreads. The pillows. The floor was not blue however, but a rust colored terra-cotta tile, that was darker than brown, but glowed with a red found internally. They were uneven and shiny, and I wondered how old they were. Circulation was beginning to return to my shoulders after having carried the weighty bags for so long. I realized that I was very tired and very sore. I looked at the bed. It didn’t appear to be the most comfortable thing in the world, but nothing looked more inviting to me than that puffy, blue rectangular space. But before I lay down, I had to open that window. I needed fresh air and a nap, and all would be well with the world. All would be ok. 

I went to the window. The frame was roughly three feet by four, and the window opened in the middle, like two swinging doors. It was held closed by a long, vertical bar of wood in the center, attached to the right half of the window by two hinges. Two curved bits of iron at the top and bottom of the window, held the bar in place when in the “locked” position. The window halves were covered by two wooden boards, again painted white, that served as shutters, and could be swung open to allow light in without opening the windows in case of chilly air (which in the heat of that particular day I was finding hard to imagine). I turned the “locking bar” to the right and a sticky “pop” sounded as the window loosened itself from its original position. I pulled the right side open, followed immediately by the left, and the entire window frame creaked a sigh of relief to be free. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the early summer sun that momentarily assaulted my retinas. And then I saw it.

As my vision cleared, by breathing stopped, and I saw before me, the background of every painting done by Da Vinci, by Perugino, by my beloved Raphael. Hills that looked to be liquid, melded one into the other, greens turning to blues, turning to violets. Winding roads that no engineer would have ever thought reasonable, parted the trees on the way down to the valley, looking as if some child-Deity had reached down from the heavens and playfully dragged his finger through green, wet sand. The hills closest to the convent flowed down, and reminded me of a Rubenesque belly, sensuous and inviting. The valley below, checkered with fields of yellow, blue and green yawned open and across until detail was lost. At that point, the mountains rose up on the other side, dominated by the amethyst majesty of Monta Amiata, miles away. I saw then, that this is where the Masters’ art was truly born. And I knew then, that this…whatever “this” was for me… was not a mistake.

That was five years ago. And though my everyday life has become just that, “everyday”, I still marvel at the fact that my apartment that I have now, is where nobility kept their horses 500 years ago. I still stop and lose myself in the huge stones that were put in place at the bottom of the wall that surrounds the city, by some unknown Etruscan laborer, who lived his life, fell in love, felt pain, laughed and died in the same town that I now call my home. I still find it miraculous that a town with the population of 1800 people, can call to her embrace, popes, presidents, movie stars, Chinese mathematicians, Brazilian poets, Russian painters, Swedish classical composers, and myriad other classifications of humans. What is it that brings them all…us all… here?

One theory, albeit a bit New Age, is that Cortona is located precisely on the intersection of two of the Earth’s “Lay Lines”. You may ask, “What’s a Lay Line?”. According to those that know these sorts of things, a Lay Line is a band of energy that surrounds the planet. Apparently there are several, and when two of these lines converge, a center is created where a great swirling amount of energy culminates. Stonehenge in England is another point where two lines supposedly converge. As this is the extent of my knowledge on this particular theory, I leave it at that, but you would be surprised to know how many people actually end up here, claiming to have been “called by the energy”. But don’t worry. If you’re not the type to polish your crystals while sipping on a wheatgrass-juice power-frappe, you still might feel yourself wanting to visit.

The truth of the matter is that there is a certain power to be felt in Cortona. But it is the power of history. There is some archaeological evidence that shows that the area was inhabited by man as early as the Stone Age. Legend claims that after the Great Flood, Noah and his big boat came to land in nearby Umbria, and that his son Crano founded the village we now call Cortona, a word that evolved from Crano’s title of Corito, meaning “King”. One of Crano’s descendents was the powerful warlord, Dardano, who founded the city of Troy, in modern-day Turkey. Generations later, descendents of Dardano returned to their motherland of Tuscany, and are historically known as the Etruscans. After the destruction of Troy, some of the survivors (more descendents of Dardano), returned to the peninsula in the west, but went more south, to the region of Lazio, and there founded the Eternal City, Rome. Thereby, Cortona is often referred to as the “Mother of Troy, Grandmother of Rome”. 

The Romans themselves enjoyed Cortona in their day. Cortona was a Roman city for a period of time, and prominent Roman citizens would travel north to the little village, to drink in the incredible views, take the sun, and relax in the baths, the remains of which can still be seen in the foundations of certain buildings today. They added to the walls, built temples, and later churches. Cortona survived the Dark Ages, and with the Renaissance, a new period of construction began, leaving the city more or less as we see it now. Most of the palazzos, and the city layout in general come from this period in time. Construction continued through the early 1700’s, with renovations and rebuilding of some structures continuing through the 1800’s. 

Though building is prohibited in the town now, reconstruction and remodeling is a year-round endeavor. Spaces left empty for even hundreds of years, are now being redone, tastefully and respectfully, into modern living spaces. Much of this is now rental space for holiday travelers from around the world. The population of Cortona explodes during the summer season, and quiets down to another existence in the winter. Cortona in February doesn’t seem to be the same town as you would see in July and August. Perhaps she’s dressed more for a party in the summer, and dressed more reservedly in the winter, but her heart is always the same. She celebrates life, with year round festivals and sagras (parties centered around food). And as with the original builders, people still live their lives, fall in love, feel pain, laugh and die here. On the one hand, it’s just a small town, as is any other small town in the world. But on the other, I see it more deeply. Something much, much more than just a spot under this particular sun.  

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