Good Friday Procession

The Christ figure had been brought down the hill to the Basilica of St Francis after early Mass first thing on Good Friday. At dusk, we gathered at San Rufino to process Our Lady of Seven Sorrows down the hill to join her Son. Then, after a brief service in the Basilica, Mother and Son were processed back up the hill as a full moon rose. Town lights were largely turned off, with small wicked lanterns lighting out way — so the pictures are dark. I post them anyway to capture at least part of each section of this extraordinary ritual.

Waiting outside San Rufino

Our Lady lit by cell phone flashes

Interior Basilica of St Francis

I could only load one video. It’s dark, but strangely enough the cell phone lights flashing on the statue of Mary add a mystical feel.

PS. I am moved by the communal experience of it — seems the whole town came out — more than the spiritual experience of it. In fact, the white hoods and crosses can’t help but be creepy to someone immersed in the study of slavery.

Rabbit holes and other distractions

Can dropping down a rabbit hole be a necessary pursuit? Or does it always imply time-wasting?

Whatever the case, two deep rabbit holes yawn constantly at the writer’s feet. They are: research and editing.

My story begins in 1738. I had no idea how little I knew until I stumbled along, inserting obvious anachronisms like electric ceiling fans and ice cubes. Yes! But even once you get a certain fluency for your period, quick dips into research are needed — often to remind me of things I learned and then forgot.

How many rebels died the morning after the Stono Rebellion? How many were executed the following week? And the number rumored to have evaded capture, again – remind me?

How is Beaufort rice bread prepared?

What were the prevailing views on homosexuality in the low country in the 18th century? Surely not the same as in the Puritan northeast?

Editing is also necessary and can go on and on and then on some more. Few and far between are those golden passages that come out intact. Most require a lot of work — in fact, an astonishing amount of work — things like making a flashback stand on its own in real time, fixing inconsistent tenses, eliminating peripheral characters, and always — paring away words that clutter the page.

There’s always the danger that editing will keep the writer from the business of original writing. They use such different parts of the brain and one is so much easier to access than the other!

Editing also poses the danger of wiping out distinctive cadences and phrasing. That’s part of why when I back up my manuscript, I don’t write over the previous version (not that I go back and read them, but — I could).

Useful distractions include working in other media (and reading. Always reading!) Most creatives will tell you that switching media feeds the work.

This morning, I played with magazine scraps brought from home. Whether it was a useful distraction or not, I’m not in a position to judge. Here are the results.

The first one speaks directly to a storm scene I’m editing in which the slaveholder loses both an entire crop of rice and a key slave in a boat accident. The scene exposes dissonant responses to the loss (white vs. black). The white response wonders which is the greater loss — the twenty barrels of rice or the valuable slave? — highlighting in a sharp way the slaves’ status as property.

(In the era my novel describes, the enslaved wore ragged tunics and head rags. The portrayal of the two African Americans above, therefore, is to my mind, romanticized).

Today is Good Friday. The Christ figure removed from his cross last night will be processed from the top of the hill down to the Basilica of St Francis. People mobbed the statue last evening once it was in repose in order to touch it.

This morning when I attended Mass at San Rufino at the crack of dawn, the 500 year old wooden body was adorned with flowers.

My digs are a little cold, so midmorning I found a patch of sun near St Clare’s Cathedral and stitched for a while.

The beauty of this place fills me up!

PS. That moon picture was taken out of my window between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.

Thursday Assisi

A day with spectacular skies. After K’s cab picked him up, I visited the Cathedral of San Rufino and then returned to the Basilica of St Francis where I listened to an audio presentation (the entire thing!) about the frescoes.

Enjoyed the climb back, stopping to buy some lovely linen towels.

Learned a new word today and already it’s coming in handy – gimcrackery.

You cannot belief all the religious gewgaws for sale! Pure gimcrackery!

I actually want one of these.

Lunch out but salad fixings bought for dinner. You’ll see the edge of a book below on Saint Clare. Almost done. She didn’t just take vows of poverty, she became poverty itself. Or so they say.

Started reading a new book (by John Boynes) and got down to work writing as well. Three chapters pruned, refined.

Now I return to San Rufino to observe a ritual involving the removal of the statue of Christ — perhaps in preparation for Good Friday’s procession?

And lest we forget, here’s Saint Francis himself.

The Vatican

People warned me that the Vatican would be mobbed and it was. Really mobbed. Our intrepid guide, five feet tall and carrying a flag on a stick, dispensed knowledge with a warm charm and kept a good pace going. The hours flew by.

Saint Peter’s Basilica (below) and our guide (above).

The dome is slightly smaller than the Pantheon’s.

Believe it be or not, I had seen Michelangelo’s Pieta before when it came to the New York World’s Fair. It says something about my mother that we went. For all our frequent trips to family in the city over the years, my parents never took us to the Bronx Zoo or the Statue of Liberty or FAO Schwartz. But we saw Michelangelo’s Pieta.

The artist spent eight months at the quarry looking for the right block of marble for this piece. He famously claimed that his sculptures were already present in the stone and all he did was liberate them. “He was not a modest man,” said our guide.

He sculpted this piece at the age of 25 and it is the only piece of art that he ever signed.

Outside the lines stretched for miles! Buying tix for a tour in advance is definitely the way to go (we used City Wonders).

Setting up for Easter services. I gather it was a little more crowded than usual given the time of year.

Here is a brief clip of lightening over the city from yesterday.

If it doesn’t load, you can view it over on Instagram (deeamallon).

(We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Sistine Chapel).

Our second memorable meal was at a tiny place down a little alley that we just happed upon. Boy, what Italians do with artichokes! I’m gonna have to up my game in future.

Palm Sunday in Rome

Palm Sunday in Rome — we ought to go to Mass, right? How to find a Catholic Church? Just kidding. Every block has one, maybe two, although it isn’t always easy to tell. “It’s either a church or a luggage store,” K quips to my pointing. We enter a building. No empty seats. Mass already in progress. For a pedestrian church, it is spectacular: walls and ceilings lavishly painted, gilt-raised frames, and a beautifully tiled floor. The Saints approve. But we exit anyhow, the blessed water on the brow not yet dry. Turns out I’m a 90-second Catholic, which is to say, a former Catholic, or a recovering Catholic, or not a Catholic at all. Take your pick.

So off we go, heading over to the wide, people-filled Piazza del Popola. There are singers, tourists, lots of us, and protestors. I shoot hostile looks at the silent Anonymous clump, surely protesting the recent arrest of Assange, that rat-faced fucker. Surely, they’d frame his wrong doing in a First Amendment paradigm, overlooking his gigantically successful attempt to bring down the West and BTW how do they square the fact that Wikileaks’ sweeping and supposedly neutral disclosures never harm Putin?

I don’t suppose you can tell what I think of Assange?

If you combine the fact that Assange’s underlying charge is rape with his notorious hatred of Hillary Clinton, you could alternately view his take down of the Western World as a petty, little-dicked man’s misogyny.

On twitter, pundits I admire say: watch who supports Assange. Who is calling him a “journalist?” Check out @gregolear on Twitter for more.

“Tulsi Gabbard is the Jill Stein of Hawaii,” said one of my favorite tweets (sorry can’t find to attribute).

But hey! There’s espresso and rosemary-sprinkled focaccia in the offing, so these depressing thoughts are shunted aside. We crossed the Tiber in search of a cafe with outdoor seating. Lovely!

I had TWO espressos, hoping it’ll help tide me through a three hour tour at the Villa Borghesi (my attention at museums tends to wane at the one hour mark, I’m afraid).

This, believe it or not, is a cafe. Not sure I’d want to eat with this crew watching me.

I’ve been shooting tons of pictures of the walls here in Rome — each distressed surface more glorious than the last. I’ll bore you with those another time. But for now, here’s a shot of sculptural daisy that inspired hopes of a wishing wall. I might even have been framing my own wish when I pulled out a dusty drug store receipt. Ick!

However, yesterday, at the Santa Ignazio di Loyola, where we oohed and aahed over a well-known tromp l’oeil dome painting (apparently executed when the builders ran out of funds), I did light a candle for my sister.

I’ll close with a few pictures of the interior of the Pantheon. It was all about the light.