October 4, 1997
Sometimes I feel like I'm perched in a cloud in the sky. From my perspective, Parma appears to be a rippling plane of rooftops, all different parts of a giant fish that has bumpy scales of salmon-colored terra cotta. Evening sunlight washes over everything with a warm glow, turning the air slightly golden. Some skylights and gutters and aluminum strips reflect brilliant mango-orange light, making me squint when I look at them. Crisp rectangular shadows from chimneys fall across the vertically flat surfaces of the buildings' walls. Many spidery antennas stretch up into the sky, their thin wires reaching out for satellite waves in all directions.
I am looking out of my bedroom window. It is taller than me, opening from floor to ceiling. The weather has been unusually warm here lately, so I have rarely latched close the doors of the window, although the external wooden shutters are always pulled in at night.
In the mornings, after the melodic beeps of my travel alarm clock wake me up, I roll out of bed and go swing open the window's shutters. The sunlight floods over me, waking up every pore of my skin with its bright warmth. I'll stand there for a few moments of transition with my eyes still closed, letting my mind mull over my quickly-evaporating remnants of R.E.M. before facing the reality of the day. Sometimes that transition happens so suddenly that my dreams get lost in the shuffle -- in that one step to the window.
But the nocturnal experiences will linger somewhere in my senses, occasionally bubbling up into my consciousness later in the day, triggered by a random sound. Or someone's touch. Or a sight. Like that afternoon I stepped into the Camera di San Paolo, looking up at the dozens of chubby naked babies between the green boughs on the ceiling. Corregio's fresco of fleshy creatures sparked a surprise flood of familiarity. Suddenly I remembered a dream from the night before:
I am the Garibaldi statue, standing tall and proud in the center of the Piazza. I have a fat baby in my arms, its warm skin pressed against my bare chest as its tiny fingers grip my hand in search of maternal love.
From the level of the fifth story, Parma is peacefully still. I feel calm up here. Yet below me is the smack-dab center hub of the city's action, the echoing sounds drifting up to my ears. Whirring moped motors, groups of young socializing voices, tolling church bells, occasional car honks, pop tunes from a radio, and some evenings the distant roar of the audience in the football stadium.
At night, the sky stretches out like a computer screen above the rooftops, an expanse of velvety violet. On my left, a church tower juts up into a sharp point while its body's soft yellow lighting glows against the horizon. In this darkness, the fat Baptistery's pink tone loses its brilliance, now appearing to be a muted indistinguishable pastel color.
Drunken voices echo against the outer walls nearby. I peer down into the narrow courtyard far below and see two young men standing at the door of a closed business. One of them is making a dark wet spot on the stone slat ground as he urinates against the wall. The other looks around with guilty glances. His amico then zips up his pants and kicks over a marble statue that stood next to the door, making a loud startling crash. The two sprint off together, laughing and shrieking. As I stand here in slight shock, the shutters two floors below me open up and someone leans out, also looking down below.
The next day I pull a chair up to the metal railing of my window. I sit and think and watch and listen. And then I smell, my nostrils picking up the wafting aroma of un pranzo in the making, now just some chunks of garlic and bunches of rosemary sputtering in a pan of olive oil on the stovetop of a nearby kitchen. In this pre-lunch period, the city is slowly winding down as everyone heads home to sit around the table with their families. Shops close, streets empty, and outside noises taper down to a mellow low.
I hear the distant rush of a running hose and look down to see an older couple washing off the sprawled sculpture in front of their door before tipping it back upright. I want to call down to them that I saw how it happened, but then I realize that it wouldn't do any good (especially since my vocabulary skills stopped short of this subject range).
I like my position of observation, towering above Parma at my window. Here I am an angel in the clouds.