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Exercise #20: Paper That Changed Your Life

Mental Note #7639471

Larry M. was my roommate for the semester we spent at the University of Dallas Rome Campus. He was one of the gang that traveled to London together before the start of the semester for a week and then took the train to Rome by way of Paris. He was my companion on several weekend trips out of Rome, too, including Florence, Munich, Salzberg, and the ill-fated attempt to get to Malta for Easter, which was aborted in Siracusa, Siciliy, when we found that the boats were all booked up, and then turned semi-tragic when we were robbed at gunpoint in a pizzeria in Messina on the night before Easter.

Larry used to carry a tiny notebook everywhere he went, into which he would write notes about photos he’d taken, places to visit and sights to see, addresses, hours of operation, Italian phrases, and so on. …more

Exercise #18: Food That Defines a Place

Note: I wrote the following exercise at the end of a long day when I didn’t have much energy or imagination left for writing. I’m only posting it on my blog because I don’t want to upset my loyal readers by leaving a gap at Exercise #18 in the series of exercises on which I’ve been chipping away. I don’t usually inflict the raw, unfiltered stream-of-consciousness emanations of my tortured brain on anyone else—except my friend Jo. So unless you’re reeeeally bored—or one of the aforementioned loyal readers—I’d skip this one if I were you. (No, really.)

It’s very late, and I’ve had a long day. I was up early without very much sleep, and I had a mountain of work to get done before …more

Exercise #11: Favorite Thing to Do in Your Favorite City

I’ve decided to return to the online workshop on which I was working when Hurricane Ike arrived last September. Had some trouble with the first prompt, though. My first attempt turned into unpublishable erotica. Here’s my second attempt:

Fragment #2

I want all of my life to be like these moments:

  • The day that Continental canceled our flight out of Rome, so we spent the day exploring Ostia. We surprised ourselves with how much fun we could cram into one unexpected extra day of vacation.
  • The day you led me through rush-hour traffic to Griffith Park, then showed me where the trail began. I was energized by your kindness.
  • The day the cold front blew through the city, and then you took me to your soccer practice. It was too cold for me to spend two hours waiting on a bench, so I wandered the unfamiliar neighborhood until I found a coffee shop open. Then I came back and climbed up and down the pedestrian staircase to to the road high on the hill above the soccer field to keep warm. While I walked the stairs, I had a heart-to-heart talk directed at a silent God. I told him that I thought he was irrelevant, and that I’d listened to his people and their bad ideas for long enough.

Boot Camp Day 5(b): The City

On the wall to the left of my bed hangs a mosaic that I call The City. I don’t know if I made up the name or if it was one given to the piece by my parents. It’s about 18 inches wide, maybe 30 inches high, and it consists of hundreds of squarish tiles, each a little less than half an inch wide, laid out in neat rows to form a crude cityscape. The top half is made up of even individual rows of uniform color, mostly shades of sky blue, but with some yellows, metallic gold, browns, and darker blues thrown in to suggest pollution or the heat of the afternoon, or maybe the coming of night. In the bottom half, there are clusters of rectangular shapes that suggest a skyline. In this part, there are blocks of orange and off-white and gray and larger expanses of metallic gold tiles. The whole composition is set in a bed of white mortar and framed with a narrow, plain wooden frame of cherry-stained wood with a flat finish.

This piece of art has been …more

50/50 Exercise #43: Identity and Place

“This is my city, and I am as much a Roman as anyone here.”

—Words that I will put in the mouth of a fictional character one of these days

The prompt is to describe a place—a location “that is meaningful and powerful for you,” and then to write about who you are in that place. I’m thrilled and terrified by this assignment. No one who knows me will be surprised at my choice. It’s the place that I return again and again—Rome.

I’m excited by the task because I’m always happy to think about Rome. I can talk about it for hours and hours. I’m scared because …more

50/50 Exercise #31: Taking a Leap

Marie was sure he never said a word about a motorcycle. He said, “I meet you at Piazza Bologna metro. We eat dinner, we drink a cup of coffee, we see what happens.”

Then her laptop battery died. She stuffed the computer back in her bag and left the Internet café. She walked the four blocks to her hotel wondering if she would be able to figure out how to make a telephone call. From the room, she dialed “0” for the reception desk.

“Can you help me make a local phone call, please?”

The voice on the other end …more

50/50 Exercise #14: Whacked by Cupid

There is an expression in the Roman language, genius loci, “the spirit of a place.” It has acquired a modern, figurative sense in the realm of landscape and architecture—a characteristic atmosphere. But its meaning is rooted in a literal, supernatural sense—the guardian spirit that protects a place.

I try to describe Rome to you without resorting to the clichés and hyperbole that pour from the reservoir of what I have read and heard and seen on television:

majesty • power • glory • history • grandeur • richness • pageantry • eternal • holy • baroque • …more