Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there!
Like many wandering Americans, I've spent much of my adult life living in places that happen to be far away from my mother, from New York to Dublin, from Thessaloniki to Rome. This, I should say at the outset, has been driven by my desire to wander rather than a desire to be away from my mother, who is a very cool mother and, by the way, also a dear friend.
So this last move, which brought me here to Rome, also began to pose interesting possibilities for spending good mother-daughter time together. A couple of years ago, Mom came up with the good idea of making pilgrimages to see the works by Michelangelo that she hadn't yet seen, and guess who was going to be her daughterly tour guide.
So last year we went to Paris, where Mom got to see the Dying Slaves for the first time.
Not to mention to wander the streets of Paris, sit in cafes, and gross out watching me eat steak tartare at a brasserie over near the Sorbonne. It was delicious, though she is still not convinced.
This year's trip took us to Siena, Bologna, Milano, and Bruges, which scans rather like "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My," doesn't it? (Well, almost.)
Nor had I ever visited these cities, so it was a lot of fun to explore new places together. We loved Siena, sitting there in the square where they run the Palio and imagining the horses rounding the corners, all the bright flags a-flying.
Bologna was also lovely, and yes Sally Ashton, we did enjoy the mortadella. For that matter, the all-around, stomach- and brain-satisfying experience was found in a bookstore, the Librerie.Coop, which has a huge selection of books (including a good English-language section) and an amazing slow-food restaurant upstairs, and where you can also buy pasta and sauces and such. Also a great cafe downstairs.
We went to the Basilica of San Domenico to see the comparatively wee sculptures by Michelangelo on the Arca di San Domenico. The very charming church caretaker got down from his ladder (he was polishing the spikes) and gave us a tour, explaining the humanistic virtues of Michelangelo's angel. Yes, he looks like a small kneeling David with wings (and clothes), and I was close enough to touch him (angel, not caretaker) but you will be glad to know that I did not. Mom apologized profusely when her flash accidentally went off, but at that moment the caretaker was busy scolding an Italian woman whose cell phone blared out while she was in the chapel. That she proceeded to take the call and talk loudly in the chapel mystified us all.
The Madonna col Bambino in Bruges, whose somber yet beautiful profile (above) is echoed in that of her son was the last visitation that we made this time. I know this has been said, but the casual intimacy of their hands is so sweet and truly moving. We had the sense that Il Maestro was happy with this one.
And if you haven't been to Bruges, go! We met a very nice Belgian woman on the train from Brussels to Bruges who told us that she'd actually been asked by a tourist, "What time does Bruges close?" as if it were a little Euro-Disney. It is this beautiful little medieval gem (and I'm glad we saw the movie "In Bruges" after we had visited the city!) We didn't run into Colin Farrell there, nor, luckily, Ralph Fiennes.
The Rondanini Pietà (which we did see in Milano) is going to need its own entry; not least, it can bring you to tears, and requires much reflection. But for now, after recalling these wonderful trips that I am grateful to have had with my mother, I must spend the rest of this Mother's Day grading papers!
So let me sign off and wish all of you mothers a very happy day, and especial warm wishes and love to my mother Betty; to my sister Sionna, mother of three lovely women; including dear Tricia, who is mother of sweet little Natalie! Happy Mother's Days!
(ed note: this post originally appeared on May 9, 2010)