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Finally, in mid-March, we found an airy flat in Piazza Bologna, a single metro ride away from our school, and moved in with an esoteric octogenarian who said she hated Americans, but wouldn’t be around much. I was depressed and homesick, exhausted all the time, and became accustomed to throwing up in strange bathroom stalls and into grocery bags. I fainted erratically–once in the market in front of the dried beans, another time on a bus on the way to an Italian literature exam.
I was concerned about the fainting, and thought it might be due to the stress of midterms. So, I made an appointment with an obstetrician, Dr. Nico Naumann, at the Clinic Villa Margherita. I later found out it was the hospital memorialized by Ingrid Bergman’s clandestine birth of her son Roberto in February of 1950. I paid 40 euro for an ultrasound, which Dr. Naumann didn’t deem necessary, but thought it would give me peace of mind. It was the first time I had seen or even heard the baby, who was about sixteen weeks gestation. It all suddenly felt really real. He sent me away with the sonogram photos, which I kept in my red Moleskine organizer and peeked at during class.
Even after my appointment, nothing ever felt quite right. We still managed to travel and make memories–sleeping on a tiny boat on the Seine River, seeing Pelleas et Melisande at a fancy Paris theater, The Pallias Garnier, a magical dining experience in a dessert boutique in Krakow, Poland, and a short weekend in Iceland, where I bought the baby’s “take home outfit,” a dark blue, gender neutral onesie, with little cuffs at the ends of the sleeves. It sounds romantic on paper, but we were mostly living on financial aid refunds and running out of things to talk about. We were lonely.
Photo credit: Jonathan Porter Stop Staring At My Horse Beach Short
During this trip I felt existential shifts, and a spiritual depression for the first time. Growing up in evangelicalism I had learned that feelings toward God are what tip the scales towards heaven or hell. If I felt “on fire” for God, then surely I had what they called a “personal relationship.” If I felt little, or nothing, I was considered a “lukewarm” Christian, useless to the mission of the church. Conjuring up emotion, while easy as a pubescent teenager, was getting more and more difficult. Most of the Rome trip I felt nothing, for the first time. I wondered if the personal relationship thing was a scam, sprung from Americanism and our obsession with individualism. I wondered if I associated my faith with home, and being surrounded by non-Americans was cracking open the box I had formed over years of purity culture and high intensity worship services.
We spent Easter morning in Florence. On a normal Pentecost the city hosted an elaborate parade, but this year, it was raining heavily and the parade was canceled. Jon and I took pictures in a photo booth and then sat outside the Uffizi museum at the base of the Pio Fedi statue for a few hours. Easter had always been a joyful day for me–an excuse to wear some makeup and a dress to church, and a breaking of a half-hearted lenten fast of coffee or sugar or tv.