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Italy Blog: People Are Strange

 

My thoughts are on strangers: a Venetian beauty with the stunned expression Venus should have had when she emerged naked and fully grown from the clamshell; the everyday strangers in one's own family; and my favorite song about being strange.

 

The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, 1482

 

My mother enjoyed talking to odd strangers (The Tattoo Lady) because she could be wacky with them; this embarrassed me to the extreme since I was cultivating a shadow presence. In my inbred and criminal-laden school district, I learned to keep my eyes straight ahead and not speak lest I be accused of giving someone the wrong look of the day. Survival is it's own reward, as is blogging about childhood tortures. Besides, now I’m more like Mom.

In Venice, I stood in a long line for gelato in the Piazza San Marco, and kept my eyes on the server, a young woman whose beauty was dulled by a stunned expression, as if the repeated impact of nothing happening had made her deaf, blind and mute. I wanted to see her smile. An open-mouth laugh would have been a special Venetian treat.

The line moved forward and one tourist after another, and not just Americans, approached the server and pointed at the flavor they wanted, sometimes grunting at the same time. No one said a word to her. I looked behind me; the line stretched into the middle of St. Mark’s Square. Turning back to my creamy gelato lovely it seemed as if her Botticelli eyes barely registered her surroundings.

It was my turn. I smiled and asked her in the Italian that I'd just learned while in the queue to pronounce cioccolata for me. We laughed at my attempts and her smile was enough to make me her slave. I thanked her for serving me, but I’d only taken a few steps away when I glanced back for one last look at a real Botticelli babe. Her robotic expression had returned.

Every encounter is a chance for interaction. Not everyone is open to it, but sharing a laugh with a stranger creates a connection with the world that makes me feel significant, almost like I’ve performed magic, kind of the opposite of Morrison's song. 

People are strange when you're a stranger

Faces look ugly when you're alone

People seem wicked when you're unwanted Streets are uneven when you're down

When you're strange, faces come out of the rain When you're strange, no one remembers your name

When you're strange when you're strange when you're str-ange

 

Jim Morrison

The Doors, 1967