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Thursday 17 November

Fiumicino airport, 6:20 past and an hour's wait before embarking; I kind of thought a flight for Paris might not require me here so early but played it safe in part because I didn't reconfirm. Cabdriver charged me 85,000 — a gross cheat and if I'm back at the Valle again I'll tell them to call some other company: this being Europe, if there is one — Full moon setting progressively redder in front of the cab — No problems at all with checkin or my 2 carryons. Hungry but not inclined to spend more money, and at airport prices; plus I only have 21 ML and this is just about what I need, when I come back, to take the airport train and have a bit left —

So here's the end of my Italian trip. I basically speak Italian now, as fast as I speak French or English and not too awkwardly; I read the newspaper and nonfiction easily: fiction and poetry of course another matter; I understand what's said to me about 90+% even when the speaker is making no effort to speak to a foreigner and I don't know what the subject is beforehand. So the language part of this trip has been a success — although of course I spoke adequate Italian two months ago, but now I feel comfortable.

As far as getting to know Italy, I've made contact again with Rome after a quarter-century; I've covered intensively about 5% of Umbria and have an idea of Perugia, Assisi, Viterbo, Terni and Rieti. (About five more shots and I'll have good feel for the country, especially if I do a different region each time: Sicily, Venice, the Lake District, Tuscany are obvious possibilities; but why be promiscuous when I'm in love with Umbria?)

The physical side of this trip has been a 95% success, as repeatedly noted: weight, build, pushups, situps, some skating, a pleasant tan. I've also come to realize that I'm in good shape for my age, in very good shape in fact: various people here have said they were 45 and they looked like wrecks — I certainly don't, and I feel terrific.

The 'retreat' side was unexpected. I just wasn't expecting the change in fundamental outlook in two months without pressure: in fact I used the walking very well (and I hadn't expected to do all that walking). I'm coming back feeling very solid; compared to the way I feel now, I felt spongy would be the best metaphor before I left. This is a very different feeling.

Now let's see what sticks, after I get back into the bath/muck of taxes, work, James, house repairs etc.

Two and a half hours into the flight out of Paris, and my customs form completed: not counting books, $1925 of purchases —

Two breakfasts on the flight from Rome; seat neighbor was an older woman on a church-sponsored but primarily nonreligious tour of Italy, spent eleven days total in Paris, Venice, Florence, Capri, Pompeii and Rome. Limping from arthritis and feeling a bit tired: incredible her stamina, in fact! Especially since all the Italian portion she did by bus! We had matching limps, mine somewhat more acute, but will presumably be gone in a few hours.

The Paris connection was perfect in the sense that, tagging along with the church group from suburban Chicago, I had just the time to transfer and reëmbark: I just limped thru a lot of gates and waited in various queues and got on the bus to my plane, without ever stopping.

My seat neighbor here is an open-faced 19‑year‑old Mormon missionary, very blond and blue eyes, named [. . .]; we've spent all this time so far talking about his 2 years in Uganda and, predictably but not at all unpleasantly, about religion — I found him surprisingly open in many ways and respect­ful of other traditions; he's also fallen somewhat in love with Uganda, where he taught creative writing and math in a couple of rather small towns after a 10‑month orientation in Kampala; on Jan. 3 his father, who [. . .], will be posted to their Jerusalem Center and he will tag along so he can get a feel for where Jesus lived, possibly pick up some Hebrew. He finds the Ugandans "open" — while telling me the gov't dislikes everything foreign and bans foreign newspapers; and finds the Tutsi "gentle". Considering the massacres and killings in that area for the last decade, this firsthand opinion seems strange to me, but there surely must be some grounds for it, he is quite bright and articulate. AIDS has hit 93% of all women in the Kampala area, and ⅓ of the entire population of Uganda: he feels that the birth rate is not high enough to prevent depopulation currently. By and large he likes Ugandan food: staples are a sort of dry polenta and a mash (matoki) made of bananas, cut while green so don't sweeten, to which are added beans, tomatoes, onions, commonly meat even among the fairly poor; a sort of bitter greens is prized; groundnuts; the rich fry grasshoppers which he says are good if properly prepared, and not (one senses emphatically not) if not: a tradition is that if a woman walking with a man finds a grasshopper he should give her a dress. This, he says, produces a keenness for grasshopper-finding among women (and I would add an appearance of modesty in all those lowered eyes).

The movie, now started, is another horrible piece of foul violence — and, by the way, an American movie, as was the movie on the way over: on the French national carrier, then they go crying cultural imperialism. . . The fact of the matter is that even the French don't like their own movies, and in a free market, American movies appeal to people more, are 'better' in that sense. This, in view of how nasty most movies are, sets up a whole train of thought as to the worth of the democratic ideal when applied to culture.

Anyhow I'm now scrunched up fairly comfortably in my left window seat three rows from the front of the economy class cabin, nursing a large bottle of Evian given to me by a stewardess when I forewarned her right from go that I'd be constantly bugging her for water, and with Air France's blanket knotted around my throat to replace my scarf packed in the wrong suitcase: some five hours now to go; my seat neighbor too keeps a diary, now writing it too —

A few hours later overflying Canada, sun glinting off tortuous frozen rivers, after I napped surprisingly with my headphones on rather loud even tuned to a channel of children's voices altho' beauti­fully trained singing various liturgical works. Finished also the few pages remaining of the Poimandres: underneath the prolixity and the jargon there is wisdom, praise of God, goodness and joy — much I hope as there may be under my own garrulous optic similar praise and joy.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20