Cappuccino and Cheesecake at Piazza Del Campo, Siena Italy

 

“Honey, you look like Michelle Yeoh in this photo,” Sandeep remarked while reviewing the photos he took of me at San Gimignano. “I look like an inflated Michelle Yeoh,” I replied after glancing at the photo. “Michelin Yeoh,” I added.

Sandeep immediately understood that I was referring to the Michelin man. He laughed heartily as he is always amused at my self-deprecating jokes. Among the things I like about him is that he always gets the most obscure references I use in the jokes I make. It is a relief that I don’t have to explain anything to him, and the punchlines always hit home.

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We were then on our way to Siena on a double-decker bus. I chose our seat on the top part of the bus earlier when we left Florence. I wanted a full view of the Tuscan countryside as we pass it by.

“Siena used to be a very wealthy city before the Black Death killed a large part of its population and before the Medici conquered the city.” Our German tour guide narrated in halting English over the microphone. She took over for Alice, the pretty olive-skinned Italian who initially led the tour.

It was a good thing we got the Tuscan day tour package from Florence itself. The walk-in booking was cheaper at 40.60 euros each. When we were booking it online, the website was charging us 90 USD each for the same tour. The package includes a visit to San Gimignano, Monteriggioni Castle, lunch at a winery in Chianti and then finally a walking tour in Siena. It’s a 12 hour day tour that starts at 8:30 am from the Santa Maria Novella train station.

I was not really excited about Siena when we book the tour, I have not heard of that city before. I thought it was just one of those minor cities they add to the pad the tours. We chose it over the leaning tower of Pisa because the meeting time starts at 8 am rather than 6:30 am.

It turned out Siena was a pleasant surprise for me, and the visit to the city quickly became my favourite part of the trip.

Part of what drew me to India was the intrigue shrouding its historical monuments. Siena has the same appeal to me. As we explored its historical centre, walking on the cobbled streets in between imposing gothic structures really take you back in time. You’ll begin to wonder how the place would have looked like during its Golden Age.

Our tour guide led us to Piazza Salimbeni, in front of the statue of a scowling Sallustio Bandini standing guard in between the first banking houses in Europe. He was a Sienese priest and one of the first Italian economists.

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While standing in the middle of the square, I can’t help but be intimidated as I gazed upwards and saw the marble heads of famous Italian men, poking from under the roof of Palazzo Spannocchi, all glaring down on me. I felt so small and insignificant. It disturbed me to see Leonardo Da Vinci and Dante Alighieri looking so pissed at me. If I were a peasant there in those times, I would be terrified and trembling in my boots every time I am made to stand in that square.

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Our tour guide asked us to follow a blue flag held by a tall guy from our group, so we don’t get separated and lose our way. There were several tour groups along with us. We even got mixed up with a group of Japanese tourists with a Japanese tour guide. Their flag was red. We also came across a group of university students who made fun of us. One of the students raised the bottle of beer in his hands, walked ahead of his friends and shouted, “Follow me if you wanna have a good time.” Everybody laughed and cheered. I told Sandeep jokingly that it would be more fun to follow that group.

What really captured my heart, though, was Piazza Del Campo. I was bewildered, then awestruck after immerging from a dark alley and seeing the medieval square with its lofty clock tower dominating the bright blue sky. It’s difficult to capture its immenseness in the photos. You have to be standing there to witness its splendour.

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I had an intense desire to cross the enormous shell-shaped piazza to reach the coffee shop at the opposite side of where we were standing.

“Twice a year horse races are held here.” Our guide’s voice crackled in the headphones in my ears, interrupting my thoughts.

In the restaurant next to where we were gathered, there was a television where the video of the race was playing in a loop. It seemed like a grand affair. The shell shape area in the middle of the piazza was filled with people cheering as the horses race around them.

After 15 minutes, the guide moved on, and we followed, but I was getting impatient. I wanted the walking tour to end already so we can linger leisurely at Piazza Del Campo. We even skipped climbing up the tower of that beautiful gothic cathedral so we can return right away to Piazza Del Campo. I was glad Sandeep did not mind.

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Sandeep indulged my wish and ordered us a cappuccino and a latte on that café that I was looking at earlier. I wanted to stay longer, so I ordered a cheesecake, which was quite delectable with a hint of citrus on the after taste. We paid 6 euros for the cappuccino and latte, 7 euros for the cheesecake.

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I sighed while I sipped my cappuccino. Ahhh…it was like being in a delicious dream that you did not want to wake up from.

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A cold wind blew a few minutes later, knocking down the wine glasses of the two young girls in front of us. The glasses shattered into pieces as it hit the ground, snapping me out of my reverie. As Sandeep paid for the bill, I felt a twinge in my heart at the thought of leaving Siena so soon. I wanted to stay for a day or two or for the rest of my life.

I left a piece of my heart there at Piazza Del Campo, and the longing to go back haunts me constantly.

 

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Your Are My Fairy tale Come True

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My heart lay bare. The walls around it crumbled little by little inconspicuously each passing day I was with you. Now, it loves like a child unfamiliar with sorrow or betrayal. Without reservation. Without hesitation. Ever trusting. I delight in the rawness of my emotions. I feel alive. I feel human.

Your heart lay bare. You did not build a wall around it. Ever. You love like a child unfamiliar with sorrow or betrayal. You always give yourself fully. Without reservation. Without hesitation. Ever trusting. The frankness of your emotions killed the cynic in me. It feels wonderful to be alive and to be with you.

To feel like this is beautiful and bitter sweet like poignant lines of a poem. Happiness and sadness, joy and pain add salt and pepper to life. Without it you are dead. Dead inside.

It is a good thing I did not give up on love. I was about to but I met you.
We are so different yet so much alike too. I am perpetually in awe of you.
You keep me whole, together, cohesive, sane. I will be lost without you.
With each passing year our love never faltered. It grows, it soars, it intensified.

If I ever did believed in fairy tales and happy endings then it seems my dreams have finally come true.

-JMKhapra, for my husband on our 6th wedding anniversary.

Copyright 2013

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How To Edit A Flashback

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I’m an editor. U-hu. A common reply when people ask me what I do. A video editor. I would elaborate. And again. A-ha. They would hide their confusions by this curt reply. I am prompted to explain. I work for TV. Their eyes would lit up. TV. Finally a word they can relate to. ” For ABS- CBN.” Their eyes would show interest. Really? Is Piolo Pascual gay? I would try not to roll my eyes. I will not reply so they would ask, ” Yes, but what, exactly do you do there?

What exactly do I do? I edit. I cut. I paste. I fast forward. I rewind. I can slow down time. I can freeze a moment. I can play a song while a women jilted by her lover sobs in utter desolation. I can put laughter when a boy trips over a wire. I’m a mini god over the lives of those who inhabit my sequences. That is, when my director leaves me alone. If not he then plays god over me. Continue reading “How To Edit A Flashback”

The Confining Walls Of Our Beliefs

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” I think you should not marry him.” Bonnie said emphatically. I looked at her sadly. She was my last hope. Her opinion being the last sign from which my decision would be based upon. Yes, in days of confusion and indecisions, I too fell in the trap of ” looking for signs ” while contemplating a pertinent problem in want of a solution. Needless to say these signs only led to more confusion and further indecisions.

Bonnie sighed, her face contorted with remembered pain. ” Marriage had not been easy for a Christian woman like me marrying into a family with a different religion.”

We were sitting in her spacious bedroom at that moment but when first I came to her house and was introduced to her in laws I did not sense any tension between them at all. I wondered what she was talking about.

” My father -in-law had beaten my husband black and blue when he insisted on marrying me.” she continued. My eyes widened.

It was unfathomable for me how a grown man can be beaten by his father. But apparently in that country it is quite common.

I met Bonnie when I went for a Sunday mass in a Christian Church in the city. Praying in an empty church has always been my one solace every time my life is caught in a whirlwind. At that time I was in the middle of a milder thunderstorm and like a guardian angel she sat by my side. My face must have been as gloomy as the church interior for she asked, ” What’s bothering you child?” My answer was a quivering sigh. Tears held at bay, brimming at the eyelids where one kind word would send them cascading down my cheeks. She patted my hands and whispered to me that I should meet her after service.

Salty water burst forth like in a broken dam from my eyes when finally I related to her the whole story, sitting in a room at the second floor of the church where she taught Sunday school for children. With a motherly sympathy she told me she will pray for me and my troubles. And she will ponder over the situation and would call me if she has an answer for me. She called after a few days. So there I sat in front of her while she dashed my hopes and dreams over coffee.

Bonnie is a beautiful tall woman from the North. She could easily been an actress or a model in my opinion. She has those perfect cheekbones and soulful light eyes with a curtain of the thickest lashes I’ve ever seen. With her beauty complemented by her tender heart, it was easy to see why her husband fought tooth and nail to keep her. Their relationship endured countless attempts of separation from her husband’s family but without success. They even threatened to disown her husband. But nothing fazed them. Against all odds they wed and are now blessed with three kids.

” I insisted we marry in a Christian church. Afterwards I fought hard to remain Christian. I did not convert. My faith is all I had. It is my choice. The only thing left of my independence . I held on to it.” I could feel the passion she had for her faith very strongly. I wondered If they beat her up for that too. She did not hint on it throughout the conversation but I thought it was more than probable.

” But then came the children.” Pain flitted in her eyes once more.

” Though my husband never asked me to convert, my in-laws of course would never allow my children to be Christians. This is one fight I could never win. I could never get them baptized. That tears at my heart. How will I save them from eternal damnation? I had to sneaked them out of the house when they were babies just so I can take them to the church. To know the Lord.”

She looked intently into my eyes. ” You don’t want that to happen to you.”

I was speechless. I could not answer her. She was right. It will affect the children’s lives most of all. Which belief would the children cling to before they can choose one for themselves? I said goodbye to her with a heavy heart. Still undecided and all the more confused. I walked away dazed with questions in my head . Plunged in deep reflection.

At the heights of love everything seems so carefree, even childlike in its wantonness . So what was I doing in the middle of something so serious, an issue that keeps polarizing nations apart? Whose God is the real God? Or if there is one? And which religion leads to everlasting life? And again if that is even possible? Why should we give up one for another? Why does it keep pulling people apart instead of together? It was all so complicated. Besides the culture barrier, there is religious barriers too. Why do people constantly build walls to keep each other out? Is elitism such an inborn trait? If other religions do not want Christians in their flock, some Christian are not any better in accepting others too. My ardent Christian friends back home gave me stern advice against marrying outside the faith. Frowning at me, I felt the sting of their scorn for beliefs different from theirs. How ironic. Jesus himself right there written in the bible mingled with everybody. He was the coolest dude who does not possess on single elitist bone in his body.

Without an answer to my dilemma I was only left with a conclusion that maybe people do feel safe if they belong to one “CLUB” or the other. And they fear that someone who does not clearly belong to one is dangerous and must be avoided.

©JMKhapra

Anecdotes From Home: The Tale of The Two Starving American Soldiers

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Most of the time my father is a tight lipped man but since this summer all of his kids were together again under his roof out comes pouring his jovial nature. He has been telling my husband and I that in the recent years flashbacks of his younger mischievous days plague him constantly. Some he regrets, some he revels upon.

My husband shares my enthusiasm in listening to old people’s tales. Their stories are goldmines for those who want to write novels with a magic realism genre since sometimes the sequence of events does not make sense at all as memories blur over time. What they remembered might not be what actually happened giving the tale a fantastical flavor. Plus the stories are likely to have happened around a historically significant period. Like one particular anecdote he told us which easily became our favorite. The incident happened during World War II when the Japanese army occupied the country (he was just a very young boy then but he has lots of colorful stories about that period.) Continue reading “Anecdotes From Home: The Tale of The Two Starving American Soldiers”

Temporary Insanity: Junstine’s Heart Breaks

If nothing is sweeter than first love then nothing hurts like the first time a heart gets broken. Though by the time I met Liam’s father my heart had been broken and mended a few times already. The scabs had gotten thicker and thicker that over time it feels nothing more than a dull pain every time a relationship ends.

I still I feel a little pinch in my heart every time I remember Ian, my first love. What a mess it was. It took a few years before I could get over the humiliation I felt after dating him. Looking back now, I am not even sure if we were in any kind of relationship at all.

Come to think of it, Ian was also a product of two races. His mother a young Filipina, worked in Japan as an entertainer and then later on married a Japanese man. These entertainers were called Japayuki, though I think it sort of demeaning to call them that. As I mentioned previously most of the Filipinos were leaving the country at that time and besides being domestic helpers this was the most popular choice of occupation abroad.

Unlike me though being a biracial didn’t affect Ian much for he was popular and was considered good looking. I guess his facial features were still similar to that of a typical Filipino, chinky black eyes and brown skinned. Sometimes I wonder what a native Filipino really looks like. I mean, since Magellan landed in the shores of Cebu, the natives have been inter marrying or having relations with every colonizer who ever step foot in the country. With the Spanish, the Japanese and Americans and even with the Chinese who later migrated there. I do not think any single Filipino has a pure blood in him. No wonder the Philippines itself, like me feels at odds with its neighbors in South East Asia. In terms of religion for example, we are the only majorly Catholic nation in the region.

I guess you can call it a cute meet, how I met Ian. He and his popular friends were playing volleyball in a small yard near the classroom where I was going to that day. I was lost in my thoughts and hugging a couple of thick books when the ball hit me. He came running towards me to apologize and help pick up my books which had fallen on the ground. Our eyes met and I thought sparks flew. Well at least on my side. I could not hide my embarrassment as my otherwise pale cheeks became tomato red. I was speechless and ran towards the room while Ian’s friends laughed and hooted. After that incident every time I pass Ian’s group of friends, they would heckle and tease Ian.

” Uy Ian! si tisay! Go on ask her name! ” Tisay is a slang for the word mestiza meaning a girl of mixed race with one part Filipina.

Ian would then walk beside me and ask me if he can help me carry my books. I was not immune to his charm as he would smile sweetly but I did not know how to respond as I was used to shying away from any unwanted attention. His friends would laugh loudly when again I would run away from them.

Ian was flirtatious with me when he was with his friends but every time I ran into him while he was walking with his girlfriend, Juliet he would pretend not see me. I think now that was the lure that got me entangled in a web. I was in that phase of my young adolescent life where I have already concluded that being a wife is the most boring thing a woman can be. I was then living inside the novel Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I was obssesed with Countess Olenska. She was so mysterious, enigmatic compared to May the colorless wife of Newland. Countess Olenska and Newland’s hopeless and unfilled love made me toss and turn a few nights. And in most of my days I day dreamed about them. I begun to think I was Countess Olenska, Ian was Newland and Juliet, was May. In my own twisted mind we were in a love triangle.

It was a few weeks before Prom, I was a junior and Ian was a Senior, when I received a letter from him, handed to me by one of his noisy friends. It was tucked inside of a slum book which he asked me to fill up. Slumbooks were wildly popular then. You have to answers cheesy questions such as ” What is your motto?” or ” What is the name of your crush?” it was a really subtle way of getting someone to reveal which boy or girl they like.

To be continued…

Copyright 2013 JMKhapra

*This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Temporary Insanity: Justine’s Love Affair With Literature

When you think of yourself as character in a film or in a book how do you cast yourself in the story of your life? Are you the hero? The side kick or the villain? As long as I could remember I have always carried on an aura of a tragic anti hero bent on sabotaging herself until she drinks herself to death or something. Liam provided a climax for my story. Her mother putting the tip of a knife in her throat became the final straw to my then disintegrating life. Spiraling me down to that bottomless abyss where I plunged endlessly into the darkness.

Is the tendency to lean towards a melancholic existence part of my genetic inheritance or is it the kind of books I read which influenced my maudlin moods and disposition? My mother was a reticent woman but not pessimistic. She was a pragmatic woman who cared more about how to survive this life with dignity than indulge in romantic musings about life. I didn’t know my father so I have no way of knowing what the other half of my DNA might be like.

So I blame books. The tales of suffering and tragedies found in those wonderful novels filled my young mind with a skewed perception of life too early. My mother was an English literature teacher and it was her book of poems and short stories which lured me into the seductive and bittersweet world of literature. It started on that fateful day when I had grown tall enough able to reach the high shelf where those precious books were kept.

I opened a page and my life was never the same again. Neglected were my picture books. My Hardy Boys paper backs, even my Nancy Drews. As soon I had read these following verses there was no turning back.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach,

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height and my soul can reach! My God. I thought. To be so passionately in love! This was how I wanted to feel and nothing less. And I didn’t stop there. Being deeply in love was not enough it had to unrequited too. Nothing less than what Cathy and Heathcliff suffered in Wuthering Heights. I also fantasized of being magnanimous on my time of death and this would be the poem I would have send my lover as a farewell:

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

So you see early on I was set to screw my life.

Copyright 2013 JMKhapra

Poem 1 by Elizabeth Browning
How Do I Love Thee

Poem 2 by Christina Georgina Rossetti
When I am Dead, My Dearest