I always hesitate to post poems that are social or cultural commentary, but I feel they are important as well. I am returning home tomorrow after an incredible adventure of which I was truly blessed to have been given by my dear mother, a cruise around the Mediterranean. I travelled with my mom and my just-graduated-from-high-school daughter, sister and niece. I loved exploring new countries and questioned as well the impact of large scale tourism on community. I apologize for posting later than Wednesday, getting to the internet has been intermittent :)
Cruise Ship, 2016
I visited countries I didn’t know existed,
Dubrovnik and Montenegro,
cities named Corfu and Taormina.
At meals we had choices from prune juice to sushi,
tenderloin and tapioca,
we were waited on by Philippino
and Indonesian cooks and concierges
chosen for their hardworking ethic and friendly smiles.
In the halls we caught glimpses
of life outside our Neptune suite,
no balcony for Asha, our maid, who skyped
his young daughter he wouldn’t see for eight months.
We poured into cities like Amalfi and Sicily,
toward the end I would not make eye contact
with hosts holding menus in narrow alleys,
preferring something closer to port,
cheaper and easier, the stalls with fries and a beer
thrown in with lasagne and caprese sandwiches.
By the time I was approached
by a third immigrant selling handbags and beaded bracelets,
I was hardened as marble used in the Pieta.
In the Pieta, Mary looked far too young
as she mourned her thirty-three-year old Jesus,
where were the wrinkles between her brows,
the sagging skin and breasts?
Breasts were underrepresented in antiquity,
usually only one portrayed, as though someone
pulled down a peasant top,
nipples only hinted at under draped linen.
In Renaissance art everyone
looked like they hit the gym,
even the baby angels had muscles.
There were no vaginas however,
I missed them, and erect penises,
so flaccid and small on the David-like statues.
At the Vatican we were thrilled to see
a lady with a vapor pen
taking a drag as we walked by the Basilica.
We sat in the Saint Mark's Square in Venice
and pointed out fashion dos and don’ts.
I wished I’d brought my my linen pants
and didn’t like my inability to read signs
or knowing how transit works.
At my lowest moments,
I missed Starbucks and Target,
give me an Applebees, an SUV,
a parking lot and my big screen TV.
I bought wooden spoons from a man
who threw one on the cobblestones
to prove it wouldn’t break.
“They think we are criminals” he said
“but we don’t cut down the olive tree
only harvest the dead wood.”
I thought I was the criminal,
as most of the shopkeepers
and waiters seemed weary of us,
like cows we walked off the gangway,
we ruminated over their offerings
of lace and limoncello, masks and ceramic,
gelato and colored glass,
took selfies in churches built
to celebrate the survival of the plague.
In the evening we returned to our Titanic teat,
with its casino and chocolate turn downs,
to hand and bath towels
shaped as elephants and monkeys.
Every where I went I wondered,
what was this land like before airplane and train,
before turbines could float football fields.
I learned I would have to go back far before
the industrial revolution to find harmony,
what we considered the dawn of civilization
brought as much hardship and harmony as today.
Displayed before me in paintings,
frescos and statues,
the smooth skin of Adams
stood on the heads of bearded heathens,
aristocrats with feathers in velvet caps
stepped upon peasants and slaves.
I was both soothed and sickened,
realizing I am not the only imperialist.
Dotting Italy’s coast are relics of watchtowers
once manned by residents
to warn of invading barbarians,
and yet in some strange new world order
here we touristas were,
ransacking culture and community
as we clogged their ports,
their descendants, having guided us in.