I have a confession to make. I love winter. Especially when it snows. A lot. A native Californian, I first experienced real winter when I moved to Boston at age 21. Thereafter, except for a short stint in California, I have lived either on the East Coast, in the Midwest, or the Intermountain West.
I love fires in the fireplace when the nights draw in, snuggling under my quilts, drinking hot chocolate, the Holidays, warm winter clothes, and most of all the chance to just snuggle down and recharge. After the Holidays begins my fallow season. I recharge spiritually reading my scriptures under my quilt in the mornings when it’s still dark. Because I live on a mountain bench, when there is a lot of snow, we can’t get down the hill, and so I love the days when I don’t have to go anywhere but can spend long stretches writing.
Historically, winter has been a productive time for me. I am more introverted and tend to live in my head. Because nothing is going on outside, lots is going on inside (my head). I really get inside my stories, inside my characters. They are with me all the time. They are my best friends. They get quirky and want their own way. They have a party in my head and take over my life. Here is a little snatch of MacKenzie, one of my crazy ladies from The Only Way To Paradise, that I wrote last winter while I was hunkering down in Florence:
THE LESSON OF THE DOME
After she awakened from her morning nap, MacKenzie felt guilty and out of sorts. What was she doing, wasting even one day of Georgia’s precious gift to her? True, the museums were closed today, but the churches were open, and so was the Duomo museum.
She had seen Michelangelo’s first great work. Despite the rain, she was determined to see his last, created when he was over ninety. Donning a trenchcoat, and grabbing an umbrella, MacKenzie tapped on the door to Sara’s room where Georgia said she would be reading.
But Georgia hated rain, and said she wanted to be there when Sara woke up. What was going on there, anyway? Georgia seemed unnecessarily anxious. Sara was an ob-gyn. She probably had a sleep deficit at least a year long.
After a short bus ride, and a bit of a walk, spent studying the ancient streets to avoid puddles, she arrived at the Duomo. It was massive and startling with its green, pink, gray and white marble inlaid exterior. Standing before it for a moment, she was struck as ever by the life lessons that the artists of the Renaissance taught. For over a hundred years this building had had an enormous hole in its roof, where a confident architect intended a grand dome to be built. He seemed to have the Italian’s great faith in their creative genius. He knew that someday an architect far more talented than he would come along and be inspired with the knowledge needed to build such a dome, even though no one had ever successfully accomplished such a feat. What if he had to wait a hundred years? From the perspective of a Renaissance man, a hundred years was next to nothing.
Another life lesson, this one MacKenzie knew she needed to internalize, was the “lesson of the dome.” Opening her canvas carryall, she drew out her student journal from her stay in Italy. A nearby café was still serving outside under a canvas canopy. It wasn’t cold or windy, so she decided to sit and read rather than expose her precious pages to the elements.
There were few other patrons. A couple next to her table spoke in phlegmatic German. The corner table was taken by a solitary woman, older than MacKenzie who was sipping a latte and reading The International Herald Tribune. She ordered the bitter Italian hot chocolate, and opened her journal, anxious to reacquaint herself with “Florence MacKenzie’s” thoughts on Brunelleschi, the brilliant innovator, architect, and engineer of the dome.
“A poet we studied in Freshman English, Theodore Roethke, wrote, “We learn by going where we need to go.” That line has always reminded me of Moses and the courage we must have when we are penned in by figurative Egyptians. No one had ever crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. I imagine that Moses had to prove his faith by getting his toes wet before the sea parted.
Everyone who has visited Florence has seen the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo. This Cathedral is capped by the first large dome to be built ever. Its construction, brick by brick with no preconception of how it was to be accomplished required an almost unbelievable amount of faith by its architect. I think we can draw lessons on faith and hope from it. No one knew how to build such a huge dome when construction was begun. It is so Italian to “fly by the seat of your pants”—to begin without knowing the end or how it is to be accomplished. In my mind, it is the secret of the Renaissance. It is like the artistic concept or finished project is there in the air somewhere, and if you exercise faith, and put your toes in the water, bit by bit a miracle will occur and it will be revealed to you.
The generation that began the dome, spearheaded by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, had no idea how it was to be done, but they started it, using the locally manufactured terra cotta brick. By the standards of that time, a dome of such great size would collapse under its own weight and some large medieval cathedrals had collapsed during construction. The builders went as far as they could using conventional techniques, then contemplated alternatives. Brunelleschi finally conceived of building a smaller dome first to support the structure of the larger dome. This and many other unknown and unorthodox methods were developed and the great dome was completed in 1436. The Duomo has become the most prominent symbol of the beginning of the great Renaissance.”
MacKenzie marveled at the wisdom of her twenty year old self. No wonder she had retained the impression that the artists of the Renaissance had the “answers to the hard questions.” Here was priceless wisdom. It was not unlike the wisdom Michelangelo had imparted to her upon arrival. Patience. Gentleness. She was such a controller, such a planner. She ought to throw out her calendar, at least while she was here, and just be.. Just see what each day brings. Do not be so impatient. Remember the chisel. Put your faith in the Artist. Believe that you can become what he wants you to be. Quit wondering who that is. Look, listen, respond with all your senses. Don’t be a Martha. You used to know, when you were twenty, how to live “in the moment.” Regain that skill.
MacKenzie took inventory of her senses at that moment. Her eyes saw a fog arising from the pavement around the Duomo. A little girl in a red raincoat attempting to eat a chocolate gelato while holding her umbrella. Reaching inside her bag, she grabbed her cell phone and snapped a photo of the moment. Then she took one of her waiter-who smiled blindingly at the attention, blowing her a kiss.
She listened as the bell tolled in the tower near the Palazzo Vecchio, not a half mile distant. A Chinese group of young women had entered and were now seated near her. She listened to the harsh sounds of that language, and then switched channels in her head and listened to the music of the Italian language as the waiter of her photo shared a funny story with another waiter. How much did language affect your world view? Were racial stereotypes valid by that measure? She couldn’t imagine any vocal sound more beautiful than Italian Opera. Were Italians emotional and creative because of their language, or was it the other way around?
She smelled the sweetness of the last roses of the departed summer, planted in the barrel next to her chair. The rain. Rain in Florence smelled different than the rain in Ohio. There were a thousand scents that it gathered from its surroundings as it descended—wet wool, cigarette smoke, asphalt, and a memory of where it had been—just a hint of the olive groves and wet grass of the countryside.
order or borrow
The Only Way to Paradise