Siena, Violet, GermanyDecember 15, 2008
Bear with me.
Six or seven years ago, I went with my little Mama to Italy. In Siena, we stayed at Alma Domus, an old convent converted into a hotel. It's still run by the nuns there, and down below the rooms is the cell where St. Catherine (patron saint of Italy) received her stigmata. (In the church you can still view her head and her finger. Deliciously grotesque.)
It was the most wonderful place to stay, maybe one of my favorite hotels ever, and I believe it was something ridiculous like $30 a night.
It was a small, narrow room, and dark. I opened the shutters to the french doors while Mom used the facilities. The view that was on the other side of the doors was completely unexpected, better than anything I could have imagined. I waited for Mom to exit the bathroom. I demanded that she shut her eyes and cover them with her hands. I led her by the shoulders out onto the narrow balcony.
I told her to open her eyes.
All of Siena, with the Duomo front and center, at our feet.
That's not even where I was originally headed. Well, then. I promise I'm rambling slowly to a point today; forgive me if it takes a while to get there. But I love that memory. Her excitement at that view was like when a kid finds a bike under the Christmas tree. Only better. Damn.
So, in Siena, while wandering around, somehow we ended up (as people do) in a pharmacy, sniffing things. We found a package of violet soap. (I love violet because my mother's mother had a little pot of solid violet perfume. When I was little, there was no more perfume left in the tiny pot, but Mom kept it because of the gorgeous smell. I loved to stick my little snout in it.)
Now, this violet soap in Siena was like NO other violet I've ever smelled -- it was the distillation of violet's very essence, amplified to capital letters: VIOLET! I AM SO VIOLET! We bought a package each. The hotel room was between the pharmacy and the town square, so we dropped our goodies in the room and went on tromping around the city in the light rain.
When we got back to the hotel that night, we both thought we could smell a hint of violet in the elevator. We wondered aloud about it. But oh my god, when the elevator doors opened on our floor, the smell of violet hit us like a punch. Our room was at least ten doors away from the elevator, and the doors to the room were closed. We looked at each other. It couldn't possibly be from our soap.
But it was. The rest of the trip was marked by that trailing violet smell. It was on our clothes, in our suitcases, in our hair, in every room we slept in for the rest of the trip. I've never been able to find that particular scent since until recently I smelled a candle called, moronically, "Living Room." It's a lighter version of that smell, so I bought it.
I burned it this morning while I wrote. I usually burn a candle when I write in the morning before dark -- something about the ritual of it draws me into the words or at least reminds me of my smoking days, which is a happy memory -- but I haven't been able to burn that candle. Until today.
Because this morning I woke from a dream about my mother. I was at some kind of graduation, my own I think, although I couldn't tell what I was graduating from. Everyone was around me, all my loved ones. I thought, "Mom's not here." Then I felt, really felt, a tap on my shoulder from behind me. Mom's cute little voice said, "Mom made it." I turned, and she was there. I swear to god, she was really there. She looked strong and healthy, probably about sixty years old, so about the age she was when we went to Italy. I got to grin at her for long seconds, and she grinned back. I got to hug her in the dream, and it was so very, very real. I could feel her body in my arms.
Then I woke up. I stayed in one spot, memorizing every part of the dream. I struggled for so long after she died with dreams that were clinical and corporeal, dreams that had everything to do with disease and nothing with who my mother was.
Then I got up and burned that violet candle.
And guess what? Today I'm accepting an offer from a German publisher (Goldmann) for my book. It will be translated into German, a language my mother spoke fluently (she taught English in Wurzburg for several years in her twenties). Coincidence? Sure, it's highly likely that's all it is.
But I like the shape of this coincidence.