3.17.2007

Venus Di Milano ( Homeless in Milan, Part II)

Part II
January 6, 1996
Milan, Italy
The rest of the group looked at me as I fished Venus' postcard out of my pocket. On the back was her address & phone number. Feeling very uncomfortable, but even more desperate, I called her up and explained our predicament. "No! No!"she said most emphatically, in her brusque Filipina accent,"We have a small flat! It is very full! No! NO!" I began to stammer something apologetic & conciliatory with my terrible Italian and flustered English. She abruptly said "Can you phone me in 10 minutes?" and hung up. I blinked. I looked at the 4 faces around me. "We need to call back in 10 minutes." We shuffled glumly around the cheerless and frigid hostel common room, not feeling welcome enough to sit down and unable to leave. Those European hostels always smell the same: cigarette smoke, dust and that undefinable smell that might be wet canvas mixed with Euro-sweat & Top Ramen.
Tedious Confusion
After 10 minutes, Venus invited us to her flat, on the condition that, since it was so crowded, we would need to stay up all night and talk-there was literally no room to lay down anywhere.
"Yes! We'd love to! Thank you! Thank you!" I tried not to let all the relief I felt flood into my voice, I was afraid of sounding really crazy. She said she would send her cousin down to meet us since it was sort of hard to explain how to get there. We plonked ourselves down on the prescribed street corner and waited. And waited. No cousin. It was probably close to 2 hours before we found this cousin who was supposed to make everything easier by leading us to Venus' apartment. It would be unspeakably tedious to recount all the ways we tried to find this cousin, the trips to various pay phones, the scouts sent and received back, cousin-less, and why he didn't appear when needed. Just remember: there were no cell phones. No Map Quest. We were doing life free-style back then. All this time, it was lightly raining, early January, and well past midnight. And we were lugging around our backpacks. And it was just so ugly. (But I digress. And whine.)
Flying High........
At Venus' we again met Michael, the fiance from an arid U.S. State (Nevada?) and Venus' grandfather (or great uncle?) and a small boy. We were led into a sitting room, absolutely stuffed with furniture. Very ornate bookcases and knicknack shelves, overstuffed & obtuse couches & chairs and a table that took up any left-over space in the center of the room. Food and coffee came in and we fell to. Bitter black coffee and hard sugary rolls, & maybe chocolate.
Everyone was very smiley and bright-eyed, and we talked for a few hours, until 3 or4 AM. I have no idea what we talked about, only that by the end of it all I was flying so high on no sleep and too much sugar & caffeine and the surreal quality of the experience. I felt so in love with everyone in the room too, in this strange way. Like we were all passengers on the same voyage, this crazy night in Milan, and no one else could ever share what we had shared together in that room. Man, I needed sleep. By unspoken consensus we all started finding places to lie down-Lori was under the table, Ben & Jody curled around a poofy ottoman & bookcase, Venus & Michael on a couch, grandpa & boy across the room on a love seat, Pat on the floor squished up against a couch, and me, somehow, with a couch all to myself. And we crashed. Hard. The next morning ( a few hours later, actually), we got up and had more coffee and rolls. The rest of Venus' relatives started pouring in from other rooms and another flat in order to meet us. It turns out that several other relatives gave up their places on couches or under furniture for us that night, sleeping instead in the flat next door. Also a lot of them were staying there "unofficially", and to have us there was raising their profile, & possibly jeopardizing some of their housing. (The Italians, we noticed, were great sticklers on housing issues & didn't seem to recognize the phrase "Dude, this is my buddy......he's just crashing here for a few days 'til he gets his van fixed and then he's driving to Burning Man.") I was so struck by this sacrifice on their part. Before we left, we all held hands in a big circle in the entry way with Venus and her huge family and they prayed over us.
A cup of cold water.........
And that's the last I ever saw of Venus Castillo. And Milan. Shaking the dust off our sandals, we went to a nearby subway station and stood in a circle as was our habit on this trip. We were about to do a crazy thing: We were about to pray and ask God where to go next. We had learned our lesson early in this Italian adventure: this was God's trip, not ours, and HE was the One giving direction, not us. "But," the observant reader will point out, "You prayed in Florence and thought God told you to go to Milan. Look what happened when you went there!" True, there were no throngs of people shouting, "What must we do to be saved?" when we got to Milan. Just a woman who put herself on the line to give us tired "missionaries" a roof for the night. The ministry of hospitality is very real, and our need for it was very great that night. I forget that my need can be a blessing to someone who can meet that need, that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.
Venus told us when we first met how her family used to travel around the Philippines preaching the gospel, and how blessed she was to meet people who were doing the same thing. She was so joyful and generous with what she had to give, in part because of what we were doing there, and no doubt also because of Who she knew.
"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." Matthew 10:42

2 comments:

Camille said...

Crazy Story! I am so inspired to get myself lost in Italy at the soonest opportunity.

Rosa said...

If (& when) you do get lost in Italia, I recommend that you avoid Milan if at all possible.

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.