Watching your feet

Sometimes I look down too much when I’m walking but you do this after you’ve fallen a few times, even if your mother bought you dancing lessons from the age of six, even dancing with you sometimes, giving you your first taste of the spotlight and then stepping back and letting you be there on your own. Grace can still be slippery. I like it best when I can walk without stopping, both stepping into a rhythm and carrying myself somewhere. I look down and I look up and I like to see things, odd details, discoveries that are big and small and big, a tiny dragon on a high wall, a stone pig on a tower, a sewer grate with a fleur de lis. And while I care on some level about the facts behind each angry-faced door knocker or Roman inscription embedded in rock I prefer to hear through the silence the ideas that come, the thoughts that step through or no thoughts at all and just allow things to sit and I think about them later or maybe they show up later on their own when I need them. I step through these places and really see the smooth rock under my dusty shoes, and that memory allows me to recall the way a favorite city smells, like an old stone on which someone has put out a cigarette and then spilled a few drops of perfume. I want to take everything in. Sometimes I want to walk alone because the senses are too much. But this also allows me to find things.

One day I found a treasure and another and another. There was a church where nuns sang Ave Maria. There was a shop that invited you in with colorful scarves invoking sunshine and a carefree mind, rows of hopeful alabaster owls and hooks filled with canvas bags and a table of Mexican friendship bracelets and overstuffed racks of sundresses and tie-dyed skirts. A woman my mother’s age with gray tight curls watched me as I dug through the rack of dresses and found one I liked and held it up to my body to see if it might fit and she came out from behind the counter and flattened the dress against my body and said, “Maybe.” She directed me to the back of the store to find the place behind a red patterned curtain, in a corner with an ancient mirror, where I could try on the dress.

Looking down again to navigate the narrow path between the tables of zippered bags and stone boxes, I found a window. A window in the floor, plexiglass and yellowed, opening over a lighted stone cylinder to a buried floor beneath. Clay pot replicas sat at the bottom of the pit. The woman saw me gazing through the window and joined me. “When we bought this store, we found that buried underneath.” She said the Romans built it for storing grain, and it was two thousand years old.

Sometimes I think of the alternate me in a parallel universe, the one who paid more attention in school or didn’t marry that man or took better care of herself or learned to listen to herself much sooner. Wherever she was, she wasn't seeing this.

“It was for farrow,” the woman said. “You know farrow?” We talked about it and she showed me walls, one of them Roman and one of them medieval and the difference in the way the stones were built. She asked me where I was from and I told her. She said, “People from Italy, they live all over the world,” before she knew that someone long ago, a great great great great something had been born in Sardinia, a recent discovery, a thing that had been unearthed under my own family’s floor. “You see?” she said, before showing me the curtain and telling me to try on whatever I liked.