poetry, prose, and image by Brittney S Holland

Friday, September 30, 2011

small talk and pastries

Each morning I walked to a different café for breakfast. My order was always the same: one croissant, a cappuccino, and a bottle of water for later.

What amazed me is that croissants in Italy seem to vary quite a bit. Each croissant had a slightly different texture and a distinctly different flavor. One came filled with a lemon curd and was sprinkled with powdered sugar. One was lightly flavored with orange zest and a light glaze. Another was chocolate. They were all fabulous.

My favorite croissant, however, came served by a very chatty waiter who quickly exhausted my Italian and seemed to speak no English. Our “common” language, therefore, became Spanish, where he guided me through all the textbook, conversational phrases I know.

Eventually, he asked me my age. My age? My mind flashed. Is that more “acceptable” in other cultures, or is he just trying to keep our conversation going?

I couldn’t remember how to say the number in Spanish, so I held up my fingers and said it in English. His eyes grew large, and he said. "No, no…cuarenta y uno?"

"Si," I nodded, "cuarenta y uno. Forty-one."

My friendly, croissant-wielding waiter put his hands to his face. "Bonita!" he said. Then he pointed at me and waved his hands in an hourglass shape. "Muy bonita!"

What flavor was that particular croissant? I have no idea.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

street shots

(Notice the pup?)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a margin of independence

“…Can’t it help you to see that there is something wrong when all the dreams in this house – good or bad – had to depend on something that might never have happened if a man had not died? We always say at home: Accident was at the first and will be at the last a poor tree from which the fruits of life may bloom.”

-Asagai, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

I have taught this play several times through the years, but these lines have never resonated until this fall. You see, I paid for my trip to Rome with an inheritance from my father.

What he left me was not a grand sum. I am not wealthy. I am, however, rich with opportunities and dreams finally fulfilled through his gift to me…and by the margin of independence his gift has afforded.

So when I noticed this little man, I had to snap this pic.

I miss my father. My father was the only person in my life (other than my little sister) who asked to read my poetry. I don’t think he was particularly interested…but he was interested in me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Have you ever felt that God is allowing you to see what could have been?

Sometimes I do.

You see, I was foolish in my youth. I was foolish and shortsighted

And then I set about trying to “undo” what I had done wrong. I tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Will I spend the rest of my life paying penance for those sins? I honestly do not know what God has in store for me.

There is one thing I do know for sure…there may be no greater love (of which we mortals are capable) than that of a mother. It is this belief that draws me to the Holy Mother.

If there is any human creature who can possibly understand me and the choices I have made (choices I still make)…she can. If there is any mortal to whom I can run for comfort…I can run to her.

Long before I was Catholic, I revered the Virgin Mother. I have never been that good. I have never known such faith. I have never felt such sorrow.

If she can endure, so can I.

When I became Catholic, I came home.

I can’t tell you why I know this, I just know…somewhere in my bones. I look back now, and I see the “pulls” since my childhood ( I would offer you a list, but I fear you would grow bored).

I have known since 2000. Known…beyond any doubt.

I recently told my mother that Catholicism is in my DNA; I was meant to be Catholic. She didn’t laugh.

You see, I was raised Protestant...I was baptized Presbyterian. I graduated from a Church of God university, where I received a minor in Bible Studies. I married a Methodist. I served as a Children’s Choir Director at a Baptist Church. I have taught British Literature, Old Testament Literature and New Testament Literature in public high school, and I have done graduate studies in The Christian Rhetoric of Modern Literature. I have grappled with predestination, damnation, and the tenants of the protestant reformation. I have read Augustine and Dawkins, Warren and Hahn. I am for all practical purposes a mutt. But all of my studies and all of my experiences have led me to this one conclusion: none of us have it all figured out. Man’s interpretation of God is far too primitive.

So what do I do? I listen to my spirit...I follow my heart. I pray.

I chose Catholicism because of this force in my spirit, calling me -- a force so great that I (a wordsmith) cannot name it. I chose Catholicism because that which Christ entrusted to Simon Peter is (quite simply) good enough for me. I chose Catholicism because Catholic worship nurtures every sensory receptor I possess…because there is beauty in every step along the liturgical way.

So why, you might ask, if I have known this since 2000, would I wait so long? Because…I am unequally yoked. And, when I finally found my courage, I waited still… for the right words and the right time. (See, I told you I’m a life-long student of patience.)

It still wasn’t easy. I met resistance…and criticism. I was accused of being disrespectful to the institution of husband.

In the end, however, my faith was met.

Please do not take my words as a testament to the virtues of a “defiant wife.” If anything, accept these as a testament to the virtues of a “praying wife” or to the virtues of prayer and the soulful pursuit of God’s will for the individual.

Going to Rome, then, was a pilgrimage in its purest sense. It was a chance for me to step out in blind faith…traveling entirely alone to a foreign country…away from my native tongue and native customs…to live completely with my own thoughts and my own spirit. It was a ritual of homecoming, a ritual of validation that I am finally going where I was always meant to be.

I traveled to the seat of Simon Peter, the foundation of Christianity. I confessed my sins on that sacred ground and attended mass in full communion with the Catholic church. I entered into the presence of the transfigured body of Christ and was at that moment as holy as I can possibly be in this lifetime.

By the way, have I ever told you how my precious pup got his name?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good things come

to those who wait…and wait…and wait. Patience. I am a life-long student of this virtue.

one of 140 saint sculptures adorning the top of The Vatican’s colonnade

In 1980, The Vatican announced its plan to restore The Sistine Chapel, and in 1983, National Geographic did a spread on the restoration’s progress. I remember this article and how I poured over its pages of text and image. Since then, visiting the Sistine Chapel has been a dream of mine.

Twenty-eight years later, I finally set foot on that sacred floor. I stood beneath Michelangelo’s magnificent work which gleams from the ceiling above. I found a seat along the stone wall and quietly wept.

I do that sometimes. Weep…in the presence of beauty. Please don’t laugh.

I am one who feels wholly and deeply. If I were a superhero, that would be my power. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

When I planned this trip, there were only three places I planned to visit. This was one of the three. Yes, I hear your collective queries. Why not more? Why not the magnificent piazzas? Why not the Roman ruins? For me, the answer is simple.. Because I didn’t want to be rushed. Because this trip was not really a vacation. Because this journey was very personal and very spiritual.

Did I take any pictures for you? No. Not there. Photographs are not permitted inside the chapel. Even if they were…I still wouldn’t have pulled out my camera. I find it difficult for me to photograph certain things. In this instance, I am not worthy. That is a calling for others far more gifted with a camera than I. I am called simply to witness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Italian Tail for Simon (who wishes pics were scratch 'n sniff)

Rome, Italy 2011

"The reason a dog has so many friends, is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue."


Friday, September 23, 2011

On Flying Solo

Traveling alone isn’t something I mind. Perhaps my solitary youth prepared me for such. Perhaps my marriage to one who’s “all about the destination” when I’m “all about the journey” has left me no other choice.

Either way, traveling alone affords me the freedom to linger when something moves me, to recognize God in the smallest details, to pause and listen when He speaks.

My first solo flight was to Puerto Rico, to Santurce and Old San Juan. I stayed two weeks for a writer’s workshop, attending sessions a couple hours per day. I spent the rest of my time mostly alone, wandering and writing.

I have visited New York City and Washington DC sans ami.

Rome, however, is my greatest solo flight. This time I loaded my iPhone with an Italian language app and an interactive GPS. I spent four glorious days by myself. (I would have stayed longer, were it not for my work schedule and my wallet.)

Unless addressed in English, I tried to communicate in Italian. Other than my transports to and from the airport, I walked everywhere I went.

I visited The Vatican, where I went to confession and attended Mass.

I visited The Sistine Chapel and The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevera.

I ate at street side bistros and drank wine with both lunch and dinner. I attempted small talk with my waiters and met a wonderful trio from England.

At every turn, I tried my best to blend in.

I must have met some degree of success, because one gentleman seemed surprised that I am American and said he had me pegged for a German.

That evening, I ordered my entire meal, chatted with my waiter, and paid my bill entirely in Italian (broken Italian, but still Italian).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When in Rome...

This is me, on my first evening in Rome, after a little nap.
As mentioned in a previous post, I traveled alone.
So yes, this one's a self-portrait.


Before heading out to dinner, I thought I should snap a few quick pics for my son and for you.
Below are a couple of my teeny, tiny room.

Notice the walls on either side of my night stands.
Notice how close my knees are to the bathroom doorway while sitting on the foot of my bed.

Nope. Never did try out that bidet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Promises to Keep

You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you. I promised you postings about my trip to Rome, and then I fell silent for five months.

I have a confession to make. I’m not really sure how to tell this story.

Maybe it’s a superstition, but there is this theory among writers that stories have energy. Those who believe this will not discuss a project before its completion, because its inherent energy is lost in the telling, lost before that energy can be translated onto the page.

I’m not sure what I believe. I have, indeed, lost momentum on projects after sharing my ideas with a friend or fellow writer. Some of these projects eventually saw completion. Some fell dead in the water. Lifeless. Spent.

I still feel the energy of Rome. After all this time. What if I tell you…and then it’s gone?

Perhaps that is the real root of my silence.

Perhaps you will think I’m overly sentimental.

Perhaps you will think I’m just nuts.

Perhaps not.

Time will tell, I guess, and you will either continue to visit Simon Says or you will drift quietly away.

I hope you will stay.


P.S. Yes, this is an old-fashioned room key...not a swipe card. And yes, the concierge pulled this key from a wall of cubbies, each cubby for a different room in the hotel. I have to say, I felt a bit like a stand-in for a James Bond film (only without the stillettos and the double D's).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Case You Haven't Noticed

I am a hypocrite.

This past weekend I attended a gallery opening at a local museum and heard myself utter to one of the artists/photographers that I dabble with photography for a blog I write.

“…for a blog I write?” Really? Did I just allow those words to slip past my lips?

Thank goodness you weren’t there.

Because you who have been following Simon Says…you who have checked and rechecked for an update from me since… (oh my goodness, I’m so embarrassed)… MARCH…know all too well that the phrase “…a blog I used to write” is far more accurate.

Well, since I’m weighing in on the precision of language and its use, perhaps I should elaborate.

I am a hypocrite with a severe attention deficit. I am a personification, a living idiom, a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I should be the poster child for Starving Artists Anonymous. Thank goodness I have a day job!

So where HAVE I been and what HAVE I been doing that kept me so distracted since March? Well, there’s motherhood and family….there’s that end-of-the school year crunch to get everything graded and recorded (have I told you I’m a teacher?)…there were summer break and family vacation, during which time I...

--read voraciously!

--redesigned our family photo wall, culling out some old images and adding some newer, better ones.

--threw lots and lots and LOTS of tennis balls for Simon.

--tried to recall what I once knew at the piano.

--ran errands for my mother, who broke her leg on Mother’s Day Weekend.

--led a summer music camp for children at a nearby church (putting to use one of my long-lost talents).

---expanded my garden (adding several new beds)…and did a lot of research about pet-friendly plants. Perhaps I should offer up a few posts on what I learned and what I chose to plant (for those of you who have dogs like Simon)??? In the meantime though, the ASPCA has a wonderful website.


---planned my own funeral.

{insert audible gasps here}

Don’t be shocked! It actually makes perfect sense.

Neither my father, nor my brother, left wills or final wishes. My father’s lack of attention to such details left his five children stumbling and grasping. A rift emerged among us that may take years to heal. My brother’s death was sudden and unexpected.

My grandmother did leave a basic will, but there too emerged a cavern.

Compassion and my little sister’s request urged me forth. So I’ve begun to pen my wishes. I’ve given thought to service types and to the rudiments of divvying. I‘ve purchased a 2’x2’ piece of real estate under a magnificent Live Oak in South Carolina.

The whole process has been surprisingly reassuring. And.. I can finally say with all surety that I will retire some day on Hilton Head Island.

But I probably shouldn’t put “blogger” on my bronze marker. Not yet, anyway. Not yet.