How to fall in love with a mountain.
A template (part 1)
Santa Rosalia left the city content to be alone and in love with Jesus, worldly pleasures left behind. In 1160, she died alone at the age of thirty in a mountain cave.
Her remains would not be found for another 458 years. (I wonder sometimes if I could have done what she did.)
A brief guideline
1. To fall in love with a mountain you first have to find a mountain. You don’t have to go live alone on it, but that certainly helps.
Interlude (part 1) T., Lazio
Right now, I can smell the jasmine that grows all over this town, its billowing up on the breeze after waiting the night while we all slept. The scent haunts me, a gateway into my childhood while I sit in the present. That house of my grandparents was rife with the green and white foliage; my grandfather had planted it right outside my bedroom window. And so, here I am listening to the sound of sparrows and a weed whacker while I feel the white bedroom with the floral chairs and dark wooden desk all around me.
There is a small ceramic bird that used to be on that desk. I have it now. It’s a rusty sienna color with details of olive green. These are colors that I never particularly liked but now hold great significance for me, contained as they are in the bird and in this landscape around me. A strange mirroring of the two places I am in presently- the physical and the emotional. This physical space too will become an emotional space soon enough.
Nothing is going to happen here, I hope you’ve figured that out by now. Here as in this small town
on this page.
I’ll see colors here, I collect them, I’ll try to really reside within them though the feeling won’t come until much later, after I am no longer within the space they live in. I’ll write about these colors that I like, but that’s it. If you want a story, something to entertain you, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Don’t worry, I won’t be hurt.
Interlude (part 2)
I went to two mountains within two years. One where I split open and the other where I planted myself together again.
I barely scratched the surface of either mountain. I’d claw my way on, find pathways up, but eventually end back on the flat bed of the valley below.
In reality, I just spent a great deal of time gazing at the mountains.
2. It is very important to spend a lot of time seeing your mountain. Let it fill up your field of vision for days before you even think to venture on or into her. Allow her image, her shape, her various colors and textures, her sounds, all that she is, to seep into you. Watch her in the morning, as the sun’s light slowly unfolds across her. Take note of how the colors change throughout the day, in various types of weather, and how your feelings evolve as she evolves.
Once you begin to dream about the mountain, then you know you can start to visit her.
Interlude (part 3)
When I was a child I spent a great deal of time staring out car windows imagining what it would be like to live in the wilderness. I’d envision nestling within a great hollowed tree, and placing soft pine and dried leaves on the ground for comfort.
I was an asthmatic child who was often sick and would never have survived this. To add to the absurdity of this dream, I was horrified by bugs, tremendously near-sighted, and preferred to only eat cereal, baby carrots, and apples.
(Of course) None of this stopped me from building small hovels in the forest behind my parents’ house and dreaming of staying there indefinitely.
I was always home on time for dinner, though.
My adult daydreams are equally unhealthy and absurd, but they do not involve living inside of trees, without the comforts of running water.
3. When you begin to visit your mountain, it is important to start slowly, carefully, with intention and reverence. Don’t venture too far, pay attention to the directions and ways you take. Take these same paths multiple times, while also looking for more. Find the way that works best for you, and works best for the mountain.
4. Take note of all of the details around you, how the light hits various surfaces, what you can smell, how the air tastes and feels upon your skin, how the earth moves beneath your feet.
5. Take note of how your body feels.
Interlude (part 4)
I’d like to go back to those original two mountains again. I’d like to gaze upon them once again. And I’d like to climb them, finally.
I dream about them all the time now.
Interlude (part 5) T., Lazio
It’s blue. My hands, the tips of my fingers are always faintly blue after the washing, like when I was a child and I’d stay in the pool too long, blue finger tips blue lips. My mother would have to pull me out, reaching under my armpits with her elegant tan hands, it’s time to warm up let’s sit in the sun. She was always in the sun. She is always in the sun, still. A blue sky that poured hot all over me, nowhere to hide from the blue, from the heat.
I can’t help but see it, even after it’s all rinsed away. I think I’ve stained my eyes blue, the eves blue, I’ve already been swathed in shades of lapis, blue dreams every night. The sky I see when I look up has tinged my eyes and painted my hands.
What do you want to let go of what do you want to rinse away?
I am always afraid of something there is a fear at the end of some days, a horror that I might not make it, that I’ll mess up, end up with a broken leg or arm or jaw, destitute, that all of this was selfishness and at the end of it is nothing but squalor.
(Does this fear reside in many people?)
What do you want to see at the end of this?
I’ll take some of it on while I wash it away for you,
I’ll twist and squeeze and wring,
expel the water the blue the letting go out for you.
what do you need to let go of?
No no no it’s the water that’s doing all of the work, I’m just moving the process along a little faster. Time will take care of it, you know.
Water scares me; perhaps it scares me because I am scared of myself. There are parts of me that I do not know yet, parts that are not visible, parts that are (conceivably) unknowable. Water is an echo of this, the depth that I cannot see or know, that I cannot penetrate, an embodiment of what is inside of myself.
It won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t swim well.
I’ve often thought that learning to swim, really learning, would be an exercise in being comfortable in the limen.
The women in my family do laundry. My mother does laundry nearly every day. While she and my father split the household duties evenly, the laundry is her domain, as it was her mothers. Throughout history laundry has always been a predominantly feminine task. And up until quite recently to clean clothing was a physically taxing endeavor.
For my mother it is, I believe, a meditative act. She cares for the clothing that covers her body and the bodies of her loved ones, maintaining the armor that she wears out into the world. I feel the same way about my own laundering,
about my own clothing. When I am visiting my mother, I inevitably spend a great deal of time helping her with laundry, all the while talking. Many of my memories of my grandmother take place in her laundry room. I can still recall the smell, the seafoam tint of the fluorescent light, the cool tiles under my feet, the strange postcard hanging up (laundry time with a woman screaming) that confounded me then.
It now hangs in my mother’s laundry room. I’m still not sure how to read it.
6. It is recommended to place an offering at the base of the mountain before you are truly ready to climb her.
7. Make sure this offering is specific to you and your mountain. Think carefully about why you have come to her, what she offers you, and all of the dreams and wonders she holds within her folds. Let your offering be simple, but also honor and reflect these facts.
Interlude (part 6) T., Lazio
The bells tolled all morning. Claudia said it meant someone in the village had died. She told us her grandmother could tell us if the person was a male or a female based on the way the bells rang. Claudia, sadly, did not have this special knowledge and could tell us nothing more.
Interlude (part 7) T., Lazio
We sit beside an important mountain, raised above the base. They say the village is atop part of the mountain that fell off. But you must keep in mind that all of the information about this town is hard to come by and no one is sure what is correct or not. In the few books we can find there are pictures of bell towers and facades that do not exist here.
So then are we atop a little mountain? The child of the great mountain? Figlia della montagna (Sono io, anche qui).
Interlude (part 8) T., Lazio
Yesterday morning I awoke early and watched a woman work in her garden. There were cats running around her, jumping, playing, trying to climb up poles (unsuccessfully, even with running starts). The woman sowed the earth, and later placed tall reeds into the ground. She did it with such ease, it all seemed so simple. A man came out to help with this sometime later.
All around me people were awake, moving, quietly, tenderly, attending to the rhythm of their daily lives, making sure all parts were in order. A woman watered basil on the terrace garden below me, another taking in dry laundry, a man below feeding his dogs, cars headed somewhere. Watching the world wake up is a privilege. To be able to sit in silence and attune your body to the light in the sky, the movements of the location around you, instills a soft magic into the day. It’s a reminder that you are a part of life, of this waking. You are not a singular entity, not separate from anything. There is no hiding after this. Perhaps this is why many people do not like to wake up early.
Tutti si chiedono perché mi sveglio presto. Come faccio a dire che ho bisogno di svegliarmi lentamente, come il sole?
Interlude (part 9) B., Ohio
On my 30th birthday I began to see the grey hairs. I had noticed a few before, throughout the years, one or two that would cause a laugh. Perhaps it was only anxiety about growing older, but when I awoke on that birthday I noticed an abundance of sparkling strands in stark opposition to my dark brown hair. I was no longer laughing.
They are beautiful, though. Glittery and wise looking in a way I do not feel that I actually am. They remind me of my grandmother’s hair.
Rather abruptly, a month before my birthday, I began to work with silver leaf. Up until this point I had been using gold leaf, gold thread, gold paint, gold, gold, gold, in all of my works. But there was something one morning, waking up to yet
another cold winter day when it was supposed to be spring, that made me feel I needed to be working with silver.
When I placed the thin metal down on to panels later that afternoon a cool calm washed over me. The reflective surface reminded me of water, of the nights when I was a girl and my grandparents would drive us to the airport. I would strain to see the pacific from the road, trying to hold it in my mind after we dipped into the valley and it was lost from my view. I would turn around finally, the knowing I would see it only in my imagination until the following summer washing over me in the cool darkness.
I was primed to see the grey hairs a month later.
Interlude (part 10) B., Ohio
Last night I dreamed of a previous home. I dreamed of seeing her from a high vista, from the mountain of my childhood home, the original home. I kept wanting to descend down to this former home, to be within her, caressed by her warm lights in the velvet night. My whole family was there on the childhood mountain, and there was always a reason not to leave.
By the time I finally left, made it down to the strange train station at the bottom, with the lines that would lead me into the center of the city, it was too late. I woke up before the train that would carry me in arrived.
I had hoped I would dream of that long-ago home again last night. I long to see her domes, the maze of interlocking rectangles and right angles, and the cold golden light that would fall upon everything as the day ends.
When I think about it now, that light, cold and golden and spilling across everything as the day ends, it’s the same in both the old homes. As a child that light would reflect across the water and the dining table as I shivered in the cold breeze. And later, as a young woman, as I shivered on my way home, rushing through the streets.
I didn’t make it back to either place last night. Will I ever make it back to that light?
8. It is important that it has not rained for at least two days before you venture on to your mountain. Don’t climb her when the rain has just fallen, or is falling. The rocks will be slick, there will be no way for you to catch your bearings. It is advisable that you walk around her base when it is raining, though. Embrace the ablutionary experience for her, for yourself. After you have done this, wait for the earth to dry.
Then you may climb.
A template (part 2)
When Rosalia was young, her parents occasionally took her hiking in the mountains that surrounded Palermo (what a lovely suburban activity!). What she enjoyed most on these trips was not the beautiful vistas, or the quality time she was able to spend with her parents, but rather the intense silence that permeated the mountains. And the fact that she was allowed to wear pants on these excursions.
On one of these outings she happened to notice graffiti on one of the railings protecting a particularly lovely vista. Lovers names were scrawled all over the surface of the railing, and then aggressively scratched or colored out. The only untouched writing she could find read simply sempre insieme. Rosalia found hope that someone out there had found love, and wished for the same for herself. She decided when she found her true love she would bring that person to this very vista, and there would be no need to write their names, because that “sempre insieme” would still be there.
Rosalia didn’t know at the time that she was already there with her true love.
Emily Jay is an artist, curator, and educator from Columbus, Ohio. She has exhibited internationally and has been co-curator/director at The Neon Heater Art Gallery in Findlay, Ohio since October 2016. Utilizing both analogue and digital photographic techniques, paintings, installation, poetry, performance, and bookmaking, her work repurposes the iconography and geometry of Italian devotional imagery in order to root the female perspective into historical contexts. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University, studying the veneration practices surrounding female saints in Sicily during the late Renaissance.