Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: A Piazza in Rome

While I am now travelling in Italy—currently visiting Siena—I decided to share an excerpt from The Curious Autobiography of Elaine Jakes, an excerpt that is oddly connected to a piazza in Rome.

She was a new veterinarian for me, and I liked her, for she reminded me of the vet who had tended my animals when I was a card-carrying member of the New Hope intelligentsia. I and several other people in the New Hope area had changed from our regular veterinarians to this particular new vet, Dr. Bianca Waddabunga, even though most of us feared this was not her real name. She was the only veterinarian to whom I had ever gone who physically looked like a fashion model. In the office, however, she sported a turban fastened with a great emerald stone, which clashed oddly with her large ruby earrings. These earrings were especially visible owing to the distinct size—I should actually say length—of Dr. Waddabunga’s earlobes, which the weight of the rubies seemed to have increased by stretching them downward. She had in her nose a striking gold ring protruding, as nose rings do, from both nostrils at once. Her facial features were not especially noticeable, except for the pronounced line between her cheeks and her mouth and the fact that she had one of those sets of lips that, adorned with lipstick put on somewhat sloppily, bore a permanent, and rather odd, smile. Her body, however, as I mentioned, was that of a fashion model, and it appeared that she wore absolutely nothing—certainly, she did not wear a bra—under her doctor’s coat.

Dr. Waddabunga claimed to have been trained in holistic healing, which was then the latest thing in veterinary medicine. There was some kind of diploma hanging on her wall to that effect from a training center in Switzerland. Though I was unsure what it said (since it was in German), it certainly looked official enough, with its shiny gold seal and all the German words leading up to Dr. Waddabunga’s name. Perhaps this was her real name, after all.

When she examined an animal, she rarely touched it with her hands; she would use her wand, which she always kept in her left hand, to stroke the animal’s back as her right hand circled over the animal’s head, while she closed her eyes and sighed deeply as if connecting spiritually with the animal. I insisted that my son, who was then studying literature at the University of Pennsylvania (where he went for his doctorate after his MA at Vermont), bring his cat, Piazza, who seemed to be psychologically tormented in some way, to Dr. Waddabunga (a name that my son believed to be a pseudonym despite the Swiss “diploma”) for healing, but he said he would do so only if I paid. From the first, he was skeptical about the holistic approach, especially when I told him that she used a wand. Still, as usual, he complied.

On that occasion, Dr. Waddabunga put the wand down and used both hands, waving them over the animal in the same circular motion that she usually did with one hand. She looked at the ceiling—almost as a possessed, it seemed—and shrieked. “What is it?” she exclaimed. “Tell me kitty, baby kitten, sweet baby, what is bothering you? Does it hurt? Tell me, sweet baby, tell me.”

She then paused, incongruously coming out of her trance as rapidly as she had gone into it, to ask the cat’s name.

“Piazza,” my son said with an incredulous look on his face.

“What?” she asked equally incredulously. “That’s an unusual name.”

At this point I knew what he was thinking—namely, “You’re a fine one to talk.” Thankfully, instead he said, “It means ‘square’ in Italian.”

“Square?” she asked. “Why would you name your cat Square?”

Using self-control, he did not respond, “Why would you wave your hands over my cat? What is that magic wand for? Why do you have a nose ring? Why are you wearing a turban, and long flowing robes?” Instead, he simply said, “She is named after a particular square, the Piazza della Minerva.”

Yet Dr. Waddabunga, who spoke no Italian, still did not understand that the type of square about which my son was speaking was not a geometric shape but a gathering place within a city, a gathering place where the culture of the city could thrive. How much greater a country America would be, if we had piazzas.

Sadly, a good thirty-five dollars later, the cat’s discomfort was not alleviated by the magic treatment of Dr. Waddabunga, but it had been quite a show and had brought joy into my life at a time when I needed joy.


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