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June 8, 2011
The Hummingbird Formerly Known As Ethel Merman was busy at the window box feeder as I was deadheading geraniums. She tolerates a respectful presence, but not an overly close one, so I kept a certain distance. She seemed to know I needed to talk.

Hey, Ethel.

Hiya. Why the long face?

I just found out we're not going to Rome after all.

Yeah? Aw, that's a shame.

Well, it's not really. We've got plenty to do here, with moving house and all.

Yeah. It was a dumb idea to begin with, if you want my opinion.

You never told me that.

You never asked me.

Ethel backed up from the feeder and hovered in the air for a moment, then took off over the garage. I ran some water from the spigot to fill the bird baths. Pretty soon she was back.

So it was a dumb idea and now you're not doin' it. What's the problem?

Well, I told everybody we were going. I even put it in an eMo.


Well, it's embarrassing!


Ethel left the feeder to visit a geranium. Well, I don't really know a lot about embarrassing. I never been embarrassed in my life.

Wow. That must be something.

Never saw the point. Either you did it or you didn't. It was stupid or it
wasn't. End of story.
Ethel went back to the feeder. Jeez, that
geranium is too much work. I must be gettin' old.

Never in your whole life?

Nah. See, I never said I was a rocket scientist, you know? I never set myself up as Little Miss Wonderful. So when I made a mistake, I made a mistake, you know? It's not like it was this big surprise.


Besides, you've done a lot stupider things in your life than this. Jeez, I
remember the time....

Never mind, Ethel.

Well, you can work on moving now. Fix up the feeders at the new place, that kind of thing. I don't care who you are, you can't do a move by email.

You'd be surprised what you can do by email, Ethel.

But she was gone.


So we're not going to Rome. The incumbent at beautiful St Paul's-Within-the-Walls decided to stay on a little longer, and who can blame him? A sympathetic friend sent me this poem:


How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hill towns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every road sign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a cafe ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car
as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.
-Billy Collins
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