Saturday, October 27, 2007


For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Argentario a lot lately.

Argentario, a peninsula in the very southern part of Tuscany, has a special place in my memory for several reasons. It is, as you see in the photos, beautiful. Especially the part that we went to was beautiful, because it was away from the more traveled areas and the tourists. So the natural scenery was for the most part unspoiled.

In fact, the few buildings that dotted the landscape were themselves lovely, because they were all so old. Nothing new had been built in that area for many decades. It was not allowed.

And that’s another reason Argentario has that special place in my memory. I would never have gone there except for the generosity of a dear, dear woman named Marisa Roggi, who became a precious friend. Perhaps I’ll write about her sometime.

Marisa and her husband (deceased some years before I met Marisa) had somehow managed to purchase this property out in the restricted area of Argentario. She would invite us to go down for a long weekend and stay in the little house. It was little, surely the littlest as far as our eyes could see.

The photos above (taken from the Internet) both match photos from my photo album, taken near the area where we would walk down to the sea. The little island in the top photo is Isola Rossa. And in the bottom photo, that looks like it might be the Queen of Holland’s summer castle out on that jutting part, which is how I remember it. I could be wrong, but it is much the same. We were somewhere close to where these photos were taken.

This is the first place where I got to swim in the sea at night, looking up at the moon and stars as I swam.

It is the first place I ever took a shower outdoors. We were all a bit nervous about that at first, but it’s such a restricted area, there really was no one around. So we’d post a lookout (just in case!) and shower one at a time, under the freestanding showerhead, out in the open, looking out to this incredible seascape. It was a wonderfully free experience, as I recall.

And, yes, this is the place where my friend and I partook of another very natural experience, on the land belonging to the Gucci family. After I wrote about that on an earlier post, I thought perhaps I should explain.

The penisula is a large mountain, as you see, and Marisa’s house was way up near the top. (It's actually known as Monte Argentario, properly.) We had walked down to the sea. As I recall, it was too cold to swim, so it was just a walk. And we were walking back up. It’s a long, long walk. We’d been out for a couple of hours or more. And there are no public restrooms in an area that has laws to keep anyone from building anything.

So we were just looking for cover. We found an area covered in tall, stalky weeds, and it seemed like the best place. We took turns, and just as we came out from the weeds, our program director and his wife walked by! Thank goodness we had found very tall weeds, and they had not seen us. But we did ask whose land we had been traipsing around on.

And that’s how we learned that this particular land belonged to the Guccis.

We snickered as they went on their way, and laughed out loud as we made our way up the road.

So it isn’t as if we just did it for the fun of it. I feel the need to say that.

Oh, what memories! What a dear friend Marisa was, to share this beauty and freedom with us. Did we realize then what a rare treat it was? I don’t know. It was special, I knew that. Now, living an ocean away, I wonder if I’ll ever return there, and I realize that it was a gift that I will never open again. We can go to Argentario, but not to this very location, not to stay in a private home with access to a private beach area. Marisa passed away several years ago, and I don’t know if her children still own the house or not.

It makes me want to try hard to appreciate every experience in life, because you just never know how special it may be, how long it will last, or whether or not you’ll be able to experience it again.

Marisa, thanks for the memories!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How They So Softly Rest

Seventy-two years ago this month, my grandparents married. Their anniversary was October 8. I always thank God for what their marriage meant to me.

My sister, Lisa, and I went to Brownsville recently and visited the graveyard. It was a beautiful day to remember beautiful people. And it really is a beautiful place. I’ll share more photos later.

I love that their last name was Christmas. To have Christ in one’s name is a lovely thing. And even from a more secular perspective, they were both such giving, gifting people! It is a trait that everyone associates with them, I think.

Being there that day brought a song to mind from years ago, a song we sang in my high school chorus. I can’t find the lyrics to it anywhere, though I did find a choral performance of it on YouTube, which helped me fill in some blanks in my memory. I still don’t know how to put things like that on my blog, but if you put the first line of the song in the search box on YouTube, you will find the performance. Listen to it. It’s beautiful. I didn’t know in high school that I would come to love the composer, Healey Willan.

And oddly enough, a Google search of one of the phrases brought up a wonderful 1879 edition of Longfellow’s Poems, scanned and made available to the public since the copyright had expired. I never found the poem, though I suppose it may be in there somewhere. (If anyone knows for sure where this text comes from, please let me know.)

The old edition, however, connected me to my grandparents in another way: the print is so tiny that I had to go and get the magnifying glass I keep in my office, in a drawer in the housewife’s desk that for all my life sat on the front wall of my grandparents’ living room. I have been sitting here looking through the same magnifying glass my grandmother used, trying to find a poem that her death reminded me of.

So, with that background, here is the song, which you simply must listen to if you want to find the beauty in it:

How they so softly rest,
All, all the holy dead,
Unto whose dwelling-place
Now doth my soul draw near!
How they so softly rest
All in their silent graves,
Deep to corruption
Slowly down--

And they no longer weep
Here, where complaint is stilled!
And they no longer feel,
Here, where all gladness flies!
And, by the cypresses
Softly o’ershadowed,
Until the Angel
Calls them, they slumber.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hay Is for Horses

In first grade we had a “practice teacher,” as we called them, named Miss Bonita.

I suppose she was in my life for a semester or less, but perhaps because first grade was such a big transition, she made a big impression on me.

I remember her saying, “ ‘Hey’ is for horses,” if we forgot and said, “Hey, Miss Bonita!” I tended to be a very submissive child, and my guess is that I did this once and with her response felt that I had committed a terrible act of rudeness. And probably never said it again, I was so eager to please.

This comes to mind with these photos taken a couple of weeks ago on the way to Brownsville, where I met my sister for a visit.

I had never seen hay traveling down the highway, so I thought the one truck an oddity. Then came another, and another, and another.

If Miss Bonita had been in the car, I just might have said, “Hey, look at all that hay!”

Just for the fun of it.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Tyranny of the Urgent

I came across the following article this morning. It relates to what I wrote last time about not wanting to spend too much time with electronic/cyber reality as opposed to created reality.

It also refers to a little booklet I was thinking about the other day, The Tyranny of the Urgent. My continual prayer is to center my life around important things and not let it just be used up by the urgent things.

Hello, My Name Is Bob, and I Check My Email While on the Toilet
By Ken Yarmosh: 05 Oct 2007
From TCS Daily (i.e., Technology, Commerce, Society)

The Internet seems like an infinite source of information and knowledge, yet we often allow it and other digital technology to be infinitely distracting. Cell phones, e-mail, and IM are tried and true digital distractions. Today, that's advanced to satellite television, social networks, and text messaging. These technologies create a sense of urgency due to their instantaneous or mobile natures. We've allowed the dings, buzzes, and chimes to interrupt everything from meals, meetings, and movies. We've yielded to urgency or perhaps better put, been fooled into believing that next e-mail, phone call, headline update, or text message is indeed urgent.

In 1967, Charles Hummel wrote an essay about the "tyranny of the urgent," where his point was not that we have insufficient time to accomplish tasks but rather that we prioritize the urgent over the important:

"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."

Since his essay was written in a less digital world, Hummel references the impact of the telephone on the urgent, "A man's home is no longer his castle; it is no longer a place away from urgent tasks because the telephone breaches the walls with imperious demands." The latter part of the sentence could now read, "it is no longer a place away from urgent tasks because cable, satellite, Internet, cell phones, etc. breach the walls with imperious demands."

The urgent is synonymous with the now. It relates to the "What are you doing?" question of Twitter, ostensibly the most egregious of urgency offenders. In the always-on always-connected urgent world, so much time can be spent "keeping up" with new stories, new e-mails, new text messages, and new updates of various types that "keeping up" becomes a task itself. In fact, it teeters on becoming the task of the day; the news of our lives never stops.

But how much is too much? How many times a day should we check e-mail? How many times a day should we allow the phone to interrupt us? How many times a day do we need to find out what our friends are doing? How many times a day should we get the headlines on what's happening in the world?

Keeping up can create a psyche of paralysis. If you don't keep up, you're "missing out on something" but if you do, there's a good chance you aren't getting more substantive or important things done (e.g., work, reading a book, listening to a friend's problems, paying attention to the kids, etc.). The digital urgency problem can reach a climax; it can evolve into an addiction.

It's no wonder that Blackberry's are referred to as Crackberry's or that there are organizations dedicated to Internet recovery. The latest statistics show that people are on social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook three times as much as print or broadcast media sites. Recent surveys by AOL indicate that e-mail users are checking their inboxes around the clock and even in the bathroom due to the mobility of their devices. Your friend's iPhone might be cool but you may want to pass on using it.

The interruption-filled lives so many people are leading have consequences. Many schools and offices block social networking sites in part because of the distraction issue and its implications on productivity. Lawmakers in Arizona and Connecticut are considering banning text messaging while driving for safety concerns. It is increasingly status quo to ignore friends and family while tending to cell phones.

A society dominated by digital interruption, by the urgent, has the potential to be less polite, less focused, less productive, less safe, and arguably less intellectual. That does not disregard the good of digital technology but rather questions how people are deciding to use it. Rudeness, inattention, procrastination, and superficiality are not new problems. Unfortunately, these tendencies are becoming more acceptable because we've been convinced of the importance of our digitally connected lives.

In many recovery programs, one of the first steps to overcoming an addiction is to admit there is a problem, "Hello, my name is Bob and I check my e-mail while on the toilet." That may sound comical but without acknowledging the worship of the urgent, there can be no change. Man must re-build the walls of his digitally infiltrated castle. He must find his place of quiet, of solace, of meditation, and of focus. The important must supersede the urgent once again; it starts with the off switch.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Random Facts

A friend “tagged” me via her blog.

I still haven’t learned how to put links in my blog, but you can find Miriam at, and I hope you will, because she tends to write things worth reading.

Well, here’s what I was told I needed to do:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts. 2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves. 3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules. (**if you’re a non-blogger, you can email them!) 4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. 5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Since doing this in its entirety goes against my discipline of trying to cut out unnecessary activity and to encourage living more life away from the computer, I’m only going to give the eight random facts, and not “tag” anyone else.

1. In elementary and junior high, I loved hurdles and the long jump. I think my record in the long jump was 14’ 6”. I remember being amazed to think I could have my dad lie down and jump over twice his height and then some.

2. Pecans are my second-favorite nut. First place goes to my sister. Haha.

3. A friend and I once relieved ourselves on land that belonged to the Gucci family. We were desperate and didn’t know till later whose land it was. I've always thought we should be able to turn that into some political statement or something, but never have managed to.

4. My favorite place to go in Florence is the church of San Miniato al Monte.

5. It has been almost five years since I was in Italy, and I miss it very much.

6. I love moss. It’s hard for me to walk by it without stopping to “pet” it.

7. I love walking barefoot on grass and do it whenever I discretely can manage it.

8. I’m right now wondering if it’s a good use of time to sit and write random facts about myself, and wondering who but Americans would do such a thing? But I’m stuck at home waiting for the plumber, so it seemed like a good idea.

This picture is from a research project by two University of Memphis researchers using "a model to simulate the procurement of lithic raw material assemblages for paleolithic archaeological sites using a random agent." I liked it because it looks like moss.

I think a lot of the studies on randomness are showing that if you do enough random stuff, you end up with a pattern. So I wonder if anyone sees a pattern in my random ramblings above?

Ah, the plumbers came, and the water appears to be flowing again, so off I go into my normal day. . . .