Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Venice in the Rain

Well, yesterday I did spend a few hours in Venice, and it did rain.

But my main message for now is that I am about to go to Croatia and will spend a week in a house with no computer (gasp! yes, there are such houses!), and then I will be pretty occupied with the conference and travel.

So this is likely my last posting for a couple of weeks.

When I get back home, I will be able to put up photos, so that will be nicer, anyway.

Cujemo se kasnije. (I'll let you look that one up. Hint: It's not Italian.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

P.S. to Paris

Well, Paris was a paradox, in a way.

It was my first time in France (except to be in the Paris airport once long ago), so everything was new. And I don't speak the language, other than enough to be polite and to explain that I don't speak the language. Of course I can read a lot of it, which helped, but essentially I was in a truly foreign land for the first time in many years. It made me realize how "at home" I do feel in Italy and Croatia, where I have lived and travelled a lot.

So Paris was very new to me.

It also served as a connector to the old and familiar. My hostess and I spent many hours talking, and realized that we had many people in common. I found myself in the company of people I had not thought about in a long time but who were very much a part of my life.

And I reconnected with an old friend from twenty years ago.

Another friend from twenty-one years ago was going to meet me there, but it didn't work out.

And the reason it didn't work out is that my sister joined me in Paris. Her flight was postponed by a day, though, thanks to "tornadic activity" (I find that a ridiculous adjective and overall term, not sure why) in the part of America she was taking off from. So it just wouldn't work out for the other friend to come.

So, when Lisa arrived at the airport, we had only a few hours to "see Paris." With her suitcases in tow, we walked from St. Severin to Notre Dame, through the Louvre and the Jardin de Tou-bad-I-haven't-yet-learned-this-name, peeked across the Seine at the Musee d'Orsay, and then got on the metropolitain to go home to Colette and lunch, a nap, and taking off for another night train.

Paris was where I saw new places I'd read about but never seen. And it is where I hugged my sister. And ate trail bars that our dad had made and sent over.

It was a lovely mixture of seeing new things and finding old friends.

And as we left on the train, we saw a huge double rainbow over the beautiful green fields. I couldn't help but wonder what it might mean? It was a beautiful adieu.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I took a night train from Florence to Paris. The train ride itself was quite the adventure. The porter (?) conductor (?) chided me for not having my door locked, and I explained the the door would not lock. He said, in Italian of course, "We need a cord or something to tie it with...." and looked at me as if I might provide the needed ingredient. I told him I had not thought of such a thing when packing.

He left as if a lightbulb had gone off in his head and returned a few minutes later with a strip of torn sheet! He tried it out for size, decided it was a good fit, left again and returned with two more. He instructed me to wait a half hour, and if he had not brought two more women into the compartment by then, to go ahead and "lock" it with these three strips of bedding.

Which I did. The other women either didn't show up, or he put them in another compartment. In any case, I was alone all night. But didn't sleep much, and had to untie three strips of sheet the four or five times I had to go to the WC that night...I think knowing I wasn't securely locked in turned on my alarm system internally, or something!

By the time I arrived in Paris I was exhausted and dizzy. I was so happy to see Colette, my hostess, at the station.

My main reason for going to Paris was to spend time with Colette, who has a long-term relationship with my church. It was wonderful getting to know her and see a bit of her life and learn more about things there.

And there was some time for visiting the city, also.

My favorite part of Paris was a little church, St. Severin. I found it by accident and wound up returning to it more than once. It was quiet. It was fairly small. It had a lovely little garden outside with tulips, daffodils, and benches. In fact, I found the garden before I found the church, needing a place to eat the sandwich I had packed and brought with me.

But then I realized I was sitting next to a church and went inside. It provided such a respite from the noise of the metro, the rush of the streets, the distraction of the myriad eating places around the Latin Quarter. And it was not full of tourists. I sat next to a big pillar so that I was, I hoped, not noticeable, and actually prayed in this little church.

I say it that way because so many churches in Italy and other parts of Europe feel more like museums/gift shops than churches. In Assisi this really got to me. But St. Severin was blessedly empty, and by the posters and things I saw on the bulletin boards it felt like a church that was active as a church, which made me happy.

Paris is much larger than I realized. Much larger.

My main memories of Paris will probably by St. Severin, walking in the Bois du Boulogne (sp?), staying in Colette's house next to a small conservatory where Marcel Dupres used to teach, and lugging suitcases up and down the stairs of the metro stations.

Maybe I'll write more later about Paris. It's late now. Bon nuit.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

La Toscana

After Assisi, I took the train up to bella Firenze (Florence.) A sweet girl named Sarah met me at the station. Memories gushed up of my very first time arriving at that station, as a student in 1987.

By the way, I brought with me on this trip the coat that my grandmother gave me for that first trip back in '87.

Sarah took me by bus to the church building, where I spoke with a small women's group about prayer and meditation. It was an interesting group in that three of us were American, one from Brazil (i think), one from Albania, and one from California. (Yes, that's a joke.) Italian was the common language, so that's what we used, so it was just kind of funny since none were actually Italian.

Afterward, Julie took me to Le Bagnese, the neighborhood where I used to live, to the home of our friends Tosca and Paolo Chesi. It was wonderful to see them after more than five years of being away. We had a delicious dinner and stayed up till almost midnight talking!

On Sunday afternoon, they took me out to their house in the country, in the little village where Paolo grew up, Strove. It was captivating, and I was captivated. We went for a walk into the fields, and I wondered how I manage to survive living in Memphis! Tuscany is just hill after hill after hill, gentle and beautiful and unending. The green is that achingly vivid green of spring that makes me feel as if my heart might burst if I look at it for too long. It's just so very alive. The sun and clouds were doing their best to overwhelm us with their beauty, too, with each ray shining down clear and separate, so that it hardly seemed real. I wish I could post my photos and will have to later.

We saw two little animals that are something between a goat and a deer, I'm not sure what they are, feeding in a meadow not far from us.

Farther away in the hills was Monteriggioni, with towers all around. It's a bit like San Gimignano in that it has survived into this day and age and still looks like it did in the medioeval period.. I can't remember how to spell that in English. We're probably going to visit there on Monday.

We drove home through the Chianti region, with hill after hill covered in grapevines. Tosca told me that each row has a rosebush planted at the end, which I did not know. It's a Chianti tradition, perhaps adding something to the taste of the wine. Or perhaps not, but a lovely tradition, i think.

The sun was a perfect ball of pink as we drove, and I probably damaged my eyes turning to look at it. It set just as we pulled over to a "belvedere," a scenic point from which you could see for miles and miles. Had it not been so foggy, we could have seen the lights of Florence from there, even.

I cannot imagine a more perfect day. I cannot imagine that they get to see the beauty every weekend! I'm having a hard time imagining going back to flat Memphis and my windowless office, though there is beauty even there of a different sort.


O mamma mia, have I said already that I love italy?

How can I possibly keep up on this blog with my meanderings? I don't really want to spend time at a computer, but I know if I don't write as I go, it will be impossible to write it all later.

After Napoli, I went to Assisi. I had been twice before for short day visits, but this time I got to spend two nights and therefore have more time to be in the city without worrying about missing a train.

I went to San Damiano, the church where Francis first felt called to rebuild the church. The little bitty church that he sat in there, and that he literally rebuilt, is there, and has been built all around so that it is now a larger complex, partly still in use by the Franciscan monks, and partly preserved for people to see.

It's always moving to be there and to think how this man had the courage to do what he did, and that something that started in this small church out in the country has reached throughout the world and lasted so many centuries.

And it's just beautiful out there, and so peaceful.....I will try to put photos on once I get back home. The olive groves are just lovely, with olive trees so old you can hardly believe they are still producing.

I was happy to be able to go into an alimentari, grocery store, and have a sandwich made for less than 2 euros. With the exchange rate as it is, things are very expensive here, and i am saving as much as possible on food! (Because of course I had to have money to buy a sweet littlel blue and white plate....)

In the afternoon I went against common advice and walked out to the Ermo delle Carceri, literally the Hermitage of the Prisoners. Not sure why it's called that. But it's the place where Francis and friends used to go for extended periods of prayer.

It was about a 5k walk, so that was fine with me. I was told that it was all "in salita," i.e., uphill. I didn't realize that the woman should have said up a mountain! It was quite a steep hike! I was so tired by the time I got there, I didn't know how I would make it back down.

As it happened, I arrived at the beginning of a tour by an American group, and I joined them. They were not regular tourists, though, and it was lovely to hear the "tour guide," a Franciscan priest, give historical information, and then to be there as the group sang songs together, or prayed prayers. We spent a half hour in silence, so everyone could just walk the woods and simply be.

And these lovely people gave me a ride home in their taxi, without charge. I was so very thankful.

The next morning I went to the church of Santa Chiara. It was so flooded with tourists, though, that I just couldn't stay there. I walked around and found another church, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which apparently used to be the cathedral of Assisi, before these other huge churches were built. It was small and simple, and for quite some time I was the only person in it. That was very peaceful. I sang a little bit, just to enjoy the acoustics of an empty stone church. Below the church is an old Roman home. Well, the ruins of an old Roman home. Very old and very interesting.

Assisi is a fascinating place to me, beautiful and full of history that made a difference....for good.

While there I remembered that without realizing it (because I knew almost nothing about Francis of Assisi at the time), I chose for our wedding a hymn based on the Canticle of the Creatures, a setting of a prayer often attributed to Francis or to a Franciscan (Lord, Make Me an Instrument), and another song by John Michael Talbot, who was a Franciscan oblate at the time he wrote the piece. I knew none of this when I chose the pieces....

And if anyone's interested, a good book to read is The Reluctant Saint, by Donald Spoto.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


My friend told me today that some author has said that Napoli is like a beautiful woman with stinky feet.

Until this trip, I knew only about the stinky feet. The poverty and crime of this city are well known throughout Italy. Right now the city is literally stinky because for over two years the Camorra, the local Mafia, have made it such that the garbage services do not function for the city. It's crazy.

But today I got to see the beautiful woman.

We drove around much of the bay. You can see Vesuvius, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia, and of course the blue sea all around. I did not realize how much of Napoli is surrounded by water.

We went to Pozzuoli (Puteoli), which is the port that the apostle Paul sailed into when he spent a week with the church here before going on to Rome.

We went by an old Roman amphitheater (closed), and a site where they found tons of ruins under the city built on top of them. They have closed that part off and opened the underground part. Unfortunately it was closed today, too! But still neat to see the buildings built atop the ruins and imagine what was below.

We went to the castle of Baia, built just three years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It houses some ancient ruins. Part of a temple was found underwater in the 50s and has been/is being excavated and preserved in this castle. Part of the bay is clearly marked off by red buoys, indicating where the remaining ruins are, and they continue to bring things up from the water.

Our last stop was Cuma, said to be the oldest European city. I loved it. It's up high, with lots of trees, and just fascinating to see all the ruins.

In all these places I was mostly talking with my friend Jennifer, not concentrating on learning dates and history, so I'm not even trying to tell you that much about the places.

What an interesting day, though, to look at statues and mosaics made before Christ was born, then to sit in the sun in a 4th century baptistery out in the open and talk and pray with Jennifer....and then to buy a popsicle on the way out! And it was so funny. I told the man I wanted strawberry. "Va bene." (Okay.) Jennifer asked if they had cherry. "Si, tanto sono lo stesso." (Yes, they're the same.)

They were selling red popsicles whether you asked for strawberry or cherry! They're both red, right? This is Napoli.

Tonight we're going to watch the boys place soccer, and tomorrow I think we're going to try to get to the amphitheater, which is supposed to be open, according to the sign we saw.

This being Napoli, though, there's no telling.

But with the blue sea, the islands all around, the wildflowers everywhere (truly wild, they seem to have no highway maintenance here), the maritime pines (which inspired Respighi's Pines of Rome), and the blue sky today, she is a beautiful woman.