Sunday, June 15, 2008

Strove photos

Here is what I wrote at the time, posted earlier and repeated here in case you didn't read it:

Afterward, Julie took me to Le Bagnese, the neighborhood where I used to live, to the home of our friends Tosca and Paolo. 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 (pronounced STRO-VEH--just in case you're thinking of the English past tense of strive.) 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.

And here are the photos, with comments below each:

Taken as we walked around their little house, just after arriving.

The view in another direction, and not looking directly into the sun.

Paolo and son Riccardo and the rosebush they just planted. (Riccardo lives in the area and has a landscaping business, so he was just the one to help out.)

My wonderful friend Tosca and me on their little balcony.

The lovely couple agreed to pause for a photo during our rambling walk into the countryside. (This was not long before we saw the deer.)

A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Today I heard most of a report on NPR about how cows in India have been mysteriously dying in unexpectedly large numbers.

These are cows living in the big cities, and because they are considered sacred, they are allowed to roam wherever they wish, apparently. Which means they eat what they wish as they roam.

It's very sad. It has been discovered, via autopsies, that these cows have plastic bags inside them. One had between 50 and 60 plastic bags in its digestive system. And this, understandably, kills a creature whose system was never designed to eat plastic.

Of course the cows don't set out to eat plastic. They find food, but too often it is wrapped in plastic, and it all goes in. They don't know that the plastic will kill them.

Bear with me while I make a leap. As I was listening to this odd report, I thought of John Michael Talbot talking about knowing Janice Joplin. And how, to him, she seemed like a kind woman who was desperately hungry for love. So she looked for love everywhere, and she would sleep with anyone for whatever love she might get (or think she was getting) from the person.

And she wound up dying from all the artificial "love" she got, and the lifestyle and the despair it led her to.

And I think how all of us are hungry--for love, for respect, for friendship, for meaning, I would say ultimately we are hungry for God, whether we know that or not--and we so often wind up swallowing things we were never meant to eat. And they kill us, or make us very sick.

It isn't just cows in India that get plastic poisoning. We all have a tendency to take in a lot of artificial "food" in our attempt to find real sustenance. Or maybe we even settle for the fake stuff and give up trying to find the real stuff. I know I have. I hesitate to even write about this, because I don't know if I have the authenticity to talk about it.

But I have the desire to not be artificial, and to not settle for artificial. And that's at least a starting place.

(And I would encourage everyone to stop using plastic bags! They have great reusable bags available now. Let's use them, and see if we might eventually stop this craziness of plastic bags floating all over the place!)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fire at Little Portion Hermitage

I am in shock. Before going to bed, I thought I'd just check a blog I read, that I hadn't checked in a while, and there was a link to a Joni Mitchell video on YouTube. I listened to a couple of her beautiful songs. Something (her music? her name? I don't know) made me think of John Michael Talbot, and I thought I'd see if he had anything on YouTube.

And I looked, and found a video of him describing a fire that burned down the chapel and common building of his community. This was not what I was expecting! It happened while I was away, and I had no idea. Of all things, I just put a check to them in my mailbox today. (I'm going to take it out and rewrite the note and send a bigger check....)

This chapel--well, what happened in this chapel--changed my life. One of the dearest mental images I have is of the interior of this chapel, because of what happened to my heart there.

And in August I'm going there for a retreat with John Michael, called "The Fire of God."

It's so strange.

This community blesses so many people. They have helped many people rebuild their lives. If you want to join in helping them rebuild, you can see how at

And even in this, they are sharing faith and trust. Please copy and paste the following and watch the video. I think you will find it inspiring, in a sad way. I'm sorry I can't do links, but this is worth the extra five seconds it will take you. And once you get to the webpage, there is another video of John Michael talking about the fire and how things have been going, what they plan to do.

Below are some photos from our visit there about three years ago. Every structure you see in these photos is now ashes. They lost their kitchen, dining room, library, recordings, photo albums, archives....and the beautiful chapel.

All the people and animals, and even the gardens, are okay. It was all the wood that burned before the fire fighters could get there....

Please pray for them.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Assisi photos

The train station at Assisi has its main signs in this medieval-looking style. It makes me feel like maybe I really am going back in time. Or at least makes it easier to imagine.

I went to Assisi to rest and pray after being around people and talking so much. I stayed two nights with the Suore Svedesi, the Swedish Sisters. Here is my little bitty room...

...which didn't seem so little when I looked out the window.

My first destination, the church of San Damiano. You can see the outlines of the original church (the round window was in the center), which was added on to. If you enlarge, you can also see snow on the mountains just where the bell is hanging. That snow was the talk of the town all day long.

How old must these olive trees be? I was facinated by the disintegrating trunks, still carefully pruned and bearing olives surrounded by those misty grey leaves.

A field between San Damiano and the city. You can see the snow again here if you enlarge.

Scenes along my long....long....long walk. Chickens tend to look the same everywhere, but these flowers, which are the same as in the earlier photo, I had not seen before. (You have to enlarge the photo to see them, beautiful little intense blue flowers.)

The Rocca Maggiore (main fortress) seen (top photo) from one of the highest streets in the city, and then from along the road as I walked up Monte Subiaso to the Eremo delle Carceri.

The priest who led the group that I encountered, a very dear man--made dearer to me by his letting me ride down to the city with his group.

The trees seemed to dance. This is the wooded area around the caves where Francis and his friends used to go to pray.

You can see here how the hermitage, chapel, and other outcroppings have been built right into the side of the mountain.

One of my last views as we left the hermitage.

After my hike, I slept so well that I woke up early enough to glimpse this beauty outside my window.

I took this one just because it's such a rare sight where I live. A group of nuns sightseeing are themselves a sight for me to see.

The flying buttresses of the church of Santa Chiara. (Do they count as flying if they are grounded on one end? I never studied this...)

If you enlarge this photo, you can see little yellow flowers growing atop the buttresses.

Since I don't know how to insert links into my blog, I'm copying the text of what I wrote about Assisi earlier, if you want to read it and make more sense of the pictures:

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 little blue and white plate....)

In the afternoon I went against common advice and walked out to the Eremo 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, June 03, 2008

Napoli (with photos)

I never can decide whether it's better to describe photos above or below the photo. Input is welcome on that issue. Please comment if you find it making any difference.

I think I've been writing under the photos, so I'll continue that unless you all change my mind.

Napoli (I just can't say "Naples..." it sounds so ugly...) was wonderful for many reasons. The coffee was certainly high on the list! I didn't know until this trip that in Napoli, coffee actually comes sweetened unless you ask for it straight/bitter/unsweetened/whatever I should say in English.

And this is the only city in Italy where every cappuccino I drank came decorated!

As in much of Italy, ruins are everywhere. This place was interesting because it often ends up under water due to the tide. It is known as the Temple of Serapides, though archaeological/historical research has figured out that it actually never was a temple, but a meat market. (Don't quote me on this, but that is what I was told.)

This inscription is the passage from Acts that tells of the apostle Paul coming to Puteoli (Pozzuoli) and staying for a week on his way to Rome. This is in the Napoli "metropolis."

Ah, papaveri! Poppies are joy in flower form, are they not? These were near the Castello di Baia that I visited with my dear friend Jennifer.

And here is that dear friend Jennifer. (And Vesuvius in the background, if I remember correctly.) We worked together in Florence many years ago, both married "foreigners," and treasure our friendship.

Sunset out the window of my bedroom for the time I was there. As I wrote in my earlier post on Napoli, it was a lovely time and gave me a very new perspective on this many-faceted city.