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Archive for the ‘padua’ Category

Today is her memorial. If you don’t know her story, take a look at B16’s encyclical Spe Salvi – in which the pope uses St. Josephine as his very first example of “hope.” You really can’t find a better brief introduction:

Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.

The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

bakhita5Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.

What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

There is quite a bit of biographical material on St. Josephine Bakhita, including an Italian film that doesn’t look lame, based on the trailer.

Ignatius Press published a translation of an Italian biography called Bakhita: From Slave to Saint. You can read big chunks of it online via a Google Book search. There is quite a bit of interest, including the account of how she came to stay in Italy.

Bakhita, as recounted above, had been kidnapped by Muslim slave traders. After being bought and sold a few times, she was finally purchased – for the purpose of redemption – by an Italian consul. After a time, he took her and another African, a boy, to Genoa. She was taken into the home of one Augusto Michieli, where she eventually became the nanny to Michieli’s daughter. Turina Michieli, wife of Augusto, was a lapsed, probably agnostic Russian Orthodox, so religion was not a part of the family’s life.

It was via a fascinating fellow named Illuminato Chechinni, who managed some Michieli’s land, that Bakhita was exposed to Christianity. There came a point at which the Michielis were going to return to Africa, and so Bakhita and her young charge were housed in an Institute for catechumens in Venice for a time, until final arrangements were made. When those arrangements were, indeed made, and the time came for the whole family to return to Africa…Bakhita refused.

It was quite a tussle, that even came to involve the Patriarch of Venice, and the authorities eventually decided that since slavery was illegal in Italy, Bakhita was not a slave, had always been free since she landed on Italian shores, and was free to do what she liked.

Bakhita had dictated an autobiography to a fellow sister, and this is an excerpt about that time:

Nine months later Mrs. Turina returned to Venice to claim her rights over me. But I refused to follow her back to Africa, since my instruction for baptism had not yet been completed. I also knew that, if I had followed her after receiving baptism, I would not have had the opportunity to practise my new religion. That is why, I thought it better to remain with the Sisters.
She burst out into a fit of anger, calling me ungrateful in forcing her to return to Africa alone, after all she had done for me.
But I was firm in my decision. She had a hundred and one pleas to make, but I would not bend to any one of them. I felt greatly pained at seeing her so upset and angry, because I really loved her.
I am sure the Lord gave me strength at that moment, because He wanted me for Himself alone. Oh. the goodness of God!
The next day Mrs. Turina returned to the Institute, with another lady, and tried again, with even harsher threats to convince me to follow her. But to no avail. The two ladies left the Catechumenate very irritated.
The Superior of the House contacted His Eminence, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice informing him of the delicate situation. The Patriarch referred the matter to the King’s Procurator who replied that, in Italy. slavery was illegal. I was therefore a free person. Mrs. Turina too called on the King’s Procurator, hoping to obtain from him permission to force me to follow her, but she received the same answer.
On the third day, there she was again, at the Institute, accompanied by the same lady and by a brother-in-law who was an officer in the Army. Also present were the His Eminence Domenico Agostini, the Chairman of the Charity Association, the Superior of the Institute and some of the Sisters belonging to the Catechumenate. The Patriarch was the first to speak: a long  discussion ensued, which, fortunately, ended in my favour.
Mrs. Turina was in tears, tears of anger and disappointment. She snatched the child, who was clinging to me, unwilling to part, and forced her to follow her. I was so upset that I could scarcely  utter a word. Finally, I saw them leaving. I was in tears myself.
And yet, I felt happy that had not yielded. It was 29 November 1889.

And so she stayed, was baptized, and eventually became a professed religious, serving her community and the surrounding people in various ways, giving mission talks, serving the wounded during World War II, and eventually dying in 1947 – canonized in 2000.

Today is, appropriately, a day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking. USCCB page here. 

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I’m going to write today about What We Did In The Homeschool, but it’s ironic I’m doing it the morning of M’s first day in a brick-n-mortar school in four years.

I’m a little melancholy, but also hopeful. Meet the teacher day was a success, and my intuitions were confirmed. It was absolutely right that we homeschooled for that “elementary” part of life and quite right – I think – that he’s going back for middle school in this school. The teachers all seem to be working at a level that’s challenging and interesting, but imbued with caritas, as their motto says they should be. Religion will be Old Testament and history is Ancient History, and the material will be integrated in creative ways by a great teacher. Science is in a new, up-to-date lab, taught by a Ph.D (who incidentally taught my daughter in a public school International Baccalaureate program several years ago). Spanish is taught by an experience native speaker. We had good experiences with many of these teachers two years ago with my older son, so that’s no surprise, but I was still concerned that this one’s extraordinarily deep and frankly, unusual for his age – imagination, level of interest in and openness to learning might be constrained in a school environment. I’m not thrilled with presenting “1.5-2 hours of homework a night” as a feature, either,  but I’m hoping that it won’t be the case for M, and if it is…we’ll recalibrate. Life is too short for an 11-year old to spend 7 hours a day at school and then have two hours of homework. But as I tell them both frequently – if it doesn’t work for you, we’ll do something else.

This morning I said to the older one, “Do you have any advice for your brother?”

He shrugged. “You’re going to be hungry and you’re going to be tired.”

#Truthteller

#Tradeoffs

All right, so you’re going to homeschool. What next?

I hear Europe is nice. Let’s go there.

Yes, that’s what we did. Spent the fall of 2012 in Europe.

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Here.

I’m not going to relive that experience and go over it in detail, but I’ll just focus on what that absolutely crazy decision was about in the context of the decision to homeschool.

In short, it really was a way to force my own hand.

If I made us leave the country, there was no way I could, come August 1, change my mind and race back to school, registration forms in hand, begging for them to open the doors.

Yes, I was in a privileged position. But it was a privileged position that came out the fact that my father had died the previous year and I was an only child. Frankly, I would trade my father being not dead at 77 from the effects of 60 years of heavy smoking for that fall in Europe, but it was what it was, and as I contemplated what he would want me to do with part of what he had left behind, I was sure he would be just fine with it. This was something he could give these kids through me and this moment, so it happened.

So we went.

Oh, and I should mention that this time in Europe was also a trial run. I was seriously toying with the idea of moving to Europe for a time. Didn’t know where, but it struck me as another solution to the American-education-is-mostly-terrible dilemma. Before we went, I spent time studying the possibility of life in various mid-sized cities like Turin, for example – looking at homeschool rules, the experiences of American kids going to school in European schools and so on.

Well, that almost-four months cured me of that notion. Not in any dramatic fashion, and not in negative terms, but I simply came to understand that as much as we all like visiting European countries, my kids are American kids, they like living in America, and I like raising them in America. With all the stress of being a little family whose husband and father had died, I saw very clearly that taking us to Europe to live would just be…stupid.

So yes, we were in Europe, doing the Roamschool thing, and here’s what we did:

First, I said from the beginning of this that they would be perfectly free to return to school in January. It was going to be completely up to them. And I wasn’t joking, and I wasn’t playing psychological games. I meant it, they knew it, and the school knew it.

With that in mind, we did some formal “schooling” in Europe, mostly with the curricula that their school used in the basics, so that in case they did return, they would be on track with their classes. That meant the second-grader did his class’s spelling words and math program. The sixth grader did the same, plus the vocabulary book. I have photos of them sitting at tables in a gite in the Pyrenees with their books open, pencils going. I am insufferable and awful. But you know…I meant well. And really, I had no expectations that they would want to keep homeschooling come January – I thought they would be thoroughly sick of me and my constant, insufferable teachable moments, and if so, they wouldn’t want to “be behind.”

Journaling and doing Envision Math in Appy, Montignac and Lausanne. Crazy. Not the journaling part, but…

The rest of the education was absolutely, er,  teachable moment from one day to the next – but I did prepare and I did teach. I even sort of designed the trip to hit the high points in chronological order. We started in the Montignac area where there are a lot of prehistoric sites. Then moved to Provence (with Lourdes in between) where we took in Roman Gaul. Then Paris for a month..well, Paris. Then to Italy. Well, okay, it was all over the place. But it was all very intentional and how can you not learn tons in that context?

And today, I look back, and I think…I did what? I planned four months in Europe with these two and we did it, and every day we did this thing and saw everything…and we lived?

It wasn’t that long ago, but I swear..I can’t imagine undertaking that kind of trip today. It was mostly glorious and amazing and I prayed for my dad – and everyone else – at every shrine.

 

EPSON MFP image

“I have to tell you it has been fun.” Haha.

 

 

As the end approached, the question started coming up.

Well? Do you want to go back to school?

Most of the time while we were over there, the answer was either that they didn’t know or “probably.”

But then we actually got back home, we went to the Homewood Christmas Parade they saw their friends, saw that they would be able to be thick into basketball and scouts with these friends and didn’t need school to see them, then considered the reality of waking up early every morning, putting on uniforms and sitting in classrooms, compared it, not to Europe, but to what I suggested we would be doing – work, sure, but also science center classes, zoo classes, “school” done, if everyone cooperated, by noon every day at the latest….

We’ll stay home. Homeschooling will be fine.

And it was.

Now, I’m not going to go into great detail on our days. If you want to see how crazy that was, you can click on these links, which should take you to most of the posts I wrote on homeschooling over the past few years.

Homeschool Daily Report

Learning Notes.

What I am going to talk about will also be a bit limited because I don’t want to go into too much detail about my kids. There was nothing bad or problematic, but I just don’t think it’s my right to write about the particulars of their personalities in relation to education. That’s their business. But what I’ll try to cover is what we did and how it worked without crossing that line of privacy.

First, what did I envision?

To be honest, I really did envision being far more Unschoolish than we ended up being and I do harbor regrets that I never could pull it off. I had hoped that they really would take charge of their own learning and I would just facilitate, and it would be a glorious, busy little hive of self-directed learning, projects and entrepreneurship, but it didn’t work out that way for reasons having to do with them, and having to do with me.

It’s hard to explain, but I think part of it was that the compliance that school demands had…worked. They were perfectly cooperative with authority to the extent that they – especially the older one who had been in school longer – were in the mode of “Learning is about doing what a teacher tells me to do.” I knew this before we went, and indeed, it was something about him that I had discerned and hoped homeschooling would break. But perhaps it is just his personality. As the years went on, he really just preferred to be taught and get it over with for the day so he could go on with his life – and I never could work the “go on with his life” into some sort of educational path. Eh, it was fine.

And secondly, well, there’s…me. I’m not a control freak,  but you know, there were some things I really thought they should do. Yes, we’ll unschool. We’ll be roamschooling unschoolers!

But you know, you know…you have to know how to write properly. Oh, and you’re not going to get out of homeschooling without some Latin. And this math program is fantastic. Oh, and here are some poems to memorize. Look, Shakespeare!

Yeah, I know some unschoolers, and I admire them. I wish I could claim the mantle, but I just can’t.

I guess I should also mention my own personality and how it worked into the homeschooling paradigm. This might be useful to readers, since this is something you have to consider as you get into this. I’m not a robot. I’m a person with certain characteristics and a particular personality. Forget the kids. How am I going to fit into homeschooling?

I mentioned before that I’m an introvert and that the surge of relief I feel when I’m finally alone is probably felt three houses away. I usually explain it by telling a story:

For a time, a few years ago, one of my older sons was living with us, right after he returned from some time teaching English in Rome and while he was going to graduate school. At the time, the younger ones were in school. The day would dawn. They’d go to school. I’d come back, and my older son would be in his room with the door closed. I’d sit at the my desk, ready to work, but finding it difficult. I’d fidget, find distractions and generally feel not quite settled. A couple of hours later, my up-to-then invisible and silent son would come out of his room. “I’m going to class now, Mom,” he’d say, and he’d leave.

Finally, I’d think. Now I can concentrate.

Pretty crazy, huh? Well, that’s an introvert for you.

So yes, I was going to have to be aware of that – as if I couldn’t be – and take care of myself so that I would, at some point, just lose it because no one ever goes away.

And then there’s the personality thing. I don’t set a whole lot of store by personality inventories, except when I do. Like any of you who have worked in group settings, particularly during the 80’s and 90’s, I had to take various personality tests – Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, etc. They are mostly fantasy, but you know…I actually have always found the Myers-Briggs reasonably predictive of my own personality. I always tested as an INFP, and that introvert/intuitive/perceiver is right on. I like to research my tail off, but I don’t like to plan, and my actions within situations are very reactive – in a good way, I think. I’m ready to go in any direction, and I go in what I perceive the needs of the moment call for instead of imposing my will on the situation.

This means that as a homeschooling parent, there was no way we were going to do a boxed curriculum. It meant that as much as possible, I was going to follow their lead and facilitate – much easier, as I have indicated, with one of then than with the other.

And honestly, what it meant was that I spent a lot of time researching resources of all kinds, often late into the night, seeking out interesting nature and history videos, copywork materials, online math, grammar and language games, places for us to go and information about whatever was the topic of the moment.

My life would have been “easier” if I’d done a boxed curriculum or just depended on textbooks, but that is not why I was homeschooling. At all. And of course, I love researching. I love doing travel research, I love digging up recipes…I’m a library rat, and the Internet is the Biggest Library of All.

At one point, there was an attempt to bring a hybrid Catholic school into the area: kids would be in a school maybe two days a week, I think, then finish up work at home. I love the idea of a hybrid school – it really is my ideal – but every time I would think, “Maybe…” I would look at the curriculum again, and think, What they would be doing that I like…we are already doing at home. And I don’t like some of it. And I would be paying a good chunk of money for it. And we would be constrained in our travel and their other fun classes that they like to do.

So I never signed up for it, and as it turned out, not enough people did in the area, so it didn’t happen.

Homeschoolers are hard to plan for, I tell you. They are an independent lot!

And so that’s how it went for two years for both of them, and then for the younger one alone when the older one went, first to 8th grade in school, and then high school. My goal was to get what I considered basics in every day: a bit of writing practice, math and Latin. Everything else was ad hoc and geared to the moment. If their science center class was on molecules one week, we’d talk about that a lot and do more experiments. If we were going to be seeing a Shakespeare play in a few weeks, we’d be reading that. If it was Lent, we’d be paying attention to that. They took lots of classes in the community, and we traveled in the area quite a bit. “School” took no more than three hours a day.

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Fancy. 

For you see, this is something I had learned from classroom teaching: You can’t teach everything, so just try to teach what you can, and do it well. For example, I taught Church History to high schoolers, and as I would explain it, holding my arms out as far as they could go, “There’s this much history.” Then I would hold my fingers very close together. “And we have time to study this much.”

In other words, I had to constantly tell myself, THEY ARE TWELVE AND NINE YEARS OLD. THEY WILL READ MORE SHAKESPEARE. THEY WILL ENCOUNTER CHEMISTRY AGAIN. THEY MIGHT EVEN TAKE LATIN AGAIN. CALM DOWN.

So what did I want for them?

To develop a lifestyle of looking at the world with open eyes and open minds, learning from every moment, and learning how to understand that world and communicate what they see. I wanted them to see how fluid life is and how our understanding of the world changes through time, and to understand this, as much as possible via the world itself without the mediation of textbook companies and state curricula guidelines and their narrow, shallow, secular viewpoints.  I wanted them to see that the world is beautiful, fascinating, but broken, and to be open to the intuitions within them that are prompting them to contribute to that beauty and heal the brokenness, whether that be as an artist, an engineer, a researcher, a physician, a zookeeper..or who knows what else God is calling them to.

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I took this our first full day in Europe in 2012, and it remains my favorite, expressing everything I hoped for them from that roamschool adventure.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about my favorite resources, and Friday, I’ll wrap up with a big “What I Learned” post, so…#rantingahead

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Today is his feastday! Well, memorial, since we are all more cognizant of these rankings now…

Here is a link to some of his homilies. It’s pdf. 

Then, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(No photos were allowed inside)

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(For part I – go here)

None of this – except the Rome part – is set in stone. All of it – except the Rome part – can change up until the last minute, the reason being that all of the accommodation arrangements are mostly refundable up until the last minute. Except for Rome.

I am using mostly AirBnB to search out places to stay. It’s supplanted VRBO for me for a couple of reasons. First, I like the layout of the site and the search mechanism better, and secondly, the layers of protection against fraud seem stronger at AirBnB. You have to supply a good bit of information to the site in order to be approved to book accommodations, and the owner part is far more transparent than what you find at VRBO.

Why not hotels? Because for three people, which includes two kids, European hotels tend to suck. Anything reasonably priced is going to have far smaller rooms than what we’re used to in even say, a Motel 6. In most places, you can get an apartment with at least one bedroom for less than what you would pay for a hotel, and believe me, by the end of the day, we need space. I need space.

So no, staying in an apartment in Europe is not a luxury choice. Oh yes, this is our Rome apartment. It’s actually the more economical choice if you have a group and if you are staying long term – even a week.  If I were traveling by myself, I would go the B and B & hotel route, not only because I wouldn’t need the space, but also for safety considerations. But with the family? Apartment all the way.

Anyway, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of this post – I’m going to a post later on trip prep. The point was to let you know that as I talk about our “plan” – almost anything I talk about can change to a few days before departure.That’s a freeing thought.

(Except for Rome – the reason being that the owner of that apartment, which I have rented through AirBnB – uses the strictest cancellation policies on the site. So, sure, I could cancel, but I’d have to pay half or all of the cost anyway.)

When traveling like this, I try to minimize movement, and it is always my goal. This trip – I say. This trip we are only going to move..ONCE. Or twice. Okay, three times.

And I almost always fail. In theory I embrace the ideal of Slow Travel – that you gain more from travel by slowing down and digging deep rather than racing around checking boxes off a list. I have found this to be so very true. But when you’re going to a completely new place, the temptation to See All The Things is strong.

The weird thing to consider for me as I began was the complete freedom we had. Yes, we would be flying into Bologna, but there’s absolutely no reason we needed to stay there. Bologna is one of the major train hubs in Italy. We could have landed and jumped on a train to anywhere – Puglia or Calabria in southern Italy, which I’ve always wanted to see…we could hop across to Croatia. Liguria and Genoa. Naples. I admit that I even looked up airfare to Athens for my mythology-crazy kid. I mean, not for him to go alone, but for all of us. I was initially tempted by the crazy low RyanAir fares, but then got realistic about that scam and just generally settled down and re-embraced those Slow Travel ideals I claim are so important to me.

Slow-ish.

So yes, I said to myself – you’re flying into Bologna. That’s the fare you grabbed. There’s a reason. Just stay there. It’s meant to be.

Originally, that was exactly the plan – stay in one place in Bologna for a week, the train down to Rome for a few days, then to Tuscany Things.

But wait. Ferrara has a Palio.

A palio is an athletic competion – usually races – deeply rooted in history, between neighborhoods in a city. The most famous palio is in Siena. It is held twice during the summer, and is quite the thing, with horses racing around the piazza.

What I discovered is that Siena’s is not the only palio. Other Italian cities have them, including Ferrara, with celebrations starting in the beginning of May and culminating in the race itself, which is held on May 29 this year. When we would be in the area.

Okay. This might change things. I started poking around, and encountered some advice which indicated…you know, Ferrara is a really nice, smaller city, and perhaps that could be your base for the week.

Well, that ate up a few days of my life, trying to sort that question out, and here’s where I came down:

  • Arriving  from the US, I didn’t want to have to travel far to our accommodation. I wanted to land, grab a taxi, and be there. Staying in Ferrara the entire week would mean adding another leg – albeit a relatively short one – to that journey. Given that our flight is not getting in until very late afternoon – I think it’s around 5, in fact – that wasn’t attractive.
  • Oh, well just spend the first night in Bologna, then move? Not what I want to do either – be exhausted from travel, and then have to pick up and move the next morning.
  • Any food tour that we would do starts in Parma, which is a 40 minute or so train ride from Bologna, but more like 90 minutes (connecting in Bologna) from Ferrara. The food tours start early, because the Parmesan cheese production takes place in the morning. So..if we stayed in Ferrara and did a Parma-centered food tour, I’d be rousing everyone at 6 or so and stressing about getting to Bologna, then to Parma….nope.
  • If we wanted to check out Florence briefly before the longer time in Tuscany, it’s a 30-minute train ride from Bologna. We could even just pop over there for an evening.
  • But..in Ferrara’s favor, it’s closer to Ravenna, which is a must-see, and Commachio – which is not a must-see, but of interest.
  • Ferrara is also a smaller city – and if I have discovered anything about myself on my very limited European travels, it is that I love these mid-sized European cities that have a medieval or Renaissance core. There is a deep sense of community and history as well as a lovely way of life and a casual, easy and authentic level of culture and sophistication that is quite lovely to be a part of, even for a few days. Padova (Padua), for example, was my favorite place in our big trip of 2012. I could live there. Seriously.
  • Also in Ferrara’s favor is, of course, the palio and being actually in the city for the days running up to the race and being right there for it.

So as much as I would have liked to spend a solid week in one place without moving, I decided that we’d split the week between Bologna and Ferrara. The boys aren’t little anymore, and moving is not that much of a hassle at all – and they do actually enjoy the adventure of seeing a new apartment – they always find something to intrigue them.

So…Ferrara it is. While there, we will go to Ravenna for a full day and take in the mosaics – I might hire a guide for that. I think it would be worth it, especially for the boys. It will be far more fruitful time than me with a guidebook standing there trying to point out things I’m not even sure I see. I’d like to go to Commachio and see the town, built on canals and into the sea, sort of like Venice…sort of, and I’m intrigued by a place whose fishing economy is built on eels. Not tempted to try them, though. No shame.

But in general, I would like to just enjoy Ferrara read more about the city here – and the festivities, rent bikes, ride in the city and around the city walls and perhaps outside into the countryside, and just…stroll.

**

Thank you for reading to the end!

This process is an obviously absorbing one to me. In planning a trip like this, I am balancing my interest with the boys’, trying to figure out how to see things in a way that is not rushed, but takes in, as much as possible, a way of life and makes plenty of room for the unexpected.

It reflects an approach to life , in general. We balance the needs and desires of different people, we plan a bit, but we leave space and are open to encountering whatever enters that space.

There is so much to see, but only so much time to see, and only so much we can absorb. Have you ever had museum fatigue? Where your initial interest in the paintings and sculpture flags as you walk through gallery after gallery and all the Madonnas start looking the same? That’s what I try to avoid in a more general sense. You can’t see everything and trying to do so is just exhausting. You have “seen” a lot, but hardly actually seen anything.

For, truth be told, the most memorable moments of our travels have been the slowest ones. They’ve occurred sitting in piazzas, eating and drinking and interacting with the people who live there, the boys joining in a soccer game, halting conversations about common experiences in two different languages. They’ve occurred in the unexpected corners, the places we hadn’t planned to go but somehow ended up finding.

It’s my approach to life. Get your bearings. Have some general goals, a few things you’d like to achieve during the day, but be open, because you never know what will happen, and most of the time the unexpected will be what you remember, and at every step, planned or unplanned, God waits.

In a way,the hours I dedicate to researching these trips seems to belie my philosophy of openness. But it really doesn’t. I don’t take this time in order to map out an hour-by-hour itinerary. We don’t do that. That is not my style of life , much less travel.  No..I think I just want to be aware of as many of the possibilities as I can, so when the moment comes, I’ll be able to point us in a direction that we all can enjoy and learn from…while leaving plenty of space for whatever else would like to be part of our life that day to enter and show us something new.

(For all Italy 2016 trip posts, go here)

 

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Many thanks to Lisa Hendey for the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects: travel.  You can read the interview here.

There was a question in the interview that I didn’t answer over there:

Have you ever had any travel “disasters?”

I told Lisa that yes, there was something, and it was an incident I’d been intending to blog about since it happened, but I kept forgetting, and then waiting for the right opportunity again, and then forgetting…but now’s my chance!

So..yes.  There has been one real disaster – only one so far, and while what happened wasn’t as bad as being stranded in an airport for three days or suffering an accident or serious illness far from home, it was traumatic enough. And potentially far worse than it was.

So, yes, it was actually one of the worst moments..of..my life. Second worst, I’d say. Yup. That bad. So here you go….

"amy welborn"

In the Pyrenees

Two and a half years ago, the boys and I had the amazing experience of spending three months in Europe.  If you were reading me back then you know that the course of our journey took us to France for two months – we spend most of September in western France, around Montignac, in Lourdes and then Provence, and then October was Paris.

We left Paris in early November, the plan being to spend most of that month in Italy, and then heading back home after Thanksgiving.

"amy welborn"

Doing what they do – run – in Lausanne. In front of the Olympic Museum (which was closed)

After a few days in Lausanne, Switzerland (the only place in Europe I experienced sticker shock – expensive!) , we took the train to Padua, which was the first stage of the Italian segment.  Padua for almost a week, then Assisi for a few days, then finally Rome for two weeks.

It was to be an all-day train ride from Lausanne to Padua, via Milan.  There were several stops, the longest being Milan.

It was a lovely trip, first through the Alps, then to northern Italy, and onto Padua.  We looked out the windows, ate snacks, read, and some of us were probably praying our mother never hauled us to Europe during (American) football season again.

And…here we go!  Padua!  St. Anthony, here we come!

I should mention that of course, we were traveling with all of our luggage.  I’m committed to packing light, and  I had already sent some of our stuff back to the States with a friend from Birmingham who had spent a week with us in Paris, but still…we each had a suitcase, plus a backpack.  And remember, the boys were two years younger then – Michael was seven and Joseph, twelve.  My point being that getting these suitcases in and out of trains without letting gravity pull an overloaded child determined that I CAN DO IT MYSELF under the tracks was…a challenge that required speed, negotiation skills, and balance.

As we pulled into the station, I knew that we would only have a couple of minutes, since trains don’t spend much time at all on these stops. I also didn’t want anyone – especially Michael – to take a tumble as they struggled with luggage.

So I told them, as we gathered near the door, that what I wanted them to do was get off, stand on the platform and take the suitcases as I handed them down to them. Sounds good.

The train stopped.  The door slid open.  The boys got out. I handed one suitcase down.  Check.  I reached for the other.

The doors shut.

There was some sort of green button next to the door.  I pushed it.  Then punched it.

The train started to move.

I punched and started shouting. I tried to will the doors back open.

The train sped up.  As trains do.

And the last thing I saw as we slipped away, doors shut tight, was Joseph on the platform, arms outstretched, trying to run but being held back by someone, crying out, “MOM!”

Even now, thinking about that moment, tears come to my eyes, even though I (and you) know it all turned out fine.

But at that moment, I was as frantic and panicked as I’d ever been in my life.  I raced up and down the train cars, looking for someone – anyone who was in a uniform.  Finally, I found one, but he spoke no English, and neither did his colleague, but it didn’t take long for him to grasp my point:  Bambini – in Padua!

What to do?

The next stop was Mestre, the first Venice station, and so of course, what I would do is just get off (with the damn suitcases), and find a train right back.  I was confident that the boys knew what to do – to stay put, because we had talked about it often in Paris in relation to the Metro, which could be crazy crowded, with plenty of times we were squeezed on at the last minute before the doors shut.

What do you do if you all get on the train, and I don’t?

We get off at the next stop and wait for you.

What do you do if I get on the train, but you get left behind?

We stay where we are and wait for you.

So I knew they’d stay there. Well, that’s comforting. They’ll stay! In Padua! Italy! By themselves!

Finally – finally  – the train employee reached the Padua station by telephone and ascertained that the boys were safe – they had been taken to the police office at the train station and would, of course, wait until my return.

As I said, it was a barely-thirty minute ride to Venice, but those were certainly the longest thirty minutes of my life.  Our trip had gone so well, and had been such a rich experience, but now, every doubt I’d had about me taking these two kids to Europe by myself returned and echoed with added embellishments of guilt about my  carelessness.

As we pulled into Mestre, an older man who, with his wife, had boarded in Milan and had been seated across from us and seen all of it happen, approached  and offered to help me find the return train to Padua.  So grateful, of course I said yes, and together, we pulled those two remaining suitcases out of the train and found the platform for a Padua train that would, thank goodness, be coming in only a matter of minutes.  We got to that platform, I thanked him profusely, but before he left, he glanced around, found a woman of about my age, and explained to her (in Italian) what had happened.  All I could understand was bambini and his dramatic re-enactment of “Mama! Mama!” But that was enough, and he handed me over.

Another excruciating thirty minutes, attempting to converse with the sweet woman who’d been appointed my guardian, when finally I was back in Padua.  Off the train, to the police offices…and there they were.  Mi bambini.

Oh, my.

I am so, so sorry.  So, so sorry. 

The officers were quite kind as they took my information and made copies of our passports.  The boys said that some bystanders had been under the impression that they were supposed to be going to Venice and asked if they wanted to take the next train, but they knew better, and said, “No, our Mom will be coming back. We know it.”

As we got the taxi to our apartment, Michael – who was naturally far more frightened by the experience than Joseph – muttered, “I’m never riding a train again.”

I told him, as nicely as I could that I totally understood, but we certainly weren’t going to be walking to Assisi, and the whole thing was totally my fault and it wasn’t going to happen again.  I promise. I’d learned my lesson, and from now on, we’d do as I finally woke up and observed the Europeans doing – crowding at the train door, luggage in hand, ready to jump out as soon as they open, and not taking any time to gather anything, because there isn’t.  Time.

"amy welborn"

The street in Padua where our apartment was located.

We finally got to our apartment, after I’d called the owner from the police offices to tell her that we would be late meeting her.  As we settled in and I told the owner the story of why we were late, she gasped and shook her head and murmured at intervals, “Mama Mia.. Mama Mia.” And I remember thinking amid the remnants of my breathless panic, Huh. They really do say that.

Sometimes I think back on that horrid hour of our lives and think, It really wasn’t that bad.  They were immediately taken care of by the authorities.  It was fine. 

But then I think again…what if someone evil had been there and taken advantage of the situation, and offered…

And I can’t think anymore.  It’s too terrible. I can’t fool myself.  It could have been much, much worse, and thank God and Saint Anthony and all the good people there that it wasn’t.

Coda:

A few days later, we were leaving Padua. Michael had accepted the facts of life and was okay with the train – considering he’d ridden it twice to Venice during our week, that wasn’t surprising.

But our departure and final visit to the Padua station wasn’t drama-free, either.

As we were checking out that day, a big protest parade marched passed our apartment.  The owner shrugged and said, "amy welborn"“Students.  We protested back in our day, now they do.” No big deal.

Right?

Well, it turned out to be sort of a big deal.  The protests built as our taxi made its way to the station, and by the time we arrived it was a mess, for the plaza in front of the station was the final destination of the protest, the police had gathered and the students were approaching.  They’d closed off the front of the station. I looked at the driver, he shrugged helplessly, and so we got out anyway.  With, of course, our suitcases.

A bystander warned us that we should probably get away – “The students are going to start running, probably, and there will be tear gas,” he said.

(There were, in fact, injuries.  The protests were one of the many anti-austerity protests around Europe that fall.  As this news article relates, there were two policeman injured by firecrackers – which we heard.)

But we couldn’t enter the station….the doors were locked, and the police stood guard…or could we?

I watched to see what other people were doing, and it seemed pretty clear to me that there must be a back entrance, for I saw a steady stream heading down a side street away and back towards the station.  I have to wonder why our taxi driver didn’t just  take us there for indeed, as we found out after a ten minute walk, there was a back entrance, and it was open and inside, everything was quiet and calm.

Almost there. Almost.

I set the boys at a table at the doorway of a grocery store in the station and I dashed in to get snacks and drinks.  When I returned five minutes later, their eyes were wide with excitement.

“Mom! We saw someone GET ARRESTED! And it was the same police lady who helped us the other day!”

Ciao, Padua!

"st. Anthony" Padua

Shrine of St. Anthony, Padua

"amy welborn"

Seriously – loved Padua, despite a rough beginning and weird end.

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