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(Follow me on Instagram & Snapchat – amywelborn2 –  to get timely updates. I have no-extra cost data overseas, so….yeah.)

Okay, the last we met, it was early afternoon Bologna time on Monday, and now it’s about 10pm Tuesday Bologna time. I feel as if I have been here forever. (In a good way)

My older son had a more difficult time adjusting to the time difference and toil of travel this time, and ended up sleeping most of the day on Monday.  After I returned from my morning walk, the younger son and I went out, returned, saw the brother was still out, and went back again…and then finally around 4, went out to wander one last time with the now rested brother.

It actually was good because I really got my bearings that way and could plot out an efficient day today.

First, even though Bologna is not so much on the American tourist route, there are a lot of tourists here – other Italians, French, and lots of Brits. It’s a busy, busy city with an interesting vibe – probably even more so over around the university, and I’ve enjoyed the time.

So today, I got up first, of course, and walked back down to Piazza Maggiore, where I shot a little video. 

The big church is the Basilica of St. Petronius, an early bishop of Bologna and the city’s patron saint. Obviously, the marble facade was never finished. The interior is huge and expansive – it was hoped to be larger than St. Peter’s in Rome, but the Pope squashed that notion. The interior is not terribly interesting except for its size – there are a few pieces of artwork I took note of – an enormous fresco of St. Christopher, for example – and I think the most prized fresco set was roped off and is only open to special tours or something. It was odd.

I found some really wonderful croissants at this bakery. Most Italian croissants that you find in a typical corner bakery are not so great. Obviously mass-produced, dry and too sweet for my taste, they are not a favorite. But these were lovely, baked out of some sort of (probably) organic/natural/Slow Food ethos. As good as you would find in France. And cheaper than anything you find in America – 6 Euros for five exceptional pastries.

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Once everyone was up and fed we got out the door and took the bus down to find the Corpus Domini convent. It is where St. Catherine of Bologna’s body is on display for reverencing. Yes, her whole body, sitting up. The story of why is here. And while the nature of her final earthly resting place seems weird and grotesque to some, her life story is anything but. A fascinating woman, born into wealth and privilege, she sacrificed it all to become a Poor Clare and left some very sound spiritual advice. You can read what Benedict XVI said about her, including that advice here.

In her autobiographical and didactic treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons, Catherine offers in this regard teaching of deep wisdom and profound discernment. She speaks in the third person in reporting the extraordinary graces which the Lord gives to her and in the first person in confessing her sins. From her writing transpires the purity of her faith in God, her profound humility, the simplicity of her heart, her missionary zeal, her passion for the salvation of souls. She identifies seven weapons in the fight against evil, against the devil:

1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!

In the convent Catherine, in spite of being accustomed to the court in Ferrara, served in the offices of laundress, dressmaker and breadmaker and even looked after the animals. She did everything, even the lowliest tasks, with love and ready obedience, offering her sisters a luminous witness. Indeed she saw disobedience as that spiritual pride which destroys every other virtue. Out of obedience she accepted the office of novice mistress, although she considered herself unfit for this office, and God continued to inspire her with his presence and his gifts: in fact she proved to be a wise and appreciated mistress.

Later the service of the parlour was entrusted to her. She found it trying to have to interrupt her prayers frequently in order to respond to those who came to the monastery grill, but this time too the Lord did not fail to visit her and to be close to her.

With her the monastery became an increasingly prayerful place of self-giving, of silence, of endeavour and of joy.

(By the way, I was under the impression that some sort of secret handshake was involved in getting into the side chapel with the body, but no – the door was wide open, and there she sat.)

The experience was not as odd as I thought it would be. For one, I couldn’t get close because a woman was deep in prayer in front of the body. But secondly…it just wasn’t. You get in there, are initially a little bit freaked out, and then you pray, and it all makes sense – why you are there and what you need to be saying.

It seems to me that St. Catherine is still filling that role – the service of the parlour – as she welcomes outsiders to the prayerful silence of the convent, of focused spiritual life.

Then we walked just a few blocks over to the complex of San Domenico – where St. Dominic died in 1221, after having sent his friars to the university town in 1217  –  and where his body rests – not sitting up behind glass, but in a large , stunning sarcophagus. Unfortunately, as per usual, we arrived to see it right before they shut off close access to it – I don’t know if it was for the afternoon break or because of Mass, but whatever the case, we only had a couple of minutes close to the tomb – enough time to pray for Dominicans we know, including future teachers of some of us from the Nashville Dominicans, as well as other friends and acquaintances, and in general thanksgiving for this wonderful order.

So if you want to see good photos and learn more about the art…go here.  I’m no help.

As we walked over, large groups of schoolchildren started streaming in from various streets in the same direction, and when we walked in the church, it was clear there was going to be some sort of Mass. More and more children – teens to tiny ones – kept coming, and as we left before Mass began, here came a bishop.

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(I’m using Snapchat a lot this trip – find me as amywelborn2)

We were then just a few blocks from San Stefano, where we’d attempted to go the previous day before being kicked out after 97 seconds. We headed over there and it was interesting – the complex is a set of churches (more like chapels) intended to evoke Jerusalem.  The problem is that the signage is terrible, there is no guidebook available at the entrance – only at the gift shop which is in the back and staffed by chatty (with each other)  but otherwise indifferent Benedictines. Some evocative Romanesque, but I’m still not sure what it evoked.

san stefano, Bologna

We then returned to the Archiginnasio of the University of Bologna, where, again, we had ventured the previous day, but of course, right before closing time. It is an fascinating structure – one of the original sections of the University of Bologna. What makes it so memorable is the tradition of students’ coats of arms being painted or erected on the walls and the ceilings – seven thousand.

Right up the street was Santa Maria della Vita , in which I wanted to stop to see the other terracotta grouping – the 15th century Lamentation over Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca .  There is a small charge to see it (3 euros for me, 1 each for the boys), and it is worth it. It’s a stunning piece of work. Probably overwrought, but no matter. It’s hard to stop looking, and a privilege to be able to do so at such close range.

It was then time for lunch. I decided we would check off “Traditional Bolognese Cuisine” from the list and so we went to Da Nell0 – just a block from Piazza Maggiore – and had a good meal centered on cured meats, then tortellini en brodo (tortellini in broth) and tagliatelle Bolognese – which is not what you might think of when you think “Spaghetti Bolognese.” First it is made with the flat, ribbony pasta called tagliatelle, and secondly real Bolognese sauce is basically meat. It has been cooked down and is intensely flavorful (I made a simpler version a few weeks ago, via Marcella Hazan), and it is so much better than any tomato-sauce drenched dish you’d find on the menu in the US.

We had great service, which is obviously the norm, not only for humans, either. We must have been seated next to the canine table, for the party sitting there when we arrived had a dog with them, and the next group and another, even larger dog. No, we weren’t outdoors, and as we had learned in France, Europeans don’t seem to mind dogs in restaurants…

By then, the older kid needed a break, and what the younger one had his sights on held no interest for him – the Archaeological Museum.  So we walked him back to the apartment and then headed back out to the museum, taking the bus for most of it. It is not that far, but at this point, I was, uncharacteristically, dragging. I say “uncharacteristically” because I am blessed with great health and stamina and hardly every get tired. But not today.  The reason being that I had awakened at about 4 am and not been able to get back to sleep. So yes, after having been awake for 12 hours, eaten a heavy lunch (also uncharacteristic), and walked about 4 miles…I could have easily dozed off in the midst of the mummies. In fact, I might have.

For that was the special exhibit – on Egypt. And, as we discovered, it was the only exhibit. the museum was all Egypt, top to bottom for the moment. It was okay – the kid was fascinated, and there was an audio guide which made it even better.

Then back to the apartment where, unbelievably, people asked for food.  I won’t eat again until tomorrow at some point, and have no desire or need to, but, them..what is up with these people and their thing about eating meals?

Well if you are going to insist, then you are going to get streetfront pizza, which is just fine and super cheap. So.

We then walked around a bit, ending up strolling through the 11 Settembre Park – a small park where there were teens and students congregated at one end smoking and drinking, and parents and children on the other, smoking and drinking. The main attraction for us was an enclosed dog park in which an Great Dane was holding court with a resounding, basso, yet friendly  bark.

What’s a little sad is that at 11 and 15, my own kids are now too old to join the playground scrum. Some of our greatest travel memories have been made on playgrounds in foreign countries, including in Paris one day when the then-7 year old ran up to me breathlessly saying, “The kids keep asking me what my name is and all I keep saying is, ‘Je suis Americain, je suis Americain,‘ but they keep wanting to talk to me!”

But..time passes and different pleasures take the old ones’ places.

One more stop: the train station to  buy tickets for tomorrow. We are going to Parma, and it’s not necessary to buy tickets ahead of time from an availability standpoint, but since the train is pret-ty early, I thought it would be a good idea to have them in hand for my own peace of mind.

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On the way to buy train tickets. This is the Porta Galleria, a gate built at the old medieval city walls in the 17th century. 

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Not even two months after her death on March 27, Easter Sunday, Raymond Arroyo has published  another book on EWTN founder Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence. The Last Years and Living Legacy.

The first part of the book has clearly been written for a while and, I’m guessing, was intended  as an addendum to the original biography. It is a thoroughly researched and well-told account of the stresses and fractures that developed within the community from Mother Angelica’s initial 2001 stroke onward. It’s quite interesting and even startling reading. Startling not because such fractures are news – anyone familiar with religious history and the history of religious orders is familiar with the dynamic of a religious order undergoing change after a founder’s death or after an original charism has faded into memory.

No, it’s just startling – but in a good way – to see these matters concerning a still-existant community written about (seemingly) so forthrightly. The divisions, the dynamic, the personalities are all explored. It makes sense. The monastery was subject to a Vatican-ordered visitation, a matter of public record, so there is no reason to pretend otherwise.

This was also interesting to me on a personal level because these events came to one of their climaxes shortly after we moved here in 2008. I knew something was going on and all was not well at the monastery, but no details. In the fall, a young woman who had left the monastery became Mike’s secretary – a lovely young woman who has since found her place in another religious community – and the events described in the book – which came to a head in the spring and early summer of 2009, after Mike had died in February  –  helped all of that click into place for me.

And the story of Mother Angelica’s trip to Japan in 2004 is fascinating in a borderline horrific way. I had no idea this had happened.

The rest of the book, however, is almost a patische of various elements. Her life story is retold. Again. Arroyo’s own connection with her is narrated again. Many pages are taken up with letters testifying to the impact Mother Angelica had on people’s lives. Arroyo discusses what he sees as how she lived out heroic virtues. He discusses some of her mystical experiences, including a tentative “I’m just throwing this out there” suggestion about bilocation. Hmmm.

Since Mother Angelica had let go of the reins of EWTN in 2000(a still-controversial decision made to prevent influence by elements in the Church – aka bishops – who opposed her vision), the network doesn’t enter into the narrative much, except in places where Arroyo is recollecting his relationship with Mother Angelica. It seems that in that last decade and a half, she was not even interested in the network, wanting the channel changed to Fox News or reruns of I Love Lucy from the station she’d founded. To the extent that she was invested in events, it was the conditions and direction of her sisters that concerned her the most, as far as she was able to be concerned about what was happening around her.

What there is related to EWTN, I was most interested in his description of a tussle regarding Pope John Paul II’s 1997 visit to Cuba.

At the network there were certain individuals (long gone) who wanted to shape our coverage to suit their own political perspective – mainly to establish that Cuban president Fidel Castro was a neutral or even positive actor in the region. This tracked with the views of some in Latin America, markets where EWTN was attempting to secure carriage….” (162)

The narrative of Mother Angelica’s last few years – her health, her daily life and care – is actually sketchy and scattered throughout the book. What is there is a good reflection by Arroyo and her caregivers about the nature of suffering and the different ways that we, throughout our lives and at different levels of physical strength and ability – can use our time for God and for others. But it’s not at the level of detail or spiritual depth that one finds, for example, in accounts of Mother Teresa’s life.

It’s 224 pages  – a short book – I read it in little over an hour – and Mother Angelica fans will undoubtedly enjoy it. If you’re interested in contemporary church history, it’s worth checking it out from the library to read over that first section.

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Over the past couple of days I re-read Francois Mauriac’s Woman of the Pharisees.

It was on the shelf downstairs in the basement, it had been a decade or more since I had read it, and I admit that I was looking for a smaller book I could keep in my purse to pull out in those moments in which I might otherwise Take Out the Phone.

(Studying the Phone is not a huge problem for me. I don’t have a deep urge to check feeds and such at all times. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, the sight of everyone in a waiting room or even a restaurant, eyes glued to a phone, fingers scrolling, has really started to get to me. I don’t want to be a part of that, partly because I don’t want to model that for my kids, but also because I want to be attentive to my surroundings, and, if the surroundings are boring, engaged with something other than a screen. Even if the screen has a book or an academic article in its glow. Short version: I don’t grow any wiser from spending that ten minutes scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. But I do grow wiser, even just a little bit, from spending ten minutes with Francois Mauriac.)

Okay. So Woman of the Pharisees is an intense exploration of religious hypocrisy. Brigitte Pian is the woman in question, the narrator’s stepmother. She is an externally devout woman who sees her duty in life to guide others to and on the correct spiritual path – in other words, to dominate and exert control through prideful spiritual manipulation.

What interested me about Mauriac’s treatment of this whole situation is its subtelty and  allowance for nuance. That is, there are no caricatures and no cartoon villains or heroes. Brigitte is monstrous and hurts many people – but she actually does engage in generous works of charity, daily. When she finally is humbled and turns from her arrogance, her "amy welborn"subsequent life moves in a rather pathetic, even slightly ridiculous direction. Those she has harmed have their own deep flaws and there is a sense that perhaps Brigitte Pian was not completely off-base in her assessments of their situations.

The question being, then,  in a world of screw-ups, of which we are one, how can  we balance the trick of letting God work through us and staying out of His way?

What Mauriac excels at is exploring the motivation for religious faith and action, as well as how human beings react to authentic spirituality when they encounter it: mostly, they are repelled and fight hard against it.

Just a couple of quotes, not necessarily related to what I’ve discussed above, but just passages I liked:

Here Brigitte reassures herself about her spiritual progress:

There had been a time when she was worried by the spiritual aridity that marked her relations with her God; but since then she had read somewhere that it is as a rule the beginners on whom the tangible marks of Grace are showered, since it is only in that way that they can be extricated from the slough of this world and set upon the right path. The kind of insensitiveness that afflicted her was, she gathered, a sign that she had long ago emerged from those lower regions of the spiritual life where fervor is usually suspect. In this way her frigid soul was led on to glory in its own lack of warmth.

A priest – Calou –  is a major character in the novel, having been given charge of a difficult boy, a classmate of the narrator’s. The boy tries to shock the priest by saying he doesn’t believe in any of those “old wives’ tales,” and asks the priest if he is surprised by his lack of faith. The priest responds:

Why should it?….The really surprising this is that a man should believe….The really surprising thing is that what we believe should be true. The really surprising thing is that the truth should really exist, that it should have taken on flesh, that I can keep it a prisoner here beneath these old vaults that don’t interest you, thanks to the strength in these great hands of mine which your uncle Adhemar admires so much. Yes, you little oddity, I can never get over feeling how absurd, how utterly mad, it is that what we believe should be precisely and literally true!”

The conversation continues as the boy reveals that despite his unbelief, back at school, he goes to Confession, as required, just making things up, and, again, as required, receives Communion.

But what did it matter whether one believed or not? It didn’t make the slightest difference.

He had expected an outburst, but it did not come.

You really think so?” asked Monsieur Calou.

Jean presented an insolent face to his gaze. But he felt shamed by its gentle sadness.

Every Saturday and every Sunday, for Heaven knows how long….two years at least, O Lord!”

Monsieur Calou looked at the handsome face, at the unsullied brow beneath the mop of dakr hair in which one lighter lock shone like a flame. He could say no more than: “Lie down a little before dinner my boy.” Then he hurried off towards the church without looking back. His gent shoulders made him seem less than his real height.

Finally, very briefly…the narrator sees Brigitte Pian years after the main events of the novel when she is old, frail and not the woman she once was:

When I alluded to past events, she talked of them quite openly. But I could feel that she had become detached from even the consciousness of her faults, and that she had decided to lay everything at the throne of the Great Compassion…..

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— 1 —

First off, big grateful thanks (?) to Simcha Fisher for her shoutout to The How-To Book of the Mass in her Register column.  Eleven years after it was first published and seven years after Mike died it’s still going strong, helping a lot of folks understand the Mass and pray it more deeply – and hopefully will for years to come

He wrote another book on the Mass, How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist, in which he used the letters in the word “Sacrifice” as an organizing theme. Read more about it here.

— 2 —

Saw a good production of On the Town tonight, put on at Samford University. I’d never seen a stage production of the show before, and was really interested to see how different it was from the film. I’d always believed, just based on comparing stage and film soundtracks, that surely, despite the presence of my beloved, Gene Kelly, and as much as I adore the movie, the film version surely must have been homogenized and dumbed down from pointed, dry, Comdon-Green-Bernstein sophistication.

Well, no. I think the one element dropped from the stage that shouldn’t have been is the song “I Can Cook, Too” – which is a fantastic jazzy stew of double-entendres…which is probably why it was dropped. But honestly, all of the other changes make sense to me now. The plot of the film, such as it is, seems more like a plot than a series of set pieces, the relationship between Gabe and Ivy has a bit more grounding in the movie (In the play, they meet in the studio at Carnegie Hall, and then not again until Coney Island, and the play doesn’t have the nice twist of them actually being from the same town), and most of the other songs dropped were not memorable, as it turns out after all.

And has a lovelier song than “Some Other Time” been written for Broadway? I don’t think so.

– 3—

Did you know there’s a blog devoted to parliamentary fights – as in fights – around the world?

 

 — 4 —

How about this gondola system of public transportation in La Paz? Amazing.

 

— 5 

Great article from Catholic News Service on religious women who helped map the stars a hundred years ago.

In a letter dated July 13, 1909, to the superior general, Mother Angela Ghezzi, Archbishop Maffi said the Vatican Observatory “needs two sisters with normal vision, patience and a predisposition for methodical and mechanical work.”

Father Maffeo said the sisters’ general council was not enthused “about wasting two nuns on a job that had nothing to do with charity.” However, Mother Ghezzi was “used to seeing God’s will in every request,” he said, and she let two sisters go to the observatory.

Work for the sisters began in 1910, but soon required a third and later a fourth nun to join the team. Two would sit in front of a microscope mounted on an inclined plane with a light shining under the plate-glass photograph of one section of the night sky.

The plates were overlaid with numbered grids and the sisters would measure and read out loud each star’s location on two axes and another would register the coordinates in a ledger. They would also check enlarged versions of the images on paper.

The Vatican was one of about 10 observatories to complete its assigned slice of the sky. From 1910 to 1921, the nuns surveyed the brightness and positions of 481,215 stars off of hundreds of glass plates.

Their painstaking work did not go unnoticed at the time. Pope Benedict XV received them in a private audience in 1920 and gave them a gold chalice, Father Maffeo said. Pope Pius XI also received the “measuring nuns” eight years later, awarding them a silver medal.

The Vatican’s astrographic catalog, which totaled 10 volumes, gave special mention to the sisters, noting their “alacrity and diligence,” uninterrupted labors and “zeal greater than any eulogy” could express at a task “so foreign to their mission.”

 

— 6-

Happy feastday of Catherine of Siena!

Like the Sienese Saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves. And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God and by the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion. Catherine also belongs to the throng of Saints devoted to the Eucharist with which I concluded my Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (cf. n. 94). Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish our journey of faith, to strengthen our hope and to inflame our charity, to make us more and more like him.

A true and authentic spiritual family was built up around such a strong and genuine personality; people fascinated by the moral authority of this young woman with a most exalted lifestyle were at times also impressed by the mystical phenomena they witnessed, such as her frequent ecstasies. Many put themselves at Catherine’s service and above all considered it a privilege to receive spiritual guidance from her. They called her “mother” because, as her spiritual children, they drew spiritual nourishment from her. Today too the Church receives great benefit from the exercise of spiritual motherhood by so many women, lay and consecrated, who nourish souls with thoughts of God, who strengthen the people’s faith and direct Christian life towards ever loftier peaks.

— 7 —

A bit more on Catherine. We tend to think of her as “the young woman who told the Pope what to do. Awesome!” There is, of course, so much more to her than that, and even that has a specific – and quite political – context.

If you ever dive into her Dialogues you will find yourself immersed in a riot of imagery that just seems to grab anything and everything from life that might help even a little bit to give a hint of what God is all about.

Blood is very big in Catherine’s spirituality. She begins her letters “in the blood” and she writes of it constantly. The imagery here is earthy and fascinating. We, disciples, go into the world satiated and even drunk on the blood of Christ we’ve been served at the inn called Church.

This is how these beloved children and faithful servants of mine follow the teaching and example of my Truth…..Indeed, they go into battle filled and inebriated with the blood of Christ crucified. My charity sets this blood before you in the hostel of the mystic body of holy Church to give courage….(Dialogues, 77)

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!v

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As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.

****

I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.

This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.

I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.

But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?

People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna   and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”

Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off.  You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.

They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.

Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.

***

When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.

Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.

This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.

But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.

So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?

Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?

As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.

I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.

For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?

It was so dirty.

Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.

Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.

Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station  smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But  there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.

bolognaSo yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!

And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.

First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.

We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?

Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.

And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:

Next up:  We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.

And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them.  Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!

And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!

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First off, we’re in the thick of First Communion season….get your signed books here.

Friendship  with  Jesus – B16’s dialogue ith First Communion children

Be Saints!  – B16’s dialogue with British children

I don’t have copies of the next two in the bookstore, but you can find them in most Catholic bookstores and online.

Loyola Kids Book of Saints

Loyola Kids Book of Heroes

Also – Mother’s Day isn’t too far away…..how about The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days?

 

  • Over the weekend, I blogged on pseudo-culture – the BBC show Happy Valley and the post-war noir In a Lonely Place. 
  • Not much going on this past weekend. 11-year old had a piano competition/judging thing on Saturday and they served at Casa Maria on Sunday, so we were tied to home. That’s okay, we’ll be flitting about soon enough.
  • We watched Ben-Hur. Over three days. I hadn’t seen it in years. Probably close to forty of them. You know it’s about four hours long, right? You can see how that happened – given the filmmaking conventions of the day and the fact that if you are going to spend a heap of money on a production, you might as well go all-out and give the audience its money’s worth.

    There is a remake of Ben-Hur coming out and I’ve read a bit of well I never online and can’t remake a classic!

    Well, yes you can. The 1959 version was a remake of the classic silent version, and really, don’t make pronouncements about it being impossible to improve on the ’59 film until you actually rewatch it.

    The length is unnecessary. Those long, lingering dialogue scenes are melodramatic and often risible. Charlton Heston is a terrible actor in this thing. I mean…terrible. The best scenes are the famed set-pieces: The galley scenes, the chariot race and the leper-colony material. The chariot race remains spectacular. Everything else is overlong, stiff and too reverent. The score, as per usual with films like this is overwhelming. Shut up.

    The new version doesn’t look particularly good, though – just judging from the trailers and given that the production team is that Roma Downey crew,  we can be sure that the Christian content will remain intact. But it’s also a good guess that an in-your face CGI-enhanced chariot race will have nothing on the Boyd/Heston matchup of ’59.

    And remember that when the snarky protests come about Ben-Hur being “too Christian” the book was subtitled A Tale of the Christ. It’s about forgiveness, a forgiving heart and mercy that was only found through an encounter with Christ. It comes through in the ’59 version of course, since the movie was part and parcel of that late-50’s Biblical epic boom, but it is pretty stilted and dramatically reverent.

    We had watched Gladiator the week before and had good conversations comparing the two (as in – the plot was just lifted and transposed)  and then digging a bit into history, checking the accuracy (not much on Gladiator, of course)  and looking into the history of the filming of both, as well.

  • Random bloggy link of the day: Taking class notes by hand is far better than doing so on a computer.   Tech-crazy schools always bragging about being all-digital, take, er, note.  You’re helping no one except tech companies.

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A few months ago I read The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes – a midcentury, mostly noir author, and I enjoyed it very much. Tautly written, with quite interesting insight into racial issues and abortion from the period, it definitely deserves the status of a reprint edition in the New York Review of Books series.

I had been wanting to read her most well-known novel In a Lonely Place for a time, but couldn’t find it any local libraries and dithered on just ordering a used copy from in-a-lonely-placesomewhere. Finally did it, though, started it last week, with some fits and starts, and ended up reading most of it this evening.

It’s her most well-known book because a film starring Humphrey Bogart was made from it, a film which I have not seen, but, from the plot summary seems to take the barest bones of Hughes’ novel and..recreate it. The movie does sound good, though, but not also doesn’t seem to have the same general focus of the novel, which is to get inside the mind of a serial murderer.

The book is written in the third-person, but with a limited point of view – that of Dix Steele, the character we slowly begin to realize is not quite right. It’s not stated right away, but I don’t think I’m spoiling much from stating it here – after all, you know there’s no reason for the book to exist if he’s actually just an innocent, happy-go-lucky World War II vet out in California trying to write a novel.

There were some surprises, though, and it was interesting to watch how Hughes handles the violence completely off-stage, as it were. This choice invites the reader to be more attentive to the text, to listen to Dix’s thoughts and study his actions more carefully. There was one plot point I should have picked up right away but didn’t until about twenty pages from the end, causing a Well, duh! to resound through the house.

It’s a cool, controlled, entertaining cat-and-mouse game, a snapshot of postwar LA, and an interesting literary exercise – to put us inside the mind of a character, but never specifically depicting his most important acts. I enjoyed The Expendable Man more – I found it more surprising and revelatory – but this was not a bad way at all to spend a couple of hours.

Yeah, not exactly the same vibe as the novel….

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