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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

— 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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A bit of a post on mental trip prep, but first…drat. 

I had said I would be planning out loud, so here we go with the first instance of plans called into question by new information.

I have been all about Ferrara’s palio for the last weekend of May. Hooray for hundreds-year old tradition, color, medieval pageantry and horse and donkey races. Fun!

But then last night I realized….Corpus Domini is the last Sunday of May this year. In our language that’s Corpus Christi, and a major way it’s celebrated in many parts of Italy is "amy welborn"with an infiorata– a carpet of flowers arranged in intricate designs and pictures. There are a few large celebrations, beginning with Bolseno, the actual site of the Orvieto Eucharistic Miracle which  is, you know THE ORIGINS OF THE FEAST.

Oh, and the Corpus Domini celebration in Orvieto. Just a small thing.

(The corporal is preserved in the duomo in Orvieto, which is why it is the main pilgrimage site for the miracle)

What. To. Do.

The Ferrara accommodations are totally  refundable. Bolsena is an area I had been looking to visit right after Rome – Bolsena, Orvieto, Pitigliano, the Saturnia baths, various Etruscan things…but that would be the week after Corpus Domini. It would be quite possible to just stay an extra two days in Bologna, absorb some Ferrara vibes, see Ravenna, and then go down to this area for the feast….but is it such a big deal that it would be difficult to find accomodations, to get to the place..navigate? Looks pretty crowded. Probably. I don’t know. Darn it! I was liking this early Lent/ Easter thing until now.

What I will probably do – unless one of you has an inside track and some insight – is just hope that Ferrara won’t forget Corpus Domini among all the palio celebrations, and we’ll see some flower tapestries and a serious procession anyway – I have checked if any towns in Emilio-Romagna have well-known infiorata, but the only ones I can find are monasteries that are really not close to where we will be.

Anyway….

So…my prep work? Which is obviously inadequate and a sham?

Well, in terms of general travel research for the areas we’re visiting, an embarrasing number of hours spent on travel discussion boards – mostly TripAdvisor, Slow Travel and Fodor’s. General websites are okay, but I find discussion boards to be by far the most valuable, as you can follow the questions that real people are asking, get current information and search according to your own particular interest. Like last year when we were going to be spending a day in Vegas and I panicked over the “porn slappers” I had read stood on the streets handing out cards with explicit photos advertising escort services.

I mean, it’s really useful to be able to narrow the discussion down and see what Real People are Really Saying about Porn Slappers Today.

(Answer: Yes, they are there. Yes, it’s very sad because they looked to be mostly middle-aged Latino immigrants, male and female, illegal, I’d imagine. No, they didn’t hand any cards to us, the boys didn’t even notice them, and there were too damn many people on the sidewalk for them to even notice the cards under their feet. And I still hated Vegas.)

Books:

I’m of the view that guidebook companies should just abandon their sections on accommodations and restaurants – who even bothers with getting that information from even a year-old book anymore rather than online? But they’re still valuable, of course, in just showing you the sites. Right now, what I’m perusing are the Blue Guide: Northern Italy which I bought a few years ago for our Milan trip (it includes Emilia-Romagna) and DK guides. I checked out Secret Tuscany from the library – it was interesting, and I might check it out again before we leave and take some notes. I have the Oxford Archaelogical Guide to Rome which I’ve used in the past.

I’m more interested in educating myself on history and culture. I’m rereading Morton’s A Traveler in Italy, which is so wonderful. I’m reading A Traveler’s History of Italy. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading up on my Medicis and other Renaissance points, as well as art history – mostly to help me help the boys.

Tonight I read Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa which could have done as a long magazine article, but then it wouldn’t have been encased in a quirky package like this:

"amy welborn"

It’s a good, easy read that explains the historical and cultural context of the campanile, not as much on the technical side of the construction, dispenses with the Galileo myth and gives good detail on the attempts to stabilize the structure – the most recent being, it seems, successful, and which involved not propping the tower up as others had attempted, but rather removing soil from under the higher end. No bibliography, though, which is irritating.

(Interesting note about the 1902 collapse of the campanile next to St. Mark’s in Venice, a structure which looked from the outside to be much more sound. Photos of the collapse actually exist because the cracks in the tower were noted, then observed to grow until finally no one could deny what was about to happen, the square was cleared, and cameras brought for the moment. You can the before, during and after photos here.)

As for their prep:

They, of course, know the itinerary. I’ve showed them the accomodations we have so far, gone over maps. I’ve scattered books around and on slow evenings we’ll leaf through some of them. We watched Gladiator and will do some other movies. Spartacus, maybe? Just to get us in the spirit of things. The other night, we watched the Rick Steves’ shows on Italian hill towns and Florence. Yes, Rick Steves is mocked and even reviled in some quarters. I mock him. But his programs are a decent intro to the areas, even though his voice really gets on their nerves and frankly puzzles them. Hah.

So yes, I am tempted to be an anti-Rick Steves snob myself, but when that creeps up on me, I must always remember this story.

Flashback to that first trip, back in 2006. We’d landed in Rome, it was the afternoon, and we gave up trying to keep everyone awake until evening. It was just too much. They were all napping, but I had a phone call to make to an acquaintance, and this was pre-internationally-capable cell phones, at least for us. (I actually did some work on that trip – I spoke a couple of times, had an interview, and we had a wonderful long lunch with a bunch of interesting Rome-based Catholic journalists). I left them all in the apartment on the Borgo Vittorio, and went to find a pay phone. Well, first I bought a phone card, as you did then. And perhaps still do. Then I found the phone and for the LIFE OF ME could not figure out how to use the card/phone combo. I mean…I just couldn’t. Nothing happened. So I got back to the apartment and told Mike, no I hadn’t made the call because I couldn’t figure out the damn phone. He flipped open Rick Steves’ book and pointed (in triumph, because I had been dissing RS, while he’d been studying his books) to one of those little drawings he has – that shows exactly how to use the cards (you had to tear off the corner). And that’s what Rick Steves is great for – he and his crew understand what is going to trip you up and confuse you and  just tell you how to manage in a very practical way.

Oh, back to prep. I have a couple of Great Courses – I bought them two years ago on sale – they are very good. We’ve watched some in the past, but over the next couple of weeks we will pick them up again and watch the lectures on some of the iconic Roman buildings.

We’ll watch this National Geographic special on the Brunelleschi’s dome.

And that will probably be it.

That’s the basics of mental prep. I’ll talk more about concrete prep – luggage, clothing, finding accomodations, etc – in a future post.

Oh, and I have a few links I have saved for myself on Pinterest here.

For all #Italy2016 posts, go here.

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Ah…Rome.

I had not initially planned to include Rome in this trip, since we were there 3 ½ years ago. But then I thought, well, 3 ½ years is a long time in Child Time, I, personally could go to Rome once a year and be fine with it, and finally, I started thinking about the things we haven’t done in Rome yet…and then I saw that it’s only a 2-hour, 20 Euro train ride from Bologna, and so Rome was back in the running.

This will not be a lengthy, word, thinking-out-loud post like the others, because the parameters of this step were pretty clear to me – doing the two major things we haven’t done in the Roma area: The Appian Way and the catacombs in that area, and then Ostia Antica.

Ostia Antica is, of course, not in Rome, but rather a short train ride to the coast. It’s a fine site of the ancient Roman port – sort of like a smaller Pompeii, without the volcano. My late father went there during his month in Rome several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. We have been to Pompeii, but we are always up for ruins, so Ostia Antica it is.

I would like to try to get into one of the new underground tours of the Coliseum, but they are really popular and I don’t know if it will be possible. We also have never been to the Capitoline Museum – somehow, when in Rome, indoor museums are never a priority with me. There’s so much to see just walking around outside. We will try to do that, but a priority will be, I think, a guided tour of the Palatine Hill and Forum. We walk through the Forum every time we go, trying to be intelligent about it, but I think a tour guide would really deepen our appreciation..especially since kids tend to listen to a tour guide with far more attentiveness than they do to Mom. Who barely knows what she’s talking about so yeah. Tour. And I do think that will be a more interesting excursion than the museum, if we have to choose.

Other than that…wandering, revisiting St. Peter’s and as many other past favorite sites as we can.

In the past, we have stayed in apartments off the Borgo Vittorio, near the Vatican. I can’t find the first one in which we stayed over ten years ago, but this is the place we stayed at in 2012. I grabbed a larger, 3-bedroom apartment because we had a friend from the US staying with us for a few days during our time there. (And if you look at the cost of the apartment, you will see what I mean about relative pricing. People, I paid more than that per night for a mediocre hotel room in Charleston – the cheapest I could find –  a few weeks ago.Bah.)  In 2008, one of my older sons was living in Rome – he worked as an English teacher there for about a year and a half – and I went to visit him at Thanksgiving. During that visit, I stayed in an apartment in the Monteverde area, west of the Tiber River and Trestavere, south of Vatican City. I’d like to show you that one, but the website is down, but I know they probably still rent it because my daughter lived in Europe for a year and a half (in Germany), and on her visit to Rome, a year ago, she stayed in the same apartment.

This time, I had thought about trying to stay around Piazza Navone or Campo di Fiore, but could never find something roomy enough that was affordable. I worried about noise as well. When we went to Madrid last year, we had a lovely apartment, but the noise at night was incredible. It wasn’t super crazy spring break revelry – just normal Spanish life, which doesn’t start until 10pm at the earliest, then goes strong until 3 am or so. But still. I wondered…how do you people get anything done in life?

So we’re back to Monteverde this time. It’s closer to transportation for the Ostia Antica thing, and it’s a quieter area.

There! That was quick!

Next, I’ll share with you what we’re reading and watching for prep. For all #Italy2016 posts go here. 

 

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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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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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Today is the feast of St. Anselm, medieval philosopher and theologian.

I will always, always remember St. Anselm because he was the first Christian philosopher/theologian I encountered in a serious way.

As a Catholic high school student in the 70’s, of course we met no such personages – only the likes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Man of La Mancha.

(That was a project senior year – do a visual project matching up the lyrics of “Impossible Dream” with the Beatitudes. JLS had been Sophomore year. It was a text in the class. It was  also the year my religion teacher remarked on my report card, “Amy is a good student, but she spends class time sitting in the back of the room reading novels.” )

Anyway, upon entering the University of Tennessee, I claimed a major of Honors History and a minor of religious studies. (Instapundit’s dad, Dr. Charles Reynolds, was one of my professors). One of the classes was in medieval church history, and yup, we plunged into Anselm, and I was introduced to thinking about the one of whom no greater can be thought, although more of the focus was on his atonement theory.

So Anselm and his tight logic always makes me sit up and take notice. From B16’s General Audience talk on him:

A monk with an intense spiritual life, an excellent teacher of the young, a theologian with an extraordinary capacity for speculation, a wise man of governance and an intransigent defender of libertas Ecclesiae, of the Church’s freedom, Anselm is one of the eminent figures of the Middle Ages who was able to harmonize all these qualities, thanks to the profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and his action.

St. Anselm Of Canterbury Painting; St. Anselm Of Canterbury Art Print for sale

St Anselm was born in 1033 (or at the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the first child of a noble family. His father was a coarse man dedicated to the pleasures of life who squandered his possessions. On the other hand, Anselm’s mother was a profoundly religious woman of high moral standing (cf. Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, PL 159, col. 49). It was she, his mother, who saw to the first human and religious formation of her son whom she subsequently entrusted to the Benedictines at a priory in Aosta. Anselm, who since childhood as his biographer recounts imagined that the good Lord dwelled among the towering, snow-capped peaks of the Alps, dreamed one night that he had been invited to this splendid kingdom by God himself, who had a long and affable conversation with him and then gave him to eat “a very white bread roll” (ibid., col. 51). This dream left him with the conviction that he was called to carry out a lofty mission. At the age of 15, he asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order but his father brought the full force of his authority to bear against him and did not even give way when his son, seriously ill and feeling close to death, begged for the religious habit as a supreme comfort. After his recovery and the premature death of his mother, Anselm went through a period of moral dissipation. He neglected his studies and, consumed by earthly passions, grew deaf to God’s call. He left home and began to wander through France in search of new experiences. Three years later, having arrived in Normandy, he went to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec, attracted by the fame of Lanfranc of Pavia, the Prior. For him this was a providential meeting, crucial to the rest of his life. Under Lanfranc’s guidance Anselm energetically resumed his studies and it was not long before he became not only the favourite pupil but also the teacher’s confidante. His monastic vocation was rekindled and, after an attentive evaluation, at the age of 27 he entered the monastic order and was ordained a priest. Ascesis and study unfolded new horizons before him, enabling him to rediscover at a far higher level the same familiarity with God which he had had as a child.

When Lanfranc became Abbot of Caen in 1063, Anselm, after barely three years of monastic life, was named Prior of the Monastery of Bec and teacher of the cloister school, showing his gifts as a refined educator. He was not keen on authoritarian methods; he compared young people to small plants that develop better if they are not enclosed in greenhouses and granted them a “healthy” freedom. He was very demanding with himself and with others in monastic observance, but rather than imposing his discipline he strove to have it followed by persuasion. Upon the death of Abbot Herluin, the founder of the Abbey of Bec, Anselm was unanimously elected to succeed him; it was February 1079. In the meantime numerous monks had been summoned to Canterbury to bring to their brethren on the other side of the Channel the renewal that was being brought about on the continent. Their work was so well received that Lanfranc of Pavia, Abbot of Caen, became the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He asked Anselm to spend a certain period with him in order to instruct the monks and to help him in the difficult plight in which his ecclesiastical community had been left after the Norman conquest. Anselm’s stay turned out to be very fruitful; he won such popularity and esteem that when Lanfranc died he was chosen to succeed him in the archiepiscopal See of Canterbury. He received his solemn episcopal consecration in December 1093.

Anselm immediately became involved in a strenuous struggle for the Church’s freedom, valiantly supporting the independence of the spiritual power from the temporal. Anselm defended the Church from undue interference by political authorities, especially King William Rufus and Henry I, finding encouragement and support in the Roman Pontiff to whom he always showed courageous and cordial adherence. In 1103, this fidelity even cost him the bitterness of exile from his See of Canterbury. Moreover, it was only in 1106, when King Henry I renounced his right to the conferral of ecclesiastical offices, as well as to the collection of taxes and the confiscation of Church properties, that Anselm could return to England, where he was festively welcomed by the clergy and the people. Thus the long battle he had fought with the weapons of perseverance, pride and goodness ended happily. This holy Archbishop, who roused such deep admiration around him wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life to the moral formation of the clergy and to intellectual research into theological topics. He died on 21 April 1109, accompanied by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in Holy Mass on that day: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (Lk 22: 28-30). So it was that the dream of the mysterious banquet he had had as a small boy, at the very beginning of his spiritual journey, found fulfilment. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, welcomed Anselm upon his death into the eternal Kingdom of the Father.

“I pray, O God, to know you, to love you, that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot attain to full joy in this life may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full” (Proslogion, chapter 14). This prayer enables us to understand the mystical soul of this great Saint of the Middle Ages, the founder of scholastic theology, to whom Christian tradition has given the title: “Magnificent Doctor”, because he fostered an intense desire to deepen his knowledge of the divine Mysteries but in the full awareness that the quest for God is never ending, at least on this earth. The clarity and logical rigour of his thought always aimed at “raising the mind to contemplation of God” (ibid., Proemium). He states clearly that whoever intends to study theology cannot rely on his intelligence alone but must cultivate at the same time a profound experience of faith. The theologian’s activity, according to St Anselm, thus develops in three stages: faith, a gift God freely offers, to be received with humility; experience,which consists in incarnating God’s word in one’s own daily life; and therefore true knowledge, which is never the fruit of ascetic reasoning but rather of contemplative intuition. In this regard his famous words remain more useful than ever, even today, for healthy theological research and for anyone who wishes to deepen his knowledge of the truths of faith: “I do not endeavour, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believed, I should not understand” (ibid., 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the love of the truth and the constant thirst for God that marked St Anselm’s entire existence be an incentive to every Christian to seek tirelessly an ever more intimate union with Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In addition, may the zeal full of courage that distinguished his pastoral action and occasionally brought him misunderstanding, sorrow and even exile be an encouragement for Pastors, for consecrated people and for all the faithful to love Christ’s Church, to pray, to work and to suffer for her, without ever abandoning or betraying her. May the Virgin Mother of God, for whom St Anselm had a tender, filial devotion, obtain this grace for us. “Mary, it is you whom my heart yearns to love”, St Anselm wrote, “it is you whom my tongue ardently desires to praise”.

And from a letter to the Church in Aosta, on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of his birth there:

To Anselm “a boy who grew up in the mountains” as his biographer Eadmer describes him (Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, I, 2) it seemed impossible to imagine anything greater than God: gazing since childhood at those inaccessible peaks may have had something to do with this intuition. Indeed, already as a child he considered that to meet God it was necessary “to climb to the top of the mountain” (ibid.). Indeed, he was to understand better and better that God is found at an inaccessible height, situated beyond the goals that man can reach since God is beyond the thinkable. For this reason the journey in quest of God, at least on this earth, will be never-ending but will always consist of thought and yearning, a rigorous process of the mind and the imploring plea of the heart.

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— 1 —

Finished.

And having done so, I’m going to give you a heads-up that Lent 2017 is apparently going to be a surprising 1,367 days long.

Because that’s how long it felt in the writing of the devotional.

(Background: I have now written the Advent 2016 and Lent 2017 Daybreaks for Liguori. Look for them to be advertised in the fall, I suppose.)

I wrote the Advent 2016 edition last fall, getting in several months ahead of schedule, but was a couple of weeks late with this. That was intentional – not the lateness, but the timing of the work. I wanted to write a seasonal devotional during the actual season. That’s an unusual experience for a writer. We are usually working completely out of synch – writing Christmas pieces during Holy Week and Ash Wednesday items during Advent.

 

 

— 2 —

The other night Fathom Events, which produces those one-off film presentations like productions of the Metropolitan Opera and rereleases of classic movies (they’re showing On The Waterfront in a couple of weeks – we’ll be there) presented Bill, the Shakespeare-ish movie from the fantastic Horrible Histories troupe. It was released in England last year, and is getting a US DVD release on May 3, but I wanted to give it some support, so we headed out to Trussville for the showing…

 

…and we were the only people there. Not surprising. I don’t think there’s a hardcore group of Horrible Histories fans here in the US, much less Alabama. But anyway – the movie was really enjoyable. More polished and a little less crazy than Horrible Histories episodes, with, of course, no relation at all to actual history. Doing a bit of research afterwards, though, I found that they had actually rather cleverly inserted historical references in a sort-of correct way throughout the film. It was great fun to see the super-talented HH crew each play about five different roles. It was quickly paced, and was actually a bit moving at the end as It All Came Together for Bill. Check out when it comes out on video!

 

– 3—

This week has also been occupied with driving. Yes, we have a new driver in our house – turned fifteen last week, permit attained on Tuesday, and big empty parking lot of big empty mall circled about 257 times over the past couple of days. This weekend, we’ll attempt an actual road. I think it will be fine. He has a determination to do it, to do it right and correct his mistakes. It’s not my favorite thing parental activity, but here it is…one more to go after this…

The process of getting the permit was not horribly painful – less than two hours in and out, and it would probably have been less if the state’s servers weren’t going down all afternoon. Another mom waiting with her son remarked that they should get the people who operate the gaming systems to run these things – they would never go down. And she’s probably right.

 — 4 —

 

Speaking of lovely bureaucracy, this happened last night. Our downtown post office is open until 8 pm during the week, so I was down there mailing a box of books. There was one person working, and the line was growing – this was about 7:30. I thought…. I sure hope they have more than one person working the counter over the weekend and Monday. But that wasn’t the issue.

There was a woman there when I arrived, parked at the end of the line preparing packages for shipping, waving new customers past her. It was, as it happens, Michael’s first piano teacher. By the time I got served, it was after 8, they had the door to the customer service area halfway closed and an employee standing there making sure new customers didn’t enter. As I was finished up, Ms. P said to an employee, “Oh, I forgot one more set for one more package. Can I just go out to my car and get it?” Employee shook her head. “No. Once you leave, you can’t come back in.” I said, “May I go out and get it for her?” Nope. We looked at each other. She slipped me her keys and told me which car it was. I rushed out, and as it happened, couldn’t find her package where she told me it was. I stepped back in the door – one step, handed her keys back, told her I couldn’t find it, she said she must have left it at home, and I was trying to telling her about Michael winning first place in his age group at the local sonata competition, and immediately starting getting my marching orders barked at me from both employees. “You’re breaking the rules, ma’am.”

— 5 

And..books. I have books for sale here – all of the picture books, plus the Mass books, plus Prove It! God. Get your orders in..so I can return to the PO and BREAK THE RULES.

I don’t have any of the saints books in stock here, but you should be able to find them at your local Catholic bookstore (which should always be your first stop for Catholic books), and if they don’t have it, ask them to order it – and of course, any online retailer should have them.

For months, I’ve been battling for the top spots in the highly contested category of “Children’s Religious Biography” at Amazon – for a long time, Ben Carson was my nemesis, but then Penguin published a Joan of Arc volume in their excellent “Who is?” series – and, well, I don’t mind St. Joan besting me. But when, for a few days, John Calvin jumped ahead – well, I’m not having that.

(Currently holding at #1 & #2)

Tomorrow is the feastday of St. Bernadette – my entry on her from the Book o’ Saints is here, at the Loyola site. 

— 6-

Over the next week I hope to finish reading the family exhortation and reread Familiaris Consortio and write something about it. For now, I’ll just say that if you read R.R. Reno in First Things and the most of what is in the articles linked here at Catholic World Report – that’s where I’m at. I have a slightly different take with a different emphasis, but yes. Once I machete through the thick jungle of ahistorical  false dichotomies and straw men, I’ll have something.

— 7 —

I have a couple of articles to write over the next few weeks, but other than that and homeschooling, I’m focusing my brain on…you guessed it…a trip!

It’s back to Italy in a few weeks.

I usually don’t talk about a forthcoming trip until we have already left, but this time, I’ve decided to share my planning and musing beforehand in a more public way. I’ll begin by talking about why we’re going where we (think) we are going.

For now – because the school day must begin – I’ll say that it will be into Bologna and then out of Pisa three weeks later. 2/3 of the trip is sort-of planned,  but there’s one chunk of the trip I can’t pin down – Tuscany. (Week 1+ – Emilia-Romagna. Most of Week 2  – Rome. Week 3- Tuscany) There is just so much to see and do, we’ve never been to any of it, so it’s hard to decide. I threw out the possibility of leaving Rome, renting the car and just taking it day by day without making any reservations or plans. It would be a week between that point and coming back home from Pisa. One kid was all for it, the other was doubtful. We’ll see. My argument against taking the day-by-day approach is financial more than anything else. I would probably end up spending more on accommodations that way..so we’ll see. It’s tempting.

Extra random read of the week – From Farm to Fable – it’s about Tampa Bay area restaurants, but I’m sure the situation is just the same elsewhere. 

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

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