Friday, June 25, 2010
The featured photo this week is from the home of Alvaro`s sister Brunella and her husband Bruno as they hosted us to a lunch (and, the day before, a dinner at their apartment) . Pictured are (left to right), Bruno, Brunella, Alba (Alvaro`s wife), and my Whitman College friend Alvaro Tacchini. There were so many courses of food that even the additional family members and friends who were invited could not consume it all. Most conversations were in English (for our benefit) with Alvaro and Bruno translating for those who could not easily follow. It was in this apartment where, 39 years ago, I had been similarly feasted by Alvaro`s mother and father. Fond memories of those days were shared, and many new conversations covered topics ranging from the Congo (where David, Alvaro`s son has worked with children threatened by violence) to the Middle East (where Bruno has traveled extensively), to midwifery (practiced in Australia by the girlfriend of an Australian young man who is friend to David), to food, to World Cup Soccer, and, course, always back to food!
During our three days at Ostia Antica (on the Aegean Sea near Rome), Kris and I were preparing to travel to Palestine. Mostly rainy weather blessed us with more time to reflect than to sunbathe. I, for one, remain embarrassed by the (occasionally very stubborn) generosity of my friend Alvaro last week. His sharing time with us was easily the highlight of our three weeks in Italy. As he will soon retire from many years of teaching English to high school students high school students, it is telling that Alvaro will continue to supervise the editing of the student newspaper. This shows that while, in ``retirement``, he may well add to the 28 books he has already published, Alvaro will but will continue to be devoted also in service to people directly. My bet is that he will be more busy after retirement than before!
Alvaro: when you and Alba become free of current family obligations, you two really MUST come to the U.S. – let there be no maybes about it! Please spend at least two weeks with us in Portland, Oregon!
The Ostia Antica Park Hotel graciously stores luggage for its guests who are on the move! We are booked to return to this place on July 31st – and leave three large pieces of luggage behind. Our last night in Italy included a simple meal at a beach front inlet facing south, where Kris and I watched the sunset over the Mediterranean.
It was a fitting final memory over a wonderful 25 days in Italy. Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice, and Citta di`Castello. Wow.
Spending 7 hours at the Fiumicino (Rome) airport was not much fun – but I managed a short nap on the floor and there was good time to read! The flight on Air Israel was very pleasant, following a careful security screening during the boarding process. We arrived in Tel Aviv at 10:30pm (9:30 Italy time). More security, customs, etc., with a $40 tax ride to our Hotel Dizendoff Sea Residency, had us crashing into our bed about midnight…. As our three days in Tel Aviv come to a close tomorrow, Kris and I will be going to Bethlehem well organized to see share with human rights activists there, as well as later in the week at Ramallah. Time spent on the computer and using pay phones should soon bear fruit.
Tel Aviv seems surreal in many ways. The ultra-modern airport, for example, is in four levels – with a huge open area complete with a pool of water in its center. Much of the downtown area (where we stayed) is full of expensive boutiques, an occasional fruit stand, and sidewalk restaurants with a European feel – though without any old buildings which, apparently, can be found in the Jaffa area of the city). The pristine sandy beaches are full of people soaking up the heat (and humidity), undisturbed by the occasional over flight by a military helicopter. By all superficial appearances, there would seem to be no conflict in Israel and life in Tel Aviv would appear rich.
Most any conversation, however, reveals deeper concerns. The young man (who has just completed his compulsory 3 years in the Israeli army) and his Finnish girlfriend at the beach complain about a western media that does not understand the dangers posed by Hamas in Gaza. An old man in a shop tells me that Islam is the greatest danger posed to the world today and how it has been so for a thousand years! A university professor observes that President Obama is weak and that his less than complete support of the current Israeli government has allowed a flood of anti Jewish sentiment to flow out of places like Britain, France, Italy, and Turkey, In other words, it is clear that a great many people enjoying ``the good life`` in Tel Aviv share a kind of siege mentality when it comes to the outside world. It is this mentality that accepts military conscription for all Israeli citizens, male and female, and budgets for a military that has the 4th largest air force in the world (after the U.S., Russia, and China).
The main bus station in Tel Aviv is a six-story structure (busses on level 6), with four levels serving as a gigantic shelter (in case of attack). Within this structure is a huge shopping mall – almost a city within itself – with music often sporting a Disney theme! There is the old Popeye the sailor man tune, followed by ``It’s a Small World``, and (a bit out of the genre) ``Old Suzanna``. Later in the day Kris and I are treated to a seaside dinner by Brian Polkington (an American Fulbrighter in Israel) and his friend Ava – at a restaurant named ``La La Land`` (that was for real, no joke). Although he has traveled to them before, so far during his Fulbright in Israel, Brian has yet to visit the West Bank or Gaza (areas occupied by Israel since the war in 1967), and has been told that even travel to Egypt is not acceptable! He says that Israel`s relationship with Egypt is more of a permanent cease-fire than one of friendship. That helps to explain why the Egyptian embassy (visited by Kris and I earlier in the day) is located in a very simple building far away from the beach properties where the U.S. embassy and most others can be found.
As we leave Tel Aviv (and La La Land) behind, we certainly are grateful for the kindness shown to us here by Lisa (hotel manager) and others, for the tub in our bathroom (our first since leaving India, where they were also very rare), and for abundant pita bread and hummus! It was also good to catch up on global news, with plenty of TV channels devoted to it (including BBC, Al Jazerra, and two others in English with Asian and Arab anchor people). Had it been up to me, I certainly would have advanced Italy into the final 16 of World Cup Soccer instead of the U.S., as most Americans could care less and few Italians could care more. Still, the whole sports thing is really part of La La Land as well, yes?
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The featured photo this week is from Venice, though the better half of the week was enjoyed with friends living in Umbria. The picture was taken on the Grande Canal and shows activity around the Realto Bridge.
Our three days in Venice were colored more darkly by the fact that it often rained during our stay -- which may have contributed to my developing a near-continuous headache and aching body plus an accompanying fever and sore throat. Kris did not sleep well partly because I did not -- but we both went out each day anyway to see such sights as we could. After all, how often do most folks have a chance to see such a magical city?
Ca D`Orfeo Residencia is a three bedroom flat on the second floor of a medieval building with windows overlooking one of the 45 canals branching off of the Grande Canal which snakes its way through the islands that make up the old city. Our room was the smallest (and least expensive), with a private bath (much used) and a small kitchen that was shared with the other rooms. As even this arrangement cost about $110/night (expensive by our budget standards), it may come as no surprise that we used the kitchen a lot (eating out maybe once a day, making use of groceries to cook breakfast and prepare coffee or snacks). While it would be tiresome for us to continue to harp on how expensive Italy is, this is not only by comparison with India: the ibuprophen tablets for my headache here cost over $1 per tablet, while the same medication in the U.S. can be found as cheaply as 4 cents (or 2 cents in India).
No matter the prices, Venice is magical. No land vehicles were to be seen anywhere in the old city -- just boats of kinds and purposes. Walking was the main mode over cobblestone streets that would make even wheelchairs difficult. Picturesque buildings divided by pathways sometimes only 3 feet wide often made walking single file necessary! Though not every building was well maintained, all would have historical status if it in Portland -- with few having less than an age of 400 years! Locals greeting one another with a kiss on each cheek, dogs walking their masters who usually (not always) picked up after them, and tourists from all over the world all leave a lasting impression also....
Like other tourists, we went to the Piazza San Marco and nearby Doge`s Palace as our primary must-see place. The Basilica of St. Mark was the seat of religious authority for centuries in the city, while the Doge (not DOG, but leader with most of the political power) presided with other government officials and judges in a Palace that is far more impressive inside than out. Fabulously ornate rooms are found in what seems an endless array of gilded ceilings and huge paintings depicting its rulers and their history of great sea victories over the Ottoman Turkish Empire and religious scenes in which they are in the company of Christ and the saints. Thankfully we were able to secure a wheelchair for Kris as even my strong legs began to tire with all of the walking and gawking! After this, perhaps due to poor sleep, we both confessed to being ``arted out`` and were reluctant to visit more galleries that are to be found throughout the city. During one of my ``sick days``, we spent most of our time just touring about the Grande Canal (while also circumventing the entire of the old city) by water bus.
Following a pleasant 4-hour train ride from Venice, we were greeted at the Arezzo station by my college friend Alvaro Tacchini (who then drove us the 45 minutes to his home town of Citta di` Castello). He had made arrangements for us to stay in the old downtown area, in a remodeled convent dating from the 13th century, The Residencia Antica Canonica building is still owned by the Catholic Church but is leased/managed by one of Alvaro`s many friends: Elisa Mambrini. She welcomed us warmly and we were able to rest in comfort in an inexpensive suite complete with bedroom, bathroom, and a large living/dining area that included a kitchen (with granite countertops)! Kris and I continued to be treated like royalty in the evening when Alvaro and his wife Alba returned to take us out to a fancy (by my standards) restaurant.
During the next three days, Alvaro`s sister Brunella and her husband Bruno hosted us to a lunch and a dinner at their apartment – with so many courses of food that even the additional family members and friends who were invited could not consume it all. Most conversations were in English (for our benefit) with Alvaro and Bruno translating for those who could not easily follow. It was in this apartment where, 39 years ago, I had been similarly feasted by Alvaro`s mother and father. Fond memories of those days were shared, and many new conversations covered topics ranging from the Congo (where David, Alvaro`s son has worked with children threatened by violence) to the Middle East (where Bruno has traveled extensively), to midwifery (practiced in Australia by the girlfriend of an Australian young man who is friend to David), to food, to World Cup Soccer, and, or course, always back to food!
As he had in Assisi ten days ago, Alvaro drove Kris and I around the surrounding countryside, having arranged (so he claimed) for perfect blue skies with scattered fluffy clouds. For two daytrips he showed us his beloved Upper Valley of the Tiber River which is half in the territory of Umbria, and half in Tuscany. From Citta di`Castello (at the center of the area) we traveled short distances to beautiful medieval towns and sites frequented by St. Francis but rarely seen by people who are casually visiting Italy. The breathtaking vistas to be seen from Monta S. Maria Tiberina, alone, were enough to convince Kris and I that those who only visit Florence (one hour to the north) are missing out on a natural beauty beyond anything the masters could paint or sculpt. It was like living in the 13th century and experiencing some of the environment which had inspired the artwork! Fortresses on so many hilltops each making claim to competing territories; towers within cities advertising the wealthy status of families in power struggles with one another; grand Cathedrals and isolated hermitages reflecting both the power of the Church and the extreme spirituality of many of its revered saints. All of this set among forested hillsides and an expansive valley where carefully cultivated fields, even today, remain colorfully dominant.
The biggest among a great many WOW moments with Alvaro came when, on a whim, he took us to the Hermitage frequented by St. Francis at Montecasale. There a priest (who had lived there for 70 years!) allowed us to wander throughout the humble sanctuary, to stone cells with stark wooden beds (and log pillows) had served as places of rest and prayer for St. Anthony, and St. Bonaventure! The thin blankets used by these early Franciscans were still in the 6x8 foot rooms where they had slept! In another prayer area was enshrined two skulls – remnants of two of the three murderous thieves who St. Francis had inspired to become monks! Francis had left Rufino in charge of the hermitage while he was away, and Rufino had refused food and drink to these 3 known murderers. Upon returning, Francis had scolded Rufino and sent him to find and apologize to these men – and to give them the bread and wine Francis had begged for that day. The men`s hearts were so touched by this act of love and humility that their lives were transformed. Francis was always eager to forgive and so to give any person an open opportunity to live a new life. Like Buddha had taught 600 years before Jesus: Hate cannot destroy hate, only love can destroy hate. Unconditional Love.
These lessons will be fresh in our minds next week as Kris and I depart for Palestine.
Monday, June 14, 2010
The featured picture this week is a portion of the ceiling of the 11th century Battistero Di San Giovanni, where Dante, among others, was baptized. Near the famous Duomo (4th largest Church in the world), we attended mass in the Battistero, as well as in the Cathedral of San Marco (within a short two block walk of where we rented a room in what had once been a convent)!
Florence is described by some as the art capital of the world. My wife has always more knowledge of (and better taste in) art than I. Had we not been on this trip together, I never would have bothered to visit this city!
That would have been my loss.
With her insistence, we have spent hours in the Museum of St. Marco (Mark), the Galleria Academia, and the Galeria Di Uffizi (the last word of which I still cannot pronounce properly). We have seen rooms upon rooms filled with amazing (mostly religious) paintings of the middle ages and renaissance, including many masters I had never heard of before (Giotto, Lippi, Titian, Botticelli) and one whose name I recognized (Leonardo da Vinci): You know -- like Leonardo of Teenage Mutant Ninja fame? More than the paintings, I was truly (no fool`n) impressed with the sculptures, with the David by Michelangelo being the most famous. Aside from the pure beauty of the human body revealed in these works, the nudity serves to make us less self-conscious of our own imperfections -- as many of the images portrayed were of fairly common figures unlikely to make it into any of today`s fashion magazines.
A thought came to me while reflecting upon the David sculpture: It`s size was at least 15 feet tall (excluding the base which added another 5-6 feet). Oddly, that is about the size of Goliath (the Philistine David killed with his sling shot, alleged to have been 8 cubits tall). Was the pensive expression on David`s face (almost melancholy/pensive) a small acknowledgement that in killing Goliath, David had become like Goliath? No doubt this thought reflects the bias of my pacifist values/commitment to nonviolence, but the history of David (as military conqueror and later King) after the slaying of Goliath may well have made him (like Goliath) more feared than loved. Even Machiavelli (another Florentine who seems not to have inspired much art about him) would recognize in his Discourses (which I studied as part of my Political Philosophy curriculum) that his own suggestion in The Prince (that it is better to be feared than loved) is not accurate. Rulers whose power rests upon fear (combining the lion and the fox) are often isolated by the fear around them -- to the point that they lose any sense of reality. Such rulers are generally doomed to failure (by revolts or assassinations) within their lifetimes, and (if not) in their legacy thereafter.
These thoughts may be relevant to current controversies relating to Israel and its occupied territories. With the 4th largest air force in the world (supplied by the U.S.), and a military willing to use lethal force against a flotilla of unarmed relief ships last week), is the land of David any more secure having ``won`` all its wars since 1948? Most every morning, while in Florence, I have been busy learning about the area of Palestine -- and trying to book suitable (and less expensive) accommodations for Kris and I after we arrive there on June 22nd So far we have places to stay in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. Nazareth, Galilee, Jericho, and Gaza City still remain possible venues for our travel – with Gaza City the least likely to be allowed by Israeli authorities.
Before leaving Florence behind in this report, some additional memories of may deserve some mention. These include the panoramic view from the Piaza di Michelangelo, traversing the many bridges crossing the river Arno, shopping in the main city market, and a wonderful buffet dinner that included an expensive glass of wine (that Kris really enjoyed)! More mundane was an adventure doing laundry (three loads, total cost $25) where a machine broke down to successfully prolong the joy to 3 hours. Watching the US tie England in World Cup soccer play was clearly more fun for me than for Kris. Blue skies with temperatures in the 90s had many people complaining, with Kris and I largely unaffected, thanks to India.
Next stop: Venice.
PS from Kris: Lately I have been reflecting on dichotomy and while so much church art
contains nudity there are invariably prohibitions about shorts and sleeveless tops. (In one church they even provided short, side open, paper hospital gowns for the offenders. As you might guess, anyone could clearly see what the offenders were wearing.) Also, unrelated but interesting, after years of rejecting images of St. Michael because of the military imagery, Mike finally bought a statue of his namesake-armor, sword in hand, and the devil under foot. Michael- I am on your side!
PSS from Michael: I am reminded that Jesus has been quoted as saying that he did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword. It has occurred to me that Archangel Michael`s sword might be similar – not a literal sword, but a sword of commitment to justice that will divide people who do not share that commitment. Justice is the only solid foundation for anything worthy of being called Peace. I take the devilish side within me to be my primary opponent. Hopefully I can better combat that side in the person and policies of others if, like Gandhi, I can wage a more successful campaign of nonviolence against my own hypocrisies.
Monday, June 7, 2010
This photo shows the Hermitage Delle Carceri, where St. Francis of Assisi would go in the forests of Mt. Sabasio for silence and prayer – one wonderful place among many described in our experiences of this week.
Walking the narrow stone-paved lanes of Assisi really is like stepping into the medieval past. To all outward appearances, little has changed since the time of Francis. Of course many churches have been built since he died in 1226, but most of these also are at least 500 years old. Through various periods of papal rule, neglect, and civil strife the city (known here as a comune) has grown only slightly in population to 26,000 (only 6,000 of whom live within the crumbling walls of the old city). Strict building codes now preserve the ambiance and most roads (really pathways) are quite steep and winding (a challenge even for foot travel) and are so narrow as to allow only one-way traffic which, even then, would be hazardous to attempt in most automobiles.
Our home-base was La Rocca Hotel, an old monastery renovated inside to have all one could want (including internet access) in its small rooms. Located high up the hillside the city is built upon, on the southeast corner, the sun rises over vast rolling hills of forest interspersed with agricultural lands. Church bells welcome us in the early morning and pilgrims mixed with tourists are abundant on most streets thereafter. Each day seems to begin with clear blue skies, followed by periods of billowy white clouds and brilliant sunlight. Watching the city at sunrise from the nearby citadel of Rocca Maggiore, the panoramic view is breathtaking.
One can see the central square of Assisi (the Piazza Del Comune, dating from the 1st century BC), where Francis disrobed in full view of all and walked naked out of the city to begin the rebuilding of San Damiano Church which would be maintained by Clare, an early follower of Francis. There also are the forests whose caves provided Francis a location for silent meditation on austere fasting. As one`s eyes swing north, one can spot the Church of St. Clare which houses the famous San Damiano Cross, clothing worn by Francis, Clare and other Franciscans, as well as the body of Clare. In the distance is the Cathedral of St. Maria Degli Angeli, a massive structure constructed to encompass a small church built by Francis and the site (then in the woods) where he exhaled his last breath. To the north side of Assisi is the Basilica of St. Francis where his earthly remains are housed in a simple shrine on the lower level, with the massive upper level displaying amazing artwork commissioned by later Popes in honor of this most popular saint in the history of the Catholic Church.
Throughout Assisi, as one might imagine, there are gift shops and restaurants aplenty, all eager to make profit off the fame of Francis and his followers who cared nothing for wealth. The irony achieves deeper levels if one seeks out a public market where fresh produce might allow one to make meals without reliance upon overpriced alternatives. Only a few small grocery stores can be found (known primarily to the local residents)! Simple living in Assisi, in other words, is not very simple! During our 6 days/5 nights here, Kris and I developed a pattern of eating a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast (included in our hotel package), enjoying a simple (but overpriced) late lunch, and then having a picnic in either in our room or outside (if sunshine was warm enough) – using grocery store fare. On one evening I purchased the only head of lettuce available in the small store for use in a salad for which Kris creatively made a salad dressing from mustard and apricot preserves (saved by us from breakfast).
Easily our most enjoyable day in Assisi was made possible with help from a Whitman College classmate of mine, Alvaro Tachinni. He had been my host when last I visited this area in 1972 (shortly after our graduation in 1971). Later he came to Bloomington, Illinois in 1981, where I had been teaching at Illinois Wesleyan University. 29 years later, he now drove the 45 minutes from his home in Citta` Di Costillo to show us sites important to Franciscans located beyond the reach of city buses. As we began to catch up on the years of silence between us, Alvaro was joined by his son David (a nurse, now at age 29 in seminary to become a priest). Together they provided a tour far better than any paid guide might have.
Three sites on the Alvaro tour were most memorable. In the dense woods of Mt. Subasio we walked to the Hermitage Delle Carceri – an austere structure built upon a favorite place Francis would come to for silence and prayer. In a tiny room there is preserved much of the small cave where Francis would sleep on the stone floor. With the natural beauty of steep hillsides unable to be farmed, the sounds of birds and sight of tall holm-oak trees today is much as it was 800 years ago. It becomes easy to understand the love of Francis for forest creatures. How could one not love this place? My spirit laughed at the sight of a more modern sculpture of bronze, portraying Francis (a very short man) laying on his back looking up through trees into the sky. Had it not been an embarrassment for my wife and friends, I would have loved to lay next to the prone figure for a rest in the afternoon shade.
Alvaro next took us to San Damiano, where Jesus on the cross is said to have first spoken to Francis the words ``Rebuild my Church``. Because the building was in ruins, Francis followed the message literally – and reconstructed the building with his own hands. Here his first followers joined him in the task, here Clare sung in the small choir room (where original wooden stalls and lecterns remain) and served as administrator for 42 years until her death in 1253. In a corner of a large dormitory room upstairs which she shared with other women, Clare embraced death only after the granting of her last wish: a papal establishment of her Order of the Poor Clares. The humility of Clare and Francis could not have foreseen the impact of their lives over the centuries, inspiring many to commit themselves to lives of poverty, renouncing all violence towards either nature or its creatures, while always seeking to reduce the pain of those greatest in need. Even as Alvaro`s son once rejected the Church, he has returned to it because of the example of Francis – whose spirit continue to ``Rebuild my Church``.
As Alvaro transported us to the basilica of Santa Maria Degli Angeli, Kristine reminded me that our town of Pala (like Assisi, about 26,000 in population) was home to Alphonsa (the first Indian to ever be named a saint) – who was also a Franciscan! Perhaps she may have once traveled to this basilica, the center of the Franciscan Order worldwide. The massive structure left me saddened at its lack of simplicity until I entered and saw a most strange sight: the Porziuncola (a tiny chapel built by Francis in what was then a forest) is the centerpiece of the basilica – literally a church within the Church! The beauty of its simplicity dwarfs the larger structure around it. Off to the side about 20 feet is the location of where Francis laid down to die on what was then bare ground. His final wish was to have his body taken to a hill where those too poor to pay for a funeral could find repose (a place also where executions took place at the time). When his wish was carried out, that place ceased to be called Hell Hill and became known as Paradise Hill (and it was there that the Basilica of St. Francis was constructed…
Our time in Assisi is now at an end. Alvaro`s final gift to us was a long car drive up to the top of Mt. Subasio where Assisi could be seen in the distance. Winding our way down from 3,000 feet, through several small towns and back to Assisi we could see people hand gliding in the blue sky. It is as if, whether we consider ourselves to be religious or not, the human spirit still seeks the divine. That is the appeal of Francis: a simple man who sought the divine in a way which still inspires people around the world to do the same. Gandhi would call it self-realization. I have no doubt that Gandhi and Francis were able to see the same truth: we all are interrelated as one human family in one interdependent world. That truth, itself, inspires us to better love one another and all of life….
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Here is a side-view photo of St. Peter`s Basilica, as seen from the lst floor of the Vatican Museum. Almost exactly a week ago we arrived in Rome from India (via Doha). Kris and I are now waiting at a bus station where soon we will be on our way for nearly a week in Assisi. We are sitting on suit cases. She is reading her devotionals. I am using a garbage can as a desk for our laptop computer.
In some ways our current sitting scene is symbolic. We have grown used to the relative simplicity (and certainly the lower costs) typical of India. In this regards Italy provides the most severe of sticker shock. During our five months living in rural Pala (India) we were spending $100/month for rent -- while in Rome a (cheap) hotel room for the four of us costs that much in one day! Here also a simple sandwich and soft drink, purchased at the Coliseum, came to 10 Euros (about $13), and we were unexpectedly charged 26 Euros ($48) to have a ``self service`` Laundromat clean and dry about 20 lbs of dirty clothes (which will certainly encourage us to return to an India-style hand washing routine)! At St. Thomas College 20 rupees (45 cents) would buy a simple lunch – while at a fancy wedding we attended 9 days ago in India the feast cost our friend Chummar (father of the groom) a whopping $5/plate (and that included all courses in unlimited supply)! Our daughter Mira and her friend Naomi part ways with Kris and I today – to begin their own trek throughout Europe, hopefully spending most nights with punk friends. If they can keep their total daily spending down to about $50/day each, they should have enough money to cover expenses until we meet up with them again in Egypt – seven weeks from now….
The contrast between India and Italy is also stark in other ways. Two weeks ago the weather in New Delhi was about 110 degrees fahrenheit -- whereas here now people are complaining about a heat wave with highs in the low 80s! The low humidity, by comparison with Kerala, is especially welcome. For us the weather is perfect! Also, as compared to the traditional culture we became accustomed to, all sorts of personal expression is visible here including people kissing and fondling in the parks, women wearing very revealing garb, and folks loudly expressing themselves in an emotional fashion. The landlady at the bed & breakfast place we have stayed at in Rome, for example, seemed regularly to yell at the cleaning woman who, from our point of view, was far too complete in the way she took care of everything (including putting away our personal belongings when we were out)! The ``Vatican`s House`` (where we stayed) was kept very clean (including the bathroom we shared with two other sets of renters). In fact, all of Rome was amazing clean and well kept as compared to most places we visited in India.
Vatican City, including St. Peter`s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, were more amazing than any pictures you may have seen. The Basilica in absolutely massive (the largest church in the world) and ornate (understatement cannot be avoided). It was only with the help of Kris that I was able to distinguish the location of St. Peter himself (just inside the front entrance, to the right): a simple marker completely overshadowed by the Pieta of Michelangelo (the sculpture of Mary holding her dead son). Kris and I both wondered how St. Peter might feel about the incredible wealth amassed by the Church and clearly spent on the opulence of this place…..The Vatican Museum (which includes access to the Sistine Chapel), had treasures beyond belief – from Egypt, Greece, the Roman heritage, as well as all manner of artwork reflecting the two thousand years of Christian tradition. The paintings of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel inspired awe from even our (supposedly anti-religious) daughter. The nearly one hour we spent there could have easily been prolonged to a day – if closing time had not been upon us.
For Kristine and I the most exhausting experience may well have been due to my seeking to avoid the high fares of taxis and navigate the public transportation system. It took us two buses (with much waiting and too much walking) to reach our goal for day: Castel Saint Angelo, a massive fortress not far from St. Peter`s from which panoramic views of the city can be had. Well, the views were remarkable – but it took over 250 stair steps winding among many levels of cut stone rooms – to get to the top. Kris stoically trudged through it all while neither the ticket salesperson nor any guide mentioned that there was a service elevator that could be available (something we discovered later). Connecting with the bus lines for the return trip required also far too much lag work, leaving us both exceptionally sore with blisters for the following day.
The next day we went to the Coliseum, Kris and I purchased tickets on a bus that provided a guided tour throughout Rome (complete with earphone English translation) to all us of tourists riding on board (in the open air second tier). We were able to walk all around the ancient grounds where so many gladiators fought to the death, animals were hunted and killed, and Christians were slaughtered. Oddly, among the many displays of art and fighting garb, the impression was conveyed that most of those who lost their lives did so voluntarily (as if slaves, captured lions, and persecuted Christians had a real choice)! In use for 400 years following its completion in 80AD, the Coliseum was in remarkably good condition – though not well modified for the handicapped. Unlike the Vatican Museum, where a helpful employee took the initiative to provide a wheelchair for Kris and had arranged for free tickets for both her and I, the Coliseum had no wheelchairs available and not even a discount for those who might be unable to navigate the extensive ruins. Oddly, it is seemed to be as if Do or Die spirits inhabiting this arena of death lived on, might be laughing a little at our inconvenience.
Among the many pleasant memories that will remembered fondly, there will be the visiting of Trevi Fountain (complete with the most delicious gelacio/sherbert ice cream ever!), seeing unexpected splendors in the Cathredal of St. John the Baptist (with forty foot tall sculptures of each of the twelve disciples), and time spent in the Catacombs near the Appian Way (the ancient roadway beside which Spartacus and his followers had been crucified following their slave revolt in the first century BCE. For Kristine and I a sunny day among lovely trees and a peaceful meadow, growing above the graves of over 500,000 Christians buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto, provided a lovely setting to contemplate the many centuries of history entombed in Rome. That we were able to share this experience and so many others with our daughter Mira has been for us a great additional blessing. The learning experience she and her friend Naomi have had during these last five weeks of traveling with us, I hope, have been enjoyed as much by them as by us. May safe travels be theirs now, until we meet again in late July before we all return to the U.S. in early August.
Although our access to internet service is not as constant now as it was in India, know that our weekly updates will continue to be posted here, for all who care to follow our ongoing odyssey.