Friday, August 17, 2012

A little time in the forest, a little in Florence

Second week in Assisi

First things first.  I said that I would take a picture of Assisi from the valley so you could see it in a little better perspective.  So here it is!

This is half the town.  The Basilica of St. Francis is on the left.

Here is the whole city of Assisi

Now we shall continue with regular scheduled programming.  It became clear to me this week in Italian class that my Spanish most definitely has the upper hand on me.  I am becoming more and more able to understand what's being said to me, but man is it difficult to speak it back using Italian grammar and vocabulary lol.  The Spanish response will immediately try to force its way out of my mouth, and when I realize I have to find the Italian version of that phrase, I realize I don't have the tools to do that yet.  So it's a little frustrating in that sense.

My small group teacher Sylvia makes fun of this tendency.  She says that since everything comes out a mix of Italiano, Spagnolo, and Inglese, I am super fluent in "Ita-gnol-ese".  At the end of two weeks, my brain feels super-saturated, and by Friday afternoon everything just kind of washes over my head and flies away in the breeze.  TGI Friday (or should I say GDÈ Venerdi?) is such a breath of fresh air though!

I guess I shouldn't necessarily say fresh air, though, since the temperatures have been sneakily creeping up into the mid to high 90s.  Blast.  I thought I would be free from the burning Roman heat; looks like it found us hiding in the mountains of Assisi and came to punish us.

On Tuesday I did get a chance to walk up to the top of Assisi to watch the sunset with a few of my bros.  The spot is home to the Rocca Maggiore, a fancy name for the castle of the city.  We took up a bottle of vino and enjoyed the views.

Rocca Maggiore from afar

San Rufino on the left and Santa Chiara on the right

Joe, Me, Clark, Sean, Steve, and Fr. Jim

This is Clark's Paul Bunyan pose.

Thursday was a special day here in Assisi.  It was the celebration of a feast known as the Pardon of Assisi.  In 1216, St. Francis had a vision of Jesus and Mary while praying in a small chapel in the valley of Assisi.  In the vision Jesus encouraged Francis for having a great zeal for the salvation of souls, and then said to him, "Ask me what you want for their salvation".  Francis asked the Lord for an indulgence to all those who would enter that church, who with true contrition confessed their sins.  He asked further that Mary would intercede for man before her Son on behalf of this grace.  Jesus replied to Francis, "It is a very great thing which you ask of me, and yet you are worthy of even greater things.  This request I shall grant you, but first go to my Vicar whom I have given the power to bind and loose in Heaven and on earth, and ask him on my behalf for this indulgence".

Francis did so, and Pope Honorius III granted his request, choosing August 1-2 as the day for this plenary indulgence each year.  The small chapel, called the Porziuncola, still remains standing to this day, and a basilica has since been built over it, called Santa Maria degli Angeli.  St. Francis often prayed in this chapel and at the end of his life he died about 50 feet away from it.  I walked into the valley on the evening of August 2nd to spend some time praying in Santa Maria and receive the indulgence.  It was really beautiful to behold.

This is the only pic I took inside the basilica.  But it gives you some idea of the experience.

A shot of San Francesco on my way back up the hill

I was actually able to make my way into the Porziuncola, and eventually found a spot to kneel down right in front of the altar.  I kneeled there for maybe 20 or 30 minutes (it was stone, my knees were killing me!) and prayed for you all by name.  "Holy Pinocchio!" you say, "But 'all' is such an inclusive term.  You sure you didn't forget me?"  Well, my fraters, I prayed for everyone I could possibly think of by name, then for all those I knew but whose names I forgot.  And I knew I would write about this, so I prayed for all those who would read this blog entry (I know, I know.  Praying for those who read a blog post sounds like an odd request to God.  Well I just rolled with it.  I tried my best!).  We can joke about it here, but in the moment I really did pray hard for you.  And even in my poverty I know that Jesus knew my intention, so you can be sure that you were covered!

This weekend was also a lot of fun.  Saturday the class took a walk down into the Bosco di San Francesco, where he and his brothers would work to upkeep the land.  We had an official tour guide whose job it was to explain everything to us.  The whole tour was in Italian, and his first words were, "Ok I'm going to speak slowly so you can understand what I'm saying."  And then he was off to the races.  So it was a little "troppo veloce", if you know what I mean.  I just decided to look around and enjoy the walk, because there was no hope for understanding.  The craziest thing I saw in the Bosco was the way that the trees grew, which was not straight up like all other reasonable trees grow, but perpendicular to the mountainside.  You kinda felt like you needed to lean sideways as you walked down.

At any rate, there is an old Benedictine monastery and chapel at the bottom where we finished the tour.  They made several types of jam and honey, and we were able to sample them with bread.  Awesome!  I ended up buying a jar of lemon marmalade.  I know, who has ever heard of lemon jam?  I must say, it pleasantly surprised me.  I thought of my dad and how much he would probably like this stuff.  Two other interesting flavors they made were garlic honey and onion honey.  If that sounds weird to you, it's probably because you're weird (someone high five me for that one).  Just kidding.  But if that sounds good to you, well I can vouch for your exceptional intuition!  I don't know how they made it work, but they did.

I got out of town for the day on Sunday and took a train to Florence!  Monsignor Jerry went with me, he stuck around for a couple hours and then continued on his  way up to Verbania, where some of my other classmates are studying their Italian.  We met up with my good friend Betsy for lunch, a family friend of mine from back home who is currently finishing up a five-week study abroad trip there.  She is also learning Italian, but we went ahead and just spoke English to each other lol.

Florence is a big city, it reminded me a lot of Rome in the architecture of its buildings and in all the tourism and important landmarks everywhere.  Florence, among other distinctions, is known for its leather, particularly its leather gloves (don't want those digits to get too tan, after all), its famous art, and a several famous churches like the Duomo.  They have several museums with important works of art like Michelangelo's David, but I didn't have enough time or money to check them out this time around.  Florence isn't a city you can see in a day anyway, so I'll go back there at some point for a second visit.

Betsy met us at the train station and we immediately went to get something to eat.  Along the way we passed the Duomo, which is HUGE.  I mean, it is a massive, massive domed cathedral, easily the biggest dome on a church I have ever seen.  Because of all the buildings and tight roads throughout the city, you can't necessarily see it from a distance, we just kind of ran into it all of a sudden.  I couldn't get far enough away from it to get the whole thing in my camera.  But I eventually got a decent perspective shot from a little ways away, so you can get some sense of how impressive this thing is next to its neighbors.

I stitched two photos together for this one.  Duomo from the backside.

It really does tower over everything around it!

We found a restaurant called Tavernetta Della Signora down the street from the main piazza.  Oh yeah, Florence is also famous for its delicious steaks, and I had to oblige myself.  I wasn't disappointed in the least, in fact it was probably the best meal I've had since I've been here.  Afterward we went for gelato at Perchè No! Gelateria and I enjoyed a cup of half vanilla, half orange chocolate rum.  Yummmmm.

Wish I took a photo of the plate!  Oh well, at least they get my free advertising.

Since 1939, so you know it's good.

Nom nom nom.

Betsy had to jet after that, but Father Jerry and I went back to the Duomo and took a look around inside for a while.  We also stopped briefly by the baptistery, which like St. John Lateran in Rome is a separate building outside the cathedral.  It has a pair of very famous doors sculpted in the mid 15th century by the famous Lorenzo Ghiberti.  Allegedly, Michelangelo was so impressed with the work that he dubbed them the "Gates of Paradise", and this term has stuck ever since.  Ten scenes from the Old Testament are cast in bronze on the panels of these doors.

We also made our way down to the famous bridge in Florence called the Ponte Vecchio, which has shops on both sides down the length of the bridge.  Although popular tradition holds that it was first built during Roman times, the current bridge as it stands was built in the mid 1300s.  During the Second World War, this was the only major bridge in Florence that wasn't destroyed by the Germans.

Making our way to the bridge

It's a pretty popular spot these days!  Lots of jeweler shops.

We walked back to the station after that and Father Jerry got on the train for Verbania, but I stuck around for a few more hours and walked over to another famous church called Santa Croce.  It is a beautiful church founded at the end of the 13th century.  It is one of the best preserved examples of Italian Gothic architecture.  It also contains the famous frescoes of Stories of St. Francis, painted by Giotto in the 14th century (didn't get photos of those, they were being restored).  Throughout the years, this church became THE place to be buried, and so the floor and walls are filled with big marble slabs or monuments to many of Italy's VIPs.  Folks like Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini, and Dante have their tombs or official memorials in this church.

If you are really important, then you get to be buried in a wall. Woohoo!

Standard chapel in this place.  Pretty incred.

The Annunciation sculpted by Donatello.

Ok look at all those white squares around the floor.  Marble tombstones of folks.  These must be the 'mildly important or otherwise rich' people.  Not enough clout for the wall, but at least they're in the church!

Outside Santa Croce in the courtyard

Courtyard from the other direction
I eventually made my way back to the station and took the late train back to Assisi, exhausted from so much walking.  I would have loved to have a second Sunday just to sleep in and chill out, oh well.  But I was glad to for another blessed weekend and an opportunity to explore the country while I still have the time!  We'll see what is in store for the latter half of my time in Assisi, so far it has been wonderful!  I'm glad you made it all the way to the bottom of this post, it was a long one!  Enjoy a few more random pics of Florence.

Betsy and I in front of the Duomo

Typical street in Florence

The important part here is not Johnny and Jenny PDA trying to photobomb my picture (although Italians do love their PDA). I wanted you to see that even the taxi cabs around here are luxury vehicles.

Perseus cutting off Medusa's head.  This is a popular sculpture in Florence, finished in 1554 by Benenuto Cellini.  Awesome.

Stitched two photos together again.

Inside of the Duomo

As close as I could get underneath the Dome.

The Uffizi courtyard.  This art museum is one of the most famous in the western world.

Dante's tomb in Santa Croce

I dunno why this turned out sideways, but here is Galileo

I only saw trees once all day, at a park I happened to walk by.

This guy was playing his cello by the Duomo all day for tips.  He sounded really good.

Nice shot of the front of the Duomo in the evening

1 comment:

  1. Looking good my man. Beautiful pictures... hard to believe they're real. Hope you're taking care of yourself!