Saturday, August 25, 2012

A quick hop to Tuscany, anticipating the end!

Third and fourth weeks in Assisi

***  Ok folks, I have been trying my darnedest to get all caught up on these posts.  But as my high school literature teacher used to say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  I've had some frustrating trouble with my camera (thankfully, I've finally been able to get my pictures off of it) and frankly I don't want to be in delay mode any longer.  So my last two weeks in Assisi will be combined into one post.  And I'm back in Rome now as of Wednesday evening, so regular orientation has begun (which means full schedules again)!  Gotta keep it skippy so you can still be with me while all this is fresh in my mind.  Thanks for understanding!  ***

As I spend more and more time in this city, I have noticed a few emerging patterns.  The first pattern is that the church bells around Assisi seem to be ringing ALL the time.  Many will ring on the hour, sometimes they just start ringing randomly.  The 700 year old bell tower in the Piazza Communale will cordially remind us of the current time every fifteen minutes, beginning each day at 7 a.m. and continuing uninterrupted until 11 p.m.  Low strikes for the hour-hand and high strikes for the which-quarter-hour-is-it-now-hand.  And twice a day­—once at 8 in the morning and the other at 10 at night—this same tower will strike its large bell 45 times in quick succession.  Nobody knows why.  Well let me rephrase, everyone we've asked seems to know why, but we've never gotten the same answer twice lol.

The second pattern is that standing around in a public place makes you look more official, and there is a greater chance someone will come to ask you for directions.  It's happened to me twice, the first time I couldn't understand these two people because they spoke Italian too fast.  Eventually they had mercy and spoke to me in English, so I was able to give them directions to the Rocca Maggiore.  But the second time!  The second time it was an English-speaking pilgrim wanting to get to San Francesco.  They must have thought I was Italian because they asked for directions in broken Italian.  Psshhh, you know it.  I gave them directions in Italian, and afterward gave myself a little fist pump for blending in so well.

The Italian classes have been going well but they are still often a game of patience.  The classroom learning is not too difficult, and usually the concepts make easy sense to me since most of them are analogous to Spanish.  But building vocabulary and an ability to hear colloquial Italian as well as speak it back have been really slow going.  In the scheme of things, obviously I won't learn a language in three weeks.  But it would just make life so much easier!  Alas, it is a long and measured road.

The four weeks we are here in Assisi include several exciting celebrations.  Besides the Pardon of Assisi, we also had big celebrations for the Feast of St. Lawrence on the 10th, the Feast of St. Clare on the 11th, and the Feast of St. Rufino on the 12th.  Lots o' party round here, especially in the main piazza, including multiple processions through the streets, as well as celebrations of the Mass by various bishops and cardinals that come into town for these feasts.  What I love most about this, besides all the fun, is that I can walk up the hill at the end of the night and go to bed in peace at the Casa.

My brothers down in the hotel are about 100 yards from the piazza, and so with all the music and commotion they don't get to sleep until the party stops.  Unfortunately, some of those dancing, singing people are Tedeschi ragazzi (German young people) who are staying at the hotel, and who continue their high school funnery back at the hotel afterward.  Tragic?  Frustrating?  Probs.  But if nothing else, just think, this penance will expedite their salvation one day (read: Thank God my sleep-loving 'donkey' is not down there).

A short story about St. Lawrence though.  We were complaining all week about the blazing Roman weather that has found us here in Assisi and decided to stick around.  It finally broke for about one and a half days, and we had a beautiful 80 degree day on the 10th.  On Monday in class we casually mentioned our joy at one day of relief and found out that we apparently missed the inside joke.  Every Italian knows (or I guess, at least everyone in Assisi knows) that it wasn't any coincidence, but is a customary weather pattern that happens every year on that day.

As you already know from one of my previous posts, St. Lawrence was martyred by being grilled alive.  It is said that Lawrence exacts his revenge each year by scorching the Romans in unusually warm heat during the days leading up to the feast of his martyrdom.  But on his feast day, August the 10th, the hot weather will finally defer to mercifully cooler temperatures.  I will say this, if St. Lawrence really has taken a job as a weatherman in heaven, then I'd like to make a request to the Holy Father that we begin celebrating not just the feast day but the feast month of St. Lawrence each August.  That would be A+.

On Friday night I got in a car and rode about ten minutes out of town to play a little soccer under the lights with some Franciscan friars.  I was invited by a young Franciscan priest in my Italian class.  Six of us seminarians went, and six Franciscans brothers took us, in two teeny manual drive hatchbacks.  Four dudes in the back seat is not recommendable for long drives, for those who ever need to contemplate a decision like this one day.  It was a lot of fun though, we played until quarter after 11 when the lights turned off.  Exhausted, but after a cold shower back at the Casa, I fell right to sleep!

Saturday I took a short day trip to the small town of Cortona, which is just inside the region of Tuscany about an hour train ride northwest of Assisi.  It is relatively near Lake Trasimeno, which is one of the largest lakes in Italy (maybe the largest? Not sure).  I went with my good friend Kyle; it was actually his idea since he had been there a few years previous.

We bought some freshly made Panini's on our way out of Assisi from our favorite shop owner, Gus.  He is well known amongst the seminarians who do their studies each year here.  I also bought a 1.5 liter bottle of what I thought was orange juice.  To my dismay, opening the bottle told me I had bought orange pop instead.  Blast.  I convinced myself it was really just orange juice with carbonation, and this helped me to justify drinking so much of it throughout the day.

Cortona is a small hill town like Assisi, it has a few beautiful churches and a basilica at the top of town dedicated to St. Margaret of Cortona.  St. Margaret was a 13th century saint born about 20 years after St. Francis died.

She was a third order Franciscan and established a hospital to help the poor and the sick of Cortona.  She died in the church of St. Basil at the top of the city, which was then in bad repair, and was buried there.  After her death, the church was rebuilt larger and more beautifully and rededicated under her own name.  She is an incorrupt saint, which means her body has not decayed like it otherwise should.

Town square, complete with large Back to the Future-esque clock.  Ready for 1.21 gigawatts of lightning!

Fountain at the park on the east side of town.  Each sculpture is of a girl grabbing the head of an eel-ish animal that has a fish head, while it's wrapped around her pulling her down in Python-like fashion.  I didn't really get it.
Main altar at the cathedral of Cortona.  Notice the hanging baldacchino! This is the first time I have ever seen one that is suspended from the ceiling.

Some beautiful paintings in the cathedral.

The attempted martydom of St. Sebastian.  He was tied to a post, shot full of arrows, and left for dead.  After not dying and being nursed back to health by St. Irene, he was beaten to death with clubs.

I really loved this crucifix, especially because the body was life-size.

One really cool part of this city is that it contains a Fra Angelico piece called the Annunciation of Cortona.  As many of you may note, his most famous piece The Annunciation is a fresco he painted in San Marco in Florence.  Actually, Blessed Angelico really loved this scene and did about five major renditions of it.  The Annunciation of Cortona was his first, which he completed in 1436.  It was originally commissioned for the church of San Domenico near the bottom of town, but has since been moved to the diocesan museum across from the cathedral.

Besides the Archangel Gabriel and Virgin inside the portico, you can see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove overshadowing her, Adam and Eve at the top left being expelled from the garden, and the figure of Isaiah in between the arches (who gave the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 -- "Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel").  In the predella (fancy name for this special kind of frame) is depicted stories from Mary's life as well as her apparition to St. Dominic.

The lower oratory of the museum had a beautiful ceiling that I snapped a shot of.  The two big ones you can see on the top are the Transfiguration and below it Christ's descent into hell after his death to rescue Adam and Eve and all the children of Abraham who hoped for a savior.

Kyle and I eventually walked all the way up to the top to visit St. Margaret and get a good view of everything.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the basilica, which is a bummer because the vaulted ceiling was gorgeous.  This church like the cathedral also had a hanging baldacchino, and St. Margaret was buried right there behind glass underneath the altar.

We were about an hour early for our train back to Assisi, so we stopped at a little bar near the station to drink a beer, which was glorious since it was so hot all day.  But all in all, Cortona was a great time and it was fun hanging with Kyle as well.  In general I have really enjoyed getting to know my brothers here.  Kyle is studying for the Archdiocese of Seattle, his family is from Guam.  Since the population of Guam is about 180,000, the odds of personally knowing a Guam-ese rounds off to about two thousandths of one percent.  Consequently, I'm thinking about starting my own chapter of the Members Only Club.

I was actually surprised to find that my fourth week here has really flown by.  Normally the last week loves to walk that really sluggish walk, especially when you are in class and the end of the tunnel seems so near!  But this was helped by the fact that on Wednesday we actually didn't have class.  The 15th of August is a national holiday in Italy, it's called the Ferragosto.  Everybody shuts down and we had the day free, so I decided with a few other guys to climb to the top of mountain on which Assisi is built.  It's called Mount Subasio, and depending on what route you take, it's about a 2-3 hour hike to the top.

Along the way there is the hermitage of St. Francis, a small monastery on the side of the mountain where he used to spend weeks or months in solitude and prayer.  I really want to show you guys this place, luckily we'll be going back to Assisi as an entire class a few weeks from now so I'll take a short video of it for you.  I'll give you this one tho.

Here are a few snaps from along the way:

Kyle and Patrick

Me Kyle and Jeff

My last weekend in Assisi I had plans to finally make it to the Adriatic coast and visit the small town of Pesaro.  Pesaro is about a 4 hour train ride northeast of Assisi and is known for having some of the more beautiful beaches on that side of the country.  As it turned out, my plans did not come to fruition, so I stayed home and took in the last bit of Assisi while I still could.  I finally visited a few churches that were still on the list, including a holy hour at the church of Saint Damian, which is where St. Francis received the vision from the cross of Christ telling him, "Go, Francis, and repair my Church, which as you see is falling into ruin."  This experience was a major turning point in his life, and redirected his efforts which eventually led to the founding of his community of men and the Franciscan Order.  St. Clare and her community were also founded at the site of this church.

All of us random folks who were there had to leave at noon because they were closing everything for the Italian siesta.  But a Franciscan brother must have pegged me somehow because as I was leaving he bee-lined right over and started talking to me.  After finding out I was a seminarian, he took me back inside and gave me a personal tour of the whole place and showed me the spots where St. Clare would eat, where she slept, and where she died.  I smiled afterward at God's generosity and thought to myself, "Yup. Well played."

This last weekend also began Assisi's equivalent of Renaissance Week.  Several of us walked down to San Pietro on Saturday evening to watch the drumline, dancing, and flag throwing show.  Afterward, we walked just up the hill to San Francesco to listen to a British choir sing a nice program of sacred music from that era.  The whole time I was thinking of my Art of Liturgical Music teacher Mrs. LaPeyre back at Sacred Heart in Detroit and how proud she would be of me for going to this show.  I must say, they were quite in tune!  Whoever their director was, he was famous, but I don't remember his name.

Walking up to St. Francis Basilica at dusk

Floor to ceiling frescoes in this basilica!
After a relaxing and fun weekend, we finished our coursework on the following Tuesday evening.  Kinda sad in some ways, and it came up so quickly!  But a great experience and such an awesome privilege to live and learn in this city for a whole month.  Now I will be off back to Rome to begin the next step of my journey.  They call it "regular orientation".  I call it code word for more Italian.  No I'm very excited to get back home actually.  Four weeks in Assisi was great, but it's time to settle in a little more and enjoy some more permanent lodging.  I'm tired of doing laundry in the bathtub!

My afternoon small group class, minus Father Sig the Franciscan.  Father Jim and Joe were my classmates, and this is my afternoon professoressa Silvia.  She makes fun of our made-up Italian words.

The three Fathers who stayed at our same hotel all month and were in class with us.  Great great men.  They were like the Three Amigos.  Fr. Jim, Fr. Sean, and Fr. Andrew.

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