Monday, March 31, 2008

Genoa, on the sea

This morning we arrived in Genova from Milano in an hour and a half. Pleasant, and we shared a train compartment with a cat in his traveling box. Probably a Turkish Angora and he appeared sedated. Hence a happier traveler.

Today we didn't have time for much. And museums, etc, are closed on Monday in Italy. But we took the bus down to see the oldest working lighthouse on the Mediterranean (and maybe the world, who knows? we couldn't go into the museum). Then we went to the Aquarium which I would say rivals Chicago's Shedd for variety of fish, display, size and concern for the well-being of the fish. Bell even patted a manta ray.

This is a quickie, just to let you know that we are on the home stretch. Tomorrow we return to Rome and hopefully will wrap up a few things we didn't do on our first few days. Please pray about the hotel situation. The hotel saved April 3-6 for us and we needed April 2-5. Now it appears that there is no problem dropping the 6th, but they are booked for the 5th. Since I have another room arranged for the 1st, hopefully I can keep it an extra night. Thanks for your prayers for this.

We are all a bit tired and looking forward to some African warmth. But it has been a powerful learning experience and I'm thrilled to say that Luke and Bell have performed admirably. Taking responsiibility and making decisions is all part of this process and they are getting the idea that sometimes it isn't easy to decide what to do or where to go. I trust this will be a good starting point for more growth.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Milano, modern city

Yesterday we bid Venezia farewell and enjoyed a three hour train ride to Milano. Trenitalia is efficient and convenient. We arrived at the station an hour early, just to sit around and drink coffee, but discovered we could get on an earlier train!

Milan is the industrial, fashion, and economic heartbeat of Italy. The streets are broad, trams, buses and the underground are all in full force. We walked a bit yesterday to get a feel of the place. It would be hard to tell Milan from another European metropolis. People still speak Italian and pizza is still available on nearly every street. It is just bigger, noisier and more crowded. There are many more teens here. They congregate in large groups, with apparently little to do or see-except each other. They look very hip, punk, modern, whatever. Spikey variegated hair is normal. Clothing is just to draw attention, not to provide cover or warmth. At first the bizarre flair made me smile, then I noticed their faces. These young, pierced people are not happy. Not happy a bit. In fact, they seem desperate and bleak. The word "triste" fits: Italian, French and Portuguese, it means SAD. My heart breaks for them.

We won't be able to see Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper because we didn't reserve space last week. However, we walked to the Cenacolo where he painted it and enjoyed the church and cloister there. The actual painting is in the museum next door. We have seen many replicas, faithful ones, and we will enjoy what we can see and do here.

The Duomo (basilica) here is awesome. Finally, a legitimate chance to use the word. This church has more spires than you can imagine. It seems that every available piece is reaching up to the sky. The architects just went wild. This morning we went inside to see it. We were blessed by hearing the choir which was singing for the morning service. The stained glass windows were the best we have seen yet, easy to decipher and visualize. The medievals had a mindset that soared to God. Perhaps He was not as personal and immediate to them, but they realized the aspect of greatness and omnipotence that sometimes gets diminished in our modern techno-terms.

Here is our first stay in hotels. Up til now we have been in apartments rented for a week or several nights. So, we are in Holiday Inn, but it doesn't feel American.

Oh, we went to the All Saints Anglican Church in town. Again, a blessing to worship and pray with people who understand us!

Tomorrow we head a short way to Genova (Genoa) to see the Mediterranean's oldest lighthouse, among other marvels.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Venezia, city built on a lagoon

Much delayed post for many reasons. There are very few internet spots in Venice. They cost the earth, who knows why? Four times the price in the other cities.

Venice: amazing labyrinthe of sidewalks, bridges, canals and tall irregular buildings. To leave the flat without a map is suicide. Places keep seeming like you have been there: the pastry places and butchers all arrange their windows similarly.

I must leave thoughts of Venice to later. We have other, more pressing thoughts. We are only three traveling now: Luke, Bell and me. On Saturday Jess took sick and on Sunday Cheryl thought it would be better to return to the US with her directly from Milan. You can imagine what a shock this is: to have been a group of five wandering around Italy down to just our little family. It has been a wrench and we are saddened. We appreciate your prayers for adjusting to the change in dynamics. We are also praying for Jess' health. (Cheryl was not interested in experimenting with Italian hospitals--understandably.)

So, back to the present: you would have to see our little attic apartment here to believe it. It is at the top of what looks like a derelict, cracking building. Don't be alarmed, most of the buildings here are cracked. The floors slope towards the center of the building. The doorposts skim Luke's hair. The furniture reminds us of Resthaven conference days (sorry, only the Zim friends will understand that reference.)

To ascend to our little apartment, you can either climb 3 sets of stairs at different angles to each other in the building, or you can take a cute little octagonal elevator (limit 3 persons)which has a door opening on one side to enter and exiting at 90 degrees. If you have suitcases on the floor, you have to be creative.

Venice, though cold, has been fantastic. We took a ferry down the grand canal to see all the wondrous buildings on either side. At St Mark's square, Bell fed the pigeons. We three went into the basilica. Luke and I saw the treasury which also had some reliquaries where we saw some saints' fingers, teeth, and other biological bits. The Quadriga is the museum with the 4 gilded horses which stand over the main entrance. (Repilcas are there now, the originals are inside due to pollution.) Amazing things in this place: one entire wall is a mosaic of Mary's family tree. The floors are very uneven, although marble, a reminder that all is built on pylons.

When we entered the basilica, the floor was dry, but before we left, water had seeped in up to three inches in places.

Today we went to Padua (Padova), but I will share about that in a later blog. This is getting long.

Thanks for praying.

Monday, March 24, 2008

last day in Firenze

It is raining cats and dogs here. Firenze is such an animal-loving city that it is entirely appropriate. We have seen so many dogs in raincoats, sweaters, and galoshes that you would agree. Africans would be amazed: clothes on dogs. Wow. We even see many ceramic cats in the shops, all clothed, of course.

The rain kept us from heading off to Assisi, but that may be just as well. (Save Assisi for another trip?) Isabel is already planning places she wants to see on her next visit to Italy that we just don't have time for this round. We are washing clothes, finding that our bags need to expand with a few of the purchases we have made. No problem, the bags weren't bulging to begin with. And we need to get organized for Venice, the city built in a lagoon with canals for streets. Gondola ride anyone?

Thoughts on leaving Firenze: I'm going to miss the huge flagstones in the streets, but not the narrowness. I'll miss the soaring buildings and just chancing upon yet another church. I have no idea if anyone has tried counting all the churches in this place, but I haven't seen a stat on it. (I could make one up!) I will miss the river Arno and the frequent bridges which make it so appealing: it is never an obstacle to cross, it is an event. Wish I could just show you Ponte Vecchio. Hopefully when we get home I can post photos a few days and let you see some of the best sights.

Wherever you go, as you get used to the twists and turns, feel that a place is familiar, an attachment begins to grow. That has definitely happened here. We have heard that Florence has pollution issues in the summer. That is believable: even at this time of year I feel it in my lungs.

Thanks for keeping track of us. You will hear from us next in Venice. Tomorrow we take the EuroStar and it will only be a few hours to arrival time.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Buona Pasqua

Blessed Easter to anyone still catching the blog. Sorry my posts have been so long, but we are learning and doing quite a bit and not able to write each day. What a surprise to find our friendly Beatles-loving internet manager open this afternoon.

It is a rainy and freezing cold day to celebrate The Resurrection, but the hearts were warm in St Mark's, reputed to be one of Florence's most beautiful churches inside, and we have to agree. The bishop who celebrated last night and this morning (there were several confirmations last night, what a privilege to join in the affirmation of our faith with them) spoke both times in different ways on the absolute necessity of the Resurrection being our foundation. How wonderful to hear it spoken strongly from the pulpit, forcefully speaking out against those who would like to explain away the turning point in history.

We have short memories, we humans. We have short lives. But we have the privilege of passing on the Truth and wisdom that we have gained from others who have gone before. Many faithful footsteps lead the way for us. I am seeing them in a new light. How easy it is for any generation to find fault with the way the earlier generations did things. (This is especially common in missions.) But they are our heritage.

Well, tomorrow it would be lovely to go to Assisi, but much depends on the weather. We with African blood can only take so much cold despite the many layers we wear.

May the blessings of the Lord's resurrection startle you anew this week.

much love and thanks for your greatly needed prayers

Saturday, March 22, 2008

day before Easter

Saturday, tomorrow is the most important festival in the Church year besides Christmas. Without either one, we would be people of no hope.

Today I read: According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13

Helps me get it into perspective. Today Bell and I found two more marvelous churches on a mountain-hill here on the southern bank of the Arno. They are a stone's throw from each other. One is shiney, green and white marble with gold mosaic above the main entrance. The other was that lovely sand colored cement and simple, but still huge. We are quite used to feeling dwarfed when we go into a church anymore. The pillars going up the nave seem to disappear into the dimness of the roof. Then sometimes we see hints of fantastic paintings up there, sometimes it is just too dark. Then along either side, we stop and contemplate the paintings in the various chapels. Paintings reminding us of Christ's life and work as well as some incredible saintly people who paid a very high price for their faith. Just a few candles and the long, thin windows let in light.

Every church is a new experience and I feel the dedication of those who worked so hard to leave a reminder this massive and vivid. The Kingdom, over time, is an immense whole that it hard to contemplate when you are limited by finity.

Then the verse just popped out at me. I've been reading 2 Peter quite a bit lately, it is the book the Quelimane Thursday group is studying while we are on this trip.

We are waiting for new heavens (plural) and a new earth. Imagine what they must be like. These immense, soaring cathedrals and monuments to Christ and the change He brings to a life, they will all be gone in a flash. They will be burned to nothing.

It would make me sad except for the great promise that the new heavens and new earth will be where RIGHTEOUSNESS dwell. Something to give you pause.

May this be a most blessed Easter for you and yours.
The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Savonarola's cell in San Marco

Today we had the most intriguing "museum" visit so far. Most museums are old palaces, fortresses, villas, or town halls. Today we visited the church and monastery of San Marco, within walking distance of our apartment.

This marvelous monastery and cloister was home to Fra Angelico (one of our personal favorites), Fra Bartolomeu and the controversial Savonarola. The ground floor is the hospice (visitors' quarters), refectory (dining room), chapels and rooms for monkish type work: illuminating manuscripts--of which we saw quite a few--teaching, disputing, and disciplining.

It is a Dominican monastery, so Dominic was in 90% of the paintings, signified by a little red cross above his head. Peter the Martyr, not to be confused with St Peter, was also in many pictures with his head bloody (but unbowed). Apparently he was martyred by a serious knife hack from the back. The ground floor had excellent frescoes and in rather good condition, but the best was upstairs in the cells of the monks. Each cell had a painting for the monk to contemplate. Each picture was a part of the life of Christ. In the novice wing the pictures were simple story telling. As the seniority of the monks increased, the symbolism and complexity of the pictures increased as well. Fascinating progression.

Just before we started the cell progression, we saw an annuciation which had natural light coming in from a nearby window. Fra Angelico had put glitter in his paint, so when you rock back and forth in front of the picture you see little sparkles in his wings. His name, by the way, comes from his angelic representations of people: they are all pretty, with nicely combed hair, clean clothes and beatific faces. Even Judas looks like a nice guy but with a dark halo. And Peter the martyr always had the blood flowing tidily from the gash in his head.

Savonarola, the alleged arch-enemy of the renaissance, in the name of turning people back to a true faith in God, attempted to clean up the gambling, prostitution and other blatant sin which made Florence a hotbed. He was ardently followed by many people who wanted reform, but as a zealot he met the resistance of those who were not spiritually focused. He was tortured and burned in the very piazza where he burned gambling cards, dice, and immoral art. In his simple cell we saw his very simple possessions: the patched and worn dark blue cloak of his order, a hair shirt, a crucifix and a desk with some books. He was probably a remarkable leader, but he resisted a very powerful and dangerous tide.

The weather has turned nippy. Today is good Friday and we will be heading out to church tonight. The bells have rung throughout the day at important intervals.

Oh, we made our reservations for Venice and discovered to our chagrin that the Eurail passes we bought are not a great savings at all and we still have to pay to make reservations for seats. It was a disappointment and I wish I had known the fine print in the passes beforehand. Take this as a warning, all those who wish to travel in Italy in future, the Eurail pass is not a bargain and may even cost you more than just buying the tickets. (I was was unable to check prices before we bought them; be sure to ask a travel agent.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

down the street from Santa Maria del Carmine

I have just come out of the Brancacci Chapel in the church of this post's title. Frescoes are an incredible artform when you think about it: painting in wet plaster. Sadly, most frescoes from the renaissance are in pretty bad condition because of water damage. But Masaccio's work in the Brancacci has survived extremely well. This colorful chapel also has work by Filippino Lippi and Masolino, but the theme of all the work is Peter: from the tribute money, healing with his shadow, baptising, in prison, resurrecting Tabitha, disputing with Simon Magus, to his crucifixion. It is such a small area with so much popularity that you are only allowed 15 minutes for your 4 euros, but we accidentally overstayed.

This afternoon I had also visited Santo Spirito (the Basicila on the other side of our apartment) where I had the privilege of contemplating a crucifix by Michelangelo all alone. This isn't one of his highly publicized works. Seeing all these art works in the holy week is focusing. Last night at a concert in the church of Santa Croce I was blessed by voices soaring into the dark dome singing the lamentation of Jeremiah in Latin. I'll be honest, I don't understand Latin. But it was all written out with an Italian translation. Between the two languages, I believe I got most of it. What a treat to listen to three medieval instruments (you wouldn't know what they looked like even if I told you their names, but one was very like a harpsichord and another like a cello, but one looked like a lute with a neck about six feet long)and the seven women who sang were gifted musicians. As they processed in, each took a candle and lit a couple candles in a tree-shaped candelabra. Then when they started singing through the Hebrew alphabet, each time a letter was sung, one women came and blew out a candle. Interesting way to visualize the progression. If it hadn't been so chilly, I might have thought it heavenly--but if you know me, I don't do cold well.

Yesterday was a fun trip to Pisa. However, those who tell you that it is a tourist trap are not far wrong. The famous tower is impressive and does look like it is indeed falling. What they don't tell you is that it is the bell tower of an incredible cathedral and baptistry, both of which are worth seeing. Seeing, that is, if you can avoid being bombarded by vendors on all sides who want to sell you belts, purses, watches, little toy soldiers who crawl on their stomachs or cowboys on broncos that really buck. Most of the souvenirs seemed to have nothing to do with Pisa or the spiritual and historical heritage of the place. They serve a good espresso, though.

God is teaching me so much about Himself and His sacrifice. Coming here during Lent and the Holy Week has been more of a reminder than I have experienced in many years. Evidence of devout persons and holy lives is all around us. But it can easily be diminished by the glitzy and noisy. Even as I try to concentrate on writing, "Hey Jude" is reverberating in this little room and the hilarious manager is singing along at the top of his voice in an Italian accent.

Firenze has been so rich and full that it would be easy to stuff ourselves on the intensity of the artistic heritage and let it become blasé. I hope we will be able to keep it in perspective, not become museumed-out, but see what He has for us. I especially need to be sensitive to the other 4 in the group--pray that I won't mother-hen them into oblivion!


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Orvieto, side trip extraordinaire

Alas, I had just finished writing a wonderful (I thought) blog on the rest of Sunday and Monday. As I was proofreading, the electricity cut off. I lost the entire thing. I had saved it, but it was not published, so it has disappeared into cyberspace. I shall try to rewrite, but you know it is never as fresh the 2nd time around. Perhaps you will be spared some verbiage. (At least we know that the power quits in Europe, too.)

I wrote last on Palm Sunday, but the day had not ended. Despite the precious time worshipping in the Anglican church in English in the morning, the Lord saved the best for later on.

A bit of background: on our 2nd day here, Bell and I took several detours among the market stalls in the narrow streets in Firenze. We tried on hats, gloves, scarves, all manner of apparel to keep warm, as well as examining journals and other goodies. At one hat stall, the friendly owner asked us where we were from. On this trip I have decided to answer Mozambique to that frequently asked question. It keeps things interesting. I know we carry the powerful navy passport, but I don't feel like I belong to any one place down here: too many locations have a claim on my heart.

Well, the shop assistant just happened to be a Brazilian pastor tent-making and church planting here in Firenze. What Christian in his right mind could possibly believe in coincidences in this world, I ask you? Pastor Davson invited us to his church on Sunday night. They meet at 8:30 p.m. because they are a working class church. In a tourist town, everyone works on Sundays, and this is closing time.

We arrived on time, but few others did. We sang choruses for a while as the folks drifted in. Pastor asked me to share our testimony and work in Mozambique. He said I was the first missionary they had to speak to them. It was great to see their interest and animation for the sharing of the gospel in Africa. (They use Africa as the ultimate in missions work, I discovered.) I shared our work with Muslims and church leadership as aspects of cross cultural communication, sharing also the experience of our Brazilian colleagues. They applauded when I sat down, how humbling. I know my Portuguese is very Mozambican, but they did understand and were generous in their comments. Hopefully I was able to help them see that they are missionaries here in Firenze and the value of their light in this very dark place. The blessing prayer that they prayed over us before we left was like a warm blanket on a cold night--and it was a cold night. We practically floated back across the river home. It was as if the Lord cracked open a window for us to get a glimpse into another of the many rooms in the Kingdom here on earth. There are so many brothers and sisters waiting to unite with us all when Jesus comes again, it gives me goose bumps.

Monday Bell and I rose early and went on a spectacular side trip to Orvieto. I recommend you google this city name and find out about it. My first draft had many details about the underground cave, the magnificent duomo (cathedral) which has the most brilliant and jewel-like facade of any in all of Europe. It was breathtaking. We also saw Lucca's frescoes (in the Brizio Chapel) of the apocalypse, the last judgement, the damned and the saved. Folks are only allowed in for 25 minutes. Perhaps they are afraid of the lasting impact of seeing such vivid and frightening images of the world to come. (They need to read Jonathan Edwards, methinks.)

We climbed the Tower of Moro, the tallest clock tower in the region. We were there when it chimed at 3:45--very loudly, literally made me jump. We hiked down to the Etruscan necropolis. They let you wander in the excavations because all the goods and bodies have been taken away to museums. It was fascinating to see how even in ancient times, the timeless way they used to memorialize the dead. We saw the carved names over the tops of the doorways (it is like a small city).

Then we went back up to the city, which is built on a volcanic mass, not the volcano, and constructed mostly of the yellow-brown tuffa rock and mortared with lava ash. The caves under the city were most fascinating: everyone digs under their houses to make cellars for storing wine, etc. The ones on the edge of the cliffs also dug pigeon houses for the birds to fly in and out. The tour was full of interesting details and we heard about the various groups of people who had lived there over centuries. Our guide, Federica, kept telling us the population was small when she meant that they were short. We chuckled at that.

The engineering highlight was St Patrick's well, ordered dug by a pope who didn't want to be under attack in the city without an internal water supply. It is very deep and has two circular stairways on the edge: two helixes parallel to each other. One for ascending, the other for descending. The donkeys used to carry the water up and they needed a way for traffic in both directions. Bell and I climbed down, for a price, and puffed our way back up. She commented that she was only 14 and was puffing, she wondered how old people (like me) could make such a climb. Despite the depth of the well, the stairways had windows at 90 degree intervals, so it was not dark.

We ended our day with pizza margarida at an open air cafe before taking the cable car down. (Oh, we came up on it, too, very cute, the cables are on the ground, not in the air, so it doesn't sway.)

It was late when we got home, but overall, it was a great day. The trip from here is 2.5 hours one way, so you see we spent quite some time on the train as well.

Thanks for stopping in. Tomorrow, hopefully, we will go to Pisa, so you should be hearing from us the day after. Meanwhile, thanks for your prayers. We appreciate you so much.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday Day 158

No, this is not the 158th day of our trip. We are only here for five weeks. But as I sat in the worshipful fellowship of St. Mark's Anglican church in a ancient building (complete with frescoes, hanging lanterns, incense and bells), singing old familiar hymns and some recent choruses, I stopped to think of Steve Godbold, friend in captivity. Surely Palm Sunday for him was not the pensive and exhilarating (what a combination)remembrance of a Savior who is a Friend. We sang "My song is love unknown, my Savior's love to me" and when we came to the lines:

O my friend, my friend indeed,
who in my need, for me His life did spend.

I caught myself crying at the realization of the cost. Seeing pictures in abundance of his death, his deposition from the cross, his trial, his torture, and his resurrection, I am humbled anew that He was willing to pay such a humiliating price to save us all.

Steve had come to mind this morning in the quiet of my reading, when I also meditated on the death of a friend in Zimbabwe, Jens Mielke. I didn't know Jens well, but his wife, Sheila, was a friend whenever we visited and our kids know theirs. Jens died in a small plane crash last week. His life was a vital witness to a large community. Each of us has our small concerns. Yet God cares for us all as if He had no one else to care for. What a privilege to commend each other into His hands.

(He is looking out for you, Jarm, and Mario's passport so your footprints will land squarely in Paul's.)

Notes scribbled on a scrap of paper: remember to blog!

Bars are to be seen all over Italy and they mean COFFEE. I've never walked into so many bars in such a short time in all my life.

Last night Bell and I wanted to attend an organ concert on the other side of the river. We misread the sign and thought it was 6:30, but that was the mass after the concert. We had a hard time finding the church in the dusk because of the many huge buildings which all tend to look pretty much alike in the gloaming. I shook my head wondering how we could misplace a church so big that a small Mozambican neighborhood could easily fit inside! Hopefully we will manage a concert next Saturday.

Instead of the concert we roamed the busy streets full of other roaming folk. The cars must have realized that to drive at that time of night would surely be homicide, so there was almost no traffic. Seeing the brightly lit and open stores with thousands of people pouring in and out--it felt like Christmas, but not as cold.

We came upon Dante's house and the church where he first saw Beatrice (his inspiration for the Divine Comedy). It is surely the smallest church in the city, I am so glad it didn't get cleared away for something bigger. Brings a mighty big man down to my grasp.

We went home on Ponte Vecchio: a bridge with shops built along both sides. All the stores are gold, silver and jewelry shops. It is bright and glitzy. I loved the azalea japonica which every shop in the city has bought and planted in a huge stone jar outside the door. Even on the bridge. This city is awash with pink azaleas and it makes me love it all the more. Wish I could get an azalea to survive in Q.

There are even Macdonalds in this city. Three of them. America brings its food to Italy. Give me pasta, please.

Well, next time I hopefully will be able to tell you about Leonardo da Vinci's exhibit in the Michelangelo gallery.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

this is the Ides of March

We continue to explore and delight in Firenze. As a city, it is very like other European cities: crowded, full of high buildings and famous landmarks, yet different because of its own unique sense of special-ness. For example, I sit in a little internet cafe (which doesn't have a drop of coffee, mind you) just down the street from Church of Santa Maria del Carmine which has a chapel inside with the amazing Masaccio frescoes of the life of St Peter. It's a huge, brown stone building, impressive for nothing but its size, yet it has a treasure-trove few new world cities can boast. And it is simply lost in the sea of churches and basilicas and museums and towers that are sprinkled liberally through this city.

Some random thoughts on Florence:
--the streets are narrow and the bus-coaches are huge, sometimes requiring a driver to reverse and forward several times just to get around a corner (and many corners are more than 90 degrees)
--the motorcycles are big and half the population seems to own them
--things cost a lot more here, and there are vendors everywhere selling you everything, a lot of which is made in China
--the espresso is strong and the gelato is heavenly
--the street corners-crossings surprise you with occasional shrines built into the building corners remembering a saint or an occurence
--the shops are small and narrow
--many buildings (like the one we live in) have courtyards so when you look into the large gate-like doorways which cars can drive through, you often see a garden or palm
--there are many Americans here, mostly high school students; could it be spring break? they definitely stand out, even before you hear them speak
--Italy is a materialistic paradise: name brands take up whole city blocks--Gucci, Versace, you imagine it, it is here. It gives me pause, and I wonder how empty people feel after they have chased so hard to find pleasure and purpose, and just have a leather bag or uncomfortable shoes to show for it in the end. (Perhaps I have lived in Africa just a tad too long?)

My silent time this morning brought these thoughts from Baillie:
"So from this little room and this short hour I can lift up my mind beyond all time and space to Thee, the uncreated One, until the light of Thy countenance illumines all my life."

In a context where so much is to impress and is for show, a simple reminder of how small I am in the context of eternity (not in the context of history or art) helps put everything into perspective.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. We have had a reminder in every church we've entered: the crosses are all covered with purple material. The Palm processions should be magnificent, even if the people don't fully comprehend the Miracle. Who of us does?

Ciao for now.

Friday, March 14, 2008

from a little, loud place on Via della Orto

We are in Florence, Firenze, the renaissance art heart of Italy. We arrived on Tuesday after a rather traumatic departure from Sant'Agata to Sorrento to Naples where we caught another of the elite trenitalia trains that make Italy travel so pleasant.

This city is everyone's favorite so far. Maybe because it is a bit warmer and we aren't shivering in many layers. I have bought a pair of gloves with the fingers off for keeping warm. (Very convenient having the fingers off, you don't have to remove them every time you have to count money or something.) Makes me feel like a Charles Dickens character.

Yes, we have seen Michelangelo's David, today, in fact. We had a grand tour of the Uffizzi Gallery first and saw most of the pieces we had studied. It is true, seeing them in person is different from the pictures on the computer screen. Mostly their incredible size amazed me. Many of them take up entire walls. (I was wondering how in the world they got them into the rooms!)

I will write more soon about the special aspects of this amazing city where we live on the south side of the Arno. Crossing the river on foot and seeing the multilple bridges on both sides is really cool--just cann't think of a better way to describe it.

What else? Impressions: over 50% of the people smoke, the sidewalks are very narrow and you may have to step off into the street for construction. Dogs proliferate, on leashes of course--but there are no expectations that you kerb your dog, so the pedestrians must watch their step. (I learned the hard way.)

Well, my time is up, but I'll be back soon. Now that I have found this place.

Thanks for your prayers--again--they make a lot of difference.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

from Corso Sant Agata in Massa Lubrense

Wow, we are now in the Naples vicinity. We arrived here last Tuesday on the FAST train from Rome. Apparently this train is so new we are in its first month of use. It was amazing.

We were met by Cheryl and Jess' family in Naples: Kathy and Ciro and their kids, Samuele and Isabella. They took us straight from the train to Vesuvius. OK, we admit, it was cloudy and we couldn't see into the "hole" but it was quite an exciting climb in the mist and cold. At the starting point we all tossed back an Italian espresso for the hike. Definitely a plus. (I have to take mine with sugar, however.)

After that we began the drive to Sorrento--winding with many switchbacks. Not for the motion sick types (like Luke and me). In Sorrento we ate genuine Napoli pizza in a little hole in the wall called O Sole Mio. Delicious. Fun to watch Ciro (a gifted evangelist) make friends with the devout owner, a real Italian Mama. When she heard I was a missionary in Africa, she got very excited and kissed me and blessed me.

We arrived in the villa in which we are staying in the dark, but it was impressive. I marveled at the tile floors throughout. We have a terrace looking over the coastline and one on the roof, but it is too cold to spend time on the terrace. It has rained here everyday.

First day we attempted to go to Positano, but only managed Sorrento (a half hour bus ride) because it is very complicated to make changes from one bus to another.
Thursday Bell and I went hiking down to the coast. It was steep, not well traveled. We discovered a little cove which seemed like a pirate hideaway and a quaint little church with melted candles and wilted flowers down near the water level. It was dedicated to St Peter, complete with tiles illustrating his keys to the Kingdom.

Amazing to think how much truth is here in the history of this place and so few people have grasped it. Even Alfredo, the gentleman letting me use this computer, admitted he is not Catholic. When I asked if he could see this coast line and not believe in God he just said, Oh, there is a spirit there somewhere.

Yesterday, Friday, we took the amazing hydrofoil into Naples, Napoli to the Italians. It is a huge, historic city, once a kingdom in itself. We walked, saw the queen's castle, visited another fortress in the water, and came back home. It was quite an experience on that boat, only half an hour one way.

Today we had hoped to go to Pompei, but it is raining and hailing. So perhaps on Monday we can try that.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is Luke's 17th birthday. Pray that we can somehow make it special for him. Of course, being here is just that, but I know the Lord has good things to teach all of us here. We will probably be attending the church in this town (1 km from where we are staying) because the one in our town isn't operating.

Keep us in your prayers, that we will be lights in a very dark place.

Monday, March 3, 2008

from a little internet spot on ViaVitelli in Rome

Wow, we have been here in Rome since Thursday afternoon. Brief summary:

Emirates is the fanciest airline we have traveled. After two lengthy legs and one short one, we landed in Leonardo da Vinci airport, aka Fiumicino in Rome. We were in the middle of a huge crowd going through customs, but wouldn't you know, we were the very last three to finally make it through the line. By dint of a modern miracle, we managed to catch the train we needed to town. The bus story is funny but will have to wait for another time.

Our Italian is hardly rusty--it hasn't had time to rust. But we are learning a few words each day. The people are friendly and abundant. After being in a town of 170,000 folks, this place seems mobbed. If we hadn't known this was low season, we would never have guessed.

So far we have been pretty active: checking out the sights and the gelato spots. We have seen the Colosseum, the Forum, the Palatine Hill, Circus Maxximus, the Bocca da Verita (Mouth of Truth), Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (and thrown in our coins to assure a return trip), Pantheon, Vatican Museums and St Peter's Basilica. Truly, all other churches pale in comparison to this incredible work of dedicated art and love.

Sunday we were able to worship in St Maria de Trastevere and it was amazing. Besides being a museum piece church, it was packed with people of all ages. What a blessing to hear, see and share in worship even though our understanding was limited.

This morning (Monday) Bell and I took a bus trip on the Appian Way, stopping for a visit of the San Callixto Catacombs. Very cold and humid underground: a poignant reminder of the difficult lives and deaths of early Christians and their willingness to sacrifice their convenience, comfort and lives for their faith. I was particularly moved by the story of a martyred slave, Cecelia.

This evening we are packing for the trip tomorrow for Naples. We've been warned by all and sundry that we must watch out for pickpockets. Your prayers are appreciated. We have been safe and comfortable here in Rome, staying in Testaccio which is a working class neighborhood. Our street name is Via Amerigo Vespucci.

I particularly enjoy being in a residential area (as opposed to a hotel)where I can run out for milk in the morning. See the neighbors walking their dogs. Dusk is also a lovely time to sit in the park, eat gelato and watch the folks with their canines. Italians love their dogs. Our apt. complex has a huge guard cat with whom we have made fast friends. He sends his greetings. One resident has two mini-daschunds, darling.

As time permits, I'll probably flash back to these Rome days, but we did want you to get a feel for what a whirlwind we have been in. We are blessed, we sense it on all sides. Pray that we will be a blessing to those we touch.

Flavors already tried: coffee, straciatella (choc chip), pistachio, zabiaone (eggnog), hazelnut, chocolate--deep and dark, more to come.

Bell says "Life is difficult in different ways in different areas, but life is good and God is great." She has learned quite a bit these days and I personally am proud of her willingness to take on responsibility and initiative.