Sunday, January 7, 2007

The last few days

The stop in Perugia was not planned but turned out to be a real treat. We had plans to go to Assisi but did not have a room for the night. Both Linda and Ana had tried to get rooms but never received replies to their emails. Noah and I looked at the map and decided Perugia was a slightly larger town and near enough to be a good stop.
After driving all day through a valley with castles and fortresses on nearly every hill we passed, we arrived in town after dark. In searching for a hotel,we discovered the city center in part of the old medieval town. This part of town is still a working town, not a tourist sight or museum, it was quite a find. Before we found a room we decided to spend some time there the next morning before going to Assisi.
The walls and battlements of the ancient city now house shops and business necessary for everyday life. We also found ourselves driving on very narrow streets, at times wondering if we would need to pull in the mirrors on the Mini Cooper to get through. In addition to the narrowness they were steep. Noah made it look easy and didn't get a scratch on the Mini.
After walking and driving the hills, we headed for our next destination, Assisi. As we approached the town, still about 10 miles out, we could see it on the slope to our left. From that distance it looked like a set for a movie about medieval times.
Getting closer it was exactly what it had looked like from a distance. The walls and buildings are still much as they were centuries ago. We drove around the town to parking above. Incorporated in the parking garage are Roman walls from the ninth and tenth centuries.
Walking down into town is a real walk back in time. The town looks much like it did when Francis walked the street in the late twelfth century. Electricity has been added and cars make their way between the buildings, still it feels ancient.
We found a great cafe for lunch then headed on down to the Basilica of San Francesco. This too is a working town, so normal modern life is juxtaposed to the arched stone walls. Narrow stairways make passage possible off the streets to the buildings above or below. We passed at least three churches all still holding regular services. One was built on the sight where St. Francis lived his adult life.
I couldn't help but feel the presence of San Francesco. A man who cared deeply for and was connected to the earth and all it's living creatures. A man who is still remembered today, nearly eight hundred years after his death, as a peace figure.
Francis was a warrior who decided peace was the only acceptable choice in all affairs, civil, social and political. He lived and taught peace as a spiritually connected lifestyle. Today the world peace march ends at the Basilica that bears his name.
Assisi was another of those wonderful surprises on this trip. I hope to make a pilgrimage back for study and reflection someday.
As we left I kept looking back. I don't know what I was looking for but I couldn't stop. I didn't start focusing on our drive to Roma until Assisi was out of sight.
Roma, Rome we say, is all I expected. Every where we looked was a new and wonderful sight. Buildings, sculptures, castles, fountains and bridges each a work of art. In two days we didn't see much but much more than this post can hold.
The old ruins around the Coliseum are absolutely incredible. As we walked the Palatine hills we discovered more and each discovery was more magnificent than the last. We wandered until we knew it was time to close the sight for the day as we kept finding new old stuff. We wondered if a Roman solder on horse back would come looking for us and tell us to leave, but instead someone came through blowing a whistle and telling us the shortest way out.
A day at the Vatican is an overdose of visual art. The Basilica of San Pietro is not only huge, but every part of every wall, ceiling, and floor is a visual smorgasbord. Columns six feet wide of solid marble surround the square that fronts the building. Speaking of marble, it is everywhere steps, streets, curbs to say nothing of every part of each structure.
Moving into the Museum and the Sistine Chapel was more of the same. The paintings and tapestries depict scenes of all parts of Catholic faith. Many are violent, but many also are inspiring for any faith and all are beautifully presented.
I thought about the Catholic faith as I walked and looked. It is easy to point out all of the terrible things the church has done in the name of God. But, I also realize it is the major conduit through which the teachings and stories of Jesus have come to us. Those teachings have influenced the world for over two thousand years. Granted often it has sometimes been used as a negative influence, but there also are the teachings of love. St. Francis reminds us of the wonderful teachings that have come to us through this conduit. For those teachings and other spiritual works I'm thankful.
Just as we had throughout this trip,we ate wonderful Italian cuisine and drank terrific wines. After three nights in Rome we had three uneventful flights home. Uneventful does not mean easy, that many hours on a plane is hard under any circumstance but nothing unexpected happened on our way home.
We have more to post but jet lag has caught up with us again so will write more later.

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