Monday, March 30, 2009

Back, Alive

First things first. Kill us if we really name any daughter Taormina. And, no, we're leaving babies to Rudy and Ika right now.

Now that that's taken care of, we just got back from a perfect three day trip to Rome with Matt. Penn's drawing class and I got a personal Baroque tour of the city. We saw architecture and paintings, ceilings and piazze, sculpture and fountains (often the same thing). We got to have pizza at this perfectly authentic Roman pizzeria (I had gorgonzola and speck pizza..Mmmmmm) and a homemade meal by Matt Doll himself. I will try to replicate that entire meal for everyone when we get back, but I just don't think they make sausage there like they do here in the tiny butcher shops on Roman side streets. It was to die for!

We saw a slew of famous pieces:

Michaelangelo's Moses
Bernini's Four Rivers
Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel
Raphael's School of Athens and his Transfiguration of Christ
Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St. Peter and his Conversion of Saul

I fell in love with a painting I'd never heard of before that weekend. It's called Madonna di Loreto or Madonna of the Pilgrims and it's another Caravaggio. Google's really incredible the way baby Jesus is portrayed. Put it this way, he doesn't even have a smile on his face, nevermind a halo, and Mary looks like she's been trying to put him to bed for an hour. It's just incredibly real and relevant, especially seeing it in its intended setting.

Penn and I finished out the weekend away from the other 15 students at Matt's favorite restaurant in all of Rome, Maccheroni. We split a Roman artichoke to start and a 1/2 liter of vino rosso. Then Penn had Penne alla Gricia, which is like Carbonara without the eggs and in a white wine sauce, and I had Fettuccini al Pesto, which I haven't had since we've been here! We both slugged down a caffe to finish it off and ran to meet up with the group. We have to bring at least one set of family there when you come to visit! It was so great.

Please pray for us while we await news of grad school and our future. We're happy with whatever the result, but big news is stressful to await...mostly for me. We'll keep you posted on the news.

Monday, March 23, 2009

We're Going to Name Our First Daughter Taormina (Maybe)

I guess all the so-called gypsies got the same memo to clear out of Sicily for our trip, because there were none to be found in our lovely little city of Taormina. In fact, it felt a little bit like we had reserved the whole city just for us (with a few locals and some exorbitantly wealthy Germans thrown in).

After a 13 hour train ride with some couchette confusion and a couple of sea-sickening ferry minutes, we arrived in tiny Taormina. We got a little worried there for a second when the only things greeting us were some Mafioso Taxi Drivers and torrents of rain. However, when we reached our hotel and saw the place we were allowed to call home for the next 2.12 days, everything seemed right with the world. The sun came out while we settled in and the Corso beckoned to us.

As Uncle Steve indicated, Taormina is the Gem of Sicily. Strings of coral and turquoise fill the walls of virtually every shop. Next to them are sometimes strange, sometimes beautiful things made of lava rock. That is, of course, because Mount Etna sits not-so-idly by in the no-too-far distance. In fact, "she" sat right in front of us as we munched on Nutella and crackers on our hotel balcony. We even saw a little section glowing red at night.

The coastline is quirky and interesting with its curly peninsulas and deeply cut inlets. The water bounces blue off the white rock beneath and the pebbly beaches are filled with treasures of wave-softened pieces of ceramic and porous balls of black lava rock. And the citrus fruit! It seems like everyone has a lemon or orange tree growing in their yard. They have these ridiculous lemons that we took to calling the "Football Lemons" because they were nearly the size of an American Football!

The shopping there is great...very slow and relaxed and varied. It helps that the main Corso leads directly up to the famous Greco Roman Theater that perches on a cliff, framing Etna in its tattered walls. We're pretty sure we got mistaken for famous Americans while soaking up the sun on the "bleachers" of the theatre. This young German couple was taking pictures of themselves with us conveniently and obviously in the background! Too funny. They got embarrassed when we noticed.

Ok, so here's the whammy. On one of our many jaunts up and down the Corso, right after a nice meal at La Casanova Cafe, we rediscovered this small (clean, professional, not at all sketchy) tattoo/piercing parlor. It was run by a young man and his brother who were Italian and spoke broken English with an Australian accent from living there for a few years. After much panicking, convincing and with a nod from Penn, it was there that we all (girls only) got our noses pierced! Ah! So, yes, right now I have a little stud in my nose, but I may take it out after a little while. We'll see the reactions I get from people. I've always kinda wanted to do it, and what better place than Sicily, right...??

Anyway, my most favorite part of the trip was one evening when we watched Mount Etna first come out from underneath her blanket of clouds. It was amazing to see the sun gradually burn off the cotton comforter and watch the snow-capped peak begin to differentiate itself from the cloud cover. It was overwhelming. It's exciting to know that the next time I fill "ETNA" into a crossword puzzle, it's going to mean so much more than just the satisfaction of a correct answer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Going to See the Gypsies

We're rushing around to get ready for our overnight train to Sicily! Penn had an exam today and a presentation yesterday, with a paper due sometime this weekend, too. We're staying at literally the cheapest hotel in town and grocery shopping before we go to save money on meals. We're only bringing backpacks to save money on the flight (checked baggage is 15 Euros each). It's going to be a "roughing it" weekend, but hopefully the town is worth it!

We went to Florence on Tuesday for a whirlwind tour of important Dominican sites. Everything was quite beautiful, but my favorite part was walking down the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio, surrounded by glittering jewelry shops and suddenly opening up to the Arno River. Florence is a very tight city, which makes the Piazze and bridges feel so much wider and more open. I must go back there to go shopping.

Running off to visit the gypsies!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It was Right in My Journal, I Swear

So, you all know I meant Jackson Pollock, right? When I saw what I had written in my journal, I blushed to myself because I knew I had written the wrong thing on the blog! Forgive me...

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Few Tidbits

Agnes Howard, co-professor with her husband Tal Howard, is an eager and generous teacher in all areas. Not only is she currently teaching the second half of Penn's history course, but she has informed me of the best wine bar in town and has already taught some of us several different traditional Italian recipes. Tonight she is also in charge of giving us a history of the order of nuns that occupy San Paolo. Last night a handful of us went to their apartment (though Tal is in the U.S. for a conference) and had some wine and appetizers with her and her kids. She made a white bean salad, a cauliflower, carrot and dill chop salad, a sun-dried tomato and olive oil dish and a sauteed eggplant and ricotta bruschetta. All the salads went on a round of bread and tasted great with a freshly opened bottle of wine. At the end of our time with her, she quickly showed us how to make homemade caramel and we dunked our fingers in for a quick treat before dinner.

Every Sunday night, a different group of students is in charge of cooking with Laura (R.A.) for everyone. Last night they made us Carbonara, which is quickly becoming my favorite dish here. It's the egg and bacon pasta, which sounds gross, but is done just right here in Italy. The eggs are not evident even when you know they're in there...somehow they just add tons of flavor and no weird texture or anything. We had a version of it at our restaurant the other day and I could have eaten pounds of it. Last night's version was slightly different, but still great with a little extra olive oil drizzled on it. This dinner was also serving as a combo birthday party for the February/October birthday people. Sharona made a delectable white cake with a Sydney Pollack frosting design. This was specifically for one of the program members who is trying to learn how to truly appreciate art in all forms. Who better to start with than Pollack? Baptism by fire. At any rate, it was gorgeous and tasted just as good as it looked.

Then we got wrangled into playing a silly concentration game by our resident aspiring Youth Minister (coincidentally the same person who needs lessons in art appreciation and one of the birthday people). There was a lot of arm flapping and silly noises, but everyone was getting the biggest a kick out of Penn's participation. He was dancing up a storm and making everyone lose concentration and get eliminated. He and our Director, Matt, were definitely the favorite participants. Both had very unique dance moves and hip-action.

Today we're finalizing our Sicily plans (if it's the last thing I do). We've decided to stay primarily in Taormina, per Uncle Steve's suggestion. We're red-eye training it there and flying back out of Palermo. It's been frustratingly tough to coordinate even just 5 of us going, but we're going to bite the bullet tonight and get it booked. If we can't get it together, we're just going to go all-out and run away to Ireland for St. Patty's...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Big, Catch-Up Blog

So, the other day we got a tour of the parts of the monastery that we do not occupy. It’s actually quite a large place. However, only portions are inhabitable at this point in time because Gordon College has just started to refurbish and restore some of the previously dilapidated sections of our 13th century monastery. It was exciting to hear Dr. Skillen talk about all the dreams and plans that he has for that space. I have to start with a disclaimer because Dr. Skillen kept reiterating that everything is in very early stages, and that virtually none of these plans has been approve or confirmed, “ don’t go blabbing to your friends and relatives about it.” I am blabbing, however, because I know that those of you who read this blog would be interested to hear what I consider to be a noteworthy idea and one to be fostered.

Dr. Skillen started us in the interior courtyard, which is going to be turned into the performance space. He plans to have live theatre productions put on there in the open air, surrounded by 13th century arches and overlooking the Orvieto valley. The first floor that circles the open box theatre will house the book and gift store, the cantina, the kitchen and the dining tables that will line the stone-covered walkways that peer over the cliff. Going up the stone steps to the second floor (through the book shop), patrons will find their way to the active art gallery. This will wrap around the courtyard on this second floor and, again, look over the storey up. In this gallery space, Gordon has already renovated the ceiling and roof in the Medieval fashion. There are laws in a historical site like our Monastery San Paolo that any restoration has to be done with historical accuracy and keeping in mind the integrity of the structure. And they did it perfectly. Literally the next day, while walking through a Medieval monastery in Assisi, I saw the exact same huge, dark beams and interesting T-structured cross-beaming as they had constructed only a year ago here in our monastery. Through the gallery and around the upper floor to the opposite side of the interior courtyard are several divided rooms that he plans to rent out as studio space or scholarly space to artists or academics working on theses and/or on sabbatical. So, we walked through the studio spaces into what Dr. Skillen envisions as the “Patron’s Apartment.” Basically, anyone who donates to the cause of this vision will get a Time Share of sorts here in Orvieto. Reserve a month to come stay in a huge, open floor-plan, loft apartment with a private terrace looking over the exterior courtyard and onto the vineyards below. Yes, please. There is another huge, open room beyond that, which was previously a bunch of tiny, individual cells (for the monks), but the dividing walls were crumbling to bits, so they were all removed. This is now a monstrous, open room with little arched windows lining the edges and a huge open terrace running the length of it. This room has many potential uses from a library to a dormitory...or even a new Program Director’s apartment. Ah, the possibilities.

All these plans got me really excited and interested and I may just become the new Gordon College spokeswoman for the Gordon in Orvieto Arts Space. Any donors?

On another note, the other day Penn and I got our first piece of mail here in the monastery! Thanks, Bethy! The envelope full of Abel pictures and artwork just made our day (and everyone else’s to whom we flaunted them!!!). When we’re busy running all over the country, it’s nice to get a little breath of home!

So, one thing I didn’t mention on my previous Vatican entry was the meeting we had following our Papal visit, which was incredibly interesting. Now that I have a little more time, I’d like to tell you about it. As a non-Catholic group visiting the Vatican, we were granted a meeting with the PCPCU (The Pontifical Counsel for Promoting Christian Unity). Gordon apparently has a really good relationship with this section of the Vatican, so we got a private meeting with Monsignor Mark Langham, a British Priest who is the ambassador of the Catholic Church to the Anglican and Methodist Churches around the world (just two of many “Churches of the Reformation” to whom this branch of the Vatican reaches out). The PCPCU was born out of the Vatican II and was a rather revolutionary idea for the Catholic Church at that time. A German Cardinal, Cardinal Beae, was put charge of facilitating this new endeavor and oversaw the creation of a brand new, never before attempted Ecumenical document that no longer presented the Catholic role among other denominations as only for the purpose of “bringing them back to Rome.” Currently, the PCPCU is sponsoring 15 bilateral dialogues with leading theologians from other Christian Churches and also has a special office to deal directly with those of Jewish faith, a relationship they see as very important among the non-Christian religions. (There is a separate Counsel entirely to deal with the rest of the world religions.) It was so thrilling to hear this incredibly bright and well-spoken Priest present the Roman Catholic Church’s true intentions, visions and beliefs regarding relations with, well, us. He was excited to report great strides being made with the Church of the East, or the Orthodox Church. Strides towards understanding one another more fully and toward finding common ground and entire doctrines upon which they could literally write a book together explaining their commonalities. Conversely, he seems rather disappointed with the relative standstill he felt with the Churches of the West, as he called us. He mostly blamed it on the internal struggles we are all going through where we can’t even agree with one another in our denominations, never mind have a dialogue to work out centuries of misunderstandings and frustrations with the Catholic Church. He said they are reluctantly taking a step back from these talks and pacing themselves in these discussions. He said some lovely things about the Ecumenical Dialogue not being a debate or an argument, but “an exchange of gifts” among lovers of Christ and members of God’s one Church. He really thinks that there is only one Church in the eyes of God, but that we have “torn it asunder, obscuring that unity He intended.” He was great and seemed like someone whose brain I would like to pick for an extended period of time. When asked what success for his Counsel would look like, he simply said he would like to start with being able to just sit at The Table and share in Communion with all kinds of Christian believers. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Pope and St. Francis Send Their Best

Like I said, REALLY busy. Plus, we're trying to plan a trip to Sicily for next week on the break between classes and that takes up all our normal internet time. Sorry!

So, let's start with our Rome trip from last Sunday. We were church hoppers and saw so many Jesuit cathedrals and important places that I don't even know where to start. I will just relay my two favorite parts of the day. For Mass that morning we went to an ancient Roman Catholic church that now holds an English Mass every Sunday for the "English-Speaking Pilgrims" call Caravita. It was mind-boggling to hear the Mass held in English after hearing so many Italian ceremonies lately. A visiting Bishop performed the Mass and he was really cute and old. I was all choked up finally being able to sing along with the cantors and understand the Gospel readings. I really, really enjoyed it. Plus, Mozart played the organ there when he was a teenager! After the service they had an aperitivo in the back consisting of mimosas and potato chips. Divine after having woken up at 5am! Then we had a question and answer session with one of the priests from the church. He was very jolly and incredibly well-informed on the history of that space.

My next favorite part was our lunch. We were given about 2 hours to wander and find a place to eat for the afternoon. About 5 of us wandered over to Piazza Navona, a famous oval-shaped piazza where they used to hold chariot races. We sat outside at a table in the sun and had delicious pizzas and paninis. The soda tasted extra good because they actually put ice in our glasses! There was a street musician playing his guitar directly in front of our table and droves of people passing us by. It was somehow really peaceful...probably the blaring sun and surrounding fountains.......

Since that day, we've gone to both The Vatican and Assisi. This is the life.

Ok, I'll move onto the Papal Audience. This day will live in my brain forever. We arrived at St. Peter's Square, and as if that wasn't dumbfounding enough, our little red tickets brought us through the massive crowd, up onto the stage with the Pope. We were literally 100 feet from him once we found our seats. Through some connection, Gordon College got us VIP access to this particular Papal Audience. None of us knew what to say or do or think. People from all over the world surrounded us: French teenagers in front of us, little old Italian women behind us, some sort of Alpine men in top hats and tuxedos to our left and a couple Mafia American men sitting right next to us. Pope Benedict came through the crowd in his little Papal Buggy, waving his Papal Wave. He made his way up to us and gave his homily in Italian. Then, Bishops from various countries got up to "indroduce" the various groups to the Pope. We all went nuts when they said "The Eccumenical contingency from Gordon College in the United States"!! He leaned over and waved right at us...though I think it was more of a blessing than a wave. He gave a small, shorter version of the homily in each language (I think it was about 6 or 7 languages) and greeted the groups. I still can't really believe that we got to do that. See the pictures that will soon be on facebook.

Finally, today we went to Assisi. Everyone should go to Assisi. There is so much silence there, it's a perfect retreat from just about anywhere. We literally sang songs in an olive grove overlooking the valley below and were able to walk up to St. Francis's grave in the bowels of the most beautiful duomo we've seen yet. The streets are spotless and cramped in the most perfect Medieval fashion. Their motto is "Pace et Bene"...look it up. We went to a convent on top of the mountain and had a picnic of fresh bread, meats, cheese, tomato and basil salad and olives. I am rested and happy as I sit here with my ice cold Proseco and bar of dark chocolate.

Life is good.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Party e Arezzo

We've been so busy these past couple days...sorry to be MIA.

Three major events have happened in the past 3 days:

Friday was Silas's 5th Birthday Jungle Party. I'm trying to post pictures on facebook of all the goings-on. There was face painting, pizza, Tiramisu, jungle cake, a bongo, xylophone and recorder jam session and some gorgeous Italian children.

Saturday was our independent day trip to Arezzo. It was just wonderful. Exquisite churches, a cathedral with a famous fresco panel of Saint Mary Magdalene, incredible shopping and the best picnic park for a tired group of students (and one equally tired wife-of-a-student) to rest with local wines, meats, cheeses and breads. We found an open air market there with gourmet foods and handmade goods. We watched a man shaving truffles for customers! We were so tempted to buy some truffle oil, but we abstained and bought some good wine for lunch instead. The weather could not have been more calming and clear. It's a town famous for its Antique Festival that happens the first weekend of every month. We missed it by one week, but there are still incredible antique stores scattered around. A good day trip with good friends!

Don't have time to write about Rome...we did too much that day! Will let you know soon...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Travel Time

So, the weather's been pretty cruddy here for the past few days. That means they canceled our trip to Assisi for Friday. THAT means that we're free for most of the weekend, so a bunch of us are going to Arezzo instead. It came highly recommended by Dr. Skillen, an old pro at this area of Italy. That'll be Saturday and then we have another Rome trip scheduled through the program for Sunday. Followed by a third Rome trip on Wednesday during which we'll be having a Papal audience! This all seems so...unreal, but it's happening and we're trying to soak it alllll in.

Today Penn, Allyson, Riel, Erin and I watched the Doll boys and girl for a while so that Sharona could bake Silas's 5th Birthday cake (the party is tomorrow - a jungle theme). We started an indoor baseball/soccer game in the monastery so that the boys could get out some energy. All we had to do was make sure the we didn't hit the 13th century fresco of the Last Supper that covers the entire back wall of the room we chose. We..mostly...succeeded and the boys had a blast.

I just have to tell you all about the dinner we had last night. I don't know if we were just starving or what, but it was one of the best yet. We tend to get a bit of a smorgasbord for dinner and last night's was the following:

Fresh, sliced tomatoes, lightly salted and drizzled with olive oil.
Fresh, sliced buffalo mozzarella (which is way better than it is in America).
Warm flatbread with thin slices of prosciutto on top.
A mushroom and sausage pie of sorts, with a flaky crust.
And, as always, freshly baked and sliced bread to soak up all the extra goodness.

Dessert was a Nutella roll. Think jelly roll but with Nutella. Mmmmmmmmmmm

To answer a few outstanding questions:

Yes, cars drive around the tiny streets of Orvieto. Our RA has been hit 10 times. They don't drive very fast and they are all very practical, tiny cars, but it is definitely a hazzard!

Yes, technically Penn and I have separate beds, but they had pushed them together for us when we arrived. Bethy, I avoid the crack at all costs mostly because it's not two mattresses coming together, it's two thick, wooden IKEA bedframes coming together. Not so comfy.

Finally, Penn and I have loads of plans to go traveling across Europe. The only definite things are: 1.) a few places in Italy that we can't not get to while we live here and 2.) Spain to see Jules and Kyle! Some dream places are a few Greek islands, Paris and Prague. We'll see if I can make it happen! Suggestions are highly welcome as well. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Please Note...

I have changed the settings on the blog so that EVERYONE can comment! With that may come some comment-spam, but I'd rather deal with that than having to miss out on what all you lovely people have to say.

This morning was our first laundry day. First. This practice is akin to the showering procedure in that I have to put aside everything that I've previously taken for granted about doing laundry at home and get used to a seemingly very backward way of doing things. First off, the cycles take a million years to finish, so our morning slot has still not completed (it is now 6:04pm Orvieto time). Also, maybe this used to be how it worked in the good old days, but we have to empty the water from the dryer after each load. As Penn put it, "there's like a magazine of water" that you have to pull out and pour into the sink so that you can to load the new "clip" in for a second load. Ah, joy.

Speaking of joy, I did get to babysit Kiara this morning. She is joy at its purest form. If you haven't seen the pictures of her on facebook, steal someone's account. You'll smile for days at her little four-toothed grin. She and I read books and played songs so that Sharona could simply bake some cookies for the get-together they're having tonight. It was a nice time of getting to know the women in the Doll family.

It's been raining a bunch these past few days, so our exploring has been a little impeded, but we did discover a wonderful new gelato flavor today. It's called Capriccio, but it's basically heaven on earth. It's Nutella swirled in crema (vanilla). Perfection. Come have some!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We Love Rome.

What a day yesterday. We woke up at 5:15am in order to meet in the vestibolo by 6:15. A special-sized bus (extra large on Orvieto scale) came to pick us up and bring us down the cliff to Orvieto Scalo. There, we got on the train to Roma! It was incredibly helpful to have Matt with us, who has lived and worked in this area and Rome for some time now.

It only took an hour and fifteen minutes or so to arrive at the terminal in Rome. Then the whirlwind began.

First stop was for cappuccino in the nearest piazza to the National Museum, which didn't open until 9am.

Second, as soon as the doors swung open, Matt took us into the museum to start our art history tour of Rome. He began with his favorite piece in the entire city. The piece is a fresco of sorts that originally lined all the walls of Livia's palace courtyard in the 1st century b.c. (She was Augustus's wife). It is a detailed, life-like and lively painting of various fruit trees and birds flying. It was pretty incredible to start there, surrounded by 2000-year-old walls. After gleening as much knowledge from Matt as we could, we went wandering in the museum for a while. We saw mosaics, sculptures and frescos of all shapes and sizes. We were so glad to have been told what things to watch out for as we perused the millenium-old artwork. I think the the mosaics take the cake for me - their intricacy is beyond anything I was imagining about that ancient artform.

Next, we swept off by bus towards the Pantheon. Matt took us through some side streets to find our way there. Oh my goodness. This was most certainly our favorite place of the day. The looming outside and the unasuming yet gorgeous inside just epitomized Rome for me. You could see the various centuries embedded in each different part of the building. We both loved the ceiling the most. It's just phenomenal to stumble upon this historial monster snuggled into a perfect Roman piazza complete with fountain, caffe, pizzeria e gelateria. Heaven.

Next was heaven's gelateria (yes, before lunch). Matt deemed it to be the best gelateria in Rome, so we just had to go. Penn got cinnamon, crema and Bailey's flavored gelato and I had chocolate, pistachio and After Eight flavored. It was a great moment in life, I tell you.

We walked with our gelato to find lunch. We took lunch (Italy's famous folded pizza, which ends up being really just like a panini when you eat it) in the open market square. Yum.

Next destination was the area containing the Forum. Again, holy cow. You just don't see this stuff anywhere else. The ruins looked so stunning sitting unbothered right next to a busy Roman street. It was a really peaceful break overlooking the Forum and then walking over to the Coliseum. Once there, too, we listened to Matt's wealth of knowledge a bit more and then rested from the sprinting around.

Finally, heading back towards the train station, Matt showed us one of the famous Basilicas of Rome. This one was St. Mary's, I believe. In contrast with the Pantheon, this place utterly smacked you in the face with its ornate insides. Gold as far as the eye could see and marble and frescos and mosaics. It was certainly something to behold, but not our style. It tuckered me out after just a few minutes of dropped jaw wandering. Then it was time to sit in the sun for a while before heading back. And yes, we did make it back safe and sound without a pick-pocket story to speak of.

This was, of course, one of many trips to Rome that are planned for the program. We are a lucky bunch - especially with a leader whose enthusiasm is so contagious. This is going to be a great semester.