Barbara's Random Thoughts

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ten Years Ago Today

(Yeah, I messed with the date on this post so it matches the title.)

Here’s the first of these. I had a bit of time when I got home from work today, thought I’d pull out the Italy journal, and then realized the date—Melinda’s birthday! After giving her a birthday phone call, I settled down and typed this up. This recounts one of our study abroad group’s day trips. The trip to Assisi happened to fall on Melinda’s 21st birthday.

I love this entry. In fact, I think I’ve posted bits of it before, because it sounds recently familiar, but here it is in its entirety. Snarky or explanatory comments, a la Sheila's Diary Friday, are in brackets/italics. I apologize now for my frequent use of the word “rad.”
Sept. 20th, 1996

Today was so rad! [count: 1] Melinda really had an awesome birthday...I’m jealous! Just kidding. It was so neat, though...even though we had to get up early and all. Assisi was so beautiful! It was just the total quaint, pretty town. Melinda, Felipe and I [the three of us had all been in choir together at FC] spent the morning just wandering around the town, going into some churches, etc. [Because that’s what you do in Italian towns—you visit churches.] But I think what I liked best was all the narrow little stone streets—stairways going up or down, all the doors with ivy or grapevines or morning glories overhanging, and all kinds of plants and flowers on the porches and along the just looked so European [ha!] and so pretty.

After wandering around, looking for some Roman ruins (which we completely missed because they were so unimpressive), we went just outside the city walls and sat on this hillside off the side of the road and ate our lunch. It was so rad [count: 2], just sitting there, looking out over the valley and the Umbrian hills…I think that was my favorite part of the day. [I am very disappointed that I did not recount here the story of how our butts got damp from the grass, and Melinda commented “Oh, damp.” There. I have now recounted it.]

After lunch, we went back to the Basilica di San Francesco and met the group for a tour of the church. Mel and I had to go to the bathroom so bad and we ran to find one close…which we did find, but it was a pay one and the pay thing was jammed, so you couldn’t even get in the door! Heather showed us and this crowd of old Australian tourists how she and Gina had wiggled their way in through the revolving door exit…it was so hilarious! These Australians were climbing through…this one old lady, and her husband was fully coaching her as to which way to go—“Now put your bum through, that’s right…squiggle in there…” It was so crazy…I really wish I’d taken a picture!

Anyway…the church was awesome. It was interesting, though—because it was so ornate, frescoes everywhere, his [St. Francis’] tomb was a total shrine…and his whole life was dedicated to renouncing all of that. Poverty, chastity and obedience were the three things that were fundamental to the whole Franciscan order.

The frescoes, though…wow! Downstairs, we saw Cimabue’s frescoes, Giotto’s frescoes, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti…all of the artists Jen [one of my roommates] and I were trying to sort out last night! And then upstairs were more Giotto frescoes, a whole series on the life of St. Francis. [It makes me so sad to read this. The frescoes I so loved were for the most part destroyed in an earthquake a few years later. They’re just gone. Powerful works of art, and they just don’t exist anymore.] And the guide we had was really good, she totally explained each panel. That’s so rad [count: 3] because then I knew what each one was about and what I was looking at, rather than just seeing—yeah, those are a series of frescoes on the life of St. Francis by Giotto. [I’m so profound.]

Midway through the tour, we stopped at the gift shop, and Mel and I were debating whether to get a book on the church or not. It was really nice—color photographs of each panel of frescoes, etc. And in English! But it was 30,000 lire [Oh, I miss the lire! I loved that exchange rate…15,000 lire was like $20 or something like that. It was so extravagant. I’m so sad it’s the Euro now.]…I thought that it would be perfect for all of us at the apartment to get for her for her birthday, but I couldn’t figure out how to get her to put it down and get Wynne [another roommate] to buy it without Mel catching on. Finally, Wynne and I told her we’d seen it for cheaper down the street [such liars!], and so I talked her into putting it back and looking elsewhere. Wynne went through a whole charade trying to get the book…there was one copy left and this other lady picked it up…AAAH! But she did get it [Wynne, not the book-swiping lady, just to clarify] and we all signed it and gave it to Melinda tonight at dinner.

That was cool, too…on the bus on the way home, I was talking to Melinda about what she wanted to do tonight—others were saying oh, we’re going out dancing, you have to come, it’s your birthday…and Melinda was saying she’d probably go. Well…I’m really not a dancing, nightclubbing type (really?!) [Ha! I love my self-mockery here.] but I wanted to go cause it was Mel’s birthday. But I didn’t really want to go! Anyway, we got back here and Jen & Lenay, I think, had invited Tom [one of our professors] over to dinner and everybody kinda helped fix. [Dinner, that is.] We put up the Happy Birthday banner we made for Jen’s birthday [another roommate birthday a few weeks prior] and made placemats for everyone. We had our candles in the wine bottles out and Jen wrapped Mel’s book all cool with pasta bowties and a flower…it was just such a nice evening. Laid back, just a leisurely dinner, Jars of Clay playing in the background [such sophistication], good food and conversation! And Mel said tonight—it was just really perfect [argh—Barbara, there are not degrees to “perfect”, it can’t be “really perfect.”], what she wanted. Not to have to conform to others’ expectations or whatever, but just have a nice evening here.

Today was kinda strange for me as well—just talking to Melinda now, about the Basilica and how rad [count: 4] that was—total contrast to a lot of the rest we saw today. I really was hit with the total Catholicism, saint reverence, ornate shrine, etc. this morning in the church with the font where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized. That Madonna with the electric light halo…man. I really need to get these thoughts and feelings into a poem. Just the question of why? What is the thought behind this? Is it the complete reverence and exaltation of this person or is it looking at God as too holy to approach and the saint as an intermediary, or is it just a ritual? Kneel down, make the sign of the cross in front of this statue with the light-up, plug-in halo? That really reminded me of that Gary Soto poem we looked at in the spring in poetry—the “glow-in-the-night Christ.” How do I reconcile this religion with my relationship and my experience of God? All of this is just so foreign to me—the icons, the ritual, the shrines and the saints. Psalm 25, totally. [I’m not sure what I’m talking about here, as Psalm 25 doesn’t seem relevant. I might have been referring to vs. 4-5: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” A prayer for understanding, perhaps?]

But the Basilica today—those frescoes were there for a purpose and that was awesome to me. To see the way they portrayed the life of Christ, the life of St. Francis so simply. In order for the people to see and understand. Art which is not self-serving, not overstated, not there to call attention to itself, but art which points to something greater beyond itself. It has a purpose.

“As critics scorn the thoughts and works of mortal man/My eyes are drawn to You in awe once again”

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| posted by Barbara | 4:25 AM