Saturday, March 8, 2008
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Pace e bene,
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Favourite B&B Owner...
Giovanna in Roma! Wow - what a woman. She oozes with passion and love. She left each of us a small gift - a souvenir from Roma. When we contacted her to say good-bye the night before we left, she had tears in her eyes! I gave her a small box of maple sugar (a small gift that I had brought for each of our B&B hosts) and she very humbly accepted. "Can I kiss you?" she asked as she reached out for a hug. She kept on telling us that we were both "always smiling and beautiful" and that we were welcome to return any time to stay in her home. Although all our accomodations turned out great, Giovanna was truly special!
Favourite Insalata Caprese...
It's a tie between my first one in Florence (lunch on our first day) and the one on our last evening in Siena. This second one had tomatoes so fresh, I could smell them the instant the waiter set the plate before me. If you've never had a Caprese salad, you don't know what you're missing! Tomatoes, fresh mozarella, fresh basil and olive oil: simple and sumptuous.
I think this one has to go to our breakfast place in Cortona. It came with chocolate sprinkles in the shape of a happy face! The cappucino at Relais del Duomo (Firenze), made by Maria, comes in a close second.
The ristorante at Monte Oliveto! Most mornings, they were still warm. And, as fellow retreatant Giovanni put it, it's the croissant around the croissant that makes it even better. In other words, the environment of Monte Oliveto seems to make everything extraordinary. Again, the morning croissant at Relais del Duomo came in a close second.
Favourite Meditation Location...
This one is more difficult to choose. We meditated in so many beautiful and sacred places. However, meditating in the Porziuncola in S. Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) was especially powerful. Perhaps it was the context that had been set by Fra Daniele? In any case, to sit and meditate in the same church where S. Francesco & S. Chiara had prayed and given their lives over to God 800 years ago was truly special.
Favourite Eating Spot...
My little tree stump at Monte Oliveto. I found this location near the parking lot on my 4th morning, I believe. I could sit, eat my favourite croissant, and let my gaze rest upon the sheer beauty of the valley below. One day, I watched in awe at an eagle catching the wind and flying forever - circling the valley - without even flapping its wings.
How can I possible choose?! Each one had a special gift to offer. San Francesco - his simplicity. Santa Chiara - her faith & love. Santa Margherita - her imperfection. Santa Caterina - her strength & courage. And so much more! However, it is on the way to the Santuario S. Margherita in Cortona that I had my most powerful insight. (Well, one of two...) The Via della Croce was a journey unto itself. And S. Margherita was an inspiration. I call her the "Saint of Second Chances".
Favourite Chiesa / Basilica...
Here again, I may not be remembering them all... They were all so different, and yet the same, after a while. Although we didn't meditate there, our unexpected "discovery" of the Basilica S. Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome on our last day seems to stand out in my mind. Described as an "experiment in science & art", the external facade of the church offers no hint whatsoever of what lies within. Designed by Michelangelo (his last architectural design project), this Basilica was transformed from the ancient ruins of the Diocletian Baths. It almost appears to be carved out of a pile of rubble. And yet, inside, we are greeted by a massive dome - with stained glass cupola - and a bright vaulted transept bathed in light. The allegorical figure of "Meditazione" make this space especially meaningful to me.
No contest here: the chocolate meringue gelato from Il Gelato di San Crispino in Roma! This place was highly recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. (BTW, if ever you plan on meditating in Italy, this book is a must-read!) Of course, I didn't try every Gelato place in Tuscany, so more research may be required here...
Favourite Gelato Display...
Dolce Vita in Cortona. We happened upon this place early in the day and stepped in "just to look" (it was still morning, after all). Ha! So much for that plan. You simply cannot look at this display without yearning for a taste. And so we did. Yum!
So many to choose from, but interestingly, one does stand out in my mind. Standing on top of the Campanile in Florence and looking at the city below. I remember being overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings in my life, and for the path that had led me to that moment. I wiped tears from my eyes and did my best to take in the moment. I now believe this is what is called a "moment of transcendance"...
That's all for now!
Pace e bene,
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Having never travelled through so many time zones before, I couldn't have known what to expect upon my return. The physical symptoms of jetlag have really caught me by surprise! I had no problems at all in Italy; the transition to their time zone was smooth. However, my return to Ottawa has been somewhat bumpy...
We arrived in Montreal on Monday around 12:30pm local time. Hubby was there to greet us. It took a bit of time before I eventually made my way out of Customs. It seems my honesty on my claims form led me to some "quality time" with a Canada Customs Officer named Claudia. :-) Fortunately, she was very helpful & pleasant and my 30 minutes with her were not too stressful. Admittedly, I didn't know if I'd be able to close my carefully packed suitcase again, but it all worked out! I had to pay a whopping $9.00 in taxes on the items purchased in Italy.
In an effort to fall into the local time zone, I forced myself to stay awake until around 10pm Monday night. That meant that, apart from a shallow 45-minute nap on the plane, I had been up for 23 hours. Oy. Tuesday was tough. By Tuesday evening, I was experiencing some serious dizziness and I didn't know what was happening. At one point, I had to get down on all fours because I was sure I'd topple over! And I wasn't able to lie down & close my eyes to go to sleep; the room was spinning so hard that I felt sick to my stomach. I fell asleep propped up on pillows. But I did fall asleep...
Wednesday was back-to-work day, but I only lasted a couple of hours. I was in a fog. My body was present, but I was not. I was here, yet not really here. Très bizarre. But at least the dizziness had stopped... Today is much better. Although not completely alert & sharp, I was able to put in full hours at the office - I took the opportunity to catch up on some work-related reading.
And so, here I am, wondering how the heck I can possibly wrap up the sharing of this experience of a lifetime (so far). I think it'll take time... I've just started organizing my photos; I took between 600 - 700 pics, so that too will take time! :-) For now, allow me to offer these few teasers:
Firenze at Sunset
Until next time...
Pace e bene,
Sunday, July 29, 2007
How is it that it takes me at least two days to quiet my mind and settle into silence, yet I can step right into the noisy, urban rythm within 24 hours... And yet, as I realized this past week, Silence is truly my native language.
I am in transition. I have often struggled with the process of coming out of silence, trying desperately to hold onto the experience of being on retreat. It seems that this is quite common and our retreat leader, Fr. Laurence Freeman, suggested that we simply accept and remain aware - without judgement - as we transition from being a Retreatant to a Pilgrim. By "pilgrim", he means someone who walks in the busy, noisy world, yet carries the fundamental message, and experience, of Silence & Love within them. This was helpful to me - I find that I'm being a little more forgiving of myself... integrating more gently.
But there is nothing gentle about Roma! What a busy, bustling & scorching place. Again, I am seeking refuge from the heat in one of the many Internet Points near our B&B. From what I hear, it's been quite hot in eastern Canada as well. So, if I'm gonna sweat, at least I'm doing it in Italia! :-) The hostess at B&B Giovy near the Termini station is wonderful! She has been running this family owned business for 18 years and absolutely LOVES it. She welcomed us with so much enthusiasm and caring, and two cold glasses of orange juice. What a great feeling after being on the move for over four-and-a-half hours!
This morning, we set out fairly early and walked to the Colloseum... On the way, we stopped at Chiesa S. Pietro in Vincoli, where they display the chains that were supposedly used on St. Peter when he was emprisoned in Rome. There is also a sculpture by Michelangelo called "Moses" that is supposedly well-known, although not by me. This church also had a couple of sculptures that boldly expressed the theme of "victory over death" with the depiction of skeletons and a great representation of the Grim Reaper. Although we've seen dead bodies (a.k.a. "relics"), we hadn't seen anything quite like that yet!
Afterwards, we sauntered & sweated our way through parts of the Fora Romana, in awe of these ruins that speak of another time. Since we only have a day here, we debated how much we'd try to fit in. One of the Italian women we met on retreat urged us not to do like the tourists who melt into the pavement in the midday sun. "Take a nice long sieste and come back out in the evening!" So, we decided to make our way back to the B&B by way of Trevi Fountain (and yes, we threw a coin!) and Il Gelato di San Crispino, reputed to make the best gelato in Italy! The chocolate meringue gelato was a gift from the heavens... :-)
Later this afternoon, we hope to take a bus to the Vatican. We won't be trying to get into any of the buildings; we just want to stroll in Piazza S. Pietro.
Tomorrow will be a very looooong day. We are aiming for a 5:52 a.m. train to the airport. We arrive in Montreal at noon, but our bodies will still believe that it's 6pm. Um, please don't expect too much from us on Monday evening, 'K?!
You'll notice that I haven't really said anything about the retreat at the Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore. I'll be doing that in the days to come... Just know that it was truly a gift on my spiritual journey. I met meditators from around the world and now have offers of places to stay should I ever decide to travel to Germany, or Norway, or New Zealand, or Italy, or Manhattan! Remind me to tell you of my yoga sessions... a contemplative approach to yoga that encouraged us to read the body like a piece of sacred text. Amazing stuff that beautifully complemented the overall experience. Oh, and the food! And vino... molto vino!!
And so, the physical travel part of this pilgrimage is coming to a close. However, the spiritual journey continues... I'll post more on my retreat, as well as photos, in the days/weeks to come. Feel free to stop by again! Thanks for your good thoughts & prayers... We are truly blessed.
Pace e bene,
Friday, July 20, 2007
"Prego" = You're welcome... (following a Thank You)
"Prego!" = Yes, please... sit down anywhere you'd like!
"Prego" = No problem at all...
"Prego" = Please... Leave my shop now.
Prego is just one of those words where context and intonation mean everything. :-)
Well, we arrived safely in Siena. Unlike in other locations, we're staying at a hotel here. It's a little more impersonal, but the accomodations are perfectly located. By now (around 1:30pm), it's sizzling hot and not very inviting to wander around the streets of Siena. This is certainly a much more touristy town that Assisi and Cortona. There are stores everywhere... and many, many people. The main attraction for us in Siena are the sites related to S. Caterina. I'm learning that she was a very powerful woman in her time and was widely recognized as a peacemaker, sought out to negotiate between warring factions in the Church. In the 14th century, she convinced the Pope, who had been in exile in France for 70 years, to return to Rome. It would be interesting to see what the Roman Catholic Church would be like today were it not for her.
And you just gotta love the Catholics and our obsession with relics. Yesterday, we saw S. Caterina's finger on display. The church was closing, so we didn't get a chance to see her head, which was displayed at another altar further down. We'll be doing that later today. Yes, you read that right. Her head. Here, people pray to her head. The rest of her body is in Rome and we'll see if we can track that down when we're there on July 29th. It is said that S. Caterina is the most dispersed Saint. :-) On a less macabre note, this morning, we meditated in the house where she lived. There is a beautiful little chapel with magnificent scenes of her life painted on the walls.
So, I'll add S. Caterina to S. Francesco, S. Chiara (Assisi) and S. Margherita (Cortona) as new people of inspiration I can turn to whenever I may need it...
Siena is yet another town of hills. Not as many as Cortona or Assisi, but still, my calf muscles are getting a work-out! Tomorrow (Saturday) we leave for the Abbazie Monte Oliveto Maggiore for our 7-day Christian Meditation retreat. You likely won't be hearing from me until after that is done. I may write from Rome, but we're only there for a day, so I'm not sure I'll get a chance.
Well, I guess this is where I way Arrivederci... My family reunion is getting underway in NB, so I'm sending you all lotsa hugs from Italia. Safe travels to Sis & D. And Mom, thanks for posting a comment! I'm glad you got a chance to see this blog. I'm doing just fine! Hot, but fine! :-) And Hubby is in Lake Placid for a solo holiday and to take in the Ironman USA competition. Have fun, Babe and I look forward to seeing you soon!
Pace e bene,