Sunday, July 29, 2007

Meditalia - Capitolo Sei

Ciao di Roma!

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

Meditalia - Capitolo Cinque

La lingua italiano 101

"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,

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Meditalia - Capitolo Quattro (continuativo)

It's super hot this afternoon and I thought I'd come & spend some time at the cool Internet Point. It's not really that "cool" (as in snazzy) but it is certainly cool (as in, not hot)!

Just before coming here, I had a wonderful encounter with a signora in a local shop, one of the few places open during the sieste. I overheard her speaking French to other customers, so I addressed her in French. When she found out I was Canadian, she was thrilled! Turns out she spent 13 years in Montreal when her girls were teenagers. We proceeded to chat in a mixture of French, English & Italian. It was delightful... She expressed great admiration for the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, especially the Library. When I told her I worked for the Library, she was overjoyed! By the time I left there, I felt like I'd made a new friend. She even blew me kisses as I left. Now, if only I'd thought to ask her her name. (Somehow, it doesn't really matter...)

Originally, when we chose Cortona as one of our stops, we thought we'd be able to do a day trip to Città di Castella (it was one of the suggestions in our Pilgrim's Italy book). It looked simple on the map, but it's not quite so simple logistically. So, we've decided to relax here for another day before heading to Siena early tomorrow (Thursday) morning. I am grateful for this turn of events. Otherwise, I would have missed out on a powerful spiritual experience this morning. Allow me to share...

There is a wonderful road that leads to the Santuario di Santa Margherita higher up the mountain. It is on a steep incline, but it is lined with the 14 Stations of the Cross. Now, I was raised a Catholic. The Stations of the Cross have been in every church I've been in, but I never really paid attention. I never did the Stations; that was only for very pious people (ie. not me! :-)). I had never taken the time to reflect on what relevance they could ever have for me. Until today, that is.

As we slowly ascended the mountain, embraced by the scent of pine and the songs of the cicada, I took the time to stop at each Station. The Stations are illustrated with beautiful mosaics, approximately 2' x 3' and they tell a story without using words. This was how the teachings were passed on to the illiterate masses of the faithful in the past. Today, hundreds of years after they were created, these simple images broke through my learned ego-mind and reached my heart. It quickly became clear to me that the individual Stations of the Via della Croce (Way of the Cross) represented incidents and learnings from my own life. It is the story of falling, and getting up... of falling, and getting up... of recognizing & accepting help from those along my path... of accepting life on life's terms... of seeking to be of comfort to others even in times of personal trial... of falling, and getting up... of absolute surrender... of trusting that dark place where Faith is called to live...

I experienced the Via della Croce as a cycle that tells the story of Life. I experienced the Via della Croce as a cycle that tells the story of MY life.

It's amazing the gifts I received when I remain open... If I haven't said it enough yet, my gratitude is overflowing!

Until next time...
Pace e bene,

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Meditalia - Capitolo Quattro

Ciao from Cortona!

Cortona is just over an hour train ride from Assisi. It cost a whopping 4 euros (= 6$ CAD); no wonder so many people travel by train here - it's so affordable! We arrived in Camucia where we were to take a local bus up the mountain to Cortona. Only problem is, we arrived during sieste! Nothing was open except for a little bar, where we were told the Tabacchi would open at 3pm. You have to buy bus tickets in advance here; they don't sell them on the bus. It was 2:45 pm, so we found a bench in the shade and waited. And waited. And waited. By about 3:25, I called our B&B in Cortona to let him know we had arrived, but were still waiting. Turns out he had to come pick up his son at daycamp and he could pick us up himself at the stazione de treni. So it all worked out perfetto!

We were both pretty tired when we arrived at our B&B... The heat is quite draining, but who cares - I'm in Italy!! The heat drains me in Ottawa too... :-) We strolled around a bit, had dinner (a delicious locally made pasta called "pici" in a sauce of tomato, cream, bacon & rosemary - ymu!) and went to bed quite early. I slept for 10 hours and woke up refreshed and ready to go. Or I should say, ready to climb. Cortona is on a mountain and there is only one street in the whole town that is not on an incline. Not surprisingly, that's where most of the shops are.

Although there are some similarities, Cortona is very different than Assisi. It's more rustic and a bit darker. The "streets" are less refined (stones are bigger and rougher) and many of the buildings are taller. And it's obvious that people live here... This morning, we saw people tending their teeny-tiny gardens, sawing wood in front of their homes, running errands... We climbed up to the Sanctuary of St. Margaret and to the medieval fort for some stunning views. We'll likely go back tomorrow (Wednesday) morning in order to have more time to meditate in the Basilica. We had to leave today because they close from noon 'til 3pm.

Cortona is not very big and it won't take us 3 days to visit the whole town. We'll either enquire about day trips to neighbouring towns, or we'll simply take it easy and relax in the piazza with cappucino e gelato!

A presto amici...
Pace e bene,

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Meditalia - Chapter Tre

No one could have prepared me for Assisi. It is like stepping out of the world as I knew it. After the crowded hustle & bustle of Florence, this was like breathing again. I've never seen a place so shaped by its famous residents, S. Francesco and Santa Chiara (St. Francis & St. Clare). Their spirit is everywhere here, although sometimes you need to look past the tacky souvenirs. :-)

So many interesting little stories... I only have 19 minutes left on this internet card, so I'll type fast & furious. Some of the things I want to remember:
  • seeing my first field of sunflowers on the train ride from Florence to Assisi
  • the welcome we received at St-Anthony's Guest House - these accomodations are perfetto!
  • being overcome with tears as I stood surrounded by the beauty of the Basilica San Francesco
  • getting pooped on by a pigeon - good luck- on Friday the 13th - bad luck ( there's GOTTA be some symbolism in that somewhere!)
  • chatting with an Italian artist in his shop, having him ask me to use my contacts in the Canadian government to sponsor a show of his work in Canada (my contacts in the Cdn. government?! Can't help much there, I'm afraid! :-))
  • our adorable story-telling friar, Fra Daniele, at the Porziuncola in S. Maria del'Angeli. This is one of the most sacred spots in the story of S. Francesco and Fra Daniele shared his stories in beautifully accented English with passion and joy. What a treat!
  • meditating in an 800-year old church
  • sitting in Piazza Santa Chiara at night, listening to a spontaneous concert by a small choir
  • attending a concert at Santa Maria Maggiore church, one of the oldest in Assisi I think, where a visiting choir was performing Fauré's Requiem - one of my favourite pieces!

I'll stop there for now... This is our last full day in Assisi. It's very hot outside and we're taking it easy to stay cool. This morning started with a walk up to Rocca Maggiore where we stood at the very highest point possible, looking down to Assisi and the Spoleto Valley below. It was worth overcoming my fear of heights for that view!!

Thanks to those of you who leave comments - it's great! K, unfortunately, I don't know how to post photos from these little cafés. I'll see if I can figure it out in Cortona, our next stop. I suspect that photos will never be able to capture the intangible spirit of this place.

Ciao from Italia, friends! Belated wishes to Jack & Jay on their wedding anniversary, and to Ted on his birthday, and to anyone else who has been busy celebrating this past week. Also, I believe Hubby is running a 10-miler in Toronto as I sit here, a half-world away. Hope all goes well, Babe!

I've decided to sign off using the traditional Franciscan greeting from now on. And so, until next time...

Pace e bene,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chapter Due (p.s.)


Small-world story that Mum-in-law will find particularly amusing...
One of the meditators that we met last evening is visiting from England. When he heard we were from Canada, he said that he had a cousin who lived in... get this... Cobourg! This is Hubby's home town and where Mum-in-law still lives. What are the chances of going to Italy to meet and Englishman whose cousin lives in the same town as your Mum-in-law??! Carol, do you know Dr. Wilson? If so, let him know that I met his cousin John! :-)


Meditalia - Chapter Due

All is well in Firenze...

This is our last full day here in Florence. As in Pisa, the location of our B&B is amazing. We are one block from the Piazza del Duomo and are able to walk everywhere. More spaghetti... pizze... and of course, gelato.

Yesterday, we took 3-hour walking tour of the city. It was great because we already had a sense of direction, so it wasn't totally disorienting. The tour included entrance to the Galleria del'Accademia where we met Florence's most famous resident: David (by Michelangelo). What a stunning work of art! It is said that once you have seen David, you needn't bother seeking artistic perfection elsewhere... it just doesn't get any better. I have to admit that David is impressive. You can see the pulsating veins in his... ahem... arm. (What did you think I was going to say?!!) Equally impressive is that, unlike his contemporaries, Michelangelo would sculpt directly into the block of marble. The practice of the time was to create a plaster model and to transfer the dimensions to the marble. But good ol' Michelangelo was bold and gifted; he trusted that the marble would yield to his vision. And what a vision it was. David was worth meeting.

Last evening, we hooked up with the local english-speaking Christian Meditation group and joined them for evening meditation. A leisurely dinner at a pizzeria recommended by one of the group members, then a stroll back to our room. I fell asleep almost immediately - I've been sleeping very well!

This morning, we meditated in a beautiful church around the corner from our B&B. We arrived just as mass was taking place, so we took our seat and waited until it was over. After meditation: climbing! We tackled the Campanile (also known as Giotto's Belltower). The view from the top of the Tower, and its 414 steps, was stunning. I'll soon be running out of words to describe the beauty of what we are seeing here. All I could think about when I was up there, looking over the city of Firenze in all directions and hearing the church bells ringing, was THANK YOU. I was overcome with gratitude and I suspect I will be feeling that a lot over the next couple of weeks...
Tomorrow, we board a train to Assisi... I'll likely find another Internet point and post from there! Until then...

Vivere in pace,

Monday, July 9, 2007

Meditalia - Chapter Uno

Ciao from Italia! Pisa, to be exact... We have arrived safely after a 9-hour flight.

It's 10h45 on Monday morning and it's our first full day in Italia. We had originally thought we'd go to the coast today, but have decided to continue exploring the city of Pisa. Our hotel is literally blocks from that famous Leaning Tower and yes, it really does lean. It's hilarious to watch tourists pose as if trying to hold it up! Yesterday we wandered around and made some lovely discoveries: a beautiful quiet church to meditate in, as well as a teeny tiny leather shop where we each bought a handmade photo album.

We've been here for 24 hours and have already had pizza, spaghetti, cappucino and GELATO (twice! :-)). I think I should have bought pants one size too big, just in case...

The other cool thing is that we're both jumping right into the Italian language, fearlessly asking for directions and striking up conversation with the young, charming Vito at our hotel reception. He was great in teaching us as we were talking. So far, everyone has welcomed our attempts at using their beautiful language.

A presto, amici...
Vivere in pace,

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Taking Flight...

Many thanks to those of you who sent your good wishes! Please know that I am strengthened by your thoughts of love & friendship. A special thanks to My Girl Sunshine who called from Toronto and left such a beautiful message on our voice mail... Your energy is so positive and I thank you for sharing it with me! And unending Gratitude to Hubby who has supported me in living this dream since my friend first approached me back in November. I probably would have talked myself out of it were it not for you!

We fly out of Montreal, so we'll be leaving Ottawa around 12:30pm. I finished packing last night and concluded that my bag is now too heavy. Sooo, I'll need one last round of triage this morning. Hubby even suggested that I leave my "dressier shoes" here and simply buy new ones in Italy. I dunno... I bought these ones specifically for the trip! I think next time (!), I would buy less here and plan to buy more there... :-)

Next time I post, it'll be from Bella Italia. Until then...
Vivere in pace,

Friday, July 6, 2007

Just ONE more sleep...

I had the day off today and used it to take care of those last few things on my list.

After going to see the guy who cracks me up every single time (ie. my chiropractor :-)), I went to Capital City Luggage in search of an adapter for my camera charger. As I was looking at the wall full of chargers, somewhat dazed & confused, the Sales Lady came to my rescue. Turns out there's an adapter specifically for Italy, since they have this weird three-prongs-in-a-row electrical outlet. Sales Lady really seemed to know her stuff, so when she asked if there was anything else I needed for my trip to Italy, I said: "I dunno... is there?!" With great confidence, she simply said: "P-Mate. You can't go to Europe without P-Mate in your purse." She said it with such certainty that I felt I had no choice but to reply: "Well, OK then. P-Mate it is."

If speaking about normal, natural bodily functions makes you uncomfortable, you may as well stop reading now. For those who are still with me, you may be as surprised as I was to learn that P-Mate will apparently allow me to pee standing up! Finally, no more squatting and fearing wet shoes or moist pant hems! Now, here's the irony... the P-Mate is a lovely bright shade of green, with four-leaf clovers drawn on it. What are they trying to say?! HEY - GOOD LUCK WITH THAT! :-) In any case, if this thing can get me out of a pinch, with bladder empty & dignity intact, I don't care what the heck it looks like.

Ahh! what a joy to be fully human, with deep spiritual desires... and the occasional urge to pee.
Italy, here we come!

Vivere in pace,

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Two more sleeps...

This evening, I marked the beginning of this journey with a blessing from a local priest. I didn't quite know what to expect, but what a powerful experience! I feel strengthened... supported... and ready. This experience helped me confirm my intention for this journey in the form of a short prayer:

"Help me to deepen my practice of meditation so that I may experience the true silence of God within me, inspired & humbled by those who have shown the way."

Vivere in pace,

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Three more sleeps...

As I slowly make my way through all the teeny tiny details (i dettagli) of preparing for this trip, I need to remind myself of my true purpose on this journey: to deepen my meditation practice by tapping into the ancient contemplative tradition of the Christian mystics by going where they've been... by praying where they've prayed... by meditating where they've meditated. If I can uphold this intention, the minor details are sure to become less overwhelming.

I use a book of daily readings to help ground me when I meditate here at home. Today's page offered the following words of wisdom:

It is difficult for us to meditate because we are so hyper self-conscious. We cannot help, as it were, looking at the little television monitor serviced by the ego and seeing ourselves, thinking about ourselves, analysing ourselves. But meditation is concerned with a definitive silencing of that monitor screen. Meditation is a time of poverty, of silence, of self-forgetfulness. It is not a time for analysing ourselves, for thinking about our motives or imagining ourselves to be spiritual or sinful, but a time to be absolutely still in mind as well as body. (Dom John Main, OSB)

I cannot tell you how excited I am about the thought of turning off that TV monitor that my ego demands, and making the most of this opportunity to experience the silence, the stillness and the simplicity of meditating in the ancient hills of Tuscany & Umbria. How blessed am I!!

Vivere in pace,

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Four more sleeps...

The good news is... everything seems to fit in my backpack. (BTW, thanks to Nancy & Brad for the loaner!) I tested it tonite and there's even room left for new stuff! :-) I s'pose I could reduce the contents even a bit more, but it's not one less t-shirt that'll make the difference. Basically, for three weeks, I'm bringing:
  • 1 pair long pants
  • 1 pair cropped pants (I love these and will likely wear them most days!)
  • 1 skort
  • 1 pair yoga/running pants
  • 5 t-shirts
  • 3 tank tops
  • 2 long-sleeve blouses (with SUV protection)
  • 1 long-sleeve top
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 nylon shell (jacket)
  • 3 pairs shoes (yeah, I know... but they're all so different! :-))
  • 1 scarf/wrap
  • + various sundry items & toilettries...
I found it a bit challenging to decide what to bring because I'm told it'll be very warm outdoors, and yet there are certain dress codes for many of the sacred sites we plan to visit. Since I will be staying at a convent for 3 days (Assisi) and a monastery for 7 days (retreat at Monte Oliveto), I need to be respectful of my surroundings as well. I found the Rick Steves Travel Tips web site especially useful in helping me prepare.

All for now!
Vivere in pace,

Monday, July 2, 2007

Five more sleeps...

After a wonderfully relaxing weekend and Canada Day celebrations with Hubby & friends, the panic has started to set in. Sort of. I had little lists of things to remember scattered here and there, and thoughts would come popping into my mind: Oh yeah, I gotta do this... Oh, and I can't forget to do that... You know how that works, don't you?!

So today, I took the time to combine all those little lists into the mother of all lists, thanks to At this point, I'm willing to try anything in order to regain my sense of calmness around this trip. I have a Stuff To Do list, a Things To Buy list, and of course, a Things To Pack list. At least it's all in one spot now, and life is once again manageable. :-)

Now, if you'll 'scuse me, I need to go meditate and tap into that place where I know that, no matter what happens - or what I may forget to bring or do - all will be well...

Vivere in pace,