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Travels

Emma welcomed me  in her home for the entire week. She and her boys were so welcoming! Although she spoke English, her sons did not and manged to teach me a little French. Sometimes it was so humbling but I strongly recommend this method above any program that you can purchase or course you can take. Seriously!

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In case you think that the French Riviera is a quiet, peaceful and civilized place, think again. I heard the wolves at night and saw  wild pigs at dusk. In addition, you must take into account French roads and French drivers on those same French roads. It’s never dull!

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On the last day, my hostess told me she had a surprise for me: she pulled up at a Community of the Beatitudes! It was so neat! I had no idea that the same Community that I know in Denver had a house a few miles from where I was staying. It was so thoughtful of my hostess too, since she is not in the least bit religious.

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Some more landscapes, just for fun:

Sunrise over Grasse.

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Moon rise over Tanneron

Wonderful as it was, we did not spend every waking moment in the classroom! French schools are off every Wednesday, so that meant adventure and exploring for me and Valle. We met up in Cannes, a city right on the coast and straight away headed to the harbor. I think we both had an internal homing device that sent us straight to the sea. As it so happened, the ferry was waiting for us at the dock and we hopped aboard and headed out into the endless blue of sea and sky.

The Lerins Islands sit a few miles offshore of the French Riviera. They are massive rocks, jutting out from the water, impenetrable to constant push of water and wind or the changing monarchies who have fought over them for centuries. We disembarked onto St. Marguerite and let ourselves wander through the verdant garden that the Island is today. There are many ruins of monasteries, castles, and forts, though I suspect the fishing village is the one set of structures hasn’t changed an iota since the stone-age.

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Goodbye, Cannes!

The French Alps are impressive: they tumble down from snow peaked ridges and throw themselves into the Mediterranean.

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Approaching the Island dock:

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The sky was clear, the water blue and the sun was warm. I curled up on a hot rock a fell fast asleep until a troop of hikers came by and woke me up with their ha-loo-ing and shouting. I could see wind-surfers and sail-boats out on the water too, and they made their fair share of fun!

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The largest set of ruins isn’t so bad; in fact, it’s still used as a hostel and vacation house for families. The piles of stone of served their time as a monastery, a fortress, a prison, a yacht club, robbers den (what’s the difference?), and now a vacation hostel.

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The Man in the Iron Mask was the most famous prisoner held in the fort. Can you imagine? I shuddered to think of never leaving…..

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Dear Friends,

The trip to France was wonderful. I was actually there only a week and returned to Bergamo (Italy) November 9th, only to find the internet down at the apartment! That meant all I could do was work; so I’ve been working on papers and charts ever since. Please forgive the seeming neglect. Thanks to all who wrote letters!

France: 

A fellow student and I observed at a small school that was opened only two years ago by a former student and his wife.  The lead teacher, Laurent,  took the training course here in Bergamo only three years ago but his presence is still felt in the Centre. He was known as the ‘fire man’ during the training because he would call out, ‘More fire!” when he heard something exciting or enlightening in lectures. 

He has a rather unusual story: he was crippled in a skiing accident at the age of 19. When he awoke in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down, he was so happy to be alive that he cheered up all the doctors and hospital staff. He went on to start various businesses’ and such ventures but dreamed of starting a school. When he enrolled his children in a Montessori school, he was enthralled by the method. He recognized something that he loved.  The only problem was, his children didn’t stop growing and in a matter of a few short years he was faced with yet another decision of where to send them to school. The French school system is abysmal (by all local accounts) and, not in habit of taking anything less than exactly want was needed, decided to take the Montessori Elementary training himself and begin the school he knew he wanted for his children.  

The building itself is humble enough: it is a converted garage. The yard is limited to black-top and a few olive trees. There is space for a small garden behind the little play area and it was still growing an admirable number of cabbages, lettuces, and parsnips. The children even gathered the olives for pressing. Inside the classroom were long windows, letting in plenty of natural light and the room was filled with many familiar materials, all neatly arranged. Laurent either made the materials himself or had them made by a carpenter. Laurent drew and painted most of the maps, pictures, and paper materials for geometry, botany and science. This level of  handiwork in a classroom is almost unprecedented at the elementary level. The materials are often very expensive and must be specially ordered for the school. Laurent seemed to find the energy around such insurmountable obstacles, often making materials himself. It was easy to see why he was known for his ‘fire’!

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In the morning (Sunday) I’m headed to TLM in Milan and then on to Grasse, France. I’ll be working and studying at a school there for a week. I’m really looking forward to this trip! It means I can see a class in action and get a glimpse of what it will be like to ‘labor in the vineyard.’

I’ve decided not to take my computer with me. It’s so heavy and bulky and it wants to fall apart.  Right now I’m propping the monitor part  with pillows. I pray it will last another eight months; I’m not worried about it yet but if I should be concerned, do let me know. In any case, I won’t see it for week!

Thank you again to those who have made this trip possible! 

More adventures, stories, and pictures next week.

Break technically began on Tuesday night at 5:30 but we really couldn’t celebrate because we were too tired to move very fast. I think most of lethargy had to to with serious colds and all-pervading darkness of the evenings this time of year. In any case, Wednesday morning I ran away to Norcia. I needed TLM, confession in English, compatriots, children, discussions, and fermented hops. Not to mention the challenge of heading off into goodness-knows-where with limited Italian; its called a ‘wing and a prayer’ adventure and the secret is to know ~ before the trip begins ~ that no matter what, you will land feet-first into whatever comes along.

The first leg of the journey was more heart-throbbing than the rest of the travels. I stared out from my apartment with an hour to spare ~ and the train station is only twenty-five minutes away. It all seemed fine and glorious until I saw a the clock on the post-office read 8:45; the train was scheduled to 9:00. So I ran the rest of the way, huffing and puffing my way through morning traffic with desperate abandon for decorum or safety only to arrive at the Bergamo station a full forty minutes early. The clock had been fast, or maybe it had just stopped the night before ~ who knows!

The remaining trip had its moments, but those stories will have to wait for another time!

As I’m sure many of you already know, Norcia is the birthplace of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. The Benedictine monks that live in the monastery now are under the leadership of Fr. Cassian Folsom. They have an incredible story and you can read more about them here: http://osbnorcia.org/ 

The benefactors of my studies are remembered in a special way. I prayed for each of you and for your intentions here. And you made this trip possible! Thank you!

Here are some photos of Basilica, the Crypt, St. Benedict and views of Norcia from a hike I took one afternoon. 

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This statue of St. Benedict stands in the Piazza of Norcia, outside the Basilica.

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St. Scholastica is portrayed with a dove. On the night she died, St. Benedict saw her soul, in the form of a dove. ascending to God. The words from the Song of Songs is ascribed to her: “Arise my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come…”

 

 

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St. Benedict again, holding the Rule and crosier of an Abbott. At his feet there is a crow.

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A Romanesque  painting preserved in the Chapter room of the monastery.

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If you notice the stones within the wall of the arch seem to be a diamond shape; this dates the house to before Benedict’s time. It was a style of Roman building popular in the 300’s. The stones are actually square, but turned on the point so they look like diamonds. Rather clever I think.

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The crypt. The monks often chant the Divine Office here. These stones are the original of St. Benedict’s house.

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Mass finishing up and the choir monks processing out.

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Around the City:

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The picture on the left is interesting because you are looking at old official measures of wheat and grain and other items that would be sold at the market. The Latin words for grains are inscribed on the front of each bin.

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And, of course, the wild boar meat or cinghiale of Norcia is famous!  It gave the air a distinctive scent; in fact, the smell of meat and cheese with the whiff of a wood-fire across the sharp autumn air had the effect of making us constantly hungry. But because our hostel didn’t have any cooking facilities available, we had little choice but to eat bread with cold meats and cheese, washed down with Monk Beer. By the way, words stumble over themselves to describe the monkish brew. Not even Gandalf himself could make a brew so good. 

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 More mountains and hills of Umbria on my way home (to Bergamo):

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First (visible) snow of the year! The last two weeks have dribbled rain and now we can actually see snow! Ski trip anyone?

First Snow!

First Snow!

I knew it was there long before I saw it because its been so cold. The heating system doesn’t turn on until late October and in some places, mid-November. We’ll sit through class in our coats or at least the thin-blood southerners will; the Russian student is comfortable in a sleeveless dress and scarf.

The university students let out for lunch around the same time we do and everybody wanted to go to the park for sun and snacks. Me too!

But stop at the shop to get a sandwich. (Meet Vanessa, my photographer, gorgeous lady that she is.)

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Through the gate to Cita Alta….

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Sandwiches and song in the park, dreaming and remembering ski trips.

Then back to school for lectures on music theory.

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Poppets,

Early Friday morning I took a chance to fly to Madrid and meet up with friends who came down from Ireland. Our destination was Gredos, to join in a festival in honor of Fr. Tomas Morales. (http://cruzadasdesantamaria.org/English/biografia.htm) Madrid is a beautiful city but I hardly saw it as we caught the train directly to Avila.

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Avila is a town I remember well. The last time I was there I was a little girl of six or seven. The walls are still there, massive and imposing, rising out of the rocky hills as though city grew from the ground itself.

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We had a few hours to visit the Convent of St. Teresa. It seemed a bleak and barren sort of place! The centuries have simplified the once grand sort of visiting place that St. Teresa knew. It is now a fully functioning convent according to the strict Carmelite Rule. A small section had been set aside as a museum filled with treasures as relics of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.

The walls are white plaster, the floor-boards worn down where the nuns have walked for the past five hundred years. In the old visiting ‘parlors,’ complete with the original grills, there were a few simple plaques: “This is where St Teresa and St John levitated in ecstasy” or another that read: “This is where St. Teresa saw a vision Christ at the Pillar”. The spiritual reality of the events that transpired within those quiet walls has not dimmed with time.

The Spaniards are not without a sense of humor, however, especially the holy ones. The little museum held an unusual statue of St. Joseph. It was too dark for a good photograph (he is holding Baby Jesus), but you get the idea:

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He is known as “St. Joseph the Tattle-tale” because he would be placed in St. Teresa’s chair in her absence and tell her all that had transpired while she was away. Quite original, I think!

We saw El Escorial from the train, and I insert a photo from the internet since my camera was not working:

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This is not far from Valle de los Caidos, the “Valley of the Fallen” A reminder of those who died for the faith and those who still need our prayers. In a few weeks, Pope Francis will beautify 522 more Spanish martyrs.

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Gredos was a little town ~ but not to worry, it wasn’t the least bit sleepy. When the ‘whole town’ turned out for a festival, all 500 guests showed up. The mayor cooked up dinner. He also serves as the post-master, local bar-tender, guest-house facilitator, and evidently, the town chef. He actually built a sort of cook-house with an enormous frying pan suspended over a fire for just such occasions. Pealla is the obvious choice for a ‘big crowd’ for dinner. It took a moment for an adventurous American to get used to shrimp staring back at her from a steaming plate of rice. Yum!

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And now, friends, the fun is back in the books!

Grace and peace,

Irene