Monday, January 28, 2008

Catching Up Weeks 2 and 3

Week 3

Last weekend we enjoyed a wonderful concert at the Sala di Notari – cello and piano – I can’t recall the names of the artists but the Beethoven was wonderful and the audience went wild – four encores!! I haven’t seen anything like that since Bruce Springsteen in the late 70’s.

The week had its share of problems: one of my texts was never ordered, or so it seems, although that gave me a legitimate excuse to scale down the amount of material I intend to cover this semester to something a bit more in keeping with possibility. I am consoled by the patience of my students – who also see this as a blessing. I found a classic Life of Francis (Sabatier) available free online through Project Gutenberg. That will fill the gaps nicely, I’m sure.

Actually I found an interesting way to cover some of the episodes in the life of Francis. I was able to download the famous cycle of frescoes by Giotto that depict the life of Francis as written by Bonaventure. These were projected in class and I was able to narrate the most significant episodes portrayed. Actually this was a perfect prelude to the field trip to Assisi that was planned for the following Friday.

Below is a slideshow of the frescoes:

On to Assisi: what a privilege to be able to visit this magnificent gem of a town! I have gotten pretty skilled at navigating the major sites and I’ve become increasingly knowledgeable about their significance. So I am always eager to guide first time visitors – especially students.

Of course we had some problems: many of the students were not quite up to an 8:30 AM departure. Umbra does not schedule classes on fridays and therefore thursday nights are part of the weekend -- even if there is a significant field trip the next day I suppose. We've all had our share of sickness so far in this young semester, and I had to take one of the students back to Perugia after our hike down to San Damiano and back. Happily, Mrs. C was able to escort the remainder of the group while I reluctantly undertook this mission of mercy.

But also there were blessings. I maintain that you cannot visit Assisi without experiencing some unexpected grace or kindness or both. And that was my experience on Friday. Everyone I dealt with as I tried to get help for my student was extraordinarily generous from the woman in the infopoint in the “piazza del commune” who called the taxi, to Paolo the cabdriver, and Regina who met us in Monteluce to take my student home, allowing me to return to Assisi. But the best was yet to come.

Whenever I had visited Umbria in the past, one of my first intentions was to visit Don Aldo Brunnaci at the Casa Papa Giovanni in Assisi. Don Aldo is a hero of mine, having taken great risks to hide and protect dozens of Jews during the war. Judy came to love him too. (When he learned she was Ebrei-- he always greeted her with “Shalom!”) I was in Assisi, by chance, the morning after he died last year at the age of 93, but I was so glad that I had seen him two weeks before and he greeted me from his deathbed with characteristic good humor. Rita, his devoted assistant and housekeeper described him then as “vicino morto ma sereno” – near death but serene. So I had barely enough time to stop in an pay my respects to Rita on Friday, but when I did, she greeted us and ushered us into the dining room where we had sipped tea with Don Aldo in better days. There on the table was a picture of Judy and me flanking Don Aldo in March 2006. She had been reviewing some memorabilia and had put this aside as if expecting us to show up at any minute! Needless to say, this little episode was sufficient to put all of the frustrations and hassles in perspective, and to remind me why I was here in Umbria.

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