Saturday, January 9, 2010

La Festa dell'Epifania

This year
we were lucky to arrive in Italy early enough to enjoy the celebration of the Feast of the
Epiphany commemorating the visit of the three Iranian astrologers (i Magi) to the baby Jesus. In Perugia, the celebration included a children’s party honoring La Befana, a costumed procession through the historic center of Perugia, and a free concert by a local community orchestra. La Befana is an old crone who, it is reputed, visits children on the eve of the Epiphany (5 January) to leave gifts of candy for “good” children and coal for misbehaved kids. The legend of Befana, which is an Italian original, is that the Magi stopped at her hut to ask directions to Bethlehem to visit the newborn king. Befana, always busy with sweeping and baking, could not help them, but after they had left she regrets that she hadn’t joined them. So she packs her bag with goodies and her broom and sets out to find il Bambino. (Part of the legend is that she had lost her only child and looks for the newborn to alleviate her grief.) She never does find him, and so she continues her quest to this day, visiting homes wherever there are children and leaving gifts and sweeping the floor. Interestingly, a Perugian street sweeper had attached a Befana doll to his little 3-wheeled Piaggio – no doubt a tribute to the patroness of sweepers. See the pictures. The procession portraying the Magi assembled in the Piazza d’Italia and I was able to get a photo of a double-humped camel – the real star of the parade -- and his handler.

We brought you peace!

As they proceeded down the Corso Vannucci, I took a video showing the Magi and other fantastic characters, including a black prince sitting high atop the camel looking impossibly dignified. As if all this weren’t amazing enough, the musicians played – of all things – an Israeli folk song Havenu shalom aleichem(We brought you peace).

Amazing Chops!

After the procession, there was a free concert, in the beautiful Sala dei Notari (the old City Council chamber in the 13th Century Palazzo dei Priori) by a local community orchestra, La Filarmonica Pretola, with a surprisingly eclectic selection of tunes ranging from Harold Arlen to Giuseppe Verdi. The band – all wind instruments plus percussion -- played well enough, but for me the highlight was the improvising lead trumpeter in "Over the Rainbow" (Sopra il Arcobaleno) who had amazing chops despite his advanced years – see the video.

Postscript: They're all here, safe, sound, and well-fed!

(Above Kara, Abby, Evan and Amie following a hearty cena of gnocchi and pollo.)

Last night was the opening dinner for the Spring Semester at the Umbra Institute. We were happy to find that all the SBU students had finally arrived safely -- and not much worse for the difficult voyage. Ryan had arrived earlier and his picture is in the earlier post. We found Evan, Amie, Kara and Abby in the lobby of the Hotel Gio, where the dinner was held. We'll be seeing them this afternoon at the Umbra orientation, and I'll try to get a few more pictures to put up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Returning to Perugia

Waiting for gli studenti

The Franciscan Heritage Semester Study Abroad Program (FHP) 2010 is scheduled to resume in a few days with the arrival of our intrepid cohort of St. Bonaventure students: Evan Comins, Amie Marasco, Kara Telfer, Abby Schaaf and Ryan O’Donnell. Kara and Abby are education majors who are taking advantage of the special opportunities that FHP offers. They will be taking courses that have been approved for education majors, including Developmental Psychology, language and Clare College courses. In addition, Kara and Abby will be interning at the Perugia Montesorri school. Evan and Amie will be completing a series of courses that will virtually complete the requirements for an International Business minor. Their course schedule will include several business courses that focus on European and global business practices, including the politics and economics of the European Union, and, of course, they will study Italian. Their semester will be topped off by a month long internship with the Costa D’Oro Olive Oil Company in nearby Spoleto. And Ryan is enrolled in the “full immersion” Italian language and culture program. This is a unique program in which students attend Perugia’s Universita per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) studying Italian while their progress is monitored by the Umbra Institute, which awards credits transferable to American universities.

(Above: That's Mrs. C on Corso Vanucci, still decorated for Christmas. Right below: Ryan enjoys the first of many pizzas at the Cafe di Perugia.)

Ryan is already here (his program starts a few days earlier) and the other students will arrive soon. I thought that this might be a good time to resume blogging. Before the program starts in earnest I thought it would be a good opportunity to update our activities since last year.

Last summer, Mrs. C and I visited three of our AFCU (Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities) partner campuses, Hilbert College, Neumann University and Felician College, greeting old friends and making some new ones for the program. We are looking forward to their participation, hopefully for spring, 2011. We’ll be attending the AFCU Symposium this summer at USF Fort Wayne, IN, and will encourage wider participation by AFCU schools. To date, we have enrolled students from Alvernia, Neumann, USF Ft. Wayne, Marian, as well as SBU.

Spring 2009 highlights

(From left to right: Senora Traub waiting for the bus to Todi;
Mrs. C leads Umbra Seder; Gerry Straub leads Assisi retreat; clockwise: Gilberto Zapitello, Tim Noone, Judy C., Colleen Noone climbing Mt. Subasio; Jacques Dalarun overlooking the Spoleto Valley, Mt. Subasio and Assisi.)

To review some of the highlights of last year’s program: We were happy to host, Dr. Maria Traub, of Neumann University, whose course, “Saints and Relics” integrated field trips to the sites of saints whose relics are found throughout Italy, with many Franciscan saints in Umbria. In January, we welcomed the internationally renowned Franciscan scholar, Jacque Dalarun, who gave a fascinating presentation illustrating his paleographic and interpretive skills on the famous autograph letter of Francis to Leo (which we were later to view in the Duomo in Spoleto.) Later in the semester, we hosted a Passover Seder, led by Mrs. C, and attended by students of various faiths. We organized a lenten retreat at Casa Papa Giovanni, in Assisi, lead by the well-known Franciscan film maker Gerry Straub, and attended by Tim Noone (yes, another famous scholar) and his wife, Colleen, and the Italian philosopher Gilberto Zapitello. Of course, we also took students on field trips to Assisi, Montecasale, and La Verna in conjunction with my course on “Contemporary Global Issues: The Franciscan World View.” We look forward to resuming many of these special events, and an expanded range of courses and visitors with more students participating in 2011.

Mrs. C’s famous melanzane parmigiana

Back in the US this fall, we sponsored the visit of Tom Cornell of the Catholic Worker Movement, Pax Christi, and the Catholic Peace Fellowship Tom is credited with organizing the very first anti-Viet Nam war demonstration in 1963, and the first corporate act of resistance to the Viet Nam War, the burning of draft cards, in 1965. (See picture on the left from NYTimes, 1965.) We first met Tom in Assisi in March, 2008, where he led a conference on the issue of conscientious objector status for Catholic GIs. He was returning from an audience with Pope Benedict regarding the CO question, and was accompanied by a former Abu Ghraib interrogator, Joshua Casteel, who had recently won a CO discharge as a Catholic pacifist. While at SBU, Tom visited several classes, lectured to the University Forum, and visited the Olean cabin where Thomas Merton summered with Robert Lax. (See photo on the right for Tom in Lax's cabin.)

Finally, no update would be complete if I didn’t mention the visit to SBU of several of my students from the previous spring: Nikki Tarantula and Ashlee Serik, from Neumann, and Patrick Craven from Elon U. They were visiting their Bonaventure friends Phil Penepent and Noel Baylor. Patrick also had a more "serious" purpose: he had decided to write his senior thesis on "Franciscan Theology of Creation and Community Supported Agriculture," and so I was happy to bring him to Mt. Irenaeus and Canticle Farm to interview Franciscan brothers and sisters whose ministries embodied the spirit of Francis and nature. (See photo above of Patrick at Canticle Farm with Sister Joyce Ramage, Farmer Mark Printz, and unnamed dog.)

Of course, we could not let the leave western New York without a fine dinner of Mrs. C's famous melanzane parmigiana (eggplant parmesan) !!!!

(Above is a picture of -- clockwise -- Ashlee, Nikki, the C's, Phil, Noel and Patrick. Notice the clean plates and the conspicuous bottle of Costa D'oro's Il Grezzo on the table.)

Next: The Magi visit Perugia