Monday, July 26, 2010

Assisi travelogue - part 2

Before I continue with my Assisi travelogue, a small adventure from today. We have a few trips coming up in the next week that involve water – swimming pool, beach, so on – so I left the house this afternoon in search of a pair of running shorts, swim trunks, something other than the cargo pants kinds of things I have been wearing everywhere. I found a little sporting goods place not far from the house, and the woman behind the counter happened to have gone to high school in New Jersey, so she spoke great English (it's too late at night here for New Jersey jokes). When I mentioned I was looking for something for swimming, she pulled out a speedo about the size of a Post-It - apparently quite the rage among Italian men, which is certainly making me rethink my upcoming beach expedition. “You like?” “No, I’m not European enough for that…” After I found an actual pair of shorts, she talked with me for another 10 minutes or so, about everything – how bad the economy is, how many chemicals there are in the tomatoes in the States, how many people she knows who are getting cancer from the aforementioned tomatoes, and so on.  I halfway expected her to invite me over for dinner to prove that the tomatoes in Italy really are better, as if I didn’t already know that…

OK, back to Assisi...

21 July 2010

I finally felt like I made the retreat into a true pilgrimage today. We started off as a group going to San Damiano, which was nice – smaller, simpler than so much of the overdone stuff. After lunch, though, I took off right away for the Carceri, the caves in the mountains near Assisi where Francis and his friends would go to get away and recharge the batteries. It’s a good 4-5 kilometers away, on fairly steep roads just about the whole way, so I walked for a solid hour in the afternoon heat before I got there. Just when I thought I was in shape…Needless to say, I was more or less wiped out by the time I got there, but it was a totally different feel from so much of the rest of the Francis-and-Clare stuff in town. The Carceri has been built up too, no doubt about it, certainly far beyond the simple caves that would have been there at first – I saw a stone wall way up the mountain, so I climbed up and found on the other side – a two-lane road! So much for getting away from it all…Still, there is an aura of simplicity there in the open spaces that haven’t been domesticated, and even in the relatively rustic buildings that are there: no running water, doorways so small even a person as vertically challenged as I had to squeeze through, and lots and lots of little nooks and crannies to hide in. Add to that the fact that it’s enough of a challenge to get there (at least on foot) that it isn’t nearly as crowded as a lot of the places in town. I found a little hideout up in the hills, no noise but the cicadas, a few razor-thin slivers of sunlight slicing through the foliage. I just disappeared for a long while, and it made me realize how…useful…I have tried to make my religious life (yes, I do mean that in a negative sense). Perhaps that’s an occupational hazard of being an apostolic religious, but I think I raise it to an art form. There’s an old Zen mondo about the young monk who is so zealous about attaining enlightenment that he meditates day and night, night and day. The old monk comes and sits next to him and begins polishing a piece of tile. When the young monk asks what he is doing, the old monk tells him he is polishing the tile to make a mirror. The young monk protests that no amount of polishing can turn a tile into a mirror, at which point the old monk walks away to leave the young hotshot to his new insight. If I keep coming back to the same thing, believe me that it is for my sake, not for yours, dear (few) readers. At any rate, the burning bush at the top of this particular mountain is going to continue to speak to me for some time. Let’s just hope the old knucklehead can get it through the skull to take off my shoes and shut up for a while.

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