Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
I really can't wait to just sit in -- or wander through -- Rome's beautiful piazzas. As far as I'm concerned, that ranks right up there with the major sights that need to be visited. My hotel is very close to Piazza Navona (that's it above), but there are so many others. Not just the big famous piazzas, but the smaller, lesser-known ones. Those are the ones I can't wait to discover, as well as some quiet cloisters, if I get brave enough to knock on a door and ask the sisters to let me in.
I'm hoping my first day will be spent at the open market in the Piazza dei Campo de' Fiori, also close to my hotel. If my plane is on time (please Hurricane Earl track away from NYC on Friday), I should be able to enjoy the entire morning -- totally exhausted from no sleep, I'm guessing -- wandering around Campo de' Fiori before planning any specific sights to be seen. Sounds like a lovely way to dip my toes into the waters of Roman life, perhaps with a cappuccino and cornetto to give me energy.
To prepare for this trip I've taken out just about every guidebook to Rome from my local library. Hope no one else around here was planning a trip. I'm even taking a couple of the books with me rather than buying my own copies. I've been jotting down notes about the different places that catch my eye as I flip through walking tours, top-ten lists, and every other kind of guide.
I've also been preparing through entertainment. Do I know how to study, or what? So far I've watched "A Room With a View," one of my all-time favorite films and certainly my favorite Merchant-Ivory film. I've watched "Under a Tuscan Sun." Yes, yes, I know. It's not considered "art," but it's got some beautiful scenes of the Italian countryside and Italian life so I love it. I watched "La Dolce Vita." Okay, not all of it, I'll admit. I fell asleep. But I saw Sylvia in Trevi Fountain, which was enough. I promise just to throw coins and not myself into the fountain. Tonight I have Roman Holiday on tap. And, just for good measure, I went to see "Eat, Pray, Love" with its many wonderful scenes set in Rome. (I happened to like the book very much and think the movie got a bad rap by some.)
So there you have it. Only five days till Rome.
Fino a domani.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Six days until Rome...Today I'm talking about the churches that have made my "must-see" list. (This list does NOT include St. Peter's Basilica or the Sistine Chapel because they will be part of "The Vatican" post later in the week.) The church names scribbled in my travel notebook are those places that have intrigued me or inspired me for one reason or another -- the saints for whom they are named, the art that resides there, the people who are buried there, the architecture, the location, etc.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (in Centro Storico) is at the top of my list for a variety of reasons, the first of which, believe it or not, has to do with the fact that to get there I can walk down Via Santa Chiara (my youngest is Chiara and so this little factoid means something to me). But even more than the road I'll travel is the destination. St. Catherine of Siena died here (or near here) and is buried under the altar (sans her head, which is in Siena). A full length sculpture of the saint is encased in glass on view. Aside from being a Doctor of the Church, a mystic and in general a very cool woman of faith, I consider her one of my patron saints since my middle name is Kathleen. Is it a stretch? Perhaps. But my godmother came up with that assignment, so I'm sticking with it.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva also includes the tomb of Renaissance artist Fra Angelico and the tombs of two Medici popes -- Leo X and Clement VII. Add to that the fact that it's the only Gothic church in Rome, is chock full of great art, and is right behind the Pantheon and a very short walk from my hotel and it's clear why this one is at the top of my list. Plus there's that great Bernini elephant sculpture right outside in the Piazza della Minerva.
Santa Cecelia (in Trastevere) is home to the amazing sculpture pictured above, a replica of how St. Cecelia's body was found when it was exhumed in 1599. Not your typical sculpture of a saint, and so I love it. She has three fingers extended on one hand and one finger extended on the other, which, according to legend, was her final testament to her belief in the Trinity -- three in one -- when she finally succumbed to multiple attempts to martyr her. Apparently she sang through the ordeal. Hence, her designation as the patron saint of music. This church scores big points in my sightseeing book just for being in the Trastevere neighborhood, where I have two other churches on my list: Santa Maria in Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa, where St. Francis of Assisi actually once stayed. (Gee, here in NY the best we can do is George Washington).
Santa Maria della Concezione, home to the Capuchin crypt, which, I have to admit, I find extremely fascinating albeit morbid. This crypt is home to the exposed bones of 4,000 monks. The bones are set into the walls in a kind of macabre mosaic. Several full skeletons dressed in Capuchin robes hang from the ceiling. (It's from these friars that we get the name for Cappuccino.) The sign in the crypt says: "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be..." How cool and creepy is that? I promise photos if I can get them.
Closer to my hotel and in the Piazza Navona area is the Chiesa del Gesu, the Jesuit church where St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried under the altar. St. Francis Xavier is there too -- well, part of his right arm is there, but he used that arm to baptize more than 300,000 people so that's nothing to sneeze at.
Santa Maria della Vittoria in the Quirinale section, if only to see Bernini's carving of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila.
Rounding out my list are Sant'Agostino, Chiesa Nuova, Santa Maria della Pace, and Sant'Agnese in Agone in the Centro Storico; San Bartolomeo on Isola Tiberina; San Giovanni in Laterano and San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains), which is home to Michelangelo's Moses sculpture, in the Monti quarter.
I don't know if I'll get to all of these. Or, perhaps, I'll go to others instead. I want to try to avoid visiting too many churches on any given day because I don't want them to blend together, so some of these may have to be dropped as I go. Whatever happens, I know I won't be disappointed or at a loss for amazing churches to visit.
If you missed my previous posts on Rome, check the links below:
Countdown to Rome: The Food
With Rome in My Sights
Friday, August 27, 2010
One week from today I leave for Rome, so for the next seven days I'm going to talk about all the things I want to do, see, taste when I'm in the Eternal City. And although I'm going to Rome because of a Church-related program, I am not starting with faith. I'm starting with food.
I've been reading and taking travel notes for the past few weeks. If you could see my little notebook, you would surely think that the ONLY thing I'm going to do in Rome is eat and drink. I doubt there will be time for anything else.
One of the most entertaining food-related things I've read in preparation for my trip is The Food of Love: A Novel, by Anthony Capella. Is it great fiction? No. Is it fun fiction for a foodie headed to Rome? Absolutely. (Disclaimer: Do not read this book if you will be offended by sexual situations between characters that are more than a little "risque," as my grandmother would have said. They approach that subject with the same gusto they have for the food.) This book really opened my eyes to truly Roman food. I know Italian food because I am half Italian and have spent my life eating delicious pasta dishes and pastries and coffee and more, but my experience with Italian food is focused on what comes out of the Naples region, where my grandfather was born. My grandmother's family, too, came from southern Italy.
Food of Love allowed me to wander into Roman cafes and smell the smells and taste the tastes before I ever set food in the country. It also alerted me to the fact that I need to know how to say "spaghetti with calves' intestines" in order to avoid ordering it. The "fifth-quarter" of the animal is popular in Rome, and I know that, too, from my family background. My grandmother is known to say (whenever we bring up the subject in order to get her to say it): "The ears (knuckles, feet, insert any gross body part here) are the best part!"
So, here's some of what I want to eat when I get to Rome:
Fried zucchini blossoms (fiori di zucca fritti), my grandmother talks about making these but I've never had the chance to try them.
Fried artichokes (carciofi alla Giudea), a specialty of Roman-Jewish cooking, which I hope to find in the Ghetto a few minutes from my hotel.
Artichokes alla Romana. Can't have too many artichokes as far as I'm concerned.
Cappuccino in the morning. I understand you do not order coffee with milk after about 10 a.m. without looking SO American. I also have vowed not to order decaf anything while in Italy, even though I drink mostly decaf at home. So it should be an interesting and somewhat high-energy trip given that I plan to drink multiple coffees a day.
Espresso standing up. I have also vowed to drink coffee like an Italian, which means standing at a bar, knocking it back like a shot, slamming it back down on the counter and leaving. No lingering over a giant cup of joe.
Cornetti, those little pastries Italians eat with cappuccino in the morning. (My hotel includes breakfast, but from the photos I think I'll be able to do all right there.)
Spaghetti (or Bucatini) all'Amatriciana (with pancetta and tomato). Yes, I'm going to be eating meat in Rome. I've been building up my resistance for a few weeks now, dabbling in prosciutto here at home to get ready for the real Roman deal next week. I'd prefer, however, if the meat I eat is somewhat reasonable, basic chicken, fish, maybe some sausage, nothing too outrageous, like tripe (ugh) or, again, intestines.
Gelato, of course. In as many flavors as I can possibly squeeze in over a ten-day period.
Limoncello, which I've had a couple of times here but know cannot possibly compare to sipping the real thing in Rome. (I will try Grappa if given the chance and with other people from our group who are doing the same. If only to say I had some.)
Roman pizza, preferably pizza bianca from Il Forno in Campo de'Fiore, although from what I've read that might be near impossible given the crowds there.
Sfogliatelle, which I love even when it's a so-so version from upstate NY. I can only imagine what it will taste like coming from the source. I've got a recommendation for Bernasconi's, a pasticceria in the Campo de'Fiore/Ghetto region. I wonder if I'll ever even get out of that neighborhood?
And, of course, I plan to eat lots of things that are not on my list, pastas of every shape and size, carbonaras and aglio olios, seafood and vegetables, whatever they put in front of me (minus the intestines).
Have any favorite dishes you ate while in Rome? Know a great restaurant that's off the beaten path, non-touristy? Please pass on your suggestions in the comment section.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
For the past couple of years I’ve been obsessed with traveling to Italy. I made a promise to myself to get there, somehow, before I turn 50, which is in two years. I didn’t really see how it was going to happen, but the longing was so strong I kept holding out hope that a minor miracle would occur. I realize that international travel does not typically rise to the level of miraculous but that’s pretty much how I see it from where I stand, not having made it past Mexico or Canada since my college trip to China in 1984.
I’ve worked for the Catholic press for more than 25 years (starting as an intern at Catholic New York in 1984), so I felt a visit to the Church’s home office was a logical destination choice. Add to that the fact that my grandfather was born in Naples and my grandmother’s family hails from Avellino and, well, Italy just seemed like a place I had to visit at least once in my lifetime.
Then, a couple of months ago, I received an email from a Catholic writers’ group. It explained that a seminar for journalists who cover the Church had extended its deadline and there was still time to apply for the program, which would be held in…wait for it…Rome. At the time I didn’t even have a valid passport.
To make a long story short, I got the passport, was accepted into program, received a scholarship and booked a flight. In just a few short weeks I will be headed to Rome for ten days of what promises to be part professional opportunity, part spiritual pilgrimage and part personal adventure. The Church Up Close program, which will be held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, is filled with in-person “encounters” and classes with high-ranking Vatican officials as well as visits to the usual tourist haunts – St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel – and some not-so-common sights as well. We will be among the small number of daily visitors allowed into the Scavi, the excavation site beneath St. Peter’s Basilica believed to contain the tomb of St. Peter and others.
But even more than those “official” events, I am looking forward to simply being in Italy, wandering the streets, stopping in churches, sipping cappuccino, and soaking up a culture that runs through my veins even if it has not been part of my life up until now. The idea of walking through the incredible history of the Eternal City is beyond what I can imagine, even as I devour travel guides and Vatican journals and novels set in Rome. I can’t wait to be a pilgrim -- to walk in the footsteps of saints, to stand in St. Peter’s Square, to attend a papal audience, to experience the land of my ancestors.
Pilgrimage has always been an important part of our faith. Since the earliest days of Christianity right up to the present, believers have traveled to the places critical to our faith story, places that allow us to enter into a long-ago moment in time so that our spiritual lives can receive an infusion of courage and strength and inspiration.
In their book “The Journey: A Guide for Modern Pilgrims,” writers Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda and Michael Scaperlanda remind us of the significance and power of the pilgrim journey: “Although pilgrimage is often lonely travel, it is never unaccompanied. Whether we see them or not, or know them or not, others journey with us.”
Although I will travel to Rome alone in September, I will not be “unaccompanied.” I will be surrounded by thousands of other pilgrims walking the same path, by the spirits of untold numbers of pilgrims who have made this journey for century upon century, and by those unseen pilgrims who have not yet set foot in Italy but have promised themselves that they will some day.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
When I became pregnant with my youngest, I immediately honed in on the name "Chiara." At the time, I will admit, it had nothing to do with the most famous Chiara, St. Clare of Assisi, or, as they say in Italy, Santa Chiara di Assisi, whose feast day is today.
No, my fascination with this beautiful name started in college, when I was on a trip to China and spent three weeks traveling with a young woman named Chiara, who was part of our university group. The name struck me as the most beautiful name I'd ever heard, but that may have had something to do with my being named Mary, which, as they sing in the old-time classic, "there is something there that sounds so square." Chiara (the name, not the person) was about as opposite of "square" as I could imagine.
For more than twenty years, the name Chiara lingered in the back of my brain. I never really considered it when I was pregnant with Olivia. Not sure why not. But when I became pregnant just about six years ago, this name was my clear favorite. I loved the sound of it. I loved the fact that it reflected my Italian heritage. (Although we did at one point consider its Gaelic cousin, "Ciara," which also means Clare but is pronounced KEER-ah, as opposed to key-AR-ah.)
So Chiara Elizabeth was born on July 21, and her Italian name seems perfectly suited to her. Of all my children, she is the one that will settle down with a stuffed artichoke and pull the leaves through her little white teeth as if she's been doing it for a lifetime in Naples, hometown of her great-grandpa. She will go to a deli and request provolone and dried Italian sausage for lunch when the others are getting standard turkey sandwiches. She will scarf down fried calmari and pesto with sausage any chance she gets. (Note that she's rolling out pizza dough in the photo above.) So the name was definitely a good call.
Surprisingly enough, however, this name has led me further along my own spiritual journey. Knowing my daughter shared a name with St. Clare of Assisi made me want to explore this holy woman in more depth. I'd always been a fan of Francis, her spiritual mentor and friend, but Clare was a spiritual footnote for me.
As my own Chiara has grown over the past five years, so has my love of Santa Chiara. Her courage, her faith, her strength were remarkable, especially in light of the fact that she did what she did as a woman in medieval times. Next month, when I finally get to Italy, I'm hoping to find a way to get to Assisi for one day, so I can walk in the footsteps of Francis and Clare. And then some day I'll take Chiara back to do the same.
Today, when I opened my "Word of God Everyday" daily email, it included a quote from St. Clare: "Look into that mirror daily, always study your face in it, so that within and without you may adorn yourself with all manner of virtue."
I liked the quote, which was connected to an Old Testament verse about the Son being a reflection of God's glory. But something about the quote from Clare didn't sit right with me as it was. It was incomplete and could be confusing to those of us in the modern world. It almost sounded as though Clare were suggesting that we look into an actual mirror and study our own faces. So I searched for it and found the full quote from a letter she wrote to Blessed Agnes of Prague.
Happy indeed is she who is granted a place at the divine banquet, for she may cling with her inmost heart to him whose beauty eternally awes the blessed hosts of heaven; to him whose love inspires love, whose contemplation refreshes, whose generosity satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn; to him whose fragrance revives the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem, for he is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.Jesus is the mirror -- a mirror "without cloud." And we are meant to reflect him to the world. That's why I love St. Clare. Happy feast day to my baby Chiara.
Queen and bride of Jesus Christ, look into that mirror daily and study well your reflection, that you may adorn yourself, mind and body, with an enveloping garment of every virtue...In this mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable love are also reflected. With the grace of God the whole mirror will be your source of contemplation.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Quiet days of summer? Whose summer would he be talking about? As I read his words, I had a 5-year-old crying because she couldn't decide on which video to watch and a 10-year-old crying because she was having trouble learning French through a free online program. Mind you, she doesn't need to learn French. She's doing it for fun. In the midst of this, I was preparing for an interview for a story I'm writing. And I was minus one child, who's at Boy Scout camp this week, so things were actually calmer than usual.
Our summer is a lot of things. Quiet isn't one of them.
Speaking in reference to the Gospel reading in which Jesus tells his disciples, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be," the pope told pilgrims visiting his summer residence at Castel Gondolfo that Christians must "live a more intense life, full of good works."
Well, we've got the "intense" part down pat. Now if only we could find the quiet time for prayer and good works. Perhaps I need a summer residence to retreat to now and then.
I have a feeling that if Pope Benedict spent one afternoon in our house with my children his message would not focus on "these quiet days of summer" but on simply trying to remain sane in the midst of the circus we call home. Then he would run screaming back to Castel Gondolfo, thankful that no one there is crying over French lessons or video time or dinner.
Seriously, I do love the pope's message about trying to find time during summer vacation to reconnect with God. We make time for family, for fun outings, for sitting by the beach in the sun, but often times we forget to carve out some extra time to thank our Creator for our many blessings. And I do have many blessings, noisy blessings, but blessings nonetheless.
So today, if your days are as crazy as mine, try to find five minutes of quiet, even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom to get it, and listen for the whisper of the Spirit. If you can hear it over the crying.
Friday, August 6, 2010
For the past few days I've been looking at the numbers on the calendar, growing more and more introspective as we inched closer to August 6. It was twelve years ago today that I learned that the baby I was carrying, my second baby, had died eleven weeks into my pregnancy.
When we went for the ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage, we saw the perfect form of our baby up on the screen. I remember Dennis looking so happy, thinking everything was OK after all, and me pointing out that the heart was still. No blinking blip. No more life.
With that same mother's intuition, no matter how busy or stressed I am, no matter how many other things I seem to forget as I drive my other three children to and fro, I never forget this anniversary. It is imprinted on my heart. As the date nears, I feel a stillness settling in, a quiet place amid the chaos reserved just for this baby, the one I never to got hold, the one I call Grace.
Well, look who decided to show up and write a blog post. Long story. Someday I'll share it with you, but mostly it comes down to too many work deadlines and not enough hours in the day. Today I had to show up if only to respond to a challenge. OK, not a challenge but a fun request from two blog friends. Both Fran Rossi Szpylczyn at There Will Be Bread (and Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor) and Elizabeth Scalia of The Anchoress (and Summa This, Summa That) tagged me in a "meme" that is traveling around the Catholic blog world. They want to know: What are my five favorite Catholic devotions?
To be honest, my devotions are not going to look or sound like traditional devotions. That's why I added "prayer practices" to the headline. I tend to have trouble with regimented routines in my spiritual life, so my devotional practices are a little unusual. But still, it's what I do and maybe someone will find something there to add to their own spiritual practice. So here we go...
1. Silent, contemplative prayer - Of course, saying I prefer silent, contemplative prayer does not mean I am good at silent, contemplative prayer. It just seems to be the place I most feel at home. I light incense, I "burn" a battery powered candle, I sit on a little prayer bench before my tiny sacred space that is sandwiched between a treadmill and a recliner in my basement office (see photo above), and I try to listen for God. As soon as I arrive in that spot, I can feel my shoulders start to come down from near my ears, my breathing slows down. I don't do it enough, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that this silent time nourishes my soul and centers me. I've written about my increasing need for silence on this blog in the past -- in this post about my silent retreat, in this post on finding serenity in a bowl of oatmeal, and in this post about a sleepless night saved by silence.
2. Music - I know, that's not a "devotion" and it's a rather odd choice even as a prayer practice, but it's true. Music has been an important part of my life, particularly my spiritual life, since I was a little girl. I remember loving the old hymns when I was very young and going to daily Mass a lot. To this day, when they dust off one of those oldies but goodies at church, I smile. I began writing religious songs and singing them at Mass when I was only in junior high and continued into early college in my parish folk group. Music was my way to pray and still is. Sometimes I turn on Gregorian chant and just revel in the beauty. Sometimes, especially when I'm driving in the morning, I put on my Cornerstone retreat CD in the car and sing along to particular songs that say so beautifully what I'm feeling in my soul.
3. Liturgy of the Hours - Yes, yes, I realize this, too, is NOT a devotion. It's liturgical, but, since it is at least a semi-regular thing in my prayer life, I'm including in on this list. Like contemplative prayer, saying I like this practice certainly doesn't mean I've mastered it. Not by any stretch. And you would know that if you could see me fighting with my ribbons and pages in search of the correct readings, psalms and canticles. Still, this prayer of the Church has begun to resonate with me after many years of trying it and dropping it. I cannot even consider hitting all the hours, but if I can squeeze in even just Morning Prayer I can feel how it reverberates through my day. When I can't read my Christian Prayer book, I use my Magnificat, especially for Night Prayer. (And I love my Magnificat for Mass. And my kids love MagnifiKid.)
4. Spiritual reading - I find great solace and encouragement in the words of the saints and other holy men and women. In particular, I try to read something each night from Nearer to the Heart of God: Daily Readings with the Christian Mystics. But I sometimes focus in on the words of one particular person for a while, like St. Francis of Assisi or Teresa of Avila or Francis de Sales or Thomas Merton. And through them I often come around to a particular devotion -- a prayer before the cross or a morning offering or a prayer when I am stressed and confused. So the spiritual reading prompts me to seek out other devotions. Hence, its connection here.
5. The Rosary - Finally I get to a real devotion, but, wouldn't you know, I'm not really being entirely truthful by including it on this list. I am terrible at the Rosary, always have been. I want to pray it well, I really do, but, boy, I just can't -- or don't. I have a finger Rosary, a bracelet Rosary, a Rosary in my car, and countless Rosaries stuffed in drawers all over my house. I've got books on the Rosary, brochures on the Rosary, apps on the Rosary. I try and try, but this devotion trips me up. I have a hard time focusing on the words of the prayers while also contemplating the mysteries. I still work at it every once in a while because I know how powerful this devotion is for so many people. So I've included it here because I want to say the Rosary regularly once I figure it out or at least stay awake through it.
There you have it. Not a typical list of devotions, but it's what works for me. What works for you?
And, because this is a meme, I need to tag five other bloggers and see if they'll be willing to share their favorites with us. I choose Donna Marie Cooper O'Boyle over at View from the Domestic Church, Karen Edmisten, Roxane Salonen over at Peace Garden Mama (even though she was tagged once already), Cathy Adamkiewicz at From the Field of Blue Children (and PIME Missionaries), and Brian Caulfield at Fathers For Good.
Finally, on the news front, I'm going to have a book related to all of this coming out during Lent, so stayed tuned as things develop...
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Here's my favorite part:
"Your own mother might be just as holy as Mother Teresa.
"That truth was underscored a few years ago, when my first nephew was born. The first night I spent in my sister's and brother-in-law's home after his birth was literally an eye-opener. At 2 AM, my infant nephew awoke squalling and screaming. It astonished me how loud it was, and how long he could cry. How could such a big sound come from such a small person? More to the point, seeing how attentively my sister and brother-in-law cared for their child erased any and all thoughts of whose life was "harder" or "better" in the eyes of God.
"Traditionally, this was not always a widespread belief. In Catholic circles, at least, the idea of a 'vocation' was seen, in decades past, as something reserved almost exclusively to priests, brothers, and sisters. And it was seen by some as 'higher' than the life of the average layperson. When I was in Sunday school as a boy, we were given a drawing to color in. One side featured a drawing of a married couple, and underneath it the word 'Good.' On the other side of the page there was a picture priest and nun. Underneath the two of them, it read: 'Better.' Like that mistaken sentence in the new book, it was seen as a 'somewhat higher level of commitment.'
"Everyone is called to lead a different kind of life, in fidelity to whatever his or her vocation is, and to strive for sanctity. How do these vocations arise? Most often from our own strong interests, natural desires and and heartfelt attractions. A physician is interested in medicine. A lawyer desires the life in the legal world. And Catholic nun is attracted to life in a religious order. Through these desires, God is able to work, and fulfill God's desires for the world. A 'call' may be of supernatural origin, but it usually manifests itself in some natural ways.
"A young mother, then, might be entirely unsuited to the kind of work that Mother Teresa did. But Mother Teresa might have been unsuited for the life of a married woman. (Her constant intransigence in the face of any and all disagreement with her way of doing things might have proven something of a challenge for a husband!) Everyone is called to be holy in their own way."
Please go read the post in its entirety (there's a back story) by clicking HERE. And thank you, Father Jim, for this beautiful message.