Monday, December 06, 2004

CHURCHES AND ARTICHOKES

I’m just back in Los Angeles after eight days in Italy. I was traveling with my sister Val, the opera singer, which was fun as we are both passionately dedicated to Jesus, art and, well, artichokes. Valerie is one of the only people on the planet who agrees with me that it is not over-doing it to order artichokes at restaurants twice a day for eight days. It’s our pathetic little brand of hedonism; make the most of it. We’re gambling that God, who invented the artichoke, has to be secretly delighting that one family, at least, really, really gets them.

We saw many beautiful churches. Exploring the sidestreets of Rome Thursday, we dropped into the fabulous Basilica of St. Andrew. It wasn’t even in our guide book – despite the immense and impressive frescos in the sanctuary of the martyrdom of St. Andrew, and eighty-seven different kinds of marble and lots of other works of glorious sacred art. It occurred to us that if any church in the U.S. had half as much beautiful art as St. Andrews, it would be a major place of pilgrimage for us poor sacred art starved Americans…and in Rome, it doesn’t even make it into the guidebook!

The people who had set up my trip were all lovely and solicitous, and, the sum total of their many kindnesses will have me working very hard to recover my bleakYankee crankiness about the imminent fall of Western civilization. Special thanks to Armando Fumagalli (I feel sure I spelled your name wrong…) and Paulo Braga in Milan, Pablo, the faculty secretary, and Juan Nobelas at Santa Croce, and Carmen of Opus Dei who pretended to be thrilled to spend the day showing us the great churches of Rome which I know she has probably shown to people 12,000 times before. Thanks to, to Fr. John, for understanding the essential relationship between sanctity and personal defects, not to mention the one between drama and the same. And thanks, Mary Cass, and the folks at Focolare, for getting me a room and a crowd to meet with.

As great as Italy always is, I admit that there is such a sense of relief when the plane touches down again on American soil. My sister and I sat in Philadelphia last night, waiting for our connecting flight, and making a list of the great little things about Italy, but also the equally great little things that make America a really nice place to come home to.

GREAT LITTLE THINGS ABOUT ITALY

1. St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul’s (okay not so “little”), and in a secondary sense, the Gesu, St. Andrew’s, St. Ignatius’, etc. etc. etc.

2. Artichokes Romana, Arctichokes Judaia

3. shrines to the BVM at every intersection

4. buffalo mozzarella

5. the rain makes the city seem even shinier

6. more kinds of panini than you could ever possibly hope to sample in one lifetime

7. the waiters see serving food as a personal vocation

8. gelato

9. Il Trevi

10. pumpkin tortellini

11. friendly cab drivers

12. did I mention pumpkin tortellini?

13. “the little people” mob a display in a plaza about the restoration of La Scala

14. wine cheaper than soda



GREAT LITTLE THINGS ABOUT AMERICA

1. you can find an open restaurant any time of the day or night

2. bathroom fixtures that are better in every respect

3. things tend to work here

4. the Internet is something you can access in your hotel room

5. washcloths

6. our workers know how to go on strike

7. you can use a pay phone without an engineering degree

8. retail places stay open from 1 to 4 every day

9. we don’t have hard-core pornography at 10pm on network television

10. our police don’t stand on street corners holding Uzis at the ready

11. our president isn’t allowed to also own all the major television stations

12. our train seats all face one way so people don’t have to watch you eat your panini and cannolli

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i thought it was great that the happy meal at mcdonald's had a panini instead of a burger! did you get to see peter's bones on the scavi tour?

John J. Jakubczyk said...

It was four years ago during the 2000 election that my wife and I were in the Eternal City for the first time. We attended a Path to Rome Conference and one of our friends took us to see the Gesu. Absolutely the most beautiful marble columns I have ever seen - the blue and the black and the gold. It reminded one of the scripture passage that speak of the very stones giving God praise.

The amazing thing about the art throughout the city is that by the time you get to see the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel, you are on overload. Your mind cannot absorb anymore.

And your comment about the little churhces on the side streets is also so true. These "little" churches are awesome. It speaks to the derth of great art and architecture in our modern churches in America.

But we have something that the whole world truly needs. In fact this could be the one thing that could bring peace to the Middle East ( aside from total conversion to Christ) - running water - working bathrooms with modern lavatories. American ingenuity is unsurpassed when it comes to clean sanitary bathroom facilites. This one single aspect of the American dream should be our most effective tool to bring about freedom and democracy in the third world. If everyone had access to clean running water and a hygenic sanitary sewer disposal system, there would ab a lot less angry people in the morning. They would thank God for runing water, for hot water, for a - well - you get the drift.
Glad you had a safe trip.

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For those of us who will not be going to Italy soon there is a website I just came across and would like to recommend. It is:

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There is a one time fee to delve more in depth, but they have some pictures of some beautiful churches and good articles. The book they offer, "In Tiers of Glory" looks good as well.

God bless.

David Smedberg said...

Here in D.C., the seats in the train face opposite ways. But you're not allowed to eat on the subway, on pain of fine, the rack, or perhaps being forced to ride the bus. So that solves that problem. :-p

Karen said...

I'm glad you had such a good time. Your post made me "homesick" for the Gesu and gelati. You and Val can have all the artichokes. Personally, the policemen with uzis would not bother me. I find them very comforting. Maybe that's a southern thing.

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