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
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
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