Friday, 28 April 2006
We just had our first full on home tournament for football at the school, hosting 4 other schools. Girls came in 2nd, boys in 1st. I was unable to fully participate because of needing to take time off to recuperate. But the highlight for me was Imam Kelley's chearleading-dancing- she managed to get every one from every team excited about football! If they weren't excited and dancing, this bundle of energy would start dancing to the music being blared out until they joined with her.
This weekend, looking forward to heading back to Shoofshowen (Chefchaouen in French), where I've planned a retreat for a minority of the Global folks. (Pronounced Chefchaouen by the French- which is why their transliteration system never became universal.) Shoofshowen has to be perhaps the most beautiful town I've seen in Morocco- all painted the most beautiful blue from the Jews that used to live there. Very laid back, but looking forward to enjoying each other's company and spending time hanging out with my Dad. Only 6 rooms in the hotel for 16 people total, so we've booked out the entire hotel for our privacy!
Thursday, 27 April 2006
Strange thing is, it's the first I've seen in all of Morocco, and I thought these were more common in the deserts than in this well-watered area. But others have said they've seen them in the countryside around here before. It's what I had wanted our school mascot to be- the Maghreb Agreb- Moroccan Scorpions. But I was outvoted for the Mustangs. Now it makes more sence though- we evidently actually have them on school grounds! Do I see any Mustangs here? I don't think so!
Now I have to decide what to do with him. I don't have a terrarium to keep him in, and I don't think I want to, considering how deadly he is. I don't want to release him near the school, and I don't want others to get stung by him. But then, he was here first. Ah, biological ethical dilemmas...
Another fun biology moment was these babies, just born under a rock near a parking lot at the school.
Sunday, 16 April 2006
I asked the stewardesses to find out if there was a doctor present, thinking, I'll never be able to get married if this is permanent. No doctor was on board, but a kindly nurse came back, to recommend that I take some aspirin, and that she couldn't diagnose, but I should definitely see a doctor when we landed. I was in a great fright, and laying hands on my face, and praying over it. The only way I could move anything on the right side of my face was with my hand. I could feel my face, but it was also numb at the same time. The pilot came back, and wanted to know what I would prefer- should he divert the plane to Spain or not? He had to know now, because we were about to fly over Algeria, and it was not possible to land in Algeria. (This may have been because a number of those on board were Moroccans, and thus forbidden to travel within Algeria.) But I think I was thinking that I'd rather die than inconvenience an entire plane of people. And at about this time the nurse said that my face was looking better. I noticed I could move my mouth a little bit. I could partially close my eye. And very slowly, the control returned. It had been a long 15 minutes.
Upon landing I got off the plane as quickly as possible, and arrived to see the train from the airport had left 10 minutes before I got there. I called my friend Katie up to get her help in going to the hospital, and went out to check on the availability of buses back to town, but the last one had likewise recently left. Taxis are too expensive from the airport. So I returned to the train station, but to get there, you have to go into the terminal again, which means through the screeners. The guy in front of me was taking his time as he had difficulty comprehending how to step through a screener, and in the meantime my bag was going through. I saw the look of shock on the face of the screeners and their exclamations as they x-rayed my bag, and knew what was going on. But I couldn't get to the bag until I went through the metal detector myself. Then I had security pull out the replica of the Dillinger I had bought in San Marino for the Oliver play- a replica I had no real problems with in the airport in Rome, where I explained that it was only an authentic-looking replica. But here, it went through 5 security levels, while I explained why I needed it, and had to go through the whole story of what happened on the airplane, to explain why I had left the terminal and was coming back in, but not to take a plane, just the train- and all this in Arabic. They finally gave the Dillinger back to me, sternly admonishing for me not to take it out in the airport, which of course had been my intention all along.
Katie picked me up from the train station, and we went off to the Cardiologist. They did a number of scans, including an MRI of my brain, and sonograms of my heart and arteries. (It turns out it was a boy.) Nothing was revealed in all of the scans until they got to my carotid arteries, where they saw that my left carotid is 1/2 occluded with plaque. A piece likely broke off and traveled to the brain, causing temporary paralysis. The doctor said it was a temporary partial stroke, but if I'm not careful, it can recur.
So, the doctor gave me some prescriptions, and I'll visit her again tomorrow. I was told to take a couple weeks of work off, but I'll take 1/2 days off instead, and see how things go. It looks like I need to radically change my diet and start exercising. She said chicken and beef are okay without fat, but to avoid lamb. I'll find out more tomorrow. In the meantime, please be praying for me that I can get this problem fixed, without any recurrences. And praise God for this opportunity to catch the problem before it became really bad. If the plaque hadn't broken off, it could have become completely occluded and then the results could have been permament.
Friday, 14 April 2006
I'm typing this in my last few hours in Assisi. God was good, and provided a French woman getting her doctorate in religious studies in Italy who spoke English, by the name of Agnes, whom I met up with just outside the train station. She was on her way to the youth hostel, so I was able to join her, and ask if they had rooms. No rooms Thursday night, but one Friday night. So I got Friday night, left my stuff there, and went out, waiting to see. I came back, and the kind people at the Hostel of Peace had been able to get me a bed for that very night- a hard thing to do during Easter week when so many pilgrims have come to this town.
Some things are surprising, some things confirmed. Evidently there is a temple to Minerva in the middle of the town square (now a church). And a building that looks like the one that Francis threw the clothes out of in the movie. But unfortunately much that was here was destroyed in an earthquake only 10 years ago. However, Assisi has been preserved as an ancient town, with few modern buildings (although of course a McDonald's is present).
The baptismal font Francesco and Claire were baptised in still remains in the Cathedral of St. Rufino. In front of the church is the square where Francis was filmed disrobing in Brother Sun Sister Moon.
Off in a corner of the town is the square where Francesco actually disrobed in front of the bishop, at the Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore. And inside is an incredibly intricate creche of about 3 meters square, all in miniature. All that area of blue in the back is actually intricate figurines, over the course of four minutes going from night to day. I wish I had enough film to have captured it on video.
There in the Basilica of St. Claire (or St. Chiara), is the cross originally at the church of San Damiano, the first church Francis rebuilt. He heard Christ speak from the crucifix to "Rebuild my church, which, as you can see, is in ruins." So he set about rebuilding three churches, until he realized that Jesus had actually meant the true Church of the people, not the buildings. Then he set about evangelizing the people.
I've been reflecting on this here. How Christ calls us to something, and we can get it wrong. Even Francis got it wrong at first. But He continues with us, to bring us on the right path. And in the meantime, Francis is working with his hands, establishing his band of followers, devoted to hard work and poverty. He had the opportunity to learn and experience Holy Sister Poverty as he cared for the places of meeting. Was it truly the wrong path? It's hard to answer metaphysically. But it was not a wasted path. Sometimes, I can feel like the path I'm on now is not the right one, that I got it wrong. That what I've been doing was wrong, and a waste. Francis reminds me that, even if the wrong path, even if I got it wrong, it was not a waste. God was still working in that, to prepare me for something greater in the future.
Francis is now buried in a very large crypt, in a very fancy cathedral, on which is built a 2nd very fancy cathedral. I visited his grave and, just for a second, saw him rolling over in it. So I'm more interested in the places truly representative of his vows of poverty, and where he spent the time before his legacy got interrupted. I went up to the hermitage, where his cave was where he prayed, a 4.5 km walk up the mountain. Nice to see, but a lot of people there for Pascha (Easter) weekend.
So I climbed down the mountain to reach San Damiano, where the crucifix that spoke to Francis was originally. They have there a replica of the cross, and a very old-fashioned church, something of which is what Francis rebuilt. Outside is where he came up with his Canticle, Brother Sun Sister Moon (although originally the music wasn't by Donavan), commemorated by the statue in the midst of the flowers. And a wonderful statue of him, pictured below, most fully expressing the spirit of the saint of any statue I saw there in Assisi- to many it looks completely like a real person. There I met a Franciscan monk who had a wonderfully pure and kind heart. (He is pictured in front of the church below.)
I spent the day walking between these locations, praying, and eating. I am so glad I brought my lactase pills with me! It would seem that all good food in Italy has some layer of milk in it. I loved Assisi too because it seemed everyone there was desirous of coming closer to God, and paying homage to the saint.
That night I was honored to witness something spectacular, the March of the Crucified Christ. It progressed from the Cathedral of St. Rufino to the Basilica of St. Francis and back again. (As one can gather, there are many churches in and around Assisi.) As the light began to fail in front of the Temple of Minerva, we waited in an increasingly restless crowd. And then- Bang. Bang, bang. A great drum sounded with three beats, one, and then two in quick succession. The crowd quieted slightly, but then nothing, for a minute.
And then again. Bang. Bang, bang. And slowly to our right some monks in full medieval attire, with brown robes and rope belts, began to walk down the long alley between the crowd. And a crowd of thousands became suddenly silent, as we watched the commemoration of the walk of our Lord towards his resting place. Every minute, again, three beats. And the first hooded man showed up, carrying a cross, wearing a white jallaba with a white hood, with only holes for the eyes. He was followed by more monks, and then another hooded man with a cross. About 5 white hooded men with crosses passed by, and more monks, before the grey hooded cross-bearers arrived. Then more monks, and black-hooded bearers. And then the nuns in the back can be heard, distantly, singing quietly. As they approached we heard the priest in the back directing the singing in the loudspeaker, but very quietly, respectfully. And the singing stops as they passed us, and begins again after a long wait. And finally, the statue of the Mother of God carried by 8 monks, with seven swords through her. (Which I learned from Agnes afterward was to represent the wounds she experienced emotionally at the death of her son.)
I watched all this, and then circled up through the top of the city on the hill, speed walking to the other side of the town. (And I'm proud to report no one passed me on the way, though many others had this same plan.) I arrived at the tail end of the route, to watch the procession again- this time with only torches to light their way in the failing evening light. I followed the crowd into the basilica, where we heard a sermon (in Italian), and then they left to repeat the procession back to the Cathedral. Throughout it was a time of contemplation, of quiet mourning, of great weight.
It may seem that I love Assisi, but have been downplaying the official sites. That's true. Because I find much more spiritual sustenance in the non-official locations. Simply the environs of Assisi, where Francis lived and walked and had his being. That is what he loved. To get out in nature, to enjoy Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Air. By taking paths less traveled, one after another, I discovered a secret path running between San Damiano and the hostel I was staying, taking about 20 minutes to traverse. Along the path I found myself in a field, looking nothing so much as the spot from the movie where Claire tells Francis that others think him mad, but she thinks he is more sane than anyone else.
I wanted to hear God in Assisi, and listen to Him. And He came powerfully. I have been hearing, in the far back of my mind, of late, the call to give up what we have. And to seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you. I have been hearing Him speak on the nature of confidence, and my need to have confidence in Him. I want more than anything to get married. But the places where I might be seem to be the wrong places for that dream to come true. As I sat down to pray under the tree, I was reminded again of this, and that God would provide for me. That God wanted me to pursue my heart, regardless of what has happened in the past. And I opened up my Bible, and there in front of me, was Paul telling the Jews in Rome that he came to Rome through very unusual circumstances. He dreamt of going to Rome, but he ended up going in a way that was not at all how he had originally planned. I opened up the Bible to the section that I had put a Francis bookmark in for a friend. There was a note about how all nations were present at Pentacost, including the Arabs. I went to where I had a cobra skin, a boa skin, and a rattle skin from the Reptairium secreted in my Bible for safety. There was a passage that spoke of not worrying. For who among you can add one cubit to his lifespan? And behold, there was the exact passage I had been receiving earlier that day in my mind, of all these things being added unto us! That if I would pursue what I was called to, God would add the other things. And then I looked through a final bookmark in the Bible, the palm leaf cross with the image of the Pope in it, that I'm holding up in the picture of me standing between the Vatican and Rome. There I saw Paul saying that the only way to achieve real gain and surety is by giving everything up. Truly we serve a great God, who delights to give good gifts, who answers his children! For he has forcefully answered me.
I celebrated today by going to my first confession. I went to the Basilica of St. Francis, and asked for an English-speaking priest. After a moment a Franciscan priest came up to hear my confession. I shared with him that I had sdkjs cksnfrei xjxion scixk skjnenioxl ksne and had trouble lnkxsli llskf nskldjlsikx kdntnk siicjl, and this probably stems from wenxion sn liown lxkni lkenixol wlo. But then found out that he couldn't give absolution as I wasn't Catholic and therefore didn't fully appreciate the sacrament, although he did pray for me, and we said the Lord's prayer, and he spent time listening to me, and blessed me. Which was a very pleasant end to a grand pilgrimage.
Thursday, 13 April 2006
It's all built on a series of seven hills, with the capitol in the center. It's a country so small that the Secretary of State is marked by a plaque and a green door (as pictured below). Where the restaurants all close by 8, and the stores by 9 (I discovered just in time).
I got pictures for my biology classes at the Reptilium/Aquarium, as well as a Natural History Museum, where they had these Megalodon shark jaws next to Great White Shark jaws. (Megalodons thankfully roamed the seas millions of years ago.) The Great White jaws are on the left.
The museum was very well done for such a small place, showing the flora and fauna, present and past, of San Marino, and other areas. And I got to see my first living newt ever! (If you look close you can see him eating a live grub.)
The Reptilium had crocodiles, pygmy marmosets (I know, not actually a reptile or aquarium animal), paronas, and loads of snakes. One rattler in particular gave me great pleasure as it demonstrated all of its defenses, rising up into perfect striking pose with a great deal of rattling. The closer I got to him, and the more time I spent with him, the closer he came to striking. And then I got to see one keeper feeding one of the highly poisonous cobras, very carefully taking it out of it's cage.
There were even small sea turtles and a 1/2 meter river turtle from the Southern US.
Wednesday, 12 April 2006
Today was the last two items, the Sistine Chapel and the catacombs. The Sistine Chapel has a bit of a line. I mean, an hour and a half. Then you get in, and you are lead through one path only, through one museum after another, and then another, till you get to Raphael's frescoes. The one of the Athens crowd was great- with Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Raphael, Michaelangelo, Aristotle, Socrates, Democritus, and many others. I'm not so much of an art museum guy myself, so it was a bit of a hike, to get to the end. But the paintings and tapestries are amazing. I particulary enjoyed the ancient map room, with giant maps from floor to ceiling, and what looks like a gold scuplted ceiling in a hall bigger than any apartment building I've ever lived in. After 2 hours going through giant crowds in the museum, we got to the Sistine Chapel.
I must confess, I always thought the Sistine Chapel was the same as St. Peter's. Kind of got them mixed up in my mind. Probably because it's as big as a cathedral. No pictures allowed in that room unfortunately. But there was God touching Adam's finger, Adam and Eve talking with God, Adam and Eve being tempted, Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden, the flood, even Noah's sons stumbling upon his nakedness. All in amazing restored colour. It was very beautiful, and very vivid. Especially the torment of souls in Judgement Day. Interesting how Michaelangelo painted his picture on the dead discarded skin of one saint who rises to paradise with a new body.
I recall the excellent movie, Shoes of a Fisherman. <Warning: Spoiler> There the new Pope decides the only way to save the world from nuclear distruction is to give up the wealth of the church to the poor. I never realized till today how wealthy the church is. Not including lands and things in other places, the Catholic church has just so much there in the Vatican! All that gold, all that silver. What good will it bring if it does not bring you happiness, as St. Francis said?
So the last stop was the catacombs, outside Rome, on the underground, a bus ride, and a long walk down the oldest major Roman road, the Appian Way, going back to 312 BC. Back to when we were embracing Holy Sister Poverty. Down a deep tunnel, into the bowels of the earth, where 100,000 Christians are buried in narrow tombs, between narrow tunnels of soft lava rock covered in perspiration. Here we breathed our prayers when we first left the houses to live life underground. We conducted death, and life, in a place when we had nowhere else to go. In 7 kilometers of stone we built a life, painting minature frescoes of the Last Supper, the Good Shepherd, and the Garrascene Demoniac. Perhaps fitting that there are no pictures allowed here either. For all the gilt, all the wonder of Rome, here is the true shock and awe of the Church, in humility and poverty.
So tomorrow, hopefully, after a detour to San Marino, I'm going to try for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in Assisi. Pray for me. I don't have a place to stay there yet, and am still looking.
Tuesday, 11 April 2006
Rome is wierd. In a good way. There is this amazing building, with statues all over it, and frescoes on the side, which in any other city would be the focal point of the city. Here, it's another building on the corner. Statues and ancient architecture everywhere. Everywhere pictures of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, being suckled by the She-Wolf, as the legend says. (And by the way, can I say how wicked cool it is to see a sign saying, "This way to the Romulan Huts."?) Trevi Fountain is beautiful, and so are all the other fountains. It becomes a bit overhwelming. In one square they had the funniest guy doing an juggling act with fire on a unicycle, and getting the audience to participate, and having guys lie on each other's bodies supported only by one leg of each guy, and borrowing the cellphone of a guy walking buy so he could blow an airhorn into the phone at the woman the guy had been talking to...it's a bit hard to describe.
And then, the Pantheon. If you've read Asterix and Obelisk, or seen any movies of ancient Rome, you've seen this place. In fact, I'm fairly sure they use it in Brother Sun Sister Moon, when Francis is lying waiting for an audience with the Pope. Interesting there is an inscription on top commemorating it's founder, one Antipas. Any relation, I wonder? The Pantheon is sweet because it's so intact, the most intact ancient building in Rome. You can sit there and see in front of you the insence going up to gods, the men wandering about in togas, women bartering for food in the square. It feels old.
And it was evening, and it was morning, the first day.
The second day was ancient Roman day. I remember from the movie Luther that Martin was distressed to find the heart of Christianity so overcome with poverty and beggers. Nothing has changed. The beggers perhaps have nicer clothes, but they are everywhere in this ancient city.
The Colliseum is big too. Everything is big here. Next to Ceasar's Triumphal Arch, the Colloseum has holes cut out all along the wall, like the ones the soldiers were waiting in for Mr. Von Trapp at the end of Sound of Music. And it looks like those movies too of Americans in Paris, driving by the Colliseum. The center floor was covered by wood, and underneath many roooms for bringing up magical creatures and whole scenes, as if by magic. Since the games were given for political purposes, they were free, and fed the all classes of audience. One time, a whale washed up on shore near Rome, and they used that incident to create a giant whale skeleton, with 20 real bears pouring out of the whale's mouth, all to be hunted in the arena. Whole mountains would suddenly form below. And then the gladiator fights, thankfully dwindling as Christian values too root, until finally one bold Christian man, seeing the blood spilled by opposing fighters, stood up and said this is wrong. No one heard him. So he jumped into the arena, yelling out that this was wrong. People heard him, and he was killed by a gladiator. And then, one by one, the stunned crowd left the arena. I'm told the games were never the same since.
I appreciated most of all the opportunity to see the third great event of the Colliseum, where so many of us were martyred for the Faith. Which is what the current regime in Italy appreciates too- it has been redone as a commemoration of martyrdom, and every Good Friday the Pope has a Stations of the Cross processional there. Speaking of martyrdom, I did get my fondest wish made true while in front of the colliseum...
From there to the Forum, which is where all the movies get their ideas of Rome. It's large, about twice the size of Walili in Morocco or Baalbek in Lebanon. Frankly the dry air of Lebanon preserves stone better than Rome. And I saw the same intricacy already in Lebanon. But what the Forum really offers that is unique is size. Not the total area, but the buildings themselves. This was the center of Rome. (Literally- there is a stone marking the center of ancient Rome there.) Here the Senate building, where the senators used to meet. The place where Peter may have been imprisoned. Numerous gigantic temples.
Even the temple and housing of the Vestal Virgins, which some may remember from their studies of archetypal feminine types in Greco-Roman early Christianity. Julius Ceaser's palace remains- which cover a phenomenal area and look down over the Circus Maximus, where the chariot race fictionally took place in Ben-Hur. Again overwhelming, in a good way. Lots of ruins, sure. But honestly, how do we know they are actually Roman ruins?
Evening, and morning, of the 2nd day.