Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Divine Malfeasance

Ciao a tutti!

It has been too long my loving reader. I swear, every time I tell myself that I'm going to write more, I always find myself in the midst of a Mafia style shootout. Ma che si puó fare? (What can you do?) This is my favorite Italian phrase, because it is applicable in any possible situation. If the train breaks down, che si puó fare? If the museum is closed, che si puó fare? If the Pope refuses to give you a high five on the grounds that if he were to give you a high five, he would have to kill you, che si puó fare? It truly is an all encompassing phrase.

These past couple weeks have been packed with activity as usual. A few weeks ago, I ended up at the Legionaries of Christ school to meet with some brothers for adoration and Belgian beer. It's a somewhat long and random story, but essentially, Brother Felix told us that the Belgian beer that we had revered was utter crap, and decided to introduce us to the real stuff. The funny thing is that I have a friend whom I haven't seen in 9 years, and it turns out that he was staying at the same school. I surprised him there and shared beer and cheese with a completely eclectic group. The strangest part of it all though was afterwards, we were trying to catch our train, but the door to the train station was locked. So Brother Felix helped us jump the fence, and make our train. I have to say that it's only the second time that a man of God has helped me break the law.

For the weekend, King Blarken and I took a train to Firenze (or for historocentric Americans, Florence), and spent the weekend soaking up the birthplace of the Renaissance. Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Macchiavelli were all born there in a 100 year period. Not only was the Renaissance born there, but also, there lies the fertile inceptive spawning grounds of the most Leviathan calzone that mankind has ever produced. Truly, it is of biblical proportions. Let's just say it owned me. I haven't felt that sick since I challenged the king of the giants to a drinking contest, and he handed me a large stein. I begin to drank heartily, but, unbeknownst to me, the other end of the glass was furtively connected to the sea. Malignant giants! Oh how I yearn to see the fateful morn on Ragnarok when I shall cleave your head from your body with ease, and triumphantly watch as warm life ebbs from your bones! Oh that was Thor...nevermind. Anyways, the artistic apex was seeing Michaelangelo's David. David is one of those works of art that you see depicted countless times, but then when you finally see it, you say, "Huh...that is pretty good." The sculpture stands on a 4 ft. platform, and David himself is at least another 15 ft. tall. It is the most masculine figure I have ever seen. The museum also held the Quattro Prigione (the four prisoners), which embody Michaelangelo's ideal of freeing the man from the stone. They were originally intended to stand in Julius II's excessively ornate tomb, but because of complications, were left unfinished. I personally think they're breathtaking. They truly seem as if they're desperately writhing to break free from the stone prison, but are eternally doomed to fail. There's a very interesting human allegory there. Also, one of the most famous galleries in the world is in Florence, The Uffizi. The height of the Uffizi is definitely Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." It's another painting that can only be appreciated up close. He does a remarkable job capturing motion.

Beyond the two major art museums, there are also some really interesting sights, one of which is the Church of San Marco where over 40 Fra Angelico frescoes are held. Fresco is an Italian word short for affresco, which mean "on the fresh." A fresco is done on a specific type of plaster that only allows the artist to work for about 14 hours. Once the paint dries, the artist can't make any changes. If he does, he has to destroy the work and start over. There are several famous frescoes, but the most famous is his Annunciation. Seeing all the paintings is almost like a religious experience, because each fresco is in its own cove, and you walk through seeing them one by one. Also, several great Florentines are buried in Florence (go figure). There is a church where Michaelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are buried. Galileo's burial in a church is strange, but Machiavelli's is even stranger. Neither were on good terms with the Church. Machiavelli hated the Church, and the Church put Galileo under house arrest for heresy. Still, seeing the burial spot of sinister Machiavelli is pretty cool.

This past weekend, Byake and I were going to travel to Münich, but after a few unforeseen complications that came in the form of us going to the wrong airport, we had to improvise our plans. Because I already had a flight home, I decided to continue to Münich via train, but Byake opted against it, and woe is he now for doing so, because Münich was incredible. I met with a friend from Firenze, and because there is nothing to do in Münich, we held 24 hour prayer vigils with the locals...right. The famous (or infamous) Hofbräuhaus is in Münich, the most famous beer hall in the world. In the hall there are long wooden tables, filled with rambunctious Germans as far as the eye can see. You have to find a table and hope the Germans let you sit with them. There is a band in the middle that plays traditional oompa music, and all these old men (and slightly intoxicated) in lederhosen dance in the middle of the hall. The first night, we ate with three German guys who barely spoke any English. However, we quickly found that the only necessary German is "Prost," which means cheers. We were finally able to get some good meat too. They don't serve you pints of beer at the Hofbräuhaus, they serve you liters. And the Germans drink like mad. The guy next to me was on his 8th liter of beer! DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH ALCOHOL THAT IS?!? We even broke a stein because they were such voracious prosters.

Anyways, we had so much fun the first night that we decided to come back again, and this time my friend and I were the sole Americans at the table. We met some more German guys, and some Bavarian girls who were dressed up in tradition Oompa Bavarian outfits. It was great. And even the petite women are bottomless beer pits. I think Germans have second stomachs...or livers...

The second two days of my trip were much more relaxed. Joe went home for class, and me, being the devoted and assiduous student that I am, decided that my education would be much better served studying at the fount of experiential wisdom, rather being inundated with crack-fueled philosophical arguments from Schopenhauer and Kant. Bloody categorical imperative... The first day, I saw all that Münich had to offer, which included two surprisingly eminent museums. They had several Raphael's, Da Vinci, Monet, Degas, Caspar David Friedrich, and a lot of Rubens. I used to despise Rubens, because I thought he was famous only for painting fat people. But now I see I was wrong. His paintings are remarkably dramatic, with rippling, muscular figures contorted in the strangest fashion. There was a very shocking painting of judgment day. He captures drama extremely well. Münich is also home to several magnificent churches, but no more magnificent than any other European town. The Marienplatz was is interesting because of its architecture. It still is an operating federal building. Also, the Englischer Gartens, most famous for their beer gardens, is twice the size of central park, although not nearly as interesting.

My last day in Münich, I ventured two and a half hours by train to Füssen, which is home to two important castles from the late Holy Roman Empire. One is particularly famous, because, as mom told me, is the model for which Walt Disney modeled the Disney Castle after. Both castles are situated in the Alps, and have an incredible view of the countryside. The view is absolutely breathtaking, and I took way too many pictures.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and it was the first time that I've been slightly homesick. I missed the Thanksgiving family football game. I was able to get some friends together and have a small party over some turkey (which is far too complicated to make), pasta, potatoes and wine. I hope everyone's holidays are going great. This is the first weekend I've been in Rome for a while, so I don't know what to do with myself. Next weekend, Byake and I are venturing to the Alps for some early December snowboarding in the extreme sports capital of the world, Innsbruck. It should be an exciting and pleasant disaster.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Too Much to be Contained in One Title

Ciao Dearest Reader!

It's been some time since my last post, because relaxation and I have not been on good terms lately, and I think our relationship may be on the rocks. I finally have a free night tonight, and I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. I guess the only logical conclusion would be to dance in my underwear a la Tom Cruise. Illogical then is the route I chose, because I am fully clothed and it is beginning to get chilly in Rome. I would place it at a frigid 65 degrees. Watch out Minnesota, here we come. Before I dive into the last few weeks, I should begin with a disclaimer: Those of you who become nauseated when reading long, but extremely well-written and witty commentaries on life abroad, please step away from the computer, because this post is gonna be pretty long.

Two weeks ago, the Vatican held a special mass for the beginning of the academic year, so while most of you have been in school for over two months, Rome, in typical Italian fashion, just now got around to beginning the year. There were whispers from the depths of Vatican security that the Pope would be making a special appearance. In bizarre string of events, a Swiss guard was found to have leaked the information for a mound of Swiss chocolates and Belgian pancakes. Berken and I met up with Fr. Avram and a friend who was in from Florence with his family. We took our seats on the right side of the altar, and enjoyed the 2 and a half hour mass. It may seem long, but with the majesty of the Vatican it felt like minutes. After the mass, people waited anxiously for Pope Benedict to arrive. They brought out his special Pope, and he entered with a resounding roar behind him. I actually had never heard the Pope speak before. Knowing that he was German, had grown up in a Nazi training camp and was known for his rigidity in Church doctrine, I expected his voice to be extremely harsh. Not only was he not harsh, but he was the polar opposite. He was very contemplative and there was a tenderness in his voice. I was taken aback by how sincere he was, and of course the whole experience was heightened by the fact that he was a mere 100 ft from us. His speech lasted about 15 minutes, and while I could understand very little of what he said, it was still very moving.

Then for the weekend, Byake and I jetted for Siena...and by jet I mean took a long arduous train ride that could only be sufficiently explained by calling it Italian. Not only was the train slow, but it was actually the wrong one. While waiting for the train, the sign changed from Grosseto (where we wanted to go) to Civitavechhia (where we did not want to go). I asked an Italian what the deal was, and he told us to wait for the next train. Turns out he was wrong, and we had to take 3 different train to get to Grosseto. By the time we finally got to Grosseto, we had missed our connecting train to Siena. There were no more trains for the night, so we were stuck in the unknown city of Grosseto. We didn't want to rent a hotel room for 70 dollars, so we decided to stay up all night and catch the next train at 6:30 am. Our original plan was to lay around the train station all night, but after finding some decadently greasy pizza and some live music, we thought we may actually find enough to do to keep us busy. We met an Italian guy who turned out to be a political ambassador to Rome (he was noticeably inebriated), and he invited us to join him at a local bar. I'm so glad he did, because we never would have found this place. It was in a dark alley, and the door was hidden under some construction. It looked like it was going to be a hole in the wall, but it turned out to be a great bar in a cellar that was packed with 25 Italian guys and one Austrian girl. It turned out to be a great night. I spent 2 hours talking to 6 or 7 Italian guys about American politics, George Bush and the problems with Italian economy. And none of it was in English. Barely anyone in the bar spoke anything but Italian, which swelled me with pride. We even met a Buffalo Bills fan. Of all the sports teams that an Italian would like, the Buffalo Bills? C'mon. We spent the entire night with them, and then hopped on a train to Siena.

Because we didn't get any sleep, and for some strange reason, the hostel refused to accept my expired driver's license as a form of ID, we ended up sleeping for the first time in 36 hours on the famous piazza in Siena. It's the most famous piazza in Italy, because it curves downwards in a bowl shape. After some precious sleep, we went to The Church of St. Catherine's to see the place where she received the stigmata. Also, her head is on display in the Church. It's kind of creepy. She's not incorrupt, so her skin is clinging to her face, and there's an eerie yellow glow around her head. I got an illegal picture to the right. I guess she's in good shape for being that old. After long night of sleep, we saw Siena's D'uomo. The orange and purple ninja turtle helped design the Church, and Bernini had a hand in it as well. The floor of the Church has a long set of cool engravings that chronicle philosophical thought beginning with the Greeks and culminating in Christ and the altar. The church itself is lined with the heads of Popes, but there are so many Popes that the last one displayed is Lucius III who died in 1185. Shows how long the Church has been around. As a side note, there was a tablet inscribed above a tomb pictured here. If you look really closely at the bottom left hand corner, you'll see the word saltis. But if you look even closer, you'll see a small "u" inscribed in between the l and the t. YOU CAN'T SCREW UP!! YOU'RE DOING THE D'UOMO!!

This weekend, I had friends come in from France. I gave them a whirlwind tour of Rome from Friday until Monday. Also, a friend of Fr. Avram's stayed with me for the weekend, so we had a whole crew. After a 6 am Thursday night escapade, we spent Friday taking it slow and eating. Saturday we spent the whole day at the Vatican, and I did my best Vatican tour guide impression. Afterwards, we begin waiting in line for the Vatican Museums, which was literally over a mile long. Now I know why they call it the most daunting line in the world. We got a tour guide and were able to skip the line. So we began the 3 hour long tour by dancing by the 4 hour line of tourists. Inside we saw one of the most extensive art collections in the world, which is capped off by Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The Chapel is amazing. Michaelangelo, even though he wasn't a believer, spent 14 hours a day standing to finish the ceiling. He spent so much time painting that he was blind for months after he finished. It's remarkable how extensive it is. I think, though, that the Frenchies were impressed mostly with the gelato. We went to a particular one at 6 times, and I introduced them all to bandana man, pictured here, who is the greatest Italian ever to live.

I actually met some genuine Italians Thursday night from Sicily, who spoke barely any English. They met up with us Saturday night, and we went out to one of the fabled Italian clubs. We were denied by the first club, because our dude to chick ratio was too high...not even kidding. But at the next club, Alessandro worked his God-given Italian charm to get us in. As usual, we practiced our repulsive dance moves that inevitably end in a dance circle, but even the Italians got into it. It was a lot of fun, and I may meet up with the Italians in Sicily for some supposedly famous "Cucina Siciliana e vino rosso." That night, we all slept in my apartment, and because the floor was freezing, we ended up fitting in 5 people in the bed, sardine style. I slept divinely, but I think it was only because I had two exemplars of Divine sculpting beside me.

Yesterday, we did another day of sightseeing that began in the Forum, and moved onto the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and the SS. Apostoli where St. Philip and St. James the Lesser are buried. That night, we met up with Fr. Avram and had a great meal at the Abruzzi restaurant. There was some great conversation that ranged from theological debate to discussion of the Ninja turtles. And of course, Fr. Avram showcased his impeccable puns at any appropriate moment. Once he gets started, stopping him is like standing in front of a cement truck and stopping the flood of cement. It's just not going to happen. I bid farewell to my friends as they prepared for a night of sleep in the airport, because their flight left at 6 in the morning, and all transportation closes at night.

If anyone is left at this point, I hope all is going well back in the States. I'm keeping you all in my prayers as I hope you're doing with me. If God cares any about prayers said in holy places, you all should be sitting on a mound of grace in the bank. Let me know about anything that's going on back in the States. Oh, and GO VIKINGS! I can be this enthusiastic about Minnesota sports teams only once in a blue moon, so I plan on savoring it. Ciao!