Thursday, February 14, 2008

Latin Spice

Buon Giorno Dearest Reader!

I've been trying to make up for my protracted blogging laziness recently. I'm still recounting events from a month or so ago, but soon enough we'll be as up to speed as Keanu Reeves. The entry title refers not only to my recent trip to Barcelona, but also my recent Latin final and the commencement of the Lenten season.

Commercials have often asked me if I "Wanna Fanta?" and never
have I responded no.

Our time in Barcelona was difficult. Waking up late, eating rice and drinking sangria, sleeping on the beach, and most importantly, drinking Fanta. Life in Europe is sometimes just too slow...not! Barcelona was the most relaxed major city I've been to, despite that it's very modern. The parks are littered with dreadlocks, bongos, hackeysack and anything else that can be described as "chill." And of course the Mediterranean does nothing to detract from the unduly chillness of this fair, chill city. Chillin' on the beach in three different countries - not bad.
Literally chilling in the Meditteranean like these bold Brits - priceless.

The city itself has very little history, unlike most European cities. Although it was a Roman province, it was generally uncivilized, I think, until the 16th or 17th century. Because it experience its economic boom solely in modern times, there is very little historical architecture. Antoni Gaudí has a building on every corner, and is most famous for his unfinished cathedral "La Sagrada Familia." While it may seem like a typical modern atrocity from afar, it's actually very beautiful. The entire church seems as if it's melting, and the religious sculptures are jagged and sinister.
Ancient Spanish folklore holds that the Church was modeled after Gaudi's most inspirational work, "The Subway Melt."
The church faded into the background as all I saw was a catwalk...

Our first full day though, we took an hour train ride to Montserrat, which is a Benedictan monastery situated in some of the tallest mountains in Spain. After the train, you have to take a fifteen minute cable car ride up to the summit. When we arrived there was a low-lying fog that had set over the mountains, striking an almost eerie tone. The monastery is home to one of the most famous boys choirs in the world, but we weren't able to hear them, because the ten-year olds got lazy and decided to take Saturday off...just kidding. We did, however, take a 2-hour hike up to the mountain's highest point, which stood just above the clouds. In fact, while we stood whipping in the winds, a storm began to form around our heads. Cool beans, huh?

If you've ever been curious about what my first order of business
would be as president, it would look roughly like this.

The highlight of the trip though was the walk of the rosary monuments. Down towards the city there is a path that leads to a sacred grotto that was unfortunately closed for January. We were though still able to take the walk along the path that has a monument to every mystery of the rosary, beginning with the joyful, proceeding through the sorrowful and ending with the glorious. What made the walk so satisfying though was the ambiance. Because it was a chilly, windy day in January, the generally well-trodden tourist path was uncharacteristically quiet. The fog overtook the mountain, the hum of the mountain life fell silent, and all that could be heard were our muffled footsteps. It was as if the mountain reflected that attitude of the Passion. One got a special sense of Christ's sacrifice, because all the while along the winding path carved into the mountain, where the path veered around the mountain there stood over all a dark, bronze crucifix against the pale sky. Chilling stuff. Approaching the cross...

One of the monuments...

The Chapel of the Holy Cave...Closed!

Large, forbidding gates depress me...

But I never let it keep me down!

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying the Spanish food and sangria, which was such a nice break from Italian food and wine. Every other country I go to has more pizzerias than cultural restaurants. Even in Paris, despite its famed cooking. But in Spain there is tons of rice, chicken and seafood. Oh, and of course, Fanta, my personal drug of choice.

We even made it to a Barcelona football match, one of the best
teams in world, and sat in the 4th row! Ballin!

I giocatori in action. Thierry Henry, one of the best players in
the world, scored the only goal of the match right in front of us!

We flew home and I immediately began to prepare for finals. Yes, I just finished finals - we're lazy here in Europe. My final schedule was very disorganized, even by Italian standards. Three of my finals were tentative, and later postponed, because teachers were ill and in the hospital. Setting up times became so complicated that now I have to take all three at the end of next semester! That means I'll have ten finals next semester! My only two finals were then Intro to Sacred Scripture, which I passed (Grazie a Dio), and Latin. They went well and yesterday I started my classes for second semester. I'm hoping for more intellectually stimulating classes this semester, since last semester's courses were Dullsville. They were so dull that if I had taken dull pills, it would have actually been less dull. That gave me little incentive to either attend class or do outside work, and as result I was really restless. This semester though seems more promising. I have a history of ancient philosophy and one of medieval philosophy, Science and Philosophy, Intro to the World's Great Religions and Latin. However, this semester I'll be taking all my classes in Italian (pray for me!), because a. I need to learn Italian and b. I figure that if my classes are boring, I'll at least have some goal to work towards. Needless to say, it should be an eventful semester.

Also recently, as some people may remember, Lent began (not that it's a big deal or anything, especially in Rome). Lent in Rome provides an excellent opportunity for penance and sacrifice, because every morning at 7am there is a mass held at a different church in Rome. It's an excellent opportunity, because you see Rome at the crack of down (well, see may be an exaggeration. Perhaps squint through the crust in your eyes), and you get a see a number of churches that you would never have seen otherwise. And the hidden gems in Rome's churches are remarkable. Already we've seen the bodies of Saint Lawrence, Saint Jerome, Saint Monica and Saint Ignatius of Antioch, an altar by Bernini, paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio and St. Luke, Michaelangelo's Moses, the chains of St. Peter that bound him while he waited to be crucified, and an urn that holds what is supposed to be a piece of Christ's manger! And it's only been a week and a half! We have a decent sized group that makes it every morning, so needless to say the coffee infusion that is held afterwards is vast and necessary. We joked that along with the map of each church, there should be a map of the closest coffee shop. Roman churches, bodies of saints, painting of the greats and cappuccini all before 8 am!

Finally, this past weekend I joined some friends on a trip to Firenze. Although it was my second visit, they were all visiting for the first, so we hit all the necessary tourist stops: the Uffizi, the Accademia and the D'uomo. It was good though, because there is so much art in Firenze, it can't all be seen just once. Especially David. I think I could stare at David all day long. I think that I would marry David despite him being a guy and made of stone. Every detail is done so perfectly and on such a large scale that one can't help but stop and admire every detail. The one seeming imperfection is the immensity of his hands, but I found that Michaelangelo did this intentionally to express that the defeat of Goliath was not accomplished by human hand, but by a far greater power. The only stain on our trip was our final gelato trip. Several people had given up sweets for Lent and could only eat them on Sunday. Because the gelato flowed Saturday night, Jewish Law was enacted giving our penitents until sundown the next day. Because we had so little time Sunday afternoon before the sun set, we found the first gelateria in sight, which was ominously named "Very Good." I fully bear the blame for not seeing this dreadful red flag, but blinded by my desire for gelato I missed it. The tab came to 8 euros per person! We paid 48 euros for gelato! Are you serious?!? That's 72 dollars! I could buy an unbelievable bottle of wine for that price, or 48 three scoop gelatos in Rome, or 72 snicker bars, or 7200 tootsie rolls! Blegh.

Those have been my travels the last month. My Italian is approaching fluency and I hope to arrive triumphantly very soon. You're all in my prayers this Lenten season. Remember the immense suffering the Christ underwent this Lent for our sins, but never forget the hope of redemption that comes through that death. We are all very blessed with the comfortable lives we have been given, and I have been blessed to enjoy this year in Rome and to have your prayers to guide me. Buona serata a tutti!

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