Monday, January 17, 2011

Ciao, Bella (Musings from My Journals in Italy)

God speaks Italian - did you know that? Oh how He loves to speak it. He loves to let those words wash over His people as they totter through the cobblestone streets of Orvieto, and Roma, and Fiorenze. He loves to shower them with flowing Italian in San Bernadino, the Duomo di Orvieto, in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Santa Maria Novella... And so in Italy, in Italian, English, Polish, sign language, and the most wonderful language of all - silence - I hear God speaking. 

I have landed in Italy after many hours on a cramped plane, my legs creaking with the effort of stretching, my eyelids drooping dangerously close to being shut. I force sleep away as I take my pen in hand to begin bleeding ink for the next ten days. Thus begins Italy - landscapes with rolling hills outside my window as we veer around the sharp corners of the road leading to Orvieto, a hilltop town between Rome and Florence...

The air smells crisp and damp and earthy, and I can almost taste the green I see spread out like a blanket before my eyes. I love that there is quiet here in this 12th century monastery, its white walls and high ceilings holding so many heaping years of contemplation they almost quiver. Oh how I want to treasure this country, the first sips of espresso in a cappuccino; the mint green shutters and bright clean air. There are deep roots here, of soil and war and love, of passagatta and gelato and bellissimo. How miraculous that I have arrived, sitting on this IKEA bed, drinking in the newness of another country, the fresh promise of making mistakes and hearing myself make them. I cannot pronounce "ciao" in a convincingly Italian way. At lunch I discovered that, though I adore freshly pressed olive oil, I still cannot stand olives and embarrassingly push them to the side of my plate. I discover that jet lag does set in, no matter how many times you travel.

There is so much of this trip that just feels like pure gift - a gift for the beginning of the new year, a gift of time apart from the familiar chaos of Massachusetts, a gift of presence, of solitude amid community. I almost don't know how to cup my hands around it and hold it - but yet, I am told to taste and see that the Lord is good. And I want to drink in this land like a cup of warm hot chocolate on a cold day. I want to let it soak into my bones and I want to carry this delicious air back with me. 

Our minds make better pictures than our cameras, I think. I look, and since the time I was in high school, I itch to draw, to let my mind form and reform the image until my hands can shape it even crudely with a pencil. I wish I could draw, not so that I could show others, but so that I could show myself. So I reach for a pencil and a piece of scrap paper and draw the window, and the harsh blue sky beyond it:

And I am in love with bella Italia. 

Ciao, bella. 

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