Monday, February 28, 2005

Story of the King James Bible

This article is the second part of the Meridian Magazine series about the Bible as literature, the first part of which I posted earlier this month. I have read the Bible in three languages, but the 1611 King James Version is the only English edition with which I am familiar. I realize it has largely fallen out of favor with modern Bible readers, but when I purchased my first Bible at age 15, it was a KJV; and from that day up to the present, I have never seriously contemplated using any other. It appealed to my sense of history, as well as my love of the English language, which has been immeasurably enriched by this majestic and poetic translation of the Word of God. One is hard-pressed, for example, to imagine the speeches of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King without the influence of the familiar KJV cadences; and speaking for myself, it is far easier for me to imagine Christ saying "Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise," than to picture him curtly ordering, "Little girl, get up!" The KJV is the official version of the Bible in my church, a fact for which I, for one, am grateful. I realize some of my fellow-members of this group will respectfully disagree with me; but this is my view, and fortunately, there are plenty of modern Bible translations out there to accommodate everyone's taste. After all, when all is said and done, it is more important that it be read at all, than it is to read a particular translation, however venerable and revered it might be.

Benvenuta, Erika!

I believe the newest member of this blog deserves a special introduction. At age 22, Erika has the distinction of being the youngest member of our group; but she is also the only one I have never met in person, the only one (thus far, at least) who resides outside the United States, and the only one for whom English is not her native language (although one reading her posts without knowing anything else about her might not be aware of that. Erika is, by the way, a university student in Finland.) I have decided to give her special mention because by joining us, she is typifying some of the ways the Internet in general, and blogging in particular, have revolutionized how we socialize and interact with each other.

About two years ago, Matthew Pearl published a novel called The Dante Club -- which, incidentally, I recommend to one and all, but that is a subject I should perhaps treat all by itself in a separate post. He set up a website devoted to the book; and the website includes a Dante discussion forum, which in turn features a message service available to members of the forum. Erika signed on to the forum last summer, a few months after I did; and soon we were exchanging messages back and forth, through the 8000 or so miles of cyberspace that lay between us. I was immediately impressed by her command of English, which I think is truly remarkable -- and which, in view of the deficiencies of public education and the decline of reading in general among the younger population here in the United States, would still be remarkable even if Erika were an American. Her obviously formidable intellect and appealing personality, which are both apparent even on the written page, likewise impressed me. I got a huge kick out of our correspondence, and soon began looking for her messages each time I logged on to the Dante forum; and then I became genuinely concerned when several months passed without a word from her. Finally, I heard from her again just the other day, when she informed me that a couple of mishaps, including her father's accidentally dropping and breaking her laptop, had put her out of cyber-circulation for a time. I immediately invited her to join the blog, which I had wanted to do ever since I set it up late last month; and now she is here among us, to add her own brand of sparkle and wit to the musings and ruminations of our merry band. I sent my mass e-mails from Italy because I felt that an experience that wonderful should be shared as widely as possible, and it was in a similar spirit that I invited Erika to become one of I miei cari amici.

Incidentally, I have invited one other member of the Dante forum to join the blog as well, and I hope we will likewise be hearing from her sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, I invite one and all to give Erika a warm and affectionate welcome, and then to enjoy and savor her contributions to our group.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

An extra benefit to learning Italian

This thought occurred to me recently, and I thought it worth sharing with all of you. I am a bit embarrassed to confess that I used to be absolutely terrified of bats, although I suppose there was never any logical reason for this phobia. (Rabies had something to do with it, but subconsciously, it might also stem from their long and well-entrenched, but perhaps unfair, association with dark castles in Transylvania and other forms of creepiness in general.) But I have discovered that my sense of fear and revulsion toward them has largely diminished in recent years, and I think it might be no coincidence that I have taken up the study of Italian during that time. How does the study of Italian possibly help one to overcome a fear of bats? Well, look at it this way: What rational soul could possibly have anything to fear from a creature known by the bird-song designation of il pipistrello?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Iwo Jima remembered

This past Saturday, Feb. 19, was the 60th anniversary of the Marine invasion of Iwo Jima, a barren, sulfurous, but strategically vital island some 600 miles south of the Japanese mainland. Four days later, on February 23, an Associated Press photographer named Joe Rosenthal took the famous picture of the flag-raising atop Mt. Suribachi, which, at least from the American perspective, has become perhaps the single most famous photograph taken during the Second World War. The battle of Iwo Jima, for its part, would become the bloodiest ever in the history of the Marine Corps, with more than 6000 Leathernecks dead by the time it was over. In today's edition of Jewish World Review , I found this article, which commemorates the battle, the flag-raising, and a rabbi's memorable tribute to the fallen.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

In praise of blogs

I have just made a similar post to Odd Bits, the other blog of which I am a member. Today, during my usual Saturday-morning ritual of net-surfing, I came across this article by Peggy Noonan about the blogging phenomenon, which I suppose is actually becoming more like a revolution. Because I know I miei cari amici is, in some cases, your first-ever exposure to blogging, I post this as part of your introductory course. A pop quiz may be given at some point, so please read it attentively -- and enjoy!

Incidentally, if any of you wants to learn how to post an article on the blog, send me an e-mail request and I'll tell you how this is done.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Bible as literature

Commenting about the Bible, the Prophet Joseph Smith remarked famously that "he who reads it oftenest will enjoy it best." I count myself very fortunate to have had the privilege of reading the sacred volume dozens of times, in all three of my languages; and like an ever-shrinking minority of others who share my view, I lament the fact that the general level of Biblical literacy is today in such precipitous decline. Four years ago, President Bush's first Inaugural Address included an allusion to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which anyone even reasonably well-versed in the Bible would easily have understood; but as I recall, some of the highly-educated network anchors who deigned to explain to all of us afterward what the President had said were left absolutely clueless by this part of the speech. Similarly, in 1940, British soldiers trapped by the Germans at Dunkirk were rescued by a makeshift flotilla inspired, at least in part, by a simple three-word message: "But if not . . . ." More than 60 years later, it is doubtful that many would recognize this phrase as being pivotal to the Old Testament story of Daniel's three friends, as they faced the threat of being consigned to the fiery furnace as a consequence of their principled refusal to bow to the king's image.

Even those who do not accept the notion of the Bible as divinely inspired must surely recognize, at least in their most candid and introspective moments, the enormous influence it has had on the development of Western civilization, along with its culture and institutions. To cite only a few examples, federal bankruptcy law has its roots in Leviticus; much of the world's greatest art centers around Biblical themes -- try, for example, to imagine Michelangelo without thinking of the Sistine Chapel fresco; and it is impossible to understand Milton, Dante, Bunyan, John Donne, or any number of the world's other great authors, without having at least some familiarity with Scripture. For this reason, I concur with the author of this article, who supports the teaching of the Bible as literature -- a perfectly reasonable idea which is, of course, disfavored by the mavens of Political Correctness.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Dante-related art

I found this link to some paintings relating to the Divine Comedy. Since I mention Dante as frequently as I do, I post this as a sort of general illustration for my numerous references and allusions to him who was "de li altri poeti onore e lume" (Inferno I:82).

Also, I am posting this painting of Paolo and Francesca , by Anselm Feuerbach. This is based on the famous story related in Canto V of Inferno, and it adorns the cover of Dante in Love, by Harriet Rubin, which was published last year and quickly assumed a secure place on the list of my favorite books. I loved the painting, although I suppose one unfamilar with the Comedy would, upon seeing it for the first time, be hard-pressed to believe it is based on such a tragic story.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

My Italy e-mails -- back by popular demand

Barney Madsen recommended that I post on this blog all of the mass e-mails I sent from Italy during the 13-day trip I took there with my wife nearly three years ago (May 15-28, 2002). Accordingly, today I have spent nearly six hours posting them on the site and editing them -- a task which, as you will see, is still not complete, although all of the actual messages are here now. Most of you were among the original recipients of these messages, which I have kept during all this time in my Juno storage, partly because I still get occasional requests for them, and partly because, with the exception of a 5-page handwritten journal, they constitute my only written account of the trip. Now, with their publication on the blog, they are available on the Internet for one and all to see, and, I hope, enjoy.

I have taken the liberty to edit the e-mails, usually by making stylistic changes that occurred to me within hours or days after I sent the original messages. Most of these are minor in nature, and because editing is a luxury I have on the blog but did not have on Juno once I sent the e-mails to their original recipients, I may still make some minor changes to them in the future. The posts now include a few web links, which of course are highlighted. In some cases, I have inserted a comment in brackets, which corrects or amplifies something I included in the original message, but which was added long after the fact (more specifically, in the course of my labors today). On the heading of each post, I have included the date when the original e-mail was sent. They do not appear in chronological order, but at least for the time being, I leave it to you to sort them out chronologically. I am trying to figure out how to include all of them in one large "umbrella" post, but so far, I have been unable to do that. (Any suggestions, Barney?) So for the moment, you will have to pull up each entry individually.

You may feel free to share these with whomever you want, and as you have doubtless noticed, at the bottom of each post there is an e-mail icon for that purpose.

A few of these messages were actually sent after the trip, but were tied to it in such a way that I always include them whenever anyone asks me to send my Italy e-mails. It was a pleasure then, as it is now, to have been able to share this wonderful trip with some of the people who have been important to me in my life; and in my view, since I was not able to take you there with me, this was the next best thing. And so, ciao, e godete tutti!

Shifting gears (5/31/02)

I went back to the business of interpreting yesterday morning, at the jail in Ogden. It has not been as difficult as I expected, given the fact that for the preceding two weeks I had spent so much time speaking and hearing Italian. But it will take me a few days to really get back into the routine of things. Yesterday I greeted another interpreter with "Buongiorno," but that was unintentional; I had actually started thinking in Italian by the time we came home. On several occasions yesterday I also found myself absent-mindedly saying "Va bene," an expression I used constantly in Italy. Fortunately for the criminal justice system, however, I made no such slip-ups in my interpreting. At least, I don't think I did.

Since coming back, I have had a couple of experiences that might be worth telling you about. You perhaps noticed that Rosa Oakes was on the list of recipients of the mass e-mails I have been sending. She is the interpreter coordinator for the Third District Court, and has treated me extremely well as I have been adjusting to my new profession. We learned the other night that while we were gone, Rosa had called Sheila's sister Sue, who was taking care of our kids, to tell her how much she and all the interpreters had enjoyed my e-mails. Sue does not have the Internet, and asked Rosa if she could make copies of all of them for her benefit. Sue then ended up going to the Matheson Courthouse to pick them up, and I'm sure Rosa was really good to her. Rosa is in Mexico now, and the interpreters have received none of the e-mails since the seventh one I sent. One of them has asked me to forward to her all the later ones.

When I came to the courthouse yesterday afternoon, one of the other interpreters came up and threw her arms around me, and said she wanted me just to go away -- to go back to Italy and continue sending her the e-mails she had enjoyed so much. She told me later that the one about Sabrina had made her cry.



Remembering Italy (5/15/03)

I am always mindful of anniversaries, and today I am noting one of the happier ones in my life. It was exactly one year ago this morning that Sheila and I boarded a plane at Salt Lake International Airport for the first leg of our very memorable 13-day trip to Italy. It hardly seems real that an entire year has passed already, but what an eventful year it has been for us! We had absolutely no idea at the time that by summer's end we would be moving to Arizona, in what is shaping up to be one of the most fortunate decisions Sheila and I have ever made together; but for perhaps precisely that reason, the trip seems now to have acquired a significance we could not have realized at the time. My life, after all the years of seemingly-endless struggle and upheaval, appears at long last to be settling down; and if this is indeed so, the journey to Italy has become a sort of watershed, as it were, marking the end of one period of my life and the beginning of another.

As for the trip itself, the memories keep coming back, including some that were never mentioned in the mass e-mails I sent out while we were there. Last week, for example, I reminded Sheila of the thousands of little red flowers that attracted our fascinated attention during the train trip between Rome and Florence. Intrigued by them, I asked a conductor what they were called, and she responded with a word as lovely as the flowers themselves: "Papaveri," she said. And so to me, now and forever, a red poppy will never be a red poppy; it will always be a "papavero." And the encounter at the tourist center with the young woman who expressed such surprise and delight at being spoken to in her own language by an American remains, in my view, the sweetest moment of the entire trip. By speaking to her in Italian, I let her know, in perhaps the best way I could, that I respected her country and her culture; and by her reaction, she let me know that my efforts were appreciated. If I had abandoned my study of Italian after that trip, I think this experience alone would have been worth the hundreds of hours I had invested in learning the language.

Last Saturday night I took my wife out to dinner at a restaurant -- Italian, of course -- called the Tutti Santi, which will probably become a frequent hangout for us (and where the owner, who hails from San Remo, launched into effusive praise of my Italian.) To the accompaniment of Puccini arias broadcast over the restaurant's PA system, we spent the whole evening reminiscing about the trip, and plotting our next one. (BTW, it was during this meal that I suggested "O mio babbino caro" as something appropriate to be sung at my funeral, even though it is not a religious song -- in fact, only opera buffs are aware that it is from a comic opera -- but I have always considered it one of the loveliest songs ever written, and it has meant a lot to me.) I have doubts whether Sheila will be able to make another trip to Europe, owing to her numerous health problems. (As if the existing ones were not enough, she was recently told by her doctor that she is virtually certain to develop diabetes.) But on this, I hope I am wrong. If I can't go with her, I am considering making a second trip to Italy, this time accompanied by my son, whom I have been carefully indoctrinating about the wonders of Rome, Assisi, and Florence.

I have kept all the e-mail messages in my Juno inbox, and occasionally still receive requests for them. In fact, I am now in the process of sending them to a young co-worker who may have a week to spend in Europe before she starts law school in the fall, and is trying to decide where to go. [The friend referred to here is none other than Rebekah Browder, who has signed on as one of the contributors to this blog. I hope we all get to hear from her frequently.] I have, of course, recommended Florence. Soon I am going to be printing off all the e-mails and having them bound at Kinko's, after which they will serve as my journal of the trip.

Meanwhile, the routine of work beckons, and I will be spending this anniversary interpreting for potheads and crack addicts down in the EDC. I hope it will not be long before I can make another trip, to share with you through another series of mass e-mails.

Ciao a tutti voi,


Addendum re: Reliving "il gran viaggio" (7/3/02)

I had only a few minutes to compose and send that message about reliving our recent trip last night at the Madsens', and I have since remembered a couple of things I had wanted to add to it. The first was a quip from my wife, which drew laughter from all present. She said she was not quite sure what to make of a husband who loved Dante -- AND "Calvin & Hobbes." [Of all the remarks Sheila has ever made about me, this is the one I have enjoyed the most.] The second concerns a rather strange omission from the mass e-mails I sent out from Italy, and I am at a loss to explain how I failed to mention this; but in any event, I remembered the omission when we were reminiscing a few days ago about one of our fondest memories of Florence. Every morning at 8:00, three of the churches in the area -- one was the Duomo, I think a second was the Badia, and I don't remember the third -- would all peal their bells at the same time. But the bells were not synchronized, so after a few moments they would all be producing distinct sounds; and then they would sound continuously for about two minutes. I wish I had recorded it. Listening to those bells was a pleasant and comforting experience.

Most of the pictures in the album turned out well, and some even beautifully. Among the ones I took myself, my favorite was one of the Ponte alle Grazie, as viewed from the Ponte Vecchio. A very close second was one I took at the same time and place, this time facing in the opposite direction, west toward the Ponte Santa Trinita'. I don't think of myself as being much of an artist, and I can't believe I actually took those wonderful pictures myself. I am going to have both of them blown up and framed. I do regret that I did not take more pictures of the local people -- specifically of Sabrina, the young woman at the tourist center who had the smile that could light up a black hole, and the pizza lady in Bolsena. The other interpreters with whom I work have all expressed disappointment that I did not take a picture of Sabrina. And again, I can't explain why.

Anyway, the trip was an experience well worth reliving and reflecting on, and in my next life I will perhaps become a travel writer. This morning I ran into an attorney with whom I used to work, and the trip came up in the conversation as we brought each other up to date on recent developments in our lives. I lamented that the trip only lasted 13 days, and now is over. He said that he rarely takes his wife on trips, for just that reason; but I suggested to him that he should do so anyway, because the memories are permanent, and that, in the end, is what vacation trips are all about. (Incidentally, he confided in me that he is close to being burned out with the practice of law, and may soon be leaving the profession.)



Reliving "il gran viaggio" (7/3/02)

Life went back to normal for us very quickly after we came home from Italy, but last night I realized that the trip may actually have done me even more good than I had realized. Our friends Barney and Cindy Madsen had us over to their home in Provo for dinner -- she made lasagna with Italian bread and a salad, all worthy of the Grotta Guelfa in Florence, or at least close to being so; and then they looked at our pictures from the trip -- all 208 that we have in our album, which of course does not include the one roll we have not yet picked up from processing. We, of course, provided enthusiastic narration. After we got home, I did not get to sleep until around 1:00; I wanted to relive the trip and listen to Puccini arias on my CD player. Earlier in the day I had stopped at Pettey & Brantley to pick up the files for today's trustee's sales, and while there I sort of absent-mindedly spun their globe, stopped it when Italy came into view, and marvelled that I actually have been there. I have been fortunate to live in a time when international travel is commonplace, and note that as recently as the start of World War II, many of those Americans who would later serve in the far-flung theaters of conflict had not even been outside their home states. But I don't think I will ever lose my own sense of wonder at such experiences.

I know I have often remarked that I would never want my worst enemy to have to struggle through life the way I have, and just in the past year or so, I have felt it all really starting to wear me down. But I believe in an afterlife, where all the scales will be balanced and the losses and disappointments made up to those who are faithful; and the trip was a reminder that even in this life, we can still receive at least some of that compensation.



Dante and scripture (7/1/02)

As I settle into middle age, two of the great loves of my life are Dante and the scriptures. I had an unusual experience today that involved both, that I thought might be worth passing along. Lately some passages of the Divine Comedy have insensibly begun creeping into my memory, and this very morning I began my latest rereading of the Book of Mormon. When I got to 1 Nephi 11:16-18, the first thing that popped into my mind was this passage, which in my view has to be one of the loveliest in all of the world's literature. (Or at least that portion with which I am familiar.) It consists of the first six lines of Canto XXXIII of Paradiso, and goes like this:

Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo Figlio,
umile e alta piu' che creatura,
termine fisso d'etterno consiglio,

Tu sei colei che l'umana natura
nobilitasti si', che 'l suo fattore
non disdegno' di farsi sua fattura.

I spent several minutes pondering both this and the scriptural passage, and may even write the Dante quotation into the margin in 1 Nephi, if I can find the space and a suitable pen with a fine enough point. I have often reflected on the verse in Ether, where Moroni says something about how the things the brother of Jared wrote were overpowering to those who read them; and in my view some of Dante's work comes close to being just that. The passage I just wrote out will lose something in my -- or anyone else's -- translation, but it may be rendered approximately thus in English:

Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
humble and exalted more than any other creature,
fixed goal of the eternal counsel,

Thou art she who so ennobled human nature
that its Maker did not disdain
to become its making.

Anyway, these are my late-Sunday-night musings for this week, and I hope they have been profitable to you, or at least interesting.



Some post-trip reflections (6/3/02)

It has now been nearly a week since Sheila and I returned home from Italy, and I have been surprised how quickly life has returned to normal for both of us. And perhaps that is as it should be; we all know that all good things must come to an end, and so it was with our trip. Speaking for myself, I suppose either my 1981 trip to Europe (mostly spent in Germany) or this one could lay equal claim to being the most exciting trip I ever took, and to compare the two is, to use the common saying, a bit like comparing apples and oranges. But there was one very notable difference. In 1981 I felt a sort of ineffable sadness at having to return home, but this time the return was accompanied by virtually no sense of letdown at all. The difference, I am sure, is the fact that this time we had two children and a home to go back to. (In '81 I was still single, and between my first and second years of law school; and all I had to return to then were my roommates and my digs in BYU-approved student housing.) My life, in other words, is more focused and centered than it was 21 years ago; and that, of course, is a good thing.

I will be thinking of this trip for the rest of my life -- always, I am sure, with fondness and relish. Millions of Americans have traveled to Italy -- including some who were there under much less favorable circumstances between 1943 and 1945. Excepting them, I am sure most travelers enjoyed their visits, and some even loved them; I, on the other hand, have positively gloried in mine. From time to time, I may have more to say about it to some of you individually, but this is the last mass e-mail I will be sending out for which the trip will constitute the subject-matter. I was unable to take any of you to Italy with me, but with the miracle of the Internet -- something not available to any of us in 1981 -- I have been able to do the next best thing. I have enjoyed sharing the trip with all of you, and the feedback I have been getting suggests that this sentiment has been mutual. I wanted to send these almost-daily posts to all of the people who were important to me, and who had e-mail; but obviously I was not completely successful. Some deserving individuals were left out because I did not have their addresses; in a few cases, the omission was intentional because I honestly did not think my trip to Italy would be of much interest to them. So in order to help me close the gap, please feel free to forward my messages to whomever you think might benefit in some way from having them.

E-mail, unfortunately, is not conducive to polished writing, and I have had to write all of these messages under significant time constraints. In looking over some of them today, I would have used different phraseology in some instances, if I had had the time to make corrections; in a few others, I have noticed some typographical errors that, unfortunately, escaped correction before I clicked the "send" button. (Among these are the two occasions when I gave Beatrice Portinari a wrong surname, and another where I said the papal reign of Boniface VIII ended in 1313; it was actually 1303.) The most serious shortcoming of my e-mails was that I simply did not have the time to say everything I wanted to say. To paraphrase some of the authors of the Book of Mormon, these (virtual) "plates" cannot contain even the hundredth part of all that we did and saw in the space of 13 days. (Sometime, for instance, you should ask me about the discussions Sheila and I had about "Mussolini's last stand" and the town of Montefiascone.) But I did my best, and I am glad my effort was enjoyed and appreciated by others.

Sheila and I had somewhat different, but not incompatible, agendas on this trip. She needed to rest and relax more than anything else; I needed that, too, but I was the one who needed to explore the country and savor it. Her health problems prevented her from sharing some of the experiences with me, which is why so many of my messages have been written mostly in the first person singular. I apologize for that, but having done so, I should add that having my wife along on this trip was a delight, and I may even forgive her eventually for inflicting the Monster upon me. She was really good about letting me do the things I wanted to do, even though in some cases -- such as the visits to Siena and the Vatican -- I ended up doing them alone. I will be more than happy to take her along on a similar journey sometime in the future, provided: (1) that we get this trip paid off first; (2) that her health permits it; and (3) that sometime between now and then, she learns to pack light! But I think the Hansen women are incapable of doing that, perhaps because of a genetic flaw; and in time, I suppose my wanderlust and my affection for Sheila will prevail, even if she decides that she simply must bring that anvil along. (It could be worse; I am grateful that my traveling companion was not her sister Dodie, who I believe really does take an anvil along whenever she travels anywhere.)

I should mention here that the idea of taking this trip, and the suggestion of Italy as the destination, were both mine. Sheila approved, but took no significant part thereafter in planning the trip, leaving that instead to me. So I was the one who spent hours on end surfing Italy-related websites, poring over maps and guidebooks and histories, and selecting where we would visit, booking our flights, and arranging our lodgings. I am not complaining about that, and Sheila tells me I did an excellent job. I mention it here only because I have made my share of bad decisions during my life: some of them were reasonable enough at the time I made them, but led to unfortunate results; others were just plain dumb. If this trip had been a disaster, the blame would almost certainly have fallen on me alone, and I would have accepted that. But instead, this adventure ended up being wildly successful. No vacation is ever perfect, and this one was no exception; but in my estimation, it came pretty darn close. Sheila and I have been through a lot in the 15 years we have been married, and for the last 10 years in particular, life has not been particularly kind to either of us. But I feel that I have in some way redeemed myself, at least to a degree, by doing this. My principal motivation for making this trip was the sense that both of us, and Sheila in particular, badly needed something that we could really cheer about; and on that score, I think we have done rather nicely this time around.

I hope all of you will someday have the opportunity to visit Italy -- or, if travel is not really your thing, that you will at least be able to do as we have and spend part of your earthly sojourn creating pleasant memories for yourselves, and stopping along the way to smell the roses. The time to live is, after all, when we are living.

Soon I will go back to giving all of you the individual attention you deserve from me. Thanks once again to everyone for letting me share the great adventure with you over the past three weeks. And thanks to you in particular, Mimi, for the pleasure of your company and that whirlwind tour of Rome, which we shall always remember with such fondness and affection, and which even the necessary haste and the accompanying downpour could not spoil.

Saluti a tutti voi,


June 4, 1944 (6/4/02)

I am always mindful of the anniversaries of important historical events, and this is one I have been thinking about a lot lately, especially during the past week or so. I even talked about it with Sheila last night. It was overshadowed at the time by D-Day, which took place two days later, but it is an event worthy of remembrance nonetheless. This was the day Rome, the Eternal City, was liberated by the Allies. I remember seeing pictures of Sherman tanks rolling past the Colisseum, and I thought of them last week when we passed the Colisseum ourselves. (The marathon route in the 1960 Olympics also passed the venerable old edifice, so at the same time and place, I also thought of Abebe Bikila, running barefoot on his way to the gold medal.) Anyway, I consider it among the crowning blessings of my life that I have never had to participate in a war; but if I ever had to do so, I would want to be involved in an event such as this.

I stopped at Albertson's a short while ago and picked up our first batch of pictures from Italy, while at the same dropping off two additional rolls of film. (We will have 11 by the time we are through.) Sheila will be pleased to learn later today that her new camera, which she purchased for the trip, has served her well. One of the two rolls already processed was taken by her, mostly in and around the Piazza della Signoria. (One day, while I was wandering around elsewhere in Florence, she went there and just hung around for several hours, watching the people. She said she loved it.) She took a couple of pictures of me at Santa Margherita Church, and they turned out well enough, notwithstanding their subject matter. (I mean myself, not the church!) I am not at all photogenic, and hate having my picture taken. But I loved that little church, and stopped there as many as three or four times every day we were in Florence.) The other roll was taken with my camera, mostly in Ravenna. I was going through the pictures an hour or so ago and suddenly had my breath taken away by a couple of photos I took at the Neonian Baptistry; they were of the Byzantine mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ, which in turn was surrounded by portraits of the twelve apostles. Both pictures turned out splendidly, and if I had centered one of them a little better, it would have made a fine postcard. I took the pictures with 400-ASA film -- I never used a flash in Italy except in one or two cases where I used Sheila's camera -- and it reproduced the colors beautifully. I could not believe how well those pictures turned out, and I was tickled pink by what I had done. I have often thought of taking up photography as a serious hobby, and this was additional encouragement to do so. Some of the other pictures may be interesting, too -- including one I took, also in Ravenna, of an Italian parking meter.

Closed-circuit to my sister: I'm going to pick out my favorite pictures when we get all 11 rolls of film developed, and put these in an album and send them along to you. It will probably take a couple of months, but that can then be your birthday present. However, I may make some extra copies of the ones of those mosaics, and send them along to you forthwith. These are so good that I just have to share them right away.

Ciao a tutti,


Part II: Tredici giorni da non dimenticare mai (5/30/02)

I've had rotten luck this week with lost drafts of messages. I doubt that this one will be finished by the time I have to get offline in an hour, but I am going to go ahead and send whatever I have then, and finish it over the next couple of days. This is the third time today I have sat down to compose this particular message, and in the other two cases the drafts were gone from the draft folder when I tried to get into it to pick up where I had left off before.

We arrived back in Salt Lake City at about 9:30 last night. Sheila's sister Sue was there to pick us up, along with her husband Dave and our son Colin. They made a couple of remarks about my appearance. The first was that I looked like I had spent a lot of time in the sun, which of course was true, and the observation did not surprise me. The second one did: they all told me I looked like I had lost some weight. What with the huge meals and numerous trips to the gelateria, I actually thought I had gained some weight in Italy. (In fact, on my last visit to the pizzeria in Bolsena, I pointed my finger at the nice signora I told you about, and in mock-accusatory terms said I had gained weight on our trip, and it was her fault. She laughed, and of course I bought some more pizza.) But perhaps my relatives are right after all. I was quite active physically throughout the trip, and in the 13 days I estimate that I walked somewhere between 60 and 80 miles, some of it while hauling our luggage, and practically all the remainder while carrying a backpack. In addition, of course, there were the "47 charming steps" -- so says their webpage -- at the Dei Mori, and the hill I had to climb in Bolsena to get to the convent. On one day I had to climb up that hill three different times.

I sent mass e-mails on all but two days of the trip, the two days in question being Sunday and Monday of this week. Sunday, of course, was the day I told you I would probably not be sending anything. I can summarize the weekend in Bolsena by saying that we did little more than relax and enjoy the view from our window. Saturday night the workers at the convent had a party for someone who was graduating from the university, and Sheila and I were invited to attend. She remained present for about an hour, and I stayed for perhaps 15 minutes beyond that. For most of the time, I conversed with an intelligent and amiable fellow named Carlo. The following night I was doing our laundry when one of the workers stuck her head in the door and invited me to come eat a meal with them. (It was about 11:00 p. m. then.) They also sent a plate to Sheila, who was not feeling well that evening and had decided to remain in our room. For the next hour or so, I enjoyed the meal and the company; and even though I was the only foreigner present and was, in addition, twice as old as any of the others who were there, everyone seemed to want and accept my presence at the gathering. One of them asked me if I had watched any Italian television during our visit, to which I responded by saying yes, and telling them about that dopey program I had seen at the Faenza train station, which I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. This revelation was followed by a collective shriek of horror, and someone expressed the hope that I would not judge Italy by such things. I told them not to worry, and that Italy did not have a monopoly on idiotic television programs. I then told them about "The Bachelor," and everyone seemed to find this information somehow reassuring.

Monday was just plain chaotic, for reasons I have already partly discussed. My decision to visit the Vatican on that day, and under those circumstances, was probably a mistake, since the hurried and stressful trip sort of defeated our purpose in having deliberately planned a slow-paced vacation. By the time I arrived back at the convent, it had been more than eight hours since I had departed. Although I discovered later that if I had left about fifteen minutes earlier than I did, I could have reduced the time by perhaps an hour, the experience convinced me that we could not possibly make our flight the next day unless we left that afternoon and spent the night in Rome. One of the two daily buses for Orvieto was scheduled to leave in just about exactly an hour, and we decided to take it. (We could have gone to Viterbo instead, but there we would be faced with having to move our luggage to the train station, uphill this time; moreover, the bus to Orvieto would drop us off at the station, and the train to Rome would be an IC (intercity). So we really hustled, and in the process lost our 220-volt converter, as I mentioned. Fortunately, we did not lose anything else on the trip, and we did make it to catch the bus on time, although only barely.

I had wanted to take a packaged bus tour of Rome, but of course that did not work out, which actually proved to be a good thing. Mimi and her husband and daughter drove us all around Rome in a whirlwind tour that proved to be more fun and satisfying than any packaged tour could possibly have been -- even though it was late at night and we were in the middle of a terrific thunderstorm. We managed to see most of the notable monuments and attractions of Rome, even though in some cases we could barely see them through the rain and the steamed-up car windows. We arrived at the Trevi Fountain just as the rain let up for a few minutes. Sheila and I got out of the car and went through the ritual of throwing some coins backward into the fountain, which, according to tradition, means that the person throwing the coins will someday be able to return to Rome. We remained there for about ten minutes. Mimi took pictures of us kissing in front of the fountain; Sheila took pictures of Mimi and me sitting together at the fountain; and I bought Sheila an overpriced rose from a street vendor. She is keeping the rose, and wants to have one or more of the petals laminated.

One of the landmarks Lucio pointed out as we passed it was an Ethiopian obelisk. The next morning I bought the day's edition of Corriere della Sera to read on the flight home, and on the front page there was an article about this obelisk, which was brought to Italy as a war trophy after the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Mussolini had ordered it placed on its present site in 1937, to commemorate his glorious victory over the Ethiopian military colossus; and in 1947 Italy agreed to return the obelisk to Ethiopia, but for various reasons never quite got around to it. The article appeared in the paper because shortly before midnight Monday -- not more than an hour or so after we had passed it -- the obelisk was struck by lightning and severely damaged, with about 40 fragments of it breaking off and falling into the street, barely missing a passing car. The Ethiopians are rather ticked off about the whole thing, and who can blame them? I have often felt that Mussolini would have been among the great buffoons of history if what he did had not led to such tragic results for his country, and this incident is yet another, albeit lesser, reason for history to condemn him.

It looks like I may actually finish this message after all, and toward the end of the week I will send one last e-mail, with my general impressions of the trip and advice for anyone contemplating a similar journey. After that I will go back to giving all of you the individual attention you deserve.

In one of the numerous travel books I consulted in preparation for this trip, the author remarked that if the nations of the world could be likened to a high-school student body, Italy would be the homecoming queen. I have often reflected on this observation, usually because I wish it had originated with me so that I could claim it as my own. I cannot do that, of course, but perhaps I can sum up my own Italian experience thus: I have always loved to travel, and ever since my childhood, Italy has been one of the three or four countries in the world that I have most wanted to visit. Now, just prior to my 49th birthday, I have finally had my opportunity. For 13 glorious days in the month of May, I have submitted myself to the pleasing spell of this lovely and bewitching country, basking in the warmth and hospitality of its people, partaking of their wondrous cuisine, pondering their unique contributions to the civilization and refinement of the world, and marveling at their ability to savor life in spite of the daunting problems Italy has had to face throughout its long and turbulent history. I have spoken and listened to their beautiful language, which, to borrow an apt phrase from Will Durant, represents the triumph of the vowel over the consonant. And for months and years to come, amid the travails and cares of life, I will rejoice in my memories of this singular episode in my life, and of its individual, kaleidoscopic components. This land and its inhabitants have won me over, and I know that henceforth and forever, some part of me will always be Italian. I hope someday to return to Italy, but in the meantime, I know my life has been immesurably blessed and enriched by my having been there once. Arrivederci, Roma -- e Firenze, e Ravenna, e Bolsena.

I am almost out of time, and regret that I will have to send this off without proofreading it. But I hope it has turned out okay -- and that this time -- on my fourth attempt -- I will finally succeed in sending it off.



Tredici giorni da non dimenticare mai (5/29/02)

I will probably have to divide this message into multiple parts, one to be sent perhaps tomorrow, since I am now in Chicago and this airport Internet place is not cheap. We have a four-hour layover before we catch the flight to Salt Lake City, and home.

I said I would not be writing on Sunday, a day which proved to be very uneventful. We spent much of it just relaxing around the convent, and that was good enough for both of us. Monday was hectic -- the worst day of the trip, actually, but even it ended up being pretty good by the time it was over. Sheila wanted to sleep in, so in my infinite wisdom I left early in the morning for Rome, where I wanted to see the Vatican if I saw nothing else. I made it, but the trip took more than 4 hours each way and I was only able to spend about 40 minutes there; all I saw, in fact, was St. Peter's. Then I had to rush back to Bolsena to pick up Sheila, because we had decided to leave for Rome that day. A bus to Orvieto was scheduled to leave Bolsena at 4:10, and we barely made it; in fact, in our haste we left behind our 220-volt converter, which we would not be needing beyond the following morning anyway. In Rome we were wined and dined by my old high-school classmate Mimi Kent, along with her husband Lucio and daughter Amelia, who gave us a whirlwind tour of Rome, which at that time was in the middle of a torrential downpour. I have always considered myself very fortunate where friends are concerned, and I offer Mimi as Exhibit 3,409 in support of that contention. She and her family were one of the highlights of a trip that was chock-full of them. She has also been one of the recipients of these e-mails. All are invited to stand up now and applaud Mimi, who is likewise invited to take a bow. Grazie tante, amica mia; you done me real good.

That being done, I will have a couple more posts to send after we get home. I had hoped to spend an hour or so on the Internet today, but in view of the cost, I won't. But there are some details of this brief sketch that I want to fill in, and I think it will be worth your while to stay tuned.

Ciao a tutti voi,


Life at the convent (5/25/02)

I lost the message I wrote for you earlier today, and perhaps I will have better luck this time. As you probably have gathered by now, I had some doubts yesterday about whether staying in Bolsena was a good idea, but I need not have worried; Sheila absolutely loves the town and the convent, and it has proven to be well worth all the hassle we had to go through to get from Viterbo to here. Today has been the slowest day of a very slow-paced vacation, and we have done very little. I got up and read my scriptures this morning, after the best night's sleep I have had so far during this trip; but the view from the window kept distracting me from Isaiah, so I can't say how much I was edified spiritually. Sheila has taken dozens of pictures. Right now she is about 100 feet away from me, in a bench on the piazza, enjoying the breeze and the passersby while I compose this. We will probably eat at some trattoria afterward.

The convent has a webpage , if anyone is interested in looking at it. The convent itself offers a superb view of the town of Bolsena and the lake of the same name, and I think we both could have spent the whole weekend gazing out the windows and doing nothing else.

Last night I made a food run into town, and stopped at a pizzeria, where I was waited on by a lady who has to be the friendliest person I have thus far met in Italy. She went on and on about how good my Italian was, and I told her I really had to struggle with the language when I was tired. Although I did not have this trip in mind when I started studying Italian three years ago, I would have to say that it was unquestionably the single best thing I have done to prepare for it. Certainly it has been a big hit with the local people. At Gelato Heaven on our last night in Florence, the young lady who served us was quite amused when I thanked her for helping me "con la 'nostra' bellissima lingua italiana."

I regret that we will probably have to skip church tomorrow. I rarely do that, but I believe the circumstances justify it this week. The nearest branch is in Terni, which would be extremely difficult to reach, because we would have to take a bus to Viterbo or Bolsena, and then at least two trains to the day's final destination. Even then, I have no idea where the branch is located, or what time it meets. The convent lends itself to peaceful contemplation, however, so we will probably take advantage of that fact and observe the Sabbath as best we can.

I'm going to go ahead and send this off, in order to avoid the kind of luck I have had the last couple of times I have tried to write. I may not write again before Monday, which of course will be our last full day in Italy.



Part II: Crossing Italy with the Monster (5/24/02)

The convent where we are staying, at least for tonight, is actually no longer a convent; a few years ago the nuns deeded it to some foundation, which rents out rooms to guests and continues to use the building and grounds for charitable purposes. It offers a splendid view of the lake and town of Bolsena, and Sheila loves it, which makes me think it was perhaps worth coming to after all. The building dates from the 17th century, I believe.

Two more items, then I need to close. (Since I lost my original message, I have already been on the Net about an hour longer than I had intended.) On the way to Siena on Monday, the bus I was on skirted a place called Poggibonsi. That name intrigued me, and I wondered where I had heard it before. Finally, later that night, I remembered: it was where the messengers of Pope Julius II had caught up with Michelangelo after the two had fallen into a dispute over the artist's pay, and Michelangelo had simply up and left and headed back to Tuscany. The messengers may have added some threats to their admonitions, but in any event Pope and sculptor eventually made up, with the latter outliving the former and finally dying at age 89.

The other item is that I took Sheila to see the Adriatic last evening, as I had mentioned I would do. She loved it, which convinced me that this was a better decision than a visit to San Marino would have been, given the fact that we could not do both. So while we celebrated our wedding anniversary on the beach north of Ravenna, Sheila collected seashells for our kids, while her sentimental and romantically-inclined husband pondered a famous Churchill speech, to-wit, the one that began thus: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended upon the Continent."



Crossing Italy with the Monster (5/24/02)

Today was devoted almost exclusively to travel. We checked out of the Al Giaciglio in Ravenna at about 8:00 this morning, and were pulling out of the train station by 8:35. The long trip to Bolsena required us to change trains at several points, specifically, at Rimini, Ancona, Orte, and one other town where we missed the connection because the train arrived in Orte several minutes late and we had only been scheduled for a ten-minute layover. On two segments of the journey -- Rimini-Ancona and Ancona-Orte -- we rode on the Eurostar, which, as I have previously told you, is the way to travel when you are in Europe. For much of the segment between Rimini and Ancona the tracks were literally within a few yards of the Adriatic, which of course delighted my wife. The longest portion of the trip was between Ancona and Orte -- about 2-1/2 hours -- most of which was through Umbria, where we were treated to some wonderful scenery, including fog-shrouded mountains with castles or old towns on their tops, some breathtaking valleys (one of which reminded me of the Jiboa Valley in El Salvador), and innumerable vineyards and olive gardens. Sheila took some pictures while I marked the towns on my map as we passed through them, listening all the while to Cecilia Bartoli singing Rossini arias.

The first hitch of the day happened at Orte, and it was a minor one. As I said, we missed our connection there, but this was actually a good thing because the train we were supposed to have taken would have required us to make yet another change, whereas the one we actually did take only an hour later went directly to Viterbo, where we were supposed to have ended up anyway. Up to this point the trip had gone reasonably well, and I felt that I had arrived at a sort of modus vivendi with the Monster. But alas, the good times sort of came to a halt at Viterbo. At the train station we were told that the bus to Bolsena did not stop there, and that we had to walk to a station about 500m away in order to catch it. So we set off with all our bags -- and of course with me towing the Monster -- and dodged through crazy Italian traffic even as we took some comfort from the knowledge that the passersby who contemplated these two idiot tourists would never see us again, and that we therefore need not be overly embarrassed. Then it started to rain, but not heavily; and as we were both sweating by this time, it actually felt good. Then we learned -- too late, of course, for it to do us any good -- that there was a covered walkway that would have taken us most of the way to the bus station. Finally, once we were on the bus, it actually took us back the way we had just come, and stopped at the train station -- which, of course, made us both wonder if our most recent travails had really been necessary.

I hoped by this point that our day's Abbott and Costello routine would be over, but of course I was wrong. On the bus I dropped an empty water bottle and got up to retrieve it. Because the interior of the bus was covered with graffitti anyway, perhaps I need not have bothered; but in any event, the bus suddenly lurched, and sent me sprawling backward into a seat, which fortunately was empty. Sheila had a good laugh over that one. Then we arrived at our final destination for the day, where we learned not only that the convent where we would be staying was about 1km away, with most of that distance being uphill -- but also that there were no taxis in Bolsena! I left Sheila at the piazza with the Monster and two of his buddies, while I took the fourth bag and headed up the hill with it. Finally, I arrived at the convent, where a kind soul drove me down the hill to the piazza -- where, in turn, we retrieved Sheila and her silent, but oppressively heavy, companions.

I lost this message when I first composed it awhile ago, so in order to prevent that from happening again, I am going to send it off now and add some more in a few minutes.



Saluti a tutti voi da Ravenna (5/22/02)

We arrived in Ravenna an hour or so ago, which was about two hours later than we intended. The trip here was of a character-building nature. We left the Dei Mori at 11:00 a. m., after the last errand I tried to run in Florence met with unsuccessful results. (I had left the room a few minutes before, after announcing to my wife that I was "off to get Dante's head" -- i. e., a bronze bust of Dante that was being sold at the gift shop of the poet's house. Unfortunately, the giftshop was closed, although the museum itself was open. Perhaps I will be able to get Dante's head here.) [N.B. -- As of today's date (2/5/05), I still do not have Dante's head. Anyone making a trip to Florence anytime in the future, please contact me first. I still want it!] We took the Eurostar from Florence to Bologna (where I informed my wife that a terrorist bombing in August of 1980 had killed a number of people [85, to be exact]at that very train station.) This time we traveled second class, but the Eurostar is a wonderful way to travel and we hardly noticed the difference between traveling second class on it and first class on the IC. At Bologna we missed our connection and had to wait about two hours to catch the next available train, but that was not the worst aggravation of the day -- not by a long shot. There are no elevators or escalators at that station, so we had to haul all our bags -- or, rather, I had to haul all our bags, including that monstrosity of Sheila's -- up and down several flights of stairs, until finally we ended up at Binario (platform)4, from which the next train to Faenza was to leave. (Our itinerary for the day required us to change trains again at that place.) And wouldn't you know it: at the last minute we heard an announcement that the train would instead be leaving from Binario 6, or 9 -- I don't remember which, and it doesn't matter now. So, once again, it was down one flight of stairs and up another. Then we had to wait about two hours at Faenza, which wasn't bad because there was a nice breeze, in addition to which the arriving train and the one we were supposed to take to Ravenna would be using the same platform. Or so we thought, anyway; this also proved too good to be true, and another last-minute platform change obligated us to go down and up the stairs yet again, with the Monster in tow. If I don't need back surgery when we come home, it will be a miracle.

Ravenna is in the province of Emilia-Romagna, a good portion of which lies within the Po Valley (which, incidentally, is where much of Italy's heavy industry is located). As a result, the terrain around Ravenna is flat, and there are no hills here to remind us of Tuscany. It actually reminds me of Indiana, but my wife thinks it looks more like the San Joaquin Valley in California. She is a rancher's daughter and knows more about crops than I ever will, so I will defer to her judgment on that; after all, she has been to Indiana and grew up in California, whereas I have lived in Indiana but never even been to the San Joaquin Valley. We did see a lot of vineyards today, in addition to thousands of acres of land cultivated with other crops; but among them, the only one I recognized was corn.

The place where we are staying is an albergo called Al Giaciglio, which is within easy walking distance of the train station. When we arrived, I took two of our bags and walked right over here from the station, leaving Sheila with the remaining luggage until I returned about 15 minutes later. Without the bags, it took me 3 minutes to walk back to the station from the Al Giaciglio. The Dei Mori in Florence had one serious drawback in Sheila's eyes: one had to climb 47 steps to arrive at the albergo itself. I told her there was bad news and good news, the former being that she was not yet through climbing steps for the day, and the good news being that there would only be 22 of them this time. The room has a TV, so I am going to check the schedule and see if "Carabinieri," starring Manuela Arcuri, is on tonight. (At the train station in Faenza I watched part of some really dopey program that might best be described as a sort of combination of Jenny Jones, "The Dating Game," and "The Bachelor." Everyone was talking about a zillion miles an hour, but I gathered that a bunch of women were competing in some way for the attention of one man. At one point he told the band to start the music and began to dance with one of the women as the others watched. I halfway expected him to say something like "Daniela, accetterai tu questa rosa?" but I did not stick around to watch any more of it.)

We have no plans for tonight, other than to sample the famous cuisine of Emilia-Romagna at the restaurant attached to the Al Giaciglio, which has the same name and the same owners. Tomorrow morning, while Sheila takes it easy, I will probably wander around Ravenna, visiting Dante's tomb and some of the old churches with their Byzantine art, about which I will report next time I write. In the afternoon I will probably take Sheila to see the Adriatic. We are in for a really big travel adventure on Friday, so I will give you a heads-up right now: There is no direct train service of any kind between Ravenna and Rome, to say nothing of Ravenna to Viterbo (which, with the exception of Orvieto, is the closest point to Bolsena where there is a train station.) So we will be going there by way of Rimini, Ancona, and Orte. Oh, well -- Sheila loves the ocean, which is a big part of the reason I included Ravenna in our itinerary, and she is going to get to spend a lot of time contemplating the Adriatic.

I'll check in with you all tomorrow.



A day in Ravenna (5/23/02)

This will probably be the only mass e-mail I will be sending from Ravenna, where we are only scheduled to spend one full day. Because it is only 3:30 p. m. here and our day is far from over, it will probably also be the shortest such message I have sent out thus far on this trip. I just had lunch with Sheila -- a couple of panini and some acqua minerale purchased at a place across the street from where we are staying -- and in another hour or so I plan to take her to a beach north of Ravenna so she can see the Adriatic, and, as she says, get her feet wet in it. Meanwhile, I am on my way to see the Battistero Neoniano and one or two other places. We had planned to go to San Marino this afternoon -- it is an independent country completely surrounded by Italy, and whose principal industries are tourism and postage stamps -- but we decided that particular jaunt would serve no purpose except to enable us to say we had been there. Besides, Donatella told us the beaches here are better than the ones at Rimini -- where we would have to go before going to San Marino -- and that the Ravenna beaches have the added advantage of not being magnets for tourists and beachcombers.

I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon wandering around Ravenna, where one combined ticket is good for admission to all of the principal tourist attractions. It costs 8 euros. There is not a lot to see in Ravenna, but what it does offer is fascinating, and I am glad we came here. I visited Dante's tomb this morning, plus San Vitale and the Masoleo di Galla Placidia; but the site I enjoyed the most -- and a must-see if you ever come to Ravenna -- is the Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, which dates from the sixth century. Ravenna in general, and this church in particular, is full of beautiful Byzantine art, mostly in the form of mosaics, but including a few frescoes as well. Much of it is absolutely breathtaking -- and keep in mind that this remark comes from someone who is not particularly knowledgeable about art. Unfortunately, I forgot to take the flash attachment for my camera, and as a result will almost certainly not have any good pictures of the art treasures. [Happily, this bit of conjecture later proved to be wrong]. I'll try to bring back some postcards; you simply have got to see these.

I quite like Ravenna, and sort of wish now that I had planned another day here, in which case we almost certainly would have gone to San Marino. Ravenna is a comparatively quiet town of about 90,000, and is not overrun by tourists the way Florence and Rome usually are. (It is a tourist attraction of sorts, though; today, in fact, I ran into a large group from the Utah Valley State College in Provo. The chaperone of the group, who was LDS, told me, incidentally, that Elder Jeffrey Holland had been in Florence only yesterday.) The Byzantine presence in Ravenna arises from the fact that in the fifth and sixth centuries A. D., it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. I recommend this town to anyone planning to come to Italy. Most of its principal tourist attractions can be seen in a few hours, on foot; but I thought it worthy of an overnight stay, and cannot say that I regret that decision.

I notice that I have to struggle with my Italian when I am tired, and I have been very tired for the past couple of days. The cab driver in Florence who drove us to the train station yesterday told me that my Italian was very good, and he said he was impressed that I was able to use some difficult verb conjugations in my speech; he mentioned specifically that I had correctly used the verb "suppongono." I know I have a long way to go before I can really feel comfortable speaking Italian, but nothing I have experienced during this trip discourages me, and I believe taking it up has been one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done.

FYI, today is our fifteenth wedding anniversary. I asked Sheila this morning if she had ever thought we would be celebrating one of those annual milestones in Italy, and she said no. The stay in Ravenna was intended largely for her benefit, which is why I have decided to skip San Marino and head for the beach. First, though, I have to go to that Battistero, which I propose to do right now. Barring some unforeseen development, the next time you hear from me we will probably be in Bolsena. (Pray that my back will hold up okay tomorrow as I haul the Monster over a good portion of Italy.)



Some true doctrine revealed (5/21/02)

I have received a revelation of true and sound doctrine, which is herewith presented for everyone's instruction and edification. It is this: When the wicked die, they are consigned to everlasting torment in the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol. The righteous, on the other hand, all get to go to Tuscany. If and when I make it to the eternal realm of the blessed, I fully expect to be greeted there personally by Cecilia Bartoli, who presumably will make a guest appearance for the occasion if she in fact outlives me. While singing one of my favorite arias -- perhaps "Una voce poco fa" from The Barber of Seville, or "Nacqui all'affanno" from La Cenerentola -- Cecilia will personally serve me any one of a variety of wondrous Tuscan dishes, plus plenty of gelato for dessert. (I used to think Marie Callender's fresh peach pie a la mode was the ultimate dessert, but as a result of insights gained during this trip, I now stand corrected.) All of these will be made to taste precisely as they do on the earth, but with all the fat and calories removed; moreover, they will be available in infinite quantities, and whenever we want them. The meal and the private recital being concluded, I plan to spend a considerable portion of my first 500,000 years in leisurely exploration of all the places I wanted to see in Florence but have not been able to see on this trip. I have loved wandering around this city, but I don't think anyone has ever digested all of it, and this list of places I have wanted to visit is far longer than the list of places I have actually been able to see in the short space of six days.

I have been getting some good feedback about my travelogues, and am glad to know they are being enjoyed by the folks back home. Unfortunately, this will be my last one from Florence. We move on to Ravenna tomorrow, and will be there two days. One of the first things I want to do there is find an Internet cafe' and send off another dispatch. Ravenna is about 81 miles northeast of here, on the Adriatic, and I chose it because it is interesting enough to justify the visit but is not a tourist magnet. Besides, Sheila loves the ocean, and Dante's tomb is there. So there is enough in Ravenna to interest both of us.

I went to Siena today. Sheila was feeling a bit under the weather and did not accompany me, which in this case was perhaps just as well; she would have gone nuts over Siena, but it is a hilly town and that would not have been good for her feet or her back, both of which have given her a lot of trouble lately. I myself was only there for about 3-1/2 hours, and would have been there much longer than that if not for the fact that we leave Florence tomorrow and need to get ready for that tonight. (In retrospect, I definitely believe I should have done Siena yesterday, which was the original plan.) Siena has a unique central square, a fan-shaped piazza which twice a year -- once in July and once in August -- is the site of the world-famous Palio, as wild a horse race as you will ever find anywhere. I LOVED this town, which has done an excellent job of maintaining its Renaissance flavor, and in addition has some pretty good gelato! :-) It was full of all kinds of visual surprises, and would be a photographer's paradise. (I took part of one roll of film and about half of another, some in Siena itself and some in the countryside between Florence and Siena.) During this trip I learned something I should have known already but did not: namely, that a World War II American military cemetery is located just a few miles south of Florence. If we were going to be here one more day, I would definitely want to go there. (I knew about the cemetery at Nettuno, near Rome, but somehow this one had slipped by me.)[My failure to visit the cemetery has been a lasting regret, and one of the very few I have had from this trip. In a 1981 trip to Europe, however, I did manage to visit three American military cemeteries, two from the Second World War ( (Luxembourg and St. Avold), and one from the First (St. Mihiel). I might add that nothing can quite prepare one for the experience of visiting these places, which are beautifully designed, and splendidly and reverently maintained. It reminded me of visiting the temple; and when I entered the Luxembourg cemetery -- the first of the three I visited -- the very first words that came into my mind were those spoken by the Lord to Moses on Sinai, as recorded in Exodus: "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."]

We ate out again last night, at the same restaurant I told you about in my last dispatch. This time we had two companions, one of whom was a woman we met and befriended on the flight from Chicago to Rome. This meal was wonderful, and the conversation added a lot to it. I had something called ravioli alla moda dei Guelfi (i. e., prepared in the Guelph style), partly because its name intrigued me; I thought perhaps it was something Dante would have eaten in his time. (Perhaps even in the same restaurant; everything here is so old!) When we were done, I told the people who worked at this place that I quite liked the Guelph manner of cooking, and they all got a kick out of that. Afterward I announced myself as the angel of death and took our guests over to Gelato Heaven. (The real name of that place is Festival del Gelato, but it deserves my moniker, so that's what I call it.) Then we went to the Ponte Vecchio, the four of us, and gazed out over the Arno, which shimmers at night. All we lacked to make the moment perfect was the accompaniment of a Puccini aria. We simply have got to come back to this place someday -- that's all there is to it.

I wish Sheila's health were better than it is, but we have been able to do a lot of things together, and the other night she told me that bringing her to Italy is the best thing I have ever done for her. I replied that that had sort of been the idea. It has been good for her just to relax and unwind, and for me to see all these places I have read about in my history books and otherwise give free rein to my wanderlust and intellectual curiosity. There are a few places I think Sheila would rather have visited than Florence, but I don't think we could have found a better place to balance her interests and needs with mine.

I need to sign off in a few minutes, but first I want to let everyone know that I would highly recommend the Dei Mori to anyone planning to visit Florence. It is a cozy, homey place located ideally in the heart of historic Florence, and is a good deal less expensive than most of the hotels here. (Our friends last evening told us they were paying 200 euros a night for theirs, whereas we are paying less than half that.) The establishment, owned by an Englishman, only has six rooms; the manager is a personable young man named Domenico; and a cute little dog named Pippo, who I think belongs to Domenico, makes regular appearances in the sitting area. (I am not one of the world's great dog lovers, but I do like Pippo.) The place does have some minor flaws, notably the lack of any kind of retaining wall to keep water inside the shower; but if and when we come back here -- and you better believe we both want to someday! -- I'll want to stay at this place again. The Dei Mori has a webpage, although I do not know the address; but it proclaims itself to be la tua casa lontana da casa (your home away from home), and I think that describes it pretty well. [Through the miracle of blogging, which was not available even as recently as 2002, the Dei Mori website is now available right here at your fingertips!]

My time is nearly out. See you in Ravenna.



[Afterword: I sent this message the day before we left for Ravenna. In the spring of 2004, Simon & Schuster published Dante in Love, by Harriet Rubin, which I have read several times and wish I had been able to read before making the trip. On pages 215 and 216, Rubin has this to say about Ravenna:

"Ravenna is a secret Paradise. Even today it is one of the least visited cities in northern Italy. Florence was singular as the birthplace of an intellectual and artistic era unsurpassed in the history of the West. But Ravenna was granted a more illustrious heritage: the marriage and parting of eastern Christianity and the West. It is said that in Ravenna men had a Roman body, a Greek mind and an oriental, mystical soul: all three traditions meet in what Augustus called 'the city in the sea.'

"'Three times Western civilization has been shaped in the city of Ravenna,' wrote the art historian Otto von Simson. 'In 49 B.C., Caesar gathered his followers at its port before crossing the Rubicon. He thus tied the city to the fortunes of the Roman empire.' In 1321, Dante would die in Ravenna, having completed the Comedy inside its walls. 'The eyes which had been the last to behold the vision of the imperium in its glory closed where Caesar had prepared its foundation,' wrote Simson. Between Caesar and Dante, in the fifth century, the Emperor Honorius moved his residence from Rome to Ravenna -- then a fortress city protected from attack by the water and devious lagoons. Honorius and his half-sister Galla Placidia made love and quarrelled within its walls. Similarly, enemies from the different camps of God, from East and West, appeared to embrace each other in Ravenna. . . .

"No city embodied the spirit of the two worlds, West and East, as dramatically as Ravenna. The Empress Placidia built the greatest Byzantine churches, Santa Croce and San Giovanni Evangelista -- they were offerings in thanks for being saved when her boat barely made it ashore from a storm on the Adriatic Sea. Venice and Rome were crowded with churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary or Jesus. Ravenna churches celebrated martyrs like Apollinaris, the archbishop of Ravenna in 468, who spent his life giving away his silver, hoping his mystical visions would sway politics, and finally, when his suffering became great, asked to be hung in a martyr's death. In the churches, the mosaics wrested a vision of transcendence from the raw material of life. The figures walk on air yet seem human, and they seem conscious of being observed. In churches in the other cities of Dante's travels, the mosaics portray the dogma of religion: Christ, Mary, the disciples. But in Ravenna, mortal figures with ravenously big eyes and faces, childlike and mature at the same time, make a worshiper feel like a potential dweller in Paradise. The figures under the 'tent of heaven' are human. Ravenna is the home of the drama of human transformation.

"Here, aligned with the house of Polenta, Dante could live as though Paradise loomed."

Domenica a Firenze (5/20/02)

Sheila missed church yesterday, for reasons that I'm afraid must be ascribed to me, although they present plenty of grist for the teasing mill, and under the circumstances I think she will forgive me. I woke up that morning feeling invigorated, and after a few minutes of lying in bed and thinking about my favorite opera pieces, I looked at my watch to see what time it was; and the luminous dial indicated 6:30. I wondered why the alarm had not gone off -- I had set it for precisely that time -- and I also wondered why it was still so dark and quiet outside. All of those should have given me some clues, but like the dope I was, I simply got up and showered and dressed for church. All of this, of course, awoke my wife, who is a very light sleeper. Then I looked at my watch and saw that it was still 6:30. For a nanosecond I sort of congratulated myself for getting ready in such a short time, but then it dawned on me what had happened, and further inquiry confirmed my suspicion: I had left the watch in alarm mode after setting the alarm. When I set the watch back to regular mode, I was a bit chagrined -- to say nothing of embarrassed -- to see that it was in fact about 1:30. I went out into the sitting area of the Dei Mori to read Isaiah (in Italian), and of course I was never able to get back to sleep after that. Unfortunately, neither was Sheila, who has a serious sleeping disorder to begin with. When the time came to get up, she was simply too exhausted to go to our Sunday meetings, so I went alone. I left the Dei Mori at around 7:45 and was rather surprised to find myself at the church by 8:10, as I had figured the trip would take at least an hour.

I enjoyed the meetings, although sleep caught up with me by the end of the block. In Sunday School I participated in the discussion and was asked to read a rather lengthy passage aloud. (It was Joshua 1:1-9). A missionary in the back of the room who was interpreting for a non-Italian-speaking American visitor told me my pronunciation and pace had been very good, and that he had had no trouble at all following me. That was nice to hear, because normally I talk so fast that I know I would be an interpreter's worst nightmare. During this class I even managed to make a wisecrack in Italian, which was a hit with the people there.

I would have to say this was the noisiest group of Latter-day Saints whom I have ever been around. Although I know they would have driven any Wasatch Front bishop to distraction, I do not mean that as a criticism. Italians are a gregarious people, and they also tend to be a bit loud. So the fact that Italian Mormons make a lot of noise was no big surprise to me. I enjoyed watching their interaction with each other, and I think we could learn a lot from these people. They seemed totally uninhibited about just being themselves.

As I waited at the bus stop for my ride back into town, there occurred an incident that I would neither be recounting nor remembering, if not for the reaction of the other person involved. As I stood there in white shirt and tie, wearing a backpack and clasping my hands together behind my back, a woman perhaps in her 60s, who appeared to be worn-down by the cares of life, walked past the bus stop. When she was almost directly in front of me, I said "Buongiorno, signora." The effect was like turning on a light. She looked up at me, obviously surprised and pleased that I had greeted her in this fashion. The experience made me wonder if anyone else ever had done so.

We did little else for the rest of the day. In the evening I took Sheila over to the Santa Margherita church, where Dante met Beatrice and where Beatrice herself is buried. The church is not big, and dates from the year 1032; but it definitely has a soothing atmosphere, partly because of the music that is constantly piped into it when they are not celebrating mass there. I have been stopping at Santa Margherita as many as two or three times every day since we have been in Florence. Later we went over to the Piazza della Signoria, where we spent 30 or 40 minutes people-watching before we went back to the Dei Mori. That place has sort of been the civic hub of Florence for hundreds of years, and we both wished we had something like that back in the States. Incidentally, during this particular visit to the Piazza della Signoria I also finally found the pavement stone marking the spot where Savonarola was burned at the stake in May, 1498. I had been looking for it for days and knew it was in the Piazza somewhere, but did not know the exact spot, and I got contradictory answers whenever I asked the local people where it was. Finally, a guest at the Dei Mori told me he had found it himself, and gave me such good directions that I was able to walk right to the spot the next time I was in the area.

We have had some exquisite meals here, as the Italians really know how to prepare food. These people could probably make some kind of gourmet version of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I have dabbled in Italian cooking in recent years, and based on my experience here, I think I will take up the pastime in earnest after we return home. (BTW, a word of advice to one and all: set aside a generous budget for meals if you ever come to Italy. I say that in all seriousness, and you will be glad you did. If you have concerns about money, sacrifice good lodgings before you cut corners on this.) The other night we ate at a restaurant called La Grotta Guelfa , a wonderful establishment which, in my mind at least, has now sort of become the acme of Italian restaurants. (The name of this place intrigued me, which was a big part of the reason I chose it.) I had some kind of pasta with salmon, and Sheila had a bass, apparently fresh out of the Arno, although I don't know how it was prepared. The waitress wheeled the bass, head and all, out to our table, and I thought that my wife, upon seeing it, would surely lose her appetite. The waitress then removed the head and skin from the fish, and dished it out on the spot. I wondered why this part of the meal preparation had to take place there at our table rather than back in the kitchen; but then, these people obviously know what they are doing, and who am I to second-guess them? Perhaps this was the way the Guelphs cooked in the 13th century. (I mention all of that partly because, notwithstanding this little incident, Sheila consumed the whole thing and went on and on about how delicious it was.) We both had a side dish of roasted potatoes, which were generously seasoned with olive oil and all manner of spices. A French-Canadian couple sitting next to us were drinking some kind of wine that looked like Concord grape juice, and the sight thereof made me salivate. [Since we are both teetotalers, of course, we never did drink any of the wine we saw in Italy; but man, did that stuff look good. I wondered if I should contact the Brethren in Salt Lake City to see if we could get special dispensation to indulge in this pleasure during our trip; but Sheila persuaded me that it would be no more successful than my efforts to have Don Quixote canonized as scripture and added to the Standard Works of the Church.] I did not give in to the temptation, but even without wine -- a staple in the Italian diet -- this was the best meal I have had in a long, long time. I even ate it slowly, which is something I almost never do. Afterward we found what has to be Gelato Heaven, whereupon we entered into its gates and partook at length of its delicacies. I told my wife that this was it; I knew we had both died and were now in the afterlife.

I hope that rather lengthy description of a meal did not bore any of you, but if it did, consider this: In preparation for this trip, I have read a lot of books about Italy -- mostly travelogues and histories, including such famous works as Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. A common denominator of all the travel books is that each contains lengthy, detailed descriptions of individual meals consumed by the author. Having been here for a few days and partaken of some choice meals, I can easily understand why. One author pointed out that to talk about Tuscany without mentioning food is like discussing the Titanic without mentioning the fact that it sank. Come here and find out for yourselves!

We were going to go to Siena today, but got up a bit late and decided to go there tomorrow, which will be our last full day here in Florence. After I send this off, I plan to go to the Convento San Marco, which includes such masterworks as Fra Angelico's famous "Annunciation," which I believe is a fresco, although I am not sure on that. But I am about to find out. A young woman whose acquaintance we made on the plane coming over here is going to be in Florence today and tomorrow, and this morning I left a message at her hotel, giving her the phone number of the Dei Mori and inviting her to come have dinner with us somewhere tonight. And I want to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. Sheila can't do that, and if we go to Siena tomorrow I may miss my chance altogether. They say the view from there is wonderful.

Wednesday we leave for Ravenna, but you should hear from me at least once before then. (BTW, back to food for a moment: on the Via Cavour there is a McDonald's, but I wonder who on earth would ever want to eat McDonald's food in a place like Florence? That would be a bit like hoarding pennies at Ft. Knox.)



Just call me "Brighamo" (5/18/02)

I think it is true for most of us that the little experiences of life are what ultimately make it worthwhile. I had one today that I believe will end up being one of the highlights of this trip. I spent most of this afternoon on what might be best described as a scouting expedition. We want to attend church here tomorrow, and Sheila does not have nearly as much stamina as I do, so I set out to find the chapel, the best and quickest way to get to it, and in addition to learn the meeting times if I could. (Italy, as you can imagine, is not exactly crawling with Mormons, which is why I felt I had to do some advance legwork in order to be able to attend church.)I ultimately concluded that it will take us about an hour to get there tomorrow, but in the meantime this is what happened: While walking down the Via Cavour en route to the Piazza San Marco -- the closest bus stop for Route 20 -- I passed a tourist-information office and decided to ask the people there for assistance. I was waited on by an attractive and personable young woman, probably in her early 20s, whose name, as I later found out, was Sabrina. I launched immediately into my request, whereupon I noticed that her eyes had opened wider and she was slowly breaking into one of the most engaging and captivating smiles I have seen in a long time. It was very much like watching a sunrise. I figured I must have mangled the language in some really entertaining way to elicit this reaction, but after we transacted our business, I learned exactly the opposite; she told me this was the very first time an American had ever spoken to her in her own language, obviously without expecting her to accommodate him in English; moreover, she said, my Italian was "buonissimo." She went on and on about how well I spoke it. A middle-aged woman who was present and overheard the conversation indicated her concurrence, and discoursed at some length -- with emphatic hand gestures and other body language, alla maniera italiana -- about the frustrations she had experienced during her frequent trips to the United States, where she hardly ever found an American who spoke Italian (or any other language, for that matter). It was nice to know that in some small way, I had helped to dispel the image of the overbearing and condescending "ugly American," but in all honesty I must say that Sabrina did far more for me today than I did for her. I was reminded immediately of an experience I had more than 20 years ago at BYU, where I was being waited on at a counter and took notice of a coed who was standing next to me. Soon she became aware that she was being watched, and when she looked up at me I remarked, matter-of-factly, that I thought she was beautiful. She absolutely glowed, and accepted the compliment as graciously as anyone had any right to expect. It meant a lot to me then that she was able to accept the compliment in the spirit in which I intended it, and over the years I have often reflected on the incident, which perhaps suggests that God may love a cheerful receiver as much as a cheerful giver. I have felt much the same today, and I hope life always treats Sabrina kindly. She may rest assured that I, for one, will always remember her. Oh, how I wish you could have seen that smile! [Yes, I do still remember Sabrina three years later, and I hope life has been treating her well.]

Anyway, I found the chapel, after a long bus ride through the labyrinthine streets of Florence. It is in a part of town that does not show up on most maps, and appears to be located in the general direction of Fiesole. There was no sign indicating the meeting schedule, so I rang the bell and was actually surprised a moment later when it was answered by a man who appeared to be about 60, and had a few teeth missing. He could not duplicate Sabrina's performance, but likewise broke into a big smile when I told him my wife and I were active members of the Church and I was there today to find out where the chapel was so we could attend the meetings tomorrow. I was there for perhaps 20 minutes, during which he showed me around and spoke about the travails of being a Latter-day Saint in Italy, as well as how much he had enjoyed attending General Conference in person last year.

I don't know what we are going to do tonight, but I suppose we will find out when we do it. I was going to take Sheila to the Duomo, but now will probably wait until Monday, as the Duomo closes at 5:00 and my "scouting expedition" took up the whole afternoon.

I will be coming back with a lot of pictures. Some of them may be of things most tourists do not really think about. For instance, yesterday I took a picture of an Ape parked on the street. Unknown in the United States but ubiquitous in Italy, this contraption might best be described as a low-horsepower, three-wheeled pickup truck. I want to take a good picture of an "A" bus, too. (In future years, I believe Sheila and I will always break into a good laugh whenever either of us mentions the "A" bus. Today I remarked that there was once a successful TV show called "The 'A' Team," so perhaps we should market the idea of producing one called "The 'A' Bus." In response, Sheila said that driver may have been much more polite to us if we had been accompanied by Mr. T. I said that in that case, I'm sure he would also have learned his area real quick-like.)

At a bookstore today, I found a beautiful edition of the Divine Comedy, which I had to hold away from me in order not to drool on it. It costs 60 euros and weighs about as much as Sheila's suitcase, so I am not going to buy it on this trip, although I may order it in another six months or so. But I WANT THAT BOOK!!!! I even tried to take a picture of it, but alas -- or rather, ahime' -- I had run out of film. I probably will buy a less-expensive, more compact version of the Comedy before we leave Florence, however. That may satisfy my craving for Dante until I can get the big volume.

I probably will not be sending another of my dispatches until Monday morning, but I have sent two today, and all of you may spend the weekend digesting those.



More adventures in Florence (5/18/02)

I have spent a great deal of time lately reflecting on what a tragedy it would be for the world if Italian were ever to become a dead language. I am also pleasantly surprised by how little difficulty I am having with it, although for reasons I will get to in a moment, I do not expect that to hold true during the entire trip. As you know, I have been making it a point to use it as much as possible while I am here, even in situations where I don't know an important word or expression and have to improvise a bit. That, after all, is how one learns a foreign language. (Yesteday I visited the Baptistry, where one can rent recorded tour guides in a number of languages. I chose Italian, of course, and understood it just fine.) Several years ago I decided I wanted my Spanish eventually to become nearly as good as my English, and similarly I hope that someday my Italian will be almost as good as my Spanish. I'm not there yet, of course, but what I see so far is quite encouraging, and a number of people here have given me some very good feedback.

I did have one unusual situation come up yesterday afternoon, most of which I spent at the Casa di Dante -- where, among other things, I saw a Korean translation of the Divine Comedy. (It was opened to a page showing an illustration of the ten circles of hell, so that even though I do not know a word of Korean, I would have instantly recognized this for what it was.) The museum featured an exhibit on the Battle of Campaldino in 1289, in which Dante participated -- as a cavalryman, I believe. I also saw a painting of the meeting of Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari, which shows the event taking place at the Arno and depicts Dante as being fully-grown. [To view the painting I refer to, click here.] I knew, of course, that it did not happen this way -- although I should add here that I also learned during the course of the day that the event did not take place at the Badia, as I had told you, but at the Santa Margherita Church. [I believe I was right the first time, and that the encounter did in fact take place at the Badia. The Portinari family worshipped at Santa Margherita, and in fact Beatrice was buried there when she died in 1290. In a subsequent post, I made another reference to Santa Margherita as the place where Dante and Beatrice met, but I incorporate this correction into that post by reference, and thus will not bring up the matter again.] This brought up a situation where, for the first time ever, I had to use the passato remoto in conversational Italian. (Italian has three past tenses. To oversimply the differences, and thus avoid a tedious grammatical lesson, one is the imperfect, which is used the same way it is in Spanish or French; another is used for events that happened recently; and the third -- the passato remoto -- for events that happened long ago. It sort of goes without saying which one is used to describe an event that took place in the 13th century.) Earlier in the day I had been chagrined to discover that the compact dictionary I purchased for this trip did not include a verb table, and now I had to improvise. Suspecting -- rightly, as it turned out -- that the artist who painted that picture really did not know the story, I asked the man at the ticket booth of the Dante house how old Dante and Beatrice had been when they met. (FYI, he said Dante had been about 13 and Beatrice nine.) I posed the question thus: "Quanti anni avevano Dante e Beatrice quando si conobbero?" I have forwarded this information to my friend Mimi for feedback, and if I did this right, I hope she will give me an "A" for the day. [Mimi, by the way, later told me that I had indeed been correct].

I mentioned that I expect to have some difficulty with the language later in the trip. The reason is that for most Italians, Italian itself is a second language, owing to the proliferation of dialects. As recently as 1982, a national survey indicated that only 29% of Italians spoke Italian at home, the rest using Barese or Piemontese or some other local dialect. The standard form of Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which of course is what is spoken here. We go to Ravenna on Wednesday, and I will report back on how the language is different in Emilia-Romagna.

I spent part of yesterday afternoon with Sheila, but with her health problems neither of us wanted to push her too hard. We wandered around a bit and had lunch -- bistecca alla fiorentina con patatine fritte e un litro d'acqua minerale -- at a trattoria, then I took her back to the Dei Mori before I went elsewhere. After spending a good part of the afternoon at the Casa di Dante, I visited the Duomo, where I am going to take Sheila after I compose this and send it off. Oddly enough, the principal landmark of Florence is nearly impossible to see from most locations unless one is right there next to it, as the view is usually blocked because of the narrow streets and multistory buildings that form the historic center of the city; instead, the Duomo just sort of leaps out when one turns the appropriate corner. (Later I may go back to climb the 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi's masterwork. If I don't do that, I'm afraid I might regret it later. They say the view from the top of the Duomo is spectacular.) Before I went back to the Dei Mori for the evening, I spent a couple of hours at a wonderful bookstore, the name of which I can't recall now, but I will let you know later [it was Feltrinelli's]; I am sure they have a webpage, and in the future I may order books from them from time to time. While there, I found some Calvin & Hobbes anthologies in Italian and sat down to read them. At this juncture I will draw a curtain on this scene and let you imagine the result; it is far too tragic to relate here, but anyone who has ever been around me when my funny bone was really tickled can probably imagine what happened here. (One frame that elicited a particularly good laugh showed Calvin contemplating his dinner, making a face, and saying somnething like "Beh! Sembra come vomito di pipistrello!"(Closed-circuit to Mimi: I remember the essence of that comment, but I suspect my version of it contains a grammatical error. Feedback from you is invited.)

Yesterday morning I awoke at about 2 a. m. and never went back to sleep. I remained awake for the next 19 hours, and spent most of that time walking. At 9:00, after returning to the Dei Mori for the last time that day, I put on some headphones and lay down to listen to the broadcast of a soccer game in Italian. The very next thing I remember was waking up five hours later in a pitch-black room, with the radio off and my headphones beside the bed. Sheila told me this morning that I had begun snoring less than 30 seconds after I lay down.

I brought my portable CD player on this trip, along with four CDs -- one was the "Voice of Italy" 2-CD set that I bought a couple of weeks ago, and the other three were Cecilia Bartoli. If I had it to do over again, I think I would have left them at home, because on the way over the cabin sounds in the plane more or less drowned out the music, and I have been carrying the CD player in a carrier attached to my belt, which is bulky and cumbersome. But that being said, it has been nice at times to have it here. Near Orvieto, on the train from Rome, I decided I wanted some appropriate mood music -- and a moment later I was listening to Lorena Mitchell sing "O mio babbino caro" as the train sped through Umbria on its way into Tuscany. This was a minor event, but nevertheless one of the most beautiful moments of what is proving to be a very memorable trip.

I may send another dispatch as early as tonight. Other than showing Sheila the Duomo, I have no particular agenda, except for one thing. I want to scout ahead and find out where our church is so we can go to our Sunday meetings tomorrow. (The suggestion to travel light is an excellent one. I did okay in that department, although Sheila obviously did not. I did, however, bring two sets of scriptures, one in English and the other in Italian; and I would do this again, even though they did add some weight and bulk to my luggage. But I must confess that there have been moments in the past few days when I have pondered the benefits of not being religious.)

Love to all,