Putting on the miles and the pounds
April 18, 2001
They say travel is broadening. On our return following a two week road trip my scales confirmed this piece of conventional wisdom. But it was a great trip. To Tuscany and Rome. Pasta. And more pasta.
So I'm back to the training routine. Time to get to work on the old poundage again. But only after I try to duplicate some of the culinary adventures we enjoyed. The stewed breakfast tomatoes were good enough to encourage a quest for a sunny place in our yard for some vines.
This was a first time trip to Italy for Sally and me. We're not especially adventurous. As travelers we like to go to one location, make a nest and then enjoy side trips. In this case we first nested north of Rome in Chianciano Terme. You can find it on some maps.
If you are into good cheeses, wines and olives, we selected a good place to nest. I got to sample cheese in Pienza, enjoy Chianti wine in Montepulciano and sample vino blanco in Orvieto. Even visited an olive oil processing operation.
We are not especially purposeful travelers. I tend to travel like I write. No thesis statements. I do not, as Stephen Covey suggests, "begin with an end in mind." No, I travel more like Chauncy Gardner of Being There. I simply go and watch and listen. And then as they say, "reflect."
Right off the top, the Italian people with whom we had contact were wonderful. Only two exceptions. A saleslady in a duty free shop whose girdle was too tight and a postal clerk who must have studied manners in the USA. Other than that people were tolerant of our nonexistent language skills and demonstrated warm hospitality.
At first I was taken aback by the intensity of communication. Lots of words accompanied by gestures. Even a bit loud for my taste. British "reserve" or American "cool" are certainly not the Italian communication norm.
Somehow the words "sound and fury" come to mind. I began to wonder, "Why talk loudly and wave your arms if the other party is listening? Do these folks listen to each other?" In my world these are called attending skills.
Eventually I accepted that "yes, Italian people listen well." I observed a number of conversations in public spaces which seemed very personal. Of course, not understanding their spoken language I can't discern amore from domestic discord. But the body language was always easy to read. Very clear communication.
Currently exchange rates seem favorable. Consider amusement park rides. For five U.S. dollars one can enjoy life threatening thrills far superior to Disney World or Bush Gardens or Six Flags. Simply take a cab ride in Rome. Or if you have a death wish, motor scooters are available for lease.
It does take a while to become accustomed to denominations of lira notes. For example, 10,000 is a large number. Ten thousand Italian lira are worth about five U.S. dollars. In spite of the large numbers the values in merchandise and services are excellent.
Many places, monuments to science, art and faith, touched me in unexpected ways. I was unprepared for the applied science represented by the Roman Forum and Colosseum. The engineering and construction skills of the builders of ancient Rome astound me.
I was even more unprepared for the power of the art in the Sistine Chapel. The vibrant colors of Michelangelo's frescoes have been restored. It is a place where one can be alone with the artist while standing almost shoulder to shoulder with strangers.
On the previous Wednesday we had visited the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. Standing before the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli called up a sense of the beauty and power and conflict of the Renaissance. The poetry of a 14th century church housing memorials to the revolutionaries of the Renaissance warmed me.
For me, no person embodies the conflicts of that age better than a devout teacher of mathematics. Galileo Galilei was a man of science and faith, ill used in life because of his science, honored today by the very institutions which misused him.
Galileo lighted a revolution in astronomy which continues to unfold. He also epitomizes the continuing paradox of faith and science. As for me, I lit a candle.
On Friday April 6, we visited Assisi. In our company as we entered the lower level of the Basilica of St. Francis were several pilgrims whose reverence helped define the holy nature of that place. We joined them before the crypt of Saint Francis.
And as we exited, Mass was being celebrated in song in a large adjoining chapel. The sense of peace the sights and sounds conveyed was transcendent. I lit another candle.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian
Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.