Monday, April 29, 2013

City on a Hill

 In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."  This analogy has been used by countless men and women of faith, as well as politicians who blur the lines between church and state.  Cities on hills are everywhere here in Umbria and Tuscany.  Since the Italian city states were always at war with each other the best place to be was higher than the other guy.  Assisi is a city of pink marble that can be seen for miles---as you round the bend coming from the capital of Perugia you catch sight of this beautiful gem in the crown of Umbria.  This is the northern end of Assisi, housing the exquisite basilica of San Francesco (St. Francis) the patron saint of Italy.  The basilica houses some of the most beautiful works of Giotto and his school of artisans.  
 As you go south, at the top of the hill is La Rocca Maggiore---the fortress on the top of the hill protecting the city. 
 And at the southern end, the church of Santa Chiara (St. Claire) who formed the order of the poor Claires to follow in St. Francis' work.  If you look towards the middle of the photo you will see a dome--that is San Ruffino, and I pass it on my way to school each day.  Here's my walk to school....

San Ruffino

La Rocca

Piazza San Ruffino--they are getting ready for a huge festa, the Calendimaggio, May 3-5
 I walk across the Piazza and up the hill to school.  I am eating pizza, pasta, and everything in sight, and I'm losing weight with walking up and down all these hills!

Since I am probably walking in places where St. Francis walked, I often wonder what he would have thought of the ornate basilica that honors him, and the Disney-esque quality of the streets and shops that sell everything with his image on it.  From what I've read about him, I think he'd be pretty annoyed at the commercialism and the elaborate memorial that has been constructed.  On the other hand, the artisans who helped to build the basilica worked to honor him and God with their skills, and in some way, I would hope he would have approved.  Still, the simple friar would probably have preferred not to have any memorial at all, just to have his work continue through his followers.  Yet, his words have lived on all these years.
This is the basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli the town at the bottom of the hill.  Tradition has it that St. Francis died here.  It's a small town, but also has that Disney-esque quality with street vendors selling everything with images of St. Francis and St. Claire.

St. Francis wandered the hills behind Assisi on Mt. Subasio (the sacred mountain).  You can feel the serenity here, and a sense of peace.  Assisi is called the city of peace, and although during the day you feel as if you are in a mosh pit sometimes, at night, it is all yours--the tour buses leave and the city is once again as it was in St. Francis' time. I find myself thinking about St. Francis and St. Claire often, as I wander the streets.  Could they have known that their work would be continued all these years later and that a pope would choose the name Francis to honor him and his work with the poor.  Interesting how we never really know what we will leave behind for others.  Tonight I leave you with the prayer of St. Francis, you don't have to be religious, or a believer to get it, it's just simply truth.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Wishing you a buona notte from Spello. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Doors


As I have walked the streets of Spello and Assisi, I am intrigued by doors. Each one is a bit different from the next, even on the same street you can have doors that are beautifully carved, shiny and strong, and those that are worn with rusting hinges.  I'm intrigued by the way doors can mirror how we are feeling--shiny and happy, strong, weathered and tired, short and insignificant, open in anticipation of what's next, and worn down. I'm also intrigued by the doors we choose to open and the doors we close.  

Beautifully carved doors, with a shiny patina have me imagining Marcello Mastroianni behind these doors in a smoking jacket talking on his cell phone to his inamoratta.  Shiny doors give us the impression that whoever is behind that door will be shiny too, with the perfect family and the perfectly styled home.  
This door looks like it is strong, and will protect its inhabitants.  I heard a growling dog behind it when I snapped this photo, hence the small view.
This one has lost some of its patina; it's weathered like some of us, and appears strong--I like that metaphor for how we live.
This one still has some sheen left on it, but it looks like it's tired.  How many of us feel the same way!
Now if OSHA lived here, they would definitely take those pots down from the sill over the door!  This smaller door is weathered, and I'm not sure it would be able to keep out the weather.
Carved doors are beautiful to behold; I wonder who lives behind these doors--it's obvious that the design has meaning for them, and it stopped me in my tracks.  There was a car parked right up in front of this door for the past 3 days, so I had to take this at an odd angle.
We have a saying in our family when something is a bit too ornate that it's "Italian festival"---this one fits that for me, even though it is really well carved, and beautifully weathered. Its story intrigues me, and I suspect that the owner wanted a door that was a statement.  Sometimes our appearance can make a statement and I think it's the same with doors.  
Open doors give you a glimpse into the lives of the people who live within.  This is a gorgeous atrium that I pass on my way to school in the morning, and on my way home in the afternoon. I love the open feel, and I often feel that people with open doors, are anxious to invite you in.  Although......
if you look closely here, on the left is a cat sitting on the ledge; as I passed there were at least 10 cats in the courtyard all hissing at me----I got the message!

I call this one the Hobbit door, it's about 4 feet tall, and I'm not sure anyone lives behind this door, but it's intriguing to think about them, whether they are piccolino or alto.  Can't imagine our son Ryan ducking under this doorway every day.  Sometimes we can all feel short, or small or insignificant, and I felt that way about this door. 

Rustic weathered doors have my heart; these doors represent trials, weathering storms, and still standing strong.  Even though this door isn't the prettiest one on the block, it is to me, because its been through the storm and survived.

To me, weathered doors represent the journey through life; we start off shiny, and gradually we weather, yet we try to remain strong through the storms that life throws us.  The doors we choose to open is also a question that I think about; are we always drawn to the shiny things in life, or do we stop to investigate the more weathered, possibly more interesting, and enriching paths? 
As I have been here in Italy, I've had time to reflect on my life at home---I'm missing Dr. C. a lot, but I don't miss the din of 24 hour news, and the need to be constantly doing something.  Tonight it's raining, and cold outside, it's lovely and warm in my piccolino apartamento and I don't feel the need for anything else (except Dr. C).  I'm hoping I can take home some of what I'm living through here and incorporate it into my daily life.  I sure do love the simplicity.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Look in any guide book and you will see a rooster pitcher that has been made in Deruta the ceramics capital of Italy.  A small town outside Perugia, here in Umbria, the clay in Deruta has been made into vessels since ancient times. For many years during the 15th and 16th century, the plates that were made in Deruta had the likeness of beautiful women gracing them.  Today you can go to Deruta, and if you are on a huge bus tour, you will be taken to places that just sell stamped pottery, meaning that it is poured into molds, baked and then painted by machine. The true artisans in Deruta are clearly annoyed that the ceramics in Deruta are represented by the stamped and machine made articles that you find in discount shops, since the artisans will hand throw, and hand paint each piece that they sell.

 Today at the enoteca I had lunch with these gentlemen.  L to R, Carlo Angelini, Luca owner of Majoliche Fanny, Roberto and a friend from Todi.  Luca's shop is just up the street from Enoteca Properzio, and since I hadn't been before, I thought it was time to explore.  The store is amazing, and Luca said that he has another showroom in Deruta that is twice as large.  The typical Deruta style is represented, but his artisans are allowed to follow their hearts, and design what they feel.  I love that!  

Typical Deruta Style

These are sets of dinnerware; the landscape dishes come with different scenes of Umbria and Tuscany on each plate.  Editors note, when I looked at the top shelf I said, "red is a hard color to fire" Luca said, oh, no we do it well.  Yeah, they do!
My photos don't do these justice, but they are exquisite.

They do tables which are amazing, too!

Wouldn't this look nice on my patio?

These are quite different from the brilliant colors on the other plates

I like the mix and match aspect of this

These almost look like Quimper

Gorgeous sun flowers, who wouldn't want to eat dinner off of these plates?

Love these serving platters

And my favorite, the Poppy dishes!
My day at school got better today, at least I could follow along, and felt a bit more with it.  But, I was late getting back to the enoteca because of this traffic jam. 

I have no idea what the next days will bring, but that is part of the adventure.  Wishing you a buona sera  from Umbria. 
If you are interested in Majolica, Luca's store is Majoliche Fanny di Pimpinelli, e-mail: They are located on Corso Cavour in Spello, or in Piazza dei Consoli in Deruta.