Sunday, December 20, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and there was a trace of briskness in the air…the perfect kind of day to spend in Venice. So away we went and it was absolutely enchanting. December is considered ‘off season’ for tourist and so we had the place to ourselves.
Venice is a city in which it ‘road ways’ are series of canals so the only way to get around is by foot or a boat of some sort. We opted for both. We walked as far as we could, and then took a gondola ride by a young man who had just graduated from gondola school. It is actually an 18-month programin which they learn how to skillfully maneuver the boats as well as the history of both Italy and Venice. It was very informative and we enjoyed it immensely. We later took a water taxi and were able to see the city from a different perspective.
One cannot help but marvel at the charm here. It is an old city, infamous for its handmade glass and masks. Along with its neighbor, the island of Murano, it makes some of the most beautiful glass pieces in the world. We found ourselves mesmerized by the beauty of the crafters handiworks.
As the sunsets over the legendary landscape we marvel again at the privilege we’ve had to see so many beautiful places.
They are embedded into every fiber of our being. As the future enfolds we know that these memories will always be a sweet gift.
Not a day will go by that we won’t recall how very extraordinary it all has been and how blessed we are.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
After leaving Trgelio, we drove North to where Italy borders France and Switzerland. There, at the base of the Alps is the city of Turin. We stayed at the apartment of a friend of ours for a few days before we heading on towards Venice.
Turin is a large, cosmopolitan city much like San Francisco or New York. We parked our car and didn’t move it the entire time we were there. Instead, we took the metro, tram or just walked to get to where we wanted to go.
It is an exciting city at night, especially with Christmas holiday quickly approaching. I think it was the first time we realized how quickly time had flown by. Summer nights walking or riding our bikes in Spain have been suddenly replaced by the busyness and excitement of a large city at Christmas time. Both so very beautiful but in very different ways.
We have been blessed beyond what words can ever say. How would one ever describe all the physical beauty, the richness of history, and the participation in many different cultures to any one? Or how it feels to walk through Petra, then climb to and stand on the top of the world and see the handiwork of God and his gifts of creation to us? The beauty in the stillness of the desert, the sounds and smells of the spice markets in Morocco, or the surprise quaintness of Gibraltar? There are no words to describe the vast night skyline with a million stars or just the sun setting… anywhere. There are orange groves in both Sicily and Sevilla for miles on end with a scent so sweet that the thought of it will always evoke the sweetest of memories for us. The beautiful Chestnut forests and the never-ending groves of olive trees in Greece are forever imprinted on our hearts and souls. We can never forget the towns that are built into the mountains whose daily life is reminiscent of a bygone era. Or food so good you wake up longing for your next meal. The list could go on for days but the real richness and blessings came with the people we met and the life we lead. And most importantly, the time we took to enjoy it.
We will have myriads of pictures to show you and a thousand stories to tell but it was the gift of time that still takes our breath away. Because, with time, came the prayer that we would not go back. And… we are not. Not to the way we were before we left.
We realized there was a depth to our life we had been missing. The businesses of our lives have robbed us of the time to pursue and cultivate so many things. Our time in Israel and the Middle East reminded us of how very little we know of the history of this area and we want to study and learn more. Our basics skills of foreign languages have stimulated a desire in us to continue with our language studies, perhaps a bit more diligently. I have always-wanted to learn to play the piano and I think now is the time. We’ve read countless books and learned so many things we never had the time to consider before. We want this to continue.
The relationships we developed while on our sabbatical were not solely indicative of the places we were, but more likely, it was us making the time to cultivate them. Conversations over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with some one you have just met are positively delightful and invaluable. We want to continue this when we return and you are on our list of people to spend time with.
This time has also reminded us how much we really like each other and want to continue to tend to our relationship and our time together.
We have learned so much and realize we have so much to learn. And while our lives have been spent pursuing fine and noble things, we feel we have entered a season of change. What that is exactly, is up to God. Our job is to unencumber our lives and to hear the direction we are being called to. In the mean time, we want to be purposeful about what we do and how we spend our time.
With that said; yes, you will see us shortly. We are near Venice and hope to get a flight out at the end of the week. The places we've been, the people we've met have left footprints upon our hearts and soul and we will never be the same. But, for those of you reading this, please know that you are our hearts, you are our home and you are the reason we return. We so look forward to the time when we can be with you again. Yes indeed, we are so very blessed!
As we look back on the many places we have been on our Sabbatical, one place that stands out for us was our time in the Middle East. We arrived with an elementary knowledge of the Middle East and we find ourselves leaving with desire, actually a passion to want to know more.
We were raised with knowledge of Bible stories and knew as children about places like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Egypt, the Red Sea and other places in that area. As children, we conjure up images of these places and we often retain those images even as adults. In out minds, it is hard to connect the events and places with each other and to realize how one impacted the other. The maps we find in the back of our Bibles are often not very helpful because the names and borders are hard to relate to current times. Even those who have studied the Bible in depth have a difficult time connecting the hard to pronounce names and who was king of what with the events that continue to shape the current and future of the area.
The understanding of the geography and how things are connected is the easy part; the political events over the centuries is much more intriguing. Our first taste of it was when we were in Lebanon after we told a very well educated man that we were going to Israel, he said that on any map you find in Lebanon that shows that area, it will not show Israel (I am not sure he even said the word Israel), it will show a border and the area will be marked P.O.T. standing for Palestine Occupied Territory.
When we were in Jerusalem and went to Bethlehem, we took the Arab bus to get there. On the way we crossed through a border because we were entering Palestine. Bethlehem is in Palestine, which has its own flag, postal system and government; all contained in the State of Israel. When we went back to Jerusalem, we had to get off the bus and show our passports to be allowed to continue home. It would be like Clovis declaring themselves a separate country and the border with Fresno would become an international crossing.
The Dome of the Rock Temple Square to the Jews, their most holy place. The exact same place is the third most holy place for Muslims and has a beautiful Mosque covering the rock. The Church of the Holy Sepulture, marking where Jesus was crucified is obviously very holy for the Christianss. But, a Muslim family opens and closes these gates each morning and each evening as they have held the keys to the Church for centuries. Both of these holy places are within the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem and a short walking distance from each other. A very delicate balance is maintained, to say the least.
These are just small examples of the complexity of the Middle East. This blog is just to say that we have both been smittened with a desire to study and understand how these pieces of this puzzle have shifted over the centuries and how they affect us vitally in today’s world.
As the days amble by, we have come to find ourselves integrating into life here in Treglio. Our home is on the spine of the Apennines Mountains, which overlooks the Apuan Alps. It is a single street wide with a few nooks and crannies carefully tucked away. We can walk the length of it in 15 minutes unless we stop to visit along the way. And, stopping to visit along the way has been our utmost joy. Our daily routines are now somewhat dependent on the local activity. We know the day that the market gets fresh tomatoes and bakes homemade bread. We also know that the post office is open only four hours a week so if we need a stamp, it had better be on that day.
La Crepa, the only ‘restaurant/bar/coffee shop’ in town serves dinner at one time a night (7:30) and you only have two choices…and both of them are delicious! The butcher makes fresh cheese on Wednesdays and it is the best in the world. For the men in the village, there is a nightly card game downstairs at La Crepa. This is actually a family event. The women gather over coffee, the kids find a place to do their homework and everyone is together.
We attended church last Sunday along with twenty-four other people in town. Even though it was all in Italian, we sang along with three-member choir, in English, and made small talk with our fellow worshippers after the service. The church is old and beautiful and we loved being there.
We met the Doctor of this village. He comes every other Thursday to see patients here. I have daydreamed about being his assistant, covering for him on the days he is not here. The ladies in the area would be very pleased because, “it is mostly women who come to see the Doctor anyway!” I already know what ails half of them as soon as they found out my profession. It would certainly be a slower paced practice!
In the evenings we take a little walk along the street. The villages on the hillside across the way light up at night like diamonds on a piece of dark velvet.
We meet our neighbors and their families during these walks and we are often invited into their homes for a glass of wine. We can spend an hour or so, just talking and looking at family pictures. Most of them were born in this village and they are more than happy to tell us the history of the area.
There is statue in the middle of the town that has the name every soldier from Treglio who was killed in World War 1 and 2. There are fresh flowers on that monument every day.Close to forty names are engraved here and everyone in town knows at least one person who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
We looked at some properties in the area that were for sale.As we dreamed about these homes we heard the stories of the people who had once lived here. In one of the homes there was a crocheted cover over the light switch. Magdalena, the women whose family had once lived here, told us that her mother had made that for her brother so that in the winter when he turned on the light his hands would not get cold. That was over 70 years ago and it still remains on that light switch!
On rainy days we sit by our fireplace and catch up on our reading. Between us we have read over a dozen books and have even read about the history of Pompeii and the surrounding areas and books on horticulture and tree grafting as well. We are now experts at pick-up-sticks and cards. We are not sure if we can play with anyone but each other because we have decided on our own rules and we are really very good at it.
On warm sunny days we meander out and check out the history and beauty of the area.We never grow tired of taking in the sights along the way.
We have traveled many places around the world by virtue of our professions and our lives. We knew this place had made an impression on us when we heard that the local Chestnut Festival was occurring the week after we were scheduled to leave and we were heartbroken to have missed it.
Maybe next year…
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Today is Thanksgiving Day and we are in our little village of Tereglio in Northern Italy. This is a delightful old farmhouse and a very special place to spend Thanksgiving. It is, of course, not home nor even a holiday in Italy
We are becoming accustomed to having one thing to do each day. When it is more than one, it is a very busy day and we may not get to the second item. Today our chore, besides fixing Thanksgiving dinner, was to get firewood. There was some very wet wood under the house and some dry wood in one of the lower storage rooms. The problem was that the dry wood was too long to be useful. So in the morning we went to visit Claudia, the lady who takes care of this house for the owner. She is also the owner of the café that is closed until next month. She knew of a man, Luigi, aka Gigi, who might help. She wrote him a note and slid it under his door and said he would get it later in the day. Sure enough she let us know later that we could knock on his door and he would help. We went to his house, which is just across the cobble stone walk from ours. A little old man, stooped with age, opened the door and we held a “pseudo-conversation”, he in Italian and us in English. From this we somehow ascertained that he would help us and it would be later in the day.
We relaxed around our place for a while and then Nancy started fixing our Thanksgiving Dinner. There were no Turkeys available so she cooked chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing and vegetables. This was quite a project and it turned out to be quite delicious. Just as dinner was almost ready there came a knock on our door.
It was Luigi, dressed in coveralls and carrying a small chain saw and another instrument he used as an axe/splitter. By using gestures and other forms of communication, we went downstairs to the place where the long, dry wood was stored. He went right to work and tossed the long pieces on the porch and begins to cut them. When I thought he had enough, I said “fini” (French of course!) and he got the point. Meantime, Nancy looked up how to invite him for dinner from our Italian phrase book and he accepted.
Thus the three of us sat down in our Italian home and said grace, and had a wonderful dinner. We tried to talk but even the most rudimentary forms of language along with gestures, were only moderately successful. Two English only speakers and one Italian only speaker conversing: not verbally, but in the language of community, sharing, and caring. It was a very nice time together. Three people brought together by a problem that was readily solved. We worked together and then celebrated with the sharing of a warm meal and enjoying each other’s company We missed our family and the usual celebration but we had a wonderful Thanksgiving sitting by a nice warm fireplace thanks to an Italian man named Luigi. Sometimes our reliance on verbal communication is greatly overrated.
When I was young, it was not uncommon to see the barber giving someone a shave and I was fascinated with the idea even before I had anything to shave. I remember specifically when I was about 12 years old my distant cousin, Gary Stoeckel came home on leave from West Point and went backpacking for a week in the Sierras. When he came back he had a full weeks worth of beard and took me to the barbershop with him to get a haircut and a shave. From that time, I always wanted to have a barber shave.
Alas, by the time I actually had something to shave, it just didn’t seem practical. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on shaving and my son Tom and I both use shaving brushes, shaving soap cups and the best razors to get the best shave. Also it is becoming more difficult to find barbers who shave their customers in our part of the world. My barber, Dwayne De Moss in Kingsburg, says he only shaves one customer and that is someone he has shaved for years.
So when we came to Europe and saw the barbers giving shaves, I decided to get one. Then for one reason or another, such as shops being closed in the afternoon, not being able to locate one when I was ready or not needing a haircut, it has been delayed.
This week I was able to get my wish.
I let by beard grow for a couple of days so it would be worthwhile. We asked the lady who runs the small restaurant in the village (Tereglio) in which we are living, if they had a barber. She said a barber lives here and works in a shop in Borgo A Mozzano, a small town about 20 minutes away. So today we went down and found the shop operated by Luigi, Favio and Maurice. We arrived about 20 minutes before they were going to close for the afternoon break – 12:30 to 4:00 - so they decided who would cut my hair and Maurice elected to stay over.
I have to say that I had the best haircut I have ever had. Scissor cut, razor cut, with about 20 seconds of electric clippers. Then came the shave.
He carefully prepared the skin and then applied shaving cream with a brush, warming the lather as he went. Then he carefully shaved each whisker, checking as he went. He trimmed the mustache and shave around it. Then he finished with a warm towel and lotion. It felt truly luxurious and I will try to repeat it in the future.
But for now I will simply say that I got to check off one of those things “I have always wanted to do”.
Monday, November 23, 2009
There probably is no better word than exotic to describe Istanbul, Turkey. Geographically it straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, yet it refuses to be defined by either. Parts of it are reminiscent of the Middle East and yet it is a distinct city with a feel and flare of it’s own. The landscape and buildings are breathtakingly beautiful with a rich and alluring history. With bygone eras piled in archaeological layers one on top of the other, history overflows from every corner of the city.
We stayed at a lovely hotel named the Ibriahim Pasha in the Sultanahmet district.The Blue Mosque was our neighbor and each night we would sit out on the terrace with a glass
We fell under the spell of the city at night. Chestnuts roasting on open fires, Turkish coffee or apple tea with Turkish delights freely offered by restaurants and pubs in the neighborhood. It is alive and exciting.
One evening we indulged ourselves with a visit to one of the oldest hamans (Turkish bathhouse) in Istanbul. Cemerlitas has been in continual use as a bathhouse since the 1500’s. A natural floor heating system heats marble slabs. Pipes were inserted in to the marble blocks and steam runs through the pipes to heat the marble slabs. All this so one can be bathed and pampered like never before. The baths are separated for the men and women. Nothing in the experience has changed over the last 500 years. There is an unspoken language that informs you of what is to happen next; hopefully you don’t miss the queue. The massages are deep and penetrating. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the pain from the pleasure. You are washed richly and deeply from head to toe. For the women we were rinsed with alternating cool and warm water infused with lemon. It felt like a wonderful dream. We reveled in the thought that we too were partaking in what Sultans centuries before us had enjoyed on a daily basis. We loved it but certainly not an experience for the modest or easily intimidated.
We met every Turkish carpet storeowner in town. Soon we developed an identity that would usually get them to leaves us alone. Instead being a retired American couple enjoying the Mediterranean for a few months, we became Electolux salesmen who had won a trip for high volume vacuum cleaner sales. We then informed them that our kids had chipped in the $200.00 we had for spending money for the week. It was a little hard for Tom to bluff his way through but after awhile we both got pretty good at this façade and almost believed it ourselves!
We experienced and indulged in the rich culture this city has to offer.
Forever in our minds the infamous skyline will be imprinted along with the smells and sounds of this exotic city.
Our days in Jordan can best be described as some of the most incredible days of our lives. Not only is it filled with some of the most beautiful wonders in the world but also some of the kindest, most interesting people we have ever met. They take great pride in their country and were very excited that we were here for a visit. Everyone went out of his or her way to ensure we had a memorable time.
A father and his two sons ran our hotel. Each meal they would have the chef prepare something special for us. He took great pride in this task and I think he was happy to please us. Again, I have to admit, I wasn’t always sure what it was we ate, but it was good.
There were a couple of places we wanted to see while in Jordan.
We headed out to Wadi Rum, which is one of the most beautiful deserts we have ever seen in our lives. We rented a jeep and a driver who took us out for the day. Words really don’t describe the beauty here but we marveled at the tranquility and vastness and often found ourselves wondering about the Bedouin people who lived their whole lives wandering through the deserts. Such a hard life but really quite simple. They never seemed to want for anything; they either improvised or just decided they didn’t really need it after all.
We spent they day in Petra where we meandered for hours.
We had an excellent guide who provided us with a detailed history of this marvelous place. We can never convey how exquisite and awesome this place really is. Pictures won’t even do it justice. We actually rode on the back of donkeys half way up one of the rocky trails to a place called the top of the world.
Standing on that summit reminded us how very small we really are and how splendid is Our Creator. We felt honored to stand in this place and experience the moment.
We also took camel rides through some of our desert tour. We figured this opportunity doesn’t come along everyday so we better seize it while we can. We enjoyed the view from this vantage point.
We met a wonderful young man named Nezar who worked at our hotel. He is an English major at the university and works in the hotel to improve his English and pay his tuition. We grew very fond of him and after a couple of days he invited us to stay with his family in a small village out of town. He said they didn’t have a large house but that it had a natural spring near by.
He was very proud of his family and wanted to honor us by sharing what was so near and dear to him. We seriously contemplated this but because of time constraints we decided to wait until the next time we visited. We feel enriched to have had the opportunity to get to know him.
It was harder than we thought when it came time to leave. Each
time we arrive somewhere we add the people and places to our heart and at the same time a piece of our heart and soul remain. We do look forward to our return.