Saturday, January 26, 2008

24 Hours: A House Blessing, the Zoo and the Pope

HOUSE BLESSING On Thursday evening one of the priests from San Fiippo Neri, the local Catholic Church, came to our building, offering to bless our homes. (A sign had been posted in our lobby on Monday telling us to expect a priest.) We welcomed him and he introduced himself asking if we were Catholic. When he asked if we ever went to Mass at San Filippo I explained that we went to the Jesuit Church of Caravita, near the Pantheon, where Mass is in English. He gave us a folder inviting up to participate in the Lenten programs that are being offered in our neighborhood, and then proceeded with a short liturgy blessing our home. It concluded with sprinkling some holy water I must note that Vincenzo was prepared with an offering to place in the priest's bag before he left.

A TRIP TO THE ZOO On Friday, as part of our science unit on ecology and biomes, I took my 5th grade class to visit the Bioparco, Rome's zoo, in the Villa Borghese. It is a little larger than the Central Park Zoo and has a special focus on animal conservation. Our visit began with a guided presentation about endangered species. (It was in Italian, so my students understood much more than me!) We had a couple of hours to explore the Bioparco and gather information to make reports on many of the animals. The students will fill in details with internet research back at school.

I am reading aloud to my students a book by Katheryn Lasky from her series The Guardians of Ga'Hoole. The novel is about a fantasy world of owls, so these birds were of special interest of my students. They were also captivated by monkeys, bears and large cats.

THE POPE Immediately after school I made my way to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall for an ecumenical vesper service at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and marking the 100th anniversary of this week of prayer stated by priests and sisters in Graymoor, New York. The basilica holds several thousand people and when I arrived a line had formed outside that was over 50% priests and nuns. Before entering the church we had to go through a security check with metal detectors. I have been in this Basilica on several occasions, but this is the first time that the central doors have been open and it was exciting to walk through them and see the Swiss Guards. Their colorful uniforms and red-plumed helmets are wonderful! Joining Pope Benedict XVI, who presided at the vespers, was Rev. Samuel Kobia from Kenya, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches. There were also representatives of the Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Eastern churches, wearing everything from the flowing black robes and veiled head pieces of the Orthodox priests, to the blue bonnets of the Salvation Army women. In the procession there was a woman with long blond hair wearing a priest's collar among the dozens of cardinals and bishops in their lace with red and purple cassocks. For a complete report on the vesper service you can read Cindy Wooden's article for Catholic News Service.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Saturday Birdwalking

The Gate of St. Sebastian

Ancient Rome was built on seven hills. Modern Rome encompasses many more hills than the original seven, even though today a "forest" of five to ten story buildings disguise the ups and downs of the hills.

Last Saturday I found myself "birdwalking" in a small valley between two hills that went from the Circo Massimo to the Porto San Sebastiano leading out to the Via Appia Antica. I had Georgia Masson's book, A Companion Guide to Rome, to give direction to my explorations.

Note: Most people travel in a straight path to get from one location to another. I often find myself "birdwalking" as I go from one place to the next, zig-zagging back and forth, observing what is around me, much in the same way a bird goes about in a zig-zag way, looking for food.

Here are a few pictures from my "birdwalk" along the Via della Porta San Sebastiano.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thinking about New York

This is a picture of me and Vincenzo volunteering at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. We were at the beverage station and served iced tea to over 1,000 guests who showed up for lunch that day. (I was a member of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea before I moved to Rome.) In the current Episcopal Life Focus, a monthly video "multicast" featuring church mission, ministries and news, the opening 10 minute segment is about the parish soup kitchen. You will notice that the soup kitchen guests eat in the sanctuary of the church. The Sunday seating is replaced by round tables and chairs. The church is also decorated for Christmas. Here is the link to the multicast:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wisdom Tooth is Gone

Today I had a wisdom tooth removed. Here I am with Dr. Antonio Pasqualini right after the tooth came out. The tooth had been pushing against the tooth next door and causing pain. Before Christmas, I had a root canal done on that neighboring tooth. The next step will be to repair the damage caused to that tooth by the wisdom tooth.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hugo Cabret

The 2008 Caldicott Award was given to Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The first book talk I gave to my class this year was for this book, and that got then excited about reading it. One of my students even went and bought the Italian translation. (I have the original American edition in my classroom.) Here is what is said on the book's website:

ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

This 526-page book is told in both words and pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things. Each picture (there are nearly three hundred pages of pictures!) takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.

Just last week I read to my class Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley that is illustrated by Brian Selznick. Other great books that he has done include Pam Munoz Ryan's Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride, about the friendship of Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, and When Marian Sang, the story of Marian Anderson.

The next time you are in a bookstore, go to the children's section and look at a couple of Brian Selznick's books. Let yourself enjoy the worlds he has created with his illustrations.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting to Work in the Morning

My commute to work is an amazing journey. I walk along a pilgrimage road and pass Medieval churches. I travel by bus on the roads of modern Rome. I cross the Tiber River that has been important to people for 2,500 years, from the Etruscians to the millions of people who make their home in Rome today. And, the end my commute to school is climbing a hill that used to be a vineyard.

I have my morning coffee in our dining room where I can look out the window and see the parish church of St. Philip Neri. (The building was donated by Thomas and Irene Bradly of New York City in 1952.) At about 7:30 a.m. I leave the apartment and begin walking along the Via della Sette Chiese to the bus stop. I pass a small old church dedicated to Saint Isidoro, patron of farmers, and to Saint Eurosia, to whom farmers appealed when they feared hail would destroy their crops. It was originally a chapel belonging to the Paradisi family and served the few inhabitans of the nearby farms. (Our modern neighborhood of Garbatella was built during the 20th Century.)

I have a 6-7 minute bus ride to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall, where I change busses. My next bus takes me across the Tiber River, and after another 6-7 minute ride I get off at the ancient church of Santa Passera. The final part of my commute is a 10 minute hike to the top of the hill. I walk past the Church of the Holy Family and enter the gate of my school.

The Church of St. Philip Neri

Thomas and Irene Bradley of New York

The Via della Sette Chiese is the 12 mile route used by St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) to visit seven churches dating from the 4th Century. In his work with young people, he organized evenings of meditation, songs and readings. He held processions that visited seven churches in Rome with stops not only for prayers and silent devotion at each church but also for singing, dancing and a massive picnic — a real party attended by as many as 6000 people. St. Philip Neri is my kind of saint! I have seen priests leading young people by our apartment, probably retracing the steps taken by others for 500 years. (The seven churches are San Pietro in Vaticano, San Paolo fuori le Mura, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, and San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.)

"Rome and It’s Seven Churches" in an etching by Etienne Duperac, 1575.

The Church of SS Isadoro e Eurosia

This is how I see the Basilica of St. Paul from the bus stop.

The Church of Santa Passara

The Church of Santa Passera
celebrates the arrival in the 5th century of the relics of the Coptic Saints Cyrus and John of Alexandria who were killed during the time of the Emperor Diocletian.
 The church is located at a large turn of the Tiber River, opposite the Basilica of St. Paul, and it served a small community of miners exploiting the tufa quarries of the nearby hills. When the current building was erected in the 9th century it made use of an existing 3rd century Roman tomb. The reference to Passera is uncertain, as there is no saint with such a name. Some think it is probably a linguistic twisting of the original name of Abba Cyrus.

The school building as seen from the church of Santa Passera.

You can see my classroom windows above the front door of the school building.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


On Wednesday afternoon we took a drive north of Rome to the town of Bracciano. The town was built on the south west side of a volcanic lake and is dominated by a castle built between 1470 and 1485 by Napoleone Orsini. In 1696 the Orsini family of Bracciano sold the castle to Livio Odescalchi, nephew of Pope Innocent XI, and the castle still belongs to this family.

The multi-language signs in each room of the castle allowed me to enjoy the tour led by an Italian speaking guide. I particularly enjoyed the painted wooden ceilings and my favorite room was the Room of the Caesars, surrounded by busts of all of the Caesars. The kitchen was across the courtyard from the main part of the castle and had three roof vents for the cooking fires. The floor sloped to a drain to allow the blood of the slaughtered animals to be easily washed away. We could not take pictures inside the castle, but you can see the various rooms on this website:

These are views of the landscape and the castle as we approached Bracciano.

This is the view of Lake Bracciano from the castle.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Cuddrireddra – They are delicious!

While I was in Sicily I received an e-mail from Rick, a high school friend who now lives in Altuna, Pennsylvania. (We first met each other while we were waiting in line for freshman registration. After many years, we have reconnected through e-mail.)

Rick asked me if I had heard of the Slow Food movemement. While I was in Sicily I encountered a delicious cookie called cuddrireddra that has become a protected product with the help of the Slow Food Foundation.

Cuddrireddra is the almost unpronounceable Sicilian word for a tasty and crispy small donut shaped cookie from the town of Deia, about 50 km from Enna. The origin of the word is Greek kollura, a ring shaped bread. Local legends say that the cookie, which has the form of a little crown, was requested to honor the town’s princess during the Sicilian Vesper War of the 13th Century. It has been made for seven centuries with a recipe of hard wheat flour, eggs, sugar, a little lard, red wine, cinnamon and orange zest. The cuddrireddra I had were prepared in the traditional way. They are pasted on a wooden board, a scanaturi, and twisted around a small stick. The twirled spiral of dough is closed into it’s ring/crown shape and then fried in olive oil.

GOOGLE helped me discover that the Slow Food movement was founded in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, an Italian journalist, in response to McDonald’s opening a restaurant in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. It strives to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

Back in Rome - Happy New Year

Tombola! It's the Italian version of BINGO. It was one of my last activities of 2007 and my first activity of 2008.

When we got back to Rome we were invited to join other people in our condominium complex for dinner and Tombola. There were nearly 30 people of all ages crowded around a table for fun and food. Our dinner included typical Roman dishes. There was rigatoni alla pajata, made from the intestines of an "un-weaned" calf, i.e., only fed on its mother's milk. The intestines are cleaned, but the milk is left inside. When cooked, it coagulates and creates a sort of thick, creamy, cheese-like sauce. We also had coda alla vaccinara, a stew made from the tail of an older cow and various vegetables. Its introduction dates back to times when it was customary to pay a vaccinara (cattle butcher) in kind with the entrails, hide, and tail of the animal. Butchers developed a way of turning their fee into a delicacy, thus coda alla vaccinara was formed.

On New Year's eve we joined several friends for dinner. After dinner, we played TOMBOLA until midnight when we opened bottles of champagne and watched fireworks explode from the balconies and roofs of the Monteverde neighborhood. And then, it was back to two more games of TOMBOLA. Vincenzo was a big winner after midnight! He won ambo, terno, quaterna, cinquina e TOMBOLA!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas in Sicily

We spent Christmas with Vincenzo's family in Enna, a mountain top city in the center of Sicily. Vincenzo's parents live at the base of the mountain in a newer section of the city with his two married sisters close by. The week in Sicily started with a birthday dinner for Vincenzo's mom, a big Christmas eve dinner and two big meals on Christmas.

On Christmas Day we went to Mass at Vincenzo's childhood parish of St. John the Baptist in the center of the old city. There was an unusual shrine in the church. Is it the "Holy Belly?"

After dinner on Christmas night we wandered around some of the narrow twisting medieval streets of Enna to look at nativity scenes that people had set up in their homes. Signs directed our journey and we found home made representations of Christ's birth in windows, living rooms, garages and even one in an old TV set. The night was cold and damp as people walked from home to home admiring the handiwork of neighbors, We say dozens and dozens of these "precepi." They ranged in size from inside a walnut shell to life size. One man, a Mr. D'Italia, had his figures of the Holy Family (and accompanying shepherds, sheep and townspeople) on his sofa. He also offered us sweet biscuits to eat.

At Christmas in the main piazza of Enna there were some interesting trees made out of flowering cyclamen plants.

Note: Babba Natale usually "climbs" into homes throughout Italy. Here he is going into homes in old Enna and the newer part of Enna.