Monday, March 8, 2010

Praying with Monks

Living in the heart of Florence would be difficult for a person who is Jewish. If no other cities in the world produced art during the Renaissance the amount of Renaissance art from this town would have been a sufficient enough amount to still change art forever. For those of you not up on your art history, Renaissance art is mostly the New Testament (and some Old) made into pictures; even mythology, a totally seperate religion, was transformed to represent the Bible. The city of Florence is therefore deeply, deeply Christian. So religious, in fact, that Florence is known as the city of the Lily. For those of you not up on your Bible symbolism, Lilies are a symbol of Jesus and the Resurection. Jewish people would really be overwhelmed.

The biggest tourist attractions in Florence are churches: The Duomo, Santa Croce, the Orsanmichele, etc., etc. Writing etc. is actually appropriate because the list of Florentine churches is virtually endless. There is one, though, that is quite different from all of the others and therefore a seperate experience. After short hike over the Ponte Vecchio and past the Piazza dei San Michelangelo there lies a Medieval monastary. At 5:30 every weeknight the Monks that pray there allow the public to come in and tour their church, view their art, and listen to them chant. After they chant the public are allowed to stay for mass; the monks preach to their audience in Italian. The experience has become an important and integral part of the study abroad experience of those of us in Florence and so Selvaggia, Buzarro, Poeta, and myself set out on one of Florence's only beautiful days to chant with monks. The walk was sublime.

We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and wound our way up to the Piazza dei San Michelangelo. Walking up completely sober rather than driving up drunk and at top speeds offered a wonderful new perspective on the place. The sun was shining and the smell of spring was in the air. We were able to see some nature and trees which as you all know always helps to make my day. The paths we took were gorgeous, green, and well-worn, making me feel like I was strolling along on sacred grounds. We sat on a ledge and looked out at the hills of Tuscany that surround Florence and heard a sound we hadn't heard in a long time: birds. They were chirping and singing because they, like us, were coming alive in the sun. It was so peaceful and surreal that I felt myself getting more and more spiritual. Maybe it was because I was on my way to a church, but it was happening and it felt good. The Piazza is completely different in the morning than in the afternoon. Of course there weren't many people there at the un-Godly hour I was the first time I went there. This time, though, it was crowded with tourists (suprisingly sans Japanese) snapping cliche pictures and exclaiming loudly about the scenery. I've decided that David is my boyfriend and felt bad that he was being molested by all the people there taking pictures. Its relieving that at least one of my boyfriends, since there are 3 Davids, remains unblemished by touristy dumbness. Even though I'm not a local and still definitely an outsider here, I quickly came to consider myself at least two levels above the tourists.

We walked around and near the stairs that lead down to the path were two men. They were playing music together on the steps and a crowd had gathered on the stairs to listen. We joined them. How could we not when the music they were playing was country and blues? It was almost as if those guys were there playing just for us. Poeta and Buzarro are from Arkansas and Kentucky respectively and so the music hit particularly sweet notes for them. Sitting on those steps was one of the best moments of my life. I'm not kidding. I will never, ever, ever forget that, as long as I live. I was with three of the people who have become some of my greatest and best friends here in Florence. My soul was filled to the rafters with music I love. The sun was shining on my face and warming my heart, the breeze was blowing all my stress away, and I was breathing in air so clean and fresh my whole body felt renewed. It was heavenly. Poeta passed around his journal and allowed us to read some poetry he'd written just that morning. He doesn't know this, but reading his poetry is one of the best things I've done since I've been here. (I feel the need to mention that my roommate Casalinga just announced that somoene in Germany invented spray-on condoms. Hell yes!). Poeta reminds me that words are the one thing that have remained a constant love in my life and I'm grateful to him for that. His poetry is something I am going to go home and remember as an important ingredient for making my trip as amazing as it has been. Another ingredient is the alcohol. As we sat on those steps we all bought ourselves Heinekins. I'm not lying to you, readers, I sat in a public square in front of a large group of people and drank alcholic beverages. I'm still underage in America and that combined with public drinking makes me giddy. I'm slapping America across the face here in Italy and it feels great. We bought a bottle of wine, also, and the four of us sat and drank wine together out of small plastic dixie cups. Sheer bliss, truly. Something happened, then, that has managed to make the Piazza dei San Michelangelo my favorite spot in Italy.

I was walking toward Davey with Selvaggia; we were meeting Carino because he called and was coming to join us. I smelt the most delicious smell-a smell I would be able to recognzie from 100,000 miles away. Peanuts. But not just any peanuts. Honey roasted peauts, the kind they sell on the corners at the Nuts-4-Nuts stands in Manhattan. My facial expression was definitely the same as the expression of a dog that sees a squirrel, and I was hunting. My nose led the way for me and I found myself staring down a vendor with love in my eyes. I bought a bag of honey roasted nuts for one Euro. It was the happiest one single Euro could ever make a person.I enjoyed my peanuts and walked to San Miniato.

Buzarro actually had some fun facts to share about the place on our way up. During the 1500s there was a war and Florence was being invaded. San Miniato was a considered sacred and was therefore safe from invasion but the monks at the time were worried that their church would suffer collateral damage from cannon balls. The monks retreated into prayer, as was their custom, and they appointed Michelangelo guard of their church. To protect it, Michelangelo got a whole bunch of straw mattresses and tied them all over the church. Picture this beautiful medieval monastary covered in straw mattresses with fucknng Michelangelo standing outside as a guard. Histerical. Walking into the church was exactly the same as walking into any other church. Cold, quiet, oppressive. It actually felt nice. For someone who used to be a frequent churchgoer it was a nice feeling. I blessed myself with holy water before I walked in and bowed to the alter. Remembering those small things made me feel really good about myself. I spent only a few minutes looking around at the artwork before I was overcome with the overwhelming need to pray. So I sat down in a pew and for a solid half hour I gave some serious thanks to God. I said thank you for everything: my friends, being in Florence, good classes, the places I've seen, the things I've done, the discoveries I've made, everything. I went through the list and said thank you for every single thing. I've been thankful and grateful for all the things I've been doing here in Florence but in that moment I really understood how blessed I am to be here. I sat in the pew until the monks started to come out. They were wearing all white robes where I had expected brown, they wore sneakers where I expected leather sandals, and they were draped in purple reminding me that I'm halfway through lent and I haven't given anything up. I've only been blessed with more new and wonderful things than I could have ever hoped for. I suppose the fact that in Italy there is no ketchup or Cheese Its will suffice as something I've given up. The monks even reminded me that its almost Easter, something I'd forgotten here in Italy. I have no Wal-Mart here to remind me what holidays are on their way. I was really happy that I remembered.

When the monks started to chant I really started feeling spiritual. It was a truly amazing thing to hear. There were only about seven of them but their voices filled the whole entire church, and San Miniato isn't very small. I felt uplifted every time their voices rose together. I was honestly having a really personal moment there in that church. After they chanted, mass began. I was so proud of myself for remembering the things I did about mass. I wasn't able to recognize very much of the sermon but I was able to understand when they started to say the Hail Mary and Our Father and also able to understand when they were saying Lord, hear our prayers. I left San Miniato free of sin and enlightened. It was beautiful when we walked outside. The sun was setting and we had a perfect view of the pink and purple horizon. It was frigid, sure, and we were all cold from being inside the cold church, but it didn't matter because our hearts were warm and our souls on fire.
Arrivederci, for now. Love, Gabby.

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