As a gift to my husband for his 60th birthday, I rented a house in Tuscany, and invited four of our friends to join us in our 800 year old farm house which was buried in the woods of Radda in Chianti. It was one very authentic home, barely modernized but charming and fun to be in for a week. On the first morning, we all reported on how we managed to shower in what is known as a "hip" tub. There were two of them in the house, each equipped with its own thin shower curtain that flew away and stuck to the body of the user as soon as the water pressure built up.
Jay and I were just reminiscing about that during his stay here last week in fact. Each of us confessed to a different style and it was fun making mental pictures.
And so, back to Assisi Prima Volta....first timers.
Before I left for that trip, a friend at my place of work recommended that I contact a friend of hers, a nun from a New York convent who had been assigned to a few years in Assisi. An older Irish lady who was here, along with eleven other sisters, to run a children's mission. I emailed sister Catherine and told her we would like to visit and she emailed me back and the plans went on from there. So, on the appointed day, along with our fellow travelers, Lynette and Rob, we set off for Assisi and the Saint Anthony Guest House, located at the convent, run by the sisters, somewhere in the center of the town......somewhere where we were not supposed to be driving. The police in Assisi do not appear to have very much to do in the off season but in season, they are incredibly busy and this was the beginning of the season so how, in a nanno-second, it was determined that our car was not one that belonged here, still amazes me. Buh...that's what the parking lots are for and park and walk we did....right up the hill to the most serene spot we had yet seen.
The sisters awaited us, two of us traditional church goers and the other two, fallen Catholics, we sat in their reception room and had the best cappuccino we had ever had. I guess nuns take a class in how to make cappuccino because it sounds so much like a religious experience.
After a few very pious moments, our tour guide, equipped with umbrella, joined us and off we five went on our tour of every major church in Assisi. Sister Catherine was a lively and personable guide. She knew the ins and the outs. We wove through narrow passageways, we climbed stairs, mounted hills and ran through rain showers. It was a day to remember.....for two especially good reasons.....
Our tour was perfectly timed. It was getting to be lunch time. In Italy, if you don't have lunch between twelve and two, you get "snack", not lunch with that requisite glass of wine that you know you need. So, somewhere in between Santa Chiara and San Francesco, we found ourselves on an off-the-beat route, walking right by a little restaurant on Via Metastasio. From the Heavenly lips of Sister Catherine came the most exquisite description of the "view" offered by this restaurant and how she always walks by and sees through to the big window that overlooks the valley and wishes she could go in......Duh. We were in like a flash, sister's dream coming true. Who needs confession or absolution? We were taking Sister to lunch and plugging up the hole in her list of unfulfilled desires that could have caused a few extra months in purgatory. Didn't know until then that sisters drank wine but this one sure did. She was a world-class expert. God blessed us.
From there, we went on to the ancient "Temple of Minerva" which a very, very long time ago, became a Catholic (what else?) church and stands right smack dab in the middle of the Piazza Comune, not far from the scene of our car crime (you can't drive here!!!). As in so many of the churches in Italy's small towns, the padre, dressed in his black robe (as opposed to the monks who dress in brown garb, carry back packs, wear Birkenstocks and woolen ski hats), stood outside HIS church, surveying the Gomorrah that his world has become, a way of inviting some of the lost souls into HIS church. I have a feeling that this practice gives Father a better vantage point as the penitent Mammas walk by his front door......
Father, spotting Sister Catherine and her little entourage, beckoned us all in. He was proud of the church and his assignment to it. He gave us a personal tour of this beautiful treasure, built in the first century BC, restored in 1539 as a church dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Wow.
He spoke volumes before we left and sister was delighted and cordial throughout.
As soon as we had descended the steps of the remarkable portal, much of it today underground, sister had to share her little inside story. In her sweetest little Irish brogue, and with a little look of the "deevil" in her twinkly eyes, she told us......"I've been coming to this church for Mass and confession for the past seven years and this is the first time that Father has let me know that he speaks English!!!". That little Deevil.
Since that time, Joe and I have returned to Assisi for visits twice and we were unable to locate that little restaurant with the view. Sister Catherine has returned to the states. Her plum assignment in Assisi is over and it's now some other sister's turn to be here. Father no longer hangs out in front of the Minerva. It's off-season when we come and very different from the in-season scene so he must be hibernating or maybe he too was reassigned, perhaps to an even prettier place, the deevil that he is.
So, it's my time to leave now. I'm ready. The Assisiani want their town back. They don't want to see stranieri on their streets. The woman in the Information Center makes that abundantly clear. She's had it with answering dumb questions. They need their time to perform their rituals and to get ready for their winter. There is a sign in the window of the Restorante Metastasio that tells that they are closed now, for their own vacation. As soon as the winter ends, they will once again lose their town to thousands of thoughtless tourists who march through as if this were Disneyland Italy. Tourists who drive through town, ignoring the signs, thinking they will be unnoticed......until.
Rest in Peace Assisi. They'll be baaaaaaaaack. And so will we. Thank you for your patience and your love.