Saturday, November 20, 2010

Best part of travel is...

Meeting people! ...

Sister Maria (r) and Sister Hikkema (l)

Me & Roslyn having a great dinner!

Every time I travel I meet interesting people either in the group I'm with or when I stay places on my own. This time around has been a particularly rich experience. The Visiting Artist Residency in Rome just got a lot deeper and more than about making art or seeing it and beautiful towns. During my time here and in a recent trip to Florence I met people who have stopped me in my tracks, introducing wonder, awe and humor. It hardly gets better than that.

During my residence at the American Academy I've met musicians, master stone carvers, lots of writers, medievalists and archeologists. But I've never met an archeologist for the military...until now. Laurie Rush is a real inspiration, sorry I don't have a picture of her. She works for the military as an archeologist and has been instrumental in preserving Iraqi cultural and religious sites and training the soldiers who serve about how important those things are to the people they come in contact with. One of the ways she does this is she took everyday playing cards and re-designed them so that each card gives important information on protecting antiquities, the culture they are in and the religions of the area. Because of her efforts many soldiers go into archeology after their military time has been served. I'm in awe of her work but it turns out she is only one of many! Laurie told me of another female soldier who signed up in the military specifically to protect the culture and art (and artifacts) of another war torn area. This was a real eye opener for me as I, along with probably everybody, only think one thing when they think of soldiers...turns out there are some who fight but not with guns, they fight with ideas!

Speaking of Iraq, this will be hard to write up only because it's so moving I'm already tearing up. This week I went to Florence and stayed at a convent, turns out it was quite possibly one of the most moving experiences of my life. Casa Santo Nome di Gesu used to be a full on convent for Franciscan nuns and as the number of sisters dropped off they turned it into a school and then the sisters were moved to other convents and the convent was taken over by the Dominican Sisters and are trying to make a go of it as an incredibly clean, safe and inexpensive place to stay for travelers...then I learned about the sisters who are running it...there are onlhy 3 of them. They are Iraqi nuns of the Domican order. Sister Hikkema and Sister Maria, the third nun is off on retreat at the moment and they miss her terribly. These two Sisters are quick to smile and laugh, they are sharp, quick witted, multi-lingual and have a HUGE place to run. All of the money goes to the good missionary work of the order and to help sustain these nuns. How was this all life changing? I got the back story on these dear Sisters Hikkema, Maria and the one on retreat. They were moved out of Iraq after the very recent bombings of Christian centers just this past October. Many civilisns were killed and two was 25 years old, the other 30 years old, barely fresh from taking their vows. These nuns moved into tents in the desert so as NOT to further endanger any civilians then they were moved (evacuated) to Florence, given a B & B to run and they seem to love it and they certainly have a great sense of humor given what they've just been through. I took this picture of them just before I left and each one took one of my hands and asked me to pray for them and for I extend their wish to all of you...pray for these nuns and tell everyone to stay at Casa Santo Nome de Gesu and pray for Iraq.

Now for some lighter inspiration...the other photo is of me and a terrific woman I met at the convent, since I'm not sure if it's ok to publish her last name I'll just call her Rosalyn and she's from Australia. She lost her Mom recently and told her daughter she was off to see the world for a while. She retired early (63) and hit the road, she doesn't have a plan, she just goes where she thinks would be interesting and has -so far in about 2 months- been all over Europe and now exploring Italy. She stays about a week in every place, longer if she's crazy about it, and is not at all wealthy. Roslyn takes cheap, slow transportation because she sees more and meets more people that way. She's been a massage therapist, social worker and most recently writes bereavement ceremonies which I learned are all the rage in Australia. They don't want ministers running the ceremonies of bereavement or marriage there because as she says with great humor "Aussies are a bunch of heathens". Rather they want a lovely poetry & music filled event, plus she spends a great deal of time with each family finding out as much as she can about the person who has passed so she can "make it as meaningful as possible" for them. During her travels she's been most moved by Scotland and is headed back there for Christmas. Roslyn says, quite proudly, that she's never owned property and to that end recently had a gypsy wagon built so when she gets back to Australia she can keep moving. The only home she says she could ever tolerate is one on wheels and that has a lot of character...Rosalyn certainly has a lot of character!

I don't have a picture of this, so you have to use your imagination, liberally, as this is hands down one of my favorite people watching events in a long time. In Bologna after fulfilling my mission of seeing the Giorgio Morandi Museum (awesome) I decided to wander the streets of Bologna to see what the folks do there until I saw a sign for hot chocolate and Panna. I heard that's pretty tasty and it is. I went into the tiny coffee shop, SO cute, got a table in back and just to my left was an astonishing woman ... let the show begin. This little coffee shop had about 5 tiny tables, all full, with me and the rest locals having lunch. The woman to my left was a character in the social play about to unfold. Clearly she'd been sitting there for a while and it was easy to pick up on the "energy" between all the players. Let's call the woman in question Lola...Lola was in a TIGHT, super short animal print dress that left nothing to the imagination...and I mean n o t h i n g, my best guess is she's a 46DD most of which was also on proud display. She was drenched in lots of cheap gold-looking jewelry, bright blue nailpolish on freakishly long fingernails which typed furiously away and a neon pink cell phone, she has a mop of curly bottle blond hair whose roots need serious retouching, lots of make up and 10 inch heals. Right across from her was clearly the wife of the owner (and the owner would sneak peeks whenever he could) and she was the cashier who would smack him on the arm if she caught him. If you could ONLY see the looks she threw this woman you'd double over. But every time, and I mean every time any man walked by Lola would "display" herself and the woman cashier really had steam coming out her ears!!! Then more people came in for lunch, clearly they all knew each other and the looks flying around the room were much being said with the eyes & gestures but amazingly no one actually said anything. I sensed the drama would deepen so once I finished my hot chocolate I ordered lunch - no way was I going to miss this! Then Lola gets up & goes to the restroom...well the chatter began and I didn't need a translator to know what the women were saying! Lola comes back out and sits back down, she had to have heard them and she was stuffing it in their faces. My lunch was finished and I couldn't justify staying any longer. I think Lola was there for the long haul and maybe purposefully to drive someone crazy. OH how I wish I were a playwrite as it was a great scene!

Moving, heartwrenching, inspiring or just plain and meeting people or people watching is the BEST.


  1. THanks for sharing your stories Ann! -Joanne

  2. Correction: Sister Hikkema is on the right and Sister Maria is on the left. Dyslexia strikes again!