Assisi: When we go to church on Sundays Eddie fidgets with any loose object, working it like a worry bead, and George sits through mass and reads Dan Brown in quiet rebellion. Our high Anglican service is clouded in incense and lengthened with old hymns, a tough call to devotion for many modern church-goers, so I don’t fuss over the boys’ inattention.
A pilgrimage to Assisi to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis in May seemed a good option to supplement their religious education. George surprised me with his enthusiasm for the trip. He said Francis was “the only one of those guys I respect.” He has a particular ability to avoid subtlety.
George found a gory symbol in the convent where we stayed near Assisi worthy of Robert Langdon’s attention. (Clarification for my mother who I know has never read a Dan Brown novel: Langdon is Brown’s “symbologist”-protagonist. Yes, mother, we know – symbology is a fictional profession.)
A graphic picture of a flaming heart stabbed with a sword hung on the wall in the entrance of the convent. It genuinely spooked George and he pulled me aside during check-in to say he refused to sleep there. I admit to not liking it much myself. It was not embedded in a picture of Mary or Jesus and it looked rather gory and sinister hanging without context. I assured George the heart symbolized God’s humanity. He looked at me as though to say I’d been drinking the Kool-Aid… or reading Dan Brown.
Thank you, Giotto, for saving the weekend with your loving and more assuring frescos of the life of Francis painted on the wall of the Basilica in Assisi. You will recognize this one:
We walked 13 kilometers from the convent in Spello to Assisi along a lovely path through rolling olive groves dotted with wild poppy.
Birthday: Olivia is 16! We surprised her with a rooftop sunset dinner and unforgettable views of Rome. The menu was strictly vegetarian which flummoxed the boys but they managed to find pasta that wasn’t too “green.” At home, we celebrated with cake and Lala’s new guitar:
Workshop: I had a two-day gig working with a group of journalism students from Wake Forest University. Their professor, Justin Catanoso, hired me to talk about human rights and the refugee crisis in Rome. It was nice to be back in the classroom and to share a topic that preoccupies me these days. While preparing for the class I found this quote from my uncle, who, along with my father and six other siblings, fled the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and then the Communist sweep across China. On one leg of their journey, the family crossed the Bohai Sea. My uncle’s account of that boat trip is little different from the stories I hear about refugees crossing the Mediterranean:
Refugees: I’d like to hang this beautiful photo over every Mare Mostrum poster in the city. Here are some of the men I am working for to find creative solutions to the refugee housing crisis. As I write this note, Ibrahim in the pink and Baba in the jeans jacket are in urgent need of housing because as documented refugees they are no longer eligible for shelter provided during the asylum process. Baba has a part-time job cleaning a refugee center and Ibrahim needs work. He is a welder who owned his own business in the Ivory Coast before rival factions burned it down. He has three children and a wife waiting to join him but he can’t support them in Italy yet and he can’t return home without fearing for his life. The other men are at various stages of hanging-on and trying to start a new life in Rome after surviving unimaginable journeys – at home, in transit across the Mediterranean, and now in Rome.
Goodbyes: There are always too many every year.
And the rest of spring in photos: