Monday, November 29, 2010

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 8: Spirit Of Opulence & Art At The Vatican

MY WORLD LINGERS on thoughts of our recent trip to Vatican City where the body of pope Paul XXIII resposes at St. Peter’s Basilica. His waxy head donned in a red cap with white fringe made me think of Saint Nicholas. A fitting resemblance perhaps since he is said to have been very good and kind.

It is surreal to walk where great artists created their finest works and popes of days gone by rest within concrete walls or (in some cases) behind glass at the Vatican. We were glad to first stop at the Roof Garden Restaurant on site before exploring the enormous enclave of fine art wrapped in layers of history.

Getting from the entrance of the Vatican museum to the Basilica is a fascinating journey.

Along the way we saw a kitchen-table-sized golden replica (encased in glass) of what might be St. Peter’s Basilica.

There is no end to the steps one must trek or the wealth of historical artifacts one will discover in the enormous rooms and buildings.

We saw stunning religious icons embedded in stained glass along the way.

Vases were not simply designed as containers. They were lovely works of art.

Some floors were intricately tiled with great devotion.

If walls could talk, these would certainly have remarkable stories to tell.

This humble chair stood in the corner of a hallway to St. Peter’s Basilica.

A lovely old bell sat in silence as people walked by.

Scarcely seen by the public, there must be private elevators for aging popes who would have difficulty with the exhaustive hallways and stairs such as those leading to St. Peter's Square.

Although lineups were enormous and the buildings packed with visitors, the magnitude of the square at the Vatican transformed people into ants.

I suppose this is how the pope sees it when addressing the crowd.

The Carlo Fontana looked refreshing but unquenchable at the square.

The uniformed Swiss Guards reminded me of the biblical Joseph and his “coat of many colors”. However, the blue and orange-yellow hues represent the once politically powerful Medici family of the 13th and 14th centuries. Red represents the primary colour of Swiss states.

There is always upkeep to be done around statue-laden St. Peter’s Square.

Behind the pillars are the papal apartments where the pope resides. Although there are over 1000 rooms in the building, his living quarters are believed to consist of ten.

I captured a pale photograph of Michelangelo’s "Pieta" (meaning both piety and pity). The marble sculpture of Mary and Jesus was created as a funeral monument for a cardinal in 1499. It was moved to the Basilica in the 18th century where it now stands at the entrance.

There were angelic statues prettily positioned nearby.

Even the drains (pictured above by my husband's foot) were pretty. There were awestruck moments of discovery from floor to ceiling. Our Vatican experience concluded with a visit to the Sistine Chapel where no picture-taking was permitted. We stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people. Our necks craned upward to view Michelangelo’s reluctantly painted ceiling depicting biblical tales. The physically challenging work began in 1508 and took some four years to complete. It is overwhelmingly large, beautiful and difficult to appreciate with the murmuring crowd that needed to be shushed constantly by priests and staff. It was easier to marvel at earthly opulence and artistry than it was to quietly ponder spiritual matters at the Vatican.

Explorers can find more sites from around the globe at My World.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Through The Raindrops In Kitsilano

THE STREET GLISTENED from a shower that burst over Kitsilano this afternoon. Raindrops poured the snow out and let loose the umbrellas.

Visit Postcards From Penelope Puddle to view more BC scenes.

Copyright by Penelope Puddlisms

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Winter Woes & Wishes

THE SNOW DOESN'T LOOK deep or treacherous in this picture but it was very slippery causing the traffic to jam this morning. We gave up trying to drive to Vancouver from South Surrey.

This early falling of flakes in BC could foreshadow much more winter white to come. It appears the snow many had hoped to see during the Winter Olympics of 2010 will materialize and their wishes come true in 2011!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 7: The Selling Of Saint Francis In Assisi

AS A WEDDING GIFT our friend Lenore, a White Rock artist, presented my husband and me with a painting she did of a small statue of St. Francis in her garden.

Perhaps we were destined to visit Assisi years later as part of our recent trip to Italy. Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, a man who rejected his privileged life to risk ridicule before gaining worldwide recognition and respect.

Although it is said that St. Francis did not actually write the Prayer of St. Francis, there is little doubt that the words exemplify his outlook. He befriended not only the poor but animals as well. The prayer says:

O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light, and
Where there is sorrow, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved
as to love; for it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and
it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Born in 1182, Francis was in his 20s when he gave up luxury and the warring conflicts of the day. He dedicated his life to the deprived, cared for the sick and expressed reverence (perhaps unusual at the time) for the natural world. His Franciscan followers built a church on the beautiful hill of Assisi after he died. His tomb is in the crypt of the Basilica.

It was quite a trek up the walkway towards the church. Prior to its existence, in earlier medieval times, the area was apparently known as the "hill of hell" because of state executions that happened there.

From above, the valley is a picture of serenity perfectly framed by arcs.

We spied traditional stained glass among historic artifacts on the upper and lower floors. Donation boxes were scattered throughout. One could make a donation for a candle and then return that candle so it could be purchased over and over again. I suppose tourism and the selling of religious symbols play an important role in keeping the area available and financially afloat.

The atmosphere was cheerful and the monks looked content.

It was a steep slope to the gift stores wedged along the narrow pathways of the hilltop village.

I was surprised to see a hotel at the site.

There were many shops selling similar trinkets. Much too many shops, I thought, near what I imagine was intended to be a humble place of worship.

At every glance someone was selling something to tug at the heart in Assisi.

A storm was brewing. We were preparing to leave when dozens of birds suddenly fluttered into the sky like windswept bits of paper. The rush of their wings over the pristine valley made a heavenly sound. For a flickering moment, I wondered what Francis, committed to a life of poverty, would think of the plethora of products being sold in his name.

The word Saint showcases the letter "S". Visit ABC Wednesday to see how others showcase letters from A to Z.

Monday, November 22, 2010

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 6: Fragile Enchantment In Venice

APPROACHING THE PROVINCE OF VENICE is a little like discovering Atlantis. The flat landscapes of over one hundred small islands, knit together by boats and mini bridges with stairs, have a mythical air. It is an entirely different atmosphere from the more rugged islands I am accustomed to in BC.

Leaving cars and buses behind, our ferry took only foot passengers as we sped down the watery path to the bright buildings in the open horizon.

Construction equipment hovered over the structures pictured above. There is a steady effort to keep the islands from sinking and to construct new ones.

The engineering challenge is to keep afloat this lovely old world that is set in a deepening lagoon at the edge of the Adriatic Sea.

While the level of the Adriatic Sea has been slowly rising, the foundations holding the weightiness of buildings have been deteriorating for centuries.

Our first stop was Lido Island where the famous Venice Film Festivals are held. The Biasutti Hotel we stayed in was perfectly charming and restful.

Outside our window we saw the rustic orange roofs of houses.

I loved taking a stroll down the quiet street by our hotel. It was a peaceful but much too brief break from our busy schedule.

Nearby there were a few shops and a small cafe where locals hung out. There was also a place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

One of the prettiest canals is in Lido. The Island is long and narrow forming a main land barrier between Venice and the open sea. It is said that the Doges (former rulers of Venice) traveled there yearly to celebrate Venice's "marriage to the sea" by dropping a ring into its waters. Lido is the one place on our journey that my husband and I would love to revisit for a longer stay.

On the Island of Murano we visited the glass factory. We were told this Gepetto lookalike is the last of the original glassblowers as young people are not interested in learning the skills. With slight-of-hand, he created a horse out of blown glass. We later entered a large gift shop selling gorgeous glass artifacts, including goblets ready to ship all over the world.

Next was the customary not-to-be-missed gondola ride. We were fortunate to have the accordian player and singer on board. Mesmerized by the sounds and sights around us, I missed getting a good picture of the musicians who added so much to the dreamy mood with their tunes.

We delighted in seeing hanging laundry along the way.

Flowers also decorated some windows.

At times the liquid road was flooded with traffic.

Friendly people on bridges sometimes waved when our hardworking gondolier rowed towards them. We felt like celebrities.

Some buildings seemed inhabited.

Some had vacant faces with windows boarded up.

It was clear that walls etched with age remain incredibly charming in Venice.

Back at St. Mark's Square, we saw that the Adriatic Sea had splashed a little water onto the walkway. This happens occasionally during high tide, especially in the fall when we were there.

Locals are used to it. The police were prepared wearing rubber boats.

Restaurants were also prepared for guests who are often treated to live outdoor entertainment in the evenings. Classical music floats like magic through the dusky air on some nights. Pictured top left of the waiting tables is the Doges' Palace, a former seat of government and now museum.

Beside the palace is St. Mark's Basilica were we saw grand artistic renderings.

There are also ceilings painted with gold.

We saw lovely flashes of colour and good spirits thoughout Venice.

This attractive newlywed couple and child allowed me to take their picture.

Another flawless bride and groom breezing by kindly stopped to pose.

We also visited the Island of Burano known for its crayon-coloured houses.

There were pretty touches everywhere.

It could be difficult to find locally made lace, for which the Island is known, amid the mass produced variety.

Women are said to have spent their days making lace and mending nets. The historic fishing village of today seemed unfettered, airy and free of such tasks.

The sun set too soon on our stay in Venice. We left its ancient allure to the innovation of modern builders and the grace of the surrounding sea.

Explorers can discover more sights from around the globe at My World.