Friday, February 20, 2009

A few leftover photos

So I'm back in grey and murky Scotland after having spent 5 wonderful days in Italy. I sorta wangled a place for myself on a retreat thanks, in large part, to an old seminary pal of mine from Montreal days who is now the priest at the Church in Geneva which is part of the American Convocation of Churches in Europe. It was their clergy retreat.

Cheeky, I know, but a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do. I got a chance to meet Pierre Whalon - the Bishop in Charge of the Convocation and a whole heap of clergy that I'd never met before. Frank Griswold, the former Presiding bishop of TEC was leading the retreat.

I've never been that much of a wall-flower and the words of my third grade teacher ("Bobby makes friends easily but has trouble concentrating and needs to work on his handwriting") proved yet again to be prophetic. I can't read all the notes I took. I will be less able to read them when a few weeks have passed and the memories have dimmed.

The retreat took place at the Convento di Palazzolo which is about twenty miles outside of town perched high above a volcanic lake which is, itself, perched quite high above the city. Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer retreat, is just across the lake and we walked the five or so miles around the lake along a wooded trail one afternoon. The weather was crisp but sunny pretty well the whole time we were there.

I had a day in Rome itself before the retreat began and the better part of a day at the end. I managed to get around to the Colosseum and a few of the ruins on the Palatine Hill. The trip to the Vatican museum was taken up largely with wending my way through crowds on the way to the Sistine Chapel. All I have to say to anyone else who thinks that seeing the Sistine Chapel would be a good idea on your next trip to Rome is - think again! One follows a slow crowd for the better part of 40 minutes past the various entrances to other (more interesting) exhibits finally to be herded into the Sistine Chapel where you spend the entire time being bellowed at by security guards crying out 'Silencio' - 'No photos' - 'No videos' - 'Silencio'.

It would be a far better idea to get yourself a good book with glossy photos of the Sistine Chapel, find yourself a pleasant cafe, order up a Cafe Macchiato and turn your Ipod on to something appropriate.

A visit to the Sistine Chapel will leave you feeling "yuck". I cannot imagine what the visit would have been like in the hottest parts of the Roman summer but can only imagine it would more resemble the bottom right hand corner of the Last Judgement and not the top centre.

There's a great feeling in Saint Peter's Square on a fine day. It's one of those places where you emerge into the square and your heart leaps. The taxi I was taking from the train station turned a corner on the evening I arrived and I was suddenly looking at the Colosseum - again a real thrill for somebody who, if not quite a 'country boy, didn't get to see a lot of these sights when he was young since we were perched on the West Coast of Canada and everything old and classical was far away.

Rome is absolutely packed with restaurants and everybody there seems to be talking - talking all the time - talking on their mobile phones while they're driving your bus, or taking your money at the cash register.

Or talking to each other, or flirting or going over the rugby match while they're supposed to be looking at the X-rayed contents or your hand luggage pass by their screens - dagger, bomb, hand grenade, Uzi - at the airport.
There's some utility in getting away for a retreat. That's why we're allowed to do so from time to time. Utility is a bit over-rated - but, even so, I came back with ideas and having revisited a few old promises and plans. I've said my offices with a little more regularity since and I'm half curious to see if that devotion to task remains as strong after a few weeks have passed and the cold rain of Scotland has seeped back in or whether the new resolutions will all have flown away - like pigeons in Saint Peter's Square.

Monday, February 16, 2009

We arrived at Palazzola today and promptly went for a walk. John Beach, the priest in Geneva (an old seminary pal of mine) insisted that Castel Gandolfo (the town where the pope spends his summers) was only a mile and a half away. I forgot that John lies all the time. We walked at least four miles along a muddy broken trail until we arrived in town, purchased wine and cigars and returned for the beginning of our retreat, which is being led by Frank Griswold, the former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA. Having a wonderful time! The photo above is the sunset this evening over Lago Albano. Sometimes being a clergyman is tremendous!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Raspberry Rabbit goes to Rome

Just temporarily, mind.

I'm at a retreat outside of the city which begins tomorrow and I had the day to wander around the Colosseum and to go to Mass this morning. The retreatants are gathering this evening and then we're off in the morning in a mini-bus to the retreat centre.