Rivelazioni: The Long Journey Home

Immersion

Waking this morning, I feel baptized in the depth of time and distance along a horizon bridging faith and history. The sense of immersion is so complete that it is like a touch on the skin or a taste on the tongue. To walk along the streets of Italy is to experience the breadth of time in a visceral way – a way in which you can see it, touch, even taste it. Etruscans, Romans, Christians, saints, martyrs, heroes, villains, kingdoms, movements, and all of the gloriously imperfect decisions and motivations within, all come alive in stone and marble and paint and words. To move along the many byways of this country is to experience the creative energy of humanity along a timeline so long as to be difficult to comprehend.

Today we will enter Rome. Talking about earlier this week, Sally described the scene from the movie Gladiator, in which the former General of Roman Legions, Maximus, experiences his first taste of the great city, “La Chitta Eterna,” on his way to the Colosseum to fight as a gladiator. We imagine ourselves rolling through those streets with tall buildings of ornate stone and marble, then to the massive Colosseum – all of it awesome to behold. Logistics or intention? Silvia’s choice to have us finish in Rome bears special consideration as we’ve experienced a buildup of the many part of Italy toward a culmination that will include our deepest dive yet into the past of not only one country’s story but the story of Western Civilization and the Christian Faith that is the cornerstone of our lives.

Immersion…the word rolls through my head. Weeks of new discovery along the stones and steps tracing back to the beginning as we know it foster such a comprehensive sense of immersion as to feel like a portal through time and space has been opened and we’ve awoken on the other side of it – baptized in the full force of the eternal energy that moves it all forward; seeing it for all it was and what it might mean through whatever pieces of it we take with us.

Reverence

The first two weeks of our trip were spent in hotel-type settings in which Sally and I and my parents were separated in a different way from what we’re experiencing in the apartments in Venice and Milan. The small spaces are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen and a sitting area in between – they are snug and efficient. I write this post from a small dining table in the kitchen/dining/sitting area of our apartment. I noticed in Venice that my parents would avoid coming into whatever space I was meditating or writing or just sitting early in the morning.

Last night, I mentioned it to them and smiled, saying “You don’t have to lock down in your room and avoid where I am encamped.” They both looked at me, in a very serious way, and suggested that they felt that they needed to give me space to write and think. Actually, “needed” isn’t really the right word. I think theirs is an intention of “want” – it is born of the desire to respect this special time in my morning. Looking at them both last night, the word “reverence” came to mind – deep respect. I wondered at the moments that evoke a sense of reverence in me, who or what I revere, and when/how I displayed my own sense of reverence.

Wherever you are and whatever you do, others are watching. Whatever you say and however you say it, others are tuning in. How do we honor those we love? How do we revere the sacred in our own lives?

Oh Dani Boy

My first text yesterday read like this: “Daniele, can we delay pickup this morning from 8:30am to 9:30am? I was ill last night and need a bit more time to rally.” “Certainly, Mr. Berry,” came the reply. Some IV Hydrate, a Coke, and a few bites of toast later, we were walking out of our apartment to a Mercedes van and a tall, bald, man, finishing his cigarette. “Good morning Mr. Berry,” he said exuberantly in an accent that struck me as South African English and Italian simultaneously. “I am Dani and will be your driver today.” I liked him immediately.

We loaded up the van and began the winding adventure our Milan. Dani was expressive and direct. “I hate Milan,” he said without any sense of doubt or concern over political correctness. “The new buildings are ugly. No beauty like Venice or Florence.” Ahh, a heart for the classic. “There are a few buildings in the Centro that are beautiful but this,” he waved his hand at a rather concoction of steel winding over a large building like an iron spider web, “this is the doing of some strange architect. This is the Allianz headquarters. So ugly.”

My dad sensed Dani’s willingness to expound and peppered him with questions about culture, COVID, lockdowns, economy, geography, etc. Dani was a willing participant. We learned that he had lived abroad in England, Germany, and Abu Dubai for over 20 years, including being “friendly” with Roger Federer as a driver during one of his tours of duty. His English was very good, “Be there is a sec” he responded to us at one point when we texted. Dani gave us tidbits of history, direct feedback on the situation in Gaza, his perception of the danger of terrorism, the problem with Italian taxes, and the glories of his beloved Lake Como, where he now lives with his wife and 7 year old daughter.

Villa Carlotta

The Lake Como area is about 90 minutes to the north of Milan and sits on the Swiss border at the foot of a string of smaller mountains that build into the Alps. The autostrade moves from urban to rural quickly and then bursts between two mountains to reveal a deep valley with houses and villages lined up on both sides of Lake Como which Dani described as a “man with torso and no arms, each leg one side of the lake.” It is an inverted “Y,” covers 56 square miles and is 1300 feet deep at its deepest point. It has been a place of escape for aristocrats for centuries and is stunningly beautiful.

Villa Carlotta was our first stop. This villa was built as the village estate of the Clerici family, silk merchants and political players, in the 1600s and has been the sight of many political dealings over the years, including it’s later owners ties to Napoleon in the early 1800s and meetings of the various factions working to unite Italy in the 1900s. Today, this Tremezzo villa is a museum and botanical garden hosting massive Sycamore and Sequoia trees, lovely gardens, and an extensive art collection in the mansion itself. it’s most precious possession may be its outstanding view of the lake itself and the surrounding valley – watching from atop the highest terrace, we could see for miles and miles including a fascinating cloud bank winding casually over Bellagio in the distance.

Lunch reservations were at the T Bar, a restaurant in the Grand Hotel of Tremezzo just a few blocks for Villa Carlotta. Great choice Silvia! We felt like we had gone back in time as we walked the sumptuous halls of this old Five Star hotel. Walking into the dining room, I felt a little like Leonardo Di Caprio walking into the snazzy dining hall on the Titanic, with all of it fine folks and pomp and circumstance. Actually, it wasn’t that formal but the room was full of a very curious mix of characters with distinct appearances, nationalities, and dress. No one seemed to mind my Kuhl cargo pants or Ecco sandals, and we enjoyed hamburgers (not exactly but close) and pulled pork sandwiches with Cosmopolitans and some lovely French fries without incident.

Bellagio

As we were waiting for the ferry to take us across the lake to Bellagio, we drove around the winding road to Menaggio and surveyed its quaint village centro and wonderful views across the lake. The little villages along the lake are full of shops and restaurants, and, other than the spectacularly unique views of the mountains and valley, reminiscent of similar towns in the US with all of their focus on shopping and eating. Of course, each one has a very large, ornate church, and the special charm of Italy but the tourist flow feels very similar.

The ferry ride was fun, a bit cool, and brief. Dani rolled the Mercedes van onto the boat and encouraged us to mount a high platform for a better view. The houses and villas were built up the mountainsides on each side of the lake and included some very impressive estates, some complete with their own lakeside chapels. Bellagio (not to be confused in any way with the Bellagio in Vegas) was a charming village of shops and restaurants that ran up and down the mountainside. We were good for one lap which included one set of stairs up and one down. The church of San Giacomo (St. James) was lovely in a more basic way.

Our last stop in the area was Como itself, a city of about 90,000 people. We grabbed a gelato in the historic city centro and visited the large Duomo di Como, the last Gothic cathedral built in Italy, which sounds funny considering it’s foundation was laid in 1396. When asked about building cathedrals, Dani replied, “We don’t need more cathedrals, we’ve got one for every town.”

Dani returned us to Milan and we settled-in for a quiet evening of cheese, crackers, prosciutto, and some wine. We talked of the day, looked at photos of our grandchildren who were having great days at apple orchards and pumpkin patches, and laughed about Dani and his beautifully no-nonsense view of the world.

Depth and distance. This morning we will attend Mass at the Milan Cathedral and then head to the train station for our trip into Rome. We have gone deeply down the rabbit hole and, though I am not completely sure if we have entered Oz, Wonderland, or Middle Earth, I wonder if perhaps it isn’t all of the above. Rome will be the culmination of a journey that has left us lost and found in varying degrees and I am certain that the completion of this baptism will bring us home in many forms of both departure and return.

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