Saturday, April 14, 2018

Dateline August 2017: Villa D"Este, Tivoli

Tivoli is a small city not too far from Rome.  Villa D'Este is a 16th century mansion and garden famous for its profusion of fountains.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site.  And even more important, it has the Paulsen stamp of approval. 

Enjoy the views!

This structure houses an organ that is played by the flow of water

Monday, January 1, 2018

Dateline: August 2017 Ferragosto/Ferie

Italy is closed, come back in September

I don’t know where they go; I think to the beach and to the mountains.  But then what would the value of a vacation to the beach or mountains be if everyone in the country were there at once.  All I know with certainty is that they are gone.  Most shops are closed for all or part of August - not the large supermarkets, not the main tourist attractions, but the thousands of small shops spread across the neighborhoods.  Ferragosto is a specific one day holiday on August 15th.  But more generically, Ferragosto or Ferie refers to the vacation period of August.  Driving in Rome is comparably pleasant during August because the traffic is markedly lighter.  If only the Ferragosto traffic lasted all year.  

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fort Knox

Fort Knox
I don’t know if the Italians all horde gold in their apartments but you might think so from the doors to the apartments.  And keep in mind, within the cities everyone lives in apartments.  Some apartments like ours have one lock and one key, others like our office (which is in a residential building – our office having been converted from a residence) have two locks and with two different keys. 

The keys have a unique inner pattern not a cut edge like in the states.  Adding to the Fort Knox imagery, you cannot quickly insert the key into the lock.  There is a movable outer ring that does not align with the key.  You have to insert the key an eighth of an inch and turn it up to 180 degrees till you get the right alignment to insert the key into the lock.  You then have to turn the key 720 degrees for each lock.  At our apartment, the one lock turns 4 different dead bolts.  The two office locks in total turn 9 deadbolts one of which is on top of the door. 

The knob on the outer side of the door does not turn and strangely enough, the knob is on the middle of the door.  Because there is no knob to turn, even if the deadbolts have not been turned, you cannot leave your apartment unlocked and re-enter.  The metal door jamb edge of the doors has bullet shaped protrusions that align with holes in the metal door jamb.  The doors are made of wood and metal; they are thick and heavy.  I am guessing that the doors weigh in the neighborhood of 500 pounds.  To access the gold from the balcony the burglar would have to first unlock a metal bar door – thick bars like a jail cell - and a locking french door.  The metal door has a 1080 degree lock.  

With such doors, your gold is kept secure. 

Office Door 

Open Office Door

Door Jamb

Side View of Door

Gate to Balcony

Monday, September 4, 2017

Dateline: June 2017, Saint Francis and Assisi

We are in the office Monday - Friday and some Saturdays.  Saturday is our day to shop, clean, take in the sights or just sleep in and relax.  One Saturday some weeks ago we visited the city that Saint Francis made famous, Assisi.  As I understand it, he was born into a wealthy family but after a vision he renounced the riches of his family and took upon him a life of poverty and obedience.  We toured a house where tradition says his father locked him in a room to try to force him to return to his family and wealthy lifestyle.  Every city in Italy has a patron saint.  The country of Italy has two patron saints, Francis of Assisi being one of them.  

Assisi is one of dozens of hilltop cities in this part of Italy; built upon the hill to keep invaders at bay.  We walked by many churches.  The last church dedicated to St Francis is huge with two levels and many frescoes.  We took a Rick Steves walking tour of the town and the main cathedral starting near the top of the town.

A narrow road leading down into the middle of the town.

We just happened to stumble past this out of the way but beautiful doorway.

This was in front of one of the churches.  According to Steve Ricks, a lion eating a Christian.

A lot of the notable churches in Italy have bell towers.  
It was surprising to find two of them in such a small town.  

Last, but not by any stretch least, the cathedral of Saint Francis.
I am afraid it is difficult to grasp just how huge this cathedral is.
When they were doing some restoration work years ago, 
one fresco fell from an upper wall and killed two of the workers.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dateline: September 2017, Big Bread, Big Smile

Every once in a while, you meet someone exceptional, someone who sticks out from the crowd.  Italo (eat-ah-lo) is one of those individuals.  He stuck out because of remarkable friendliness, and because he always has a warm, sincere smile on his face.  He told me what I already knew, he told me that his last name, Panone means big bread.  But I don’t think big bread when I think of him, I think big smile.  He always has a big smile, enough so that I talked with him about it.  He told me that the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ was the reason behind his smile.  He said he wakes up every day with that smile.

This is his story as he related it:

Italo was born in Berlin during WW II into a very religious family whose values were anchored in the Bible and in their diversity of faith.  His father and grandfather were Italian and Catholic.  His mother was Protestant.  His grandmother was Jewish from a large and wealthy family.  He related that many of her family died in concentration camps during the war. 

When he was just a young boy, five or six years old, Catholic priests introduced him to Jesus Christ.  Christ became the center of Italo’s faith.  Some years later his mother convinced him to become Protestant.  As an adult he still had unanswered questions and continued to research different religions and philosophies.  He was attracted to Buddhism but could not commit to it because Jesus was missing. 

He moved to Italy and developed a successful business in film and television.  But despite financial success he said his spiritual life was at an all-time low and he was not a happy man.  He would enter the beautiful churches in Rome and pray to be guided to the truth and to happiness. 

One day, two young missionaries with black nametags rang his doorbell.  Like so many of other faiths before, he invited them into his home.  Over a period of many months, he listened to their message and asked them question after question – questions he had accumulated over many years.  He said they worked together intensely.  As he met with them, he felt that the Savior accompanied them, that He was there beside them.

Through his prayers and through reading the Book of Mormon he was convinced that he had found God’s church and the church for him.  He had searched for many, many years and finally found what he was looking for.  Upon being baptized he said he felt like he had been given a new life.

That is his story.

I enjoy a good piece of bread, I am fond of big bread; it is hard to beat warm homemade bread straight from the oven with honey on it, but each Sunday I find Italo’s ever present, big smile even more compelling.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dateline: July 2017, Rome - A land flowing with . . . garbage

Sad but true, flowing in garbage.  Ok, not all garbage, actually garbage and recycle.  Well, at least depending on the day of the week.  Picture Manhattan when there was a garbage collector’s strike years ago.  Or simply picture it below.  Substantially everyone lives in an apartment building.  Garbage, including recycle is centralized throughout the city.  Everyone pays a garbage tax for the privilege of walking out to the street, across the street or down the street to dispose of their garbage (or you can drop off garbage as you drive by – tough luck for the cars that will inevitably be stopped behind you because there is too much traffic to drive around you).  

I recently paid the garbage tax for a “villa”, our Church’s mission home in Rome that houses the mission president who is responsible for all the young and not so young missionaries.  The villa houses two people except for 3 nights every six weeks when there are missionaries coming or going.  On those occasions, there could be an extra 8-20 people.  The garbage tax, based on square footage, is a mere 2,200 euros per year, so about US $200 per month.  In Colorado you could get better service for under $40 per month. 

I haven’t been attentive enough to know what days garbage is collected.  I was told  it is collected daily but I don’t know how accurate that is.  Some days the garbage bins look like this.

Other times (a day later), the garbage bins look like this.  

Now the curious thing is that the day I took the first picture above, I carefully ventured over and opened two of the non-recycle garbage bins.  They were no more than 20% full.  So, what’s with all the garbage piled up in front of the bins?  I cannot give an accurate answer.  There are several possibilities. 

One possibility is that the bins were all full and people left their garbage/recycle on the ground.  Then, the trucks came and emptied the containers but their job does not entail and in fact they may not be permitted to pick up any garbage off the street – unions have significant pull here.  I have heard support for this theory from one of the other senior missionaries. 

Another theory is that Romans want to create and maintain jobs through every possible means.  So, people leave their garbage on the ground knowing that the city will hire or continue to employ people to clean up the garbage left on the ground.  This theory goes hand in hand with the theory that Italians perpetuate every possible inefficiency to maintain or create jobs. 

An additional theory is that Romans are slobs who don’t care about beauty and cleanliness.  The symbol of Rome is Remus and Romulus and the she-wolf – if that is not a story you are familiar with, check it out on google.  Underneath the symbol are the letters SPQR.  An old, not so kind joke is that the letters stand for “sono porchi questi romani” which is interpreted, these romans are pigs. 

I prefer to think that one of the first two explanations is accurate. 

How does the garbage then get tossed into the bins?  There are street sweeping personnel, independent of the garbage bin personnel, who come and clean up.  Regardless of how they look on any given day, I hold my breath as I walk by.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dateline: June 2017, Rome - A land flowing with milk and honey or at least with water

When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were promised that the Lord would lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Happily, you can buy milk and honey in Rome.  But that might not quite qualify it as a land flowing with milk and honey.  However, it is a city flowing with water.  Everywhere you go in Rome there are water fountains (for lack of a better description) constantly flowing with drinkable water, frankly quite tasty water.  Most of the fountains look like the one pictured above.  They are used by tourists and Romans alike. 

You might even say the water has gone to the dogs – I dare say; however, that the fountain was here before the dog park.

Sometimes the fountains are effectively hidden in a remote overgrown part of a park, seldom used.

There are more picturesque versions like Trevi fountain (perfectly drinkable but not accessible directly) or the boat shaped fountain sculpted by famous artists Bernini & Lorenzo at the foot of the Spanish Steps.  It is not uncommon to see people leaning over the fountain below to fill their water bottles from the water flowing from the side spouts.  

When you are here visiting us and touring the city, you will never have trouble refilling your water bottles.  These fountains are not just in the center of the city, they are everywhere.