Week Three: Greetings from Perugia:
I know, you are thinking, “Perugia?” My sabbatical is focusing on the art and architecture of the early Church … but sometimes things get a little too hot in Rome. I mean “hot” as in the weather (so a week back we made a field trip to Castelgandolfo, a place in the hills where the popes would retreat to avoid the Roman summer heat) … and “hot” in the sense of political in-fighting (so, right now, we are visiting places to which popes would run when invasion or civil strife threatened). So popes have been elected in Perugia, hung out in Perugia, and died in Perugia. It’s also the city where the young man who’d later become Francis of Assisi spent a year in prison after being captured in battle in his “pre-saint” days. The average Italian recognizes Perugia as a place where wonderful chocolates are made. We have made sure to investigate all aspects of its fame. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it.
Last Wednesday we attended Pope Francis’ weekly audience. It had been on the agenda for our first days here, but then the Holy Father announced his intention to visit Columbia to mark the ending of forty years of civil strife. So last week was the “do-over.” Let me set the scene. It’s not me and Francis and a few friends in the Pope’s living room … but 10-15,000 visitors from all over the world spending a shared hour in the open area in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. There are three levels of seating: those who know someone can get “up-front” seats, those who register in advance can get “second tier” seating, and folks who just show up sit (or stand) in the wide square. I and my fellow sabbatical folks were in the middle group on either side of the Pope’s dais. Every greeting, prayer, and papal remark was repeated in the seven languages of the major pilgrim groups who had registered that day (Arabic, French, Spanish, German, Polish, English, and Portuguese), so you had to be patient. Not a lot of fresh things were said, but it was still rather exciting to be within a hundred feet of this great man. Close enough to see the black eye he had gotten on his trip, when the guy driving the Pope-mobile in Columbia hit the breaks too hard and Francis bumped his head and gave himself a shiner.
Yet another new language I have been exposed to here is Australian … I mean the English spoken by the priests from that continent who are with us. It’s similar to how people from other parts of the U.S may. look oddly at us Wisconsinites when we call water fountains “bubblers” and soft drinks “pop.” Here is your first lesson on how to speak Australian:
* a sweater or coat is a “jumper” (which, of course, for Americans is an item of clothing only women wear);
* any Aussie undershirt is a “singlet” (which for us is something only swimmers and wrestlers wear);
* and, finally, a day you take off from school or work to recover from illness is “taking a sickie.”
See. I am learning a lot. More next week.