Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Normandy, Eagle's Nest, Pisa, and Cinque Terre

No. 14198

Our first free travel period has come and gone, and we’ve since made a brief trip to Lucca, Pisa and the Cinque Terre. Yesterday and today have been devoted to classes, but tomorrow we take the train to Naples, with visits to Pompeii and Montecassino scheduled. With some free time this afternoon, I thought I’d try to update the past several days.Thursday, Oct. 13 — I arrived in Paris, after having taken an evening train from Florence to Milan, and an overnight train from Milan to the French capital. With a bit of time on hand before I had to take my next train, I made my way to the Musee d’Orsay, which has several Van Goghs. Sadly, their most famous Van Gogh — Starry Night Over The Rhone — was on loan to Singapore, so I didn’t get to see it. But it was still time well spent. En route to the museum, I found the Parisian “Cleopatra’s Needle.” There are similar Egyptian obelisks in London, Rome and New York.
I then took the train to Caen, hoping to have enough time to visit the D-Day museum there, but was unable to find it in the relatively short time I had allotted. A bit disappointed, I headed on to Bayeux, where I had stayed for the next three evenings.

Friday, October 14 — My Normandy tour began at about 8:30 Friday morning, with a tour of the British sector, including Pegasus Bridge, and (east to west) Sword, Juno and Gold Beaches. It was interesting, but paled compared to what I would see the next day…
Saturday, October 15 — Day two of the Normandy tour was the best. It covered the American sector. We began by looking at some German gun emplacements located between Omaha and Gold Beaches.After leaving the gun emplacements, we went down to Omaha Beach itself, then up to the achingly beautiful American cemetery overlooking the beach, then back down to a different portion (Green sector) of Omaha, at which the picture above was taken. We also went to Pointe du Hoc, the bridge at La Fiere (which I mention in my dissertation), Ste. Mere Eglise, and, of course, Utah Beach.

My biggest disappointment during my stay at Bayeux is that I did not have the opportunity to visit the famous tapestry there. This was not for want of trying. The tapestry museum technically closed at 6:30 each evening, but unfortunately, quit allowing new visitors at 5:45 each evening. (This, in spite of the fact that the museum advertises a strategy for successfully viewing the tapestry if you only have time for a 30-minute visit.) By the time I got around Thursday evening, the museum was already closed. Then on Friday and Saturday, I had my tours of the WWII sites of Normandy, which ended right at 5:45. Most frustrating of all, on Saturday I rushed from the tour to the museum, and was there a little bit before 5:45 (by my watch), but they were still closed, and the lady would not open the door, in spite of me begging her to do so.

Sunday, October 16 — Sunday was a travel day. Since I wanted to catch the 7:42 train from Caen to Paris, and since there was not a train from Bayeux to Caen that ran early enough for me to do so, I had to take a taxi from Bayeux to Caen instead. That ran me to just shy of 75 Euros, but it allowed me to catch that train to Paris. I even had the opportunity to attend worship services with the church of Christ at 4, rue Déodat de Séverac — though it was, of course, in French. I then returned to the train station and made reservations for the train to Munich later in the afternoon. This was an even worse financial jolt. Even though I have a pass which is supposed to allow me to travel “free” (even still, I sometimes have to pay small reservation fees), they were not letting me use it on the portion of the journey from Paris to Stuttgart, so I had to buy a regular ticket — and a first class one, at that — for 185 Euros. The reservation from Stuttgart into Munich was, thankfully, just 3 additional Euros. With a considerably lighter wallet (actually, a considerably heavier credit card bill), I boarded the train for Munich, and arrived with no problems.

Monday, October 17 — Monday morning I boarded the train from Munich to Berchtesgaden, where I took a fascinating tour of Obersalzberg Mountain, which included a visit to Hiter’s famous “Eagle’s Nest” retreat. Since Hitler was both (A) afraid of heights, and (B) afraid of tight spaces; and since the Eagle’s Nest is (C) really, really high up in the mountains, and (D) accessible only by an elevator, he actually didn’t like going to the little Alpine retreat very much, and seldom used it. He and other high-ranking Nazi officials, including Herman Göring, had residences lower down Obersalzberg Mountain, which were largely destroyed by an Allied bombing raid during the war, and then blown up again after the war for good measure.Tuesday, October 18 — After spending Monday evening in Berchtesgaden, Tuesday was another travel day, this time all the way back to Florence. After wandering around Europe alone, it was really good to see all my students again.

Wednesday, October 19 — Even though there was some sentiment among my students that they should be able to rest up from their six consecutive days of not having classes by also not having class Wednesday morning, tyrannical dictator that I am (perhaps my visit to the Eagle’s Nest had rubbed off on me), I insisted that we start back at it at 8 in the morning, which we did. We had chapel in the afternoon. That evening, Robbie took me to an interesting presentation by a British WWII vet named Frank Unwin who had been imprisoned in Italy during the war, escaped, was recaptured, and brought to Florence. He is still sharp, and it was a joy to hear his story.

Thursday, October 20 — Another day of classes. I also spoke in chapel, using one of Dad’s devotionals (“Dealings With Life’s Second Bests”), drawn from Acts 16.10, and contained in the More Strength for the Journey book.

Friday, October 21 — We headed out on a two-night trip. Our first stop was the walled town of Lucca, followed by a visit to Pisa (including, for many of us, climbing the Leaning Tower; see the picture of “Pisa Team One” below).

We then traveled by train to the Cinque Terre, the five places, a group of five fishing villages along the Lingurian Sea (itself a portion of the larger Mediterranean). We stayed two nights in hotels at Vernazza, one of the five villages. After eating at a wonderful restaurant, we made our way to a pile of rocks in the bay, where we sang hymns in the night.Saturday, October 22 — In the morning, we explored more of the Cinque Terre, through a combination of train rides and walking the trail. It is beautiful country; the little villages cling to the hillsides, and have little roads winding through their houses and shops. The picture below is also of Vernazza.Sunday, October 23 — We made it back to Florence by train, and had worship together in the villa Sunday evening. After spending the previous Lord’s Day in Paris, trying to sing songs I did not much understand, it was a blessing to spend this Lord’s Day (evening) singing in English!

Monday, October 24 — Classes again. Robbie allowed me to guest lecture his humanities class on the subject of Italy during World War II. I informed my eight American History students that this class also counted as an American History lecture, as well.

Tuesday, October 25 — More classes. I tested my American History students, but, by updating my blog, have managed to avoid grading the tests thus far, at least. We have a pizza dinner scheduled in a little bit. Then tomorrow, Lord willing, it will be on to Naples.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thinking of Normandy

No. 14185

It is hard to believe that another week has passed since I updated. I’ve got about 40 minutes until I leave the villa for Normandy (via Paris and Caen) and Berchtesgaden on free travel, and I am pretty well packed, so I thought I’d give a quick update.

Thursday, Oct. 6 — We were still in Agrigento, and visited the archaeological museum there Thursday morning. Afterward, most of the group went down to the water, but I returned to the hotel where I worked on free travel and class prep.

Friday, Oct. 7 — We took the bus to Palermo, with a stop at the duomo and cloister at Monreale on the way, and a sobering visit to the Caputian Crypt in Palermo.

Saturday, Oct. 8 — We flew back to Pisa and bused to the villa, where I spent the rest of the day preparing a study guide, as well as Sunday’s lecture, in the Life of Paul class.

Sunday, Oct. 9 — We had worship at the villa, after which I spent most of the day writing a test for the Paul class. We did take time out to drive up the hill to a nice pizza place at which Kyle, Tripp and I had eaten several days ago. The trip back was not without some adventure. I found myself driving a van full of students back down the road to the villa. The Italians apparently save on money by building two-lane roads with only one lane. As I was driving downhill, around a corner, with a resident to my immediate right, in the dark, up came another vehicle from below. It was a standoff. I did not feel like I could back up the road, and the other driver was not much inclined to back down, until I leaned out the window and asked him — in English — what he would like me to do. (At least one witness says I was also waving my hands.) Upon realizing that I was a helpless American, the other driver backed down the road. The aforementioned vanload of students found the whole episode to be hilarious. We had talked in the Paul class about how the Apostle Paul had played his Roman citizenship card during his ministry, and Katie noted that I had just done the same thing with my American citizenship.

Monday, Oct. 10 — We had classes in the morning. Then after a quick but largely fruitless trip into town looking for a video adapter for my laptop — the one I brought over has suddenly gone missing — I returned to the villa and worked. Many of the students, meanwhile, played in a friendly basketball tournament with other American college students as well as Italian ones.
Tuesday, Oct. 11 — We spent the morning at Robbie & Mona’s very nice townhouse out in the country, then drove over to the American World War II cemetery near Florence. It is a beautiful place. Last night, we wrapped up the basketball tournament and cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone as a service project. I was apparently going through hamburger withdrawal, and the burgers tasted really good.

The time draws near for me to invade Normandy. Better go.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Catching up

No. 14178

A couple of days ago, I received an email from Steve Breezeel, wondering if I had ever been found, or was still wandering the streets of Firenze. I am found — I am, in fact, safely in our hotel lobby in Agrigento, Sicily. Robbie keeps us super busy — his motto is, the students can sleep once they get home — and class prep takes up most of what little time is left. Here is a brief summary of what has transpired since last I blogged:

Wednesday, Sept. 21 — We visited Santa Croce, the “Westminster Abbey of Italy,” where Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli are buried. We also visited the Bargello, a museum with several famous sculptures, including Donatello’s David (though there is some speculation that he is really a pagan character) and Michelangelo’s Bacchus. That night, we attended a Fiorintino soccer game. Not only did the hometeam win, but their P.R. people interviewed some of our students for the Fiorintino website.

Thursday, Sept. 22 — We attended a special welcome to American students hosted by the city of Florence, in the Palazzo Vecchio. Several dignitaries, including the mayor of Florence and the American consulate, spoke. I was struck how they kept talking about the relationship between Florence/Tuscany and the United States, and not the relationship between Italy and the United States. I sought explanation from Robbie, Mona, and their friend Lisabetta, and learned that this was partly a result of the continued presence of Italian sectionalism, and partly out of a sense of humility on Florence’s part; Lisabette explained that the city does not feel like it has the right to speak for all of Italy.

Friday, Sept. 23 — After morning classes, Robbie and I drove to a 10th century monastery in Scandicci which is for sale (although the attached church of San Salvatore and San Lorenzo is not part of the deal). It can be yours for a mere 3 million Euros, or so; it would probably cost double that to bring it to repair. In spite of the impracticality of it all, I could not help but fantasize about moving HUF into it.

Saturday, Sept. 24 — We drove out into the Tuscan countryside, visiting an old church two castles (Castello di Romena and Castello di Porciano), and an old water mill. We ate lunch at Castello di Porciano (pictured), which is a repaired tower castle with rooms to rent, and supper at the old mill.

Sunday, Sept. 25 — In the morning, we walked in the 5K Corri la Vita; that night, we worshiped with the Avanti Italia people.

Monday, Sept. 26 — After morning classes, we participated in Language Day at a local public school. We handed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sang songs in English, including “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Amazing Grace.”Tuesday, Sept. 27 — We visited three sites associated with Florence’s Duomo, Santa Marie di Fiore: the San Giovanni baptistery (in front of the Duomo), Santa Marie di Fiore itself, and Duomo museum itself. I enjoyed the sculptures in the Duomo museum more than those in the Bargello: a Pieta (pictured) by Michelangelo (less famous than the one in Rome but in some ways more poignant); a sculpture of Jeremiah and a haunting wooden one of Mary Magdalene, both by Donatello; and a moving crucifix by Vincenzo Danti.

Wednesday, Sept. 28 — We attended a concert in Florence in which the orchestra played pieces by Gershwin and Bernstein.

Thursday, Sept. 29 — We visited the medieval tower town of San Gimignano as well as Siena. The Duomo in Siena was interesting: black and white striped walls and elaborate mosaics on the floor.

Friday, Sept. 30 — After morning classes, the students attended a presentation on falconry while I stayed in the villa and prepped for class.

Saturday, Oct. 1 — We went to the market in the morning, had a picnic lunch, and then I came back and prepped some more.

Sunday, Oct. 2 — After church Sunday morning in Florence, I went back to the villa — and prepped for classes. Notice a pattern developing?

Monday, Oct. 3 — After morning classes, we drove to Pisa and flew to Catania, Sicily. After walking around the town a bit, we met up with the church of Christ in Catania and sang hymns and ate pizza with them. Their singing was gorgeous. Afterward, we drove to Taormina.

Tuesday, Oct. 4 — We had a free day in Taormina. After briefly visiting the Mediterranean Sea in the morning, I made my way up (via cable car) to the old town itself and did some shopping. Then I rode back down to the hotel and caught a bus for a tour of that old volcano, Mt. Etna. It was stark and beautiful. (And cold. I foolishly neglected to bring my jacket with me on the excursion; but after a summer of enduring Arkansas heat, and three weeks of disappointing and unseasonal Tuscan heat, it actually felt nice to be cold. During the trip, I met a really nice couple from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, Oct. 5 — This morning we took the cable car back up to the old town and visited the partially ruined (but still in use) Greco-Roman theater. We then bused to Agrigento, where we visited a bunch of Greek ruins collectively known as the “Valley of Temples.” Now I’m sitting in our hotel lobby, with ESPN on in the background. Life is good.

We are scheduled to leave Sicily on Saturday, then Wednesday is our first day of free travel; Lord willing, I’ll be visiting Normandy toward the end of next week. I don’t know when next I’ll blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lost in Firenze

No. 14163
It’s quickly become obvious that it is going to be difficult to find time to blog. Robbie does a great job of keeping the days packed. Much has happened since I last tried to fill this space.
On Friday, Robbie took us on a walking tour of Florence, or Firenze, as they call it here. It was interesting, and included a tour of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte. Kyle then took over, and walked us across the Ponte Vecchio and to the Piazza della Republica, before letting us all find our own way home. (Well, I tagged along with Kyle; the students all found their way home.)

On Saturday, I finally began to earn my keep, as we started our classes. In the evening, we went back to the Castello Acciaiolo, where our students chatted with a group of Italian high school students over dinner.
On Sunday, we worshiped with the brethren in Florence. Some of our young men took part in the service and did a very nice job. In the afternoon, we had more classes, followed by a devotional in the evening. That night, we had our first evening tea, during which I was grilled by a roomful of female students on why I was not married. (During Robbie’s tour on Friday, I saw the plaque at Piazza Della Signoria signifying where Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498; frankly, he got off easy.)
On Monday, we had our third consecutive day of classes, followed by a photo scavenger hunt in Florence in the afternoon. I was in a group with six Harding students and a couple of students from Smith College who are staying in Florence for several months.

We all then rode a very crowded bus to the Stargate Pizzeria, where I accidentally ordered a pizza topped with “lardo,” which is to say, barely cooked pig fat. The taste was pretty good, but it was hard to get past the slippery texture. (Perhaps I should learn the Italian word for “pepperoni.”) The good news is that Abbie and Katie tried the lardo pizza, too.Today, we drove in caravan (I drove the white van again) out into the Tuscan countryside to lend a hand in the grape harvest. After working all morning, the locals treated us to a fabulous bar-b-que, and then we finished up and drove back to the villa.Little did I know that my evening’s adventures had just begun. Kyle asked me to follow him to the airport. We had rented a van to help shuttle all of the students out to the vineyard, and he needed someone to follow him to the car rental at the airport, in order to give him a ride home. I, without either my cell phone or Firenze map, (this is a blogging technique known as “foreshadowing”), agreed to do so.

Sadly, I lost sight of Kyle in the rush-hour Florentine traffic, and found myself driving the aforementioned white van — which is the approximate size of New Jersey — around the streets of Firenze on my own. I looked for signs for the airport, but found none. I also meditated upon the wisdom of keeping one’s cell phone with one at all times, particularly when one is driving by oneself in a foreign city where traffic lanes are apparently negotiable.

Finally, I hit upon the brilliant scheme of ditching the van on the far side of Firenze and striking out for the villa on my own. I parked it on the side of a street — just down the road from the pizza place which served me lardo pizza the night before, in fact, though this was certainly not the result of any deliberate navigation on my part. As far as I know, the van is still there, though by now it could be in a chop shop in Milan.

I tried to make telephone calls from a couple of phone booths, but was unable to get through. I then hopped the bus in Florence, took it to the tram, and took the tram to Scandicci. From there, I walked across the street to the bus stop. We have been told approximately a million times that we want to take Bus 27, so naturally I immediately took Bus 15, which executed a nice little circuit, and deposited me back at the bus stop, at which point I then took Bus 27.

Sadly, it did not deposit me quite as close to the villa as I hoped/expected. I then managed to take the same wrong turn by foot which I took by van Thursday night (and which has been the source of some controversy) before stumbling onto the Scandicci square, where I saw three of our girls — Stephanie, Sara, and Hannah — who were there to sip cappuchinos and study Italian.

Stephanie, who had managed to bring both her cell phone and her map of Scandicci along with her, kindly shared both with me. I called Kyle, he came and picked me up, and finally I was back at the villa. I was safe and sound. I would not have to spend the night on the streets of Scandicci. (Fun exercise: Google “Monster of Florence” sometime.)

Upon arriving, Abbie and Katie presented me with a “Welcome Home” banner, which — in spite of being laden with rather sarcastic editorial comments — was nice.(Reassuring note to my mom: The Monster of Florence hasn’t been active for 26 years. And he never bothered guys walking by themselves.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Scandicci Walk

No. 14158

Once upon a time, I blogged as a way of avoiding writing my dissertation. With that “incentive” now thankfully behind me, I don’t have as much impulse to blog. However, Harding University has graciously allowed me to teach at its satellite program in Florence, Italy — and living in Florence for the next several weeks may indeed encourage me to resume, at least for a while.

I’m with a good group of 29 students. We each made our own way to New York, from whence we flew to Pisa on Tuesday night, Sept. 13. It was an exhausting flight for me, as I never sleep very well on crowded airplanes.
We nevertheless arrived all in one piece on Wednesday. Kyle met us at the Pisa airport and rode with us to Harding’s 15th century villa, on the outskirts of Scandicci, a suburb of Florence. We got settled in to our new — well, early renaissance — digs, had a nice Italian lunch, had numerous orientation sessions, and took a trip into Scandicci for gelato (Italian ice cream). The students walked, but Kyle thought it best if I made a practice drive to the hospital, just in case I need to drive a student there in the future. I managed to drive to the hospital — in a strange car, with a strange stick shift, in a foreign country — without actually needing to use the services of the hospital when I was through, so that was good. Kyle and I then joined up with the others for gelato.
Today, we walked to Scandicci, and Robbie gave us a tour of the town. We visited Caffé Mario to order — in Italian — our first cappuccinos. Fortunately, the proprietors of this little establishment are quite used to the linguistic butchery of Harding students, and we managed to get our drinks in spite of our mispronunciations.
After walking around Scandicci some more, we ate supper at Bottega dí Panino. I had chicken and mozzarella on schiacciata bread, with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and diavola (devil) sauce. It was good.
Afterward, I drove a stick-shift van (not the car I tried out Wednesday night!) full of students back to the villa. This was not without some adventure, involving me gently bumping a scooter which was too close behind us, driving part way with the parking brake on — not surprisingly, the van handled much better after one of the students suggested I take it off — and missing the turn back to the villa. I’m officially blaming Katie Lambert for that.

The missed turn was not without its reward, for it enabled us to take a scenic route home — as in, Tuscan scenery. Having deposited that group of students, I drove that van and Robbie the other, back to the restaurant to pick up the remaining students. Robbie, perhaps acting on the theory that discretion is the better part of valor (or at least the better part of directing HUF), kindly offered to drive this particular group of students back. I suggested we take the same scenic route back. We even stopped to take pictures.
Upon returning, we had a party with silly games. I think the thing I enjoyed the most was glancing around and seeing the pure joy on the faces of 29 Harding students. The thing I enjoyed second most was getting to drink Coke Zero afterward, the availability of which doubles my chances of surviving Italy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Black Oak

No. 13,974

Today, my father, brother, and I drove down into “the country,” that part of rural Washington County, Ark., which produced several generations of the Dockery and Bradley families. After stopping for a brief visit with my dad’s sister, Aunt Mary Louise, we made our way up the hill to the Black Oak church of Christ and cemetery.

This is special ground to the Dockery family. My great-great-great grandfather, James Jefferson Dockery, donated the land for the church building and the cemetery in the 1800s. He and his wife Rebecca are both buried in the church cemetery, as are my own grandfather and grandmother, George and Zelen Dockery.

The church has been meeting continuously here since 1884, as its sign proudly proclaims. Grandpa George, Dad, and I have all preached there before. My brother, who is the youth minister at the Farmington church of Christ, takes his teenagers there once a month to conduct the worship services.

After visiting Black Oak, we also visited Sunset Cemetery and the Terry Cemetery, where other members of our family are buried.

It was a good day, and a poignant one.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so,through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

(1 Thessalonians 4.13-14/ESV)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Name Change

No. 13,954

I have decided to change the name of this blog to "Numbered Days." See yesterday's entry for an explanation.