Saturday, October 10, 2009

I once was lost....

Torta della Nonna (with pears)
A view of the Duomo from San Domenico, Siena

Yesterday, after finishing my last class at Scuola di Arte Culinaria--Cordon Bleu, (with Rabbit Cacciatora, Bucatini all' Amatriciana, Spaghetti alla Puttaresca, Finocchi al Parmigiana and Torta della Nonna) and thus earning a certificate and an apron (no chef's jacket yet), I came to Siena. Checked into Hotel Italia, grabbed a map and took off to see this historic, scenic town on my own. I had a private tour arranged for the next day (today), but wanted to see it myself first. After the hustle of Florence with 460,000 residents and countless tourists, Siena (pop= 60,000) was paradise. Still lots of tourists, but on a whole different scale.

Soon I was in prayer at San Domenico, the church home of Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church and I think the only woman so honored. Illiterate and yet a lay sister of amazing intellectual stature and persuasive charisma, a healer and worker of miracles, she is the patron saint of Siena, Italy and Europe (according to my tour guide) Her head and thumb are on display as relics.

Siena, a city set on a hill, was once a rival to Florence. The first ever bank was founded here in 1472. The bubonic plague wiped out much of the population; the Florentines took over after some battles and Siena became a back water town.

The amazing and fun thing for me to learn was about the 17 contrades. They are benevolent and social groups, once based on trades and geographical boundaries, but now are furiously competive in many arenas, but particularly in the 2 Palio events in July and August. The Palio is a bareback horse race in which 10 contrades are chosen by lot to enter their horse in a 3 circuit race around the city "square." From a film I watched and the explanation of my guide, it sounds like something crossed with Mardi Gras, Kentucky Derby, Cheyenne Frontier Days and a Shriner's Convention. Flag twirlers and drummers compete in addition to the horses.

But all bragging rights go to the contrade whose horse crosses the finish line first (with or without a jockey) and the whole shebang is really based on which contrade captain can "buy" or influence the other jockeys to lose, fall off, or truly win. So it is both skill on some levels and on chance on others.

People are born into contrades and have immense loyalty to their particular group and an affinity to their groups' allies. Groups are Elephant, Ostrich, Porcupine, Dolphibn, Ram, Unicorn, Dragon, Snail, Caterpillar, Turtle, Duck and a few others I can't remember) By pre-nup agreements, "mixed families" determine which contrade their offspring will be initiated into.

So, after checking out the Duomo and the Campo, I realized I'd lost my map. Darkness was just moments away; I didn't know the address of the hotel; rain was beginning to come down in earnest. I am so grateful that several views had been particularly memorable to me, including a tree seen from a brick lined, building bound, narrow street with a shop with smiling cat purses. Once I saw that tree I knew I could find "home."

But as I trudged along (even before sighting the tree), I started chuckling to myself. How absolutely funny (and fun) it was to be in a new place, lost and yet assured that soon I would find myself or be found.

Lost in Toulouse, mixed up in the French countryside, misplaced in Aix, misguided in Florence and, come to think of it, at some point lost in nearly every other place I've been. (And I consider myself a competent map reader with a good sense of direction. Just don't trust me as I am probably on my way to being found!!!)

Certainly an unexpected grace of this sabbatical is having the freedom, time and space to experience events and then reflect on them--not just record them on film or put them into a journal with the hopes of one day considering what it all meant. Trying to get a handle on how the landscape shapes me in the here and now.

We all get lost in many ways at many times in life's journey, but the good news is that, like the Prodigal, who "came to his senses," we find a view that reminds us how to return home again. For a moment, home may be a hotel in a strange, new city; or it may be the repair of a broken relationship; or it may be simply sitting down to supper with family or friends you left in the morning before going to work. It may be coming home to God, realizing we are found, forgiven, loved and named.

Having received word of many tragic deaths and sad events in Laramie, I am grateful that the saints who are there "at home" understand and undertake their ministries with such competence, grace and faith.

Caio! Blessings!

P.S. On this rainy night I regret leaving my Gore-tex jacket in Spain. It too was lost and now is found and it on its way back to Laramie. I'm glad for souvenir shops which sell umbrellas, too. And now out to find food and find my way back home.


  1. Teresa of Avila is the other "doctor" - it is snowing in Lander and all the roads are closed. We are in D.C. where it was 80 degrees yesterday!

  2. Yes Marilyn, the saints in Laramie abound. You have left your flock in very loving capable hands, but I (for one) miss you very much!