I guess whichever country we decided to spend the month of May in was bound to be beautiful.
We spent Halloween in Zaragoza, 41 degrees north latitude, and the aspens and poplars were all bright yellow. By January in Merzouga, in the Sahara desert of southern Morocco, the last yellow leaves were dropping in the sunshine, 31 degrees north latitude, and it was COLD at night.
So here we are in Italy, where whole hillsides are bursting with yellow wildflowers and hedges smell like flower shops. We are soaking in the beauty and sunshine, and we really do wish you were here. I’d love to be making you all coffee and urging you to have another croissant from the campground bakery. Honestly, it’s no trouble: we’ll just bike over there.
We spent last week based at a campground in the middle of Tuscany, exploring towns and savoring some of the greatest art we have ever seen. For example, in Florence, from the church of Santa Maria Novella, a series of frescoes on the life of Mary, including her engagement to Joseph and her earlier move from her family home to the Jerusalem Temple, which the Qur’an describes but the Canonical Gospels do not:
And this immense painted crucifix by Giotto that hangs over the nave:
Or this one, moved from the famous Duomo church to the Museum across the street. It’s part of a series of carved hexagons, and it shows Eve being taken out of the side of Adam, the mythic story from Genesis about the one time a woman was born from a man, who slept through it all. Of course.
Beauty is not mostly made by humans, even if we’re the ones who notice it. The sun’s path across the sky can be traced and marveled at. This brass line on the floor of the nave notes the constellations of the zodiac which rule each month of our year. This medallion celebrates the winter solstice, when the sun casts its longest reach of the year through the door of the Basilica.
We also loved the decoration inside the Great Synagogue of Florence, the Tempio Maggiore. It reminds you of the Muslim world, and it should, since after Jews were expelled from Catholic Spain, they were welcomed in Muslim places like Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey, and the architecture of those lands inspired the men who built this great sanctuary in the 1880’s. The brass plate marks the pew for the Consiglio, the advisory board of the synagogue.
We’ve also enjoyed the Italians’ flexible relationship with rules and regulations, and their love for everything amore. Lovers write their initials on these padlocks, attach them to the wrought iron of this bridge in Florence, and then throw the key in the river. They are not allowed to do this, says the attractive bronze sign. I am sure a municipal employee polishes it a couple of times a year.
After a week of love, art, and walking our bikes when the uphills got too long, we left Tuscany.
Now, we’re on the island of Elba, best known for Napoleon being exiled here in 1814 after his disastrous campaign in Russia. He attacked Russia because he feared they were conspiring with the English to attack his Empire. So pretty much all the European powers got together and sent him here, where he immediately had marshes drained, roads built, water supplies set up, and hospitals constructed. After 300 days, he got bored with Elba, sneaked away, landed in France a few days later by boat, and marched to Paris to take up his throne again. He was defeated about a hundred days later at Waterloo, in Belgium, and exiled this time to the other side of the planet, a South Atlantic island named St. Helena.
Here’s a view of Elba, where our ferry dropped us off at the dock in Portoferraia.
We easily found our campground on the south side of the island, and settled in for a week of biking, swimming in the sea, hiking, and reading.
We have novels and nonfiction, but the news from home is gripping. God help us. Despite all the claims of news being faked (and surely some of the news we read now, and read before the election WAS fake), it looks like we are finally getting stories that so many wanted kept “in the family.”
So I’ll close with one of my favorite paintings by Botticelli in the Uffizi Gallery. It shows the mythic King Midas, advised by Suspicion and Ignorance, sitting on his throne. He’s getting ready to judge the victim of slander, who’s being dragged by the hair by Defamation, accompanied by Fraud, Spite, and Deception. On the left, Repentance looks at the naked Truth, who raises her eyes to heaven.