Italian Family and the Duomo

Yesterday, being Sunday was entirely uneventful except that I FINALLY got to talk to my baby via Skype! But now my speakers are not working so I need to sort out that issue. As Courtney said seeing each other was a step better than receiving letters and emails. It made me smile so much to see her gorgeous smile and happy eyes. It made my day to hear from her and I’m not sure if I’ve even been so excited to find somebody online. We caught up on each others’ worlds, but nothing actually had to be said; seeing her face was enough for me. I’m sure, though, that when we do get to hold each other nothing, no experience in the world, will compare.

Back to Italy. Today we had art class in the morning at the Duomo, after another late night, which seemed to be a horrible thing when waking up. My body is very angry with me and wishes I would rest more. In any case we arrived on time to meet our professor Rocky underneath the cathedral. Allow me to give a brief description of this architectural masterpiece…

The Facade of the Duomo

The cathedral itself is massive, about one a half football fields long and with at least 100ft ceilings. The outside is covered in pink, green and white marble in an extremely ornate fashion. It has a bell tower and is shaped, as most Cathedrals are, in the shape of a cross. But most impressively, maybe not to those who cannot leave the modern world to explore the different world of the past, it has dome as big as that of the Pantheon suspended 400+ feet of the ground! How’s that for an architectural and engineering marvel? With modern heavy machinery, Filippo Brunelleschi figured out a way to construct a massive dome at then the highest dome in the world! This necessitated that he invent machinery and methods to achieve such a monumental, in every sense of the word, task. He used advanced pulley systems altogether modernizing the ancient practice of using humans as the power source in almost giant guinea pig wheels that powered pulleys. Instead, Brunelleschi turned the wheel on its side and used oxen as the power source. Even more impressively, he invented the first reverse gear so that the whole contraption would not have to he stooped and reversed when trying to bring people and heavy supplies back down. Read the book “Brunelleschi’s Dome” if you want even more information on this fascinating subject.

The Bell Tower

The construction of the Cathedral itself is a long and interesting tale. While I do not have time to tell it all here, suffice it to say that it is a miracle that the thing was even built at all! There were political hurdles, social hurdles and architectural hurdles when the original architect, Alforno do Cambio, died 8 years after construction began leaving behind no sort of “blueprint”(they didn’t do those kind of hinges in those days). Seriously, look into it. It’s quite the tale.

After lunch we had our first ‘intensive’ Italian course. It is technically optional for this of us who are attending the University if Parma, but I decided to go for the first day to see if I would need it…the answer? Not at all. This was for beginner beginners, for those who could barely speak a word of the language. I’m never going again.

The Fresco of the Dome

I went for a quick run after class and then had to rush to make it to dinner on time with my cousin Catterina, daughter of my Grandma Gloria’s first cousin Mario, who I has never met. I was a bit nervous but getting out of the taxi and trying to stay dry in the rain, my nerves disappeared when we embraced. She is family after all and I could feel the connection. Catterina is an amazing woman. She runs the James Madison University study abroad in Florence program which seems to be quite prestigious. She has sent many students on to working in the State Department and other federal bureaus. She happens to be a political scientist (how coincidental!) and I think an important one at that. She is writing s book about Berlusconi as we speak. We went to before dinner drinks at a bar near her office where we had mojitos and appetizers for free. The drinks weren’t but in Italy the bars give you some good food for free! We got up on life and she was patient with my Italian, even though she speaks near fluent English. Afterwards we headed next door for dinner because it was raining and being a Monday few other places were open. The food was decent, but I honestly could have cared less for one of the first times in my life.

Dante's Divine Comedy

Something clicks in my heart and mind when I meet family for the first time. Some sort of connection happens and I immediately become comfortable with whomever happens to be my new family member. And meeting a cousin who lives in an entirely foreign country is something amazing all in itself. I feel part of the country. I feel Italy as my homeland. This country is part of me and I am veritably part of it. It loves me and I love it. My family welcomes me with open arms even though I am sort of an outsider. The strength of family knows no bounds of distance. How could this not be miraculous? As wonderful and powerful as all of the art in Italy is, nothing compares to the emotion of finding family. Family is the most important and strongest force in the world.

Family, for me at least, includes, friends and all those important to me. It is the biggest reason that I did not attend culinary school. I would rather be a dad than anything in the world. Spending time with family is my greatest joy. Honestly, I love every second spent with my family. I want to share this experience with the world; I want to continue it. I want to extend and contribute to my patriarchal and matriarchal lines. Even the dream of starting a family brings goosebumps to my skin. I’m ready and a bit impatient to be socially ready(with a job and some monetary security). I won’t force the fun, but the desire to be a dad is exciting my soul. Being in Italy, meeting my family, I feel it ever more strongly. Love and family love never ends and can never be extinguished. I need to do my part to add to this wonder of the world.

Caterina and Me

The rest of the night was fairly uneventful but one very significant event occurred. The guys and I had gone out late with some Americans whom we had met the night before. On our way home around 2:30, we started smelling the aroma of fresh baked goodies. In itself this is not big happening because bakeries everywhere start to bake early, but Florence is full of these “secret bakeries” where one can find delicious baked goods at ungodly early hours in the morning. I say secret because technically, we think, they are not allowed to send their products until later in the morning. Still, many of these kitchens open their back door to sell their wondrous yummies.

And man were these good! We got what looked like croissants, but are actually called brioche in Italian(pronounced like it would be in English). These warm, light, perfectly sweet yet still doughy tasted as I imagine the clouds of heaven taste. We got two stuffed with sweet cream, two with sugar and two with just a little glaze. What a find! 1 euro a pastry for one of the greatest culinary experiences of my life! I hope that Paris has similarly amazing bakeries!

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