Captain's Log: Assisi & Florence

What an auspicious day--the sun is smiling on the Pantheon dome in the horizon, the cobblestones are echoing ancient footsteps, the cappuccino is smooth as silk, the choco-croissant melts like butter in your mouth, the locals are filling the Campo dei Fiori piazza with fresh fish from nearby sea, fruit and vegetables from the surrounding countryside. What a day.

What a day indeed! After a bumpy clunking of suitcase wheels on the cobblestones down narrow alleys centuries old, we see Marcel our favorite driver with sweat on his morning brow and reticence in his eyes. He tells us that the bus was broken into during the night. The front door of the bus will not close shut, the coffee machine will not work, and the alarm system pierces our inner eardrum every mile of the journey. No problem. We read Philippians in the Mamertine prison. If Paul could hand that we can handle this. More to follow.

Off we go on our high pitch journey--at least everyone will hear us coming. Bring on the rolling hills of Umbria and the glowing memory of Saint Francis in Assisi. We find a bungie cord to help keep the door closed next to me as we drive amidst Italian drivers who have had too much caffeine--way to much! The door continues to open unexpectantly as cars and scooters dart in and out like cockroaches on steroids. The kids are safe but my full life expectancy is now in question. I hold the door with my right arm and hook my right foot to the bottom of the gyrating door. I'm getting physically tired and existentially weary of my obvious newfound death wish. This too shall pass, I pray. 

About now the electrical system becomes compromised by the bandits break-in the night before. Now no coffee machine, toilet flush, but we do have brakes. Thank you Lord. We can handle this. Speaking of handles, I can't feel my arm anymore. Oh well, maybe it will build some muscle. Look on the bright side--Philippians chapter 4.

We arrive at the base of Subio Mountain upon which Assis is perched like a peaceful and majestic dove. We remember that we can't wear shorts in San Francesco church were St. Francis is buried. We find a parking lot and open the door for the luggage storage unit on the back of the bus. It breaks and we need the fire department to come and help us with their jaws of death tools box. You think I'm kidding...there's more.

The bus driver stays behind with the fire department vehicle and we take taxis to Assisi while they fix the bus. Two hours later we are ready to return from Assisi and we call Marcel. He will meet us in 15 minutes. He doesn't arrive. 45 minutes later we call his cell phone and his voice is shaking. He is stuck halfway up the mountain in the middle of a European roundabout with bus that has retired. I'm serious. This is all true. Lord are you testing us? How are we doing? 

Sweet Stehanie, with her injured hip, and rest of us incredulously creep down the mountain on foot to eventually find Marcel almost in tears with our brand new bus and its broken radiator belt. A mechanic must be called from the nearest town. We sit talk about the biblical promise of peace even in the midst of the storm. It's getting really hot and humid. But the students will not be denied. David Smith breaks our his guitar and they sing songs on the Umbrian hillside. I love these kids. What amazing gifts from God to this world. They continue to sing and my spirit is lifted with their music and laughter. 

They tell us a substitute bus will come in 40 minutes. We wait 2 hours. No bus. Well about a hundred buses pass us but none stop for us. Finally a bus comes to take me and the group to Florence. Marcel and Viki his wife stay with the bus from hell and they will meet us in Florence as soon as it is fixed (as it turns out he does not get to Florence until 2 AM).

We arrived in Florence with the temporary bus at about 7:30 in the evening. By 8 PM we are taking a shuttle into the heart of Old Florence. We visit the world famous Duomo, Baptistry, Campanile, Piazza Vechio, Palazzo Signore, and a collection of some of the greatest pieces of sculpture the world has ever seen. We are renewed but hungry as Hannibal's elephants crossing the Alps. Nothing like a good Florentine meals so south all ills. I had one of the best seafood pastas of my life. I particularly enjoyed dangling the squid legs out of the side of my mouth in front of the female students who once thought I was sane. Obviously I need some sleep.

One more trip to get some gelato for the road...cold, creamy, succulent heaven! While eating our gelato, some musicians are gathering quite a crowd with some great live music. David Formolo and Erica Schultz spontaneously decide to dance in the middle of this large gathering crowd.  It was awesome. Before long people were dancing all over the place. What beautiful irony--hours before, broken down on the side of the mountain--we had every reason to give up our joy, but no, here we are teaching Europeans to get off the sidelines of life and dance. I told you before; I'll say it again, I love these young people. Jesus said if you want to understand the kingdom of God you must be like the young. I think I know what he meant. I came here to teach them and they are teaching me. God is good.

More to follow when I get some sleep and more internet time.

I have pictures in case you didn't believe me.

Marcel, our bus driver, looking incredulously at the broken NEW bus.

The Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi .

The Florence Duomo and Brunelleschi's dome, behind the Baptistry in upper left corner, flanked by the Campanile (massive bell tower).

Our last view of Florence from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge overlooking the Arno River. Imagine Michelangelo walking over the bridge at night on his way to finish the David. What a magic end to a mind-boggling day!