These last few weeks, filled with traveling, exploring, and learning, have been pretty hectic. I felt like an update was necessary so despite the piled up homework, I am writing this blog post at my kitchen table. Fun fact about the table: it has an agenda. Ever since I got here, the table has been donned with a semi-colorful tablecloth depicting hundreds of cups of coffee. French presses, French roasts, espressos, coffee bean grinders, lattés, ‘Café au Lait,’ ‘Café Mocha,’ cappuccinos, etc. There is also a real coffee maker on the table that hasn’t been touched or used accept maybe to make hot water for tea. I don’t drink coffee, but this table has me feeling convicted.
For those of you who drink coffee, cheers to a quick update. Italy. Two weekends ago I visited Rome and Florence, Italy. Italy stinks. No seriously, the streets smell terrible. And it’s not every street that reeks, but only an occasional Via that uppercuts your nostrils with a putrid stench. I don’t even know how to describe the smell… it’s something like a man who hasn’t bathed in a good while wrestles an open trash bag dipped in sewage water. Not ideal. Once you get over how much Italy stinks, it rocks.
Everything I saw seemed to bear a story that was rich in historical significance. The Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican proper, the Trestevere area, the Fiume Tevere River walk, the Baths of Diocletian, every ceiling, statue, column, corridor, atrium, etc. All put the best of Italy’s famous architects, artists, and administrators on display. All were dreamed up in a specific context and for certain reasons that brought significant historical value. And this was just Rome. Florence also had its fair share of wonder-inducing pieces of art/architecture including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, De Medici house, and more. Florence was much more compact than Rome, hence it stunk even more, but the landscape of Florence was unlike anything I had ever seen before: magically Tuscan.
What stands out most to me in regards to Italy, oddly enough, are the trees (and the terrible stomach ache I got from eating two 10in. pizzas at lunch). Roman pines are the most amazing trees I have ever seen. They regally stand tall about city streets, perfectly complementing the ornate buildings they haphazardly decorate and never obstructing views of the mountainsides. I really liked these trees.
Rome/Florence was a very eventful trip because I travelled alone and met up with my Astronomy professor from school. His name is Bruce (different Bruce). In short, he’s a genius who’s currently finishing up a project called Planck, which sent a satellite into space years ago to detect radiation left over from the big bang. What impressed me about Bruce, though, was his ability to convert a Celcius temperature to Fahrenheit within two or less seconds. Absolutely nuts.
After Italy, I had two days of class before taking a trip to the Greek Island of Crete. Crete is the largest of somewhere around 6000 Greek islands (only ~227 are inhabited) and houses a lot of different cultures because of it. Plus, many refugees have fled to Crete in the last few years. We went everywhere on the island. I will briefly share my two favorites.
Anogeia. This is a small village in the mountains of Rethymno that is home to ~2400 people. Most of the men wear black because they think its Michael Jackson bad and everyone has a mustache. Everyone. Stores even line their walls with pictures of mustached men in attempt to legitimize their store and increase profits. Kinda funny. This village is known for their mustaches and lyre-players. I met the local lyre guy. He didn’t know how to play, but he could apparently make a mean lyre. He also had pictures of mustached men on his shop walls, but these were probably famous lyre dudes he knew.
Spinalonga. This is a village island that has seen a vast array of people walk its streets: first Arabs, Venetians, Ottomans, Cretans again, leper Cretans, and finally tourists. This island used to be a leper colony… It sounds terrible at first, as if the Greek Orthodox Church didn’t know what to do with its lepers so it cast them to the nearest island with houses on it, but really this is a beautiful picture of love. Lepers have always been excluded from societies and Cretan lepers found their homes in caves/high mountaintops. Until this island was declared ‘leper-worthy,’ these people had no hope of seeing a doctor, getting treatment, or even eating well, but the island of Spinalonga opened up a wide door of opportunity. Lepers were able to make a living on this island from social security payments given to them by the church and even held elections.
The leper colony dispersed around 1949 when a German dude discovered the cure for leprosy. Talk about a comeback. I can’t help but think of Spinalonga as the church. When some initially get there, family members may have to be left behind, social ostracism may be normal, but a whole new world and perspective is introduced. Jesus comes to the leper colony not only because he’s immune to the sickness, but because he loves the people within it just as much as the people outside of it. He wants to offer a cure. He wants people to thrive, not just survive. For the lepers, this may be hard to come to terms with: How could Jesus love the people who cast us out? But us reading this are thinking, why would Jesus go to the leper? Do you see the rub? Jesus loves the leper and the saint, the sick and the well, the suffering and the rejoicing and enters into their world with boldness and acceptance. We just need to hand him the All-Access pass when he steps through the door.