I’ve decided I really enjoy places that show their seasons. Being from the Northwest, which does have distinct seasons but doesn’t always display them nicely, the dormant/cold to lush/warm cycle I first discovered in North Carolina has become a spiritual ritual for me. I travel so much I miss it by default but this year has been awesome.

I arrived in Italy this time from the cold in Washington, only to find an even colder and barer landscape. Everyone was hunkered down for the winter and by arriving in January I almost feel like I disturbed their hibernation. In the Villagio della Gioia, we shuffled through the mud because we had too. Arriving in Israel I could see they were just breaking free of winter, the tail ends of rain for them brought another meter of snow in Italy I missed completely.

Now I come back and it’s Gorgeous. Spring is gorgeous. Villafranca, the area around the villagio, is full of orchards now in bloom. Cherries and apples and many things I don’t recognize. One of my favorite things is to see the pruned branches blooming in the grass below the riot of blossoms above. It reminds me of the image of Christ, cut from humanity but still with us in spirit, expending all His earthly energy in Love.

I ate rabbit for an easter meal today. It’s part of a balanced Romangolo diet; they think more about doves than rabbits at this time of year. I enjoyed it, symbolism be damned.

The last month

I’ve been completely lax on updates and can’t even use the excuse of being to busy. It’s actually been rather relaxed the last week in preparation for the Ben Gurion gamut coming up here shortly.

This trip has been completely different than my last here. Last time I visited, I saw some of the most traumatic places and heard some of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever come across. I returned home shocked and shaken.

I can’t say that the reality I experienced then is somehow different or even better now, so I’m convinced that a part of the change has been in me. I’m much more solid now than I was just a little more than a year ago. I’m still not sure exactly what I’m doing with my life. I’m still not sure how I might choose to plug into this part of the world, for sure. But I’m not scared, withdrawn… on guard in the same way I have been.

I realize that on my last trip I made an incredible effort to stay open and attentive to what I was experiencing, placing all that I saw onto a heart already broken. My instinct was retreat, but I forced myself head first into a situation with no more space for the broken hearted. It tore me up and it’s taken me a while to recover.

I cannot deny the injustice that I see here. I cannot forget what I have seen and heard. But by healing my hurt and letting go of some of my own pain in the last year, I truly believe I am more able to responsibly move in this land of hurt.


Happy International Women’s Day

I was quizzed first thing this morning about what day it was and what that meant to me. Blank stare. Bad answer. All three of the Italians in the apartment, including the man, gave me shameful glances.

Sitting in traffic later in the day for the big rally in the square downtown, I realized just how out of the loop I am. Again. As I wondered through the throng, backpacked and blond, as covered and uncovered women waved banners and took pictures I felt a lot of gratitude for being along for the ride. Later, in our Friends gathering, a local matriarch spoke passionately about her experience of our faith and apologized profusely for questioning how we have been involved over the years.

Harder to Stay than I thought

It’s not really slowed down at all here. We’ve just gotten back from a 4 day trip to Torino and surrounding areas for a series of talks. It’s a beautiful part of Italy I rarely thought about before the Olympics were here a few years back. I guess it’s been 4 years and I’m not even paying attention to the ones going on right now

There’s plenty to think about.  It’s not as easy as I thought to just wander the earth.  Turns out there is a wave of anti-immigration sentiment in this country and my place here, as blessed as I am, is challenged as a result.   There’s signs of  changing demographics all around.  Just up the road from Fede’s family’s farm, the little town of Galeata has the largest percentage of immigrants as it’s total population in all of Italy. It’s not big and not terribly strange to me as person raised in the nation of immigrants but I can tell people aren’t really advertising their diversity.   There’s folks from West Africa, Eastern Europe, Morocco and Northern Africa.  They’ve come to do much of the same work that immigrants do in the US.  Cleaning houses, manual labor, etc.  The folks up the road mostly work in a huge chicken processing plant. 

Many Italians appear to be freaking out about this.  Especially in this conservative, white Northern part of the country, many figures in politics are capitalizing on the age-old fear of change to gain political points.  The Lega Nord, one of the most extreme right parties (who flesh out the radical fringe of Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition) are reportedly famous for open support of fascism and accusations that immigrants are subhuman.  These guys have proposed succeeding from poorer, darker Southern Italy even.   

I come into this picture as a small drop in the ‘extracommunitarian’ unEuropean wave.  New legislation and widespread mistrust have made it harder and harder to get a visa to stay here.   After visiting office after office, talking to person after person who half-knows a part of increasing net of red tape, I’m really feeling a lot of sympathy for the people who really want to come here just to feed their families.  I’m white.  I’ve got options.  But if I want to stay here I have to go through a whole series of hoops that could take years.  I’d like to try but I can’t even apply from inside the country I’m learning.   What about all the other folks just looking for a break?  This country’s riches, like my own, are built on the backs of the poor. 

To add insult to injury, those folks that DO make it here, like those in the US, are increasingly subject to really bald racism.  Take this sign we came across in one of the little villages we spoke in yesterday.

We met with folks from this town and asked what they thought about their mayor posting signs like this at every entrance to their village.  They all seemed to be appalled, but apparently it’s been years they’ve been up and they’re still there. 

I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of my addition to this sign, but it felt like a bit of a hopeless gesture on my part.  Shame on them.

Talking Terra Santa

“But what about the yellers?” It was a question I asked myself as much as Fede before her last speaking engagement.  A regular part of speaking publically about the Middle East, in my experience, is dealing with the various crackpots, quarrelers and raging idealogues poised with attacks for every word you say.

Realizing  peace is about educating people though, OD volunteers commonly spend much of their “time off” in country speaking to as many people as possible about their work.  I’ve attended 2 of these speeches now, not just to provide logistical support but also for the cultural comparison of seeing how Italians react to what they see.

It’s been interesting.  The first speech was in the Northern part of the province, Ferrara, incidentally scheduled for the same day as the major blizzard that swept across here in strange patches.  As we made our way there through a thick blanket of snow, we heard that “the buses” bringing her audience we coming anyway.  Buses?  Whaaa?  Upon arriving we found very little snow but  a whole gymful of kids of all ages playing games.  Apparently this was some kind of Catholic Youth Day with “Peace” as its theme.  Fede had originally been prepped for a talk with a “small group of middle schoolers.”  What it actually ended up being was 15 minutes with the 80 or so kids whose buses actually arrived. Who knows what effect the pictures of dead animals and nonviolent resistance had on them.

Yesterday night was the second outing. We wound our way up into the hills not far away to stop in a charming little village along a medieval wall.  The venue was “The Peacock Tree”, a little old school cafe that hosts leftish gatherings, nonviolence discussions, and poetry readings in the local dialect, Romagnolo. (Selections from Feb lineup:  “Chickenlegs”-Italians do rockabilly/surf “Waltzing Mathilda”- Italians do Irish[?] Man talks about Fungi and climate change, etc)  The mix of down-home cultural revival and political consciousness was cool, surrounded by antique furnishings, posters of Native American chiefs and the various quotes attributed to them translated into Italian, and birdcalls from what must have been quite an aviary upstairs.

Now, the yellers.  They were there yesterday, though not amongst the kids the other day.  It’s amazing to me that even when someone takes pains to explain that their efforts are really not explicitly political, that they only support nonviolence, and that they really are not there to offer any conclusive answers on anything, people still demand answers on politics, violence, and general conclusions for everything.

Overall the event was charming and fun.  I should have asked how to say “yeller” in Romagnolo though.

So cold, so cold

It’s been really really cold all the time. Until today.

Up until today, I had felt a little duped by this whole Mediterranean promise. Where were all the pleasant Italian moments basking in the long rays of sunshine? So it’s wintertime, but at least a coffee on the terrace during a mild january sunset? I had my first one today…. I shouldn’t complain though, all the sweeter for the waiting.
Especially after a blizzard shutdown the freeway on sunday and everybody had a little freakout.  (They stopped the entire 3 lanes of traffic and I waited for an hour for one, count him one, policeman to ask me if I was carrying chains on board.  Give me liberty or give me death!) 

The hard dirt that is everywhere in the village is now muddy and ubiquitous.  I’ve prepared some fruit trees for planting.  Cherries, apricots, mandarins!  so there’s promise of spring!  I’m ready! 

I’ve discovered a little side road that goes out to the river that runs behind my house about  a kilometer off.  Today I took a little gaggle of the village children on an ‘english walk’ to the river, theoretically conversing exclusively in english.   We sang the ‘you smell like a monkey’ version of the birthday song and crushed melting ice with our muddy boots.  good times.

Quaker meeting in Bologna

It’s been really chaotic lately in my life with the hustle of the family all around. I found a moment of much needed stillness this morning at the Bologna worship group that Marisa Johnson of the FWCC helped me get in touch with.

It was a familiar little circle of older gentleman gathered in “the Peace School” in Bologna. Like most thing’s these days, I don’t really catch all the details of the introductions or summaries of most experiences but charge into them as they come. I gathered that the 4 gentlemen are associated with the university (oldest in Europe) and have a leftish bent. An Italian translation of Thich Nhat Han involving something to do with leaving our bodies may have been involved

Anyway, I leave my body often here. When everyone is talking at once around me or I’m tired and sick or I don’t find the topic of conversation very interesting it’s amazingly possible to turn off my brain. Wind it down. It can be a little disconcerting when this happens all the time but I absolutely need it as a kind of defense sometimes.

It’s strange to enjoy the sound of my thoughts in silence though. Usually when my mind races in meeting I try to shut it off, but today it felt fine to have a little moment surrounded by others where I could just do my thing. I actually appreciated the fact it was only 45 minutes too

New Life

The rosy tint is wearing a little.  As Federica and I drove to her Operation Dove Office this morning, across the freezing landscape of fruit trees and suburban traffic circles, we talked about how we’re feeling.  She’s struggling with her sense of responsibility for her work in Palestine, as well as the tug of her biological family’s farm plus the added stress of the Village family’s needs.  I’m struggling to form complete sentences and get a sense of natural beauty here and there.

And now I’m sick. We’re both sick.  It’s pretty clear in circumstances where we’re not 100% that our patience for fitting into the family system wears thin.  On the one hand, it’s really heartening to know that both she and I are on the same page about not feeling particularly “nesty”  On the other, we’re not exactly sure what else to do. We both don’t really have income.  In any event, in the next week or so we’re schedued to do some traveling.  Let’s see how that goes.

My Family members

Sergio-Father- Sorta gruff, straightforward type.  Does not like it when we speak Italian around him.  Valid point.  I know where he stands. Curious, playful side.  From  Venuto, the Venecian provence.

Elena-Mother- Motherly, a midwife for “troubled pregnancies” technically I think but spends a good deal of time at home. Curious but somewhat detached.  Clearly tired by parenting yet contained about it yet clearl tired.  Paradoxical.  Good english vocab and pronunciation.

Martina- Civil servant in our house.  19-20ish?  Quiet, does a lot of cleaning, cooking, ironing.  poor dear.

Anna-family’s oldest girl. 17 Outspoken but clearly not really an envelope pusher.

wow, it feels wierd to be “telling” on all of them.

Lazzaro-16-17ish  Slightly indoor kid, historical origins in India.  Has sweet looking motorcycle (50cc) and equally intimidating needling

Paola- 15-16ish.  Very 16yo girl.

Simone-14- Good guy, shy but with creative and theatrical side.  We do english lessons.

Mima-10- Foster child with Morrocan roots.  Sweet but a little out of place.  She’s given the shaft a lot by the teens.

Diego-3- little shit.  just a normal 3 yo.

Bruno-rat dog

Il Villaggio della Gioia

So much so say… so much going on.  I’ve arrived in Italy and moved into the “Joy Village”  Il Villagio is a project of Fede’s community, a progressive catholic association called Pope John XXIII.  They have all kinds of projects all over the world, from a puppet theater troupe for deaf-mute people in Chile to the Operazione Colomba peace corps to this here Villagio. I’m learning a lot about it really fast, but some of the things I find most interesting so far include:

1.  Bobby McFerrin was a major supporter of this project and organized a big fundraising concert in Milan to help make the final push for the completion of the fund drive.  It had been 10 years since the original idea had begun. Don’t worry, be happy.

2.  It’s very much a work in progress. I live in one of 3 houses filled with 3 very large families in one compound in the outskirts of the city of Forli, Emilia Romagna.  My family, the last to arrive here, only moved into this house in October.  The idea of the Villagio is that these families will serve as core supporters of other families struggling to raise their kids (for whatever reason).  Some of these struggling families may be offered the chance to live here by the Italian social services system and will therefore be able to stay with their kids while getting direct support from one of the core families.  At present, there are only a few families sort of doing this because it’s so new.  The few I’ve met are single dads and they don’t even have custody of their kids all the time so they’re here always but the kids cycle in.  The houses are big ( 2500-3500 ft2) and there’s a couple of apartments in them for families.  (or single hangers on figuring out their life paths.  booyah. ) in the future, a whole other block of apartments will be built nearby.  There’s still construction materials and muddy yard all around.

3. The location is definitely “Italian suburbia”  But I’m impressed by how cool that seems.  We have a field of grapes out back, a horse farm across the road, fruit orchards of some kind on one side and a wierd funky ass scraggly fruit/grape/? lot out front.  I’m been working on refacing some of the walls with this dude Enrico in the bitter cold the last few days and I’ve seen wild rabbits (BIG!), a pheasent, an acrobatic flight show over the airport not far away, Bruno (the one [semi] domesticated animal in il villagio) and and and and….. a whole lot of Italians of all ages wandering between houses, smoking, running around.. etc.  It’s great.

4.  My host father, Sergio, is a stay-at home dad and runs the community “bodega” in this area.  Donations from grocery stores of pull date foods, clothes from drop boxes and confiscated body products from the airport(!) all come to my garage to be distributed to members of the community and those they serve. As I sorted withered vegetables my mind wandered back to fond memories of sorting dumpster produce with the anarchists in NC.  Ah, those were the days. My host mom, Elena, runs the “Difficult Maternity”  program for the community.  There’s 7 kids and I’ll talk about them some other time.

5. I found a natural food store, bought new pants, and helped deliver baby goats born at Federica’s farm in the last few days.  Filling my time and getting shit done.  yeah.

A New Year

I’m sitting in my grandmother’s house listening to the heater vents blow.  I feel so appreciative of this sound.  I know it is surrounded by warm carpets and the art and knick knacks I’ve grown up around in short visits and dark spells of retreat.  These objects of family and warmth and history are more stable than any of the other physical places of “home”  I’d like to hang onto.  I have my family around me here. Now.   I have my love visiting from far away.  I’ve shown her  around my hometown and now feel ready to take off with her into a new adventure.

I’m appreciating memories and moments of love because there has been such darkness in my life this year.  As I sat with friends around a circle of candles in the darkness on Solstice eve, or stared into the depths of a fire in the woods on the night of, I thought about how tough this year has been.  My night has been my own.  I’m just wrestled with my head and heart so much this year.  Talking with my mom as I drove down the slick highway, I had to brake harder than I wanted to as I was lost in the punctuation of describing how much has changed for me.  I don’t see her much so she notices the big things that shift for me more than the small.  And she says she sees a difference too.