Sunday, January 31, 2016

Living Together Beautifully

Well, so far so good, but we know how quickly throwing 40 internationals together to live, eat, sleep and create together can go sideways.  Self cultures join Incarnate culture, nestled in Kingdom culture, nested in Italian culture.  So Orientation Week is a crash course in how to Live Together Beautifully: 


Social Policy: romantic entanglements off limits: “Fire in your heart means smoke in your brains!”
"Describe, Interpret, Evaluate."  Don't assume or be quick to judge someone's actions or facial expressions (or lack thereof).

The Kolb Learning Cycle: Have an Experience.  Reflect on it.  Develop a Theory. Test the Theory.

How do you learn best? Activist, Pragmatist, Reflector or Theorist? 

Introvert or Extrovert? 

Is your culture Reveal or Conceal?  Directed or Directive?  Informal or Formal?  Traditional or Innovative? Time oriented or People Oriented? Is status Ascribed or Achieved?  Is communication Direct or indirect? Turn around and look at whose hand is raised.

As we fumbled through classroom, dining, and bus schedules, we learned the copier, laundry, and kitchen clean up and set up routines.  We asked our students, who had just crossed cultures, to manage jet lag, settle quickly into new quarters with a roommate possibly from another country, who maybe doesn’t speak the same language, and may be 4 decades older than you.  Eat a new cuisine.  Get to know the staff--juggling multiple administrative, relational, technical, teaching, logistical and communication tasks, while wifi and internet blink on and off. Don't forget to goof off! 

After a tour of the facility, their studios, and small group meeting rooms, students jumped into a tightly compressed schedule, and joined a small group with whom we hope they will bond over the next three months.  They learned we will run "Swiss time," and worship in a variety of styles, and maybe have different theological leanings. Don't be afraid to lean into the differences, and ask questions (employing all the intercultural intelligence you can muster!

Are we exhausted and withdrawing or curious and exploring?   

Now we're thinking about supplies to pick up this weekend, or the logistics of taking all 40 of us up the mountain for our first field trip--to the leading high school in Italy for ceramics.  The catch: we only have one 9-seater van...

Our students managed magnificently, and today we enjoyed a much-needed Sabbath rest.  Where will God take this amazing, dynamic, just-a-bit-crazy community?

God alone knows, but in the meantime, I am daily adding vocabulary to my Italiano: Compro, ogni, ieri, nemici, settamani, al buio, giusto, broccoli, se, utile, Noi abbiamo...

Maybe I'll get to Bancomat tomorrow, or get the laundry done, or set up my art space.  But for now, time to call it a day and enjoy the dogs barking till midnight as I drift off to dreams of mountains, mobs and olive groves.  Buona notte! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

One Week Later…

Jet lag notwithstanding, the week took off with a blistering pace—as much as you can ‘blister’ in jet lag—to get our ducks in a row.  Learning how to get around the campus, meeting the Italian staff and volunteers, goats and baby goats, dogs and puppy dog, and a Shetland pony; stumbling through introductions, pronunciations, fracturing the language as the Italians fracture ours. 

Learning the kitchen routine—recycling, courtesy (don’t throw any food out), schedules, names of plates, foods, condiments. Setting up our office, main classroom/ library/worship center—not only with furniture, copiers, printers, office supplies and desks, but space heaters to ward off the frosty conditions as radiators failed in the cold snap.

By Tuesday our tech wizards had the AV system set up—an heroic effort—and within days we were fully functional (more or less) on internet and wifi.  Computers passed to the wizards to download necessary softwares for videos and audio clips in teaching sessions.  Passwords entered, memorized or written down.  Downloading What’s App to communicate with one another. 

Setting up our own living quarters.  Food shopping, finding out where the cafes, drug stores, ATMs, laundromat and supermarkets are. 

Setting up my own apartment: the heating system, shower, stove and recycling routine.  Meeting Mico the cat.  Learning I needed to keep all technology out of sight, and the curtains drawn when I go out, as there have been a number of thefts in the neighborhood.  Walking the roads around me to find the best views and trails ( a work in progress).  Discovering a vineyard and olive grove along the way.  Streams. 

Discovering I have a wonderful bed (praise be to God), and a tiny shower (don’t turn too fast). 

Combining English, Italian, French and German in conversation with my host family, to figure out the mysteries of the heating system, shower, stove and recycling routine…enjoying a pizza with them, and Theresa’s honey cakes, and learning her washing machine (maiden voyage: tomorrow).  Sharing a ride to church.  Enduring two hours in Italian, jotting down words, mashing my French/English/Italian together in an effort to talk with those who greet me.  Meeting the artists.  Invitations to meals, coffee, studio exhibits.

Staff meetings, prayer meetings, team meetings and meetings with the Italian staff. Syncing up on all materials, programs, curriculum, reviewing student files, portfolios and applications.  Crunching numbers and navigating GPS failures.  

Discovering Granny’s Attic and hauling furniture down, for our living, working, studio or teaching spaces. Setting up rooms for the creative disciplines and small group meeting rooms. Discovering artwork stored there in 2010, after the Artslink outreach; discovering one of my own pieces propped up in the hallway. 


Laying the dance floor, taking pictures, posting comments, praying over the rooms for the arrival of the students tomorrow, distributing spiritual and actual chocolates on pillows.  Learning the history of the place.

Arrivals of three more of our staff, and praying for the luggage that didn’t make it.  Preparing our first worship service together, and enjoying one meal after another.  Poring over dictionaries or Google Translate.  Practicing said fractured Italian. 

Miracolo--we got traction within days, each one busy with individual tasks, friend-making, explorations, reactions and adaptations.  I have one word for the week: buono!  (Buona?)  A Sabbath breather, a Sabbath walk, a visit to a local church, an evening to recover from immersion. 

In the morning: Week 2 begins.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

And just like that…

Leaving CT to head to NY, to fly out to Rome, to take a bus to Teramo, to be fetched by car to Isola.  One week and one day, 2 airport runs, and 33 hours later (for that last NY-Isola leg), my geographic journey is done.  

I stow the carry-ons and strap myself in to seat 20C for the plane ride.  All departure tasks are done or on hold.  No last minute errands, glitches, phone calls, or curve balls.  Everything stops now for the voyage.  The deep exhale familiar to the seasoned traveler--now I only have to sit in a plane.  

I have a window seat and no seat mate—a mercy.  Mind, body and spirit are somewhat numb and need to be decanted.  I’m also in a window seat; bathroom breaks are easier than waking or climbing over a sleeping seat-mate.  The snacks arrive. 

I dig out reading material and computer, but mostly I will relax and enjoy the journey.  Watch the movie.  Eat the dinner.  Rehearse the truths, the memories, the dreams.  Anticipate the next 3 mos.--passionate work, Italian cuisine, the mountains, language and cultural adapatations, a new home to settle into, reunions with dear friends and colleagues, expecting to make new ones. Digesting, while preparing a feast.  Recalibration.

A party erupts behind me with 4 people clustered to socialize just as the fuselage lights go out for sleeping.  Dang.  I sleep well enough though, another mercy. 

Arriving in Rome, I follow the pack to Customs, breeze through the kiosk with my Irish passport, and marvel at the upgrade Fiumicino has had since I last came through.  I forget about the cigarette smoking but not about the coffee, which I order up while waiting for my bus to Isola.  Maxi Cappuccino: 2,50. 

I watch the nuns and priests go by, and note shoe fashion--boots and the thing with sneakers--hairdos, veils, saris, jackets, coats and jewelry. 

A congenial, fast-talking bus driver pulls in and starts bust-a-moving: Destination?  Luggage?  Payment or invoice?  I manage with rudimentary Italian and hand gestures (their second language).  We are loaded quickly and efficiently; I text all parties tracking my voyage, grateful for wifi on the bus, looking up at the palm trees and darkening skies.  Snow is predicted. 

exit the airport along a long alley of a highway, to dozens of flagpoles flanking and saluting us on either side, with the fluttering flags of Italy and the EU.  I feel regal.  

The parasol pines--I forgot about them and smile immediately upon seeing them again.  A flock of white birds that look like egrets fill a green field.  Low-hanging clouds fill the sky and in the distance, shroud the spine of mountains to which we are headed: L’Aquila & Teramo.

Familiar French chain stores also bring a smile: Leroy Merlin, Carrefour and Total.  And on the highway: Renaults and Peugeots.  Some international staples, like IKEA and the trance-like stare into iPhones (if not loud conversations in several languages) on the bus. The blue highway signs.  The palm and cypress trees, first glimpse of an olive grove.  First hillside towns.

As we ascend, the temp drops, as does the snow, from mountaintop to hillside to field to road.  The clouds lower again and we study the sky, wondering if we will beat the snow.  I shoot a quick prayer that my connection will be on time, and/or there will be a bus shelter to wait in if not, and/or the fitful freezing rain stop long enough for me to transfer luggage and myself into another vehicle.

 Not to worry.  The freezing rain changes to snow as we arrive in the bus terminal, and as I unload the luggage, a kindly-faced elderly man taps me on the shoulder.  “Pat? Gianpierro”—my chauffeur!  I silently bless him for being on time.  Stunning punctuality by both the bus driver and him--for Italy.

Gianpierro and I exhaust our tiny vocabularies of each other’s language, and just as well.  I’m tired, and he needs to focus: it’s snowing well now as we wind our way to Isola, and getting dark.  Gianpierro threads the narrow mountain roads to a country house, in which is my apartment. 

Marco, Teresa and Pascal meet me at the door—all smiles—and our tiny vocabularies of each other’s languages is quickly exhausted…Marco calls for a translator and we go over what I need to know about lights, oven, recycling, shutters, keys and showers.  My mind locks up on Italian and instructions but we’re done soon.  Teresa gives me a big hug and tells me to rest well.  We are going to be friends before this is over, I predict.  (And we’re each going to learn a lot of each other’s languages!)  They live upstairs.  I have a downstairs living area and and an upstairs bed and bath. 

And just like that, I am in a new country, a new home, a new lifestyle, for three months.  From the salt marshes of my home town to the Abruzzo region of Italy. Time  to stop now, thank God for safe passage into Italy and up the mountain, and into an inviting home. 

Now I lay me down to sleep…