Incomparable Evening Plans

Here I sit, the arch of my back snug against the wooden bench beams, my feet resting sacrilegiously on the kneeler. The frescoes designed by Giotto di Bondone rage around me, swallowing me in an all-encompassing arches of perfect symmetrical patterns.

I’ve never been in such a place before; there isn’t a spot of wall that hasn’t been painted over, and not just flat brush strokes, but truly complex patterns of details. Each column is overthrown with patterns, salmon colored circles encompassed by green squares enthroned by rectangles connected with blue lines and grey ebbing. 

Nothing is plain. 

The windows are embedded with complex stained glass, depicting stories of saints and holy dealings. The light thrown through these pixels of pane enchants the frescoes and highlights the patterns. 

It should be overwhelming. Logically speaking, with the presence of so many different patterns in such a small space with none of that “blank space” rhetoric, my mind should be overwhelmed. It should be too crowded. 

But it’s not. 

I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how they knew it would work. But for some reason, putting so much detail into every possible section of the cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi has crafted a masterpiece of tall gothic beauty. 

Here I sit, the arch of my back snug against the wooden bench beams. 

To my left sits Maria, her beautiful black hair cascading from her shoulder to mine, her strong Mexican spirit pulsing with energy from her. Even though it’s only been four days since I arrived in Assisi and started working with Humanities Springs, her and I have developed a close bond. 

She has forever immortalized the Mexican-English. Her accent sings and rolls and dances, starting each bold conversation with, “Josie, I need to tell you something” and then proceeding with something unexpected such as, “I like your hair band”. She’s sassy and spicey and fiery and all of the cliches one can imagine when describing an eclectic woman, but without a shred of the typical. 

I like her. She’s direct in a non-aggressive way.

Sometimes, while living in Europe, I would get overwhelmed with the tendencies toward directness that many Europeans exhibit. Sitting on the underground of Berlin, I would look up to make eye contact with a very serious, very non-smiling German, unabashedly analyzing my features.

In America we are subconsciously taught to smile, or at the very least to appear pleasant when staring at someone. That way, when they catch us–as they invariably do–it wouldn’t look like we wanted their head on a spike. But on the underground in Berlin, the gaze would drift but the expression wouldn’t change, and I would be left wondering if perhaps I should attempt a sprinting dismount when the doors open. 

Maria is none of that. She tells me exactly what she is thinking–about me, about her needs, about where we are–but it serves to make her more desirable to be around.

Here I sit, the arch of my back snug against the wooden bench beams.

To my right sits Gabriel. We don’t share a common language, but yet he is still furiously pumping his hand back in forth in efforts to fan the both of us with the wind generated by the rotating cardstock program.

There is a bond here, too, perhaps created by the hilarity of the immense language barrier. We communicate through laughter and through smiles, through hand motions and ridiculous charades. His Brazilian spirit renders him magnetic, I’ve never felt anything around him except comfort and ease. 

Inside the basilica, in the fading dusk of the Assisi skyline, the sunset trickles through the stained glass. It’s roughly the temperature of hell, with the bodies of the sticky Italians generating an aura of sweltering humidity. 

Gabriel passes me the cardstock program. It’s my turn to attempt a subdual of the sticky heat. I start the process, rotating my wrist back and forth, starting with a steady beat like the wings of a pigeon. My hair unsticks from my neck, tossing back and forth in the manufactured breeze. The sweat on my forehead dries, becoming a distant memory of discomfort. 

But slowly the beating of the program lessens as I am overcome by the cavernous echoing and reverberating of Vivaldi’s Gloria dancing around the basilica. The cello whines, vibrato bouncing off the full choir, perfectly aligned with the solo soprano voice in melody. 

All around me is aesthetic. 

I am in Italy, in Umbria, in a country of tradition and flowing skirts and beautiful sun hats and pointy leather shoes. I am not only in Umbria, but I am living–for a month–in the mountains behind Assisi, the cool mountain air enhancing each morning run, the setting sun igniting the sky and blossoming against the clouds.

Every moment of the day is rapturous, even the heat of the day when all of Italy rests is perfection. 

I am not only living here, but I am living here with people I really enjoy being around. There’s Melanie, a beautiful Indian from Edinburgh who speaks fluent Norwegian and has a wonderful wild sense of humor.

There’s Tanya, a native Washingtonian who has lived in Assisi for 9 years, with her hippie skirts and her smoking habits and her infectious youthful humor and style of life. She’s stress-relieving, I wish there were a better way to describe her than that. 

Oliver and Hannah are the youngest, but both are so incredibly brilliant. There is so much thought in those 16-year old minds, it is overwhelming at times what comes out of them.

Chiara, Laura, Rita, Hayden, Liz, Alice…wonderful Italians, Portuguese, English…I can’t do them justice with adjectives.

Of course, Jenny. The ringleader of our mountain circus. She’s a renaissance woman with a mind of fire and gold. 

Walking around the basilica with her is one of the greatest privileges I have had. She knows everything, she’s been here hundreds of times in every situation of light and life. She studied classics at Harvard at has been teaching art history and greek for ages upon ages. I’ve never been in a house so completely and wonderfully overrun with books as with hers. 

Jenny sits to the left of Maria. Together the four of us sit without speaking, the only noise is the flapping cardstock program that Gabriel has commandeered from my hands on account of my laziness. 

The concert ends; the choir bows as we stand and applause, the sound of which dances up the domes of the ceilings to settle with the fading notes from Gloria

Peace and Blessings,
Josie

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