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Report 926: My Dream Trip To Italy and France

By BGE from Fox Creek, Alberta, Canada, Spring 2005

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Page 21 of 38: San Miniato - A Slice of Heaven

photo by BGE

San Miniato and My Son, The Photographer

I sleep like your proverbial baby, most likely because I was so wasted from the long day yesterday. Whatever, it was fabulous! I feel so rested, so totally relaxed and so very happy.

This trip has been amazing. I’m likely to be processing this for ages after I get home. I’ve learned so much about the world about this beautiful country and most ’specially, about myself. I’ve learned that I can do more than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned to be even more independent, if that is possible.

As well, I’ve learned about asking for help when I speak one language and everyone around me speaks another language. There is a lot of discomfort for me when I speak another language that I’m not familiar with and not fluent in. It really tests my confidence. I don’t like to feel stupid and I don’t like to do something that I’m not good at, because I don’t like how it feels inside. This trip, I’ve experienced a lot of both!

I’m heading for Rivoire, to wait for M. and D. A spremuta sits in front of me, complete with a small silver dish of sugar and a tall pitcher of ice water, in case I need to dilute or sweeten the freshly-pressed juice. Today it is lemon spremuta, sour as it can be, BUT, no sugar and no water, because it is incredibly refreshing, as sour as it is.

My server is watching me drink it straight up, and he looks as if HE is the one drinking freshly-pressed and perfectly straight-up lemon juice! Finally he realizes that I am watching him and he breaks up. We laugh together, he says something about me being tougher than him, and then he leaves to serve another table.

M. & D. arrive and, as we leave for San Miniato, we talk about taking a bus or taxi up to Piazza Michelangelo. Finally, we decide to walk. It can’t be that far, or that steep of a climb.

It IS a long uphill climb, and we make it! After a stop on Piazza Michelangelo for T-shirts from the very nice stall owners and a photo-op of Florence from this vantage point, we head uphill once again, towards San Miniato.

Arriving finally at the foot of the stairs that lead to the cathedral, I start the final climb upwards. The white façade is right in front of me now, and as we walk inside we enter into total peace and quiet.

I love this place! This is what a cathedral should be like, I think to myself.

There are no swarms of tourists, no people selling anything in the courtyard, no booths full of tired, old worn-out replica prints of who-knows-what…I totally love it here! Every time I hurry past the Du-o-mo, to avoid the hundreds of tourists, the street vendors selling everything from silk(?) scarves to sunglasses, people sitting or standing at the edge of the piazza begging for money, I keep thinking that that would be exactly the kind of scenario that caused Jesus to throw the moneychangers out of His temple. This place, this San Miniato, is Holy. It feels like what I imagined a grand cathedral would feel like. It is perfection for me.

The interior of the cathedral is awash with frescoes on the walls and ceiling, and they are exquisite. The floor has a huge inlaid area that has the signs of the zodiac inlaid in the center of that area. It is almost cold inside, very quiet, very peaceful. We sit for awhile, listening and watching, and then we explore the interior of the cathedral.

Coming out into the gentle rain, we make a quick dash for the gift shop. It is so cool inside this shop! The monks operate it, and the shelves are crammed with homemade soaps, honey that they have bottled themselves, and of course I cannot buy any because my suitcase is way over-full already! Most of the goods sold are products of the monastery…preserves, jams, honeys, soaps, liquors and alaso beautiful icons. Very nice.

Just before 5:30 P.M., we go back inside and take a seat on the stone stairs descending to the chapel. The ceiling is gorgeous, with arches overlapping on top of more arches... it is as if they are repeating upon themselves. We are just in time for what becomes a wonderful 1½ hour vespers service with Gregorian chanting. This is what I was hoping against hope for. It is stunning.

The service starts and I’m aware only of the sound of the men’s voices chanting… chanting. There are only 3 monks in the pulpit area and they carry the service on their own. It is cool, dark and silent except for the chanting.

I notice a mother and her little girl sitting just ahead of me. The mom is helping her little one slip into a warm jacket, and she murmurs, ”Shhhhhh…” to the child, as she wraps her daughter tightly in her arms. The child smiles, kisses her mother's cheek, and closes her eyes...

To my right, a father sits on the hard stone stairs, wrapping his small daughter in a bear hug, and cradles her head in one hand. He gently rocks the child, and I can hear him humming along with the chants.

A candle lighting ceremony begins. Most of the congregation take communion, walking to the rail, kneeling to receive the Host and the cup of wine. As each person leaves to go back to their place, they are given a small candle, lit.

I am conscious of the chill from the stone stairs and luckily for me, at that precise moment, the congregation is asked to rise and we stand for the remainder of the service. After the chanting stops, the monks come down into the congregation, greeting the church regulars who have been seated at the front of the floor area.

We leave quietly, walk out of the front door and into a breathtakingly cool evening. It had been a hot walk up to the top earlier, then a huge rainstorm passed through while we were inside the chapel during the service. Now, the air is crisp, clean and invitingly cold. After another stop in the gift shop to look longingly at the honey I have no room for, we leave... with me still wishing for a bit more space in my luggage to carry some of the honey home with me.

The walk down is easy!

We stop near the Arno, catch a taxi and watch the walls of the buildings along the road to my apartment literally zzzzzzipping by… he’s driving soooooo fast! In a moment we are home.

While everyone hangs up coats, stops to wash hands and sits with a glass of wine, I set out a feast. Milano salami, prosciutto, feta/brie/gorgonzola cheeses, several types of bread, fresh from the bakery today, chilled beer, red wine… simple but perfect. After we clean our plates of every morsel, I bring out dolci… an apricot tarte, fresh cantucci, biscotti and polenta cake. We wash it down with delicious espresso. My son is the espresso guru... he makes the best of the best. He makes it for us.

After a long visit and another espresso, they leave and I am ready for my ’jammies and bed. I crawl under the covers, close my eyes and reflect upon a magical day.

Best Things Today:

~ lemon spremuta at Rivoire

~ spending the day with my child

~ actually walking all the way to San Miniato!

~ the cool inside of the cathedral

~ being blessed to participate in the vespers service at San Miniato

~ the food, the wine, the company and the espresso when we finally arrived home

Worst Thing Today:

~ nothing! It was all good, from start to finish!

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