Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chieri time

After our time in Sicily, we still weren't allowed to return to our apartment. Our pastor, Dyfan, and his wife Caroline went to a pastor's conference in France and asked us to house-sit and kid-sit for a while. They have a lovely place in the small town of Chieri, just outside of Torino, and we stayed for three nights eating their food, watching their T.V., and playing a game of RISK that lasted for three days. It was great fun. On the last day we were there, Saturday, we decided we'd better take some pictures to document the affair.

One of our ministries over here is introducing people to Mexican food. So on Saturday lunch we had tacos. The kids assure us that it wasn't their first time eating tacos, but based on their descriptions of the other Mexican food they've had, we think they had burritos instead.

Here's Sian, giving a dubious smile over her first bite into crunchy goodness.

Here's Lloyd, already biting into the crunchy goodness.

After lunch, Lloyd had a football (a.k.a soccer) match. Sian, John, and I biked out into the middle of nowhere to watch him. There he is, #16.

Eventually, the parents came home and ended all the fun. We began to suffer greatly, commemorating their return by playing games and eating pizza. Here's John displaying the game Headbandz and a blurry Sian giggling at him.

That's it for now, ragazzi! Next stop, Venice!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sicily Part 2: Agrigento

We spent the second part of our trip in a town called Agrigento, on the southern coast of Sicily. The train ride there went through the interior of Sicily, which was beautiful. It reminded me of Wales and so I thought kindly upon it.

Our main reason for going to Agrigento was a place called Valley of the Temples. In the last blog, I mentioned how the Greeks colonized Syracuse--they also colonized Agrigento and left behind temples that rival those in Athens. As you'll see, Christians in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries were also active in this area, so it was also helpful for my research. Here's us at the Temple to Castor and Pollux, who, according to Greek mythology, were the twin sons of Zeus.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the temples, here's John at the Temple to Hercules (a.k.a. 'Heracles').

And me at the Temple of Vulcan--I'm the pinkish, bluish dot in the background.

This is the site's most famous temple: the Temple of Concordia. As you can see, it's still in pretty good shape, only a little bit weathered with a missing roof. In the sixth century A.D., the Christians of Agrigento built a church inside the temple, both to take advantage of a good location and to show that the pagan gods were not real and therefore no threat. Look in-between the pillars in the front and you'll see an arch and a window of what's left of the church.

Another example of the Christian presence in the Valley of the Temples is the series of Christian graves that stretch in-between and around the Temples. Christians used to have to bury their dead underground in catacombs because of persecution, but after Christianity became tolerated, they still practiced catacomb-like burials. As you can see, these graves are pretty close to the surface; by the time they were dug, there was no longer any need to hide them.

This is mostly what's left of the Temple of Jupiter (a.k.a. Zeus), which used to be the largest temple in the Valley.

But inside the nearby museum, you can see a few more remains from Jupiter's Temple. This big guy is called a telamon; it was positioned on the temple's pillars to 'hold up' the temple roof. See how it looks like its arms are bent back at the elbows? These telamons were about half the height of the pillars, so you can imagine how tall the temple was!

Here's us at the Temple of Juno (a.k.a. Hera), Jupiter/Zeus' wife.

And last but definitely not least, here are some examples of Sicilian pastries. Three out of the four pastries pictured here involve pistachios. Any guesses?

Love you and ciao!

Sicily Part 1: Syracuse

Ciao! As promised, here are some pictures from Sicily. We went to Syracuse first, for my research. Syracuse is a port city, as you can see. Although in Italy, it was first colonized by the Greeks, so it has an abundance of Greek ruins, many of them from the fifth or fourth century B.C.

Here's the view from the terrace of our B & B. It was nice to stay so close to the sea. Alas, it was still too cold to go swimming.

A typical Italian breakfast: toast and jam! The jam at our B&B was made fresh from the owners' own fruit trees.

Not too far from our B&B was a spot where we could climb on some rocks. It was particularly windy the day we took this picture; I had to hang onto my hat to keep from losing it! Behind me you can see a castle built by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (a.k.a. 'Stupor Mundi,' meaning 'Wonder of the World.' Why was he called this, you ask? Because in the Fifth Crusade, he took the city of Jerusalem from the Turks without shedding a drop of blood. Not that he was particularly humble about it, as his nickname implies. . .)

Here's another view of the rock where I was standing (on the far right). The castle-looking sea walls were built by some Spanish rulers, called the Catalans. See how clear the water is?

Like I said, Syracuse is the home of several Greek ruins--they had the place well-established long before the Romans even thought of having an empire. Here's John on the upper deck of a Greek theater. You can see that they're rebuilding the seats behind him; this theater actually puts on shows in the summertime.

Not too far from the Greek theater was the quarry where Greeks enslaved Greeks for hard labor. The formation below is a man-made echo chamber called "Dionysius' Ear": the legend goes that the tyrant Dionysius had this rock grotto shaped thus so he could listen to what the slaves were grumbling about.

The Romans being the Romans, they eventually took over what the Greeks had and added their own special twist. Here's me next to a Roman ampitheatre; it's oval-shaped and on either side there are channels dug out so wild animals could come bounding out to attack anything in their way, much to the amusement of the onlookers in the stands. This is the third largest ampitheatre in Italy; the largest is, not surprisingly, the Colosseum.

Like I said, the technical reason for our trip to Sicily was my research. The church below is San Giovanni. Although the ruins you see are from the medieval period, the church was founded much earlier in the 3rd century A.D. You can't tell it from the picture, but underneath the church are extensive Christian catacombs (a network of tombs set up much like an underground city, complete with 'streets'). We were able to tour through these catacombs; all of the bodies are long gone but you cans till see the niches where they were put.

What's Sicily without its fish? We took an educational trip to the market in Syracuse and this is what we found. Any of this look appetizing? Can you figure out which slimy thing is which?

After a night and a full day in Syracuse, which is a big city, we were ready to get out of town for a while. A few hours of interrogating locals later, we found a bus out to the castle of Euryalos. It dates from at least the 3rd century B.C. and was partially designed by the great Greek mathematician and strategist, Archimedes. The ruins were pretty extensive and we had a great time scampering around the rocks.

In open rebellion of the weather, which had turned cold and nasty, we went to a beach. The water was freezing and what you see here was as far as we got into it! We did find a nice tidepool, however--our pet elephant certainly enjoyed it.

While John's contemplating this little sea cave, we'll leave you here and pick up with Agrigento for the next post. Ciao!

Rome Again, Again

Hi Everyone!
We've made it back from our Sicily trip. But before we even made it to Sicily, we went to Rome first. I had to do a little bit of research there and also we met Jess and Chad, our friends from California. So here are some highlights from the Roman section of our Sicily trip.

A pleasant walk by the Palatine Hill, where the emperors lived.

A fifth-century church.

Some good American time with our friends. Chad's really excited that we're at a McDonald's.

The requisite excursion to the Colosseum.

Some refreshment from a local fountain.

And a stroll through the Forum, with yet another view of the Palatine palaces in the background.

It was a short trip to the capitol of the ancient world, but very enjoyable! Next stop, Siracusa. . .

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slight delay

Hi Everyone! Just to let you know, we are back safe and sound from Sicily. We can't put up any pictures yet because we'll be out of town again for a few days. But next week, watch out!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Buona Pasqua!

Happy Easter, everybody! Christ is risen! Although our Easter began rainy (forcing us to have an inside picnic at the church), the clouds have cleared and the sun is shining. We hope you're having a wonderful Easter. And in case you haven't had enough chocolate to celebrate God's love for humankind, we've included a few snapshots of Easter displays around Torino.

More so than Easter Bunnies, Easter Eggs are the chocolate expression of Easter here. Almost every pasticceria (a.k.a. bakery) window is full of them and many of them have surprises inside.

Some are more fanciful than others. . .

. . .and some are just big. Here's John and our friend Jerica contemplating the size of this egg.

So of course we had to get our own little egg! Isn't it beautiful?

We love you all and Buona Pasqua!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


On Monday, John took me out for a day trip in Pavia (pron. Pav-ee-ah). It was a beautiful day and at first, the town seemed like a typical, sun-baked Italian town. But John had done his research--Pavia had some things that quickly elevated it to the rank of one of my favorite towns in Italy.

First, the bridge. This bridge was built in 1951, but it is modeled almost exactly to a fourteenth-century bridge that was destroyed in 1944. Although cars use it, it has a wide sidewalk on either side for pedestrians and even a wayside chapel in the middle of it! (You can see it where the roofline changes).

We had arrived in Pavia right after lunchtime and since most everything in Italy closes between 1 and 3, we had some time to kill. So we sat on the grassy banks of the River Ticino, read, watched ducks fight, and admired the bridge.

After our siesta, we went back into town to a Romanesque church (the period of church-building before Gothic) built in the eleventh century. Not only is it a very old looking church--a nice change from the fancy Baroque buildings one sees all over here--but it is of historical interest. Frederick Barbarossa was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor here in the twelfth century.

Unfortunately, the church was built with sandstone, which is soft. On the previous picture, you may able to see that many of the exterior sculptures have been worn away over time. But on the inside, the decoration is much better preserved. This pillar capitol looks like a depiction of the Good Shepherd. Other capitols (the decorated top part of the pillar) have pictures of rude and leering faces, meant to scare church-goers out of their sins.

Pavia wouldn't be a complete Italian city without a castle. This one was built in the fourteenth century by the local nobility. Apparently the great Italian poet Petrarch was once given charge of its library.

John saved the best in Pavia for last. This is the tomb of St. Augustine, whose remains were transferred here from Sardinia in the 8th century. The big marble tomb behind me was made much later, in the fourteenth century. Many of you already know who St. Augustine is--he lived during the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. and is probably the most influential Christian writer outside of the New Testament. It was particularly neat for me to see the tomb, since Augustine's work forms a big part of my dissertation!

Here is some of the detail on Augustine's tomb. This scene depicts Augustine's conversion to Christ. I know it's long, but I want to include Augustine's own words about his change of heart (found in Book 8 of Confessions). He had been searching for the truth for a long time, but was unwilling to give up his lifestyle. He eventually winds up in Milan, where, troubled by his own conscience, he seeks solitude in his friend's garden:

"I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: "Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.
"So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:13). I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away."

If you enlarge this picture, you'll be able to see a man (Augustine) reading a book under the tree and an angel/child showing the scripture to him.

Finally, as an added little surprise, the relics of Boethius (pron. Boh-ee-thius), a sixth century philosopher were in the crypt below Augustine's tomb. Just like today, relics of saints and holy people were a big part of Catholic piety in the Middle Ages and if you look closely, you can see Boethius' bones, to which people would come to pay their respects.

Go, Moscow, Go!

John and I have never really chanted for Russian victory before, but Saturday night we found ourselves shouting for Moscow to take out their Spanish opponents at the Eurocup Final Eight Basketball tournament, held in Torino. Our friend Robert is a professional volunteer and he was the cultural attache for the team from Moscow this year; he was able to get Dyfan, Lloyd, John and I not only free tickets but tickets right behind the VIP section--we could see the sweat dripping off of the players' faces and the coaches' looks of complete despair. Needless to say, we had a great time. Our tickets allowed us to see two games. First, we watched the Lithuanians beat the Serbians. The Lithuanian fans were right next to us and they were very liberal with their use of airhorns. Second, we watched Moscow fend off a team from Spain--unfortunately, Moscow was beaten by the Lithuanians in the final game.

Here we are outside the old Olympic stadium. There's Dyfan on the left, then John, and Robert with his bright gold volunteer jacket.

Lloyd wore those headphones the entire game, although I never saw him use them.

It was a difficult to get a good shot of the action, but there's Moscow in the yellow jersies.

To top it all off, the Moscow fans were giving away inflatible clap-stick things. Can anybody read the Russian?

Finally, we thought we'd include this short video of the Lithuanian fans cheering after their victory over Serbia.