Monday, July 8, 2013

Newlyweds in Italy: More Days in Rome

July 4-6, 1996

My travel journal records many adventures we had in our remaining days in Rome. We visited the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel, took lots of walks, had picnics with fresh cheeses and wine and oranges that fell from the trees.

We saw the ruins, and went, of course, to the Colosseum (when I lived in Rome, I used to walk by the Colosseum several times a day, to the point where I began to think of it as "the place that's full of cats at night"). We went to catacombs, churches, and basilicas, where we prayed and gazed at the art and architecture of the centuries: byzantine mosaics, medieval statuary, Caravaggio. We ate in restaurants and spent time with some of our Italian friends.

My journal especially notes that we visited the great Jesuit churches in the center of Rome. Here one can find real masterpieces of the Baroque period, that are so brilliant and so much better than the cheap 19th century imitations that one finds in many Italian churches (and used to find in American churches). This is what I said about Jesuit high baroque in the journal, in 1996:
Here the Baroque style achieves its real grandeur: a great, symphonic jubilation in which heaven and earth are embraced and joined together by means of the spiritual ardor of the Christian personality. The "inscape" of Ignatius's charism and the impetus of the Jesuit mission are here expressed in a baroque sensuousness that is at the same time truly iconic. We are given an "artifact," a work fashioned by human perception and skill, that has a truly "sacramental" quality; it is a means for the contemplative encounter between man and the mystery of God.... Here baroque excess works. It serves as an icon for the excess of love.
Batoli's "Sacred Heart" in the Chiesa Gesu:
the real thing, that has been copied (most of
the time badly) for over 300 years. We have
a photo of the real Batoli in our living room.
I wrote a lot of stuff like this in the journal. Yes, it was our honeymoon, and I was tinkering with thoughts about the difference between an "icon" and a picture that is simply a work of art with a religious theme. I was convinced that there was still iconography (in a theological sense) in post-medieval Western art forms. I'm always thinking about something!

I was really lucky that Eileen fell in love with me.

That and more! She inspired me and encouraged me to ponder things, and over the years she has filled in many gaps in my own understanding with her literary expertise, her exquisite poetic sense, and her perspective as a woman and (now) a mother.

By the time of our wedding, Eileen and I had already been friends for six years, and for much of that time it was a friendship over a distance of a thousand-or-more miles, in the days when the "social media" were the telephone and the Post Office. We used both extensively to communicate with each other, keeping up the friendship we had formed in 1990, when Eileen lived in Washington, DC and we had first met and spent time together. We became quite close, and remained so over time and distance. But for a long time -- because of a variety of circumstances and commitments -- our relationship didn't have the chance to take the further step that, in retrospect, seems so obvious and natural.

Still, we always had (and still have) a true "intellectual friendship." Really, I'm serious. This has nothing to do with "platonic love," but rather with the fact that we always wanted to be together looking at all kinds of things, asking questions, and trying to understand them. We were two people who were interested in... well... pretty much everything. But our interest was (is) expressed in complementary ways. Thank God!

When we were finally in the same place again, and the circumstances of our lives were clear, it became a simple thing to see that we loved each other. That wasn't until 1995. But it finally did happen.

I am so out-of-this-world grateful that God brought us together.

We spent a week and a half in Rome, and then we were ready to head to Assisi, to continue our pilgrimage, our explorations, our honeymoon. And it really was a honeymoon! All of the depth and fascination of these places did not distract us from each other; on the contrary it enriched our experience of being together. We were newlyweds, and we were living for the first time the adventure of being married. Our lives were growing together in new ways.