Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sicily's Unification

"We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided."
J.K. Rowling
Via Vittorio Emmanuele, one of Palermo's main thoroughfares
Last P-day, my companion and I wanted to do some site-seeing, so off we went down Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the main thoroughfares of the city.  One of the first things we encountered was a plaque saying that October 21 (that very day), 1861 was the anniversary of Sicily's unification with Italy.  So, it was a good day to be out.  Unity is always something to celebrate.  We passed by a million churches (that's one thing Utah and Italy have in common - churches on every corner!), all of them pretty cool, but NONE compare to the absolutely GORGEOUS Cathedral of Palermo.

Cathedral of Palermo: a History of Combined Architecture
This has got to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in person.  Its grandeur is owed to the fact that it is - not just a single style of architecture - but multiple.  Due to a long history of additions, alterations, and restorations (the last of which occurred in the 18th century), this jewel of Palermo is a masterpiece of unified history, culture, and style.  Call it cross-cultural pollination at its best.  In its centuries of transformations, this edifice began as a Christian church-turned Islamic Mosque-turned Christian church one final time by the Normans in 1185.  The result is a magnificent modge-podge of diverse architectural details that leaves visitors in awe.
South porch is a masterpiece of Gothic-Catalan Style
photo: Jeff Piers 
Much of it looks more like a Medieval Castle than a Catholic Church
Arabic Mosaics and Design

Roman Inspired Statues

Bell Towers date from 14th Century

Gothic Accents added in 13th and 14th Centuries

Bronze door carvings depict Biblical scenes

Cathedral Interior:  Fusion of Style
Interestingly, for its very ornate exterior, the interior is fairly modest, as Catholic churches go.  One of the first displays to greet visitors is a large portrait of Giuseppe Pino Pugliesi, a priest who was gunned down by the Mafia in 1993 after speaking up and condemning their activities.  He's somewhat of a local hero.  But, throughout the Cathedral, you see combined styles of Neoclassic, Baroque, and Islamic influences in white marble, wood carvings, tapestries, accents, and paintings.  Beautiful.

One of the more curious features is a bronze inlayed Meridian Heliometer that runs diagonally across the floor with zodiac images evenly placed throughout.  It's a calendar.  Sunlight through one of the cupolas shines on the line at noon each day, illuminating the current time of year.  Way cool!

Cathedral Subterranean Crypt: Holds the Past
Inside the Duomo is a royal pantheon, housing the tombs of 21 of Sicily's royals, the first being that of Roger II (first King of Sicily, crowned in 1130, and died in 1154), and the final King to be interred, Peter II, in 1342.  For a small fee, you can descend underground for a self-guided tour.  Completely awesome.  Makes me think of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ("Only the penitent will pass").

Puppet Theater: Ties to History
After we left the Cathedral, we walked to the grand archway, then all the way down to the port.  As we walked, I couldn't help but notice puppets.  Lots of puppets on strings: Marionettes, in stores and windows everywhere.  

Apparently, Puppet Theater, or the Opera dei Puppi, has especially deep roots in Palermo.

Sicilian Puppeteers have evolved their craft to a true art and use marionettes to tell the history of Sicily.  Performances usually center around knights and princesses, dragons and castles, while epic Norman ballads like, The Song of Roland, provide material for the story lines.

From what I've heard, Puppeteers use humor and spontaneous impromptu dialogue to add to the entertainment. Can't wait to catch a performance!

Orange You Glad to Be Finding?
That was our P-day.  The rest of the week was steeped in lots of Finding.
     Out in the street - talking to everyone we come across.  
     In the park - casually approaching (people hate sales pitches).
     At the University - thinking of ways to appeal to young adults.  
In one of our grand days of Finding, we were walking along the street, and my comp kept saying, "I can't wait for orange season!" When, lo and behold, we passed by a fruit vendor on the street with a box of oranges.  Sorella W asked for the cost of just one orange, and the vendors laughed a little and proceeded to hand us each 3 oranges - for free.  Wow!  What kindness.  This sort of generosity is typical of what they are like here.  What sweethearts.  As we walked further down the street, balancing our trio of citrus fruits, a different man suggested we juggle.  Now, I may look like a clown, but I certainly can't juggle like one.  We ended up giving him and his friends pass-along cards instead.

Working Together
I love my companion.  Sorella Wiltbank is 19 years old, from Arizona, and she loves photography (especially taking wedding shots).  She is awesome, always upbeat, and is a master at Finding - talks with everyone and has a real fire to share the gospel.  We get along great!

Teaming Up
Sorella Bradford (one of the sisters here in Palermo) went to Rome this week for leadership conference (she is Sister Training Leader).  During the meeting, there was a lot of talk about how the work needs to be done together as a District, instead of segregated into individual companionships.  We are in these units for a reason - to strengthen one another, to support each others' investigators, and help others with whom we are working.  It's a shared team effort - to know, talk, and interact with each others' teaching pool, even assist in one anothers' lessons.  This is something I had been doing with Sorella Caramia in Cagliari, and I was glad that the President brought it up for the whole mission.  Very effective and unifying.  Unity matters.  Our District, at this point, is working out how we can better band together.
"I am a strong individualist by personal habit, inheritance, and conviction;
but it is a mere matter of common sense to recognize
that the State, the community, the citizens acting together,
can do a number of things better
than if they were left to individual action."
Theodore Roosevelt
I received a letter from President Knudsen (my stake president).  He writes every fast Sunday.  He said there are 260 missionaries in the San Jose California Mission, 113 of which are sister missionaries.  I thought that was super interesting.  We are at something like 190 missionaries here in the Rome Mission.  215 is the cutoff before they create a new mission (at least in Europe).  So our Mission is pretty big.
"All for one and one for all."
Alexander Dumas

An Extra Hour a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Other news from Rome: we now get a dinner hour.  Apparently there have been a lot of health issues in the mission, and the doctor attributed it to the need for 3 meals a day.  Frankly, President Waddoups was surprised we hadn't been taking a dinner hour, saying, "No wonder you are all so stressed!"  So, in addition to Pranzo hours, we are to take an extra hour for dinner.  Ok!

Mamma Mia
Speaking of dinner: Had my first member dinner appointment with Sorella Giambona, a wonderful woman in the ward who absolutely adores missionaries.  She has officially adopted all missionaries as her children.  Or, is it that all missionaries have adopted her as their mamma?  In any case, she cares for us so well and has us over so often that we all feel like family.  She made pasta and marzipan fruit.  She has this contraption called a Bimby which does miraculous things with food.  Put in a raw potato and in 10 minutes, you have mashed potatoes.  Put in whole almonds, and a few minutes later, there's almond flour.  Put in granulated sugar, and, boom, powdered sugar.  She also made homemade Nutella (mmmm).  Mamma Giambona makes sure that we are the most spoiled missionaries in the world.

Amalgamation of Cultures Makes One Tasty Treat
Almond Granita with Brioche
I had Granita for the first time!  Granita is an ice treat akin to sorbet and Italian Ice.  It originated in Sicily but has roots in the Arab culture.  Apparently, in 827AD, Arabs brought sherbet to Sicily, an icie drink flavored with fruit juice or rose water.  In the Middle Ages, navaroli (snow gatherers) were given the task of harvesting snow from Mount Etna (the most active volcano in Europe, located on the east side of Sicily), and storing the snow in stone grottoes.  Come the sweltering summer months, mounds of snowy ice were brought down and mixed with the juice of the island's lemons.  Later, other fruit juices were added.  Today, Palermo is best known for its Granita di Limone, though other popular flavors include coffee, chocolate, and almond.  Buonissima!

"What do I Have to Do to Be a Mormon?"
Investigators from English Course, Silvia and Alessio, are golden.  They have had one official missionary lesson, but have consistently been staying late after English Course to hear the spiritual thought portion of the lesson.  They love it.  Thursday, we had a private lesson with them (Sorella B was gone, so we 3 sisters taught).  We were doing a sort of question and answer session, and eventually Alessio shared that when he misses the spiritual portion of English Course, he feels bad inside.  Like something is missing.  He admitted that he knew it had something to do with our Church.
     "So, I guess my question is," he said, "what do I have to do to be a Mormon?"
My companion lit up like a lightbulb, as did Silvia and Alessio as we talked about baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.  With that, we invited them to be baptized, and Alessio accepted.
     Silvia, on the other hand, said, "I'm not sure."
     Alessio turned to her and said, "Are you serious!?"
We suggested that they pray about it and come to Church on Sunday to meet our members.  Fortunately, they came!  Unfortunately, they plan on moving to Germany in 3 weeks.  Hopefully, the Spirit can move them along quickly before they move away.

Others of our investigators include 15 year-old Giuseppe, and another English Course student who seemed super interested in the Book of Mormon after I taught a mini lesson on it.  She took a copy and we set an appointment to teach her later this week.

This last week, Sicily celebrated 152 years of unification with Italy.  Unity.  Isn't this what we all want - what we all desire?  To come together in a good cause, join with good people, and share a common goal?  Something wonderful happens when things unite.
     When an island unites with a country - Freedom, wealth, and opportunity opens up.
     When cultures unite through time - Architecture, language, custom, and cuisine are enhanced.
     When missionaries unite together - Love for the work and people deepens.
     When members unite with missionaries - a ward is strengthened.
     And when individuals unite into the Family of God, Heaven celebrates.  
Great things happen when things unite - for country, culture, mission, church, and family.
No wonder unity is at the heart of our Heavenly Father's Plan.  And if unity matters to God, shouldn't it matter to us as well?
And he commanded them that there should be
no contention one with another,
but that they should look forward with one eye,
having one faith and one baptism,
having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another...
And thus they became the children of God.
Mosiah 18:21-22
Thank you, everyone, for your love and support and joining with me in my adventure.

A Presto,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Setting Sights on Sicily

Palermo, Sicily
Ok.  A lot has happened, and at the same time, not much has happened.  I spent most of this last week packing.  I packed quickly and then was told that I could only take one suitcase off the island (for now) and they would send me the other one at Zone Conference (because of airplane issues).  So I repacked the necessary things, keeping the suitcase weight limit to 50 lbs, and 16 lbs for the carry on.  It took a while, but in the end I succeeded!

Pre-Palermo Pitty Party
Shot taken from plane window
I'll let you in on a secret:  I had been hoping to spend Christmas in Rome.  Obviously with transfers, that didn't happen.  But, my transfer to Sicily would take me via Rome (over night), and I was excited at the prospect of spending a day or so being shown around the sites of Italy's historic capital.  At least I'd have that.  But then, the office told us we were leaving Cagliari a day later (Wednesday).  That's ok, I thought.  Since our flight was departing in the AM, I should still have most of Wednesday to tour Rome.  Early Wednesday morning we arrived at the airport, only to find that the Assistants forgot to buy the airline tickets.  Sigh. We waited until evening to fly out.  I must admit, it was lovely departing Cagliari at day's end, seeing my beautiful city get smaller and smaller as we flew into the distance.  The mountains of Sardegna are absolutely gorgeous.  And then the sun began to set into a glowing hue, blending sea and horizon perfectly together in a colorful haze.  The sea and sky looked like perfect reflections of one another, and it felt more like we were suspended in color than actually flying anywhere.

Quasi-Christmas in the Capital
The lights of Rome welcomed us to the mainland.  I was flying in with 2 elders (I was the only sister leaving the island), so my two companions and I were picked up by the Assistants, who then became my companions after we dropped the elders off at their apartment in Rome.  Our van made a b-line to the train station to chauffeur other missionaries arriving from the south, except en route to the station, the Assistants took a wrong turn and ended up having to drive through the scenic part of town.  OH DARN!  We drove past Vatican City with some of St. Peter's Basilica and Bernini's Statues in the distance.  I saw part of the Roman Forum.  I saw the Capital.  I saw several churches.  I saw the Colosseum in the distance.  Basically, I had the best accidental detour ever.  EVER.  I tried soaking in as much as I possibly could, and what made it even better - the Assistants played Christmas music as we drove through.  I got Christmas in Rome.

Eventually, I was dropped off at Rome 2 apartment for the night and got to visit with Sorella O'Connor!  We had fun catching up.  The next day we took the bus back to the train station, enabling me to see a little of the city in daylight.  I think Rome is the most beautiful city in the world.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Perennial Peregrinate to Palermo

Okay, that alliteration was a stretch, I know, but, stick with me - I only have a couple more after this. The journey to Sicily was an epically long train ride down the entire coast of Italy to a ferry at the tip of the boot that took the entire train across to Sicily and down to Catania.  It was super cool to see the Italian countryside (looks like California!).

Sicily is so close to Italy's Mainland!
Let me tell you, seeing Sicily across the water from the mainland was awesome.  It's so close!  You could swim across, easily (if you were a swimmer, that is, which I am not).

We went up on the ferry deck and ate an Arancino in the bright moonlight while watching the water.  Arancino is a Sicilian fried rice ball with meat and cheese in the middle, served with sauce.  Sooooo good. Stayed the night in Catania.  Next morning, took a 3-hour bus ride from Catania to Palermo.
After quasi-3-days of traveling, I finally made it!!

La Madonina (little Madonna)
Like a Statue of Liberty for Sicily
Palermo, Sicily
Situated in the Northwest of Sicily, Palermo's one million inhabitants are nestled in between stunning mountains and turquoise blue sea.  It is GORGEOUS and I fell in love with it the instant I arrived.
photo: courtesy Jeff
Palermo is one of Europe's most ancient cities with an unstable history that dates back 2,700 years. Phoenicians founded the city in the 8th century BC, but Sicily's strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean, the gateway between North Africa and Europe, has invited many an invader, the likes of which include: the Carthaginians, Ostrogoths, Greeks, Romans, Normans, North African Moors, French, and Spanish Bourbons, to name a few.  The result of such a complex lineage is a city delirious with contrasts and multi-layered in architectural styles, food varieties, and place names.
Al Cancelletto Verde  (The Green Gate)
photo: courtesy Jeff
Balcony-lined narrow Alleyways
Beautiful Architecture
photo: courtesy Jeff
Palaces with Arab influences
Like I said, the city charmed me the moment I arrived.  Much of the port area was bombed during World War II, and still bears the ruined scars, but that doesn't cripple the city.  There's a palpable excitement in the air.  The city is vividly alive with a particular character unlike others.  Thriving marketplaces in nearly every neighborhood.  Small apartments stacked high with plants adorning their balconies.  Everyone is out in the street visiting, playing, living.  The hospitality is welcoming and energizing.  I love, love, love this city.
One of many outdoor Markets
Typical Sicilian artwork
More amazing Architecture
photo: Jeff
Fortunes and Finding
My new Companion, Sorella Wiltbank, is a cute gal from Arizona (  I think we'll make a great team.  We had a few lessons in the past few days - one with a new convert who is 17 and originally from Ecuador.  He is SUPER great - heart of 100% gold.  There is another investigator who is not yet baptized because her mom hasn't given permission, but she is GOLDEN.  Currently, we don't have any investigators, so we've been on the hunt.  Sunday, we did Finding for about 4-5 hours.  It was the most entertaining Finding I have ever done.

Viva La Via Liberta!
Apparently, every Sunday they close Via Liberta to cars, and open it solely to pedestrians.  Scads of street performers, comedians, musicians, dancers, etc. ascend upon the place.  Literally, hundreds of people come out of their homes to partake in the camaraderie and peruse the area: Families, couples, old men and children - everyone is on the street.  Perfect for Finding!  We took advantage of our bounty and did lots of publicity for English Course, and when we ran out of fliers, we handed out pamphlets.  A few prospects were had from the day, and it looks promising.

I am thrilled to be here.  The vibrance of the city is infectious and, already, it has captured my heart.  In return, I'm hoping that the vibrance and truthfulness of the gospel will capture the hearts of the good people of Palermo, as well.

Ciao for Now,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When One Door Closes, Another One Opens

Ask, and it shall be given you; Seek, and ye shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Matthew 7:7
Permesso, Per Favore?
I returned to the Questura (Police Commissary) for another attempt at obtaining my Permesso. (First visit was in previous post Be Found Doing the Work of the Lord - you have to read what went down in that visit!).  Once inside, I joined the line for people without appointments, and guess who was running the line? Yep, the Soup Nazi Lady!  I thought about turning and running, but instead, decided to buck-up - not because of bravery, mind you, but because I had no other choice.  I needed my Permesso!  Pathetic desperation can be a great motivator.  So, I stayed.  When the line filtered down, placing me at the front, she recognized me and said, "You don't have an appointment, right?"
     "No," I said.
     She looked at me and took the receipt for my Permesso, "Step aside and wait!"  I did what I was told.  She disappeared and came back with a number.
     "Take it," she states, "And if you hand it to someone else, I WILL BURN your Permesso!  Non si fa queste cose!"  Then she turned and went back into the office.  Phew!  Thank you, Heavenly Father!  After that, it was smooth sailing.  I waited until my number came up (96 :[ ), then they whipped right through the paperwork and handed me the Permesso (cue Angel Choir Haaaallelujah!).  Don't know what they did to my picture, though - I look like a vampire.  I'd post the mug, but the computer I'm using is so old it doesn't have a USB plug (no plug for the mug - Hah!).  We are in an Internet Point because, as a consequence of P-Day now being on a Monday, the Library is closed.

Stefano and Captain Satellite
Lately, we have been getting dozens upon dozens of texts from a man we met on the street one week ago.  We were looking for a store to make copies of keys, and stopped him randomly on the street.  He said he was 28 (he looks 15).  He recognized us as missionaries and immediately opened up, beginning with his own odd religious philosophies, saying, "It isn't the cross to give support like some priest thinks, but if one wants to recall the cross to mind, it comes cultured in the lived.  The lived saves.  That is the testimony of each."  Uh, ya.  It didn't make sense to me either.  RED FLAG!  As he spoke, he wouldn't take his eyes off Sorella Rost.  RED FLAG #2!  And then, he wanted to follow us around.  RED FLAG #3.

Now, my companion didn't understand enough Italian to recognize that he was a bonafied Space Cadet, and she decided to squillo him (give him a ring on the phone), innocently thinking that since he met with missionaries in the past that it would be fine for us to meet with him.  Now, the thing is that as she called his number, it registered as a number that was already on our phone.  A number listed as
"Stefano :O   DO NOT ANSWER."  Ah, Stefano!  I recognized the name from the warnings of Sorella
Captain Satellite
1960s-70s San Francisco TV Show
Cojan and Sorella O - about how they, too, randomly encountered him on the street and he began to almost stalk them.  Luckily he lives in another suburb and does not know where we live.  But he will call many times every day, and come to Church and lurk around the sister missionaries.  Fortunately, this night we politely extricated ourselves, he stayed away from us, and we were able to leave Quartu without incident.  But he has been text-stalking us ever since.  Friday was a banner day with a grand total of 24 lengthy texts.  Texts like, "It is forbidden to know the temptations of others because otherwise it's yourself.  But if I want to know someone, it is incited to know like one is called."

Snaps for Stefano.  He has officially boarded Starship Crazy and, like Captain Satellite, has taken residence in his own orbit.  I must admit, I was relieved when he didn't show up to Church on Sunday.  He texted to tell us he was sorry.  That's okay, Stefano.  That's OK.

Transfer Calls
Saturday, I carried the phone because I was not about to let it out of my grasp on transfer call day.  We were on the bus when the phone started to buzz.  TRANSFERS, I thought to myself.  Looked at the phone.  Nope - just Stefano.  A minute or so later, it buzzes again.  TRANSFERS, I thought to myself.  Nope.  Just Stefano again.  Then a minute or so later, it buzzes again, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD STEFANO!  Oh, not Stefano.  It was Sorella Waddoups.  AAAAAAH!  I answered and Sorella Waddoups said, "Aaah, yes.  Sorella Neeeeffff."  I knew it.  Indeed, after 4 transfers, I am being moved to..................PALERMO, SICILY!

Island Girl
Why, Sicily is the island next door (to the south).  Palermo was only open to sisters this last transfer - a threesome was put into the city. My joining them will make it an even 2 sets of 2.  So I am the 4th sister to go to this city in a loooong time.  My companion is Sorella Wiltbank (don't know a thing about her).  There are 2 wards in Palermo, so the Church is pretty well established there.

Palermo, Sicily
Palermo is in the northwestern corner of Sicily, nestled in its own gulf.  A big, gorgeous city rich in history, culture, architecture, and food.  The desserts in Palermo are said to be the best.  Everything is fried down there, the bus system doesn't really work, so I will be eating less healthily with the members, and walking more, and hopefully that balances in my favor.  When you talk to Italians about Sicilia, they call it Africa because of how far south it is.  Sicilians are considered a very warm people.  Have I mentioned that the Mafia is based in Palermo?  Sorella Caramia (our local Italian missionary) says that it'll be fine, just as long as you stay friends with the Mafia.  Kinda like, Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.  Sounds like a plan.  I am heading down south to make friends with the Mafia.  It'll be good.
               I'll just make them an offer they can't refuse.
                                   I'll take the Cannoli and leave the Book of Mormon.

Arrivederci and Assibiri, Cagliari
I said my goodbyes in Church yesterday.  Lots of members seemed sad I was leaving.  Very sweet of them.  Sorella Sanna gave me a card and a huge hug, and President Sanna's eyes were a little teary as he shook my hand (I love them).  They said their home was always open if I were to return.  So great!  I am sad to leave my sisters behind.  We have become fast friends, and this transfer has absolutely FLOWN by.  I can't believe it's already over!  But I know I will make more friends down south as well.

How do you begin to sum-up a period of time that has meant so much?  I'll let music speak where words fail.
Here's a link to Life and Death by Paul Cardall, from the theme of J.J. Abrams' awesome TV series LOST (Michael Giacchino, composer).  The tune expresses both the poignance of farewells and the hope of new beginnings.
Life and Death:

When One Door Closes, Another One Opens
I leave you with pictures of doors in Cagliari and Sassari.

"God enters by a private door into every individual."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:
if any man hear my voice, and open the door,
I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Revelations 3:20

"It is for us to pray,
not for tasks equal to our powers,
but for powers equal to our tasks,
to go forward with a great desire
forever beating at the door of our hearts
as we travel toward our distant goal."
Helen Keller

Ci Vediamo in Sicilia!  I'll See You in Sicily!
Sorella Ashley Nef