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

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