Friday, July 11, 2008

Art in Monte Cassino

In 1979 I was standing in the Uffizi in Florence directly in front of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" when a man approached me and started speaking French. I had been in Italy a month or two, and had a good smattering of French before I had arrived in Italy. But now Italian was soaking into my brain, and I had no room left for French....and apologized to him, in English.

He apologized to me, saying that he had presumed that I was French because of my chin..... I didn't know whether I was being flattered or not.

Long and short of it --he was an artist, and wanted me to model for him at his art studio.

Right.... but then he introduced me to his wife standing nearby and his students who were scattered about the Uffize, studying, copying, sketching. So, it all seemed on the up and up, and as I was 23 and foot-loose and fancy free, I went with them. And stayed about three weeks, in his studio in Monte Cassino.

I learned to grind fresh paint, mix it with stuff --all to his very particular recipes. And I got to see a small artsy city up close and personal.

One afternoon, I took a hike up a nearby hill. This hill.

I cut across the terraces and straight up to what I thought was a castle on top of the hill, following little paths up the slope. When I arrived at the castle, I came over the ridge and was immediately thrown to the ground by four men with machine guns. I screamed. They yelled. And told me I was under arrest. This was a monastery --no women were to approach the monastery up that hill.... at least, that is what I thought they were saying. I was terrifed, heart in my throat, the greenish-brown metal of their guns so deadly cold. And hot.

I was finally able to tell them where I had come from, speaking sideways with my face pressed to the gound--where my artist sponsor lived. They dragged me up on my feet, and threw me in the back of a small car. Went down a very windy road--I didn't know what was going to happen. We finally did go to the studio of my artist, and he affirmed to them that I was indeed living and working there. And then a very interesting thing transpired.... in order to release me, my artist was going to have to pay them $$$$.

I finally figured it out. I really had not done anything wrong. I was in the middle of a shake down.... black mail....

My artist paid for my release. Then told me the next morning that it would be better if I returned to Florence. Which I did.

Such was my experience in approaching the monastary in Monte Cassino, begun by St. Benedict.... and Friday is St. Benedict's day in our calendar......

Luke 14:27-33
Jesus said to the crowd, "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

Heavenly Father, forgive us for all the castles we build on hills and try to protect....because if a house is not built with you in mind, we have built only a fantasy. And the Gospel needs no protection. And heavenly Father, protect the monks in Monte Cassino from marauding women who climb hills alone.....forgive all who abuse power and authority, and thank you for the life and example of Benedict.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Margaret, your chin? You have a French chin? What does a French chin look like? Yours, I guess. I thought of the Hapsburgs, but they were Austro-Hungarian or Spanish. I wouldn't wish that chin on anyone.

So. You posed with or without, if you know what I mean?

What a horrifying experience on the hill! Well, then it wasn't the monks' guards, but a band of brigands. I guess you could call that an exciting adventure.

it's margaret said...

Grandmere Mimi! Such a question--Without, of course! It was Italy! I was young and firm!! From California.... ah, hey. What can I say!

And I have no idea what a French chin looks like --except mine, of course!

And, yes, it WAS terrifying. This was in 1979--the policeman carried what I thought were machine guns, and there had been kidnappings all over Italy --and the hostages had just been taken in Iran.

Vewwy Scawwey!

it's margaret said...

Oh Grandmere --another thought. If they had offered SEX --now that would have been exciting! --but no thanks to the gun thing.

Jane R said...

Yikes!!!!! What a story!

Hey, PJ could use this in one of her short stories -- or you could write one, which in a way you just did. Nothing like having adventures *and* being a good writer. You've done both.

it's margaret said...

It's my only Benedictine story.... so far!

Thanks Jane!

FranIAm said...

Oh my- wow, what a story.

I visited there once myself, but with less fanfare. And strangely enough and quite by coincidence, today- that feast day - is the 7th anniversary of that trip.

Good Lord.

(and jane is right. she usually is!!)

Jane R said...

Yeah but Mimi asks all the risky questions! Or is that risqué questions?

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

What a story. Were the gun-toting men monks? Or just opportunistic thugs?

Either way, why does this story make me thing of what's going on in the Church of England right now? Threats, blackmail, defensiveness, all because a woman is scaling a bastion inhabited by males of the religious calling. Hmmm. Nope, can't see why I made that connection at all.


it's margaret said...

Ruth -no, I don't think they were monks. They were official policemen who took it upon themselves to line their pockets with a little extra cash.

And, yes! --I hadn't thought of this story in that light --but now that you say it..... !