Dr. Davis taught some of us how to drive stick. Apparently, I’m a car athlete and I can be very proud to tell my brother that I’m practically an expert. We would get up to 40km and be in 3rd gear when Dr. Davis would say with sheer delight “We’re flying! Look at you! Stay on your side of the road when you shift! We’re flying now!” He told us that secretly, he builds up four years of the barrier between students and professors only to break down and teach us to drive an automatic and willingly admit that it’s his favorite thing to do. So, one year after I was originally taught, I now know how to drive a stick even better than the first time.
In other news, the south is hot. The sun is brilliant. I’m tanning somewhat. The wasps are incessant. I have curly hair. And the dishes are never ending. But by now, Sabrina, Becca, Susan and I have helped so much in the kitchen taht our names for dish duty routine have been torn up and let loose in the santa-anna-style wind. But there are such great rewards. Everyone is so thankful (Maggie [Mrs. Davis], April, Seth and Alex [the ‘grown up’ helpers]). And we get to have extra portions sometimes. I get free sorbet, and last night Sabrina and i enjoyed our shrimp crowded around the kitchen table with too much laughter, too much butter, and too much goodness all around.
Today I had to be the hero and pick up the kitten from next door as Matt and Brittany went running yelling about allergies. WHich is funny. I never liked cats. But this grey mangy excuse for a kitten has caught my heart. Maybe the way its chest was pounding furiously in terror when I took it home (three times!) has something to do with my compassion for the poor creature. But it certainly has to do with Anthony, Jonathan, Teresa, Jared, and a million other Indo people who love cats.
Yesterday was perhaps one of the best so far–in a miserably hot way. We went to Arles. First, we waited for Dr. Davis while sitting outside an Arena. The Arena is still functioning, they have bullfights this week. We sat on the steps, while people drove by taking postcard photos of us. And then we wandered inside with our single group ticket and barely ten minutes to walk the steps that are taller than the length of my calf. But this isn’t just an arena. This arena was built in the first century after Jesus Christ.
I walked on stones that are Two. Thousand. Years. Old.
I walked on stones that people sat on to watch lions and gladiators fight. I took pictures there and absorbed a view of the sand where people probably saw early Christians executed. Do you know what this means? There are great lives of saints that may have ended there. And I stood in it. I stood on something that might have been built while Paul was still scribbling out his letters to Thesaloniki.
Just down around the corner is a little catholic chapel. Beatiful, with thin Romanesque windows high in the walls that curve overhead into a ceiling style that would eventually give way to the gothic masterpieces like Notre Dame and Chartes. There were frescoes that have nearly vanished. There were pews, smoothed and worn thin by the faithul. Or the tourists. And behind a wrought iron gate there were dozens of golden boxes that reminded me of the gifts the magi brought to Jesus and his parents. But there was no incense, gold or myrh in these delicate cases. There were relics.
I saw a man’s skull in its own alcove. St. Antione of the Desert–in Egypt. He gathered hermits together for instruction, fellowship and prayer. He encouraged saints who were on their way to the arena–like the one I stood in–and exhorted them to hold fast, to be strong in the Lord. He was wise and gentle and kind. He lived to 106, he cast out demons and forever kept the faith. He is sitting or standing or dancing in heaven right now. And I saw his skull.
The dark interior of the church smelled like every Catholic chapel–mildew, crevices that absorb water from somewhere, wood, incense and old age. There were saints over the door to guide our entrance. There were sinners being dragged to hell, and Stephen being stoned to death while his soul escaped–through the mouth–to heaven. There were tombs, the names worn away by the feet of the saints who have walked over them for hundreds of years. And all this religiosity down the street and around the corner from an arena built by the Roman Ceasars who called themselves god and had a cult to worship them. All this just five minutes walk from a place where Christians likely died for the faith that the monumental church is dedicated to.
And some people don’t appreciate history…