Book Review – The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The Keep (Anchor Books, 2006) begins with a castle, an unnamed European country, and a spectacularly annoying character.

Danny has just arrived, with a one-way plane ticket to meet a cousin he hasn’t spoken to in years, at a dilapidated castle. He doesn’t know where he is or why his cousin has brought him there. Danny is a sort of “lost boy” type – older than he’d like to admit, staking his identity on ever-shifting trends and relationships. He isn’t particularly likeable and, even as he narrates the story, he doesn’t much endear himself to the reader.

His cousin Howie, in contrast, is friendly, smart, and all together likeable. Danny explains to us why Howie has reason to hate him and seems continuously shocked that his cousin does not harbour any ill will. This tension – Danny’s fear over their history together and Howie’s seeming forgiveness – pulls us through the novel. Is Howie’s good nature genuine? Has Danny made a mistake to come to this castle or will this be the place that saves him?

Alongside this relationship is the strange character of the Baroness, who remains in the castle’s keep, spiting Howie’s dream of turning the castle into a boutique hotel. She is beautiful, hideous, sympathetic, and frightful. Danny’s interactions with her are bizarre and mysterious. It’s hard to discern between reality and Danny’s own crazed mind. This is, mostly, a really good thing in the novel.

As we become more invested in Danny’s story, it is revealed that this is a tale being told. We are introduced to the writer, who has shown himself in a few confusing ways so far. Not Egan but Ray, a prisoner in a writing course. We become equally entangled in Ray’s story and his growing relationship with his writing teacher. Why Ray is in prison remains a mystery, as does how much truth lies in the story of Danny. The answers to these questions are revealed in a very good ending.

The problem is, that ending isn’t where the novel ends. It’s where the novel should have ended and yet, for some reason, Egan keeps going. We are given a Part III, about fifty more pages, all about Ray’s writing teacher. Frankly, I cared so little about her back story that I can’t even remember her name anymore. The relationship between Ray and the writing teacher, while interesting, is not at the core of the story. The core of the story is Danny and Howie, Danny and Ray and the conclusion of those relationships is where the conclusion of the novel should have lain.

Now I am 28

I turned 28 this week. This is what I look like now that I’m 28 whopping years old.

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That’s me before work on the morning of my birthday. I look older and wiser, right?

28 is nice. I think we’ll get along.

There are a myriad of ways that my life is different at 28 than I might have expected ten years ago. Or even five years ago. Heck, it was not that long ago that I never imagined I would end up living ocean-side in an unincorporated town that is only accessible by boat. But here I am and my life is good. I could dwell on the things I thought I would have accomplished by the time I reached this age but what would the point be?

The older I get the more I realise that my life is now. I can make all the plans I want – and planning isn’t bad – but life is bigger than plans and plans don’t always work out. My life is happening right now, not what I plan and hope might happen in a year or five years.

I look back over my 28 years and I can see how many times and in how many places God has been good to me. That doesn’t mean only good things have happened to me. It doesn’t mean only good things will happen to me in the future. But God is good and He will continue to be good.

I read this verse a couple days before my birthday and I’m holding it close as I begin this next year of my life.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your path.

Proverbs 3:5-6

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Europe Trip 2013 – Part Ten: Cannes, France

This summer Peter and I went on an adventure to Europe. With the help of a stellar memory and my obsessive journalling, I’m sharing those adventures with you.

Part One: Duisburg, Germany

Part Two: Fritzlar, Germany

Part Three: Bern, Switzerland

Part Four: Lake Como, Italy

Part Five: Venice, Italy

Part Six: Florence, Italy

Part Seven: Rome, Italy

Part Eight: Vatican City, Italy

Part Nine: Cinque Terre, Italy

After a long day of travel, we arrived in Cannes. This was a briefest stay of any location along our adventures – just one night. A layover, really, on our way to Paris. Our hotel was located directly across the street from the train station which turned out to be perfect for a single night stay.

It was late afternoon by the time we set out to explore the streets of Cannes. Our hotel neighbourhood was full of stores, a few restaurants, not far from the water where the beaches were crowded with bodies and the streets were lined with restaurants. We walked past the marina to look at the huge yachts parked there, young men and women in crisp polo shirts polishing their rails.

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We avoided the beach – Peter and I are too Canadian to see a crowded beach as at all appealing – and instead looked for a place to eat. We dredged up our high school French to read menu boards and buy snacks in a corner store.

While wandering along the waterfront we noticed advertisements for a series of fireworks shows, one of which was occurring that night. Similar to the Symphony of Fire (an annual event in Vancouver), different countries performed on different nights and that night happened to be China. So after dinner, as it got dark, we headed back to the waterfront and watched the show.

Fireworks in Cannes.

Fireworks in Cannes.

It was wonderful – an event I love in Vancouver, here in this ritzy French city by another sea. The boardwalks were packed with people. Some who just showed up like us, others who’d spent the day at the beach staking out their spots. Young men break danced and passed the hat and vendors squeezed in wherever they could to sell glow sticks.

French colours.

French colours

The next morning it poured rain. We had cappuccino and pastries at a cafe down the street and watched the rain come down as well-dressed French men and women darted through the downpour and men appeared as if out of nowhere to sell armfuls of umbrellas.

Our train was late in the day so we had time to walk around once the rain let up. Due to the weather, the beach was deserted and so we ventured on to the damp sand to take pictures.

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Seeing our photo attempts, a Chinese tourist called out,

“I will help you!”

He came running over and took a number of photos of Peter and I while I used up my smattering of Mandarin.

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And, of course, Cannes is perhaps most famous for its annual film festival. Did we see any movie stars, you may wonder? Yes. Yes we certainly did.

Peter with Ewan MacGregor.

Peter with Ewan MacGregor.

Next stop: Paris, France

Europe Trip 2013 – Interlude by train

The next stop on our European adventure is Cannes, in the south of France. But the tale of how we made it from Italy to Cannes deserves its own post (in my mind) since it took an entire (not that fun) day to accomplish.

So here you go.

The tale of our time in Cannes begins with our attempt to leave Italy. When we were still in Venice, we had booked our train tickets to take us from Vernazza, Italy to Cannes, France. It was an open-ended ticket – meaning we could use it at any time within a three month window. An agent had printed out a schedule for us of train times so that we could make our connecting trains.

We packed up early in Vernazza and turned in our key. We double-checked the posted station in the Vernazza train station and found that there was a train leaving at 8:34am. We had breakfast pastries from The Pirate and then waited at the station for our train to come. No train came. The train the agent had originally noted on our schedule was to arrive at 8:52am. Still, no train came. It should be pointed out that their are two platforms at the Vernazza train station, one in each direction. The entire time we waited there no trains went by. There were many trains listed on the posted schedule but none appeared. At 9:15, Peter went up to the office to ask.

“You missed your train,” said the agent.

Peter showed her the schedule we’d been given. Rather than explain how we could miss a train that had never come, she walked away. While poor Pete stood at the window, bewildered, another agent appeared, picked up our schedule and rewrote it for us. We never really learned why they had a posted schedule that was, apparently, only for show, or how you were supposed to figure out the real schedule.

The next train was not until 10:20. This was to be the first of four trains we took that day and the shorted. It was going to Monterosso and actual time on that train was estimated at maybe ten minutes. At that point, it probably would have been faster to hike but I wasn’t eager to repeat that hike with my full backpack.

Instead, we walked down to the harbour and watched the fishermen, who used stale bread from the nearby restaurants as bait.

After a two hour wait and a seven minute train trip we arrived in Monterosso. After a twenty minute wait we caught our next train, this time to Genoa. This was a nice train, with small air-conditioned cabins. Unfortunately, it was busy and we didn’t have reserved seats (cheaper not to pay for the reservation) so at frequent stops we had to give up our seats to those who’d reserved. An hour trip in which at every stop you had to be prepared to move again.

Our next train took us to Ventimiglia, a town on the border of France. This was a long and unhappy ride. The train was hot, the seats were uncomfortable, and the lights flickered on an off throughout. The toilet was a hole through which we could see the tracks – something that I’ve experienced in China but was surprised to see in Europe.

When we arrived in Ventimiglia we quickly discovered that there was a train leaving almost immediately for Cannes. We raced to the track only to realise we hadn’t validated our tickets. Having open-ended tickets means you have to validate them at your departing station, to prove where and when you started. We couldn’t find a single machine to validate them in.

Frantically, we caught the attention of a station worker. “Validation?” we cried, alternating between what we hoped were Italian and French accents. He looked at our tickets.

“Cannes, yes,” he pointed to the train, demonstrating that it was about to leave.

“Validation!” we cried again. Now he understood. Not seeing a machine, he glanced at his watch and validated our tickets by hand and we hopped on board the train not a moment too soon.

Stay tuned for the next post in our European adventures: Cannes, France

Book Review – Galore by Michael Crummey

For a long time I’ve wanted to visited the Canadian East Coast. Pictures of lighthouses in Nova Scotia look beautiful. I’m a big fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who set the majority of her books on Prince Edward Island. But every book I’ve read about Newfoundland makes it sound like a cold, desolate place. (See: Annabel by Kathleen Winter).

Galore (Doubleday, 2009) is no exception. Michael Crummey, a lifelong Newfoundlander, doesn’t sugarcoat the Newfoundland experience. Especially in the late 19th century, which is when much of Galore takes place.

The novel opens with the strange scene of a whale beached and dying on the shores of a tiny community called Paradise Deep. Carving up the whale for parts, the people discover a man inside. A pale, mute, living man that they eventually name Judah.

We are steadily introduced to the people of Paradise Deep. The Irish Devines, headed by the Widow Devine, who reluctantly take Judah in. King-me Sellers, the richest man in an impoverished community, and his wife and grandson. These two families have both a history and a future that is deeply entwined. Unspoken, there is a theme laced through the novel of destiny, of things that have to be, and a story repeated until it turns out right.

This is the kind of book with a family tree at the beginning and you’ll be thankful for it.

The other characters of Paradise Deep are equally colourful. There’s Father Phelan, the wandering, drunken Catholic priest. Mrs. Gallery and her haunting vestige of a husband, Mr. Gallery. Obadiah and Azariah, brothers who aren’t related but are closely linked. And, of course, Judah, who seems to hold the luck and the tragedy of the entire community.

There are a few ups and a lot of downs in the life of Paradise Deep. Life is hard and often short. We witness deaths, births, marriages, and a strange, semi-pagan type of baptism.

I loved the trajectory of the novel, the way it continuously moved forward, both in time and plot. At the same time, this meant that you never seemed to have the time to delve deeply into any individual character. Much of their motivation and inner process remained hidden. Perhaps that was Crummey’s intention but it made the characters seem that much less realistic.

Crummey’s descriptions are excellent. With a few words here and there he paints a vivid picture of this cold, hard place on the edge of the world. Characters are easy to visualize, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes frightening. His writing may make me hesitate over visiting Newfoundland, but I’ll certainly be happy to read more of Crummey’s work.

My favourite description in Galore:

“His voice like the first taste of sugar after Lent, a sweetness that was almost hallucinatory.”

Europe Trip 2013 – Part Nine: Cinque Terre, Italy

This summer Peter and I went on an adventure to Europe. With the help of a stellar memory and my obsessive journalling, I’m sharing those adventures with you.

Part One: Duisburg, Germany

Part Two: Fritzlar, Germany

Part Three: Bern, Switzerland

Part Four: Lake Como, Italy

Part Five: Venice, Italy

Part Six: Florence, Italy

Part Seven: Rome, Italy

Part Eight: Vatican City, Italy

We left Rome early on a Saturday. The regional train was cheaper so we were on a four hour trip from Rome to Pisa. Getting on at the start of the route meant that Peter and I got to sit together. Before long, the train was standing room only. Long tunnels left us in total darkness for several moments at a time.

In Pisa we had time only to find a washroom before we hopped on our next train, this time to La Spezia. From La Spezia, one more train – this trip a short one – to Vernazza. The stops aren’t announced and they’re close together so we counted off carefully. Vernazza was town #4 in the Cinque Terre.

From the moment Peter and I started planning our European adventures, we knew the Cinque Terre would be a part of it. We were excited to get there and to relax on the Mediterranean but nervous too. Could this place really match up to our expectations? (Spoiler: It did.)

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza is a tiny town with a tiny harbour. Most of the town exists along one main street, with the ocean on one end and the train station on the other. The buildings are fading pastels and, facing the water, a stone church sits on the sea’s edge. A tower looms on the hill above. We stayed in a beautiful little place off the main street (Vernazza Vacations) and were in Vernazza four nights total.

Our room in Vernazza.

Our room in Vernazza.

We swam right away, before even rinsing the train sweat from our bodies we were scrambling over rocks and jumping in the ocean. It was wonderful. Warmer than our ocean at home and noticeably saltier.

One of the great things about our time in Vernazza was that there wasn’t much to do. There was no pressure to visit a museum or a famous church because there weren’t any. We could swim and eat and hike, guilt-free.

On our first morning there we hiked the trail between Vernazza and the next town over, Monterosso. The hike was about an hour and a half through the hills, looking out at the ocean the whole time.

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A lot of uphill on rough, sometimes narrow trails but terrific views overlooking both Vernazza and Monterosso. And it was hot. Oh, how we sweat. Physical exertion plus the heat meant before we’d finished our first uphill stretch we were wiping sweat out of our eyes and feeling it trickle down our spines. All I wanted was to jump back in the sea but I consoled myself by observing that everyone we passed on the trails was just as sweaty as us!

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We passed vineyards and olive farms. And these sleeping cats.

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Monterosso is a larger town than Vernazza, rather more resorty. Unlike Vernazza, it has long sandy beaches, though you have to pay to access most of them. Like Vernazza, the town stretches back and up the hill. We bought cold cokes and drank them sitting along the waterfront.

Beach at Monterosso

Beach at Monterosso

We meandered through streets and stores, admiring locally-made souvenirs, and picking up a few things at the grocery store (which was larger than the store in Vernazza) before we headed back on the trail.

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Monterosso

By this time it was about 12:30pm, probably the hottest time of the day to be hiking. Needless to say, our ocean swim when we got back to Vernazza felt amazing. At least, I had a lovely time. Peter got bitten by a fish. (He survived though when asked about it now he tells me, “It hurt. And it was very surprising.)

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After our swim we had lunch in our room. Fresh bread, white wine, and pesto. That simple meal by the window, overlooking the street below, ranks in the top meals of our whole trip. Pesto was first created in this region of Italy and it was the best I’d ever tasted. The wine was local too – white wine is the specialty of the region. Normally I’m a red wine drinker but cold white wine on a hot day after a hike in the Italian hills and a swim in the Mediterranean…what could be better?

One of the simplest and best meals of my life!

One of the simplest and best meals of my life!

The next day we planned a hike in the opposite direction. This was to be The Big Hike to the remaining three towns of the Cinque Terre – Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We figured about ten hours round trip so an early start was required.

Starting early was actually really great. It took us about forty-five minutes to reach Corniglia from Vernazza and, while still warm, it was much cooler to walk early in the morning than our hike from Monterosso had been.

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Thetrails were quiet and the light was beautiful over the ocean and across the views of the towns below.

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When we reached Corniglia, about eight o’clock in the morning, we learned that the rest of the trail was closed. In the autumn of 2011, there was a serious flood in the region and while the recovery has gone well, there’s still a lot of damage.

With ten hours suddenly freed up in our day, we lingered in Corniglia, a smaller town than Vernazza, and just waking up. Corniglia is located on the clifftop, not on the water. We enjoyed the panoramic view point and then searched out a cappucino.

Peter and I in Corniglia

Peter and I in Corniglia

We decided to take the trail as far as we could, which brought us through the other side of town along a path lined with boarded up stalls until we reached a boarded-off tunnel.

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The hike back to Vernazza was hotter and busier. Thinking we’d be out all day, we had a backpack full of food and drinks. We stopped along the way to eat and lighten our load. (And by “our load”, I mean “Peter’s load. All I carried was the camera.)

Again, the beach beckoned when we arrived in Vernazza. Due to “the fish incident” we found another area to swim, pausing for gelato, then back to our room for siesta.

In the evening we dined up the hill, a terrace overlooking the sea.

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The evening, dark, the street still full of people, was perfect people-watching time. We sat on the breakwater and picked out the locals versus the tourists. The rotund and extremely-tanned man who’d spent the day ferrying people around in boats while wearing nothing more than a yellow speedo, had now added a Scottish-style hat to his ensemble. The same couple we had seen the night before walked by holding hands. The family we’d smiled at while sipping cappucinos the previous day pushed their sleeping infant in a stroller.

Vernazza at night.

Vernazza at night.

The next day was market day and we watched the trucks pull in and people set up stalls from our window before heading down the street for cappucinos. The same place we visited for gelato, oddly called “Stalin’s”. At the beach we swam and read and swam some more and watched Italian teenagers dare each other to climb higher and jump further along the rocks to the water below.

For the entire time we’d been in Vernazza, we kept seeing people walking around with what Peter and I had begun to describe as “fish cones”. Yet we couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. That afternoon we got into a line while we tried to figure out if this was the line for the fish cones. The line was long so Peter popped into the market next door and brought back a litre bottle of beer, which we drank while we waited. The man in front of us looked us up and down, told his wife to wait a moment and soon came back with the same bottle of beer.

Fortunately we were in the right line and we were soon proudly holding our own fish cone. All different kinds of fried seafood in a rolled up corn husk. There was calamari, the local anchovies (like no anchovy you’ve ever had before), as well as other fish we couldn’t identify but was positively delicious.

The fish cone. A meal we haven't stopped talking about.

The fish cone. A meal we haven’t stopped talking about.

In the evening our excellent food experiences continued as we decided to dine a little off the main square at a restaurant was called Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre and it was Sicilian style. They advertised gnocchi, which was something we both wanted to try before we left Italy.

The owner chatted us up, asking where we were from and telling us how busy he would be come September. I ordered gnocchi with four cheese but Massimo shook his head and asked if I liked pesto.

“Yes,” I said, though I felt like I’d been eating a lot of pesto lately.

“You trust me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. He asked if I had any allergies and told us he’d bring us something good.

And he did, oh he certainly did. Hearty and creamy and full of flavour. We heard Massimo have similar conversations with other guests who tried to order gnocchi with cheese.

“That is for babies,” he told them.

Dessert was panna cotta and berries for me and canoli for Peter.

“Sicilian dessert is the best,” Massimo told us while also bemoaning the lack of good bread in Vernazza. “I would make my own, but I’m not allowed.” We sipped espresso and ate our dessert and told Massimo we’d be back for breakfast in the morning.

Book Review – Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

I love hearing other people’s testimonies. You will never hear two the same. Every Christian has a unique story of how they came to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. I think that’s so amazing. Testimonies continuously remind me of God’s love for us, individually.

So I like reading testimonies too. I appreciate when authors are honest and forthcoming with their faith stories. The tagline on Seven Storey Mountain (Harcourt Brace & Co, 1948) is “an autobiography of faith”. And that’s exactly what this is. Merton leads us through his life from birth to shortly after he enters a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. He gives a lot of detail about his life, his family, his education, and his slow transformation from a moderate Protestant to a Catholic priest. He doesn’t tell us everything but almost everything when it comes to his spiritual history.

I’m not Catholic. Thomas Merton was. At the core of everything, I think Merton and I believe the same things when it comes to God and I’ll see him in Heaven. There were many passage I agreed with in Seven Storey Mountain. There were parts that challenged me and parts that seemed to echo my own walk of faith. And there were parts that I disagreed with. Catholic parts.

Historically, there have been great divisions between Catholics and Protestants. I feel no need to go into that history here except to say that those divisions sadden me and I believe there are believers and non-believers in the Catholic church, just as there are in any Protestant denomination. Catholics have customs I like, customs I don’t understand, customs I personally wouldn’t follow. So do Pentecostals. I believe there are Jesus-loving, God-fearing, Bible-believing, Heaven-bound Christians in the Catholic church and the Protestant church. And, sadly, I’m sure most churches also have those who don’t accept or don’t understand the grace of God. Countless churches have “cultural Christians” in their seats. People who think coming from a Christian family or showing up on Sundays is enough. None of our churches are perfect.

It was good to be reminded by Merton’s words that we worship one God.

All that said, I have to admit my major complaint with Seven Storey Mountain was Merton’s comparisons of the Catholic church to other denominations. Some Protestants may have ignorant and hateful perspectives on Catholics, but Merton demonstrate that attitude can go both ways.

Merton shares stories of visiting different churches as a child and when he begins to search after God. Unfortunately, he had many poor experiences. He continuously found himself pulled to the Catholic church. I have no trouble believing that he visited churches without life and passion and any real display of who Jesus is. Sadly, they’re far too common. For someone searching for faith and genuine answers, a church of “cultural Christians” will never be satisfactory.

I wish though that Merton wouldn’t draw such large conclusions based on his small sample size. From his poor experiences in Protestant churches he seems to make a leap to the general “wrongness” of the non-Catholic church. So while I may expect to see Thomas Merton in Heaven, I was left with the impression that he will be surprised to see me there.

As Merton turns to Catholicism, he embraces the saints and the role of Mary wholeheartedly and speaks emphatically about their importance. Yet he never delves in to whether the concept of sainthood in the Catholic church was easy for him to accept. He goes straight to, “This is how it is and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be praying to Mary and the saints.”

This is, of course, a major difference between Catholic and Protestant churches. I don’t pray to saints. I’ve never prayed to Mary. Quite frankly, I don’t understand why I would. When I can pray directly to my God and Creator, why spend time talking to a mortal who there is no evidence can hear my prayers?

Seven Storey Mountain isn’t a book of apologetics and so, as much as I  would like an explanation, Merton doesn’t offer one. Insteads, I’m left to feel a little bit judged but with no greater inclination to turn toward Catholicism.

It’s probably the way a lot of non-Christians feel in the face of Christianity.

A couple of quotes I appreciated from Seven Storey Mountain:

“By the gift of faith, you touch God, you enter into contact with His very substance and reality, in darkness: because nothing accessible, nothing comprehensible to our senses and reason can grasp His essence as it is in itself. But faith transcends all these limitations, and does so without labour: for it is God who reveals Himself to us, and all that is required of us is the humility to accept His revelation, and accept it on the conditions under which is comes to us: from the lips of men.

“When that contact is established, God gives us sanctifying grace: His own life, the power to love Him, the power to overcome all the weaknesses and limitations of our blind souls and to serve Him and control our crazy and rebellious flesh.”

And the moment when Merton finally lets himself go and finds freedom in God’s plan for him:

“I was free. I had recovered my liberty. I belonged to God, not to myself; and to belong to Him is to be free, free of all the anxieties and worries and sorrows that belong to this earth, and the love of the things that are in it. What was the difference between one place and another, one habit and another, if your life belonged to God, and if you placed yourself completely in His hands? The only thing that mattered was the fact of the sacrifice, the essential dedication of one’s self, one’s will. The rest was only accidental.”

How to Love an Introvert

The Internet comes in waves. There are trends. A topic becomes popular – one person writes a post or makes a video and it goes viral. As it spreads, more people respond, agree, disagree, create their own versions. The topics vary – cats, twerking, religion, cronuts.

One topic that I’ve seen fairly consistently in recent months is the subject of introverts. Various articles and cartoons have been shared on Facebook by multiple friends. The over-riding theme is: “How to Love an Introvert”. The title, of course changes. Maybe it’s “How to Interact with an Introvert” or “How to Live with an Introvert.” A quick Google search of “how to love an introvert” provides 6,910,000 results. The same search for “how to love an extrovert” provides only 2,200,000.

These articles drive me crazy. Why? Because the overarching idea behind them seems to be that introverts are special. They need to be handled delicately. They might be nice enough people but they suffer from this disease called “introversion” and so you can’t possibly interact with them in normal ways. They will freak out if strangers talk to them. They need to be in bed early. Frankly, it’s amazing any of them ever have jobs because their social skills are so astonishingly poor.

I am an introvert. I am married to an introvert. Want to talk to me at a party? Come up to me and say hi. Excited to see me again after a long separation? Go ahead and give me a hug.

Want to know how to love an introvert?

  • Tell me things you appreciate about me.
  • Offer criticism gently.
  • Hang out with me or call me or e-mail me.
  • Be patient with me when I’m driving you crazy.

It’s the exact same way you love an extrovert.

Being an introvert isn’t something that makes you special. It isn’t an excuse to be rude to people who are just trying to be friendly. It isn’t an excuse to lock yourself away or avoid others.

Recent studies suggest that as much as 50% of the general population may be introverts. At the least, it’s about 25%. That’s hardly a delicate and unique minority.

Instead of learning how to love introverts, let’s learn to love people. Just people. No qualifier. Let’s approach people on an individual level and love them for who they are.

Let’s learn to love people the way Jesus loved them. Unconditionally. Sympathetically. Over-the-top, uncontrollable love because He knew exactly who they were. Not because they were rich or powerful or suffered from that terrible disease of introversion.

Let’s start reading articles on “how to love a person”.

Europe Trip 2013 – Part Eight: Vatican City

This summer Peter and I went on an adventure to Europe. With the help of a stellar memory and my obsessive journalling, I’m sharing those adventures with you.

Part One: Duisburg, Germany

Part Two: Fritzlar, Germany

Part Three: Bern, Switzerland

Part Four: Lake Como, Italy

Part Five: Venice, Italy

Part Six: Florence, Italy

Part Seven: Rome, Italy

Chronologically speaking, our visit to Vatican City came in the middle of our time in Rome. But since it is its own country and we spent most of a day there, it seemed to warrant its own post.

Peter and I had set aside our second day in Rome to visit the Vatican. This was the day after we arrived and we had already seen the Colosseum and the Forum. As we did with L’Accademia in Florence, we got an early start and had reached Vatican City before half past seven on that Thursday morning. The square was completely empty except for us and a police vehicle.

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We sat by the fountain and ate oranges before we passed through security. Like many of the cathedrals we visited, the Vatican requires modest dress so we both wore long pants.

St. Peter’s Basilica is amazing. It doesn’t feel as ornate as San Marco’s in Venice but it is hugely decorated. Michelangelo’s La Pieta stands behind bullet-proof glass. One grand entrance is bricked over until the next year of Jubilee. A dark and elaborate canopy built by Bernini stands over the tomb of St. Peter’s. A purple stone marks the spot where Charlemagne was crowned.

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Many famous churches feel like just another tourist spot, crowded with visitors, everyone trying to snap pictures. The feeling of sacred space is lost. I’ve heard people say this about St. Peter’s but that wasn’t my feeling at all that morning.

The church was hushed, a few small masses being read in some of the side chapels. Men in tailored suits provided directions discretely. Confessions were being heard in multiple languages. A few priests and nuns walked quietly through, either at work or visiting from other countries, just as we were. One young, red-headed priest stood in front of St. Peter’s tomb to take a selfie. And yet, it wasn’t touristy. It was a church. Yes, there were tourists, but there were also people praying, people worshipping. It is still God’s house.

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We paid five euros for access to the dome, without the use of the elevator. It was a good choice because the elevator doesn’t take you to the top, only past the easiest section of stairs. That first stop brings you out inside of the dome, looking down into the church.

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Then more steps – 545 in total (we counted) – this time up a winding, narrow passage. The rounded walls tell you that you’re circling the dome and you have to lean in order to pass by. Witness this photo, taken with the camera held perfectly straight:

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The way is so narrow in parts that you have to go single-file and if the person in front of you stops, there’s no way you can move forward. It’s a little claustrophobic but when you start to feel like you can’t take it anymore, you arrive outside. This time, on the outside of the dome, overlooking Rome. The breeze felt amazing and the view was good too.

The Dome of St. Peter is the highest point in Rome. We spent a good while up there, taking in the sight of the city laid out before us. Enjoying the coldest spot we’d found yet in the city.

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From the Basilica we headed to the Vatican Museum. Forty minutes wait in the hot sun, in a line that stretched around the block. Vendors wandered through the crowds, selling bottles of water from backpacks, postcards of Pope Francis, or coloured parasols. Tour guides try aggressively to convince you to hire them so you can hop out of the line. We feigned ignorance of every language they tried on us and then eavesdropped as they made their attempts to the English-speaker’s around us or as they fought amongst themselves for the right to customers.

The Vatican Museum is expensive (16 euros each) and insanely crowded. Now, a couple months later, I’m glad that we went. That day though, I was miserable for most of it. In many parts, especially the long hallways, you can’t help but be pushed along by the crowds (A special curse was reserved that day for those who walk the length of a museum holding video cameras above their heads.) We had to fight our ground to stop and look at anything and there was so much to look at it that it quickly felt overwhelming. There were very few spots to sit down and we quickly ran out of water, which was unusual in Rome because the city itself has clean water fountains everywhere.

That said, I got to see some of the world’s finest art in person and I really can’t complain about that. Photos weren’t allowed in most of the museum so I can’t share it with you but the rooms painted by Raphael were stunning, particularly the Academics, which has an astonishing depth to it. Near the end of the museum was a collection of modern Catholic paintings which was also fascinating, especially in comparison to all the Renaissance art.

There were rooms of Etruscan and Egyptian artifacts. Tombs and inscriptions and art of the early Christian church, which was wonderful to see.

And then, of course, there is the Sistine Chapel. The climax of the whole museum. The point that everyone in the crowd is pushing toward. Stunning, yes. Sacred? Maybe. This was one of the most crowded points of the whole crowded museum and the police officers (yes, police, not security guards) attempts to keep the place quiet make it louder than anything else. They hustle people along, preventing you from standing still for too long, and every few minutes one of them leans into a microphone and says, “Shhhh! Silencio, per favore! Silence please!”

The set-up of the museum meant we actually entered from the rear of the chapel and so almost the first thing you look at is the grim depiction of The Last Judgement. Right there everyone stops and cranes their faces to the ceiling. It wasn’t until we moved further away from the crowds and looked up that we say the whole story that Michelangelo painted. And that was amazing. While The Last Judgement is still the final piece and dominates your view, you gaze up to see God create man, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The beginning and the end of the world, all in one room. And it is magnificent.

We regained some of our strength over cappuccinos in the cafeteria and then viewed a final area of sculptures before heading home on the metro. We stopped for donairs near our hotel and were so hungry we ate most of them before realizing they were not very good donairs.

Next stop: Cinque Terra, Italy