021. GET THEE TO A NUNNERY / by Cara Hines

Journal from 25 November—train from Torino to Orvieto:

I felt a big sadness this morning when I said good-bye to Rosalba and Elena to head to Bolsena. I feel like I’ve found two dear friends I’ve known before. They’re as generous and accommodating as any hosts could be. I’m not sure I would be as good an attendant as they were. I enjoyed my time with them like I might with long lost sisters. Who knows? Perhaps we are.

It’s strange that I can feel so immediate and seemingly natural a connection to a person or a place I’ve just met. I am open to seeing them for who and what they are in that moment, and to the fact that they will be different when I meet them again. Perhaps it’s because I long for that in return—to be seen for who I am in the moment with the full understanding that I will change. (My brother doesn’t call me Carameleon for nothing.) We all change…constantly. Impermanence. It’s when we pretend that’s not the case that things get sideways. Anyway, I can feel very strong emotion for these people, experiences and places; sadness upon departure and a longing for return. But always I am able to look forward, open to whatever might be next and to experiencing those people and places I’ve yet to meet. It’s uncomfortable to constantly live in the unknown. But it’s a discomfort that arrives with abounding, unexpected rewards and reminds me I’m alive.

These are my attachments at work. The meanings I place on things are what cause the sadness, the longing, the emotions. If I do my best to remain aware of them as I go along, without trying to make them something they’re not, I think that’s how I learn to be a more authentic and fully expressed me. And maybe someday, without trying so hard, those attachments will melt away on their own when they’re ready. Like a skin needing to be shed. 

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Journal from 25 November – 1 December:

My last week in Italy I spent in Bolsena, a village on the northeast side of the lake bearing its name, located in the northern part of the Region of Lazio. It is an hour bus ride from Orvietto and approximately 2-hour drive north from Rome. I wrote a bit about my time in Bolsena spent over Thanksgiving in the entry "013. A PILGRIM AND A PIE". I’m going to give you the cliff’s notes of the remainder of my stay there.

I stayed at the 17th-century Convento Santa Maria del Giglio (http://www.conventobolsena.org/index_en.html) (My theater aficionado of a mother got a kick out of the idea of me at a convent with a reference to Hamlet by exclaiming, “Get thee to a nunnery!” each time it was mentioned, while my devoted Methodist grandmother shuddered and asked, “Have you converted to Catholicism?” My wry response that, “Heavens, no! I’m a Buddhist!” didn’t put her at ease in the least. Nevermind that I don’t claim a religion.) Proprietors Nathan (a Denver native and a friend of friends) and Sabrina live there with their two adorable young daughters. It’s an ex-convent that now functions as a hostel and cultural center of sorts. Sabrina is part of the cultural association responsible for running, maintaining and promoting the convent. The complex is situated up the hill just a short walk from the central town square. It boasts its own church, Chiesa S. Maria del Giglio, and contained within the compound walls is an olive grove and persimmon trees heavy with their bright orange fruit. It provides peaceful, simple, affordable, and comprehensive accommodations of another time for a single lone pilgrim or large groups. If you want to hold a meditation retreat, dance workshop, or cooking classes in unrivaled picturesque simplicity, get thee to the nunnery.

By the time I arrived in Bolsena, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, extremely uncomfortable, and beginning to question my entire purpose for coming on the trip along with my reason for being on this planet. The food in Italy is legendary. The coffee is divinely abundant. The people are beautiful, elegant, and openhanded. Need I even mention the rich history, mythical landscapes, and unrivaled art and architecture? While these make a trip to Italy a pleasure to be sure, that old saying “No matter where you go, there you are” still applies. Whether I get me to a nunnery in Italy, a meditation cushion at Vipassana, or a desk in Denver, there I am. Sometimes I like, sometimes I don’t. Always I question and wonder why I’m where I am, doing what I’m doing and with whom. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the cafes and the espressos and pasta and prosciutto and wine and parlare Italiano—it’s that it all feels like just another flavor of distraction from what I’m really “here” to uncover. And by “here” I mean wherever I am. But since I haven’t uncovered it yet, I’ll keep enjoying sweet, caffeinated, perfectly foamed distractions in between my moments of pondering life and death.

In my days there, I wandered about the town and along the lakeshore. I shot footage on the Via Francigena as it enters, traverses, and exits the town center. I met and interviewed the delightfully entertaining 18-year-old Englishman, Joshua Bell—the only pilgrim I would see. I encountered a rowdy crew of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts on their way to a rally in Rome. Watching across the lake from a second-floor window of the convent, I enjoyed one of the most breathtaking thunderstorms I’ve ever witnessed. I was fortunate enough to spend a Sunday afternoon feasting with Nathan and Sabrina’s family which included watching Nathan and his girls kneed the dough for their weekly bread while Sabrina raked the olive trees for their fruit.

After we dropped his girls off at school on my final morning in Bolsena, Nathan drove me to nearby Viterbo where he keeps a small office. Again I was the grateful recipient of a walking tour of an incredible medieval city, this one once home to the papacy. The signature arched stairway entrances and multitude of towers, Nathan pointed out, are remnants of a medieval version of keeping up with the Jones’. Afterward, while Nathan worked, I was able to film pieces of the Via Francigena that pass through town. The ancient walls of the buildings have been left fairly untouched and exposed since they were constructed centuries ago, and walking through them with a 21st century digital video camera felt a bit out of place. After enjoying another notable meal together, Nathan bade me farewell and returned to Bolsena to continue his parental duties, or pleasures as the case most certainly seems to be. He left me there, both my appetite and curiosity about the city whetted, awaiting the arrival of Nino. Nino is a very kind and friendly guy perhaps a little younger than I, and is a friend of Nathan and Sabrina’s. He works in the office at the Vatican City where pilgrims go for tourist information and to obtain the final stamp in their passports authenticating they’ve completed their pilgrimage to St. Peter’s. Sabrina thought he would be a fitting contact for me considering the subject of my documentary. When Nino finally arrived from Rome, another beneficiary of late Italian trains, we were able to enjoy an hour of conversation along with his girlfriend, Antonella. He was excited by my endeavor, and immediately picked up the phone to dial the office of Stefania, the woman in charge of events at JOSP Fest.

In its second year, JOSP Fest (standing for Journeys Of the Spirit), as I understood it, was to be a festival and exhibition celebrating religious and spiritual journeys, as well as to bridge the different religions and cultures from around the world. It was to be held in January, roughly six weeks away. Based on everything Nino said about it, it seemed like something I could benefit greatly from by attending, and he promoted this idea to Stefania. She agreed to meet with me the following day since it was my only day in Rome before flying home the next morning. As soon as I finished my meeting with Nino, I ran through the rain with my luggage in tow, my suitcase wrapped in a trash bag (it looked like I was dragging a dead body behind me) to catch my train to Rome. I made it and found my way to The Beehive Hotel (http://www.the-beehive.com/) in time to collapse for a great night of sleep. It was beginning to feel like my reason for coming on this trip was being validated. Here I was, little ol’ me. I struck out to start this film project with little more than a vague clue how to do it. And on the last day of my trip I had landed a meeting with a woman in an office of the Vatican who could give me an opportunity to show and promote my project in an international venue whose very subject matter aligned with that of my project. I was emboldened.

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