Thursday, 3 January 2013

Home from home

After a deliciously long and quiet night's sleep, on side of the house facing away from the road, we woke up just after dawn to find it was raining ever so gently, but mild as before. From the side of the house which faces towards the convent, you can look up beyond the garden fifty metres to the top of the steep escarpment, crowned by a balcony which overlooks the sea up behind the Graeco-Roman theatre.

The fact that the Sisters' extensive orchard covers the site of a late Byzantine / Saracen cemetery, from over a thousand years ago, says much about settlement in this area. People lived on this hillside and prospered for so long the town spread along and up the mountain slopes, and shifted its centre as places of worship were built in new locations.

Taormina's first and oldest church, San Pietro is out of sight from this house. It's a flight of steps or a couple of hairpin curves in the road below us to the right. It still has occasional services, but for centuries prior to the Spanish driving out the Saracens, it was used as a cemetery chapel. It has a large ossuary in a vault under the floor of its oldest section. Steps from San Pietro lead up to and originally led into a cemetery with stone built columbaria. Remnants of these form part of the Convent garden retaining wall, overlooking the road. The domain was established as a Friary in the early sixteenth century when Taormina was governed by Spain. Different traces of the past two thousand years of history are woven into the fabic of everyday life here, as in many other European towns and cities.

Mid-morning we went out to do some food shopping. When we returned one of the Sisters was waiting for us with the awaited package from TNT couriers - four hours early! It was such a relief to be in possession of the vital British temporary travel document that will enable us to travel home together. Valid only for one journey home on one day however - so everything else will need to go right to get us to Palermo in good time on Saturday.

This expensive use-once-only document is a reminder of just how insecure British overlords feel about their crowded island home. The fear of exploitation and abuse of such an entry permit, and it is no more than that, even by a fully accredited British citizen whose identity is in no doubt is a symptom of the evil times in which we live.

After lunch and a snooze we went out again, walked the Corso and had a drink in a cafe on the corner of the piazza Victor Emmanuele. Then we went at the usual time for Adoration and Vespers only to find there was a little concert just finishing in the Chapter Room. A dozen young students of the mandolin, with their teachers were performing for relatives and friends, along with a children's singing group. We heard them perform their encore - the theme tune from the film 'Never on Sunday'. Such enthusiasm, such delight. Suore Tarcisia afterwards introduced us to a lively group of five youngsters 8-9 years old with whom she works. The way she interacted with them showed how at ease she is as an educator with children as with adults after a lifetime in mission.

Then, when the guests had departed, we slipped into chapel with the Sisters for a time of silent prayer before Vespers for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus - an observance which is in the Franciscan Divine Office but not in the Roman Breviary. Yet, I recall it was in the old English Missal, so maybe it was a local observance, part of the Sarum Rite which preceded the Book of Common Prayer.

Just as we were about to serve supper, Suore Maddalena one of the English speakers in the Community was knocking at the kitchen window urging us to open our garden gate to a visitor. We'd not heard the door bell ringing. She wanted to tell us that my successor at St George's, Canon Bruce Duncan, was outside. He'd come to pay us a pastoral visit on learning of Clare's calamity. It was lovely to meet him albeit briefly. We arranged a longer visit with him and his wife for tea tomorrow afternoon.

We had to ring the convent to ask them to open the school compound gate when he set off to return to St. George's. Since well before Christmas it has been open daily to permit use of the compound as a visitor car park. Now the holiday rush is over, business has dwindled next to nothing, so the gate, out of school terms, remains closed. Unfortunately the side gate wouldn't open, though the main gate did. Someone drove in hoping to park and had to be re-directed back on to the street by Suore Sylvana, who'd come out from the Convent to see why the side gate wasn't working properly. It was quite comic really, but it gave an opportunity to invite her to join us for tea tomorrow, duties permitting!

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