On Monday, I went to Assisi, the home of St. Francis of Assisi, the guy who renounced his wealth and talked to animals.  My friend and I took Rick Steves‘ suggested walking tour of Assisi, which took us to some back roads and some gorgeous views of Umbria (I’ll post the pics when I get back home and put them all on my computer).

In addition to the St. Francis Basilica, there are several other churches of note, including the Santa Chiara church, dedicated to St. Clare, who started an order of nuns who are called the Poor Clares.  They also own an olive grove next to the church, ostensibly to provide them with a living.  I want to find the olive oil that those nuns are producing:  wouldn’t that be super extra virgin olive oil?

We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the church, but the frescoes (mostly by Giotto) were amazing and incredibly moving.  I walked up and down hills all day, so I was incredibly exhausted by the time I got to bed, and I managed to sleep the night through, despite the hordes of drunkards outside my window that make noise until 2 in the morning every night (I am living in a huge apartment with a gorgeous view of the Piazza del Mercato, which is incredibly centrally located, and has several bars right there in the piazza.  I can’t really complain about anything except the noise, which is excessive, but I guess that’s the price I pay).

Yesterday, we had our first concert, called Umbria Segreta, or “secret Umbria.”  It was about a half hour bus ride away, in an isolated church attached to a deconsecrated monestary-turned-hotel high atop a hill.  The view was gorgeous, and the church (not deconsecrated, so still no pictures were allowed) had some gorgeous frescoes as well (definitely pre-Giotto, though).

Spending the 4th of July outside of the United States is a very interesting experience.  I remember the last time I did so was in 1982, when I was with my dad on a cruise ship, and we were in Leningrad on the 4th of July.  Granted, yesterday’s experience could not be nearly as freaky as an 8-yr-old spending the 4th of July in the USSR (before we docked, I had a vision of the Russians angrily waving nuclear warheads at us on the docks…the only scary thing that really happened was that one of the guys in my dad’s band got strip-searched by the KGB on the way back to the ship because he exchanged his money on the black market).

But I think I kind of took for granted how special the 4th of July is to me until yesterday.  Yes, all the hoopla is a bit much, and sometimes it really seems more of a reason for stores to have sales than to celebrate our history.  But yesterday was just another day for the Italians.  Apparently in previous years, the festival had set up a big fireworks display in the field for the Americans in town, but they did nothing of the sort yesterday, and all I felt was alone and out of place and slightly homesick.

But today is a happier day…and I think when I get back to the U.S., I am going to celebrate my own Independence Day, even if it will be a couple weeks late.

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