Scaling new heights in Rome

Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world the way they’ve been told to.  Alan Keightly

I’ve climbed a few mountains in my travels. I’ve scaled the 1237 steps to the Tiger cave temple in Thailand and made my way up several other steep staircases to magnificent temples, castles and rooftops all around the world, but the hardest climb I’ve ever made was up just 28 wooden steps in Rome.

My journey up the Scala Sancta, the Holy Stairs, also known as Pilate’s Stairs was one made on my knees.

The Scala Sancta are housed in one of the most important papal sanctuaries in the Roman Catholic Church. I grew up indoctrinated in the Catholic faith but was never aware these stairs existed. By luck and a Lonely Planet guide-book, I discovered them on a trip to Italy some years ago.  Early one morning I set off on foot to locate the very unassuming building that houses this treasured relic.

It is thought Jesus climbed these stairs, once part of Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem, on the day he was sentenced to death. The stairs were later transported to Rome by Saint Helena, she secured a number of other holy relics also. The Holy Stairs were housed in a few places before the current sanctuary. The marble has been covered with wooden treads to protect them from wear and at certain points there are little glass windows that offer a view to the marble beneath and to stains, thought to be the actual blood of Jesus.

The truly devout will think poorly of me, for I had not worshipped in a church for many years nor had I knelt in prayer for some time, though my faith was strong. Having travelled across the world and appreciated the peace and quietude of other sacred and blessed places, I felt moved to join a small number of morning visitors up the stairs.

What I didn’t realise, despite my sincerity and solemn approach, was that to truly pay homage, to honour and respect the sanctity of the chapel and the man to whom it stands in remembrance of, one had to go slowly, with deep reverence. Each of the faithful climbers offered a prayer on every step. Not a short and sweet prayer but a decent, well-considered prayer. Many worked rosaries in their hands. I later discovered many climb the stairs to be forgiven for sins and seek favour with God.

With a genuine respect I proceeded, offering some long memorised prayers alternating with personal prayers of gratitude and thanks. It was a humbling and moving experience.

At the top of the stairs is a private, papal chapel adorned with 13th Century frescos and a 4th century painting of Christ, thought to have been begun by Saint Luke and completed by an angel. This Sancta Sanctorum, is viewed through a grated opening.

Descending is much easier with a set of steps on either side of the Holy Stairs. These can also be used by those interested in viewing the chapel who do not wish to or cannot ascend the Holy Stairs on their knees.

Once reserved as a place for popes the Scala Sancta and the Sancta Sanatorium are now open to the public for a small entrance fee. When visiting ensure appropriate and modest attire is worn. Arriving early in the morning there were no tourists in sight. In fact the whole piazza was empty.

It is easy to be critical and questioning when faced with monuments of faith. Is the story true? Did a man called Jesus climb these stairs? Were they once part of a palace in Jerusalem? Are they stained with blood? Whose blood is it? Regardless of faith, regardless of belief or facts; historically and anthropologically this experience made my mind buzz with intrigue. It served as a gesture in humility a chance to count my blessings and reflect on the sweetness of life. I hobbled away more enamoured with life than before my visit, which is saying something — I was in Rome after all.

Have you been somewhere that moved you to experience the world in a different way?

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Nature’s micro structures

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge from The Daily Post is for the topic:

STRUCTURE

Here’s the prompt the good people at The Daily Post offered:

Today, take a moment to notice the structure of everyday things around you. Note the lines, freckles, and tiny hairs on your arm, and imagine the biological blueprint that created them. See the bricks of a building, and realize that they were individually placed there by another person. Then, share with us a photo of the structure of something wonderful. We’re eager to see details through your lens.

There are examples of structure all around us.  I am fascinated by the intricate way things fit together and work in conjunction with each other.  I marvel at architectural structure and the process of building but my focus today went to the natural environment. With so much on offer I could not settle on one image, nor do the several below fully sate my curiosity.

Looking into the micro structures of life

The spaces we inhabit are extensions of us

“Houses are like the human beings that inhabit them.”
— Victor Hugo

I have owned only two houses in my life. The first for seventeen years. It was heart wrenching to leave having inhabited the space for so long, seen my children grow there and begun my married life there. It was my first really grown up thing to own.

It flooded you see. After a huge renovation that transformed the house it was inundated with filthy flood waters in 2011. While others left the area, part of our house was still habitable but changed. The sense of peace and tranquility we’d established felt sullied. Each time the rains came, panic rose in my chest. Would we flood again?

So having loved that space and the surrounding area we made the difficult decision to leave. Four years on, I feel really comfortable and settled. I inhabit a new space. A large, open, light space. On a hill. Each nook and cranny of this space reflects our personalities. It’s comfortable and convenient, close to the city and facilities yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle with a forest close by.

Now, my beloved and I find ourselves at a new juncture of our lives. Nearing retirement, with a moderate debt still in play. We have discussed ways to become financially independent. One solution is to downsize. My anxiety levels rise at the thought. I feel like I belong here. There are so many positive reasons to stay. There are so many features of where we live we couldn’t find elsewhere for a fraction of the price.

We’re at a crossroad.

I know it’s only a house we inhabit and that it’s the people you are with that make life full and worthwhile. I do know that. I also like comfort and beauty and space. It is more than just the house too.  One becomes settled in a place, part of the landscape, especially when that landscape appeals to the senses, as the river did (before it flooded) and the forest now does.

There is another element in our mix. Do we stay in this city, my beloved’s hometown, or do we move to a much-loved holiday destination in the Blue Mountains? Crossing state borders as well as a new threshold.

Why is it so hard to make these decisions about a material possession? Well, I think it’s because, for me at least, my home is my safe place. My retreat from the world and a place I can craft to express myself. A house is not just a place to inhabit but a place that creatively reflects who we are. Location too plays a role, as mentioned earlier. Where we live is as much an extension of us, or we become and extension of it, as much as the house itself.

What is special about the place you inhabit?

Delightful synchronicity

I woke early, eager to read the one word prompt that would focus my writing attention for the day. The word — synchronise — conjured images of elegant swimmers with noses  pinched, swanning about impossibly blue pools.  I thought fleetingly of time too and bronze cogs revolving in an elegant dance.

I put aside my thoughts to meditate a little, after which I drew an oracle card. My intention was for a message to shine a light on my day.  After shuffling, and before selecting a card I offered up a few words—”Blessed be“.  When I turned the card a delighted chuckle rose from my throat and into the crisp morning air.

My card was ‘The bee‘, with a much needed and timely message.

Synchronicity, the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection, was at play.

Ooze

The vile, fetid sludge oozes like a toxic vapour from every pore. The noxious cocktail of disheartened discontentment is an infection that oozes like pus from a boil. Once lanced virile, vibrant positivity radiates in its stead.

It’s Monday


Wake up. It’s dawn.
The birds are rousing.
It’s time to meditate, to enjoy the freedom of a morning walk, in the still quiet landscape.

Shoes off, shower running, dress for the day
Eat breakfast, grab lunch
It’s 7am and the trance begins.

Leave sanctuary behind,
Join the queues
Locate a car park
Slump into the lift, with the other drones.
Computer on.

Trance is in full swing

The fog is thick
Meetings endured
Briefs written.
Where is the colour?

Hark! The signal to depart.
Escape
Freedom

The trance is broken; for now.

The Recital

Recite: repeat aloud or declaim (a poem or passage) from memory before an audience.

I have committed many things to memory over time—poems, prayers, proverbs and the like. Prayers were recited in church of a Sunday, proverbs to make me look clever and poetry —well, that’s another matter.

The poetry recital occurred just once, at an eisteddfod in front of a panel of bespectacled and aging adjudicators.  The stage was long, deep and bare.  The hall, cavernous.  The crowd, mostly parents whose children were far more talented than anyone else could hope to be, were hostile behind their plastered smiles and deceiving nods of encouragement.

Across the boards I trod to the place marked with a cross.  Centre stage in my pretty brown velvet skirt and apricot satin top. Hands held below the sternum, fingers clasped gently. I began.

Daffodowndilly

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A.A Milne

Through grit and grime

Life is grainy sometimes; like those old movies where the pixels are so far apart the image is there but not crisp. You now there’s a clearer picture available but the grit and grime distort the view and can’t be wiped away.  It’s like wading through fog and you long to step out and see the magnificent vista before you.

Puzzling over puzzles

It’s always the small pieces that make the big picture.

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.  

Deepak Chopra

I love puzzles.  Crosswords, logic puzzles, find a words and Sudoku. At the moment I am in the midst of an intense affair with jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaws have long been a favourite holiday pastime. When we’ve gone away to the beach, the mountains or even stayed at home over the Christmas New Year period there has always been a large puzzle set up on a table for all to enjoy.

A few months ago I found a box of ten puzzles in a secondhand store. They were different sizes; 250, 300, 500, 750 and 1000 pieces. I took to completing the smaller puzzles over a weekend, often completing one in a few hours. The impulse became so strong I set up the 1000 piece puzzle and worked on it in the spare moments over a fortnight. The bug had bitten. I dug out previously purchased and untried puzzles. Once completed, I scoured the secondhand stores for more. My craving became so strong I realized I couldn’t budget for the demand so I began swapping puzzles with other avid solvers and it got me thinking about where jigsaw puzzles began.

I imagine John Spilsbury, a mapmaker in the mid 1700’s, was so enamored with the wonder the world offered and so insightful, to realise young children needed to develop the capacity to place themselves in the world, that he created a very clever educational tool. He pasted a map of the word onto thin wood and cut it into pieces to teach children about geography. Voila, the first jigsaw puzzle.

Very soon these early ‘dissected maps’ evolved as other entrepreneurs realized the scope of jigsaw puzzles and added historical scenes to be reassembled for educational purposes. Wooden puzzles are still a popular toy gifted to young children today to teach about shape, improve dexterity and aid in building vocabulary. My son had several as an infant and he too is a keen puzzler.

The humble jigsaw puzzle has evolved from an educational tool for children into a source of enjoyment for both adults and children. The early puzzles for adults were truly tricky though. There were no interlocking pieces as today, simply pieces cut along colour lines with no picture on the box to guide construction.

A decade ago there was a huge craze for Murder Mystery dinner parties. Well, I was delighted to discover this set-up began in the 1900’s with weekend puzzle parties held by wealthy puzzlers at their country homes.

During the Great Depression puzzles for adults were a great source of distraction and accomplishment with sales reaching an astounding 10 million a week in 1933. Clever unemployed craftsmen cut jigsaws at home and sold or rented them in local neighborhoods.

Soon after the cheaper, less expensive cardboard puzzles began to be mass-produced making puzzles more widely available. But the fun didn’t stop there. A quirky concept, I would love to participate in, saw the emergence of a weekly jigsaw puzzle. The 25-cent puzzle of the week was sold on news stands and, naturally, people rushed to buy them.

Manufacturing techniques were perfected in the 1950’s and standard puzzles haven’t changed much since except perhaps in picture quality. A jigsaw puzzle of a 1000 or more pieces with an engaging scene is my preference. Though I have recently completed a beautiful 3D puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle (an absolute delight as I remembered walking its perimeter several years ago) and a couple of holographic puzzles (very hard on the eyes but good fun) as well as some Impossibles were a single image is repeated with little distinction. I recently discovered a new form of What if puzzle, where what you see on the box is not the puzzle you solve. I am keen to try one.

My curiosity about the history of the humble jigsaw has now been sated but not my appetite for puzzles themselves.

Anyone care to swap?