Psalm #20 (Genesis)

From time to time I pen my own psalms. Follow the link for the entire corpus (such as it is). And too keep up to date with all of my writings, drop by my Facebook page and give it the old thumbs up. (Thanks!)

Today’s psalm was inspired in part by the artisans of Tuscany. In the same way, though, it was inspired by the artisans I’ve encountered in the Ozarks, the Appalachians, and the Mississippi Delta. Enjoy.

*****

Psalm #20

These are imperfect metaphors:
the wine-maker in the vineyard,
tender with his grapes;
the fromagère with aging cheese,
gentle in the salty-washing of rind;
the leather worker etching a name,
shadows past the surface of tanned skin.

These are imperfect metaphors
for times more tender,
washings more gentle,
and hides more etched
with words eternal.

Creation creates;
the work of hands
echoes, “it is good.”

Amen.

 *****

*Enjoy a few photos of the artisans of Italy.

 

Luciano

Luciana cultivates a vineyard and olive grove on the outskirts of Castelmuzio.

cheese

Sandra and her husband Ulysses (you read that correctly) operate a cheese farm on the road from Pienza.

Leather

Valerio Truffelli crafts amazing leather goods at Bottega Artigiana del Cuoio in Pienza.

Art

Amber and Erika Morrison ran across this wonderful artist who’d set up shop near a small church in Pienza.

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7 Things Tuscany Taught Me

Last week, Amber and I took a trip to the Italian region of Tuscany. I learned a great deal there, and I’ll be sharing more in the coming days. For now, allow this to serve as a preview. Here are 7 things Tuscany taught me. (And for more short photo stories, check out my Facebook page.)

1. “Literally” is literally the best adverb for everything in Tuscany.

I consider myself a man of ample vocabulary, with the ability to wield it with precision and creativity. That being said, while visiting the Tuscan region of Italy, I found myself often at a loss for words. All of my adverbs seemed to take flight with the rowdy Italian swallows, and I was left with only one—literally.

For example, I found the Tuscan countryside was “literally the most well-manicured landscape in the world.” The cheese from the nearby organic farm was “literally the best cheese I’ve ever put in my mouth.” The gelato, of course, was “literally the best desert known to man.”

I’m ashamed to admit it: I literally turn into a vocabulary buffoon once I set foot on Italian soil.

2. The best adjective for describing anything in Tuscany is the word itself with an added y.

When in Tuscany you will find yourself awed by how thingy a thing is. In other words, a tomatoe taste more like a tomato than any tomato you’ve ever eaten. Lavender smells more like lavender than any lavender you’ve ever smelled. The grapes are more grapey; the sky is more sky-y; the olives are more olivey. This is not a hyperbolic observation, and it works its way into everyday conversation in Tuscany. Have you ever smelled more jasminey jasmine?” you might ask.

These sorts of adjectives work well in Tuscany, and the English speakers in the region are, for the most part, over-joyed by these expressions. That being said, there are two notable exceptions.

Exception No. 1: First, the adjective use is limited when the thing itself ends with an “ee” sound (try to say “celery-y celery” ten times fast).

Exception No. 2: These types of adjectives should not be employed when it will cause inadvertent offense. For instance, refrain from calling the wine of a Tuscan farmer the “most winey wine” you’ve ever tasted, lest he believe you are calling his wine immature or temperamental. (As an aside, and for those of you following my recovery series, this was not an issue for me.)

Luciano 2

3. All similes and metaphors in Tuscany can be condensed into eye rolls, sighs, and humms.

Sticking with grammar rules and literary devices, most similes and metaphors fall flat in Tuscany. Often at meals, I would literally taste the most cheesy chesse, and would exclaim, “this cheese is like….” (Allow the elipse to indicate my dumbfoundedness and inability to harness any appropriate simile.)

My striking lapse of literary language led me to toss my love for simile and metaphor out the window. Instead, and in the place of language, most comments regarding food were limited to eye rolls, deep inhalations, and the hum of a low “mmmmmm.”

Meat and Cheese
4. In Tuscany (along with the rest of Europe), you will see dead people in churches.

When you visit churches in Tuscany (as with the rest of Europe), be forewarned—you will occasionally see human remains. Evidently, this is a bit of a thing overseas, and what’s more, these long-passed saints are often adorned in gaudy garb. For instance, see my good friend St. Faustus.

St. Faustus is the patron saint of Castellina. According to a placard on the church wall, it is said that his remains, which were originally buried in the catacombs in Rome, were donated to a noble Florentine family. The family entombed St. Faustus’ body in this reliquary, and mounted it on the church wall. According to town lore, St. Faustus has proven quite effective in warding off the plague since the 1700s.

Be further forewarned—the inclusion of skeletons in church reliquaries can create awkward prayer experiences. For instance while in Castellina, I ducked into the local church to offer a prayer for a friend. I sat in the pew closest to a burning candelabra, figuring the flickering fire good for a bit of ambiance. Upon whispering my amen, I turned to the candelabra, where I noticed the remains of St. Faustus in the glass box. I would be lying if I did not admit that it startled me almost to the point of swearing. By God’s grace, I kept it clean.

I credit St. Faustus for warding off my near swears.

 5. Americans work a grave disservice to the word “Tuscan.”

On my drive to the airport, I noticed an American housing subdivision named “Tuscan heights.” The houses were between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet, with front-facing garages and faux rock artifices. They were adorned with anemic, young maples and monkey-grass edged concrete walkways. They were archless, inset with vinyl windows, and hung with fake shutters.

Note to subdivision developers: this architectural style is not reminiscent of the Tuscan region. In fact, the only correlation between Tuscan Heights and Tuscany proper is that both have dirt and sky.

So, Mr. Subdivision Developer, if you’d like to coopt the name “Tuscan” for any future subdivisions, incorporate some homages to the subdivision’s namesake. Consider building a town wall with archer posts, planting a small olive grove, using a few thousand fifteenth century stones to pave the streets, or otherwise including a small Catholic church with a shadowbox containing the remains of an ancient Saint. It’s really the least you can do.

6. Tuscany is literally more Tuscany-y than any painting, photography, or video footage you’ve ever seen.

Have you seen the film Under the Tuscan Sun, or the heaven sequences in Gladiator (which were shot mere kilometers from our villa)? Have you seen photographs or paintings of Tuscany? The scenes are breathtaking; right?

Those images don’t do justice to the beauty of the Tuscan landscape and architecture. It’s true: Tuscany is literally more Tuscany-y any image you’ve seen.

7. We could learn a lot from people of Tuscany.

We stayed in the quaint village of Castelmuzio a few kilometers from Pienza. The people of Castelmuzio were kind, hospitable, authentic, and eager to serve. They smiled as we passed them on the street, sat next to us on the benches overlooking the countryside, and did their best to bridge the language gap with kind eyes and heartfelt ciaos. The waitress at the local restaurant served us as if it were her honor, suffered our broken Italian with a smile. Our trip coordinator, Isabella, helped us understand the local culture, and provided us with lavish meats, cheeses, snacks, olive oils, and beverages from the region.

And if their hospitality were not enough to win me over, the people of Castelmuzio took deep pride in their community. We saw elderly women sweeping their front stoops, children carrying trash to the strategically placed receptacles, and men carrying garbage to well-hidden dumpsters. The residents hung beautiful linen window treatments, and placed flowers in terracotta pots by their doors. Their gardens and courtyards smelled of lavendar and jasmine.

The town was squeaky clean, a pristine gem hidden in the countryside. “The people take pride in their homes,” Isabella, our coordinator from Le Casine Di Castello told us. “They believe what they have is a gift.”

This is the gift they gave to us.

Yes, the people of the Tuscan countryside are worthy of imitation. They made me pine for my own small, connected, hospitable ideal, made me believe that community can cooperate in gratitude.

We could learn a lot from these good people.

 

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No… Sleep… ‘Til FLORENCE!

Like I said on Wednesday, it’s been nearly fifteen years, and I still like my lady. In fact, I like her so much that we’ve decided to scoot out of the country for a bit of a holiday. (Doesn’t that sound so European?) In the modified words of the Beastie Boys, “No… Sleep… ‘Til FLORENCE!”

 

We’re bugging out, and I won’t be around for a while. In the meantime, though, follow our shenanigans on my Facebook page (and give it the old thumbs up while you’re there), where I’ll be posting a few stories, photos, and perhaps a poem or two.

I’ll see you in a week or so!

Photo by John Rawlinson, Creative Commons via Flickr.

And while you’re here, you might as well enjoy so good tunes. Check out Joe Purdy’s album, Paris in the Morning.

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15 Things You Might Not Care To Know About Our Dating Years, But Here You Are Anyway

Amber and I are approaching the Crystal Anniversary, and if I were the Birk-wearing, emu raising, New Age sort often found in these-here Ozarks, this might serve as a sort of mystical omen. And though we both have well-hidden inner hippies, we don’t believe in crystal omens. That being said, fifteen years of marriage is, I think, a sort of mystical miracle. Now before you get carried away and begin wishing us a Happy Anniversary! in the comments, allow me to be clear–our fifteen years does not run until November 13th. However, as a way to commemorate the seeming breath of time comprising these years, I’ve decided to write a series to celebrate our life together. In honor of Amber, I’m writing these pieces in list fashion. (Boy, does that woman love a list!)

Today, I’m sharing 15 Things You Might Not Care To Know About Our Dating Years, But Here You Are Anyway. Is it a bit self-indulgent? Perhaps. Even so, enjoy.

1. A Good Drawl is a Terrible Thing to Waste.

When I first met Amber, she was wearing a purple bow in her hair, and informed me in the thickest southern drawl that she was from Alabama. I asked her whether she rooted for the Tide or the Tigers, and she quipped, “I don’t care about football.” Way to woo a man, eh? She was clearly in to me.

Later that day, Amber was walking down the hall with a girl whose underwear was sticking slightly out of the back of her jeans. I heard her quip, “hey girl, your drawers are creeping out the back of your breeches.”

The girl stopped, stood upright and said, “huh?”

Amber mustered her best mid-western accent and responded, “oh, I’m sorry; your un-der-ware is coming over the top of your blue jeans.”

2. We Christian Mingled to Jars of Clay Before Christian Mingling Was Dot Com.

We took our first date to a small Jars of Clay concert that was held in a neighboring university’s theater in Conway, Arkansas. This is more than a little embarrassing to admit, but every time I hear the theme music for ChristianMingle.com, I could swear I’m back in that little theater.

You might ask why this is embarrassing. Come on… have you seen these commercials?

3. She Often Lies About Our First Kiss.

Amber recalls that I asked her whether I could kiss her after that first date. This is a lie. Let’s be honest; we were having deep and thought-provoking conversation when she jumped over the center-console of my too-tiny Mitsubishi Eclipse and laid one on me.

4. Turtle Cheesecake Can Relieve Sexual Tension

In the early days of dating, there was a good bit of pent-up physical tension. (Ahem.) I recently read, though, that chocolate consumption is addictive because it releases the same chemicals into the brain as certain acts of physical intimacy. (Ahem.) This must explain why we ate our weight in turtle cheesecake at the local coffee shop in those early days.

5. We Were a Part of a Cult, But Not the Kind That Drinks Kool-Aid.

Perhaps this heading is a bit misleading. For the sake of clarity, we attended a very rigid Church of Christ university that, to the best of my knowledge, had boxed God up and shelved him in the library somewhere between Robert Frost and Earnest Hemingway. I had begun an inter-denominational service in those days, one that boasted a few charismatics in attendance. Sure, there are other details, but evidently, when a handful of kids assemble to talk about the wild and unpredictable Holy Spirit at a cessationist school, that assembly gets labeled a cult.

6. She Wore Too Much Purple.

It’s true. Just ask her.

7. I wore Too Much Purple.

This is true, too. You can ask her.

8. Patience and Diamonds Are Mutually Exclusive Things.

Our first date was on my birthday, October 25. By Thanksgiving, I had bought a diamond ring. By January 2, we were engaged. We were married before the next Thanksgiving.

As you can imagine, patience is not one of the most practiced virtues in the Haines’ household, even today.

9. We Were Once Caught Making Out in an Abandoned Train Yard.

I’m not sure there is much more to say about this one. It’s every bit as sordid as it sounds. The truth is, when you go to a rigid Christian university (see above), you’ll look for any old private place to mug down. A word to the young-uns reading this piece: floodlights can reach into every nook and cranny of an abandoned boxcar.

10. Even Scotch Irish Girls Fight in Italian.

Amber’s maiden name was Carothers. For those of you who are into this sort of thing, you’ll note that this means she’s Scotch-Irish, and she has the family tree (and pictures of the homestead castle from the motherland) to prove it. You should note, though, that even fiery-tempered Scotch-Irish girls fight in Italian.

While dating, I suppose I hurt Amber’s feelings in some overtly dude-bro kind of way. I don’t recall the exact details, but in the heat of passion, with malice afore-thought, Amber wrote a blistering all-but-break-up note and dropped it in inter-school mail. (For those of you too young to know, this was our version of email, but it required the use of actual paper and an actual pen.) After dressing me down, she signed the letter “Ciao.”

11. It Pays to Have the Apology First.

In the days of inter-school mail, delivery times were a bit of a crapshoot. Some mail could be dropped through the mail slot and immediately delivered, while other pieces were locked in mail-purgatory until the mailroom gods released them from their penance.

In the morning hours of some otherwise non-descript Tuesday, I received a note in the mail from Amber. It was an apology. I found her on campus, apologized for my dude-bro offense. We side-hugged an apology (in that rigid Christian university sort of way), and then I asked, “but why are you apologizing to me?” She looked at me, blinked in disbelief.

“You didn’t get the other letter?” she asked.

“Nope; not yet,” I said.

“Just wait.”

It was the Ciao letter.

12. We Broke Up For Twenty Minutes.

Nearly two months before the wedding, we broke up for twenty minutes. The details are irrelevant, but during our brief separation, we sat on the couch and had ourselves a good-and-ugly cry. I looked at her and said, “I don’t really want to break up.” She looked at me and responded, “neither do I.” We immediately broke into laughter. That was that. We’ve been together ever since.

13. We Spent the Last Two Months of Our Engagement Apart…

…for the sake of keeping our hands off each other. In retrospect, I suppose we could have simply eaten more turtle cheesecake.

14. Gerbera Daisies Were at The Funeral of Our Dating Relationship.

The death of dating happened in a beautiful church on Lake Guntersville. Amber held a bouquet of gerbera daisies. I held a fistful of tissues for all my blubbering. My groomsmen’s names were Bill, Billy, Kyle, Matt, Connor, Chad, and Grady. I don’t recall the names of Amber’s bridesmaid. The pastor’s name was Phillip. These folks had faith in us, I think.

15. It’s the Memories That Remind Us That We’ve Always Loved Each Other.

In our thirties, we’ve seen too many marriages unwind. When it happens, one party spins some sort of revisionist history, says things like, “I never really loved her,” or, “he’s just always been so selfish.” Remembering the truth of early love is a good place to start when those little lies begin creeping in.

Do you remember?

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The Society of Ozarkian Daredevilry

There are times when town-cooped boys must be let loose, set free to run wild in nature. Thank the good Lord we live in the Ozarks; there’s no better place to release such a boy.

That being said, these are the times that might try parents’ souls. There is a certain sort of backwoods daredevilry that comes with parenting four raucous boys in the Ozarks, and this was none more apparent than when we descended on had-been quiet campground on Table Rock Lake. We pulled up to tent-site 278, and our boys bolted out with the screeching laughter of crazed hyena pups uncaged for the first time. As Amber and I unloaded and tended to setting up camp, the boys kicked up the dust, began playing antiquated games like cops and robbers, freeze tag, and allies versus Nazis, all at Rolling Stones concert decibel levels.

Amber and I looked across the way at the young couple reading their bibles at tent-site 277; we heard the relaxing reggae vibes of tent site 279. That’s when we realized it--we had exploded smack in the middle the peaceful Eden of others. Here were our boys--they were raising a ruckus.

We did our best to quasi-corral them, to teach them respect for the peace of others while still expressing their wild-boy natures. We gathered around the campfire, shared root beer and good stories with each other.

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Jude directed the cheering section, although I’m not quite sure why we were cheering.

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There were kabobs and hobo potatoes cooked in foil under the coals. The open fire was a bit of a stressor for Amber, I’m not going to lie.

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Late into the evening, there was raucus laughter, and admittedly a bit too much parental angst. “Shhhhhh boys!” we said, “there are people trying to sleep!

At the end of evening, we huddled up into a big tent, said our goodnights, and fell asleep to the sounds of tree frogs. I’ll be honest, it was a fitful night, what with little boys needing to answer the call of nature, each in their turn, what with the constant zippering and unzippering of the tent door. At some point, I dosed off, only realizing it when I woke to the belching of the great blue heron. I rolled over to see Titus, fast asleep.

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This family camping bit can be exhausting, no doubt. I suppose that both Amber and I are more tired now than we were before we left. This is the way of service, though. We spend ourselves for the joy of others (even our children), and in the end, the reward is better than any pot of money.

Here’s to a few good memories, a photo or two, and a tent site full of joy. This is enough for me.

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