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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

The Americans on the Train

I am standing at the bus stop in Assisi, waiting for the bus that will take me to the train station. An older italian couple asks me about the bus and I point at the sign and speak my special italian/spanish/english combo that has gotten me around so far. Then another couple of people walk up talking about the bus and debating getting on it, but they are debating in ENGLISH!!!!! I turn to them and say, “The bus comes at 10:17.”

Turns out the two women are from Minnesota, students in St. Paul. One is spending a year here working on her Master’s and the other is visiting for a month. They are Mary and Anne. They tell me that there is a train heading back to Rome in about an hour, which leaves enough time to go to the Basilica in town and see the small chapel where St. Francis actually did his daily prayers and the Order of the Lower Brothers started. I have to say that Mary and Anne are two of the nicest people I’ve met and they speak english, which after my conversationless weekend, was a blessing.

So they helped me get my ticket and the three of us went to the basilica. Before we left, we met another american family who is travleing europe together. Dad is a violin player who is on a European Tour and on sabbatical from Wake Forest. He was with his wife and two kids–Danny, age 10, and Irene, age 14. They are also going to be heading to Rome on the same train. That is four more people who speak ENGLISH!!!!

The chapel where St. Francis prayed is a tiny chapel, about 10 feet by 20 feet. It has a small alter and a few one-seat pews down each side. The chapel was given to the Order of the Lower Brothers by the Bishop and was, at St. Francis’ request, the poorest, smallest, most basic chapel in Assisi. Then, after St. Francis’s death (I don’t know how long) the catholic church built a basilica over the top of the chapel. So, think of the largest Basilica you’ve been in–Mexico City, London, Lujan–and imagine that between the main altar and the pews, there is a chapel. They have two large screens on either side of the chapel and they have a live video feed and project the Mass and services onto the screens. The chapel blocks the view of the alter and mass. To top it off, we visited on the Day of the Immaculate Conception. A national holiday in Italy, the day that Nativity scenes are put up, and everyone goes to mass. So the basilica was packed full of Italians going to mass and to confession and to pray to the Virgin Mary. In the middle of all that, there are tourists (like me) wandering around looking at the chapel and the basilica. This basilica also has a statue of St. Francis that always has a dove sitting on it, this day there were two doves. And the thornless roses in the Rose Garden–St. Francis was tormented by un-Godly thoughts and jumped into a rose bush to distract him, eventually the roses become thornless and still grow today.

Then we race back to the train station and onto the crowded platform. There is an annoucement and it doesn’t sound like Rome is the next train. We ask the people next to us, “Scuzi, Roma?” and they say, “No, Florencia.” We check the monitor and there is a train to Florence before us. As the train approaches we look down and see the violin family getting on the Florence-bound train. Ann races to their car and tells them, “This train is going to Florence, get off the train.” The conductor isn’t very happy to wait, but the family gets off the train with all their luggage.

Grateful that Ann’s quick thinking kept them off the wrong train, they join us for the ride to Roma. We take up 8 seats and enjoy talking the whole way to Rome. The family gives us hand-made German Sausage and Roasted Chestnuts to say thank you. We play parlor games and Danny and Irene tell us stories abou their misadventures in Europe. I think that Danny and Irene are happy to have people to talk other than their parents and I think that the parents are also happy to have other adults to talk to. Mary, Ann, and the parents exchange notes on their different catholic and orthodox communities. Danny swordfights with everyone using letter-openers. Irene reads “Romeo and Juliet” and journals. I join in the conversation at times, but am mainly happy to be with people again.

Together we roll into Rome, exchange phone numbers, and hug goodbye.

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