A Special Taxi with a Special Driver

What would you do if you inherited a taxi and the license to go with it? In 2001, Caterina Bellandi inherited a taxi, Milano 25, from her deceased partner. At the time, Milano 25 looked like most Tuscan taxis although it was primarily used to take sick children to and from hospitals. Applying her own personal touches, Caterina, who believes, “My children may be sick, but they can be happy,” dresses in flower and pompom festooned hats, flowing colored capes and red lipstick. Her sense of style is somewhat Mary Poppins in dress and in the decor of her taxi.

Over the years, Caterina arranges outings and play dates for the children she drives. With the support of community businesses and individuals, this unusual woman brings shut-in children and their family members pizza. Her excentric style and caring heart brought her to the notice of other members of the Tuscany community to the point that when a new Monopoly Game was developed, much of the play money used in the board game featured Caterina’s picture.

The people of the community know that Caterina’s passengers must be sick young people. Occasionally, a tourist will approach Caterina’s vividly painted taxi requesting a ride. This 21st Century Mary Poppins responds, “Oh, sweetheart, you can’t, but we will meet if it is meant to be.” Then she honks her horn, which plays “La Cucaracha”.

Over the centuries Tuscany has produced great artists and famous scientists. Today it has produced a beloved character with a very big heart, Caterina Bellandi.

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A New Velvet Glove

Ever since Adam donned a fig leaf, human beings have practiced modesty, even in cultures where the members do not wear clothes. Over time the prevailing religion reinforced modesty in a society. Eventually, in countries where the rule of law was and is promulgated and practiced, modesty and appropriate social/sexual behavior prevailed.   The female exhibitionist or nymphomaniac and the male predator (“dog”) were and are exceptions to the rule. That is until the last 50 years or so.

The women’s movement and the pill have aided women in shifting from the church hall to city hall. In other words, more and more women are entering what use to be male dominated roles of power. Insecure men think that women in formerly male dominated positions tacitly agree to “locker room” language and to unwanted, unsolicited sexual advances. Unfortunately, many modern male predators are no longer put-off by withering looks or scathing remarks. Nor is the complacent silence of co-workers enough to ward off accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct, which, most recently, led to predator males being fired or forced to resign from prominent positions.

And, that’s in a society where the rule of law is known and enforced. What happens in countries where only lip-service is given to the rule of law? An example is 14 year-old Falmata, kidnapped and raped repeatedly by Boko Harm fighters, escaped after three years only to be raped again by officers at a camp for refugees.

Like Western males who rationalize inappropriate sexual advances by convincing themselves that women who put themselves in positions of authority are “asking for it”, these officers rationalize raping a female who has already been raped as using someone who has “already been spoiled”. The people of Nigeria must not only make laws that protect the innocent, but the means to enforce those laws.

Women of the Western world, modesty and kindness can be the velvet glove to your iron fist of wisdom and stealth.



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A Little Surprise

On Monday while crossing the street to get to Mass, I had an incident which made me think that I was having a mini-stroke.  I suddenly lurched to the left.  While my legs wanted to continue crossing the street, my brain wanted to sit in the middle of the road.  I made it across by sheer will power, sat on the curb to catch my breath and pulled out my phone.  By then, a few people had gathered.  One, a nurse, put me through the stroke indicator exercises.  It appeared that I did not have a stroke, but I still couldn’t stand or walk on my own.  A very nice young man offered to drive me to Lourdes, which you know is about 5 minutes from my apartment.  I took him up on it and arrived quickly at the hospital.  He insisted that he go in to the emergency to get a wheel chair for me.  To make a long story shorter, a medical team met me, whisked me off the CAT scans, MRI’s and assorted other mechanical tests.  Because of the symptoms, the doctor informed me immediately that I would be held over night for observation.  So there I was.

For the next 24 hours, I was examined, pinched, stuck, and manipulated by assorted health professionals.  All of whom concurred that I did not have a stroke.  The final diagnosis is “Ataxia-(inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements symptomatic of central nervous system, not muscular) without weakness, likely labyrinthitis (love the word ’likely’) an infection of the inner ear which can be caused  infection from head or respiratory systems.”  So, I am home resting and taking antibiotics along with Lipitor, not for high cholesterol, but to keep plaque from building up then dislodging from my arteries.

Life is full of little surprises, good Samaritans being one of them.  The hospital protocol for patients exhibiting stroke like symptoms was excellent.  I feel humbly blessed.

Discharged after twenty-four hours, my recuperation continues at home. Between periods of rest, I manage to get a few things done around the house or on my computer. By bringing in take-out, I entertained a few friends one evening. There presence gave me a psychological boost. Sunday morning for the first time since the incident, I drove myself to church. No recurrences. Yah!!

Advent blessings to all.

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A Mystery Writer

After I retired, I became an avid reader of mystery stories. When I found a mystery writer that I especially liked, I would read several of his or her works. Most recently, I began to feel that by reading the same authors, I was treading water. Last week I took a plunge into a new author. What a treat!

My new favorite mystery writer is Rhys Bowen. The name is a pseudonym for this British born award-winning writer. Her early publications began making a splash in the late nineties. Ms. Bowen continues to produce this kind of fiction at an amazing rate. At least one book a year has made it to the booksellers since 1997. Two new books featuring two of her female sleuths came out this year. The best part, of course, is that the plots keep the reader anxious to see what comes next.

I love the plot turns. As an older reader, I also appreciate the settings in which her courageous women operate. One takes place between Ireland and New York during the early Twentieth Century. The other capitalizes on European turmoil just before WWII. The settings insure that as these independent, intelligent women solve crimes, they do so without jumping into bed with every good-looking man available. Nor, do they practice “potty mouth” prevalent in Twenty-first Century fictional women. What a relief! A really smart woman can also be a real lady.

To anyone who wants to explore a good read, surf a novel by Rhys Bowen.

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Salvador Mundi

Jesus is in the news! Well, His picture – actually, one specific picture, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvador Mundi” is all over the media. This one picture of the “Savior of the World” sold at Christie’s Action House in New York for $430.3 million dollars, more than any other painting by an Old Master or a New Master.

Just as the existence and role of Jesus, the God/Man, has been acknowledged/denied, praised/condemned, proved/debated over the centuries, so is “Salvador Mundi”. The authenticity of the canvas rediscovered in 2005, is questioned by many art experts, including Jacques Franck, a Paris based Da Vinci expert. Franck claims that the work has been seriously damaged. Most critics agree. Franck also claims that the work is not “twisted enough” to be a true Da Vinci. Also, like many others, Franck believes that the painting did come from Da Vinci’s school. Other auction houses believe that Christie’s used marketing gymnastics to mask the baggage that comes with this Leonardo to avoid the scrutiny of old master’s experts. Nevertheless, the canvas has intrigued the public and interested art dealers. Nor has the controversy discouraged the buyer, who at this time remains undisclosed.

Although the title of this rediscovered work of Da Vinci is titled “Salvador Mundi”, the figure appears as the Christ that Christ Himself invites us to learn of, one who is “meek and humble of heart”. Was this appearance deliberate on the part of the painter?

Leonard was more than a painter. He was a scientist, a linguist, an architect and more – in other words, one of the most celebrated intellects of his time and of our time. Leonardo, like most of his fellow Florentines of the 16th Century, was a Christian. He lived at a time when the Church was economically powerful and politically savvy. Was he trying to remind the Christians of the time that humility is the greater part of valor? Not every body “gets” Leonardo. (The Swiss guards at the Vatican still look like clowns.) Like his notebooks, undecipherable to the uninitiated, not everyone gets to see below the paint.

Regardless, it is great to see Jesus in the news.

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Back from Peru

Here I am back from Peru to share bits and pieces of a truly wonderful experience.

All aspects of my trip controlled by Latin America for Less were fabulous!  Every employee was prompt, professional and kind.

My day in Machu Picchu was warm and sunny. It matched the personality and disposition of my one- on- one guide, Diane. The altitude and I had some problems. I felt a bit shaky and insecure. Nevertheless, Diane encouraged me to continue to enjoy the site by offering me a hand over the rough spots while explaining the history of this important Inca site.

The hotel in Lima and the hotel in Cusco as well as every driver anticipated and addressed the needs of an older woman traveling alone. There is something to be said for paying for assistance, especially in a country with high unemployment and lots of simple mountain folk. I don’t think that anyone’s grandmother could have been treated with more genuine kindness.

Anyone having trepidations about traveling to Peru should look into the services of Latin America for Less. This company listens to what you want to do or not do and for how long, gives you options for hotel and internal airplane services, arranges all ground transportation, secures tickets and guides and creates an individual itinerary.

Aside from a half -day visit to important sites in Cusco and a visit to Machu Picchu, four of my eight days were spent in Lima visiting friends. This was an important part of my journey.

Nearly 50 years ago, these two women and myself worked together teaching English. I returned to the US after two years. My friends made a career of teaching English and made a  life for themselves in Peru. Although we rarely correspond, we have visited four times over the years. Each time, our conversations seem to pick up where we left off. Our comfort zone with each other remains the same, a rare thing in human relationships.

This visit may be the last visit as none of us are getting any younger. In my opinion, it was the best visit. We seem to have great appreciation and affection for each other. Also, in my case, admiration, as these women managed to expand the teaching of English through the cooperation of the Peruvian government and the American Embassy. One after the other, each managed to become director of this English learning institution. Collectively, they worked for this institution for over 80 years. It is not surprising that neither one of them can go to a supermarket or a concert without meeting a former student.

One example of their dedication to their work was during the uncertain times of the Shining Path. In spite of personal, direct threats against their lives, and with the knowledge that the American Embassy would shelter them, they kept the institute open. They did not want to disappoint their students.

This trip to Peru is and will remain one of my favorites.

A big thank you to Latin America for Less for helping to insure that this trip happened so seemingly effortlessly.

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Peru Years Later

This afternoon, I begin my journey to Peru. This will not be my first trip to that country. If memory serves me, I was in Peru when Mao’s Little Red Book was popular among students and revolutionaries; when “concientizacion” and Liberation Theology permeated the teachers’ lounge and public libraries. Later, I returned during the presidency of Fugimori, the Japanese/Peruvian who made many improvements in the lives of the poor, but who later had to exile himself in Japan amid corruption charges. Once, when visiting with my husband during the Shining Path terror, we were awakened late at night by a truck load of armed soldiers stopping under our hotel window, ostensibly deterring any one foolish enough to break curfew.

I’ve seen the ghoulish crypt under the cathedral in Lima, the Nazca Lines in the desert and ridden the highest railway in the world to Mount Ticlio. This time my itinerary includes visiting friends with whom I taught nearly 50 years ago and finally visiting Machu Picchu.

Here I am, still at home. The first semi-emergency has occurred. American Airlines cancelled the first leg of my journey putting me in the Miami airport where I must catch a plane to Peru, in just one hour before it departs. Try as I might to find other flight times, earlier from my location or later from Miami, it just is not happening, unless I want to spend 16 to 22 additional hours traveling. According to the diagram of the Miami airport, if my connecting flight arrives on time, the wind is right and my guardian angel helps me, I should make my scheduled flight. In the mean time, I remain positive that I will make my scheduled flight to Lima. And, grateful that, if necessary, my budget will allow an unexpected layover in sunny, hurricane hit Miami.

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