Friday, November 18, 2016

In Padua Again--Giving a Lecture at the Great University of Galileo

Nov 16, 2016 Wed: Vicenza-Padua:
In Padua Again--Giving a Lecture at the Great University of Galileo
     I had a truly marvelous day!
     Since my tight schedule did not permit me to spend more than one day in Vicenza and Padua with my dear friend Annalisa who had invited me to give a lecture at the University of Padua, it was imperative that I make the most of every second with her and of our day. I felt fully gratified at the manner in which it shaped up--for we lost not a second of it and, at the end of the day (pun unintended) enjoyed it fully.
Breakfast at Annalisa's in Vicenza:
     Annalisa, with whom I go back decades, to one summer when we were grad students together in Oxford, is a dear friend and a colleague as we both work in the area of Post-Colonial Studies. Over the years, Llew, Chriselle and I have had many a happy holiday with her and her family in Italy where we made her home our base. Her sprawling apartment is so beautifully located that from her wraparound balcony, you can spy the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites. Since it was autumn, they remained obscured behind heavy cloud cover--but it was nice to know that not too far away were the mountains of northern Italy.
     When I arrived for breakfast, all the making of a fine meal were laid out for me on the dining table. There was toast and preserves, muesli with yogurt, blood orange juice and wonderful coffee. As Annalisa busied herself in her office, I lingered over coffee and mentally planned my day. Not too long after, we had both showered and were ready to leave for the day as I had a lecture to give to grad students at the University of Padua.
On the Campus of the University of Padua:
     After a 45 minute drive, we arrived on campus.  We went directly to Annalisa's office where I had something to print out while she rushed off for a meeting. I did not have to wait too long before I was joined by one of her grad students named Claudia who was assigned the task of escorting me around town for the morning as my lecture was not until 2.00 pm.
    In Claudia's charming company, I set out for the first item on my agenda--a visit to the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua to whom there is a vigorous international devotion as the patron saint of lost causes. Claudia's current research on Post-Colonial Literature from the Indian sub-continent gave us a great deal to discuss as we found our way there on a bus. The piazza was almost empty on a weekday morning in fall, but once we entered, it was a different story.
Visiting the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua:
        The Basilica is a mammoth building with striking  architectural features comprising multiple domes, small and large. Inside, it is an opulent structure with all the exuberance of the European Baroque church. People were milling about and getting ready for Mass which was soon to begin.
     After spending a few moment in prayer, we moved towards the back of the church where the special shrine to St. Anthony contains reliquaries that hold some of his earthly remains--a medical custom that survives to contemporary times of preserving the body parts of saints and attributing them with miraculous powers. The shrine is a glorious creation in the finest marble, filled with gilded angels and crammed with gold reliquaries each dedicated to the saint's remains. I managed to get a few pictures of the abundance of decorative details before I was informed by a priest, who sells pamphlets in varied languages, that photography was not permitted in the shrine. I put my camera away as we continued our progress up the steps to the main altar to see the items more closely. I also purchased a pamphlet in English to be gifted to my parish priest in Fairfield in Connecticut as I belong to the parish of St. Anthony of Padua. The very front of the altar is dominated by a large glass case that contains the brown mantle of the saint. Although badly torn and tattered and in a very fragile condition, it has been carefully preserved for posterity and to evade any further damage to it.
     Claudia and I circumnavigated the church to take in all its chapels--each filled with exquisite sculpture, rich statuary and multiple religious paintings. Various worthy families of the region have burial vaults in the church that are decorated with fine carvings and sculpted skulls to signify that man's earthly vanity comes to nothing. There is one particularly large shrine with written testimony of the many miracles wrought by the saint. The walls surrounding this shrine are closely carved with low relief (bas-relief) so detailed and so impressive that I could not stop taking pictures in an attempt to capture them all.
     Mass in Italian began soon after we saw these shrines. It was time then for us to leave the church. We took a few pictures in the square and then Claudia and I began a slow stroll towards some of the more famous parts of the city. Although I have visited Padua before, I do not believe I had ever really appreciated Prato della Valle and it was there that Claudia first led me.
Exploring Prato della Valle:
     Prato della Valle is a the largest square in Padua and one of the largest in Europe. It was essentially a canal that was landscaped to create a green lawn that was then lined with marble statues of some of Italy's most illustrious sons. At one end of it are the domes and tall walls of the Church of St. Catherine which is also one of the more remarkable churches of Padua. We took a number of pictures here and then continued on our stroll. Once a week, there is a huge market in this square and it is possible that the last time I was here, the beauty of this s was obscured by the stalls of this market--which is why I did not remember it.
     As we continued on our rambles, we passed by the medieval cobbled streets of this beautiful city. Modern day boutiques and shops now cram its streets and holiday shoppers were also buying presents. As we neared closer into the town center, we arrived at Palazzo Bo which is the main building of the University of Padua and where I have taken a guided tour on a previous occasion. It was in this building that the great Galileo Galilee gave his controversial lectures challenging the earth's position in the universe.
     By this time, we were close to Annalisa's office and close to lunch time. Claudia excused herself and placed me in the hands of one of Annalisa's grad assistants who then escorted me to a small café where a few members of faculty where going to join us (as would Annalisa). Two of them were there already and we joined them. After introductions were made, we ordered individually. I had a delicious salad and some crusty bread in order to fortify myself for the lecture that lay ahead. More professors joined us as time went by until Annalisa was part of our group as well.       
Giving a Lecture at the University of Padua:
     When we had finished lunch, we all walked very casually together to the building and the classroom in which my lecture would be held. I had already sent my Powerpoint presentation ahead to the person concerned and she had it up and running and awaiting my arrival when I walked into a classroom that was filled with students and faculty members. Annalisa introduced me warmly and then I was off with my account of my research on Anglo-Indian Immigrants in Britain. There were a number of questions asked of me at the end of my talk and I tried as ably as possible to provide the answers. It was a very vibrant exchange and I thoroughly enjoyed making my research known to the audience.
Exploring the Greenhouses of the University of Padua's Botanical Gardens:
     Twilight was already falling over the city by the time my lecture ended and the students filed out. Annalisa introduced me to an American professor from the University of Boston who has had a long-standing professional exchange with the University of Padua and who was also present for my talk. She invited him to join us on a short stroll through the Botanical Gardens and, especially, to the brand-new greenhouses that are now the focal point of the collection.
     A few years ago, on a visit to New York, Annalisa had presented me with a silk scarf that depicts the ground plan of the Botanical Gardens. I think it is one of the nicest presents I have ever received and I cherish it warmly. She was keen, therefore, for me to actually walk into the gardens (which I had never seen before). The specimen trees in the garden had turned all sorts of shades of russet and red, yellow, brown and orange--perhaps the only part of the city in which the arrival of autumn was obvious. We walked around the well-planned Italianate gardens and then made our way to the greenhouses which are modernist in design but traditional in intent. They are teaching and learning tools for students of Botany in that they contain specimen plantings from different regions of the world. To tour them is to tour some of the world's most diverse plant life. Annalisa found a male assistant who fished out keys from somewhere and although the gardens were actually closed to visitors, we made a privileged entry into them. For the next half hour, we inspected all sorts of trees and plantings and paused often to take pictures of them. The manner in which they have been laid out is truly world class and deeply impressive. By the time we finished with our tour, darkness had descended upon Padua and it was time to get back to Vicenza after what had been a most successful day.

Dinner at Annalisa's in Vicenza:
     On a evening when she gets home late from work, it is not unusual for Annalisa to order pizza for her family's dinner and that was what we had. Pizza always tastes most scrumptious in Italy where the ingredients are so authentic and so delicious that having a great pizza is simply taken for granted. We sipped wine, gabbed a lot over our pizza with Giorgio and Giovanni and recounted the high points of our day.
     I would still have a good part of the morning tomorrow to do some exploring in Vicenza, so it was not too long afterwards, that we all retired for the night.
     As I said, I had a marvelous day!
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...                

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