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June 24, 2009
It is a city holiday today -- John the Baptist's feast day, he being the patron saint of Florence. The birds and the cats don't care about that, of course; they go about their business with a pagan indifference -- the birds singing to greet the dawn, while the cats gaze fixedly at them out the upstairs windows, imagining spectacular pounces.

But the rest of us can hope for a quieter day than usual, I think. Florence is beginning to empty out and also to fill up. The spring semester's students are long gone, and the Juilliard summer language students are right behind them. Americans living here are beginning to scatter for the summer: back home to California, back home to Michigan, to Pennsylvania, to Florida. Or elsewhere in Italy: to the mountains, to the sea.

And many do not leave. Art students tend to stay here longer than the others, and summer music students take the place of the semester-abroad crowd. The Africans continue to man their Internet centers and the Indians their tiny grocery stores. The gypsy beggars stay right where they are: at the corners of the larger streets, crouched in front of churches, crosslegged on the sidewalk with one hand outstretched, chanting their low, steady plea somewhat absently, as if they didn't quite believe it themselves. And summer visitors come thick and fast: hefty Americans and pink-skinned Brits, Germans striding determinedly through the stony, crowded streets, and always the Japanese brides, here to be photographed in frothy rented wedding gowns in front of the duomo, up on Piazzale Michelangelo, over in Piazza Signoria in front of one of the David's clones. >

Kibbutz St. James is a busy place these days. Visitors and students come and go: cookouts in the garden, concerts in the church, outings to Assissi, to Pisa, to the Chianti countryside. The actors teach Shakespeare to thirty young children every day and rehearse every night, as opening night of Macbeth draws nearer. It will be performed in the Bargello, the prison of old Florence, where executions were carried out and corpses hung from the eaves, to encourage the Florentines to mind their manners. Just about everybody kills and dies in Macbeth, so it should be a perfect fit.

And amid it all, morning prayer every day at 8:30. Two or three people in the lovely little chapel of golden marble, quietly reading the words that have greeted the new day for centuries: Lord, open out lips. And our mouth shall proclaim your praise. When the world is way too busy and likely to remain so, whatever the day might bring, a few minutes of psalm, story and prayer consecrates it. It reminds you why you're here, and Whose child you are.
This summer, consider gathering a few people in your own church for morning or evening prayer. Visit to find each day's service with all the readings. Or do it on your own, in a quiet place.
The Geranium Farm will host a luncheon to benefit St. James at the Hilton Anaheim on Saturday, Julty 11 at 1pm. Barbara Crafton will sign books and read from her forthcoming book of Florence essays. Former rector Peter Casparian's superb photographs of life in Italy will illustrate the reading. Other writers from the Farm will be on hand, and there will be a raffle of special prizes -- premium olive oil, estate wines from the Chianti, a watercolor of the garden at St. James, a Portabella handbag, one of the Casparian photographs and more. $25, reserve a place by emailing
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