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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Enjoying a gift from the gods

May 18, 2011|By Joe Puglia

I felt I was in a painting by Renoir. He created the sublime by capturing joyous and festive moments depicting people in the midst of nature’s beauty. Kaitzer, the girls and I were spending a Sunday afternoon visiting our friends Tony and Andrea Assaf at the Villa Serenella, an 18th century monastery in the hills outside of Rome.

We sat on an old slate patio overlooking 15 acres of olive, fruit and pine trees, and at gardens adorned with fountains and statuary images of saints. The Villa Serenella, now the Collegio of San Isaia (The College of Saint Isaiah) is owned by the Antonine order of the Maronites.

It was la dolce vita, the sweet life. We were served mostaccioli rigati, ridged pasta that Italians call “little mustaches.” They were drenched in pesto, olive oil and Pecorino Romano. Olives, assorted meats and breads for dipping adorned the table. I thought of an Italian Proverb, “A tavola non si invecchia,” (at the table one doesn’t get old).

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We lingered and spoke of philosophy and theology and pondered the principles of Russell Kirk, Andrea’s father. He was a political theorist, moralist and social critic who influenced 20th-century American conservatism. His belief in the importance of an enduring moral order and the mystery of human existence created lofty thoughts that reverberated throughout the gardens.

Tony, the director the Rome Semester for Saint Thomas Moore College, spoke of the importance of a classical education whereby knowledge is derived from the Great Books and from an understanding of the enduring values essential to the advancement of society. I couldn’t help think of Kirk’s contention that the mystery and beauty of the world, along with a transcendent moral order, enhances existence.

Throughout our conversations, a pungent odor permeated the villa. It was distinctive and aromatic, and if I could touch it, it would feel like silk. It was olive oil, the slithery golden liquid that Homer called “The gift from the gods.” Tony brought me to the source, a barrel in the kitchen filled with yellow gold. The oil was harvested from the trees at the villa and pressed into extra-virgin. The smell of the olive oil was intoxicating; I was driven to explore this fascination.

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