March 27, 2005 Happy Easter and Buona Pasqua from Sarnano where the pagan traditions mix with the Christian Easter beliefs as easily as they do in the USA. There are no Easter Bunnies to be seen as they are more of a German tradition than Italian, but every store is selling huge chocolate eggs filled with candy and other surprises for the bambini. One bakery is even selling lamb-shaped decorated cakes. Meanwhile, during the entire of Holy Week, the church bells are marking every quarter hour, even in the middle of the night, in contrast to their usual desultory fashion of only periodically announcing the hours during the day.
On Friday night I witnessed a procession that made me think that I was in the middle of a Travel Channel sequence. When I went into my kitchen, I noticed that there were flames just outside the apartment. Since I didn’t smell smoke and there were no crackling sounds, I didn’t hit the panic button. I went outside and found that the entire street was lined with candles. “Hmmm, interesting,” I think. “I wonder what this is all about?” About a half hour later I heard some drums and went out again. It took a while to come into view but finally a procession rounded the corner. No exaggeration, in the next half hour, at least 800 of the 3500 citizens of Sarnano solemnly passed by my front door. First came three not-so-little drummer boys, followed by a priest periodically praying and/or chanting, his voice amplified by four portable speakers carried within the procession. Two of the town’s major icons were carried by four men each. The first was a slain Christ reclining on a sort of 4-poster bed. The second was a Virgin Mary(?) seemingly unconcerned about a sword that had been thrust into her chest just above the left breast. Some of the men were carrying substantial crosses. Acolytes of both genders were bedecked in white. Meanwhile, interspersed in all of this were the townies, ranging in age from the most ancient on their canes to the stroller set being pushed by their parents. I felt like a voyeur standing there in the doorway wearing my TX Texas sweatshirt. I wanted to go inside and change into something dark and somber, but I didn’t want to miss any of the procession. No, I didn’t take any pictures as this would have been some sort of sacrilege.
Growing up, I will have to confess that it took me a long time to come to grips with Easter. I had a hard time reconciling the Easter Bunny with eggs (why isn’t it the Easter Chicken?) and chocolate with the risen Christ. Later as an adult, I was a choral director and began exploring the rich literature of the Counter-Reformation. I was bothered by the seeming disconnect between the part of the mass, “Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us, etc” and then finding that an almost universal traditional Easter dinner consists of, you guessed it, lamb. (I will have mine medium rare with a red wine sauce rather than the traditional mint. But I digress.) Okay, so I finally connected spring, fecundity, eggs, bunnies and so forth as part of the pagan celebrations that long pre-date Christianity and Easter.
But I still didn’t understand the spring part of the equation until I moved over here. I grew up near Phoenix, Arizona. What’s to celebrate about spring? It only means that it is going to be hotter than the hinges of hell within a month. Living in Berkeley for fourteen years, spring was a brief moment between the rains in winter and the fog in summer. Yes, it was beautiful, but the winters were so mild, why make a fuss? Spring in San Antonio is a pleasant enough time, but its arrival is unpredictable and its departure always comes too soon.
Spring in most of Europe arrives suddenly. Not only that, once it arrives, it sticks around for a while. When I left for Paris to meet the group on March 12, there was still snow all about Sarnano. When I returned, there was none to be seen anywhere in town. The Paris group got to witness this sudden change. During our first day, snow flurries had been predicted but did not materialize. We definitely needed our coats that day and the next and sweaters for the next two days. After that it was shirtsleeves. In Sarnano, after the snows of January and February, spring is definitely worthy of celebration. The swallows are back, the town cats are noisily working to produce more cats, and I have planted my spring garden on the balcony. Life is good. Buona Pasqua to all! (back)