In Umbria, it all happened gradually. Like contracting the virus itself, I suppose. One person wearing a mask at the supermarket and everyone trying to act normal about it. The fervent washing of hands upon entering home. The silly jokes. Do you know the latest Italian slogan? Meno tasse, meno tosse (‘Less taxes, less coughing.’ But in Italian it’s funnier because it rhymes.) The collective denial when everyone shook hands as they offered the Sign of Peace during Sunday Mass.
Then things started to heat up. Like the feverish heat of the virus, I suppose. We were only allowed to go out to work, for food shopping and emergencies. Signs warned us at the supermarket to stand at least a meter apart while waiting on line. But I wondered about buying fruit and vegetables that anyone could handle and easily sneeze on. All the flour was missing from the shelves and the mozzarella nearly gone. Schools were all closed, but bars were open and restaurants too. People were still making plans to meet for dinner. Continue reading →
The day started out normal enough. Breakfast of homemade bread and jams, creamy sheep cheese from Sardinia, ricotta, and peanut butter from a large jar brought long ago from the Netherlands, all swallowed down with cappuccinos in our usual breakfast cups. That morning we were just a bit more rushed, hurrying out by 8 am to attend the morning mass at the Monastery of St. Luca in Fabriano.
Benedictine nuns in the sober habits sang the psalms in clear – sometimes wavering – voices accompanied by one of the sisters playing the dulcimer. A monk priest said the mass. Afterwards we stood around the 16th century pews listening to Don Ephrem tell stories of when he was first ordained as a priest in Syria. Barely speaking Arabic, he was sent off to a high mountain village to say the Christmas mass.
But first he had to hear confession. The problem was nobody spoke Arabic, they all spoke a mountain dialect. Behind the confessional screen, he begged for mercy, asking the elderly women penitents to recount their sins in a language he might understand. French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, slowly spoken simple Arabic? No, none of those. Only mountain dialect, a slowing dying blend of indecipherable Arabic and language once carried on the wind.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
Joy at nursery school.
Ten months ago, I wrote a blog about a Nigerian refugee family living in Italy who I and my husband are trying to help through the Catholic charity Caritas. In January, Samuel and Rose (not their real names), at the advice of their lawyer, were hoping to marry in order to strengthen their case. With gratitude, we were able to raise the money they needed to obtain the necessary documents and they were happily married on 15 March.
But like most immigrant stories, their lives continue to be difficult.
Samuel has not been able to find work, partly from pride, partly from discrimination, mostly because he doesn’t speak a word of Italian despite living in the country for five years. We have done our best. Kees accompanied him to an interview at the diocese in Assisi that had 30 job placements for immigrants. But afterwards they told the Director of the local Caritas to not send any more applicants who have zero Italian language skills. Continue reading →
This weekend, many Italians are traveling to village cemeteries to pay homage to their ancestors. The Catholic feast of All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday followed by All Soul’s Day. It is a time for the living to ritually remember the dead – both saint and sinner alike. In preparation, the (mostly older) women are scrubbing tombstones clean and buying votive candles and pots of chrysanthemums to decorate the graves of loved ones. Coinciding with the beginning of darker days and longer nights, this time allows us to pause and consider our own life and death.
Fava bean flowers
The two days devoted to honoring the dead correspond agriculturally to when Umbrian farmers seed their fields. They are also busy burying onion bulbs and garlic cloves with the hope of enjoying sweet shoots in the spring. There is a local saying among our neighbors that All Saint’s Day marks the planting of fava beans. In fact, eating fava beans was once thought to be a way to be in communion with the dead. The bean flower is white with black markings that take the form of the Greek letter thet or θ, which is the first letter of thanatos, meaning ‘death’. Continue reading →
Readers of A Free and Wild Creature have been sending me photos of themselves with my book. You too can become an Official Free and Wild Creature! It’s very easy, just send me a photo of yourself with the book or post your Official Free and Wild Creature photo to the Love And Will Facebook page. Here’s a few to inspire you…
Readers of A Free and Wild Creature have been sending me photos of themselves with my book. What fun! This has inspired me to announce that you too can become an Official Free and Wild Creature! It’s very easy, just send me a photo of yourself with the book or post your Official Free and Wild Creature photo to the Love And Will Facebook page. Here’s a few to inspire you… Continue reading →
In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.
We are now halfway through the period of Lent – a time before Easter when Christians seek purification through fasting, prayer, and charitable acts. The forty days of Lent are, in many ways, similar to the Islamic time of Ramadan, which I was fortunate enoughto experience while living in Egypt. During Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast as well as give alms and read the Qur’an.
Assagioli wrote extensively on what he called “the science of applied purification”, insisting that this work must be undertaken in order to transform the lower characteristics of our personality and bring unity to our soul. He described purification of the personality as a process of re-orientation and elevation of the higher mind. Using our will, we burn the dross of our affective and instinctual energies, habits, tendencies and passions. Once clear of the obstacles that prevent us from receiving our higher intuitions, we are free to receive wisdom from the Higher Self. In other words, purification is a necessary process that we all must endure along the journey towards personal psychosynthesis before we are adequately equipped to seek spiritual psychosynthesis.Continue reading →
For a year now, I have been a volunteer working one morning a week for the local Italian Catholic organization Caritas, which means ‘charity’ in Italian. This national organization, funded in part by the Vatican and in part by donations, offers food and clothing to the poor, subsidizes housing, pays medical bills, and tries to find or create jobs for the unemployed. During this past year, I have done everything from teach asylum seekers English, pack and distribute groceries for the needy, canvas for food outside supermarkets, help run an auction, perform basic office work, and hang out with people in the Caritas waiting room.
One sweltering July morning, Rose (Note that all names have been changed) showed up hot and sweaty and on the verge of tears. She had walked three miles in the sweltering heat pushing her 4-month-old baby girl in a rickety stroller down a road full of racing Italian traffic and no sidewalk. Rose plopped down onto a chair and started sobbing. Everything was just too much. Despite having been in the country for two years, she still didn’t understand much Italian. (I would realize months later that she could barely read and write.) That day she sat gripping another official letter that can had come in the post. One of those bureaucratic letters full of convoluted language that just tells you to wait for another bureaucratic letter to arrive someday soon. Continue reading →
August is here again, and as part of our summer break, I offer you a story I wrote about making gnocchi for our village festival. This is long story for a blog and comes in two parts. To read Part I, click here. I hope you enjoy it and your summer!
I had been on my feet all morning rolling strings of dough and cutting them into bite-sized gnocchi, when someone arrived with a tray of sliced prosciutto crudo on fresh bread and thimble-sized cups of strong black coffee. Both never tasted so good!
But truly, my inspiration and energy only arose from the compagnia of the women around me. At one point, I was standing next to Eleonora, a young woman who had spent seven years in Boston and New York studying music. She started singing “Close to You” by the Carpenters and we sang together for a while, with me helping her with the lyrics. Then suddenly Adelaide threw up her arms and waved them around as she sung, and the rest of the women joined in. She then recited a short poem that she had just invented:
Chi al mare e chi al monte
A fare gnocchi, ci sono tonte.
Some are vacationing at the beach, others in the mountain sun.
Those who make gnocchi are the stupid ones.
August is here again, and this weekend I will be busy making gnocchi for our village sacra (food festival). A part of our summer break, I offer you a story I wrote about this experience.
This is long story for a blog and comes in two parts. I hope you enjoy it and your summer!
From the day I arrived in the village, the following words seemed to follow me around:
“Do you know about the sagra dello gnocco (the gnocco festival)? The first weekend in August? Gnocchi d’oca! (Small potato dumplings in goose tomato sauce.) They are famous all over the area! And the women always need help in the kitchen…”
I would stand in front of my new neighbor smiling and nodding, beset with the knowledge that she (it was always a she) was waiting for me to volunteer. Since 1986, the village has hosted the Gnocchi D’Oca festival the first weekend in August on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, complete with music and dancefloor in the open air. Whenever we mention the town to anyone from the surrounding area, they always start raving about the delicious gnocchi.