Together last weekend with my parents in the courtyard of San Pietro
Easter lasts for two days in Italy. There is Easter Sunday (Pasqua). And then there is Easter Monday (Pasquetta) which is equally important as far as holidays go.
This was my second Easter in Italy. The first I spent in the region of Campagna 23 years ago with my dad and brother. I remember it well. That afternoon as we were walking throught the streets of Naples, a moped sped by me and ripped the backpack off my back. (It contained our passports, our train tickets and all my money.) I was able to hold on to the strap and run after the driver for a little ways before using my last ounce of strength to yank it back. The force of my pull knocked the thief off balance. He started to topple before letting go of the backpack and speeding away. I had rescued our goods. It was my first ever sensation of bad-assness.
This year was also memorable but in a much less dramatic way. In fact, by Perugian standards, we had an ordinary Easter. But that was my goal: to celebrate with local traditions.
We started Saturday night with a little visit to the nearest church. We brought lots of food because Perugians get their Easter meal sanctified before eating it. When we arrived, the priest was busy in the confessional, so we decided to bless the food ourselves. Since my mom knows the most saints, we figured she should do the honors. Using the holy water and wand from near the alter, she sprinkled a prayer and benediction on our groceries.
My mom uses the priest tools to give our cheese bread a proper hallelujah
The next morning, we arranged the spread. Once a year, Perugians sit down to more than just a coffee for breakfast. On Easter, tables are filled with capocollo (a cured meat), hard boiled eggs, cheese bread, wine and a cake called ciaramicola.
The boys also got giant chocolate eggs with a toy surprise inside.
Then, of course, we joined the Catholics and went to mass. Out of the 20 or more options in downtown Perugia, we chose the Church of San Pietro, an ornately decorated cathedral near the edge of town.
My mom and I spent the afternoon preparing lamb and artichokes. Not quite sure how to cook lamb, I decided to fry it. The Italians say that even the sole of a shoe tastes good when fried. It worked.
My mom talked Ray into trying lamb.
The next day was Pasquetta. Our friends Milena and Sergio invited us to their house in the country. They wanted to meet my parents and introduce us to some of their relatives. We joined them for a grand lunch starting with champagne, capocollo, cheese bread, wild asperagus and pecorino cheese. This was followed by two platters of cannelloni, four types of grilled meats, artichokes prepared two ways and another big ciaramicola.
A walk on the rolling, green, olive-tree-covered hills of Umbria
Milena’s mamma serves cannelloni.
My parents pass around a bowl of meats
“Ciaramicola” – the rainbow sprinkled, meringue frosted Easter specialty of Perugia. It’s red inside because of the bright liquor used to color it.
We ended the day with a walk gathering wild asparagus from around the trunks of olive trees. Pretty cool.
For the first time since 2007, I’ve been enjoying holidays. Distancing ourselves from past traditions, we get to peer into those of the Italians and participate as students of culture rather than as emotionally rooted members.
It’s true what they say about holidays being the hardest days. When you lose the person with whom you celebrated, you lose the meaning as well. Holidays have really sucked since Luke died. Our family’s traditions faded away, yet we were still surrounded by everyone else celebrating the same old way. This year, the physical distance from our culture’s customs, as well as having the distraction of another’s, has brought objectivity. Discovery has replaced menacing compulsions; novelty has replaced stagnant etiquette; and the freedom to experiment has replaced the sense of obligation to assimilate with past traditions. Instead of running from the holidays, this year, I feel more inclined to step into them.