Spello, Luke’s birthday and a couple personal cliff-hangers


There was some kind of unexplainable, weird energy enveloping us this weekend that began once we set out on our trip to Spello.  We found ourselves constantly torn between feeling cursed and somehow protected.

We chose to visit Spello because of its acclaimed Infiorita, an annual flower festival in which the town stays up all night carpeting the streets with intricate mosaics made entirely out of flower petals.  This year, the Infiorita fell on Luke’s birthday. On Sunday, he would have been 14.  After looking for something special to do in honor of our son, we decided that a city covered in flowers would be a safe and sweet setting for our love and sadness.

On Friday, we packed our bags and headed out. First I wheeled my suitcase to the post office where I mailed a letter.  Then I met Matt and the boys for our drive.  We arrived in Spello nearly an hour later.  That’s when it began. Matt started unloading the car and then portentously asked why my suitcase wasn’t in the trunk.  I could feel my heart sink.  As I retraced my steps I realized I must have left it sitting in the post office.  I pictured it there, all by itself with my computer inside (loaded with every digital picture I’ve taken since we arrived) and also packed with several other material possessions with which I’m attached.  We had no choice but to immediately go look for it.  The ride was grueling as I tried to come to terms with my stupidity and the loss of my belongings.  I imagined the rest of the year without writing emails or a blog. I dreaded having to buy a new computer.  The questions ended when we entered the post office and saw my black suitcase standing in the middle of the room right where I left it.  It had apparently remained untouched for two hours.  We marveled at our astounding luck before once again driving to Spello.

That night in our hotel, after we were all sound asleep, my phone rang.  It was the landlord of our next-door neighbor in Perugia.  She said her tenant had just called because he was worried; our apartment door has been wide open all day.  He had finally decided to shut it, but was wondering if we were okay.  In my foggy haze, I imagined robbers had forced their way in and were emptying our cupboards and drawers in search of  something valuable.  I woke Matt and we assessed the likelihood of a break-in.  We considered the timing and the difficulty of getting past our thickly bolted door at the top of our six story building.  We decided it was most probable that one of us (me) accidently left the door open on our way out and that there was no need to hurry back to Perugia.  Needless to say, sleep was elusive.

There would be more suspense; but first, the beautiful flower mosaics of Spello:

Saturday was full of activity.  In the evening, teams of artists began constructing their pictures.  Many groups set up long tents over their work and hung electric lights inside to illuminate their progress through the night.  The streets were lined with children, parents and grandparents sorting flowers by color and cutting petals into different sizes.


Visitors from all over Umbria and beyond crowded the space to see how the garden art was made.  The designs were first drawn on paper, which was stuck to the ground.  Flowers were then arranged on top according to the color that was specified by the artists.  As the night went on and more and more petals were laid out, unbelievably detailed scenes emerged.







By 8am the next morning, only the finishing touches remained.  Finally once the tents were removed, everyone could see the stunning work that was created during the night.

Pope Francis and St. Francis

Pope Francis and St. Francis



The disheartening aspect of this tradition is the bishop’s procession.  Just three hours after the mosaics are complete, a holy entourage exits the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and gets to walk over all the pictures.  With these footsteps, the painstaking work is ruined. Even though this procession is all part of the festival, it seemed such an appalling demonstration of disrespect.  It was upsetting to watch even though the mosaics were made for that purpose.

The bishop and his entourage entering the streets of Spello

The bishop enters the streets of Spello

Another image of power dominating beauty

power dominating beauty

It was around this time that the four of us separated.  Matt and Tom went to get a coffee and play cribbage while Ray and I toured the streets.  When we rejoined, Matt gave me a disparaging look and told me his phone had been stolen.  He had left it for a few minutes on a cafe table, and then it was gone.  He asked around, but had no luck.  We immediately tried calling his number, but there was no answer.  Next we sent texts to his phone in both English and Italian asking whoever had it to please, please, please give it back.  Before admitting defeat, we returned to the cafe, at which point, one of the servers brought it to us saying it had just been turned in.  We couldn’t believe it.

Afterwards, we sat to a long lunch outside in the sun.  We considered staying another night but decided to go home and check on the apartment.  On our way out of town we passed the disheveled mosaics and shook our heads at the scattered pedals.  You could see the imprint of the shoes that walked all over the mosaics.  Matt and I both commented that it reminded us of the picture on the infinite “Footprints” cards we received after Luke died (the ones that talk about the single set of footprints in times of difficulty because God must be carrying you.) But instead of prints left on sand, these were on the flowers of Spello.

It did seem symbolic; we admitted to having the most incredible luck here and couldn’t help but feel the presence of something protective.



Back in Perugia, Matt and I entered the apartment first and did a quick scan of the rooms.  It seemed as if no robbers had busted in and that every instance of this weekend’s suspense resulted from our own distraction and negligence.  It provided for the perfect kind of excitement – a little danger and uncertainty followed by a positive outcome.


9 thoughts on “Spello, Luke’s birthday and a couple personal cliff-hangers

  1. I was in Spello for the Infiorata in 2011 and, like you, went the night before to watch the pictures actually being made. It is so gratifying to see young people involved in traditions such as this and I was impressed with how cooperatively young children worked together — no whining and squabbling even late at night when they must have been tired. I was up and walking the streets by 7 a.m., so that by 10:30, when the streets were so crowded you could hardly move, I had seen everything. I had decided in advance that I would leave before the religious procession tramped over the pictures. I didn’t want to see all that painstaking work destroyed. When I got back to Perugia, there were the remains of a flower picture near the Fontana Maggiore.

    I am glad the Infiorata brought you good fortune and your misadventures ended well.

  2. Hey good morning to the world travelers! Wow what a past week of up and downs you have experienced! Looking forward to hearing and seeing more about your trip upon your safe return.

    Matt, don’t do anything financial on your phone as it may have been cloned….just in case.

  3. My heart sank with all of the drama. I certainly know the feeling. When I was in Florence at the papershop I enjoyed the beautiful booksmarks and papers, I selected some, bought and paid for. Because of the cautionary tales of pick pockets, I found myself throughout the trip always rechecking for my wallet. Sure enough, this time when I checked it wasn’t there. Retracing my steps, I went back to the paper shop, and there it was, laying right on the counter where I had left it. Such a relief.

    The mosaics are stunning. What an amazing gift the people give to the community. It is interesting (and sometimes distrubing) to see the deep held beliefs and traditions of the church over the years. It was humbling to be surounded by centuries of history.

    So excited for your return. Relax and enjoy your last days.
    Happy last week of school to the boys. HOORAAY!

  4. Wow. It’s a sure sign that your angel is watching over your family. And given the weight of the date, it’s no wonder you were distracted. I’m so glad you could do something beautiful and moving to celebrate Luke. With a bit of suspense to let you feel alive, some unbelievable kindness to keep faith in the human race, and on a weekend when your hearts are heavy – a few reminders that you are indeed lucky.


  5. First of all, Happy Birthday Luke! I can’t believe Luke, Abby, and Morgan are all celebrating their 14th year! Where does the time go. Even with all the drama, what a beautiful tradition to actually see. The pictures are absolutely beautiful (as all of your pictures are), but I’m sure they don’t do justice to seeing all the beauty first hand. I’m so glad everything came out well in the end. Can’t wait to see you all. Love to all!

  6. I just can’t fine any appropriate words for this post right now, but wanted you to know how much it moved me. Very powerful in so many ways. I can’t wait to talk about it with you in person at Roche. xo

  7. Happy birthday to Luke. I’m glad all the drama came out okay in the end, but what a pain to have to experience the anxiety in the mean time. I love you all lots – may the luck (and the intervention of your guardian angel) follow you in these next weeks and all the way home.

    Can ‘t wait for you to meet Cyrus 🙂

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