Easter (and Easter Monday)

Easter Sunday with my parents in the courtyard of San Pietro

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.
Here's my mom with priest tools giving our cheese bread a proper hallelujah

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.
picture:  once a year, Perugians sit down to more than just a coffee and cigarette for breakfast.  On Easter morning, tables are filled with capocollo (a cured meat), cheese bread, hard boiled eggs, wine, and a frosted dessert called a ciaramicola  The boys also ate a giant chocolate egg with a toy surprise inside.


The boys also got giant chocolate eggs with a toy surprise inside.

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.

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

A walk on the rolling, green, olive-tree-covered hills of Umbria

Milena's mamma serves cannelloni.

Milena’s mamma serves cannelloni.

My parents pass around a bowl of meats

My parents pass around a bowl of meats

"Ciaramicola" - the rainbow sprinkled, meringue frosted Easter specialty of Perugia.

“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.

Three More Months


Last weekend we caught a train to Florence.

Whenever we leave Perugia, I try to imagine what it will feel like the last time we pull away from the station and watch the walls of the city shrink in the distance.   Sometimes I think I’ll be ready to leave.

Like when the hot water doesn’t work.

Or when the space inside this apartment gets so cramped that I want to scream, “Go outside and play!” (but can’t because there isn’t a backyard; there’s not even a park nearby).

Or when Tom tells me some of the discouraging comments his teachers say to him.

I’m 100% positive that I wouldn’t want to live here permanently.  Our life is rooted deep back home.  It is where we belong.  It’s who we are.  It’s where we are truly understood (literally). So I guess twelve months is the right amount of time.

However, I’m not ready to go yet. I want to be ready to go.  I hope I will be ready to go.  But I’m just not ready, and June seems right around the corner.

When we leave, I wonder if it will be unbearably sad. I wonder how we are going to say goodbye.  Of course we can visit Perugia again, but when we part, we permanently say goodbye to this apartment, to these neighbors, to this experience.  We will permanently say goodbye to the details of our daily life.  (When I think about that, my stomach hurts.)

Sunrise filling the archway to Piazza IV Novembre.

Sunrise in the archway to Piazza IV Novembre.

One of our favorite walks.

One of our favorite walks.

Mirella and Cristina, the sisters who own Bar Oscar across the street from our apartment.

Mirella and Cristina, the sisters who own Bar Oscar across the street from our apartment.

Italy is good.  I love the ancient stone walls, the churches filled with candles on every corner, the pecorino cheese and the Umbrian sausage.

I love having everything right outside our front door.  I love not driving.

I’m going to miss it.  I will miss speaking Italian.  I will miss living downtown surrounded by city life.  I will miss evening walks, cobblestones and aqueducts.

I’m even going to miss the bell towers constantly ringing outside our bedroom window.

I will miss the sound of an Italian police siren and the 89 steep steps leading to our front door

and really good espresso

and being able to just catch a train to Florence for a couple days.

This is where I want to be right now.  In Italy.  Not forever, but for the next three months.

Perugia’s Soccer

Late Saturday night, we got a call from our friends Sergio and Milena asking if we’d like to go to the stadium with their family on Sunday to watch Perugia vs. Gubbio.  Hell yes.

Perugia’s team use to be great.  In fact, they even went to the championship once after an undefeated season (a long, long time ago.)  They’ve since been demoted from series A to series C but hope to someday make a comeback and play the big boys from Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples.  Still, this is soccer and we’re in Italy, and the support for the home team was wild.  We didn’t care if it was a lil’ kickers league.  It felt good to participate.

The red and white crowd was screaming victory chants as we arrived, and flags were flying.  This was an especially important game for Perugia because they hadn’t played Gubbio in over 20 years.  And since they are neighboring cities, it was time to demonstrate some dominance.  We listened to our friend describe how certain rivalries evolved between cities around Perugia:  over the millennium, Umbrian city-states have been defeating and conquering each other, often with terribly grave consequences.  Even though the battles are over, the stories are retold and taught in the classrooms.  Apparently, the scars are especially vulnerable on Sunday afternoons.  He said that the citizens are still fighting the old wars.  While the cities of Gubbio and Perugia weren’t particularly combative, they still have some might to assert.  “Just wait till Perugia plays Arezzo!”  he said.  (Apparently, they had some big disagreements during the Middle Ages.)

Milena, Sergio and Massimo

It is quite a bit different from the fancy sports arenas back home.  The concessions consist of bottled water, bags of Ritz crackers, coffee and focaccia.  Apparently, you can get your coffee spiked if you want, but nobody seems to be drinking or eating.  It’s all about the game.  There is no score board and no Jumbotron showing close-ups of the plays.  We couldn’t even find a timer to know how many minutes were left.  So we watched and cheered and counted down on our cell phones.

Within seconds of half-time, Perugia stole the ball dribbling it downfield before swiftly kicking it past the diving goalkeeper and into the net.  Tiny pieces of everyone’s program went flying through the air as confetti.  Needless to say, the half-time break was festive. Perugia scored a second goal towards the end of the game.  And victory was theirs.  We celebrated afterwards with gelato and beers at a nearby park.