Day 78, Ascension
(A series of personal observations recorded in the countryside in the province of Salerno as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published May 24, 2020, Third week of Fase 2)
It is Sunday the 24th of May, celebration day of the Ascension, when the larger of the thirteen village chapels and churches, the one in the piazza where I live, finally opens it’s doors again. I hear the bells from up in the woods, by that moment having climbed well past the crumbling Cappella di San Leonardo (Santo Linardo to the locals) that perches among low-growing olive trees at the edge of a rock cliff above what used to be a seasonal torrent but is, since the earthquake of 1980, a dry gulley that runs down from the mountains between two steep hills. I am out from under the bright sun and bottomless blue sky, clutching six of the very last knitting-needle-thin stalks of wild asparagus, and breathing in the cool perfumed greenness of the air beneath the chestnut trees.
There are different ways that the bells ring here and in these that morning there is joy. It’s come in forties, the quarantine. Forty days of Quaresima before Easter and now, forty days since, a going-home.
I arrive down in the piazza just before mass ends as prayer and song precede the faithful through three sets of tall doors, all open to the darkness inside. They are almost never all open like this, but it’s the first day and the air is warm, and people feel safer together in open spaces. Inside they are one or two to a pew, standing. They will let out and fill the piazza with chatter, and spill down the streets waving “ciao” and “buon pranzo”, and push open doors to whatever Sunday sauces and roasts are cooking in the kitchens.
This morning, all the tall doors closed again, the bells ring anyway at 6:30: the call to the 7am mass. I am watering the plants outside when I see him. Too early even for the early mass, he’s masked and standing, slightly stooped, very still on the corner, looking towards the bell tower through thick glasses. I look too, a reflex, but there is just the tower and a partly cloudy sky. When I finish one pitcher of water and come out again, having filled another, he is still there, motionless. I don’t say good morning. He doesn’t either. After a little while he finally moves: slowly makes the sign of the cross, kisses his thumb, and turns away, disappearing down the side street.
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I added this blog as a way to share some thoughts and experiences around the impact of Covid-19 on my life here in Southern Italy. These posts have been a near-daily practice during this time and are largely unedited, most having been first posted on Facebook. They are of course in order with the most recent entry on the first page. I invite you to explore previous posts or even start from the beginning.