24 April 2011

LIFE: Celebrating Easter at the Vatican

SARONNO, Italy - For the past few days  the Italian television airwaves have been taken over by the religious Easter festivities in Rome. Here in Italy the celebrations  officially start on Holy Thursday with the Mass of Chrism, (holy anointing oil).  This mass includes the reading of the Passion, which  chronicles Jesus’ capture, suffering and death. 

Later in the day, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Pope Benedict XVI will wash the feet of 12 men, following the tradition of Jesus and his Apostles. Both masses mark Christ's founding of the priesthood at the Last Supper on the night before he died.

 The Vatican, Rome
  On Good Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion in 33AD, the Pope says mass in the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano). St. John’s was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity and St. John’s is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. It is known as Omnium urbis et orbis Ecclessarium Mater et Caput – the Cathedral of Rome and of the World.   

On Friday evening the Pope leads a torch-lit procession from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill (Via Crucis Procession), and at predesignated stops, they recite the prayers appropriate for each of the Stations of the Cross.

The Easter Vigil mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica will start at 9PM on Saturday night. No lights will be lit. The Basilica will be shrouded in darkness until Pope Benedict XVI enters. He will be carrying a long, white Paschal, a special Easter candle decorated with gold leaf. 

Pope Benedict XVI carrying the Paschal candle
From the single flame of the Paschal, twelve candles are lit and from those twelve, hundreds of other smaller candles will be lit, one by one,  until the entire church is bathe in candlelight. As the candles are being lit, the Pope will proceed to the altar and begin Mass by saying: 
Brothers, on this most holy of nights, in which Jesus Christ our Lord passed from the depths of death to life, the Church, in every part of the world, calls on its children to keep watch and pray.” 

He will be dressed in a gold robe, called a chasuble, with a white and gold stole around his neck. On his head will be a precious gold and white mitre encrusted with jewels. Versions of the chasuble and the mitre were part of the normal clothing worn by the Romans in the early days of Christianity, and were adopted by Christian clerics.  The Romans wore hats that were very similar in style to the mitre, and the chasuble is simply a variation of the robes worn throughout the Roman Empire. 

The colors of the Pope’s chasuble and mitre are important as colors represent qualities such as virtue and holiness.  The gold color of the Pope’s chasuble symbolizes what is precious and valuable. It also symbolizes majesty, joy and celebration, and because of its brightness, metallic gold, like that found on the Pope’s mitre, symbolizes the presence of God. 

Under the chasuble he is wearing a white robe. You can see part of the collar around his neck and the edges of the cuffs under his sleeves. The color white has long symbolized purity, holiness and virtue, as well as respect and reverence. It is used for all high Holy Days and festivals.

  St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Easter Sunday is joyful. The Vatican altar is filled with flowers in anticipation of the mass that will be said there to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension into Heaven. The Pope shares this special day with the thousands of faithful followers who gather in St. Peter’s Square to see him. He stands before the crowd and delivers his message of peace for the Urbi et Orbi (the city and the world).  After the Urbi et Orbi message, which is broadcast throughout the world, the Pope blesses the crowd.  
 Invitation for Holy Saturday Mass
You can participate in all of the Easter events  and and information on how to do that is available on the Vatican web site (www.vatican.va). And it is all free. You do need to make reservations for everything however, including the Sabato Santo (Holy Saturday) mass at the Vatican. 
As you can see, it's free
You can also make a reservation for a Papal audience on the same web site. Some tour operators have been known to charge large amounts of money for a Papal audience, but there is absolutely no charge . Actually you are better off if you organize your own visit.  You just have to do it well in advance as tickets are limited. 

To reserve a place at a Papal audience go to this page of the Vatican website http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index en.html and click on the “continue” button at the bottom of the page. It will take you to an application form that you can download, fill out and return to the Vatican office. The form must be sent by fax or mail (no email) - the instructions are on the site - and when your application has been processed you will receive instructions regarding your audience and where to pick up your tickets. 

It's a good idea to stay until the end of the audience as that is when the Pope will bless everyone in the audience and those who can’t be there. And if you take your medals and rosary beads and other items to the audience, you can then give them as gifts knowing that they have received the Pope’s personal blessing.
Happy Easter.

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17 April 2011

LIFE: Ten Things That Make Us Happy

SARONNO, Italy - In reading the lists that were sent in I found that no matter where we live, we have a lot in common when it comes to being happy.

What makes me happy? Pouncing on Ol'What's Her Name 
Family, but not just blood family, but friends, old friends and new, and things that bring us together like a smile, were mentioned often. Laughing was important, especially laughing at silly stuff with someone you care about. Even being able to cry made the list – mostly at sappy movies, but sometimes just because we all need a good cry now and again to cleanse our soul.

The awareness of your faults and the ability to accept yourself as you are popped up more than a few times, while travel, beaches, starry skies, sunsets and sunrises were almost everyone’s favorites. Food was also high on the lists, chocolate, pizza, pasta, even French fries made a lot of people happy. They sure make me happy, and so does the fact that you took the time to send in your lists.   

Here’s my list of other things that make me happy – I tried to cut it down to ten but couldn’t decide which one to take off, along with five lists chosen at random from those sent in.

This is Ol' What's Her Name
What makes me happy:
1.    Having the courage to change my life as many times as I want
2.    Sitting out on my balcony with my feet up reading a good book
3.    Not wearing a bra
4.    Walking along the sea early in the morning
5.    The smell of honeysuckle
6.    Writing an article that touches the hearts of my readers
7.    Baking something delicious (and sweet) for the guys across the street and seeing their faces light up when I bring it over
8.    Cooking holiday dinners   
9.    Discovering new places
10. Speaking Italian
11. Knowing I am exactly where I belong 

  Monica (Toronto, Canada)
1. The first time I held my newborn son
2. Thinking about the first time my husband said “I love you.”
3. Eating gooey pizza
4. Laughing with a friend until we are both in tears
5. Being warm and cozy in my house when it is storming outside
6. Long, lazy baths with lots of bubbles
7. Being able to sleep until I wake up
8. To start and actually finish a book by Tolstoy
9. The smell of old books
10. That first cup of coffee in the morning

Carol  (Florida USA)
1.    Discovering that I haven’t really lost someone I cared about, I’m still carrying them inside me 
2.    To go back to a special place and finding it still special 
3.    To find a comfortable pair of shoes and be able to buy them
4.    Teaching my child not to be afraid of difficult choices
5.    Payday
6.    Random acts of kindness
7.    Roller coasters
8.    My iphone
9.    Getting a postcard in the mail
10. Music – just about any kind 

Joy (Kentucky, USA)
1.    The surprise to discover something new in something I thought I knew all about
2.    Reaching a goal
3.    Walking with my dog
4.    Watching any Johnny Depp movie
5.    Being in love
6.    To know that every day something great can happen
7.    French fries
8.    Petting my cat and listening to her purr
9.    Great hair days
10. Crying without shame at sad movies

 Helga (Basel, Switzerland)
1.    The sun shining in my bedroom window early in the morning.
2.    Being able to decide what to wear to work in 15 minutes or less
3.    Smiles from strangers
4.    Falling in love
5.    Knowing that, in spite of it all, there really are some good guys out there
6.    An outdoor concert in the summertime
7.    A hug from my mum
8.    Traveling to warm places
9.    The joy of making up with a friend after an argument
10. Reading Marie Claire 

 Janine  (the Netherlands)
1.    Telling jokes with my kids
2.     My oldest son asking me how I am
3.    The smile on my grandmother’s face when she sees me at the door
4.    Watching sea gulls
5.    Watching people everywhere
6.    Walking along a country road
7.    The way babies laugh
8.    Re-reading a good book
9.    Finding a seat on the train in the morning
10. Making a super good Sunday night supper

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10 April 2011

LIFE: My Italy Daughters

SARONNO, Italy - This has been a week of catch-up with my  three Italy daughters. First Felicia called from Dublin. We haven’t spoken in a while, but she was one of the first people I met when I moved to Italy. When we first met, Felicia, who is from Sicily, was studying languages at the University of Genova and working part time in a language school. 
 The Wedding
It wasn't long before she started dating Eddie C., an Englishman, who also teaching at the language school. Eddie was in Italy, working on his PhD, (I think). His passion is Italian history, particularly the Italian Renaissance. He was positively smitten with Felicia.

When Eddie and Felicia decided to get married, they asked me to be one of their witnesses. I was thrilled. I had only been in Italy for a short time and had never been to an Italian wedding.  

The civil ceremony took place in the Genova Town Hall, and the photo above was taken in the ante-camera right after the ceremony. As you can see we are standing in front of a massive fireplace. Unfortunately what you can’t see is the decorated vaulted ceiling or the rest of the spectacular building, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

I confess I didn’t understand much of what was going on during the ceremony, but I knew when to get up and sign the enormous antique leather bound book that recorded my witnessing the joining of the Sicilian fireball and the staid Englishman.

After their short, but happy life on the Italian Riviera, Eddie accepted a position as a Professor of History at the University of Dublin, and off they went.  First they had one baby, and then another and the years passed. During that time I saw Eddie more than I saw Felicia as he would come to Italy every summerto continue his study of the Italian Renaissance. While he was in northern Italy, Felicia would take the children to Sicily to spend time with their grandmother and cousins.

It was so nice to catch up with her. Every time we talk she invites me to Dublin. I think this time I’m going to go.

Then yesterday, out of the blue, I got an email from Diane, another one of my "adopted daughters" from my Genova-Nervi days. Diane, Juan and their son Joshua lived in a large apartment on a hill above Nervi with a fantastic view of the sea. For Diane, the best part of the apartment was the huge terrace where Joshua, and later the twins Daniel and Anderson could play.

 That's Diane, on the left
When we met, Diane’s husband had just been hired to be the Director of the Aquarium of Genova, an Italo-American project. Juan had worked on other aquarium projects in the USA and Europe, plus he had done a stint with Jacques Cousteau.  

It was no secret that I was madly in love with their son Joshua. I never had so much fun with a kid in my life. He owned my heart. If we weren’t blowing bubbles down on the sea walk, we were feeding the goldfish in the goldfish pond at the train station. Sometimes we would cook. He was the best little sardine cleaner ever  – and oh how he loved to eat those little fried fish. Just thinking about him makes me smile. Diane always said he was “my Joshua”. I should be so lucky.

The last time I heard from her they were living in Plymouth, England. Juan was working as the Director of the Plymouth Aquarium. She wanted me to come and visit but I was in the throes of an attack of rheumatoid arthritis and could hardly walk to the bathroom, let alone make my way to England.

Now I’m sorry I didn’t go, because fter Plymouth they bought a 44 foot Catamaran and did a three year stint touring the seas. Diane said they spent about a year and a half in the Caribbean before crossing the Panama Canal into the Pacific. Then they sailed around the Pacific Islands, making landfall in the French islands from the Galapagos, and then eventually sailing on to the Cooks, Tonga, Fiji, and ultimately settling in New Zealand. What a great adventure for those kids.
 Daniel, Anderson and Joshua - All grown up
And my Joshua? He’s at the University of Otago, in the South Island studying Music Performance and Composition for piano.  He wants to write music for film. 

Diane and I have plans to Skype this weekend, which is the only way I'm going to get to see them as I doubt they will all be able to come to Italy any time soon. Juan is working in Dubai these days and I don't think a trip to New Zealand is in my future. But you never know. Stranger things than that have happened in this Italian life.

As for my third Italy daughter, Tracy, I've written about her  in the past. She's Victoria's mother, and the one I am closest to. I've been very lucky to have them in my life, and even luckier that they still care. 

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03 April 2011

LIFE: Saviano's List

SARONNO, Italy - Last week, Milan’s Corriere della Sera ran an article by Italian author Roberto Saviano in which he asked the newspaper’s readers to send him their list of 10 things that make them happy. He got about 10,000 replies. It got me wondering what my list would look like and what your lists would look like too.   
 The Amalfi Coast Makes Me Happy
Some of the things that make Italians happy were pretty much what make most people happy, no matter where they live, for example:
The sound of sea gulls and the smell of the sea;
To fall in love;
Quiet Sunday afternoons;
My child’s smile, etc. 
Others were made happy by more unusual things like the guy who wants to prepare a Nordic dinner for his wife and their friends, who are from the south. From which south he doesn’t say, and I’m not quite sure what he means by Nordic – northern Italy? Or Northern Europe? Whichever it is, it doesn’t seem like such a difficult thing to do and if it makes him happy, well, why not?
The same guy wishes he had had the courage to go and live on an island 23 years ago. He also wishes he had the courage to change jobs and be more focused on his happiness and less focused on “security”.  He seems to live a life of regret – and I guess there is a lesson in there for all of us.
Family played a huge part in what makes the Italians happy – no surprises there.
One woman wrote: what makes me happy is my daughter’s voice when she wakes up in the morning and says “ciao mama”, (even if she is 23 years old).
Another wrote: discovering what a wonderful person my daughter turned out to be.
Some of the others were:
Talking to my Grandmother and listening to her stories about life in Italy during the War,
To take a day trip to no place in particular with my husband and friends that ends with a great dinner and good wine to drink.
And yet another said that what made her happy was to still be in love with the father of her child. Pretty nice, no? How many of us can say that?
But my favorites were the “Italianissimi” replies that just made me smile. Here are just a few by those who know food is love and love is life:
A slice of cassata Siciliana
My mother’s parmigiana di melanzane
To eat a pizza made by Michele in Naples
Share a glass of wine with friends
A dish of pasta with pesto and a view of the sea
The taste of Italian salami after having been away from home too long
Christmas dinner with the whole family. 
It seems to me I did a post some time back about why I love Italy, but for the life of me I can’t find it on the blog. Who knows what I named it, or if I actually wrote at all for the ideas for blog posts far outnumber the actual posts, and I may have just thought about writing it but never did. At any rate, it reflected (or was planned to reflect) all the things that make me happy.  But in the past six months my life has changed, and so maybe it’s time for another list.  
If you’d like to share a short list of what makes you happy I’d love to post them, anonymously of course. Just send them to me in an email at thisitalianlife@yahoo.com with the reference Happy List. In the meantime, I’ll get to work on my own.
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