Update from Italy: Easter Sunday

Orsanmichele in Florence. Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

An Easter unlike any other many of us have ever seen. Even during wartime (WWII, that distant memory, locked in the hearts of the Old Ones) the churches were open, mass happened.

There was no Easter Vigil last night. No meal after. I haven’t reliably attended Easter Vigil, but when I do, I love it.

I was chatting our priest last night about my very first Episcopal Easter Vigil, in the spring of 1994, when a Knight Templar showed up in full armor with a sword to the tiny St. Anselm’s chapel. I was concerned. He looked like he might slay someone, and I wouldn’t stand a chance. Up, down, kneel, self-muttering. Over and over. But he didn’t slay anyone, that tortured cosplay soul. Where was this? my priest exclaimed. Oklahoma, I said. ‘Nuff said. Easter always over the top. Random people would walk around on Good Friday and Holy Saturday wearing 4×4 rough hewn crosses, offering to help you with getting, for example, your lunch from the counter to the bistro table three feet away. – No, thank you. And go easy with that cross. – Sure thing, my brother.

This year the Pope walks alone, with no followers to physically join him. I saw news of a Via Crucis in Bergamo; it’s still not clear to me how that was accomplished. Much face mask, yes, but also, many people in street. Our own Episcopal church here, St. James of Florence, held an 11:00 AM prayer service online. The sun is unseasonably bright, so we all joke. Why is it every that Easter before this, it was freezing rain. Indeed, last year we got rained out of an agriturismo in Lazio, the weather was freezing the rain would not let up, until even the skeleton staff were half begging us to pack our bags and go home. The year before that, we were bundled up for Easter like it was the Shackleton expedition.

And yet today feels like late June in the garden, where the children gathered to hunt Easter eggs in the garden, in heats by family. Our children were the last to hunt and so all the boisterous, joyful Italian children of the palazzo hid the eggs for Victor and Eleanor, plus the Gran Gallo, a metal egg stuffed with chocolates that blew their minds. I pinched a bouquet of a sole magenta camellia and a bunch of sage blossoms, which I justified by thinking, I am just deadheading these so they don’t get leggy and lose their leaf. Lemon and orange blossom perfumed the air. The morning seemed like it would never end. Gentle chatter filled the air; the cousins all helped Victor and Eleanor, following them with serious hot/cold guidance… “acqua … fuoco… fuoquino .. ACQUA. FUOQISSIMO!” They all went upstairs for lunch before we did and so we inspected the turtles and the blooms and looked in vain for the badminton birdie that Vic had swatted who knows where.

Jason had ordered an Easter meal from a restaurant on Piazza San Marco, L’Accademia. Their history with Gonzaga is long, and we are friendly with the owner, Gianni from Abruzzo, married to a New Yorker, his cheery smile twinkling in the charming gap between his front teeth. He came in a taxi prompt at 1 PM, with aluminum trays covered in foil: lasagna, cannelloni ai spinaci, roast lamb with rosemary and potatoes, chocolate mousse, a generous wedge of pecorino and a jar of chili jam, divine. We opened a nice bottle of wine, even if the kids did not want to join us. Vic was at table with his headphones on, Eleanor turning cartwheels in the living room. Halfway through lunch Maria knocked at the door with a plate of strawberry semifreddo and whipped cream that her mother made fresh this morning, and the kids squeaked in anticipation to witness the sheer red fruitness of it. We paced our courses with leisure, and finished with both semifreddo and mousse, then grappa. Now appeased into oblivion.

Quarantine what quarantine? On Tuesday, Italy will gingerly stretch her limbs, having been asleep since March 9. A few more businesses will open, some people will venture forth on permitted errands. I doubt we personally will put that much more back into our schedule too soon. We are observing Easter safe at home.

Wishing to all observing a joyous Easter, and to everyone around the world, may you be safe at home; and if you’re not, we send you strength.