OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
The ice in the holiday skating rink that has been installed in Ascoli’s Piazza Arrengo is slowly starting to melt. The weather has turned colder so it will take longer for the ice to change from solid, back to liquid. The amplified sound of American Christmas Carols, that suggested some sense of rhythm to the skaters, is now gone replaced by the shouts of workmen undoing Christmas. The wooden sales stalls in the imaginative guise of Christmas Market chalets that stood just beyond the rink, are now stacked in a disassembled pile awaiting the forklift to load them onto trucks until next Christmas preparation.
Although an increasingly secular society, Italy carries the distinct imprint of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church on its calendar. Dig a little too deep and you might find less resurgence of religious fervor but more of a reluctance to give up State approved days off from work.
According to church tradition, the liturgical preparation for the Christmas miraculous birth does not officially begin until the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin on 8 December. However, in keeping with the increasingly apparent secular overtones of this special season, as in other places where the observance of consumerism occurs, it seems each year, Christmas displays start showing up earlier. However, to our great relief, Christmas Creep isn’t as apparent here as it is in the U.S. where encroachment on Labor Day in September may be already happening.
Each year, the festive decorations in the major squares and principal byways in Ascoli seem to go up a little earlier as well. To boost communal morale, the local authorities are reported to have spent a not insignificant amount of funds on new decorations this year, to good effect.
And then, Christmas becomes Christmas Past with the Feast of Epiphany on 6 January recalling the tradition of the Wise Men bearing gifts. It seems from the day of Christmas to Epiphany forms the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. There is also a nod here to some pagan roots with the arrival of the Good Witch, the Befana at Epiphany bringing gifts to good children and coal to some of the rest of us, names discretely redacted. There may be other pagan observances that snuck into Christianity though the years, but we won’t go any further into that thought.
And from the earlier lighting of the festive decorations with the start of the Christmas Market before 8 December, it is now just past Epiphany. For now, the communal festive lighting is still to be seen. It will take some time to get it taken down and a little festive encouragement to after Christmas sales certainly can’t hurt. Lights that are still to be seen are somewhat offset with more of a sense of quiet, with a notable exception. When it comes to noise, Italians are hard to be outdone. New Year’s, here Capodanno, provides a special challenge to Italians. In the U.S., a Fire Marshal would go apoplectic to see the large displays of fireworks in some retail shops leading up to New Years.
I use the generic term ‘Fireworks’ but when it comes to what I might have called ‘Firecrackers’ in the past, the flash, bang and awe experienced here reminds me of my miliary experience many years ago. The pyrotechnic, sensory impact of what we experience here I would more likely tend to describe as ‘Ordnance’. When first encountering it, my reflexes were to dive to the ground and then assess the situation. Not combat it seems, just a little ‘Italian exuberance’.
After the energy and all the sensory input of Christmas, a little quiet may be welcome. The pattern of labor sharing in our household generally has Arlene taking the first canine bodily function accommodation walk in the day, and I participate in the last before Cesare joins us in bed while we read until he gets relocated into his personal sanctuary for a more relaxed sleep for all involved.
In an earlier reflection, we talked about all the renovation and construction work going on particularly here in the historic center of Ascoli. Any number of buildings were required to be vacated to accommodate the major structural work. The result has been a diminished population density here in the more ancient center. That becomes increasingly apparent in late night walks in Winter.
With even the echo of recent celebrations having now faded, by ten o’clock, the streets and byways around our ancient palazzo are essentially deserted. Even the sound of my soft soled shoes walking on the old stones comes to my ears. Occasionally, the sound of some younger people enjoying something amusing in the distance brings an awareness that others may be somewhere about.
Ascoli is well illuminated with street lighting. Then just a few evenings ago, there was a full moon on a clear, crisp night. There was something about the addition of that moonlight on these quiet, old stone buildings and cobblestones that amplified the deep sense of timelessness that I frequently feel here. In the long history of this place so many of these very streets were illuminated by the light of this same moon long before electric or even gas street lighting was installed.
I have come to appreciate any number of benefits of sharing life with a canine. At this point in life, I’m less in need of meeting some rigid time schedule. On our multiple daily walks, Cesare is compelled to do what he must do and check the daily intelligence of what his ever-active nose reveals to him. Deciphering that intelligence can take time, lingering in contemplation. Walking with a canine is the essence of it is the journey not the destination that matters.
Our inter-species explorations of Ascoli tend to have any number of stops and neither speed nor time are of the essence. A collateral benefit to me, to the extent that I do accommodate it, is I am paying more sensory attention to what is happening around me. One of our routine walks is along the raised bank along the Tronto River. By now, we have not only seen it in different seasons but at different times of day. We have also come to mutually recognize some of the other canines taking their humans for walks as well as some felines ensconced in their own territory, who have come to appreciate Cesare is not a bother.
The idea of ‘being in the moment’ is an idea one hears but it takes some effort to really put it into practice. Rather than becoming impatient with Cesare for keeping me from a place I really don’t need to be all that soon, it is becoming more fulfilling to follow his example. I am trying to make better use of my senses to explore the here-and-now of what is around me. Before long, there is an increased awareness of much that is been going on and it is available to be sensed that I busied myself too much to appreciate.
We have, no doubt, repeated the observation that being a resident in a place different from our earlier life is very different from what is experienced as a tourist simply passing through. It is no special level of insight to make the observation that as an immigrant resident in a distant place is to have an experience at a greater depth than is available as a tourist making only a brief stop.
Ascoli Piceno in the Marche Region of Italy has become our home for over ten years. Over that time, relationships to a depth not available as a tourist have become possible. In that reality have been the celebrations of weddings, birth of children and sharing in the deep sense of loss in the recognizing the death of people with whom we came to feel very connected. Those significant experiences are, after all, what life is more truly about.
Starting a new calendar year is an opportunity to take stock. Among our blessings is to be sharing this adventure in such am immediate, compatible, mutually caring relationship. Then there is a circle of very important caring within the extended family and friends, still part of our lives from years past and newer friends that add so much to our lives.
Even the most cursory study of history illuminates the past had any number of serious challenges just as we are aware of those in our own time. Through perseverance and some capacity to make constructive and morally supportable choices, we survived the past and now face a daunting future immediately ahead of us. Hopefully, the ability to look beyond the mire of perceived self interest to pay more attention to the larger reality of what is going on around us, may result in more constructive attention being paid. ‘Us’, needs to become much more inclusive.
I want to be optimistic, but optimism must be grounded on positive action. A recollection occurred not long ago of a refrain from a song in Sunday School, so very far in the past. The refrain went, ‘Brighten the corner where you are . . .’. Not a bad place to start.
From the three of us in Ascoli Piceno, may this New Year bring you health, peace and a sense of deep fulfillment!