“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” ~Clifton Fadiman
A heavenly combination, if ever there was one.
Today we celebrated Palm Sunday at San Giovenale. It was, as usual, a cultural experience.
Typical Protestant Palm Sunday service: begin singing songs related to Easter, almost always included “Hosanna in the Highest” or some variation of similar Easter-related songs. Children enter carrying palm fronds, waving them, stand at the front of the church while the congregation sings, run and find their parents, and after the service persist in beating each other with their palm fronds. Sermon will revolve around the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
Today’s Catholic Palm Sunday service at San Giovenale: the ENTIRE congregation begins the service outside, behind the church. Older ladies pass out olive tree branches. They had olive trees in Israel, didn’t they? Well, these olive tree cuttings were more prevalent than palm fronds. And the palm fronds that were there were no fronds. They were more like entire palm branches. Definitely taller than I was. And they were hoarded like currency. If you wanted to get a palm branch, you had to get to church early, because no one wanted to share their palm branches. If you tried to take one from what looked like an extra stack, you got yelled at and received a dirty glare like you were a thief stealing their life’s fortune. It didn’t matter if they had more than one branch, it was still theirs and they weren’t sharing. While we were walking into the church I saw a tiny old lady walking behind us, clutching her two massive palm branches to her chest like they were her lifeline, with her head poking out between the leaves. I never knew palm branches were considered so valuable.
At least fifteen minutes after the normal starting time, in good Italian style, the priest comes out and says a blessing over the olive branches and palm leaves. I still have no idea what was said, but it was an exciting endeavor to make sure that someone was holding the Bible so that the priest could see it and the person holding the microphone got it in front of the right person’s mouth at the right time. After the blessing, everyone parades inside, and the palm branches get propped against the wall because otherwise the entire church would become a jungle.
Other than that, the mass continues like a typical mass. Except for the fact that the gospel reading includes the entire passion story, not just the triumphal entry. And when you’re technically supposed to stand for the entire gospel reading, that passage suddenly feels a lot longer. Especially when there are also two little Italian girls squirming next to you and asking you what your name is. It was quite the exciting service. Apparently one of the highlights of Holy Week in Orvieto is the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, when there’s a bonfire in the Duomo (although I’m still not sure I’ll believe this until I see it) from 10 PM to midnight. As I said yesterday, the Duomo is really a community building.
And of course, there’s no way that I can go for more than a couple of weeks without mentioning the food that we get in Orvieto. But this time, the food didn’t come from Locanda del Lupo:
This weekend, Orvieto hosted its first annual Chocolate Festival. Well, at least they’re pretending it’s going to be annual. Apparently the Italians are a lot like the Taiwanese in that they like to start annual things without actually knowing if it will take place yearly. It was also one of those things where we weren’t exactly sure what a “Chocolate Festival” would entail, whether the thirty chocolate masters would be standing around staring at each other, or if there would be chocolate sculptures going on, or whether it would be super cheap or super expensive. The result was a happy medium. There were indeed chocolate masters from all over Italy, and I’ve decided that Sicily makes the best cannolis in the world. It wasn’t the cheapest chocolate I’ve ever seen, but in Italy, what you pay for reflects the quality that you get, and the iced chocolate that I got today was something a Wendy’s frosty can never even try to compare to. Again, food here is an art. I decided to stay away from the chocolate wrenches and tools and stick with more practical purchases.
Stay tuned for thoughts on language, Chinese food (?), and pigeons…hopefully at some point in the not so distant future.