A tour guide on the back of the ship pointed to several sites as the plane drove towards Bellagio (the original village not a hotel in Vegas). The Italian lake region is one of the most beautiful places in the country that has been mesmerizing with beauty designed by nature and by ancient architects.
Lake Como beach is rich with stories of kings, saints, artists and even Benito Mussolini who was shot dead nearby. Sometimes history can be confusing, especially when the character flows as fast as a motorboat, but there is one name that gives rise to all passengers. “Look at the building,” said the guide, Mariana, pointing toward the beach in a chateau, “that’s where George Clooney lives.” There is a decent gasping for Michelangelo. Shortly thereafter, visitors are fascinated by other historic landmarks, a restaurant where Clooney sometimes eats.
I have been thinking about Italy lately because the country has been cut down by viruses. Conditions in the United States are also bad, but it is a different lament for different times. As a united country Italy was younger than the United States which had been consolidated into a country in 1861. As a peninsula the land was ancient. Pre-Clooney history is one of the famous historical disasters of Pompeii but also of global importance: the Roman Empire shaped western civilization.
For this moment of sadness, I was reminded of small things – small towns where old men gather in the town square every night for lively discussions; Nearby, the boy kicks the ball. There are fountains and ancient churches whose beliefs are recognized every new hour. From the cafe there is a little fried garlic, anise and olive oil. In the bars, tourists sip on limoncello while the locals drink more Moretti beer.
I was in Italy on Easter Sunday in a city, Pienza, whose cathedral was commissioned by an early Pope, Pius II (1458-1464) who often lived in an adjacent palace designed to be his resting place. I think this will be a pretty experience, Easter Sunday in Italy in a church built by a Pope. The church was crowded, as expected for the day, but what was surprising was that there were no support staff except one officer. During Mass he also did what an altar boy did to help the priest, including holding a plate under a trophy during communion. There is no choir, so Easter is a two-person show.
But there is one parable: Our group ran a little late so there was no room left on the church bench. The clerk led me to a chair that had been erected near the altar. Because of my tardiness, I have the best seat in the house. Or, to quote Matthew, “The last is the first.”
Italy is famous for its chocolate and is rarely served better than at Easter where the specialty is large milk chocolate eggs. Inside are candy or small jewelry. There is no Easter egg hunt there but rather a discovery of what is contained by large eggs.
Food was always part of the discussion when Italy became a topic including the story that in 1889 Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of Italian King Umberto, visited Naples. In his honor a local pizza restaurant operator, Raffaele Esposito, made pizzas with the colors of the Italian flag; mozzarella for white; basil for green and tomatoes for red. He named it Pizza Margherita. The ingredients might have been used in pizza bread before but never by name. From that day on Margherita became famous and so did the pizza business.
Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore” is about love and contains the line “When the moon touches your eyes like a big pizza cake, it’s better.”
Many major operas come from Italy, most of which are a mixture of excitement and tragedy. May the moon shine above Lake Como this Easter week. And may the joy itself move immediately from the last to the first.
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