The Pope had just finished celebrating the mass yesterday when I called my Nonna to say happy Easter:
“Hey Nonna! Happy Easter! How are you?”
“Hey sweetheart! I’m fine, Happy Easter to you too! Have you seen the Pope? He’s just finished celebrating the mass, I’ve watched it on TV… The basilica was empty… Reality became virtual before we could imagine!”
The Basilica was empty, St. Peter’s square was empty! A man standing alone celebrated the mass this year without a crowd watching. A faithful crowd? A curious crowd?
The pictures of Rome evoke an apocalyptic scenario never seen before. However the square was not empty, the warmth in my Nonna’s voice speaking about the mass made me realise: St. Peter square was virtually full of faithful hearts.
Reality has become virtual, my Nonna said… Virtual reality existed already but it was more a sort of parallel reality constructed on the model of the actual reality. 2020 is different. We don’t hug anymore, we don’t kiss, we don’t shake hands, we see each other through a screen… In a very short time 2020 changed the world and it is still changing the way people behave and interact with each other.
What would I give to hug my Nonna!
So, to feel closer to home and to her I set myself a challenge: making the Pastiera Napoletana, a traditional Easter dessert. The preparation started on Thursday: I accepted the challenge with myself knowing it would be an emotional challenge as well and I went to buy the ingredients.
Of course I stood in line at safe distance from other people and tried to keep the distance in the supermarket as well and all of the sudden I lived a moment of fear when I realised I would have to make the pasta frolla (dough)!
I spent my Friday daydreaming, I would say, about the past. As a kid I don’t think I particularly longed for Easter, Christmas was way better. But thinking about it, being brought up in a Roman Catholic tradition, there is no Christmas without Easter…
Easter is a celebration I understood growing up. Of course as a kid I loved the Easter eggs, all the chocolate I would receive, the family gathering, the food. I don’t think I fully understood the concept of Easter and its meaning until a mass celebrated in the cathedral of Poprad, Slovakia ten years ago.
We were visiting Poprad on good Saturday and as we were walking in a city centre incarnating the spirit of Lent, where no-one was walking and everything was closed, the evening came and the churches bells announced the mass. A procession of people was entering the gothic Cathedral holding a candle. The voice of the priest, celebrating the mass in Latin, were the only sound that overwhelmed the breathing sounds of the crowd, conferring an even more solemn atmosphere to dark moment. At a certain point the Paschal candle was lit and its light was brought to the crowd as each one of us lit his or her candle.
A candle light is only a small flame, so fragile that a weak blow is enough to turn it off, yet in the dark that candle light was shining and was passed on from person to person until the whole cathedral was enlightened. Resurrection, I had heard all about it every year at Easter since I can remember but somehow this time it was different. How can you understand resurrection without knowing what death is? Maybe that is the reason…
This year Easter is somewhat unusual and so is our way of celebrating it, but it can’t be just a Sunday for me.
Despite my initial fear I started preparing the dough. As my hands touched the flower sweet memories from my childhood came to my mind, my anxiety vanished. As I was kneading it, images from my Nonna intrusively came into my head, my frustration was gone. As I grated the skin of a lemon into the dough I was struck by a feeling of happiness, that lemon scent was suddenly happiness to me!
It took a whole day, but when I suddenly woke up to the smell of the Pastiera, worrying that it had already burned in the oven, I knew Easter was coming and my hearth was filled with joy.