So, it’s Bank Holiday in the UK with cold, wet weather – there’s a surprise! If it’s any consolation to you, we too have colder and very, very wet weather as I write this. The difference is that it is not a Bank Holiday weekend so I am at work.
I’m afraid I caved in and wrote a quick text to S at the Hay Festival. I have had no reply. There are two possible reasons for this that I am prepared to contemplate. One is that she is just so very, very busy (which will be true as this weekend is most definitely the worst) or two is that she is somewhat disgruntled that I did not appear at the last moment or that I should know better than to text her. I may never know which it is. However, I am a patient man and will wait for an indication one way or another.
So, the weekend was strange in so many ways. On Sunday we were invited, with one of those ‘can-not-be-refused’ invitations, to the confirmation of the lad of one of V’s colleagues.
I could mention the whole day and the people we met but, there is the possibility that someone will read this and I am not sure I can do it justice with that in mind. Undoubtedly these characters will surface in some other form.
In the meantime, I will give you my other thoughts on the confirmation service.
Perhaps God was speaking, but maybe only to me, when the heavens opened together with the wrath of Thor for most of the service itself. Sometimes, in Italy, things are so much like the UK. The parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends and distant relatives were there in number to see the child obtain his/her first communion. There was the ‘see and be seen’ mentality.’ This event was not for the children (as, I suppose, is true of most kid’s events) but for the relatives and friends to show the other children’s relatives and friends how important/rich/perfect-family-like they were. A new suit, shoes, hair-do, etc. were the important things. How little Johnny/Jane was the perfect child. After all, the parents had had to go through this ordeal, so, too, must their children.
So, we are sat in this very nice church (but nothing special) in some small town just outside Milan. The church is full. So full, in fact, that there are people who are standing at the back for lack of seats.
There is the usual state of organized chaos. The kids file in with their sponsors, but no one seems to know where to go, what to do. The carefully planned order of children has, obviously, become disrupted along the way and some children (or perhaps, correctly, it should be sponsors) want to stay near to where their relatives are sitting – but this is a problem for the kids coming behind so the ones in front are ordered to move up.
There are strict rules. No photographs. There is an official photographer and an official video-camera man. I expect there’ll be a fee and, of course, each family will want their mementos of the occasion. A good business? A lady near the front breaks this rule. The fat, sweaty, bespectacled priest in his red and orange robes admonishes her. She does it again. The priest, who, by now, is often pulling out a large handkerchief that resembles a small tablecloth to soak the sweat from his face and slightly balding head, publicly denounces her again. She does it again and at this point I can see that, if she doesn’t stop soon, given that he is fast colouring to the same hue as his robes, the priest will probably explode with anger.
The service moves on. I watch with a distant feeling. I am not part of this. I am here merely as an observer. I cannot understand nor do I try to listen hard enough to understand. V, from time to time, tries to tell me what is being said or what is happening. I am not interested really, but listen anyway.
I am amazed by the way that the church (and to be honest any type of church) manages to control the population. They have rituals and the rituals must be followed. The words that the congregation say. The mention of God’s name or Jesus’ name. It is all being done in their names – but what would they think? It is hollow and empty, the ritual being everything, the meaning being nothing.
But the ritual is followed. The taking of the wafer that is supposed to represent Jesus body, the drinking of wine that is supposed to be His blood. But it’s not and, in spite of the rote words, the reality is that most, if not all, of the people do not actually think it is – not even symbolically.
The priest is on fire. Clouds of smoke are billowing from the back of his robes. Ah no, the incense container appears from behind him, handed to him by one of the altar boys. The waving of the incense over the book (bible?). For what purpose? To ensure the bugs are killed? How did these rituals, these rites come to be? At what point did someone say ‘let’s do this because it will help’.’ But help what? Help who? Help control as it’s another crowd-pleaser that stops the populous from falling asleep or becoming disinterested.
Everything done in short bursts so that there is variety, change. Stand up. Sit down. Stand up. Don’t think that you can just sit back. We need you to feel you are part of it. Let’s do a collection. You must give us some money. Some token of how much you are good and faithful. And this, from one of the richest organizations in the world. After all, they’ve just evicted a load of people in Rome so that they can sell off the apartment blocks to make fancy hotels for the tourists.
And then it is over. Not two hours as S said, but one and a quarter. We are in the piazza outside. The people are looking at each other, eyeing them up and down. What do they think they look like? That outfit doesn’t go. Aren’t they having problems at home? I don’t know what they’re thinking but una bella figura is everything.
Off to the mother’s house for food and drink and to allow the kid to show us his new watch, iPod, football shirt. Sitting in a large circle on plastic garden chairs, but indoors. The chairs were bought for the occasion especially. One breaks as someone is sitting in it. Quite funny for everyone, except the girl. But then people explain that they realised they were not so strong, so they had two or three stacked for added strength.
The Italians talk to each other at one end of the room. The English at the other, apart from the African Muslim, who fits in neither place and so stays with his Italian girlfriend who speaks both and is one of the few that can cross the great divide of the room.
We get home about 9.30 p.m. I’m exhausted by it all. The kids were great but got too loud. The food was, well, done by the British mum. I am glad to be home. I don’t fit there in many, many ways. I can stand it for a while, but it’s not me, it’s not my life – never was and never will be.
And on Hay? I see some blogging has changed. There is some criticism of some of the events (fair enough in my view – you should come away with an opinion and air it if you want (or if you are paid to do so)). Less of the small-minded blogs than yesterday, which is very good. And, an update on the rain here – it has rained (absolutely poured down would be a better description) non-stop all day (it’s now about 3 p.m.) and will probably continue like this for 3 days – after which it will, probably (hopefully) revert to warm and sunny. Let’s hope for the same for the small book-town in Wales?