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A Christmas in Italy

December 2005
Midnight Mass
On Christmas Eve, after a jolly time with some Italian neighbours eating Christmas cake and drinking sweet Bridisi fizzy wine, we drove out to the abbey for the midnight mass. As it was a Catholic mass it had its share of graven images, including a plaster Jesus on the cross with what was presumably supposed to be a crown of thorns upon his head but which looked considerably like an old battered hat, plus a rather sinister-looking plaster Jesus child, which had seen a few masses in its time, the result of which was that most of its fingers and toes had broken off.
L’Albergo è Stata Pieno
The priest spoke clearly and slowly, which was nice as it meant that I could understand just about all of what he said (the mass was in Italian, not Latin). It’s odd when you hear a familiar story in a different language that you understand, so for example we heard that Jesus was born in a manger because the hotel was fully booked, and that the angel came down to talk to three ‘pastorale’, which does mean shepherds, but with more of a hint of country bumpkin about it.
Feeling Suitable Remorse
The church was freezing cold so everyone sat huddled in their coats, except for the priest, who perhaps had three layers of Long Johns under his cassock and who’d had a hard day and did quite a bit of yawning.
At one point the priest asked us all to stand and pray for a moment for those of our friends and family less fortunate than ourselves, and try as I might, I could not think of anyone, friend or family or even foe, who was less fortunate than me at that moment, standing there as I was in the freezing cold at half past midnight, worrying that the telephone and the heating were going to cause me ongoing grief (for both had failed a couple of days earlier), and that I’d have to spend a fair bit of the forthcoming days doing the washing up (the telephone line and dishwasher in our house were both broken and proving hard work to get fixed). These selfish thoughts made me quite guilty, which just added to my sense of feeling sorry for myself. I don’t get religion at all.
The Pope on Telly
To add to our spiritual enlightenment, on the following day, Christmas Day, we watched the pope do his Christmas speech to the teeming millions from the window of the Vatican – we watched it on the telly, of course. The Pope shares with our previous-evening’s priest, and with Silvio Berlusconi, the ability to speak Italian slowly and clearly, which means that I can understand most of what he says, and I approve of that. I’m also amused by the way he pronounces words like quando and questo, with is with a German accent, kvando and kvesto. Fair enough I suppose, seeing as how he’s German, but it kind of sounds funny hearing the Pope speak with a comic accent.
The Pope and the PM
The Pope also shares with Berlusconi the attribute of heading a rather shaky edifice that is overdue for change, though I think that Italy’s need is probably more pressing the the Vatican’s and it’s just about ahead in the game too, though of course in Italy the Catholic Church exerts quite an influence on Italian society so the two issues are rather linked. Possibly things will change a bit after Berlusconi gets voted out in April and the government can spend time doing more than just try and keep its leader out of gaol.


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