Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Little Easter on the Lagoon

A barena, fishing nets, Mazzorbo's church of Santa Caterina, and the mountains beyond
After having spent five Easters in Italy I've come to realize that I now prefer Pasquetta, the holiday that occurs the day after Pasqua, or Easter, to Easter itself.

It was formerly called--and may be still by the most devout--Lunedì dell' Angelo, or the Monday of the Angel, and commemorated those women (Mary Magdalene among them) who were distressed to find the tomb of Jesus empty when they visited it--until a helpful angel appeared and put them at ease.

But to use a term from soccer or football, Pasquetta, or "Little Easter," strikes me now as a kind of extra-time holiday. Something added on when the official time, or holiday, has expired. It's a bis holiday, an encore, and, I think, a great idea.

After all the great otherworldly to-do and stress of a major holiday, Pasquetta returns us to the simply human, to our life in this world. After the vault of Death has been blasted open and the golden trumpets of Eternal Life set to blaring; after we've been assured we are not of this paltry worn-out earth but beings destined to be clothed in pure light, shod in silver and gold clouds, adorned with rainbows and stardust, beyond all time and seasons... After all this incorporeal pomp--we go, the next day, for a picnic.

At least that's the tradition. If you live in Milan or Rome you head to the countryside. If you live in Venice you take to the lagoon, which is what we did. 

It was sunny but rather cold, and I was disappointed that I didn't see nearly as many families out in their boats as I had (sitting and watching from a riva) on previous Pasquette. And those families you did see tended to be in large boats, contemporary models, and were bundled up in down parkas and knits hats, looking more like people dressed for sledding than for boating to an island picnic.

But we had hot chicken soup with us--not traditional, but appropriate for the weather--and sat in the bottom of our small sandolo sanpierota, out of the wind, after dropping anchor amid some barene (or mud flats).

Out among the barene I didn't find myself thinking of the empty tomb that Mary Magdalene found and some Life beyond life, but of other, older myths of rebirth and regeneration; seasonal myths, like that of Persephone. Dead myths that persist now simply as old stories, as invaluable reminders that even tales of the Timeless and Ageless have their own expiration dates. For as far as I know no one these days conquers or exploits or oppresses or tortures or murders in the name of and for the greater glory of Persephone.

But mostly we just enjoyed being out in the lagoon, the perfect semi-natural space for someone like me, prone to both claustrophobia and agoraphobia: neither too small, nor too big. You can roam far and wide and never find yourself beyond the reassuring embrace of the Lidi or the bosom of terraferma, on water in constant motion but generally no deeper than that of your bathtub.

The art and architecture of Venice has inspired or preoccupied or even haunted the minds of millions of people for centuries, and there are many to this day who feel that its impressions (as Browning said of Italy) have been engraved on their hearts. But the lagoon seems to get into your blood, its tides moving in your veins.

In the middle of the north lagoon this clam digger kneels in just an inch or two of water
A few people sailed on Pasquetta

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