First of all, Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers. In Toronto, I’m used to Valentine’s Day arriving as a welcome distraction from the blahs of a cold and bleak winter but my goodness what a week it’s been here in Rome! First there were the Carnival celebrations over the weekend as well as Chinese New Year though this did not feature as strongly here as it does in Toronto. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday which marks the start of the 40 days of Lent (called Quaresima here) before Easter. Since this period is supposed to be one of abstinence from various pleasures of life, Tuesday or ‘Martedi Grasso’ (Fat Tuesday) was marked by particular sweets in the bakeries though not pancakes.
One of my friends remarked that I seem to write a lot about food but it’s impossible not to be fascinated by food in this city as items in the market vary according to season, and the bakeries maintain the culinary traditions associated with different events. For the past couple of weeks preceding Lent, all the bakeries and bars have been selling a pastry called ‘Chiacchiere’ (pronounced ‘Kia-keea-rey’) which are strips of thinly rolled dough either fried or baked, and sprinkled with a dusting of icing sugar only sold at this time of year!
Today, Valentine’s Day, is not as commercial as it is in north America but does coincide with an ancient festival ‘The Festival of Lupercalia’ a spring and fertility festival dating back to Roman times which was later transposed by the church into St. Valentine’s day. Valentine was a priest who secretly married young soldiers during the reign of the Emperor Claudius II who had decreed that soldiers should remain single as they made better soldiers than those who had wives and families. Jailed and sentenced to death for his activities, he met and fell in love with his jailer’s daughter who was blind and who supposedly recovered her vision through the love of Valentine. The fertility rituals of Lupercullian times thus became converted into affirmations of love and special treatment for the ‘chosen one’ on this day. The tradition of giving chocolates on Valentine’s day apparently started when Cadburys packaged their chocolates in a heart-shaped box for Valentine’s day in 1860. Some of the Pasticcerias here have beautifully decorated chocolates but what caught my attention was a display at a chocolate fair over the weekend, by Venchi, a well known Roman chocolatier who featured the beans, as well as the fruit that the beans come from. Looking at the fruit, its amazing that somebody thought of taking out the seeds and roasting them to make chocolate.
Anyhow, superceding all these events was the news on Monday that the Pope was resigning. Everybody was taken by surprise by this announcement. I thought I might get some gossip from the two priests in my conversation class but they were at a complete loss just like everybody else. Reactions seem to go from censure that he should abandon his flock (how can God’s chosen one choose not to be chosen?) to admiration for his courage which will no doubt lead to a major change in papal policy. Interestingly, once he steps down, he cannot go back to being a cardinal but reverts to being a bishop. Apparently, he wanted to retire before he was elected as the Pope but the previous Pope, John Paul II would not agree to it. I guess now he can do as he pleases!
Chiacchiere is also the word for chitchat and gossip so needless to say there is a lot of ‘chiacchiering’ going on about the two new Ps. The new Pope and and with the election due in 10 days, the new prime minister. Much to my dismay, Berlusconi is gathering some support. I can’t imagine why but this is Italy!