Local Carnivale

Carnivale continues. Yesterday was Fat Sunday.

As a small-town guy raised Protestant, I grew up thinking a carnival (“a carnival,” not “carnival”) was 3-4 trucks that came to town, driven by ruffians who set up a Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, a House of Mirrors, and a few games like Ring Toss, Milk Bottle Pyramid, and the Basketball Shoot. Hey, there’s a carnival in Pinconning. Wanna go?

I’d heard of Lent and vaguely understood it was not the same thing as lint. But in my mind there was no connection between carnival and religion. When I got older, I understood that something called Mardi Gras happened in New Orleans, caught glimpses of it on TV. It was a party, a parade. You got drunk there. Something similar happened in Rio de Janeiro, more colorful, equally decadent. For me there was no religious significance to Mardi Gras.

“Fat Tuesday,” I once said to Tizi.

“Right,” she said. “Martedì Grasso.”

“That’s Carnival.”

“Wrong,” she said. “Carnevale is not a day. It’s a season. Fat Tuesday is the culmination.”

In Catholic Italy, and perhaps for most serious Catholics, Carnevale begins on Epiphany, January 6, and ends on Ash Wednesday. It’s a season of indulgence, because your Lenten fast or sacrifice is coming. Carne valle. Goodbye, meat. For 40 days, no more fat. No more meat. No more pleasures of the flesh.

Every region in Italy has its gustatory pleasures. Yesterday after lunch, for dessert I had a slice of cake filled with baker’s cream. I don’t how they got it in there. I’m just glad they did. Every morning since we got here, Tizi has had 3-4 little pastries called castognole, blobs of dough filled with cream, fried, and dunked in Alchermes, a cherry liquor. “I’m having these now,” she says, “because you can only get them during Carnevale.” Along with that slice of cake yesterday, I also had something called Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good). An ugly delicious cookie. The bakeries are full of seasonal Carnevale delights right now. Better enjoy them. You won’t see them again until next year.

Where I taught, when Ramadan came around, the Arab students came to school and talked about their month-long season of sacrifice. No food from sun-up to sundown. The first week or two, in their faces, you would sometimes see their struggle. You also saw pride in what they were doing, a definite sense of identity and purpose. “We do it so we are mindful of the poor,” was a common explanation. To help the American students understand, I would mention the forty days of Lent. Once in a while, one or two faces would register a look of recognition. We do that. Some evenings during Ramadan, Tizi and I would drive down Warren Avenue in Dearborn, after dark, to enjoy the carnival atmosphere. Weather permitting, everyone out, enjoying food, enjoying community.

After lunch yesterday we wound up in Santarcangelo. Saint Archangel. It’s one of our favorite towns, not far from San Marino. In Santarcangelo, they say, the Sangiovese was born. Sangiovese. Sangue di Giove. Blood of Jove. It’s a wonderful wine. I want some every day. In Santarcangelo yesterday they were partying like it was 1999. Or three days before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

“We’ll keep fast on Fridays,” Tizi says. Meaning no meat.

I have to think of what I’m going to give up, what sacrifice I’m going to make. Not the blood of jove. I want that every day. Maybe the cream-filled cake and brutti e buoni. Maybe all sweets. (That would be crazy.) Anyway I have two days to make up my mind.

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