Today is Easter Sunday, and this morning the bells pealed loudly across Rome. And because it’s Sunday, and a special one, we had our great treat, a delivery from SantoPalato. We ordered three Easter lunches, so M could take one to his mother who still lives in the apartment he grew up in twenty minutes drive from us. She’s 91 years old, fortunate in good health, and quite the most extraordinarily resilient lady. Ivonne was born in France of emigrants forced to leave the Veneto in search of work (because we were once all emigrant peoples). When she was a baby her father died of the sort of banal disease that people used to die from all the time, and elsewhere in the world still do. Her mother remarried, had more children, and she and her husband worked in abject poverty. In desperation she sent the infant Ivonne, who arrived in Italy aged three covered in smuts from a steam train, to be brought up temporarily by her grandmother in the countryside outside Padua. The next time she saw her mother, Ivonne was forty years old and a mother herself.
Ivonne is an intelligent and courageous woman, but overwhelmingly she is kind. An observant Catholic with no time for the populist racism which unfortunately is an ever-increasing trope (we were the immigrants then, she says, it wasn’t our fault either) nor for judgement. She has never sought to impose anything other than love, with the most generous of spirits. I admire her enormously. Today M took the special Easter lunch to her door (together with her shopping for the week). She knew she couldn’t get close, let alone hug him, and for the first time since this all began she cried in front of him. And so did he. Later we briefly Facetimed (she’s learning to work my old, disinfected, iPad) and she, an excellent cook, lauded the delicious lunch, and was once again firm of voice, asking after my family in London. It didn’t elude me that enjoying her lunch was another act of bravery.
And, gosh, it was delicious: an antipasto of pizza di formaggio – a sort of cheesy savoury Easter cake – and excellent salami; timballo alla teremana – a sort of Abruzzese “lasagne” made not with pasta but the thinnest savoury crepes, tiny meatballs, various cheeses, spring vegetables, and mushrooms; robust lamb from the Monte Amiata roasted with potatoes. There was a vignarola, and the finest baked cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Even we have leftovers for tomorrow. A feast.
In our quarantine, we (like Ivonne) have the enormous fortune of dear neighbours. Isolation is less when hellos are exchanged from windows, or balconies, or in our case terraces. We had arranged to sit down for lunch at the same time as our neighbours, each on our own terraces. We gave toasts, exchanged plates of our respective dishes (at a distance, with washed hands).
And when we’d finished eating, our opposite neighbour decanted some Nocino, a Sorrento walnut liqueur made by a friend of hers, into an old olive oil bottle and sent it across the rope affair strung up at the beginning of this quarantine.
The sun shone and it was all very jolly, and we’re so lucky to live in such a lovely and friendly situation. Nevertheless we were all aware of the reason we’re passing things across the way, and why we all can’t see our families, near and far, at the moment. A Facetime call with dear friends in Lombardy who have family members gravely ill brought it home. We’re making the best of the situation, but it is drastically sad. Please stay at home where at all possible so we can all hug those we love as soon as possible.