I was in the middle of trussing a joint yesterday when the dogs started barking their 'someone we don't know and who is wearing something very odd, is in the garden', woof. Not what you really want in that particular moment, but the dogs were pretty determined not to be ignored.
Our local priest in long white gold embroidered ecclesiastical robe was standing at the front door. In a flash I realized that we had completely forgotten that this is the time of year when local priests go on walk abouts to bless houses, homes and all of us in them.
A second flash brought a feeling of guilt and shame. I hadn't Spring cleaned. I'd let the Tuscan tradition down. My tables were busy with chocolate cakes warm from the oven, eggs my neighbour had just brought in, sourdough frothing and bubbling, a huge pile of archichokes and of course the half trussed joint. And to add to my shame I wasn't washed and scrubbed and in my waiting-in-for-the-priest togs.
As if the priest would notice these things anyway. As if all this could really matter. But strangely, when you've been living here for long enough and have embraced the engaging side of social traditions, it's a part of the community calendar that you look forward to.
My first Easter in Tuscany, in our beloved hide-away village in the Tuscan mountains, many years ago, gave me my initiation into this singular and touching ritual. The first indication of something out-of-the-ordinary afoot, was a few too many of the villagers bedding hanging out of windows, rugs tossed over balconies, cats sulking on scrubbed doorsteps. Walking to the village shop and taking in this frenzy of common activity, I felt increasingly that I shouldn't have been doing what I was doing. Mystified, I called in on a neighbour to find her cleaning out kitchen cupboards. I was not very much the wiser with the explanation that the priest was expected on the morrow, but with a few further enquiries I understood sufficient to feel that I should hurry home to beat the winter's dust out of my own rugs and pillows. Quite why the visit should necessitate such a thorough Spring clean, I never have grasped, but on the basis that any excuse is a good excuse for a humungous clean-out, I'm happy to join in.
So there we were yesterday, all standing in our kitchen, Marco in his garden combat gear, me in my pinny, surrounded by the paraphernalia of domestic usual activity, Cosimo - one of our maltese terriers - most embarrassingly doing his best to climb up the priest's leg under his long robe, joining in with the prayer. After this, the 'reverendo' shook holy water from a sort of sugar-shaker and blessed our house and all of us in it. A general social chat on local matters and a discreetly disguised pecuniary offering slipped into his bag along with all the other envelopes. Well, he does have a bell tower to repair and church maintenance to provide for and he had gone to all the trouble of trekking down our drive to get here.
One year we missed out completely on this blessing and inspite of ourselves, we both had an uneasy feeling that something untoward would likely befall us during the year. And i'm not at all superstitious. However, today we, our home, our dogs, cats and doves, and even the river flowing alongside our house, are blessed and we feel reassured for the forthcoming year and happy that there is still this community spirit in our corner of Tuscany. Bless!