Today January 27 is dedicated to San Giovanni Crisostomo. I know that because it brings me back to the stories I heard from my Grandmother Imode. San Giovanni Crisostomo is the protector of the town of Asola, where my Grandmother was born. Every year on this very day the silver torso of the Saint is put on display for the people to honor.
My Grandmother was a great storyteller. She was born ten years before WWII started and she lived through the fascist regime of Mussolini. Particularly she had to endure and participate as other school kids at the time to the events of the Fascist youth organization. During these infamous events , she and her companions would mock secretly the pompous chants and ceremonies of fascist indoctrination. I can’t imagine anything less coming from school kids. A child-like mind it’s the best antidote against fascim.
I also learned from other stories how her brother Vigilio refused to enroll in the army, and hid in the country. The women of the family would bring him food in his hiding spot. Imode had not met her husband Giuseppe at that time. My Grandfather was a little older than her and during the War he joined the Partigiani faction (the resistance army who contributed in fighting the Fascist Regime and their Nazi allies). He and other partigiani were taken as hostage by German troops and released in exchange for safe passage during their retreat through a Partigiani controlled territory. Because he safely made through that dangerous situation I am here alive today.
The collection of her stories was not limited to the the serious and harsh times of the War. She had also plenty of funny and incredible stories told in a combination of mantuan dialect and italian. Today I can still understand perfectly the dialect but for some weird brain circuitry if I try to speak it my Spanish gets in the way.
She told me so many times about St.John’s celebration that one time, roughly twenty years ago, I insisted to go. I was in high school at the time and I had to take a couple of days off to do the trip. After all it was a family event, so skipping school was not a big deal. I was also too young to drive and my Granma never learned to, so we took a train from Milan Central Station, and got picked up by relatives in Asola. I remember reading a volume of Father Brown Mysteries from G.K.Chesterton during the train ride and looking out the windows to the farmland of South Lombardy.
That day 20 years ago, I went to mass with my Granma and observed the Priest and the Major opening the shrine where the torso of the Saint is stored, each with his own key. Then we walked through the busy fair and hang out a bit in town, but the spirit of my Grandmother’s tales was gone. Asola had already lost the magical rural character, agriculture got eventually more dependent on machines and peasants had to find other means for sustain themselves. The service industry was about to be created to absorb them. This is the reason why some 50 years ago my grandparents, moved to the north of Milan to seek employment bringing their two young daughters with them. Urban life and job security took place of the magic tales I used to hear.
In the rural culture this moment of the year was crucial. It’s the end of January, days are starting to get longer and the extended daylight time allows for more working hours in the field. It’s time to get ready for spring, ten days earlier bonfires were made in honor of San Antonio. It’s time to go back and clear the fields, make ashes, prepare for the sowing. Winter’s reach is far from gone and the temperature are still low. In fact, according to another legend the three coldest days of the year (28-29-30 of the month) called “Giorni della Merla” are about to come. But somehow the worst is behind and people look at the upcoming Spring with hope and expectations.
Even if the magic was gone, I always like to go back to Asola, visit my relatives and enjoy the culinary treats of the Mantova region. Everywhere in Italy food is amazing, but I have a little suggestion: next time you go there visit the City of Mantova and the adjacent territory. You won’t be disappointed.
Going back to my grandmothers tales about rural life is in real resonance with this period of the year. Similarly to old times rural culture,life on the boat is dependent on seasons and daylight time. Short days mean for us long night watches when sailing, and shorter work days at anchor. In the morning it is dark and cold it’s hard to get out of bed, and when night comes early it prevent us to do much work other than sitting in the cabin and cook meals.
Today January 27th is also new beginning for us. We are not making any bonfire, or honoring relics, but if feels like a new chapter. We came to Jascksonville to get all squared up with Basic Safety Training. Sea Survival, Fire Fighting, First AID, Personal Safety and Social Responsibility, and we succeeded.
We took care of bureaucracy and established a new domicile. Days are longer and temperatures are mild to warm. The steps to get ready seem infinite, but we keep knocking a few off the list. I can’t wait till there will be only excuses on the list. I am trying to make 2017 a NO EXCUSES year. Wish me good luck!