In Italy the number 17 is an unlucky number. When viewed as the Roman numeral, XVII, it is then changed anagrammatically to VIXI, which in the Latin language it translates to “I have lived”, the perfect tense implying “My life is over.” In Italy it is not uncommon to notice that buildings do not have a 17th floor and hotels do not have a room 17. The Italian airline carrier, Alitalia, does not have a seat 17. It is therefore known in Italy that Friday the 17th (analogous to Friday the 13th) is an especially unlucky day in Italy. On my recent trip to Italy, this happened to be the day that I left my backpack with my passport in a taxi in Rome. Huge drama especially because it contained my UK visa for my return flight via England meaning that even if I got an emergency passport I would have to book a new direct flight to South Africa. Fortunately, through the South African consulate, a number of phone calls, visits to the police station and a small “bribe” to the taxi driver (interspersed with begging and tears) I was able to get my backpack including passport back but only on the next morning, Saturday 18th of June.
Other than succumbing to that day, I had a fabulous two week vacation in Italy. We started off in Rome, then off to Umbria (apparently the less touristy version of Tuscany) and then on to Venice.
A highlight of the trip included a visit to a nunnery in the medieval hilltop town of Montefalco. We met a nun, Sister Agnes, who had been living cloistered in the nunnery since the age of 14 for 63 years. Sister Agnes said she had lived a very happy life and she had definitely retained her youthful innocence without any of the corrupting influence of the outside world. I contemplated living my entire life behind cloistered walls… hours of peaceful contemplation and prayer, no concern about paying bills, no crime, no news of the outside world i.e. nothing about wars, terrorism or the financial crisis… there was definitely a level of appeal. We were also shown all of the relics of the church – apparently one of the nun’s, now Saint Chaira of Montefalco, was walking in the garden when Jesus approached her in the garden carrying his cross and she asked him if she could carry his burden in her heart. When Saint Chiara died, they cut her open and found the shape of the cross in her heart (we saw this piece) and three gallstones that were of equal weight symbolising the miracle of the trinity (which we also saw) and even the rest of her heart and corpse were on display.
Italy passed in a blur of catholic churches, basilicas, paintings of Jesus before, after and during Crucifixion and of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. I appreciated the beauty and opulence of the churches and the sanctity of tradition but I was definitely churched out towards the end of the trip.
The rest of Italy was a celebration of pasta (pizza definitely not a highlight) surpassing all expectations…Gnocchi, Spaghetti, Rigatoni, Penne, Tagliatelle, Cannelloni, Ravioli, Tortellini, Campanelle (they deserved the capital letters).. bellisimo!