All the things people said about summers in Rome weren’t just talk. It’s hot. Although everyone continues to stress the fact that we are getting off easy because it is usually much hotter (90 will be the high this week). But no matter how hot people think it is, most of them have still fled the city to find a cooler refuge. Traffic is less chaotic; still chaotic, but noticeably less so. Tourists are everywhere. We went to Piazza Navona to grab a gelato for Johanna’s birthday, and we heard significantly more German than Italian. And, while the larger supermarkets stay open, lots of stores are closed, with signs hanging in the window that read, “chiuso per ferie” (closed for the holidays).
August is sort of the finale of summertime holiday activity. It may not be as obvious now, but a friend told me growing up in Rome his neighborhood would be a ghost town come August. Ferragosto, the official holiday, lands on the 15th of August. Like with a lot that happens here, although there are some sort of official Roman Catholic connections, it seems as if most people are just excited to have some time off work. In this case it basically means going to the beach and eating special food. But the background is fascinating. An article on Focus.it explains the pagan roots of the holiday that later became a Roman Catholic celebration:
The name of the anniversary is derived from the Latin, feriae Augusti, “rest/holiday of August,” in honor of Octavian Augustus, first Roman Emperor, from whom the name of the month of August is taken. It was a period of rest and of celebration instituted by the Emperor himself in 18 B.C., that drew from the tradition of other holidays that celebrated the end of agricultural work, dedicated to…the god of the land and fertility…The anniversary was assimilated by the Catholic church about the 7th century when the celebration the Assumption of Mary began being commemorated August 15th. The dogma of the Assumption (recognized as such only in 1950) establishes that the Virgin Mary was assumed, that is accepted, into heaven body and soul.
But I didn’t read all that until yesterday. Instead we, along with what seemed like the rest of the country, went to the beach with some friends from church. We showed up at a free beach around 9 in the morning, near a small city called Latina about an hour outside of Rome. Our spot in the sand was about 6 rows back from the water. That is to say, at least 6 other groups had set up shop between us and the water. All of which is standard fare here. The beach scene in Italy involves guys wandering around peddling their wares; from bathing suits to bracelets to beach balls and other inflatable stuff. If you hear a whistle it is not the lifeguard warning of impending danger but the drink guy letting you know he has arrived. Most venders push some sort of make shift cart, but I noticed one guy who had blown up about a dozen inflatable animals, set them in the water, and walked behind as the waves washed them along the beach. Pretty tempting for a three year old.
Around 12:30 we headed to our friends’ beach house. Johanna and I took turns being the assistant in the kitchen, as our friend is convinced we have no idea how pasta should be cooked. Johanna did well; I just basically struggled to cut tomatoes. Every region eats something different on Ferragosto. For our second course, we had the traditional Roman dish: stewed chicken and peppers (Wikipedia even confirms it). Our first course was an incredible spaghetti with various shellfish. Both our girls loved slurping the mussels right out of the shells in true Roman fashion. We are unsure if it is an odd side-effect of her starting to speak Italian, but over lunch we discovered that Alice has also developed a thick Southern twang for certain words. When she got her pasta she announced “there are sheeylls in this pasta.”
Coffee after the meal gave us the opportunity to have some extended conversations about what it looks like for God to get the glory even in the seemingly mundane. Spiritual conversations that require more nuance were difficult to navigate at the beginning. This happens to be the same couple we spent Christmas Eve with two weeks after we first arrived in Italy. And a lot has changed. The drive home was a chance to reflect with thanksgiving on what the Lord had accomplished in some very tangible ways.