Monday, January 23, 2012

Death, Italian Style

It’s not quite as final as you may think.
by Judy Bachrach
Death has an interesting character in Italy. It’s not always evil. For example, if you die anywhere in Italy, which I highly recommend, you get to lie in state in either an embellished hospital room or else the prettiest room in the family house, often air- conditioned, which for your benefit will be converted into what they call here “una camera ardente.”
What this means is that the room, starring you in your best outfit, will be stuffed with little candles, placed elegantly all around your body. Hundreds of chrysanthemums, the traditional flower for the dead, will be settled in large vases, brought by scores of grieving visitors, all of whom will say they remember you fondly because it is polite to do so.
Debbie Collins, a British acupuncturist whose father-in-law was laid out within minutes in just such a companiable way, recalls her grieving mother-in-law “alternately slapping her husband’s face, berating him for dying, and weeping over him and telling him how much she loved him and was going to miss him.”  This is normal behavior in much of Italy, a country that reveres its dead a whole lot more than it admires the living.
(Note to tourists: About the most vulgar and offensive thing you can say in Rome is “Mortacci tua!” which means basically “Damn your dead ancestors.” I know it doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it is incendiary. So if you hear it, don’t repeat it.) Continue >

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