I am reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch. At 42 I have decided to dip into the world of the English classics, having always for some reason favoured 20th century America over 19th century Britain. Middlemarch is a social documentary, and as such it provokes intense reflection of society today and the general mess we are in. The story is held together by a quiet undertone of religious sentiment and the tensions between common worshipers and stricter Methodists, even though the book’s most overtly pious and philanthropic character turns out to have blood on his hands, kind of the Tony Abbott of the situation.
Leonardo often points out to me the differences between Protestant countries and Catholic ones, and having come from the former and happen to be living in the latter, I’ve come to appreciate these sometimes subtle nuances. Catholic countries are more flamboyant. The period before Lent is given over to excess, costumes, sweets, parties and throwing colored confetti everywhere. Carnevale is more important than La Quaresima (lent). Mardi Gras is a party.
The whole pre-lenten thing in Australia is more restrained, even if you happen to come from a Catholic family, and especially if you have an ex-Presbyterian mother. Shrove or Pancake Tuesday in our family was celebrated with pancakes with lemon and sugar: we loved them but the party finished there. Lent was adhered to, my mother feels at home with its frugality. In Italy Carnevale is all around us for the 2 or 3 or even 4 weeks leading up to Martedì Grasso (fat Tuesday): it is a time for family and community. Parades are held down the main streets of little towns, family and friends gather, children dress up, throw streamers and everyone eats piles of frappe and castagnole. In a way frappe are like pancakes; made with the poorest of ingredients, flour and sugar with just a touch of butter and a couple of eggs and then fried in oil or lard. The difference is that in Italy they get eaten for a month before lent, not just for one day. Alberto, Emma and I made our frappe as little tied knots and other shapes the day before a Sunday lunch outside of Rome. We fried them in a mixture of strutto and olive oil and dusted them generously with icing sugar.
The lunch at Osteria Iotto in the pretty town of Campagnano di Roma was all you want a Sunday lunch out of town to be, and completed with the Carnevale parade that rolled down the main street in front of the restaurant as we finished our seconds and contemplated the dolci. Wagons filled with school children in hippie outfits, dancing seniors and masqueraded kids. It reminded me a bit of Port Fairy’s New Year’s Eve Parade; so uncool it was fabulous.