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Window on Italy - Corpus Domini Flower Festival in Piegaro, 2010

Colleen Simpson

Living in a small village in Umbria, I am bound by the daily and yearly rhythms. My life is characterized by a sense of ease and naturalness. I am easily bound to my neighbors. Deep friendships develop and are easily nurtured. Our lives are naturally intertwined in many ways. From the first opening of our window shutters and our morning greetings to each other, to the last "buona notte" when we leave the piazza and head to bed, we easily pass the time of day and share our lives. We pass each other in the central piazza, meet up at the butcher shop, the café or the grocery store. We care about each other and naturally share our lives together. The fabric of village life is woven with daily and yearly rituals.

Corpus DominiWhen I arrive at the train station in April upon my annual return to Piegaro, I am picked up by Carlotta and Alessandra of my adopted Italian family. The first important news that they give me is one of sadness. My dear neighbor, Tito, is in the hospital in very grave condition with cancer. Immediately I go to his wife, Giocanda, lovely Giocanda who lives just above our terrace and who I see many times a day watering her plants, hanging her laundry, passing the time of day.

Tito comes home to rest for three weeks soon after my arrival, but he is in great pain and I cannot visit him. Giocanda points out his bedroom window above my terrace and I send him my daily prayers.

The rhythms of the year are marked by annual festivals and in early May, we celebrate the festival of Corpus Domini to commemorate the first time the wine of communion turned into blood near Orvieto. Each year the streets of Piegaro are decorated with floral tapestries. This flower festival is called an "infioriata." This year I wake early to help Giocanda decorate our street together, but am greeted by young Valentina, my other neighbor instead, with Giocanda's sad news. Tito has passed the evening before Corpus Domini, perhaps the most important religious observances of our year.

Valentina steps up to take Giocanda's place. She is putting together a large heart outside my gate with roses and greenery. I quickly gather rose petals from Giocanda's and my rose bushes, clip lots of ivy and geraniums, so that together, we decorate our street in honor of Tito, while Giocanda remains shuttered in mourning.

Valentina's beautiful heart outside our gate in Via Cavour

Valentina's beautiful heart outside our gate in Via Cavour

Valentina and I work our way up our street creating a pathway of pink and red roses and greenery with yellow ginestra. At the corner we join my good friend and Italian "sister", Lea who has more ginestra that she has collected for several days. We continue to create floral tapestries along their street up to the entrance to the church. Together, with the advice of Maria Pia and Carla, we create a beautiful chalice an early Christian symbol of peace.

Corpus Domini

Lea, Colleen, Valentina, Maria Pia and Carla

People hang banners outside the houses, and every street becomes an infioriata, a floral tapestry. Each family gets together with friends to decorate their street and each has its own altar that will soon be blessed by our village priest Don Augusto.

Dear friend, Pepina, hangs her banner

Dear friend, Pepina, hangs her banner

Within only a couple of hours, our village is transformed into a magical and mystical warren of floral displays of great creativity. Everyone joins in and I run around checking to see what each of my neighbors is up to!

Side street in Castiglione del Lago

Piazza Matteotti has an altar to be blessed

Soon we join our fellow villagers in the church where young children have been confirmed today and the holy service of Corpus Domini begins with a procession through the streets. Everyone follows Don Augusto, chanting a song that has remained unchanged through the centuries, into every street of Piegaro, stopping at each altar to bless the people, the street and our village.

Don Augusto blesses Piazza Matteotti

Don Augusto blesses Piazza Matteotti

Our Corpus Domini Infioriata this year is dedicated to Tito. Walking in the processional, chanting together, gathering in each street and piazza, we are joined together as one in a powerful tribute to Tito's memory. Just as he walked with us in the processionals of years past, we will soon walk him to his final resting place in the days to come. This is the basic rhythm of a life well lived among villagers who preserve cherished traditions that resonate powerfully within our hearts. The ease and naturalness of our lives joined together fills me with great joy in the midst of sadness. This is the essence of village life in my beautiful Umbria.

Tom and Colleen walk behind Rudolpho holding the cross in village processional

Tom and Colleen walk behind Rudolpho holding the cross in village processional

Colleen's Window on Italy is a series of monthly articles on Slow Travel. Read the article "Colleen's Window on Italy - Introduction" for more information.

Colleen Simpson lives most of the year in Piegaro, Umbria and operates L'Antica Vetreria (www.anticavetreria.net): a villa and four apartments for vacationing guests. At other times, you can find her in beautiful Seattle.

© Colleen Simpson, 2010

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