With Good Friday and Easter Monday taken up by Italian lessons, it was plain Saturday that we decided to celebrate Easter. That weekend it was lazy and murky, and my cousin and I woke up late and took our time getting ready before heading over to her friend’s place to finish making “Easter Sunday dinner” – żurek, bigos, sałatka and mazurek – that we would scarf down later that evening.
We were a gaggle of girls concocting a rambunctious dinner over Ukrainian rap, German jokes and Polish movies. As my Easters “back home” had been whittled down to a quick family brunch, the whole thing felt both unsettling and novel.
We combined Italian ingredients with Polish, Ukrainian and Russian cuisine into a Polish meal complemented by a handful of €1.89 wines from Euromart.
After dinner, we discussed our opinions on the current and former Popes at length, while indulging in an arts and crafts moment of decorating our Easter baskets and eggs with colorful ribbons and markers.
Then onto a round of “Prawo Dżungli” (Jungle Speed), a chaotic card game requiring players to notice any matches between the symbols on each others’ cards, and then grabbing at, and holding on to, the totem in the center as quickly as possible if any did. It got dangerous. The grabbing got serious: every time the totem was seized, it got snatched away. Nails were broken, arms were scratched. Cards went flying, wine was spilled. Threats were made. A humiliating punishment for the losers was decided on and we set off towards the leaning tower to terrorize some poor unsuspecting chap into giving us his number (having to ask for it in Polish, of course).
Luckily we were distracted. It was past midnight and a fire in front of the Duomo drew us in like moths for a resurrection mass none of us knew existed. The cathedral was dark, and visitors already inside held candles in rows. The view was soothing, but the atmosphere eerie – a cryptic cult in procession, all speech suppressed under held breath. It was so unfamiliar, we stared mesmerized until realizing we had to be back there within a few hours. Baskets and punishments incomplete, we all strolled home.
A couple finishing touches on our Easter baskets and we’re off for mass, all pretty dresses and umbrellas, with our little creations getting prematurely blessed by the downpour.
Chaos outside the cathedral, chaos within. Exits used as entrances, entrances as waiting areas. Tourists there for mass, tourists there to explore. Ancient paintings and signs prohibiting photography lit up by camera flashes. A sea of identical Pisa umbrellas purchased out of desperation: a sea of grimy puddles between the pews.
The distinct smell of the incense and cold marble fills my nostrils and no matter how far I run, I am transported to somewhere in my childhood.
We find an empty pew and fill it, the four of us: a devout Catholic, two magical thinkers and an atheist. The priest walks by with the aspergillum and we hope at least a drop of holy water fell on the representations of our Easter meal. People shuffle in and out and between the pews. Everyone is quiet but everyone is whispering. The harmony of the choir rings in the space around us and the fullness of the organ rounds out the empty air. The mass is long, in Latin and Italian, and I start to memorize the elaborate gold designs on the ceiling. I understand almost nothing yet follow along nearly effortlessly, my ‘Amens’ and signs of the cross automatic and reactionary, the tones and melodies drilled into me from juvenescence. After a lifetime, a sign of the end: the Corpa Di Christo, and we’re free.
Chaos outside the cathedral. The rain has stopped but the sky is dripping. We speak in English to a Spaniard and take token photos with the tower before heading home quite pleased with ourselves. Our decorated eggs, chocolate bunnies and wine await – and we are gluttons.