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Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today, December 8, Italians celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. All Catholics from recently baptized infants to men who, as a rule, do not go to church, which, in our entrada, comprised the majority of our men, the belief being that god would be more receptive to the prayers of our women more so than our men, and the women would pray for among others, them, the men, in ways they simply did not know how—all must attend mass today. Today there is simply no excuse, the sun shines bright and it is unseasonably warm. At 5:20 a.m., the air is unusually still and few churches have sounded their bells. We set off. Daisy is scheduled to play Mozart’s Requium at St. Mary Major Basilica (Santa Maria Maggiore), then an abbreviated Requiem at a diorama depicting the Archangel Gabriel’s visitation to Mary and her imminent immaculate conception of Jesus. We have reserved seats on the High Speed Train to Rome. Daisy hustles ahead and I trail behind, running now and now so as not to fall too far back. Even people who are not in any particular hurry take the High Speed Trains, which link the country’s major cities and towns, and so such travelers count themselves as members of Italy’s modern age and their hope for the future. The country’s travel planners have placed the platforms for these High Speed trains far, far from the stations proper, so you need more lead time to board on time. Not only distant platforms but platforms several levels below ground. Such a bright modern innovation launches several layers beneath the earth’s crust. We sit two abreast and directly across from Daisy a woman, apparently attempting to sleep, has hung up her black hooded plastic coat and has placed her head beneath it. So Daisy is facing a sitting woman with a head covered by a swatch of hanging black plastic. The woman is not snoring. If she were, Daisy would assuredly awaken her. In any event, the conductor will awaken this half-hidden woman when it comes time to produce her ticket. Above all, Daisy loves the journey to her respective venues. Often, it takes us days by train and auto and then, once in the town, no matter how far to the site from our hotel, she insists on walking, consulting maps, the stars. She spends more time on the journey than on the engagement. She is the consummate traveler, journeyer, explorer of places thousands of years old. A beautiful fleeting figure unrooted in the earth’s crust. She goes into the basilica to a rehearsal chapel and I go and sit in one of the last pews and pray. I am one of the men of our entrata who does not go to church of a Sunday, yet I love and admire Jesus Christ and I pray to His Mother. I do not pray to anyone else, just recite The Hail Mary over and over. Each time I recite this prayer I can feel my heart fill with this saintly woman’s grace, the light and power of her nearness filling me more and more with each recited prayer. Maybe that’s why this prayer of the first bead of the rosary, The Hail Mary, is the only one that I recite in Italy’s churches--of an early Sunday morning around 7a.m., after Gertrude chef of our contrada and my mother had gone to mass and then to Luigi Alba’s for everyone’s sweet buns, raising my glucose level to where I could flew to Our Lady of Guadalupe church two blocks and one avenue away, flying directly over Dr. Salto’s brick house, they lived in the apartment beneath Ernestina’s, even from up there I could hear the Saltos arguing, and Anna Salto sobbing, even now so many years later I see her crying, her large generous loving vulnerable eyes filled to the brims with tears, and, a good friend of my mother’s, Anna would come over to the house and sit and confess and cry in our bright yellow kitchen at our dinette table, she cried and cried, and my mother sat by and listened and consoled, while I tried to watch from the living room which was reserved for the men who talked, and they were not crying—so I’d go to my mother’s beside table and pick up her rosary beads, touch and hold each and every one of the wooden beads composed of a stringed circle and one hanging piece that ended with a crucifix. Sometimes she’d see me carrying her rosary beads around the hosue like it was a toy, and so one day took it upon herself to explain which prayer each and every bead stood for, remembering now only two: the first the Hail Mary and somewhere in there The Act of Contrition, which prayer, she told me always to remember, was the one I was to recite on my death bed.

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