Friday, October 3

Italian Traditions: Something to just die over

I’m sorry to report that the old lady upstairs passed away. She was 89. How I found out about this of course, wasn’t from the fact that I no longer heard her drag her daily chair across my forehead each morning at 6:25am sharp. Nor, was it the sudden drop in centimeters of dust and threads that she enjoyed shaking out over my balcony each and every day.

I discovered the event upon coming home to find the front door of our building layered in 29 ft. long grey velvet drapes with gold trim. I naturally figured that either the Pope was coming to visit or that Liberace had just moved into that empty first floor apartment.
Turns out, I was wrong on both accounts.

In Italy, you will not find the traditional funeral parlours as depicted in “Six Feet Under”. The funeral parlour comes to you, so to speak. They decorate the doorways, and for a few days you get to contemplate the sands of time passing; along with the bonus of feeling like you’re going to either meet your maker or the Wizard of Oz each time you bring home your groceries.

Thankfully, people aren’t laid in state in the home anymore. There’s a nice little room right at the hospital for these sorts of activities. Very cold and uninviting, people congregate in the corridors as if waiting to give blood. I almost expected to get some cookies and juice after paying my last respects. Actually, I believe this is either seriously poor marketing, or a strong case for unusual efficiency.
Think about it: “Mamma, look on the bright side! If the operation doesn’t go so well, we’ll all be waiting for you just downstairs near the lobby!”
Funerals themselves are much the same as in the U.S., if they take place in big cities. But in little towns, everyone walks to the cemetery behind the hearse with singing choir people bringing up the tail. It may not be Six Feet Under, but, it sure can feel a lot like the Godfather Part II.


Anonymous said...

When I was a child and a relative died, there was alot of "old world' traditions carried out. Covering all the mirrors in the home, taking the body for one last drive from home to the church etc.
I guess it took the mystery out of death for me and I have been fascinated ever since with cultural funeral rites.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, in small towns in the south they still keep the body at home and still cover the mirrors... I think I'd prefer the funeral parlor quite honestly. After a loved one dies, the last thing you want to be dealing with is half the town coming over to pay their respects plus I find the idea of keeping the body in the home a tad creepy.

Carol said...

but is liberace still alive?

i think the tradition of drapes is dying...i have never seen them hung on doors in rome. those signs plastered around the zona announcing deaths(what are they called?) are dying out as well.

chickenshit said...

Why are the mirrors covered? So that you don't have to look death in the eye?

JPCharley said...

G'day thought this might help some, the following explanations for the custom:

In order not to see in the mirrors the evil spirits that are present in houses of mourning.

The departing spirit of the deceased may be caught in the mirror.

As we no longer carry out the old custom of overturning beds with mourners sleeping on the floor, mirrors maybe turned to the wall instead.

If after a death, a person sees his image reflected in a mirror he will himself shortly die. This based on the idea that a reflection is the insubstantial soul of the person, which may be carried away with that of the recently deceased.

Other suggestions made are:
To stop people being concerned with vanity rather than with mourning.

To prevent the mourner seeing his sad unshaven face which would make him more depressed.

It is forbidden to pray in front of mirrors.

There is a folk belief that the reflections of spirits are not visible in mirrors. As various spirits are present in a house of mourning, and the mirrors would therefore reveal them.

The covering of glass mirrors may be linked with the custom of drawing the curtains to cover windows in a house of mourning. This custom is still common in parts of Britain. This in turn has been linked either with the closing of the eyes after death or as a discrete way of announcing a death.

Most of these reasons are far from convincing and many rely on superstition. And as there is no requirement in religous/Jewish law for us to do this, it would therefore seem more religious not to cover mirrors than to do so.

Caroline Lawrence said...

How fascinating! Would love a picture of the drapes if they are still up... :-)

Irreverent Italy said...

Wow. Thanks jpcharley for the update, although I find a few contradictions in there: I thought spirits can't be seen in mirrors, so why bother?
Even those more evil ones, shouldn't show up as I'm reminded of a fabulous scene with Barnabus Collins of Dark Shadows...

But, it also gives one some basis as to why, when travelling to more remote outposts around the world, people don't like to get their picture snapped for fear that it takes their soul away.