Rome, the eternal city, was born in passion. Deep in mythological time, Venus (Aphrodite in the Greek pantheon), goddess of love and beauty, spied a handsome prince in the vicinity of Troy. Dressed as an earthly princess, she seduced him and then slipped away. Nine months later, Venus presented the Trojan prince with the son they had conceived. Revealing her true identity, Venus made her lover pledge to keep their secret. (He didn’t, and as punishment, her father hobbled him with the strike of a lightning bolt.) She also predicted that their love child, whom she named Aeneas, would sire a race that would someday rule the world.
Leonardo da Vinci, the consummate Renaissance man, was born on April 15, 1452 near the town of Vinci. Nothing about this artist and architect, musician and mathematician, scientist and sculptor, engineer and inventor, geologist and botanist was ever ordinary.
This year millions of us, in Italy and around the world, will not be celebrating Easter with family or friends. Yet the shared hope of rebirth that Easter symbolizes can unite us all. Wherever you are, whomever you’re with, may you hold your loved ones close in your hearts and extend your compassion to all in need. As Christ taught us so long ago, love can and will triumph.
La Settimana Santa (Holy Week) will be different this year, especially in Italy. I recall the chants of the crowd at St. Peter’s on Palm Sunday, the Pope’s recital of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, the explosion of bells and shouts of “Alleluia!” on Easter morning. But nothing touched me more than the commemoration of Christ’s passion in a town in Sicily.
On the first morning of the coronavirus lockdown, San Francisco Bay was empty of its usual nautical traffic. No sailboats glided across choppy waters. A foghorn barreled out a low E-minor sounding like a tenor warming up. The Bay glimmered like a millpond calling for ducks instead of whales. Seagulls flew overhead and cried among puffy clouds in a blue sky void of airplanes. Trucks hot-rodded across the Golden Gate Bridge like Ferraris. From our living room window, I looked at our New Abnormal Normal.
Le Sorelle Fontana (the Fontana Sisters), three dressmaker’s daughters from a small town near Parma, defined alta moda (high fashion) before anyone else, including the Italians, realized that a homegrown form of haute couture even existed.