There is a saying in Italian “Natale con I tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” – Christmas with your family, but Easter with whomever you choose.
My family isn’t religious, but Christmas has become somewhat sacred to us – if only because it is the one time when we all undeniably find ourselves in the same place. Even though there are only four of us, two of whom are married to each other, it is quite a feat for us all to be in the same place at the same time. My father has spent the past 35 years following the footwear industry all over the world, often with family in tow. My mother, a modern lady of leisure, is always coming and going. My older brother has relocated to Shanghai, a city he finds more conducive to his elected bohemian lifestyle.
I spent the past Christmas at home, dutifully preparing dinner for 12 and baking now infamous cheddar dill scones for Christmas morning. But this Easter was different, the only vestige being a dark chocolate Lindt bunny packed in my backpack. It was the last day before I set off on my current Odyssey, which included a one way ticket to Charles de Gaulle and clothes for three seasons.
With all the packing and frantic last minute errand running, I had almost forgotten about Easter entirely. But my coming departure encouraged unsolicited drop-in visits from close friends and even a visit from my parents, who brought the chocolate bunny – a subtle, unintentional reminder that this Easter, I had chosen to stray, but that they would be there come Christmas for my inevitable return.
My mother’s gift of the chocolate bunny, in Proustian fashion, brought to mind another Easter – the time I was, coincidentally, in Italy for Easter. I had traveled to Tuscany during a college spring break, accompanied by my mother, to conduct research for my undergraduate thesis on a particular fresco by Piero della Francesca. My Italian was decent, but the only phrase I successfully taught my mother was the typical Easter greeting “Buona Pasqua!” which she would shout with great élan at any encounter. We relished the traditional holiday bread in the shape of a dove, La Colomba, and stocked up on small ones to bring home. And, in fact, we almost didn’t make it home. We departed our Florence hotel in a taxi bound for the airport, but sat, stopped dead, as processions swarmed the streets around us. At first confounded as our driver threw up his hands, a light bulb then snapped on above our heads as we simultaneously turned to each other and shouted incredulously “it’s Easter!”
Perhaps most appropriately, this year I left for my journey the day after Easter, the day, in Italian tradition, known as Lunedì dell’ Angelo or, more commonly, Pasquetta. A day typically celebrated by gathering with those you’ve chosen to spend the holiday with and venturing into the great outdoors to marvel at the rebirth of the natural world and to enjoy a picnic. In Italian, this outdoor excursion is referred to as being “fuori le mura” or “fuori porta” – outside the walls or outside the city entrance. My excursion now was indeed outside all the walls that I knew – those that physically contained my life and those that I had constructed in my mind.
As I flew over the great expanse of the Atlantic between Washington, D.C. and Paris, I savored the first few bites of my chocolate Easter bunny and wondered what lay ahead, between Easter and Christmas.