Saturday, August 15, 2009


According to the Italian tourist industry:

"August 15 is Ferragosto in Italy, the day when Roman Catholics believe the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven, and a major Italian holiday. Even before the time of Christ, however, Romans honored the gods on August 15 with a celebration they called Feriae Augusti [because it was created by the Emperor Augustus, so clever at providing bread and circuses]. So while the Catholic church might have co-opted the day for their own religion, they kept something of the ancient tradition in the modern name."

I have three things to say:

1. All Christian holidays were superimposed on existing "pagan" holidays, just as the pagan Roman holidays coincided with the ancient Jewish and Pre-Islamic eastern holy days. They are rooted deep in the brain stem along with a lot of other information our conscious minds find it difficult to decode. It was clever to superimpose Mary's assumption on pre-Christian harvest rituals and celebrations, rooted in fertility festivals, in the dog days of summer, when the bountiful crops are winding down.

2. According to the tourist guides, Italy shuts down for Ferragosto. Most people take their vacations in August anyway, and on the weekends surrounding Ferragosto everyone goes to the seashore, or to the lake, or to Venice. Venice never really shuts down; it has one game only, tourism, and plays it when the rest of Italy shuts down because the rest of Italy, like the rest of the world, comes to Venice to escape reality.

3. Today, the streets were uncannily deserted, or as close to it as they get here. Restaurants were open but not particularly crowded. A herd of cruise ships was parked at Tronchetto, but there were not many long lines of tourists with headphones following somebody holding up an umbrella or a penant to give them something to follow. The vaporettos weren't particularly crowded. Nothing was.

I know this because I took my new favorite short walk, along the Zattere and around the Punta della Dogana. The sky was clear, the sun extraordinarily bright, so I celebrated the assumption of Mary into the Cosmic Womb of Creation by documenting this most beautiful of walks.

You are welcome to come along.

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