Today is International Women's Day and La Festa delle Donne in Italy. It's the perfect time to honor my mother and the strange and interesting birth of my oldest sisters, Barbara and Joan--"The Twins" as we called them.
The interesting thing is, they were born 3 days apart. Yes. THREE days. I asked my mother once about how she felt when only one was born and she had to wait all that time for the second. She casually said, "The doctor just said the second one wasn't ready yet and we had to wait. Nothing to worry about."
Yes... my mother was tough, unique and nothing held her back, until she passed away some years ago at the ripe age of 92. She had lost that toughness the last few years of her life due to failing health. This coming April 2nd should would have been 102 years old.
The presepio, derived from the Latin word presepium, meaning manger, has been the defacto symbol of Christmas for Italian families for dozens of generations, and in the South, perhaps as long as a thousand years. Of course, most Italians also have a modern Christmas tree, but the presepio in its simplest form is a tradition of devotion representing the birth of the baby Jesus. These nativity scenes typically consist of a structure to represent the simple barn where Joseph and Mary were forced to give birth to the Son of God. An ox, donkey, angels and perhaps the three Wise Men are typically represented.
But the presepio is often much, much more, showing village scenes from every day life. Its components are mostly handmade from a variety of materials: wood, ceramic, cartapesta (Papier-mâché), terracotta and fabrics. Some scenes include small waterfalls or fountains, houses, buildings, mountains, trees, grottoes, livestock and vendors of all sorts. The details can be absolutely astounding.
There are some characters and elements that many deem essential to the tradition:
In 1964, photographer Hope Herman Wurmfeld photographed everyday Italian scenes... From the exhibit, Vintage: Italy 1964, at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò in New York.
On the Cinque Terre coast, the Voyager will come across il Gigante, the gigantic statue of Neptune in Monterosso on the beach near Fegina. Sculpted by the Arrigo Minerbi in 1910, he is over 40 feet tall and holds up part of the Villa Pastine. Neptune used to hold a trident and a giant clam shell above his shoulders that was used as a dance floor by the Villa. During World War II, Monterosso was bombed by allied forces, and the Neptune statue and the Villa suffered serious damage. A strong storm in 1966 damaged the statue even more.