Friday, 15 December 2017

My Son’s Baptism in Tuscany, Italy (7th August 2017)

I wanted to write about this for very long but now even after doing so, I realised that no words or emotions could make me relive that week of magical experience. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
At Cappella di Sant' Andrea (the medieval chapel), it seemed 
I was the only one looking at our camera; the others at the 
Italian paparazzi.  
Whether it’s preference for intimacy or sheer reclusiveness, I went full blast (with my husband’s support) and finally had our son baptised in a private Catholic ceremony at a medieval chapel in the middle of nowhere in Tuscany, Italy. I say in the middle of nowhere but when I think about it, he was baptised in Chianti, you know, of the famous wine, some 40-minute drive from the beautiful city of Florence. It was just Mike, me, the two children and a set of godparents, Inga and Martin, who took time off work for a week and shared with us this wonderful occasion. This chapel was fully restored only last June and H’s baptism there was the first in less than a hundred years. It took a year of searching and another seven months of planning how we’d get to Italy and for how long, and in the end we decided to drive from England, revisit places in Europe and visit new ones, and slowly get to Italy and back, totalling the holiday to a good 24 days. We visited some places in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and also drove through Germany and Belgium as we went along. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
Looking at the full moon; photo by Martin,
a day before the baptism.
The 82-year-old Italian priest forgot the date so he was a little late, and some other comical things happened (only in my storybook!), but in the end, waiting just made the atmosphere more relaxed. Believe me, it was a scene out of Cinema Paradiso, an Italian film I adore very much. Everyone we didn’t even know were so supportive; was it really true that lovely Italian ladies lent us baby items that belonged to their now grown children? As someone who never really appreciated big weddings or birthday parties (my poor children!) or big anything, to me, this small, simple event was such a beautiful and most memorable thing. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
The arched entrance to the medieval chapel and
castle where we had stayed for a week.
It was not dissimilar to Rapunzel’s dream of seeing the lanterns in the film Tangled. When you have a dream, just start working and you’ll be surprised how it could come into fruition, even if at first, people and events in your life seemed to be working against it. In recent years, we haven’t gone to church as much as we’d like to but I thought it was my duty to have my son have a Catholic baptism like his older sister. It might sound a bit off when I tell you my reasons: first I was just following tradition (how I’ve been brought up); second, it’s somehow to please my mother who raised us Catholics. I remember when I was a kid and would meet someone who hadn’t been baptised and we’d think it was not common, almost strange, though that was just how it was among people I know. Though fortunately, my family in the Philippines had stopped asking when H was going to be baptised. I however didn’t want to go through the ordeal of a big celebration and have always preferred intimate, simple get-togethers to commemorate special occasions.

I came of age and met so many people with different backgrounds. I decided it does a lot of good to believe in a power greater than us, but sometimes I thought it didn’t matter which Church we’d go to. From experience, going to church and observing some of these traditions are great things to do together and bind us as a family (it also gets you up early on a Sunday morning, and not surprisingly, you get more things done). I do find myself sometimes disagreeing with the practices in the Catholic church but I’m not going into that, as I know that like anything, no religion is perfect and when I have doubts, it all boils down to making sure that as long as what I am doing doesn’t harm me or others, then, it is not a problem.

Around seven months after H was born, I began searching for locations in Continental Europe for his baptism, at the same time contacting friends and other people I don’t even know, to help us. In January this year, I finally found Arianna, a young lovely Italian woman, who does tours and whose own family was renting a property in Tuscany. She replied to me immediately but said that their family home was not available to let any more. But she excitedly told me that she knew of a villa with a chapel that was just perfect, the Italian name of the villa, Poggio al Ventoliterally translates to “Resting in the Wind.”

Arianna and I communicated in the succeeding months and thanks to her we survived the bureaucracy of going through an occasion like this in a foreign country. In late July, we set off to Italy, stopping in lovely South of France for nearly a week. One of the challenges was H developed car sickness after we’d booked this holiday (typical) and for some reason, after we’d moved him to the forward-facing car seat. I consulted the GP if he could prescribe medication but as H is very young, there was nothing we could do, really. In the end, H had only about three minor incidents during the trip. We drove so much, sometimes up to 4-5 hours a day, for at least two hours at a time. I guess it helped that he wore motion sickness wrist bands, and that he loved car rides and slept a lot in the car. I also gave him ginger biscuits and we stopped somewhere whenever I saw that his lips were turning pale. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
It was like a dream. We're never ones to stay only in one 
place for longer periods when we travel but this I won't 
mind doing, even in the same place, every year! A lovely 
medieval home, a pool and local trips to learn about the 
region's rich history and culture. And did I forget the 
food??! Had to take a photo of the obligatory Chianti 
wine as it is produced right where we were.

We arrived in the villa, or as they call them in Italy, “castle,” on Saturday the 5th of August. "Castle" is a common term for some homes in Italy but this particular villa we rented is a castle in the truest sense of the word - it is beautiful, historical, and huge, dating back to the medieval times. Arianna and her partner Alessio took us to see the priest on Sunday morning. Everyone involved seemed really excited, like what Arianna said, weddings and christenings with foreigners are very common in cities like Florence, but not over that part of Chianti. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
WAITING FOR THE PRIEST In this photo, my son sums up 
how boys and men prepare for big days. I grew up with men 
playing basketball an hour before their wedding, sweaty 
and everything, whereas we women need a beauty rest. 
(photo by Martin)
On H's baptism day, we rushed to get ready before 10am, the time when the ceremony was due to start. Our shoes were in the car and when I asked Mike to bring them up, there was only one shoe in the bag! I panicked as the night before, I kept thinking, what if we couldn’t find the key to the car and I wouldn’t have any formal shoes for the baptism? Anyway, the other shoe must have fallen in the boot so Mike went out to get it. Everybody was there except for the priests, the one we had met the day before (the Parish priest) and the other who’d conduct the ceremony in English. Ten-thirty and still no priest. Pauline, the owner of the property, said it’s because he’s very old (82) that he drives really carefully. But all phone calls were unanswered, even the one at the parish office, so Arianna and Alessio decided to drive there to see what was going on. Mike was joking, maybe he was on his way and was caught in something, and being Italian, forgot. I did keep asking, what if he forgot? So when Arianna came, she said good news, he’s on his way, he just forgot! It was all very funny and comical actually, that I relaxed some more and even Martin (my friend Inga’s partner and now H’s godfather) thought he was also getting used to the heat. So when the priest and translator came, he was so apologetic, but again, as they were preparing, the priest realised he didn’t have the English translation of the ceremony! So he had to take off his gown again to go back to the abbey (this time, Alessio drove him, I was worried maybe he’d reach the abbey and forgot what he came there for and forget coming back!) The amazing thing was I wasn’t that stressed (Pauline’s sister Kathryn was surprised); I was confident the baptism would happen, if not that day, any time during our stay. So anyway, the ceremony finally started at 11am. The other priest is from India - I just had to mention this as in the Philippines, we joke about Indians always being late. 

Another problem was H himself, he’d been good waiting with his occasional snarls and scratching the face of the one holding him every time somebody laughed. Born a smiler, I don’t know what has turned H into a grumpy boy. He smacks the one closest to him when somebody laughs and if he can’t do this, he’ll throw something to the ground, He is a thumb sucker like his sister and he finds comfort doing this whilst clutching an old, worn-out booty (we lost the set of mittens and the other booty). So there were a couple of giggles during the ceremony and H didn't like people being happy (bless) so he threw his booty and the Indian priest, seeing it on the floor and not noticing that it is H’s, proceeded to put the booty outside the door on the side of the chapel. This was met by H screaming when he saw what the priest had done (it’s one of those things that children do, throwing things and then realising they like that thing). I loved how my daughter tells this part of the story, “and the priest didn’t know it was my brother’s mitten (booty) and he threw it out the door!” I would understand how someone would think the booty is rubbish, but to H and us, it is treasure. Surprisingly, H was all right during the rest of the ceremony, some snarls or whines when somebody else touched him (like the priest crossing his forehead) but the little dude seemed really aware that something special was going on in the end that he actually looked at the cameras and for once didn’t cry or snarl. I thought the whole ceremony was beautiful and the others did so, too.

I was red in the face because we didn’t prepare any food right after the ceremony as we thought we’d have a meal somewhere. But our lovely hosts Pauline and Kathryn had some prosecco and cakes ready for us, it was really kind of them and we were grateful.

Arianna mentioned that Pauline is training those wanting to be tour guides and is very knowledgeable Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
The abbey in the distance, Badia di Passignano, has my son
H’s name in its Baptism book. H was baptised on August 7
2017 in a little medieval chapel which closest parish
would be this abbey (sort of acting like the Head Office).
about art. The villa itself has lots of furnishings that were obviously not randomly placed there; they are there because they mean something. I found out on Google later that Pauline co-wrote a Chianti tour guide. She offered to give us a tour of Badia di Passignano or the Abbey of Passignano (seen in photo on the right). This photo of the abbey probably has a Disney castle-feel to it from where I took it from a distance, but it really was one of the most solemn places I’ve ever been to. This abbey being the closest to the chapel where H was baptised, it is a kind of a “Head Office” and so H’s name was entered in their Baptism book. Pauline knows the history behind each and every painting in this abbey; I recommend a visit and I assure you they could rival all the breathtaking paintings of the more famous churches in Italy. I guess the abbey being in the middle of nowhere makes it more of a challenge to preserve; it doesn’t get as much help financially as its more famous counterparts.

We had dinner in Siena on the evening of the baptism – recently, we watched Letters to Juliet again and I didn’t realise that Siena was also featured in the film. We unknowingly did a “Letters to Juliet” tour during the trip, adding beautiful Verona (Romeo and Juliet) to the list. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano

Short trip to Pisa to show M the Leaning Tower, 
the other one doesn’t look impressed. Mike and I 
climbed this tower in our late 20s but didn’t bother 
to find out how we’d handle vertigo at this later age.
Throughout our time in the villa, we experienced a full moon over Tuscany, a partial eclipse and Martin mentioned hearing something outside their window very late in the night and looking out and catching a glimpse of a wild boar. We also went on a goat cheese tour with Arianna and Alessio’s tour company. My daughter, who back then was 2.5 months short of her seventh birthday, now properly remembers events and she often mentions how she loved that goat cheese tour, not only because of the goats but also the cheeses we had tasted (she even vividly remembers which amongst the four types of cheeses she liked the most). Mike also had a terrible toothache towards the end of our week-long stay in the villa and was out one morning to look for medication when it rained heavily in that part of Tuscany for the first time in a few months! I worried that he would have trouble driving on the slippy unpaved roads to the villa. But the roads were not muddy at all so he was all right. At the goat cheese tour, the lady said they had only two days of water supply left so the rain was definitely a blessing. We spent only a week in the area but it was like we’d seen what could happen to Tuscany within a year. The rain came with strong winds and in a few seconds, there was a puddle in our bedroom, my clothes all wet as we couldn’t close the shutters (the bolts were stuck). There was a power cut. Good thing Inga and Martin sorted things out because the kids were panicky I had to stay with them. It was all good fun, though.

So many highs and lows looking for ways for H to get baptised in Italy and I really thought it was impossible/would just be a dream. But it happened, and this wonderful place in Tuscany will now be forever part of our lives. Mike laughs at me now when I say things like, imagine H coming back to the villa someday to have his wedding there (I am really getting ahead of myself)! I just found this area by chance and we didn’t know what to expect as it was a part of Italy we hadn’t been to before. What luck that it turned out to be such a beautiful place.

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