It has been a long and emotional day. The sun shining onto a sea of antenna-studded dilapidated flat Neapolitan rooftops intercepted by church domes and washing lines marked the frame for the small procession of a black-dressed congregation following the ornate wooden coffin placed in the dignified hearse which drove along the century old cobbled street.
After a short illness my mother-in-law has passed away yesterday and only 24 hours later every smallest detail has been put into motion to lay her to rest with dignity and respect.
Neapolitans have a very close relationship with death as it plays a vital part of the chaotic network that connects past and present in Naples. It is difficult as a foreigner to understand all the finesses that comes with a funeral. There are well-established rituals and prayers to perform.
During the day following her death family and friends attended the customary prayer vigil, they mourned and payed their last respects, they prayed for her, talked to her or just sat beside her in silence. Coffee was passed around every once in a while freshly prepared by an upstairs or downstairs neighbour. Food appeared magically so the family needn’t worry about the hospitality that the Neapolitans are famous for. Tears, caresses, murmurs and low voices, rosary beads and pictures of saints were proof of how much my mother-in-law was respected and loved amongst her friends and neighbours.
The next morning as the procession slowly made its way by foot towards the church not a single car honked or complained about the pace the hearse was advancing. All the shop owners along the way came out to show their respect and the hundreds of motor bikers which crowd Napoli’s streets slowed down to make the sign of the cross and bow their head towards the coffin while driving by.
It seemed to be one of those days that Nonna would have enjoyed walking to her local church with the sun shining and a fresh temperature. Even at 15 C she would have worn her fur coat and her jewellery never forgetting to wrap a scarf around her neck to avoid the draft in the over 400 year old little church with the pink ceiling!
Nonna would have risen early to prepare tomatoe sauce, friarielli or pastiera in order to make sure she would have more time to spend with us during our short weekend visits. Not to mention the cooking odours that need never to be smelt, ever!
She would entertain the kids for hours when they were little, hiding Kinder chocolate and playing “fuoco, fuocarello” with them. She taught them how to play Neapolitan card games and spoilt them with gifts. She even taught Expat boy how to cook Neapolitan dishes and I have copied her unbeatable Christmas Cassata recipe.
She will be dearly missed by all of us but never forgotten for she has passed on so much Southern Italian heritage through her tales and by her deeds that she will live on in our family’s traditions, rituals and stories. And wherever we may live in the world the children will always find their way back to Napoli thanks to the roots she so lovingly nurtured and a cultural identity she so strongly represented.
Ci mancherai Nonna.