Just kidding. Lamentations seem no longer to apply to the spiritual life; if you feel a lamentation coming on, it’s usually related to politics or family members, certainly not to yourself.
But Ash Wednesday (“le ceneri“) is still a crucial day in the Christian calendar, and even though people have become very lax about denying themselves meat today, the day remains a vestigial holiday for the butchers. Those few that remain. Those even fewer who maintain the Old Ways. Of course, the public can still buy all the meat it wants at the supermarkets, so closing the butcher shop is by now just a symbol. But a good one, if you have turned your thoughts toward penance, even for just a minute.
Of course, there’s that famous gap between the letter and the spirit of the law, and I’d like to share an amazing menu for your consideration. It was displayed in an expensive restaurant in Udine right across the street from the Patriarchal Palace and adjoining church, and I supposed that the proprietors might be wanting to look good for the patriarch even though the rank of patriarch is no more, and the archbishop lives a 15-minute walk away.
I have never seen a menu created and advertised as being for Ash Wednesday (I thought bread and water pretty much covered the nutritional options, or at least week-old beans and a frightening lettuce from the back of the fridge). The idea of promoting a day of renunciation with items as listed — EVEN THOUGH THEY DO NOT BREAK ANY RULES (except in spirit) — seems totally in keeping with the zeitgeist, and times being what they are. I mean, there isn’t any clause saying you’re only allowed to eat horrible food. I THINK the notion is that you shouldn’t be wallowing in your food fixations for one little 24-hour cycle in the entire year. But then I think: If the owners were inclined to give such a gracious nod to contrition, they might at least have lowered the prices. Why should the customer always be the one to repent when the bill comes?
The restaurant is named “Allegria,” or “gaiety” or “jollification.” Bear that in mind as you read on. From the top: The antipastos: Steamed mussels and clams with pepper; herring; creamy stockfish; mixed fish antipasto; “rati” (for which I am still seeking the definition, though at merely 2.50 euros it can’t be anything astonishing). First courses: Chickpea and octopus soup; spaghetti with clams; “tuffoli” (a pasta somewhat like rigatoni, but shorter) with codfish, small tomatoes and taggiasche olives; barley and beans, a typical dish of the Friuli region, in which the city resides. Second courses: Stockfish in the style of Vicenza; small medallion of turbot with braised vegetables; cuttlefish confit with artichokes; red “rosa of Gorizia” radicchio with anchovies and aged Montasio cheese; “lidric cul poc” is an extremely prized type of wild radicchio with hard-boiled eggs. Dessert: (I’m sorry, what? You get dessert on Ash Wednesday?) “Bonet” of hazelnut with crunchy things, usually amaretto cookies. A “bonet” is a typical Piedmont confection like a very firm creme caramel; marinated pineapple (I’m guessing in some sort of fabulous liqueur) with coconut gelato. I’ll tell you what: If you have lunch here you’re going to have plenty to talk to your confessor about. Go look up “gluttony” and see if there’s a loophole for the day of the ashes. I myself will be going off shortly to confess the sin of envy.
“Wednesday Closed: Ashes” — this sign behind the lamb chops and veal roast looks like it’s announcing a party. Parties were yesterday, buddyroe. You’re supposed to be serious today.
And sing a few verses of “I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places” to the frittelle. (I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing frittelle…..). They’re the demon poster children of Ash Wednesday combining so many things you can’t have anymore. You know, everything worth living for, which is code for “fat and sugar.” Technically speaking. I’m sure there’s a loophole somewhere.
I discovered this little hieroglyphic of happiness in a small campo. Let not the wholesome spirit of spiritual discipline (sounds better than “giving up for”) distract us from the beautiful things that didn’t get the memo about deprivation.
Ditto this cat, in deep meditation and Vitamin D absorption. Satisfied with the simple things in life. Perhaps dreaming of finding a rat on a boat someday.
Ditto the first few violets of the spring, also benefiting from the sun. They’re not thinking about anything, which is what makes them so wonderful, in addition to being beautiful, making perfume and being good to eat when candied.
One violet, complete with morning shadow. Things are looking up.