Archive for St. Peter

The period around St. Peter’s feast day (June 29) is notable for two things beside the annual bacchanale at the church, as described in my last post.

The littlest ones are St. Peter's pears.  They'll only be around for a brief time and that's why I like them, even if they have almost no flavor at all.

The littlest ones are St. Peter's pears. They'll only be around for a short time and that's why I like them, even if they have almost no flavor at all.

The two notable things are:  “St. Peter’s pears,” which I haven’t been able to identify in any other way (maybe they’re here so briefly that Linneaus was never quick enough to nab them with a name), and thunderstorms.   Everyone expects thunderstorms in this period (we’re still waiting, oddly enough, though this year the weather has been very strange; last week it snowed in the mountains.   Maybe St. Peter is trying something new with water).  

St. Peter's fish (John Dory) by TK MacGillivray

St. Peter's fish (John Dory) by William MacGillivray.

For the record, there is also a fish, not necessarily associated with the feast day, which is  commonly called “St. Peter’s fish” (Zeus faber), known in English as “John Dory,”  who wasn’t a saint as far as I can discover.   This fish has a particularly gobsmacked expression which doesn’t resemble any saint I could ever respect, but maybe everybody in the Dory family has that look, not to mention the underbite.

June weather coming in: Roll out the barrel.

June weather coming in: Roll out the barrel.

Back to the storms.   Around here, the ones that crash down around us in this period  have long since been associated with  the Big Fisherman; well-meaning adults reassure their little people that the scary thunder is nothing more than the sound of  St. Peter cleaning the wine barrels.  

But there is one folk-tale, recounted by Espedita Grandesso in her exceptional book on Venetian expressions (Prima de parlar, tasi, Edizioni Helvetia) that puts the blame squarely on his mother.   As told in Venetian it has an irresistible back-porch-stringing-beans atmosphere, as if the speaker  were talking about a fractious family known to everybody in the neighborhood.   I’ll do what I can  to render it  here.

ST. PETER’S MOTHER

Well, St. Peter’s mother was so nasty and so nasty that when she died, even though her son was such a honking big deal as a saint, he had to send her to hell.  

When she got to hell, she got up to so many shenanigans, busting everybody’s fishing lines [polite euphemism for “balls”] and complaining and whining and calling her son at all hours of the day and night, that the saint went to Jesus Christ to tell him He had to let his mom into  heaven.

“Can’t,” said Jesus, “she’s just too bad.”

Saint Peter wasn’t very happy because,  when you get down to it, she was his mother, and the Lord was so sorry to see this that he told  him, “Well, you know, Pete, if, maybe, she were to have done at least one good deed…”

Peter was quiet for a while, because his mother, as far as good deeds were concerned, had never done one in her entire life.   Then he remembered that, one time, his mother gave an onion to a little old man who was begging.

“Okay,” said the Lord, to make a long story short, “take this onion that’s got a few little roots still on it, and, if you can manage it, pull her up here with this onion.”

T-shirt design for the festa of San Piero in 2008. No onion, no roots, no mom. He looks so happy.

T-shirt design for the festa of San Piero in 2008. No onion, no roots, no mom. He looks so happy.

Peter went to the mouth of hell and said to her, “Mom, grab onto the roots of this onion and I’ll pull you up here.”

“Onion roots?   You nitwit!   How do you think they’re going to support me?”

“Don’t worry about that, just grab on.”

The old lady, grumbling, grabbed onto the roots of the onion and she started to rise off the ground, but she didn’t make it  as far as  the mouth of hell because a batch of other souls, who wanted to get out of hell too, grabbed onto her skirt and  her ankles.  

St. Peter’s mother started to go crazy, screaming “Get  out of here, you disgusting damned souls, the onion’s for me, it’s mine,  and my son is St. Peter!!!”    [This is undoubtedly one of the best moments for the person who is telling this story to imitate the meanest, crankiest woman in the neighborhood.]

Onion roots do not inspire as much confidence as, say, a steel cable.

Onion roots do not inspire as much confidence as, say, a steel cable.

Seeing that the souls were still hanging on, she started to kick them to try to get rid of them.

At that point, the onion roots  tore off, and St. Peter was left holding the onion while the old lady fell back down into the very center of the flames.

“What the heck have you done, mom?” St. Peter said.   “All you had to do was have a tiny bit of charity and you’d have made it out and so would all those other souls.   Now you’ve got to stay in hell forever.”   [Pause for  cheers from the kids who must all be imagining whichever of their relatives–obnoxious big sister? busybody aunt?–would most deserve this doom.]  

BUT [the kids suddenly stop cheering], being that not even the Devil himself could stand to have  this hellion among the damned souls, and also, well, it wasn’t exactly decent that the mother of  St. Peter,  he who carries the Keys to the Kingdom, would have to stay in hell, the old shrew got pulled out and stuck in a corner and given the task of washing the barrels of heaven before the season of new wine.

Wine barrels at the Robert Mondavi winery, Napa Valley, presumably not washed by St. Peter's mother.  (Photograph: Sanjay Acharya).

Wine barrels at the Robert Mondavi winery, Napa Valley, presumably not washed by St. Peter's mother. (Photograph: Sanjay Acharya).

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Jun
29

Saint Peter runs amok

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As you probably know, today is St. Peter’s feast day.   And in this neighborhood, it really means something.

St. Peter by Carlo Crivelli (1473).  Not looking particularly saintly here; those spectacular keys may be slightly more of a burden than a blessing.

St. Peter by Carlo Crivelli (1473). Not looking particularly saintly here; those spectacular keys may be slightly more of a burden than a blessing.

I’ll bypass the cadenzas about the saint himself, though he has always been my favorite mainly  because for most of his life  there was   nothing so saintly about him, except the part about  his asking Jesus to cure his sick mother-in-law.    That was cool.   But then again, she must have been a saint as well.   Imagine having Peter as your son-in-law.   (Story about St. Peter’s mother in the next post).

The great thing about him is that before he became the Rock upon which the church was to be founded, he was just a working fisherman, which meant he probably smelled like fish — do they have algae in the Sea of Galilee?   He probably smelled like that too — and I’m sure he had chilblains and smashed fingernails and feet that were more like hooves.   If you want proof, I mention that he’s the go-to saint for people with foot problems.

Peter's feet, a detail from a limewood relief carving by Christoph Daniel Schenk.

Peter's feet, a detail from a limewood relief carving by Christoph Daniel Schenck (1685).

 

 

 

 

 

Peter's hands, a detail from a painting by Georges de la Tour (

Peter's hands, a detail from a painting by Georges de la Tour (1615-1620).

 

 

 

More to the point, he had one superb quality and that was, as they say in Venice, that “What he had in his heart, he had in his mouth.”   Impulsive, a little clueless sometimes, but spectacularly sincere and frankly never afraid to just put himself out there.   (Pause for sound of many, many chips falling where they may.)

The posters are a bit redundant, since everyone already knows all about it.

The posters are a bit redundant, since everyone already knows all about it.

Why I like him so much now isn’t merely all the above, but  because he is the patron saint of the former cathedral of Venice, the church of San Pietro di Castello, which is just over the canal from our little hovel.   And each year they put on one heck of a festa in his honor.

Like most festas, there is music, and food, and  dogs and old folks and little babies and a big mass, and etc.   But this one also has three regatas, the mass is celebrated byno less than  the auxiliary bishop (the patriarch can’t ever be bothered to come to these things), and the party goes on for five solid days, by which I mean nights, too.

The juggler is working the audience into a frenzy.  "Festa" is just another word for frenzy.

The juggler is working the audience into a frenzy. "Festa" is just another word for frenzy.

 

 

Attempting to kill your friend with your balloon sword is always entertaining.

Attempting to kill your friend with your balloon sword is always entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balloons that are not swords are also fun.

Balloons that are not swords are also fun.

 

I have no idea what happened. One minute he was fine, the next minute he was hysterical. Festas seem to have that effect on little people.

I have no idea what happened. One minute he was fine, the next minute he was hysterical. Festas seem to have that effect on little people.

What does this mean for us?   Well, it means  not only five days of the fabulous aroma of charcoal-scorched ribs wafting around the area, and not  only five nights of   inconceivably loud music audible from way over here,  but five nights of all the festa-goers coming and going till 2:00 or even 3:00 in the morning.   The main street to the church is right outside our bedroom window and of course our windows are open.   Happy people going home always shout, I don’t know why.

So while Peter may be the patron saint of locksmiths (hint: he carries the keys to the kingdom) and butchers and cobblers (feet again) and other trades, including fishermen and netmakers and, naturally, the Papacy, for my money he is also  the patron saint, at least in our neighborhood, of the deaf, the insomniac, the overtired and overstimulated (technically he’s the go-to saint for cases of frenzy, but people here like frenzy), and also  the occasional Russian drunk.

The latter is a newcomer to the list, but at 4:00 AM last night whoever he was was wandering the streets, which had finally achieved slumber, calling out forlornly for Marco.   Surprising how far your voice can carry at that hour.

I have no idea if he ever found him, but I’m really sorry that his friend wasn’t named Peter.   That would have been so perfect I might actually have gotten up to help him look.

Maybe next year.

We rowed the auxiliary bishop and the parish priest to church for the big mass on Sunday morning.

We rowed the auxiliary bishop and the parish priest to church for the big mass on Sunday morning.

We were preceded by the band from Sant' Erasmo. I have only ever heard them play two pieces, maybe three. They're never completely in tune, but they're very loud, which is all that matters.

We were preceded by the band from Sant' Erasmo. I have only ever heard them play two pieces, maybe three. They're never completely in tune, but they're very loud, which is all that matters.

Two of the nine mascaretas rowed by women battling it out in the regata of the Marie (Marys). As always, the ladies were shrieking the most un-saintly remarks at each other. Of course, the men do too, but the women are much worse.

Two of the nine mascaretas rowed by women battling it out in the regata of the Marie (Marys). As always, the ladies were shrieking the most un-saintly remarks at each other. Of course, the men do too, but the women are much worse.

One of these ladies is trying to imitate the other.

One of these ladies is trying to imitate the other.

Mass is over, now we can all go eat.

Mass is over, now we can all go eat.

These guys must have to burn their clothes, after five days in the smokehouse.

These guys must have to burn their clothes, after five days in the smokehouse.

IMG_8343 san piero comp
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IMG_8346 san piero comp
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