Mother’s Day: Italian Style

I am not one to go all sentimental on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day always was the day my own mother wanted to observe and celebrate. While she was alive, it seemed churlish to think of the day as also mine. After she died, I did not want my own daughter to feel the obligation I had felt as a daughter: to make the day special and spare none of the trimmings.

Besides, I think this whole child-Mom tribute stuff is kind of silly. Your kids didn’t ask you to have them. Since you brought them into this world, the least you can do is make living in it a good experience. Have you ever attempted a Mother’s Day brunch? The crowds, bad food, and noisy kids are not my idea of a fun time.

However, nobody said that you need to have your children with you to celebrate Mother’s Day. The Mother’s Day I treasure the most was not delivered to me courtesy of my daughter, but by the good people of Sorrento, Italy.

In the days before Mother’s Day in 2010, I was thousands of miles away from my grown daughter, in Sorrento on Italy’s stunning Amalfi Coast. Sorrento is full of tourists this time of year. But I had spotted a very small notice in Italian posted on a telephone pole downtown. It announced a special Mother’s Day concert at a local church the Friday evening before the holiday.

My husband and I inquired about the concert at the local tourist bureau. The agent was circumspect. She had no information to give us, she said.  I was pretty sure she was not being entirely honest. I was right.

The Basilica of St. Anthony was packed when my husband and I entered, trying desperately not to look like tourists. As the lights of the church came up, three musicians and two elegantly dressed vocalists approached the altar.

Their concert was in honor of Mary, the mother of God, and the program was titled, Essere Madre – Being a Mother. The violinists, bassist, soprano and contralto all belonged to the ensemble, Mystica Harmonia, local musicians from the Sorrento region.  They were from varying professions – I believe one identified himself as a physician – but they definitely were not amateurs. They performed twelve exquisite versions of Ave Marias arranged chronologically, beginning with Giulio Caccini in the sixteenth century, and including Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi.  Even the clichéd Gounod Ave Maria became new through their interpretation.

But among all these paeans to the Holy Mother, the most evocative  was by the great Argentinian tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. His Ave Maria was more a love song than a hymn, particularly its concluding lyric: “I believe in you. Come to me.”

At the conclusion of the performance, the mothers in the audience were asked to identify themselves. Each of us received a small gift – five heart-shaped chocolates in red foil, wrapped with a red ribbon, and topped by a small scroll containing the words of the poet Khalil Gibran. I believe the excerpt, translated from the Italian, read:

The most beautiful word on the lips of mankind is the word “Mother,” and the most beautiful call is the call of “my mother.” it is a word full of hope and love, a sweet and kind word coming from the depths of the heart. The mother is everything—she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness.

It was the best Mother’s Day tribute ever paid to me.

On Mother’s Day itself, there were no gifts and cards, just a sun-filled afternoon on the beach. I was alone – my spouse had gone off to explore a neighboring town. Sorrento has a tiny, immaculately maintained beach, whose proprietor shushes teens at the first sign of rambunctiousness. The changing rooms were spotless, and one could order food. A waiter brought me a sandwich on a white China plate.

The beach was full of young mothers in bikinis, and their more decorously dressed mothers and grandmothers. The infants did not fuss, as the waves of the Bay of Naples gently lapped the shore.

Now this was a Mother’s Day celebration I could get used to.





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