Simona, from the tutto shop, arrives punctually at 9.40 to take us to Il Carmine for Christmas mass. In the car with her are her mother-in-law, and her daughter, Irene, who tells me that she is attending the music secondary school at the top of the old town of Anghiari. She is learning the flute, the piano, and also conducting, for the school has an orchestra.
There is still mist in the valleys but everyone hopes it will be a sunny day.
On the way to Il Carmine, Simona tells me that the family have lived for many years in this place, in what was the monastery attached to the church.On arrival, it becomes clear just how connected with the church the family are. All the women of the family are helping with preparations for the service, ducking in and out of the vestry; and Irene is an altar server. She remains in her doc martens and jacket for this role. Wholeheartedly participating in proceedings, she doesn’t have the slightest hint of adolescent sulkiness about her. After the service, she proudly tells me that the presepe has been made by herself, her mother and her grandmother. It is an extraordinarily detailed scene of country life, replete with vegetable garden, vines, flock of sheep, and washing on the line. People take a long time in their appreciation of it all.
The church is full. The congregation is comprised, in the main part, of country people. Three generations of the fabric producing Busatti family, are also here. The priest is gracious, giving a sermon on the importance of humility. I notice that the readings are all done by women. It is, in part, a sung mass, but the whole thing feels sung to me with the sound of this lovely language in which I am now happily participating. I am following the ‘messa del giorno’ sheet which everyone else knows off by heart. Is it the music of the repetition of these words that makes this ritual work?
At the end of the service, everyone is invited to come up to the altar to kiss the baby Jesus – a doll. And, everyone revisits the presepio.
It is a few years since I have seen Giovanni, il padrone of the Busatti family, but he remembers me and we come around to a conversation about the differences between life in Anghiari and life in Australia. Busatti now have shops in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, and both he and his son, Stefano, who is standing here beside him, have spent time in Australia. For Giovanni, there is, in this place, an important sense of history, and he points to a painting on the wall: see, a relative of many, many generations past. But, he says, Stefano finds this sense of generations a burden; he wants to escape it. It’s different at our age, we agree. All the while, a grandson of Giovanni, and nephew of Stefano is running around us. They offer us a lift back to Anghiari, but we insist that we want the walk.
And, just as we are heading off, Irene comes to tell me that there will be a living presepe at Monterchi (the town where Piero della Francesca’s ‘Madonna del parto’ is located) later this afternoon, and in days to come. The family are participating in it and would be happy to take us there.
We walk back to Anghiari along the ridge overlooking the Tiber and Sovara valleys, layers of hills emerging out of the mist.