Saturday, June 13, 2015

Little Girls and Flowers

by Jennifer Colton-Jones 
Five steps from her front door, a 3-year-old named Marisol gingerly selects a flower and holds it up as she twirls on one foot. Her long, brown braid flies through the air behind her like a ribbon, clapping her two sparkling pink-and-purple hair ties together to a tempo of rhinestone and plastic. 

She carefully places the fuchsia petals on the roadway, lining a cross she and her mother created from fine sand. White sand still brushes her cheek and the tip of her round nose below her dark eyes. She smiles shyly at the stranger photographing her as her family decorates Via Lapis for the feast day celebration of Corpus Christi. 

Church bells clang in the air above Marisol, the large, metal bell just visible as it rocks back and forth in the basilica’s tower above the street, but the family doesn’t seem to notice. Even Marisol is already conditioned to the tolling bells of the 15 churches of Cagli.

An American in Italy for the first time, I watched the young girl with the deep, brown eyes and the innocent smile, but her faces pulled my memory far away. Somewhere a world away – over the sea and across my own country – another little girl loves to play with flowers.

My own daughter, Keira, turned 4 the day I landed in Italy. I have collected a flower for her from each city I have visited in my time in Italy. Standing on the streets of Cagli, I can’t help but imagine Keira together with Marisol dancing and dropping petals across the town. For Marisol, the event is already familiar and she still dances; for Keira, the intricate patterns and mountains of flowers would be a new delight. I’m not sure either girl would understand the ceremony and the reverence of lighting the way for the priests to carry the host through the city.

In Cagli – as with many other Italian cities – they celebrate Corpus Christi twice. The larger celebration is reserved for a Sunday, when the procession will visit each church. The day I watched Marisol of the big, brown eyes, was the feast day that fell on a Wednesday. Only four of the city’s streets were decorated with hearts, letters, chalices, and waves carefully crafted with flowers, sand, and herbs. Every 15 minutes, church bells rang out from all directions, the heavy cacophony echoing down the stone and plaster roads and alleys, reminding everyone of the procession. The Cagliesi bordered the pathways with rosemary, and as the procession moved through the streets, they crushed the herbs and released their scent into the air, where it mingled with the incense of the priests.

When the procession returned to the steps of the basilica where it began, the crowd followed the host inside for the blessing under the frescos and painted arches of the cathedral.

Across the square, the garbage truck rumbled over the cobblestones, and orange-vested workers began to sweep and scoop the flowers and herbs and dump them in the vehicle. Even though each represents hours of work and design, the beautiful art has already served its purpose and is considered garbage to be cleaned off the streets. Soon nothing remains but smudges of sand and errant yellow petals between the cobblestones.

As the band filters its way into the church, I looked down near my feet at the carnations, rose petals, and yellow flowers destined for the trash man’s collection. I think of my Keira back home and telling her the story of Marisol, the girl so much like her from a different world. I scoop a handful of flowers, almost untouched, still perfect in form. I wrap them in a napkin to take them home to my own little Marisol.