Italy: Falling Stars

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“In Italy there is a tradition celebrated every year on August 10th  called the “Saint Lawrence Night”. Legend has it  during this period of the month there’s a strong shooting stars activity (Perseids), and everybody during these summer nights looks up to the sky waiting to see one falling. If you are so lucky to see one star falling, you can express a desire that could be realized.”


“Today is Saint Lawrence night,” I say with a sigh looking at the sky.

“Mom who is Lawrence?”

“Saint Lawrence. He is a Saint, no one remembers why he is holy. We all remember him just for the falling stars.”

“Mom, I do not understand what it means to be Holy, what means it’s famous for falling stars and why we remember it today? Actually I did not understand anything.”

I don’t know whether to blame for the fact that we have been abroad for too long, to a problem of language and mental translations from English that my girls now automatically run when they speak Italian or to their agnostic mom.

“So let’s start with the Saint thing. A Saint is a very good person who helps others and prays so much and is convinced that God and Jesus will help him realize all his plans.”

“What projects?”

“Open new kinds of churches, convert people to Catholic religion, help the poor.”


“Change religion. A person believes in a God and you persuade him to believe in yours. It is called Conversion.”

“But how many God are there?”

“So many … but for whoever believes there is only one. One’s. Do not believe those of others exist. So he convinces them to convert. To change Gods essentially.”

“But if everyone is convinced that the others do not exist and that only theirs is true who converts who?”

“Dad converts the Euro into Dollars,” says Nene, to create further confusion.

“At school I convert the centimeters in inches” says Emma to encourage her.

“Let’s forget the conversions girls… let’s go back to the Holy.”

“I understand, like if you share your toys, help your classmate with the times table, obey your mother, and pray you are holy.”

“To be Holy you must have died Emma.”

“You must be old like grandpa and then when you die you’re Holy dead,” Nene lights up.

“Some of them were old, but most have been killed at young age” usually stoned or burned alive, I add mentally, “killed by bad guys who did not want to convert, to change religion, change God” I add to cement the word Conversion into their little heads.

“The bad guys, the terrarists from Paris!”, says Nene, of course.

“The terrorists, stupid!”  corrects Emma.

I feel that this discussion of Saints and Religions no good will come out  so I try to bring the talk back to the tracks that are more confortable to me.

“Let’s go back to Lawrence, okay? He was a Saint. Saint Lawrence is celebrated on August 10th. Today.”

“But why is he Holy? How did he die? Can I see a photo on Google?”

“I want to see him on youtube” always Nene, of course.

“I don’t know why he is Holy, but we all remember him for the falling stars. Every year in Italy, on the night of  August 10th, the earth passes by a swarm of falling stars, the Perseids, and we can see them. They are beautiful and very romantic” I say, excited by shifting the subject from the religious to the scientific one.


“What is it a swarm?”

“Emma you studied this year, collective noun, like swarm of bees, orchard, herd, flock.”

“Ah yeah, group of stuff together” stuff, I think, stuff? Objects, things, animals, plants. The grammar this stranger.

“What is a orchat, a herd and a … a … a flack?” always Nene.

“Leave it Nene, I want to see the stars, can we see them tonight mom?”

“Unfortunately not, Emma, it’s cloudy tonight, you cannot see them. But if tomorrow is clear we’ll try. They pass through our sky for two or three nights in a row. When I was a little girl like you I went with my Camp friends to lie down in the tennis court above to look at them. We carried the towels and the pillows, someone brought the plastic chair from the bar, some others blankets and mosquito repellent. We stood there for hours and hours looking for the falling stars to fulfill our desires. The falling stars meet them. But you have to express your wishes with all your heart and do not tell anyone.”

So here we are, on the night of August 11th, that it is probably Saint Somebody (a Holy man dead in some fierce and violent way that no one remembers), in the only wet and cold evening of this dreary hot summer, lying on sunbeds (because the grass is too wet) and bandaged in beach towels like chrysalis in cocoons.

If there is a beautiful thing in a small village in the Italian province it’s the dark. Just turn off the garden lights and the sky lights up with stars. And to think about it, my girls have never looked at the stars in the perpetual artificial illumination of the big cities we live in. I show them the Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopeia and the Cygnus Constellation. I tell them that the flashing stars are extinguishing and maybe, far away, have already stopped shining and what we see is their last light traveling through the universe to come to us, posthumously.

They see new invented constellations, the Beaver, the Puppy, the most famous constellation of the Fire Sword and my favorite, that of the Fishy kind of bream fish.

We swear airplanes and moths for falling stars. We laugh. Shiver from the cold.

And then there it is. The falling star. They say “ooooooohhhhh” sighing, Emma screams “here it is!” excited, Nene has not seen her and pretends to be so.

But this star is mine. It flew straight in my heart. I saw her in all her beauty and speed. She crashed on me, crossed my chest, open heart surgery without anesthesia, aortic valve replacement, mitral surgery. She stopped for a moment, looked into my eyes and said, “My friend, are you serious? Is this what you want with all of you? This is above everything you could have, what do you want? Is this what’s in your heart? “

And the answer was immediate, clear and simple: “Yes.”

She loaded on her mighty, millennial and bright shoulders a piece of me and she’s flown back in the pitch sky, so dark and black as only here in the small village of the Italian province you can find.


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