Ritual blessings

Gentleman of Verona

I've just returned from the UK, a visit somewhat marred by the general election campaign in which, as far as one who now counts himself a foreigner can tell, both sides are offering exactly the same thing and above all, paradoxically, individual choice. Anyhow, I get the family in the car for the Veronese Sunday ritual of a day out at Lake Garda, then am annoyed to find the centre of our village seething with traffic. Significantly, the only car-park we have here is a monstrous expanse of asphalt outside a monstrously modern church. But today even this has overflowed, so that dark-suited figures who have driven their Lancias perhaps all of 300 metres find themselves obliged to parade a further 50 alongside high-heeled wives and frilly children.

"A marriage?" I wonder, "Or funeral?"

"No, prima comunione," sings my elder daughter. All her schoolfriends are getting their first taste of the host today. And likewise Beppino, the boy in the flat downstairs who lets off bangers in any and every season. "Merda" - my wife foresees the worst, "all the restaurants will be booked up." For after committing their souls to Christ, the children must be regaled with rings and chains of gold over a three-course meal. "Where will we eat?" she wails.

Driving up the Valpolicella, I think how well I know those meals, how easy it is to be cynical about them, but how much I love to tuck in: pasta first, of course, then boiled meat, then tiramisu, and the fine tuning of the various wines, your stomach so accustomed to the procession of plates and glasses that the final grappa sends you on your way with the liturgical obviousness of the priest's blessing, or a friend's arrivederci. Until suddenly it occurs to me that your average Italian would have no truck with philosophies of individual choice. For in the end, surely, the Blair-Major chatter about family values is profoundly at loggerheads with the idea of freedom of choice. Hardly one of those kids went to catechism willingly. As, no doubt, they had to learn to like their carciofi. It takes coercion to transmit a culture.

As we drive, the children sing the signature song to a cartoon. In Japanese! And immediately I'm wondering whether people love singing things in foreign languages because they feel freed from responsibility, sliding along the grooves of something they don't understand. Didn't Plutarch remark in Quaestiones Graecae how the ceremonies most lovingly observed were the ones everyone had forgotten the meaning of? Certainly the book on child psychology I just read told me it was far more important to impose rules than explain them. "Don't burden your child with choices they're not ready for," this book said. So, "No, we're not stopping for a brioche right now," I tell my boy, Michele, brusquely. "Not right after breakfast," As if that could substitute for the religious education I haven't given him.

"Jonathan's found a woman he wants to marry at last," I fill Rita in on news of old friends in England. "Only he wants to wait a year to make sure she's the right one." We laugh over Jonathan's legendary caution. Then there's a new acquaintance who would love to have children but her man won't. Because contraception and abortion bring choice, too. The Pope knows we're not ready for it. Meanwhile, my wife brings me up to date on our neighbours' messy divorce: the husband can't choose between the mistress he left his wife for and the young girl he came across when he took a flat of his own. I recall Samuel Johnson's remark that the balance of weal and woe would not be greatly altered if spouses were chosen at random by the public registrar. Nowadays, not only does one have to choose one's wife in the first place (will the Asian communities be voting for individual choice?), but one must renew that choice every day. "Marco just wants to show he's free to make an unholy mess!" My wife naturally supports the wronged wife.

Bardalino. The sunny ceremony of the days here. The passeggiata along the neatly laid-out waterfront. Under enamelled skies. My son fishing from a jetty. My daughters giggling and bouncing about an inflatable pirate ship. My wife with cappuccino and Corriere della Sera. I'm thinking: imagine the barriers to freedom of choice rolling ever back; some future election manifesto: you can choose your child's sex, choose your own sex, you can choose your parents, choose your nationality, choose to come into the next life as a dog, or a cat, or a fruit bat. You can choose to be immortal. Or, most mind-boggling of all, a writer could choose his publisher. Think of the anguish, the responsibility! Who would you blame when you were unhappy, when your books didn't sell? And would there ever be any mental space left for such idle musing as I'm enjoying now? The huge pleasure of a day running on traditional rails while the mind roams free from any choice. "Except," I remind Rita, "we better head on home before the hordes come." For with clockwork reliability the Italians make for the lake in the early afternoon. They don't seem unhappy in their jams. Free thinkers, we weave in and out of their routines. Opening the garden gate in congratulatory mood, a banger goes off almost at our feet, and there's a child's newly blessed, demonic laugh

Tim Parks' latest novel, `Europa', is published by Secker & Warburg at pounds 9.99

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen