Maria shuffled her feet, as the tide started reverting on the pebble beach where they were sitting, just down the village promenade. The big waves of the windy day had been replaced by an everlasting series of small and nervous oscillations of the sea, reproduced instantly by the chiming noises of dangling objects and metallic ropes of tens of boats on the bay. She looked towards the black night, to that point of fusion between the sky and darker territories of mysterious waters and she turned towards Damiano, with a frozen smile.
“Did you ever meet that old man living close to the roman amphitheatre, at the top of the hill?” Damiano replied “Who, Nicola?” She went “Well, Nicola or, as he likes to be called, Marcus." "He is a nutter, Damiano reacted. I am sure I saw him dressed like a roman lighting up candles, in front of a makeshift altar." "He is not mad", she laughed "He is pagan. Or, to be clear, he is Roman Pagan." "So, in a moment in which atheism pervades each aspect of our culture, a dude from the Italian coast finds religious comfort in Zeus" "Jupiter, you mean" "And Aphrodites…" "Maybe Venus. You know, he is pretty much focused on Roman paganism. He believes that early Greek merchants somehow have stolen the idea to prehistoric italic populations and they brought back to their lands this mithology built around a large array of gods and junior divinities. However, his main belief is built around the cult of Lares and Penates, the inner and specific deities controlling each household and each human activity, a full army of little gods holding a cornucopia. Each roman house and villa had a similar shrine next to the doors. In addition, he follows the roman cult of ancestors. He believes that the big hybris, to use a greek word, has been to drop the memory of our own familiar past as our genetics are the link between that originary moment of madness and creation of our gods and the infinite future.
Genetics are God, in some extent, insofar we are the only self-conscious being of the known universe. This is why he built a temple and few altars inside the forest and he lives close to the roman citadel, where he honours these little sculptures of Lares and Penates and he has a bigger shrine inside the stone house where he lives, close to the Southern Cliff. You should meet him. He is a nice person and keen to talk about it" "Well, this is mad. So, he believes that, when there is a seastorm, Neptune is somewhere with his trident and Eolus pushes clouds and rain around" "Yes. He believes that human and natural forces are closely interlinked and that some form of hideous strenght and willingness belong to each event around us. Before he started showing his beliefs, he was a chemistry professor in Argentina, he was son of immigrants. When his father was close to die, they came back to the village, where the old man wanted to be buried and, in a night like this, of absent moon and darkness, the father told him about a family tradition that consisted of keeping live the memory of relatives and ancestors, putting a picture and one of their object on a little shrine in a hidden corner of the house. The two walked down a corridor and the father opened a door that the professor tought was leading to a small cupboard. Behind it, there was a large wooden altar, completely covered in pictures, paintings, etchings and morbid wax masks, of seemingly old relatives. The professor, guided by the light of a candle, started shuffling through these materials, the layers of pictures, artefacts and he realised they were dating back, centuries. It didn’t take him long enough before realising that somebody had applied to each piece on the altar a little tag, with a name and a date. It was like a facebook page of his family tree and the calligraphy and the material, an early version of pulp paper, was hinting to a XVII century effort to catalogue each of these macabre but fascinating souvenirs of past lives. It was like Lynneus himself tried to rationalise and put order on such long past”
"When the professor discovered it, he was tempted to dismantle it, as his rigorous and alien mentality would not accept what he considered a form of barbarism. Then, the father told him that, when his final day would have arrived, the son was supposed to put a picture of him on the shrine and to get a wax mask on his death bed, as it was the tradition. The professor asked the father what kind of cult was imposing them, his family, to do so. And the father answered ‘it is a Roman thing, it is the way in which we continue to feel we belong here, to this part of the world. The cult of these invisibile forces, of this invisible power that in the past drag tuna towards our ancestors’ nets, the strenght that brings sun and rain and makes our land so fertile, but, more over, this is the cult of your and my past, this is what matters. The world is not only about going forward, but also to have the capacity to look to the past and find that the other side of the infinite void we call existence has a path to follow”
Damiano gasped and asked Maria ‘So, did he convert to the Roman religion”. Maria smiled and her face was suddenly lighten up by the reverberation of a car passing by. “Yes, he became pagan, as he felt he had to honour such a story. Dipping into this memory’s archive, he started studying the artefacts, with a kind of academic interest and then, as much as he could, he mapped faces and paintings to the known history of his family. He swaffled through the local parishes' archives, went to national and regional archives. And, tracing back his family history, he started discovering so many things about himself. Ilnesses, diaries and stories around his ancestors, little notes left in remote times on some of the paintings and etchings, the calligraphy of somebody with a name like his, Nicola, from the XIV century and the shape of the face, and eyes of the most remote wax masks he found carefully protected in wooden boxes. And dates going back to before Christ. The Roman cult, he told me once, prescribes that, at each funeral of a family member, his or her relatives need to wear such masks, so that the procession towards the cemetery or the pyre was looking like a brief family history of familiar faces”
“This is macabre!” Damiano shouted. “No, she said, for the professor this is life affirming. By the way, the professor, or Marcus, is my uncle and, when he will die, I will be the first in line to take forward this tradition. I will have to make a wax mask and put close to the shrine inside his house.”
“Are you pagan too?” he squeeked “No, not for the time being - she said - I have never seen the shrine inside his house, but I know that there is something immensely right in all this. I think it is the capacity to relate to your past and use it to understand your future. Sorry, I have to go, or my father will hit me with a lighting” Maria laughed loudly and she took her summer shoes, threatened by the high tide. She waived a wide hello at Damiano and started running up the steps of the village. Damiano looked to the top of the cliff, where Nicola or Marcus lived, looking for some weird light but everything was pitchblack darkness apart from the usual blue glaring of tv sets from the neighbouring homes. Paganism or else, he thought, roman cults were always better than those stupid TV shows.
Youngblood Hawke – We come running
Little Free Rock – Roman Summer Nights