My Italian Christmas

by Evans Yonson

(Note: This entry is the reason why I started blogging seven years ago. I want to share this to all of you that may the spirit of Christmas be always alive not only this time of the year but as well as everyday in all our hearts. Happy holidays!)

Suddenly the train comes to a stop, the woman hurriedly took her coat and luggage and ran to the exit. People started to line up at the exit door. Coats, jackets, and scarves of all shades and colors, were everywhere. I only had my black jacket, 2 sweats, a cotton shirt and a backpack of dirty clothes and souvenir items.

It’s Christmas’ Eve. This is Rome. Friday night. It’s raining cats and dogs. All roads lead home tonight. But not us, we are going to the Olympic Village to find our hostel. The buses have stopped at 2100. The taxis are nowhere. South Asians are selling umbrellas at 5 euros each.With wet clothes and heavy loads, we decided to change directions this time to Saint Peter’s Square. It’s always been like this since we arrived in Italy three days ago.

Touching down at a very early cold winter Wednesday morning in Milan was not good. The trip to the city’s center was a bad one-hour ride. We decided to change plans. Instead of going directly to Rome today, we will change directions and instead take Milan then Venice and on.

My companions saw the movie, Milan. They were looking for the Piolos and Claudines among the crowd gathered to watch the Christmas presentation in front of the Duomo. Mary Poppins singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidotious” in Italian. Milan is home to so many Filipinos.

Venice is one city that I would love to visit again. And again. And again. Piazza di San Marco is wonderful. The gondoliers are cute and their gondolas too. There are only 117 islands to visit. Pinoys here complain about the arrivals of other nationals thus taking away their chances for work.

Florence is the home of the giants. Michelangelo. Leonardo. Galileo. Raphael. Also home to some wonderful and warm Filipinos. A Batanguena gave us a night tour of Florence. Amore. Another invited us for Christmas dinner. Buon natale a tutti!

The tower is indeed leaning in Pisa. Not even the Pinoys can help defy the gravity of the tower. There are Pinoys here but not as exposed as that of the other Italian cities.

“Do you have tickets?” asked the nun.

“Tickets? To where?” I replied.

“But you need tickets to hear the Christmas Eve Mass of the Pope,” she answered.

The Pope’s Mass? That’s what we came here for.

“Yes. You need a ticket to get inside the Basilica and to hear the Mass of the Pope. Inside.”

“You mean, we can get in to the Basilica?” we wondered.

“Here, I have three more extra tickets.” She takes the green cards out of her pocket. Hands a card to each of us.

Sige, Maligayang Pasko sa inyong tatlo.”

The nun walked away. We came to hear the Pope’s Mass and not see him inside the Basilica. Our hearts started to pound in the rain. Louder than the raindrops. Noisier than the million footsteps tonight.

Saint Peter’s Square is so cavernous and the line to the Basilica could take forever to get in. The gate opens at 2200. People come rushing to the gate but to no avail. No green ticket. No Basilica Mass.

Raise your green invitation cards the whole time, barked the Swiss Guard.

In less than an hour, the Basilica is filled to the brim and silence reigned as they wheeled Pope John Paul II from behind. The thundering claps of the believers outside could be heard. Then suddenly, he passes by us and waves and makes a smile.

The Christmas Eve Mass begins. Black. White. Brown. Yellow. Africans. Latinos. Asians. Europeans. Americans. So many colors yet one religion.

Then the petitions of believers are read:

In Filipino by a Filipino nun:

Ito ang palatandaan: matatagpuan ninyo ang isang sanggol na nababalot ng lampin at nakahiga sa sabsaban.Para sa pagpapahalaga sa buhay, para sa mga batang lansangan, sa mga maysakit at sa pinaka-aba ng lipunan: nawa’y hindi maging panandalian lamang ang mapagmahal na atensiyon at pagbubukas-palad para sa ikatataguyod ng isang mundong puno ng pag-ibig.

Dominum oremus.

At the end of the Mass, we bade farewell and greeted the lady beside Dixie, “Maligayang Pasko po.”

The Igorot woman looked back and smiled. She is still tired after sleeping throughout the Pope’s Mass.

Colosseo. Fontana de Trevi. Bernini. Da Vinci. Castellde Sant’Angelo. Piazza de Navona. del Popolo. Spagna. San Maria Maggiore. Barberini. della Republica. Venezzia. Bocca della Verita. So many piazzas. So manyviales. So many vias. Yet only one Termini.

Stazione Centrale Roma Termini is the train station right in the center of Rome. This is truly the heart of Rome. People come and go here. But only one stays.The Pinoys. They come to Termini for the good news and the bad.

Monday – 27 December. Today, the good news is they have three stranded Pinoy scholars from Spain. Suddenly, the bus company could not release tickets for the 27th and the 29th of December. Fully booked. The mobile phones started burning. Invitations for dinner and lunch pouring in. Medy volunteered to feed us tonight. Then tomorrow for lunch and dinner. But the place to stay for the night. Where? They are still looking. Jun could not because his place is small. Wilson could not because they also have new arrivals. Daisy could not either. Eva to the rescue.Come to the Palazzo delle Finanze, Ministero del Tesoro. We are staying at the Ministry of Finance Office. It is not just an office, it’s a palazzo.

Wednesday- 29 December. Today, the bad news is that the three stranded Pinoy scholars have extended their stay. “Next time, you should come prepared,” said one Pinay.

We exhausted all efforts to go home to Spain before the New Year. There’s a 50 euro boat ride from Civitavecchia to Barcelona. There’s a 180 euro train ride from Rome to Milan then to Madrid. There’s a 450 euro plane ride from Rome to Madrid.

“No!” Tita Eva said. “You are not going anywhere,” she added.

The tsunamis in South Asia. The tides of Venice. The snows of Milan. Tita Eva said she is worried about us.

“You are my three kings and Corrado and I will take care of you three,” said Tita Eva.

We will be celebrating New Year’s Eve with Tita Eva and her husband, Chio Corrado in the Palazzo.

Tita Eva is a Filipina married to an Italian for 17 years now. She has two kids by her Filipino husband who died when she was only 28 years old. She has 7 grandchildren. She has a sister in Rome, who is a pain in-the-ass type of a woman.

Tita Eva finished high school and because they were poor, she used will power to raise her kids by herself. Working restaurant jobs in Manila to the Middle East till she was lured to go to Italy.

Kung mag-aasawa ka na rin lang dito sa Italya, dapat sa Italiano na!” Tita Eva declared. Other Filipinas have opted to live with South Asians and other nationals making it hard for them to obtain their Italian nationality.

Tita Eva goes to Termini for the company of Filipino workers. But she prefers to keep her stories to herself. During our 6 days stay with Tita Eva and Chio Corrado (who, by the way, speaks only Italian), she opened her heart to us. She told us everything that the Termini Pinoys don’t know. Her disappointments. Her wishes. Her heartaches. Then the tears started to fall… We were teary-eyed just listening to her stories.

Tita Eva prepared the New Year’s Nochevieja in between stories about home, children, siblings, sufferings, husbands, marriage, and everything about her life. During dinner, we had champagne, meat, pansit, and the traditional beans. We also had fruits on the table, panetonne, and soda. We announced that we were leaving the next day. Tita Eva was caught by surprise because all along she thought that we were staying till Tuesday.

After dinner, Tita Eva told us to rest for a while. Shortly before 2330, we came down and Tita Eva brought out the firecrackers. Handing each of us a stick, she had bought these crackers especially for us. Then the countdown… 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…. Buon Anno!!!

We each gave Tita Eva a big strong hug. Chio Corrado was happy and still smiling.

We slept the whole day of 1st January. Then dinnertime came. We ate with her alone. This time, Tita Eva really cried.

Early to bed tonight because we are leaving early tomorrow. But I couldn’t sleep. My Roman Holiday is about to end but there is something in it that is still missing.

We woke up early and Tita Eva was already busy preparing foodstuff for our trip. Giving instructions on this and that. Never go out of the house with a wet hair in winter. Always wear your scarf when outside. Bring an umbrella. Use your jackets always. Don’t miss your mealtime.

It’s goodbye time now. She couldn’t leave the Palazzo today. I don’t know why. Chio Corrado showed us the way out. As we crossed the street away from the Palazzo, from the corner of my eye, I saw Tita Eva waving goodbye and wiping the tears off her eyes.

Then I realized why we changed plans in Milan. Our Roman Holiday. Our Italian Job. It was not the Pope. It was not the gondola. It was not the train rides. Neither the tower. Nor the Basilica. Nor the piazzas. Nor the Colosseo. It was a lonely Filipino woman longing to be home this Christmas. Our dearest friend and mother away from home, Tita Eva.