I Met Mary!
Last June, just a few days after I had arrived here in Milano, I went to the Cimitero Monumentale – the Monumental Cemetery – to look around. It is, indeed, “monumental” and every bit worth an afternoon of strolling and looking. As they say, it is WAY over the top! One can study architecture, sculpture, typography and history. The structural monuments are bigger than my apartment and of every possible architectural style. Every family grave plot features a noteworthy sculpture. That cemetery provides a very concentrated study location, like none other I know.
So, back to Mary. In June, after being awestruck by the cemetery grounds themselves and feeling saturated by it all, I started toward the exit, through the main “gallery” building. I heard chanting and the monotone of prayer, and it changed my course. Around back and in the lower level is a small chapel. I approached the doorway and simply stood outside, listening to the rhythm of women saying the rosary. At the doorway was a simple stand with a listing of the names of the recently deceased, for whom the women were praying.
The handwriting stopped me! SO unlike what we learned long ago in school in the U.S. So European. So distinctive!
Lately, as I have continued to intensively “mine” Milano for design references, that very particular handwriting has pulled at me. I went back to the cemetery on Monday, to shoot the day’s page of names, however, the cemetery was closed. I went back again today and made a bee-line for the chapel front. Yes! There it was. That lovely, lyrical, not-quite-cursive pen! I photographed each of the 3 sheets posted there, then turned north for a tour of the cemetery.
Mary’s capital letter “M”:
During my slow amble, one of the cemetery workers approached me and asked if I wanted to see the Campari tomb. (This cemetery holds the remains of all the “big-name families” of Milano: Campari – the drink, Ferrari, Pirelli, Zucchi and many others. The sources of all the street names in town!) Of course I said yes, and he, Salvatore, took me to the northwest area of the grounds and to the grand tomb capped by a sculptural “Last Supper”. At it’s backside was an open vault with a beautiful mosaic covering walls and ceiling.
While Salvatore and I chatted, I showed him the pictures I had shot of the wonderful handwriting. I asked if he knew who had done it and said that I would like to meet her. (It speaks of femininity, so I assumed it was a woman.) I didn’t understand everything he said, but it was something about 3 o’clock and come back another time. (It was then about 1:30.) I thanked him for his help, said goodbye and kept looking around.
Time flies in that incredible cemetery. It would be hard to tire of that place, impossible to cease seeing something new. I saw Salvatore again and it was after 3:00. He suggested that I might be able to meet the person that wrote the pages, so he took me to the brown-cloaked priest and I explained who I was looking for. Father signaled for me to follow him, and we wrapped through the crypt-filled hallways to a nondescript door which led into the back of the chapel. He took me through a few interior halls to a room with a western window and the afternoon light… and Mary.
I told her how beautiful her handwriting is and that I couldn’t stop thinking about it lately. It’s the most beautiful and distinctive I’ve seen here. Using all the “polite” Italian I could remember, I asked her if she would kindly write out an alphabet and number set for me, with upper and lower case letters. She seemed tickled and agreed, but asked if I would come back another day to pick it up. She wanted time to do it well.
Part of today’s list of names speaks of Don Giuseppe Gervasini, a priest that lived from 1867 to 1941 and is believed to have special healing powers. Mary – pronounced more like “Mah-ree” with a light trill to the “r” – carefully shuffled some papers in a deep drawer in her office and removed a wallet-sized photo of Father Gervasini. She gave it to me and instructed me to keep it with me always, saying that Don Gervasini would keep me protected. (A mass is being held in the chapel this Saturday at 10:00 in honor of Don Giuseppe Gervasini’s “name day” – onomastico. I guess I know what I’m doing Saturday morning.)
“Mary, Salvatore told me that you’re 84 years old.” “Yes. How old are YOU?” When I answered, she said, “I thought you were 30! You look like it!” I told her she’s sweet for saying so. She gave me a kiss on each cheek goodbye and I told her I’d be back tomorrow to come pick up the alphabet. (I’ll take her some flowers and some greeting cards that I made, as a little “thank you”.)
I absolutely beamed all afternoon as I left the cemetery! To have not only seen more of the handwriting I enjoyed so much, but to MEET the woman that does it, AND to have her agree to write out a full alphabet for me, AND to have her be so sweet to chat with… And I have such fondness for elder women. It is exactly these unexpected, unplanned, never-to-be-imagined meetings that charm my time here in Milano.