Italy’s mourning posters
The south Italian way of handling death takes some getting used to, if you ask me. The way they print death announcements on posters and exhibit them in town squares and on the houses of the deceased may appear a bit strange and spooky, compared to the Northern European habit of hiding obituaries in the back of newspapers. But perhaps the open advertisement of death is healthier than our taboos and acts of denial in the long run.
I have been told that fifty years ago chiming bells accompanied local south Italian priests on their way to give a parishioner the last rites. The bells would attract a large following of children and idlers curious to see where the illness had struck and soon the whole community knew what had happened. The shared knowledge may have prevented stigmatization. Neighbours, grocers and schoolteachers were all aware of what had happened without being told directly and could offer condolences, respect or words of comfort.
Personally, I have not seen or heard priests running through town to the sound of small hand bells, but people still dress a house in mourning by using the characteristic ‘Lutto in famiglia’ signs. The signs generate a certain respect that I am not quite sure how to handle. For instance, I found the note stuck to the office of our geometra one day, and it almost deterred me from entering, though it turned out the mourning referred to one of his neighbours.
Italians don’t seem to suffer under similar inhibitions. Four years ago when Italy won the world championship in football over France mourning stickers were extensively used to mock the opponents. Morbidly irreverent, bad taste or good fun?
This happens in Santa Marina in Southern Italy, where our holiday home is. The church bell also rings a long time to announce the death of one of the inhabitants.