May 21, 2007

Moroloja, the chant of the dead


Like a reawakening, as if the little space inside the Cafausu had expanded. I’m dressed up, in a shirt and tie I haven’t worn for ages, perfectly still. Maria Concetta slides eyeglasses into position on my head, then emits a long shout. At first I don’t understand that it is the prelude to a chant. A melodious lament that goes on for hours, hypnotic, anguishing: the Moroloja, the chant of the dead. Somebody pays her to do it, I’m not sure whom, also because I’m not supposed to be dead and in any case I don’t even know what is supposed to have killed me. All I know is this lamentation, this woman who just a few minutes ago was stealing my gold and my watch. Now she’s crying (tearlessly) and singing my praises. She seems to know me, as if we’d met time and again for years. I am on the ground in the Cafausu, surrounded by people I’ve never seen before. Maria Concetta wails and cries, shaking her head, mussing her hair, shaking. She holds a kerchief in one hand. Candles and rotting flowers waft a putrid odor of lavender and coffee. I feel like throwing up but I can’t. Evidently the dead are not allowed to vomit. The “chiangimuerti” is sweating now, swimming toward a spoken tone, but then her inebriating sobs return, another spasm of grief. I can hear the way she avoids the pleasures of singing, out of respect, eschewing the harmony of the musical structure, keeping a perfect balance between groan and tune. I start to pay attention to the words. They express no Christian concepts of death or resurrection, no mention of Christ, Mary, saints.

After life there is only dissolution, “dark night”. I listen to an appeal to Thanatos, death personified, and to the fairy Fate, with her dramatic power of dominion and destiny. I think I can salvage a memory: my grandmother, Vicenzina, became senile when she was about eighty, and would often sing a song by Orietta Berti:

"Stretti stretti nell’estasi d’amor la spagnola s’amar così bocca bocca la notte e il dì."

Then she would immediately cut it short, and lose herself in a wailed lament:
Ohimmè, Sorte noscia." (Oh my… such is our Fate)