Our feet were washed in buckets. Another Mass was delivered. Eight hours after setting out, we’d dragged ourselves to a large, white sanctuary. Inside a cramped little room adjoining a cramped church kitchen, we lined up to receive steaming bowls of a nearly extinct pasta.
The mood was a bizarre combination of euphoric and catatonic. Our bodies bordered on numb, but it felt ecstatic to stand in that funny room, with its half-hearted décor. I stared vaguely at an ancient electrical panel until I got my su filindeu.
It all happened too fast. With a plastic fork I speared what felt like a celebrity after all this time. I’ve never seen actual God’s threads, but the noodles were bafflingly fine. I can’t say they tasted like another species of pasta altogether. I mean, they tasted like pasta. The sheep broth tasted like a particularly potent and pasture-y broth. The sheep’s cheese tasted like a delicate, oozing feta. But together, and after everything, it was miles from anything I’d ever eaten.
The actual celebrity responsible for the bowl in my hand was elsewhere, Mavi and I learned. We wandered into the small church kitchen and found not Paola Abraini but her cousin, fussing over another pot of broth. Abraini, it seemed, had decided to skip the big day. Maybe the su filindeu limelight had grown too bright, maybe she had stuff to do. For a good five minutes I regretted not meeting her, until I realized she was even more special in legend form.
Is su filindeu going away? I don’t know. Talking to Abraini’s cousin, it was hard to gauge the sturdiness of the chain of succession. There’s concern that the younger generation isn’t totally interested. But there are also rumors that Abraini will teach classes. And then there’s the Ark of Taste, reminding the world not to blink.
What felt more pressing, frankly, was the thought of the pilgrimage itself going away one day. We need these rituals. Humans doing beautiful, irrational, gentle things, like hiking 20 miles in the dark in order to receive grace on a promontory overlooking a broad valley, and a woman cooking a strange, impossible dish to honor it all.
Lost in these thoughts, I didn’t fully notice who tucked the dried square of su filindeu into my hand that morning. Later the fact of it would sink in. I would wrap it in tissue paper and smuggle it out of Lula, out of Italy, back home to California where it now sits, in a drawer in my kitchen. I don’t know what to do with it, except look at it now and then, and, by God, never let it disappear.