Red noses. A whole bowl full of them.
There is a play called Red Noses by Peter Barnes. It’s about a priest during the Black Death who travels around France with a group of “God’s Zanies” spreading health through laughter. It’s a wonderful play and an even better notion.
I’ve helped arrange for several groups of clowns and commediani to come to Orvieto over the last 20 years, so seeing that bowlful of noses right in the heart of town pulled at something deep inside. I picked one up, several times, and almost put it on. I should have. Instead I told the two Swiss and one Italian who were standing with me about having gifted a friend with a red nose. His professional life plunges him deep into politics so it was to help maintain perspective. My story was delivered in Italian, so I’m not sure how much of it actually landed. Putting the nose on would have landed. Everyone in the room wanted to, but only Katrin (the magical fisioterapista) did so, and only briefly.
The nose must be worn. Especially these days. Internally, externally, either will do. But we need to put it on and display it proudly and often. It is vitally important.
Okay, I’ll give myself a break. I put on an internal red nose several months ago to assuage the locals and amuse myself, and it has been off only rarely, since. As time passes, I wear it with more confidence and ease. Internally, yes, but internally, when worn daily and in public, is less distracting from the real point. I have lots of company, here, among nose wearers, and I’ve told you about a few of those.
The specific occasion that placed a bowlful of noses within easy reach was called Ridere per Vivere, (Laugh for Life,) and was sponsored by VIVA Orvieto, a spunky little cultural organization with a modest but extremely energetic presence, just steps away from Piazza del Duomo. They host documentary films, lectures, workshops in art, dance, theatre for kids, music, film, physical health; all with an international flair that at the same time glories in Italian culture. It’s Europe in a nutshell. It’s global in a gentle, smiling, thoughtful, joyful, deeply human way. It represents everything good about this community – as do many such organizations in this remarkably vital town.
The afternoon and evening’s offering was a lecture by Leonardo Spina and a film. He was a member of a group of American and Italian red nose clowns who traveled to Kabul (and the surrounding areas) in 2002 to help heal through laughter. These angels of mercy call themselves Clown Doctors. It’s a concept that began in the U. S. (in Philadelphia, best I can tell) and Leonardo, finding no such organization in Italy, later founded one. Among the several Italian groups now offering laughter to those who need its healing powers is Ritorno al Domani (Return to Tomorrow) dedicated to aiding the rehabilitation of children recovering from cancer. They do this by making them laugh. And it works.
Leonardo is a remarkably free and effective speaker. I wasn’t able to understand more than the broad points and a few handy details, but his lecture covered the philosophy, spiritual value, scientific basis, and practical effects of using laughter to balance a body (and, by my personal extension, a world) thrown into chaos by confrontation with disease or injury. One phrase that stood out (and was made more clear by one of my Swiss friends) was that within a child’s ill or damaged body, is a still-healthy core. That core is what Clown Doctors address. It is the well child they speak to, strengthen and encourage. Encourage; give courage to.
The film, Clownin’ Kabul, followed Leonardo’s talk. It’s a beautifully put-together documentary based on the trip that Leonardo and twenty-some other Clown Doctors took in 2002. It effectively illustrates all of what Leonardo covered in his lecture. I can only say, watch it. I could blather on about what an inspiring work it is, but that wouldn’t come close. It’s about fifty-five minutes long. You can see it here. There are a few “difficult” minutes, but the resolutions are remarkable. The net effect is unifying. Keep a tissue handy, you may need it.
I’m told that I sometimes leave the impression that my experience of Orvieto has been an air-drop into paradise. It is. Not because the food is great, the town beautiful, the views staggering, the children gorgeous, and the streets lively. All of those are true. But in another way it feels like a hearteningly realistic projection of what a city can be — sharing, caring, realizing, accepting of a person’s humanity, offering spontaneous meetings and exchanges. Long-time residents will say the city is isolated, sometimes too quiet, the native Orvietano distant and difficult to reach. For me the heart of this place beats strong. I look around and see red noses everywhere. When I came to understand the importance of wearing one internally, it was through the quiet encouragement of a community of clowns.
There is a plague loose in the world and it may take its toll, but there are also legions of zanies afoot, so there is huge hope. That nose you just picked up? Don’t be like me. Put it on.