y candlelight this Mother and Child, copied from one by Giotto for the Badia in Florence, in our Library, takes on life. A Norwegian artist painted it, I gold-leafed it. The tenderness and insistance of the Child's hand at the edge of his Mother's robe demands being nourished and cherished. The Baroque threw this painting out of the Badia when they refurbished the place with chiaroscuro smokiness. Now, further, the Badia's remaining treasures are eclipsed by copies of icons. But once this painting, of the Word becoming Flesh amongst us, was on this church's altar. Now it is in a cold Museum. But it also graces our library, in a copy made by love, being set on the book-binding press for easel.
My friend Renata Fernandez, an anthropologist, described her field work in Spain, studying the effects of the introduction of different cattle by the Americans, in order to have the babies be bottle-fed. Among the results she found was that the Madonna and Child paintings and statues were now censored as obscene, where Mary was shown nurturing her Baby, and that part covered up. While commercial postcards began to appear of simpering children becoming sexual far too young. And the spacing between pregnancies became too close. Too much sex, too little love.
Next to our copy of the Badia Giotto, painted by our Norwegian Petter, is our cradle. Heloise told Abelard one cannot have cradles in studies, babies amongst books. We disagree. We made our first cradle for a baby about to be born to a Rom mother, living in the streets of Florence. It has now been sent to them in Romania. We have made more, hoping to sell these to Italians to help the Rom mother, but only one Italian family, the grandparents in that family, bought one. Today, young parents buy things of plastic and metal in which their babies are placed, away from their own bodies. They seek to turn their babies into their cars, mechanical things needing petrol/milk at stated far-apart convenient intervals.
Because no one wanted to buy these other cradles made and painted by hand we gave them to the gypsy families who had lost all their ancestral cradles, often the only piece of furniture in their beautiful rooms, in a camp holocaust outside Florence. They are much appreciated by them. And I hope they make more.
We visited a maternity ward soon after having had a Roma mother and child under our roof. The Rom baby never cried, from always being held and nursed and rocked and having lullabies sung to him. The babies in the maternity ward cried and cried and cried. The mothers and the doctors and the nurses stood aside, not touching them. Such trauma for a new-born, to be denied attention, response, cherishing and nurturing, from the very beginning. We know that a child learns most in the first minutes of life, then this speed of learning gradually slows down during the passing months and years. The birth moment and the birth day should be filled with gentleness and cherishing. Instead, we were hearing broken-hearted babies so soon after their birth. A fine way to bring up a violent warrior caste.
The Guardian today, 4/3/05, in an article on teenagers,
mentioned the following:
Is there any hormone link to high-risk choices in teenagers? It is likely not to be testosterone, at least not initially, but the stress hormone, cortisol which returns us to deprivation. Stress during early life raises cortisol levels, so increasing behavioural problems (such as hyperactivity), tending to make children more aggressive, less affiliative and more likely to perceive others as threatening. Stress in either pregnancy or in early life permanently resets the stress response of the child, so that there is an increased reaction to stress - it's called hyperarousal. A stressed child, for instance, when meeting someone new (even in a familiar environment) will withdraw and refuse to make eye contact, rather than chat happily. This increased stress response plays out in reduced life expectancies because cortisol affects almost every body system. It is also closely linked with depressive illness in later life.
Adults now are for 'instant gratification', shopping, sex, abusive substances. Perhaps because there is a great overwhelming need, a void, from babyhood, of not being satisfied, of being deprived. Babies who suck at the breast long enough do not then suck their thumbs. Nature gave that need to the newborn for its survival, which it then would have naturally outgrown. Cigarette smokers have not outgrown that need and it is killing them.
Everywhere I go in Florence there are Roma mothers, from Romania's poverty, from Kosovo's war, with babies in their arms, begging for bottle milk, when breast feeding is better and costing nothing, and begging for disposable diapers that one buys in pharmacies, made of plastic, paper and carcinogenic gel. In their poverty they must beg for the 2,000 euro these disposable diapers will cost them for the first two years of each child's life.* So now I am offering them sample cloth diapers, which they can wash and use again and again, and of which a full set would cost for the two years of a baby's needing them 100 euro. These are pure cotton, come from China, fit three sizes, and wash and dry well, becoming softer and softer.
Italians today do not have
babies. Too expensive. They have cars instead, which last even
less, being also, like paper diapers, disposables. But if we
could teach how to love babies, with caring, not money, these
babies would be content and tranquil, nourished and cherished.
And the world be peaceful. And families not be poor. It takes
love to make a cradle, to sew a child's garment, to wash its
A cloth nappy/diaper
cooperative run by mothers in England showed this image,
noting the paper/plastic nappies from one baby would fill this
National Trust barn and are not bio-degradable.
Later: It became illegal for a mother to beg with her baby so she
takes it home to Romania to be raised by its grandmother and she
returns alone to begs in the streets for their survival. Which is
worse for the mother and child than before but their separation
does not look as bad.
2019: Progetto Agata Smeralda now helps the Aureo Anello
Associazione give ten such mothers a stipen and a library school,
the first time there are books in their homes, so the mothers
isntead of begging in Florence's streets and annoying tourists and
Florentines, can stay home in Romania with their babies.
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Blessed Olive Branch, Kenyan olive-
wood bowl, William Morris Print