#AlongTheWay Travel Photo Series #1 | Maddalena (Orvieto, Italy)

In Heartfelt Remembrance of Elisa Lardani Marchi

Body Broken for Love: February 28, 2015

This is the first post in my personal travel photography series, aptly titled #AlongTheWay, to share a glimpse into the lives of the kind strangers and close friends, who were willing to let me to photograph them, share their stories and the environment in which they live. The aim of this project is to highlight each person's story: that through our diverse cultural, religious and social backgrounds -- we are all connected. And in the hustle of our technology obsessed lives, we are all in this together. It's time to let go of the fear that surrounds international travel and celebrate the beauty of our humanity. 


It's been four years since my last trip to Italy and the last time I walked the winding medieval streets of Orvieto in the Umbrian region of Central Italy. A town that I hold dear in my heart, after having studied there, developing many intimate friendships and where I return time and time again after many "giramondo" (globe-trotting). It is my home away from home and my spiritual home. This time, however, things would be different. 

Orvieto Skyline

Three years ago today, on February 28, 2015, Elisa Lardani Marchi passed away due to complications in childbirth. She was the beloved sister of Alessandro Lardani, our study abroad program director, the wife to her late husband Luca and a beautiful mother of four children: Chiara, Francesco, Maria and little Maddalena - the focus of this photo essay. 

Michelle Arnold Paine, another Gordon in Orvieto alum, whom I have finally connected with after years of knowing about her, was a close friend of Elisa's and the Lardani family. She wrote several amazing tributes to Elisa, two of my favorites which can be found HERE and HERE

 View of Orvieto's Romanesque Duomo (or Cathedral) from the side, photographed with the Lensbaby 80 Optic Pro lens. 

View of Orvieto's Romanesque Duomo (or Cathedral) from the side, photographed with the Lensbaby 80 Optic Pro lens. 

We had just finished a beautiful Sunday Mass in the Orvieto Duomo (Cathedral), the glorious Romanesque Church where the town has many of its treasures: the fresco cycles of Luca Signorelli, Gentile di Fabriano, and Fra Angelico and Orvieto's spiritual treasure, a relic from the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena. Nostalgia hit me hard throughout the service, and I was not prepared to meet little Maddalena. Before the Mass, my friend Corinna (who was traveling with me) and I met Alessandro on the steps of the Duomo and we quickly caught up after nearly a decade of not seeing each other. It was early January and we were approaching the third anniversary of Elisa's death - so most of the conversation centered about what had happened after that sorrowful day. I could hardly muster up the words (in English or Italian) to offer consolation to my dear friend and his new reality.


Enter Maddalena. We met as she bounced around the interior of the Duomo after Mass. She had a head full of dark curls and the biggest almond shaped eyes I've seen on a toddler. Maddalena grabbed hold of the iron gate to the private side chapel of San Brizio (where the fresco cycles of Luca Signorelli are housed). As I kneeled down next to her, I could hardly muster up the words to say. After several "Bella..."s I finally pulled myself together and spoke through my tears: "Come ti chiami?" (What is your name?" She looked at me with a large grin and proclaimed, "Mad-da-len-aaa". I continued to hold back tears and grinned, asking her how old she was. She held up two fingers... "Dueee..." (she was 2 years old). 


My maternal instincts kicked in. I wanted to hold sweet Maddalena tight and tell her (even though many in her family and the Orvieto community do so every single day) that her mamma loves her very much, that she is in Heaven now and that we will all see her one day. That it will hurt, very much so in the future, but we can pray to Saint (Mamma) Elisa and that she will always be close to our hearts. Instead, I shed a few tears and stroked her beautiful curls. 


We didn't have much time, since the Lardani-Marchi family had plans for Sunday lunch with their in-laws and I knew I wanted to document some photos of their family for their heirloom. I started in the Duomo and simply observed. Maddalena chasing her sister around the interior of the cathedral. Maddalena making us laugh by sticking her tongue out. And later, we got a group photo in front of the Duomo (note the horizontal stripes of black and white marble) - Maddalena continuing to be silly. 


It turns out that Maddalena had also suffered a lot in the first year of her life: cardiorespiratory arrest at the time of delivery and problems in her brain. Today, she is healthy and strong - the spitting image of her mother, full of energy and an intentional reminder (like Mary Magdalene in the Bible - her namesake) of the Resurrection that we will experience at Easter.

In the words of St. Bernadette"I shall spend every moment loving." That is what Elisa did, up until the final minute of her life and the legacy that she carries on and leaves to little Maddalena. We don't know what comes first: tomorrow or the afterlife. How then will you live?  


Little Maddalena radiates joy and is a living testimony of her mother Elisa's love. Happy Third Birthday, Maddalena! It was an honor to meet you and share your story. I look forward to my next trip to Orvieto where I will document more moments with those that love you unconditionally. 

"Sento il mare dentro a una conchiglia
l'eternità è un battito di ciglia."  (JOVANOTTI)

 My mind's eye always returns to this landscape, the zig-zag cypress trees in the valley below Orvieto. And so, I anxiously await my return. 

My mind's eye always returns to this landscape, the zig-zag cypress trees in the valley below Orvieto. And so, I anxiously await my return.