Sunday, December 25, 2005

12.20.05 Santa Lucia Returns

This is the sequel to Santa Lucia and the Hurricane, if you have been paying attention and following our adventures of late. If you haven’t, I will give you a brief recap. On the 13th of December we went to Siracusa for the feast of Santa Lucia but it was rained out due to hurricane activity in the area. We ended up spending the night there because all the roads were closed but we made plans to go back on the 20th when, if the rain stopped some time in the meantime, they would have marched Santa Lucia from the Duomo where she normally resides, to the church named for her. This procession took place on the 17th and, we are told, come hell or high water, they return the Saint to the Duomo on the 20th with much fanfare and flourish. This we very much wanted to see and we weren’t disappointed.

We checked into our B&B (The Magnolia) about noon, deposited our overnight stuff and headed out to explore the city. Unlike the week before, this day was gorgeous. The sky was blue and clear with no rain in sight. The sea was calm as could be and the reflections in the little harbor made good subjects for picture taking. We had lunch at one of the restaurants by the bridge that connects the island of Ortigia to Siracusa and took our time savoring the meal. (this time Bob had the seafood risotto and I had a lovely pasta with a swordfish ragu) At around 3:30 we walked over to the church to find that a market was set up along the streets that lead to the church selling all sorts of candies and nuts and totally unrelated stuff, colorful and fun to look at nonetheless. The procession was scheduled to begin at 4, but it seems non of these things ever start on time and it was closer to 5 when a helicopter flew overhead and dropped fireworks to signal the start of the event. This was accompanied by the tolling of the church bells, so it was a very dramatic beginning. We had noticed earlier all these (mostly women) people barefoot, carrying these enormous (about 3 ft) candles. When I asked one of them why they were barefoot, she replied that this was an expression of empathy for the pain the Saint had suffered (she was beheaded for refusing to give up her faith and is also said to have plucked our her own eyes and thrown them at her persecutors, so she surely suffered a lot) and that they would walk the path of the procession that way, at the end of which, we are certain, they themselves would be in a lot of pain, walking on these rough stone streets.

At the right moment, out of the church came Santa Lucia, an incredibly elaborate statue all in silver with gold accents that sits atop a beautifully ornate base of the same material, borne on the shoulders of the men of the town, quite a good distance through the streets of Ortigia, over the bridge and back to the Duomo in Siracusa. The entire procession lasted for several hours.

By the time they reached the bridge, it was almost 9pm. Bob and I did not follow the route with them, but came back to the bridge area and walked around for a while, sitting on the benches nearby and watching the motion of the birds in the air as they performed their nightly ballet. This is really something incredible to watch. We have never seen anything like this in our lives and thousands and thousands of birds literally create these amazing patterns in the sky that are like ribbons being twisted and turned, in constant motion, as if choreographed. It is simply astonishing.

When Santa Lucia reached the bridge area, they stopped and put her down and began the most dazzling fireworks display imaginable. Bob and I have seen our fair share of really great fireworks shows (if you know me you know I love this stuff!). This rivals the best of them for the top spot. Everyone in the audience was spellbound and instead of the usual “oohs and ahhs” we heard lots of “bravos” and “bellissimis” and even the occasional “mamma mia” – absolutely fabulous and worth the wait!

Tired and foot weary by this time we decided to try to find a quiet place for a late supper and were delighted that the one we chose was right along the route to the Duomo! ( called The “Ottocento” beautifully decorated with really excellent food, right near the Fontana Diana) After we had ordered our dinner we noticed the waitress rush to the window and then call to the chef who came out from the kitchen and the few of us in the restaurant followed them to watch as the procession passed just below the balcony where we were standing! That was just too cool.

Our little B&B was comfortable and just down the street from these entire goings on. In the morning we had breakfast at a little coffee bar, and then decided to check out the Castello Eurialo built at the beginning of the 4th century by Dionysius. According to my guidebook the castle was originally formed from a single block in the shape of a ship’s prow. The castle ruins cover one and a half hectares (what’s a hectare??) and at the time of their construction, the design was considered quite innovative. The best thing – besides getting to touch and see a lot of old stuff – are the spectacular views, as it sits on a high point above the city, with a commanding view of the harbor and Mt. Etna in the distance. We had fun climbing all over the crumbling ruins and going down into the lower parts of the castle, which reminded us of going down into the Rocca Paolina, although this is much, much older that the fortress in Perugia.

By early afternoon we were on our way back to our little town with a promise to return to Siracusa to see the art museum and the other Greek ruins, some of the finest in Sicily. Another day. We have many more before our time here is done.

Buona notte,
Rosemary e Robert

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