Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Festival of San Giuseppe 3.19.06

Sunday, March 19th, was the Festival of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian), the patriarch of the Holy Family. It's a big deal in this part of the world. As we had just returned from our week of traveling (I already posted the story of our trip) to Palermo and the west coast of Sicily, we decided to see what our little town of Marina di Ragusa was doing and not to travel any further from home. Around 8am we were awakened by what sounded like fireworks and of course I had to run down to see what was going on. Bob and Jessica opted to stay in bed and sleep and were not quite as curious as I was at the goings on down in the "centro" of our town. I threw on some clothes and walked along the Lungomare to Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi where all the streets surrounding the square had decorations strung across them, much like the Christmas and Carnevale celebrations. As there didn't seem to be much going on, except for all the people going into Mass, I decided to join them and at least get a peak at the inside of the church and then just stayed through the Mass, something I haven't done in a very, very, long time. I found it to be a very meditative and relaxing way to spend the next half hour and then walked around the corner to our paneficio to buy some bread. Maria Rita, the very friendly young woman who works there showed me the traditional bread that is made just for San Giuseppe day, one in the shape of a fish, the other a cross, elaborately decorated bread and I bought one of each. She asked me if I had seen the "cena" and told me where to go to see this very particular part of the San Giuseppe festival. I just sort of wandered around until I noticed that some people were going into a building across from the church where the "cena" was set up. The "cena," are tables decorated with flowers, bread and other foods that create the most amazing feast. Bread is crafted into all sorts of fantastic shapes like fish, baskets and huge bunches of grapes, decorated with little pieces of bread and baked. Every sort of Sicilian delicacy (but no meat, which is supposed to represent the poverty of the Holy Family) was displayed there. The bounty was unbelievable (not sure how this plays into the whole "poverty" theme) and there were huge bowls of fruits and vegetables and bouquets of flowers everywhere. Decanters of deep red wine stood on the tables, each with a great big orange placed on top as a decoration. There were beautiful pastries, cannoli, arancini (those rice balls that are deep fried) cookies, towers of honey balls with sprinkles, ricotta pies and other treats I cannot even name.

Then I saw a band enter the town and begin to play, marching all around through the streets like pied pipers and I could not help but follow to see what would happen next! They basically did a spin all around the center of the town and back to the church again, where I recognized our landlord Elio's brother Salvatore at the entrance to the church. They also own an apartment in Marina di Ragusa and were there attending Mass with his wife Marinella's aunt. Salvatore invited me to join them and explained what would happen next. Some of the town's people were dressed as the Holy Family and would go around and visit homes throughout the town where other "cena" tables were set for them. I was delighted, because I really didn't know what to expect from this festival or how it all worked. What I thought was that there would be food booths in the center where I could buy some typical Sicilian food. But I was mistaken.

The way it works is this. People follow the band around, stopping at the different houses who are presenting their own version of the "cena' (dinner, in Italian). I understood him to say that these are people who have something to be grateful to St. Joseph for and so they put on this feast. Many people help in the making of this feast and a lot of hands take part in the cooking and preparing. The first home we reached had lights up on the balcony and a huge number of people crowded into their home. I imagine this house was very large because a lot of people fit before they cut it off. Salvatore and Marinella explained that we would have to find another to see if we could get in and luckily met a friend of theirs and I believe, learned that one of their other friends was hosting a "cena" and off we went to their house!

We were welcomed so warmly into this home and Salvatore explained that I was an American, renting his brother's house and that I also wrote a blog and would like to take photos of the event so that I could post them there. The spread on the table in this home was even grander than the one I had seen earlier and I only hope that my photos do it justice! I saw that at one end of the table three chairs had been set and in front of these three chairs there was a large round loaf of bread and on top of this a little assortment of everything that was on the table and these were gifts for each member of the "Holy Family" to take with them later.

The excitement was building and the woman whose family was hosting, explained what would happen next. My, albeit limited, knowledge of Italian really came in handy as I understood most of what she said. When the Holy Family arrived at the house, they knocked three times. The elderly matriarch of the family was at the door waiting. After the third knock, she asked "Chi รจ?" (who is it?) to which "St. Joseph" replied "We are Joseph, Mary and Jesus. May we come in and eat?" The door was opened and they solemnly entered. Everyone stepped aside for them to enter. Water and red wine were poured into a waiting basin where they washed their hands and then took their seats at the table. They were then served a steaming bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and I learned that they would do this three times in this one day, at each of the houses they would visit! Some of the people in this room, including Salvatore and Marinella told me this was the first time they had actually taken part like this in a "cena" and it was all very exciting.

After the Holy Family ate, Salvatore excused us and we departed. He explained to me that the eating of the food on the table was only for the immediate members of the family. I was a bit disappointed at this as I had been salivating over trying some of these delicacies! But, I just had to satisfy myself that I was extremely lucky to have been able to witness this event first hand as I am certain that I would not have been permitted into this house had they not known who I was. So I extend thanks to Salvatore and Marinella for allowing me to accompany them.

They went off to their own lunches (pranzo) and I went home and see if my sleeping family had awakened yet to find them lounging around in their pajamas. The day was rainy and chilly and we just hung out and had a late breakfast. I told them all about my morning and we planned to go out again later to see what else was going on.

According to the posters all around town, there was to be a "cena" in the center at 3pm but when Jessica and I walked down there all we saw was an auction of what I think were the foods that had been prepared earlier, that I had seen in the room across from the Church and other donated food items. There were even some live rabbits being auctioned off! Not really sure what to do, we decided to have some gelato and go back home. Later that evening we walked back downtown for the procession of the statue of San Giuseppe, had dinner at one of the restaurants in centro, a pizzeria/restorante called, surprisingly "The Imperial," and then watched a little fireworks display before walking back down the Lungomare and home. I was very happy that Jessica got to see at least some of this festival and was equally happy that it was taking place right in the little city where we lived, to see it all dressed up and get to meet some of the people who live here and witness this special day in a very personal way.

Her friend Michelle from Phoenix is with us now and as you may have read already, we are still waiting for her bags to arrive. Yesterday I stayed at home and waited while they went off to Modica and today, still waiting, I am stuck again. Alitalia assured us it would definitely be delivered by noon but as it hadn't arrived yet (it's now after 1pm) and they would do nothing further than tell us it was on the delivery truck, I have no choice but to wait here for the bag to show up. They are on their way to Siracusa now and I am feeling sorry for myself because I really like Siracusa and wanted to spend this day with them. Oh well. Nothing really do be done but grin and bear it and at least catch up on my journal writing.

Tomorrow we are scheduled for a day in Piazza Armerina and Morgantina so I hope I get to join them!

Wish us luck!
Rosemary & Bob

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