Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception 12.8.06

What a day this has been! We went to bed early last night and set our alarm for 2am so that we could walk down to Marina di Vietri and see what was happening. We knew there was to be a procession from the church and bonfires on the beach. As usual, we had seen the posters and read the schedule but we still weren't really sure of the what, where, when and how part of this event. We asked a few people and followed a few others uphill to the Chiesa when the bells starting chiming and a band came down the steps of the church, playing a lively marching band-type tune (not the serious religious hymns one might expect for a procession, but more like music that would accompany a parade), followed by the parish priest and a group of local men carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders. Flowers surrounded her and a halo of lights shone brightly above her head. Intermittently the band took a break and the group of faithful recited the words to the “Hail Mary” in Italian over and over as they wound their way through the little streets and down towards the center of town.

There ended up being three bonfires, each one larger than the last, until finally, near the beach they had created a very large one, in the shape of tall Christmas tree, built of slats of wood with dried tree branches affixed to it. A group of young men and boys carried long poles with old socks and rags tied around them. Another doused them with gasoline, while an older man kept shouting “Poco! Poco” (a little bit! a little bit!) and the torches (and the area around their feet as well) shot up into flame. The torches were heaved onto the piles (what do you call a bonfire before it is a bonfire???) that had also been doused with a flammable liquid and the tree shape erupted into flames. As it burned, sparks of red lit up the night sky like fireworks. The procession with the Madonna then made its way back up the hill to the church to celebrate Mass and we turned instead towards home and our warm bed. With all the fires and flames, it seemed more like a pagan celebration than a serious religious event but it was thrilling to watch.

We were told later in the day from our neighbor that this year’s bonfires were not as huge as normal, since the city was also planning a “fitness” event and there were tents set up along the beach where normally they would have the bonfires. They seemed plenty big to us but we wondered how it might have been without this competing event. (Note: Saturday it rained all day, washing out the fitness event. We suspect the Madonna may have gotten the last word.)

It was amazing to see how many people turned out for this event literally in the middle of the night. By 5 or so we were back in our bed and slept until around 9:30 in the morning when the sound of hammering from upstairs woke us up! Apparently, Piero is doing some work on the second bedroom in their apartment. Their son and his wife are expecting a baby soon and they are getting things ready. We were glad that he waited until late to get started so we could catch up on some sleep!

As Bob and I were lingering over our morning coffee and looking at our photos from last night, Martine rang our doorbell and invited us to come upstairs later to join their holiday celebration. She also asked if she could borrow a few chairs and our tables, which we gladly offered.

Around 1:30 we climbed up the stairs to their apartment and were introduced to the whole family! We had already met their son and his wife who live with them (the expectant parents!) but had the opportunity to meet several other members of the extended family and enjoyed talking with them all and eating the wonderful meal that Martine prepared. Everything fresh from the sea, we had octopus (polipo), squid (or cuttlefish - seppie in Italiano) sardines, salmon, shrimp and more. And those were just some of the appetizers! We ate spaghetti in a tomato sauce with more polipo and seppie, followed by a fritto misto - a mixed plate of fried fish that was delicious. The cakes and deserts were to die for and the wine flowed freely, as Piero kept filling our glasses. We were positively tipsy by the end of the meal. Boy did we speak good Italian by this time! At least our inhibitions were lowered and we felt like we could anyway!

There were many questions for us, why were we here, what did we do in the states, what will we do when we get home, did we have children and where did they live. They really don't understand us Americans who live so far from our family members and why on earth we would want to be so far away from them all this time. They are very curious about America and the way things are there as we are of their life and traditions. We learned that while in former generations babies were always named for their grandparents, that this is changing and no longer the case. As in many homes in the states, the division of labor is still mostly as it has always been, the women in the kitchen cooking and preparing, then cleaning up afterwards, the men in the dining room, relaxing over their glasses of wine. But the young men did help serve and clear, making sure all their guests had everything they needed. It was a very fun afternoon. Everyone helped take our tables and chairs back down to our apartment and we said our goodbyes. We hope we will see them again, they were lovely people who made us feel welcome and we appreciated it very much.

Now we are relaxing in our apartment. Bob took a nap and I've been posting and writing. The Christmas season is officially here. All the lights will be lit in all the cities and we will try to make the rounds to see them. In less than two weeks my sister and nieces will be here and we can't wait.

We'll post some photos of the bonfires and wish you all a Buon Natale!

Rosemary e Robert

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