A trip to Salento, an archaic and unchanging territory, all to be explored. The lights, the procession, the crowd. Life marked by religious holidays.
At the passage of the statue of Santa Domenica shaky on the sedan chair covered with flowers, plumes and rosaries, the eyes of the faithful become shiny. Between trumpet blasts and Verdi's marches, banners and banners, everyone tries at least once to get close to the statue to caress it and then kiss your fingers or make the sign of the cross. Others raise the children more? small to make him touch her dress or crowd to pin 5 and 10 euro bills on her. From the balconies people clap and throw confetti and flowers, barrels and firecrackers explode, the scent of incense mixes with the smell of gunpowder.
I am following the procession that takes place in early July in honor of Santa Domenica, the patron saint of Scorrano, a town of seven thousand inhabitants known as? The capital of illuminations ?. Tonight, to see the show of the most? high in the world, fifty thousand people are arriving.
In Puglia fireworks and lights have always framed the patronal festivals, but unlike the former, which after a fleeting apparition let themselves die in the dark in a silent cascade of lights, the latter illuminate the town from dusk to late night, for several days, leaving the time to pervade us.
The procession, preceded by a musical band, carabinieri in full uniform and parish priest with reliquary in hand,? left an hour ago from the Mother Church after the Mass that gives? the start of the celebrations. While I was attending the service I observed, along the central nave, the benches where the most women were seated. elderly people crossed by the incessant flicker of fans. That constant waving made me rethink an object given to me long ago by a friend, a devotional fan: a simple wooden stick supporting a cardboard flag on which? printed the image of San Rocco on one side and of Santa Marina Vergine on the other. Usually, these handcrafted and inexpensive objects, now rare, were sold outside the church before Mass began; the presence of San Rocco on one side of the flag was a constant, on the other the Saint changed from time to time according to the recurrence. I imagine that the coolness provided by a devotional fan was undoubtedly more? mystical and sober than that generated by a traditional fan, all ivory and lace.
The Mother Church of Scorrano, part of a building dating back to the th century,? flanked by the Congrega della Purificazione and the ducal palace which is open to the public for the celebrations of Santa Domenica. This morning after Mass, when the statue of the Saint was already? was hoisted on the sedan chair in the midst of the general jubilation, I saw, not without a certain surprise, the parish priest and all the ecclesiastical delegation, before starting the procession, in the entrance hall of the adjacent building where, on four kneeling chairs and surrounded by crowded people cheering, the duke, the duchess and their two children were kneeling, waiting to be blessed. Only after their blessing, the procession? game.
The less fortunate faithful, blind, crippled or in wheelchairs who wait on the side of the road for the passage of the procession, are offered the relic of the Saint for a kiss or a caress. Portions of small bones of a faded white enclosed in a golden reliquary that the parish priest can? easily hand out to the faithful a sort of walking reliquary, very different from the heavy reliquary in gold and semi-precious stones which houses, next to the main altar of the Mother Church, an entire ulna of Santa Domenica, a precious relic, which does not leave never the church. Like those kept in the nearby Galatina inside the basilica of Santa Caterina d? Alessandria, the Galatinese treasure: a knee of San Buonaventura, an arm of Santa Petronilla and a breast of Sant? Agata, of which you can taste appetizing reproductions in many Apulian pastry shops, the cassatelle of Sant? Agata. Delicious cassatine filled with sheep's milk ricotta, covered with a candid white icing and decorated in the center with a candied cherry. Tortures and miracles, in the South, often generate sweets and biscuits.
As you proceed through the streets of Scorrano the faithful following the procession increase in number, young people, the elderly, children in wheelchairs, foreign tourists; in certain narrow alleys like a pair of shoulders, do you move forward in single file and trample on multicolored leaflets on which I read? Holy Sunday pray for us? or ? W Holy Sunday?. When the procession reaches Piazza Vittorio Emanuele where will it be held tonight? the show, the assembly of the lights? almost finished, at the top of a ladder? there was only one paratore still busy mounting a huge lily. Wooden poles painted white higher than the other. thirty meters, in support of stars and hearts that in turn make up castles and arcades, rise in front of a cobalt blue sky. The thousands of light bulbs still unlit, under the dazzling morning light, make the square seem beaded with sugar crystals.
On the Verdian notes of? Oh my homeland? played by the thick Scorranese band, I leave the procession momentarily to reach the southern city walls? under which, on a night of 1600,? appeared to the people on Santa Domenica. After having crossed all the historical center, the procession will arrive? at the foot of these walls where the mayor will deliver? the keys to the city? to the Holy Protector, the culmination of the ceremony. Crammed into the street are the people waiting in the sun for the procession to arrive? nervous, we pass bottles of fresh water, someone leaves the house and offers slices of watermelon; the order service, in acid green uniform, struggles to stem the crowd.
? Wide! Get away! ? the cries of the auctioneer are immediately covered by the clamor of the crowd, who waved from the terraces, who claps their hands enthusiastically. Preceded by the authorities? civilian and military and from the banner of the Apostolate of Prayer embroidered with the Sacred Heart and golden garlands, the sedan chair with the Saint finally reaches its destination. Careful not to miss a single word of the mayor's speech, the people huddled along the street, sweaty and exhausted by the great heat, are motionless in a religious silence; to the child who asks for something, does the mother respond by tugging? City you! ? But I have the feeling that it is a silence that is about to explode. In fact, when the parish priest after receiving the keys of the city from the mayor? and having solemnly placed them at the foot of the statue, raises the reliquary to the sky, Scorrano explodes, mysticism becomes spectacular. I see the faithful cheering and applauding, their moved eyes fill with tears, as if we were facing a great natural spectacle or a sporting victory. To act as a counterpoint to so much passionate emotion, I hear the barrels explode in unison in a deafening sequence that invades the street and the sky, as if under a bombing.
Waiting for the illumination show to be held? tonight the people withdraw, the musicians of the band wander around the street with their uniforms unbuttoned and the trombones under their arms. Stunned by a blinding sun and by the emotions I felt in the morning, I walk through the streets of the town, suspended in a timeless quiet, between alleys, courtyards and deserted squares. I observe the drawings of the shadows on the walls, I listen to the voices coming from the half-closed shutters, I follow the scent of sauce floating in the air. In front of the door of the house, a man in a tank top is lying on a cot, watching television and dozing; in a small courtyard not far away under the shade of a lemon, four women are chatting and playing cards. Even the car parked along the street appears to be asleep.
I reach a bar where I stop to drink a licorice, sweet and black, like the eyes of the girl behind the counter. ? Are you Italian? ? ask while I need it. His husband ? a paratore who works for the Mariano, a lighting factory; in a few hours, as soon as the bar will be? closed, will go? she too with the rest of the family to see the show. ? Since I have lived here, I have never lost one! ? she says, adjusting the straps of her dress.
I arrive in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele late in the afternoon, at the foot of the lights that have not yet been turned on, people are already? crowding. I wander among the stalls: Tuscan chickpeas, Tunisian snails, Brazilian nuts, and then lupins, broad beans, local taralli. The goods for sale, arranged in piles in jute sacks, makes me think of an Asian market where the scapece I see for sale, an intense yellow Gallipoli recipe based on fried fish and saffron, would certainly be appreciated. I buy a packet and I continue my tour to stop a little more? ahead in front of a man enveloped in high clouds of smoke who is roasting meat and sausages on a grill. The face congested by heat, the long knife he holds and the bare chest that appears and disappears between the tongues of fire, make him look like a shaman engaged in a complicated ceremony.
Water guns, pinwheels, yo-yos and plush toys of all shapes and sizes line the kiosks that surround the square. In the midst of so much confusion of goods, voices and the smell of fried food, I observe the lolling of the parents, overloaded with life jackets and buckets, who return home from the day at sea with their children; on her feet, still dirty with sand, were rubber, wooden and plastic sandals. In the noise of all these sandals slammed with insistent indolence on the sidewalk, I feel that sense of satisfaction that families have been waiting for months: the sound of sandals? the sound of holidays.
The multitude of people who are now pouring into the square? impressive, I struggle between prams, children eating ice cream, impatient couples taking selfies. When a loudspeaker is finally announced in Italian, English and French, the start of the show, the lights accompanied by an impetuous musical crescendo and a roar of applause, show themselves in all their glory. Castles, pyramids, arcades and spiers, until recently only gigantic white scaffolding, come to life, come to life with extraordinary effects and light games that, synchronized with the pressing notes of Star Wars, color the faces of the public in fuchsia, purple, orange. Giant hearts start beating to the rhythm of a romantic house song; along a side street, followed by the music of? What? spoke Zarathustra? a boulevard lights up which, thanks to 3D electronics, seems to have no end. And when the different levels of a multicolored tower begin to light up in repeated succession, I have the impression of being in a scene from the ET movie, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the long-awaited alien beings.
Standing at the foot of these grandiose scenographies soaring in the dark, I think of the titanic work involved in setting up the lights: the installation of thousands of light bulbs and kilometers of electric wire; the assembly of wooden shapes at dizzying heights; the safety of the scaffolding with meters and meters of steel cables. Scaffolding that at the end of the celebrations will be disassembled, loaded on trucks and assembled again in a nearby town or in the most? remote corners of the world.
At the end of the show, moving away from the square, I stop for a moment in front of a van from the De Cagna illumination factory, with the two sides covered with photographs of the most recent installations. famous: a Tower of Pisa and a Tower Bridge on the right, a Tour Eiffel and a Dome of St. Peter on the left. On the back, in luminescent characters, the name of the company.
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