If not now, when?

One American woman. Twenty acres and a 1650 farmhouse in Tuscany. Random introspection and hilarity, depending on the day.

09 May 2006

Thank God it's (Good) Friday!

Okay - catchup time. I told you that I expected Italians to do Holy Week up in style. But I had NO idea how far it would go!

On Good Friday, I was already having lunch with my friends Barky & Bimbo in their adopted 'hometown' of Cortona (of Under-the-Tuscan-Sun fame). Their bad-but-in-a-good-way influence (and the promise of copious pitchers of fizzy white wine for lunch!) convinced me that I'd be missing out on a huge Italian experience to not call in a vacation day and stick around for the big ole' Procession that goes through the streets and Piazzas of their town after dark on Good Friday. It was less than half a glass of wine into it when I decided, "heck, I'm game! It's exactly this kind of thing that I'm supposedly here to experience..."

And so began my Good Friday of Hooky Playing, and one of the "top five spectacles I've witnessed in Italy": the 'Processione di Venerdi Santo' (loosely translated into the 'recreated good friday funeral procession'). Woo, boy - sounds like a laugh a minute, eh?

(All ye Catholics out there -- as I describe the procession, your pardon is begged as I'm confident I will completely botch the religious terms!)

I benefitted from Barky & Bimbo's experience - they had seen the procession last year and knew that it would eventually go right by their apartment, but that first it started at one of the local churches. Promptly at nine, we headed out to see the beginning. As we arrived, there were men dressed in brownish-purple monklike robes tied with ropes (they were obviously costumes on normal citizens, not monks). They also had hoods hanging from the back of their necks. Altogether, twenty men hoisted four separate beams of wood up onto their shoulders to be able to move the 'float' out of the sanctuary and into the small street, more like an alley. They went about 50 yards down the alley then stopped just short of the intersection with the main street. We stood, a respectful distance behind, and waited. And waited. And waited. So far, this was no procession, it was just standing in a dark alley with a bunch of guys wearing hoods. (Yeah, this is the stuff mamma warned you about!)

At first, there were others waiting there with us - we assumed family, perhaps, of the men shouldering the burden? After 15 minutes or so, we were the only un-costumed ones left in our little alley standing at the back of the group, confused as we looked out to the main street filled with spectators. What WERE we waiting for?!?!

So I (marginal language skills but bold nonetheless) asked... and the answer came from one of the friendly guys at the back of the carrying-gang:

"Oh, we're Christ number two, so we're waiting for Christ One to pass."

Me, religious-spectacle-virgin that I am, responded incredulously, "We're number two? So how many Christs ARE there?!?!"

Which prompted a lively discussion amongst he and a hooded buddy. The final answer: Four christs. And a Madonna. (And a big-ole cross all on its own).

As I learned by the end ... each statue came from a different church, each group wearing its own colors. Our parade had burgundy, brownish purple, brown, black, and white I think.

The procession was more intense and powerful than I can possibly express. It was a series of six "floats" (statues that were carried by between 10 and 20 people at a time), some as much as 15 feet tall. The first four depicted Christ in the various stages, I think, leading up to crucifixion: in the garden at gethsemane, flagellation, wearing the crown of thorns, and carrying the cross. The fifth float is the cross on its own, and the final float is the Madonna (that one carried all by women).

The streets were filled - both with people watching the procession and people following along, others hanging out of their open windows in the narrow cobblestone streets to participate. It was a relatively warm, breezeless night and the aura of the crowd was palpably 'respectful' - though it was obvious that for some this was more a cultural phenomenon than a personal religious tradition. However, the crowd was very solemn as songs and the twelve stations of the cross were recited and broadcast over portable loudspeakers (carried on people's backs) to the crowd. I must presume that there were multiple loudspeakers, as the entire procession was amazingly long. It wound its way up and down and around the hilly, uneven, narrow streets of Cortona, finally passing by Bimbo & Barky's apartment and then ending in one of the main piazzas. We walked along with the procession for at least half of the solemn, two-lined parade. One note: I did feel particularly conspicuous the whole time, having left the house that day wearing a white corduroy jean jacket. Who wears white to a funeral procession recreation?!? How gauche of me. I keep expecting myself to show up on the Vatican's worst-dressed website.

Since we're all going to hell anyway (Ask for Viaggiatore's party, I've got a table reserved): we skipped out on the end bits - had a fab dinner at a favorite local restaurant and then went out for dancing and martinis at the "Route 66" club around the corner from their house.

The whole evening was a dizzying confluence of anachronism: Very oldworld-meets- Macy's-Thanksgiving-day-parade-meets-meets-klu-klux-klan-(the outfits!)-meets-disco-and-martinis. Whew, it really was "one night in Cortona"!

PS: EuroBimbo is a rockin' photographer. I, typically, was sans-camera. I've waited to post this until now so you can go to her site to see what it was all really like, minute by minute... enjoy!


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