Friday, November 13, 2009

San Francesco di Paola 2/05/09

Today I was woken violently by a string of shots being fired at 6am. It was so loud I nearly fell out of bed and I leapt up ready to defend both of us from the impending danger. The canon shots (around 8 of them in total I counted, fired at 10 second intervals) didn't worry my husband. He muttered something about San Francesco and rolled over back to sleep.

Apparently San Francesco di Paola is the adopted patron Saint of Milazzo (the real one being Santo Stefano who would have his volley of canon shots and festivities later on in the summer. It is said that this saint of mariniai, sailors and fishermen, walked across the straits of Messina to mainland Italy on his mantle, and so part of the festivities is a procession behind a prest carrying the saint's relics (a piece of the mantle). But the whole town and neighbouring villagers turned out for the main procession - a huge statue of the saint on a platorm is borne on the shoulders of a specially chosen group of men (competition is strong). He is carted out of his church (since there are so many churches in Italy, they are known by the saint or madonna they have been named after; San Francesco founded this one, the only church he founded in Sicily which is also why he is so special to these people), and taken on tour of the town and up through the old Spanish quarter, thus passing the restaurant. Traditionally, residents of the borgo (old quarter) throw rose petals down on the saint as he passes, to bring good luck for the following year to their home. Believing we need luck to successfully introduce tapas to the provincial town, my husband's family decided to throw petals from the balcony of the restaurant, and also use the opportunity to publicise the imminent opening of the locale by offering beer to the saint-beaarers and tired pilgrims. A uniting of the sacred and the profane; Sicilians know how to do it as well as South Americans. The churches are empty but the turn out for the Saint's processions was as good as that of a first division footbal match. People in their Sunday best jostled to get in a good position behind the priest and the brassband accompanying the pageant with jolly tunes. There was high drama when he passed below our restaurant - my inlaws were happily throwing down the rose petals (hundreds of them!real ones!) and my mother-in-law turned the basket upside down to shake out the last few, when a pair of gardening scissors came flying out! 'Signora, magari i forbici no!' called the near victim - go easy with the scissors, Mrs! Un vero miracolo that no one got hurt. Proof that San Francesco was looking out for us. He was brought safely back down the hill and even had a little dance - the saint-bearers jigged him up and down and back and forth - from our viewpoint we could just see the top of the saint bobbing around - and he was then carted back into his church to an impressive fireworks display while followers hurried off to get coffees and massive icecreams for their children. A lovely day out for all the family!

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