My Name is Nobody (Enna IV)

And so as the two floats have been escorted to the cathedral with a funeral march and choral accompaniments at 7.00pm we are ready for the procession to begin.
The robes for the oldest confraternity of SS Salvatore bear a red Maltese cross which suggests a link back to the crusades (this being the emblem of the Knights Hospitaler), but the pictures on the exterior walls of their church  suggest their presence much earlier in time.

As rewriting history goes it isn’t subtle.  The other confraternities wear similar garb but in different colour combinations, but they are all united in wearing pointed white hoods that obscure their identities.  (The exceptions being those carrying the burden of the floats who presumably need more ventilation.)

Some see the hoods as reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan (though there is no known connection) and of course the costumes long predate the Klan’s origins, but perhaps for this reason, all but one of the confraternities have the points of their hoods carefully folded over and held in place with what might be seen as an ersatz crown of thorns reducing the resemblance, though they are still very strange-looking.  Mondassian cybermen sprang to mind.

The true purpose of these hoods was originally to serve as a mark of humiliation for sinners in the early days of the inquisition, although it is also seen as a symbol of mourning, hiding the grief they feel at the death of Jesus.

And so at 7.00 the procession begins, a slow, funeral march from the Cathedral near the top of the hill, down to the cemetery which is nearly 4km away.  Those taking part are almost exclusively male (though the occasional small group of girls get to dress as nuns and walk between the two columns of mysterious figures slowly making their way through the town.

Each group has its own symbol that it parades, though for the confraternity of the Passion, a series of symbols from the crucifixion are individually carried on either side of the procession.  Borne on red velvet cushions they include nails, dice and even a heavily sedated cockerel.

Fascinating stuff, but there’s a problem, for after the brotherhood of the Passion have passed we then have  the brotherhoods of SS. Crocifisso of Pergusa, Maria SS of Valverde, SS. Sacramento, Maria SS of the Grazie, San Giuseppe, Maria SS del Rosario, confraternity Maria SS. Della Visitazione, Sacro Cuore, Spirito Santo, Maria SS Immacolata, Anime Sante del Purgatorio, Maria SS la Nuova and SS. Salvatore. Then clergy with a Cross reliquary containing fragments of the cross and the thorns of Christ under a canopy followed finally by the urn of the Dead Christ, the float bearing the Addolorata and another band as well as local dignitaries.  All in all there are some 3,000 people and it takes some time for them to complete the trip at which point they turn around and return via a different route.

It’s a point I’ll repeat in respect of some of the churches I saw in Sicily, but really sometimes less is more!

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Arboreal Oblation (Confeugo)

Before my trip to Genoa I downloaded a guide to Christmas events taking place in the city from the official tourism site for the city. To say it was comprehensive was an understatement.  I decided to save some trees and save it to my phone to carry rather than opt for paper, and perhaps this was just as well.

Partly due to my limited Italian, but mostly due to the sheer volume of events listed, I found it hard to tell what might be an item of cultural significance from what was a few stalls erected to capture a slice of the festive market, and so I nearly missed the Confeugo.

I was down in the Porto Antico when I spotted a woman in a historical outfit, and in watching her for a moment or two spotted others in similar garb chatting together in small groups.  Moving in their direction I found a group of younger citizens in matching blue and white outfits carrying large square flags.

Their general direction of travel seemed to be towards Piazza Ferrari so I hurried ahead of them in case they were going to make some sort of spectacular entrance.  On arrival there were crowds building outside the Doge’s palace and a band setting up (also costumed).  By pure chance I’d happened on an annual event which dates back to the 14th Century, and probably much earlier.

As far as I can tell the history of the event is for the local populace to pay tribute to their lord and master (the Doge back in 1339, nowadays the Mayor) each Christmas.  Traditionally the Abbot of The People presented a laurel tree decked in red & white ribbons (representing the Genoan flag) to the Doge, who in act which seem particularly lacking in gratitude set the tree alight.  Unfazed by this the locals would vie to get an ember or two to take home for good luck.

When Napoleon took control of the city in the late 18th century he put an end to the tradition, but it was revived in 1923 by an association who aimed to preserve and restore local traditions, and today it is a representative of that association who represents the people.

The term Confeugo confuses me though.  At first I misread it as Confuego, a Spanish term meaning “with fire”, appropriate enough, and given the fluid nature of alliances and borders throughout Genoa’s history a little spagnolo would not be out of place, but my not so handy festival guide was clear that this was the Confeugo.  The word doesn’t appear in my Italian reference guide, but break it down into con + feugo and you get “With focus”.  I’m none the wiser.

Perhaps I can’t see the wood for the trees.

Differing Tastes

Another disappointing British Bank Holiday Monday.  Yes it was dry, and even sunny at times, but so cold and windy that it was hard to believe this was late Spring rather than late Autumn.

So when looking for an activity for the day that wouldn’t be totally reliant on the weather, we opted for South Shields, thinking that the beach would be perfect if things improved, but that the food festival being held there would be a good alternative if they did not.

Of course, coming so soon after writing about the food culture of Bologna, this was bound to be a lesser experience.  Substitute streets full of enticing shops and cafés for queues of Brits at a circle of tents and caravans, clutching the ubiquitous pint in a plastic glass and stuffing their faces with burgers, hot-dogs and other portable foods.

_PW_0644_PW_0678The diversity of these foods was impressive; the usual suspects were joined by an array that included Japanese, Jamaican, Mexican, German, Italian, Indian, and Moroccan options, though they could generally be classified as spicy and/or stodgy.  Chilli was the lowest common denominator. (Wonder if Donald Trump enjoys Mexican food?)

More inspiring were the rows of stalls where mostly local food producers sold their wares, and more often than not provided some tasty samples.  I can’t help but feel that the marketing approach that most adopted highlighted their limitations.  More emphasis seemed to be placed on their local origin than on the flavour of their product.  For many the solution was to adopt the term “Northumbrian”, so that stalls representing the Northumbrian Smokehouse, Northumbrian Sausages, Northumbrian Cheeses and more were the order of the day. All very well, but aside from indicating that their products hadn’t clocked up many food miles, what does that tell the consumer?

The provenance of our food is given ever greater importance; restaurants will trumpet the farms where they source their ingredients, and sometimes be more informative explaining how the welfare of the animals or the organic methods used leads to a better product.  But a single word or a red and yellow flag?  No.

Much of the food we tried was decent enough, but those symbols alone are no proof of that.

My Italian lifestyle envy kicked in big time; surely they would do this so much better.  And so we enjoyed a musical interlude before escaping to a now sunlit beach, but not before grabbing a coffee in an emporium dedicated to sugary nonsense.  A family business.  Run by Italians!

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