It is clearly that time again as the various churches around this area start to get ready for their festa. The area around Martina, Villa Castelli, Ceglie, Cisternino has lots of small (we are talking tiny here) churches that were once the focal point of worship for the various communities that worked the land and were employed by the local landowners. Where the community has grown and become more prosperous ( that is important) the churches open up on rare occasions for services a bit like churches in rural areas in the UK . However in late July and all through August these same churches on different weekends hold a local festa for the locals and through the pasting of hundreds of paper notices on lampposts, telegraph poles and trees for any others that read them and want to join in.
The format is always the same it seems. a church service on Friday, a procession with a statue of the Virgin Mary on Saturday afternoon.
A dance band on Saturday night and on Sunday a big church service relayed to the crowd outside the tiny church, card playing all day and then a star attraction followed by more dancing Sunday night. Then at 11 p.m. a firework display. Bars are driven in as are food stalls etc so everyone is kept lubricated and more importantly in Italy well fed during the festa.
So it is community against community as to the best festa and that really boils down to the firework display. Each church needs to out do the other in the length and the size of the display. So a collection is required each year to get the money necessary to show all the other wannabes how it is done.
Now I was used to living in English villages where such collections were done by charming ladies normally on bicycles with large whicker baskets on the front. They would cycle up to your house, come up the pathway, knock almost sheepishly on the door and then spend 10 minutes telling you how sorry they are for troubling you but if there was any way you could see to dropping some coins or maybe a small note into the tin box how grateful they and the vicar etc would be. When you did they would almost back down the pathway thanking you .
Yesterday once again the Italian vicar’s team came to collect from us as they do each year. The two guys come in a car. They open the top gate and come down the driveway. As they approach the house the driver leans on the horn. They expect you clearly to still be sitting by the door where they left you last year after collecting because if you have not shown your face within 30 seconds the driver leans on the horn again. Woe betide you if now fail to appear because the passenger leans over and leaves his hand on the horn till you do appear.
Neither guy makes a move out of the car as you approach it. The window is merely lowered and they wait for your arrival. Festa they say , fireworks , how much. Err €20 you say. They look at you with total pity, they look up at your house and then back at you. The driver tuts a little, the passenger rolls his eyes heavenwards as if to say dear lord help this guy. Err €30.? Al posto ( okay) and you hand over the cash. The passenger writes you a receipt on a stamp size piece of paper that is torn from a roll of what looks like that scratchy toilet paper you used to get in schools when the Tories were in power alone. The amount and the signature are anyway completely illegible. No thank you just the window going back up and then the car reverses all the way back up the long driveway and out of your top gate leaving it of course for either you or maybe God to close.
Now jokes about Italian tanks with 10 reverse gears etc aside I will say one thing Italians are brilliant at is reversing. They seem to have an amazing sense of width and go almost as fast backwards as forwards. It is actually frightening to watch as they drive so fast. We have a dog leg right turn halfway down our driveway so it is even more exciting. The best was the cement man who came to check the big cement mixer could fit down our driveway. He came in the most beautiful BMW 5 series car that looked almost brand new (there is no money in cement) . After he had checked things out I offered to move my car to allow him to turn but he just smiled and threw the machine into reverse. I have no idea the speed he went, suffice to say the tyre squeal around the right hander was fantastic and I am sure there was a sonic boom just before he cleared the top gate. It was magnificent.
But back to the church collection. Now if you asked the charming lady who was the star of the village fete she would be delighted to tell you. The two here don’t do information ” we ask the questions capisci ?”. It is in fact Beppe Junior back from another world tour. On Saturday night the dance band will also feature an accordion player and we will be brushing off our pizzica skills after a few beers to get the legs going.