I should look at the posters more often. When I was at the market this a.m. I notice a new one that looked exciting. There was a church festiva advertised showing a San Michele Arcangelo and listing a time when a procession would take him out to sea.
I’d heard that this happens with the Madonna della Carmelo in Scalea before I arrived, so although I don’t understand the why, I was intrigued as to the how.
It’s quite a process to figure out where and how to reach small towns in this area. I stopped by the bus hangout and asked for the schedule and then ran (figuratively) to my casa to check the atlas. The driver had said the bus left at noon, which I knew I would miss, and that it left from a hotel several blocks away. I decided if I was going to an strange place without assurance of a return the same day, I should notify my family so I quickly grabbed my computer, jotted a note, left the computer under the counter at my internet bar/hotel, ran by the market to make sure I had the right town, and headed for the bus stop.
Easy peasy…until I offered my money to the bus driver for a round trip. “Which Sangineto,” he asked. “Io non so,” I replied and told him that I wanted to go to the church with the archangel. So he printed my roundtrip ticket and I rode into the unknown once again. I asked about ultimate return times but he told me I should wait until I got off. So much for planning.
Riding into the unknown was nothing…it was the walking that created questions. When the bus dropped me at the side of the highway near a side road I headed down it to see several forks: Sangineto 7k. Hotel Del Stelle (that sounded familiar from the poster) Chiesa de something (I didn’t remember the name of the church). The church didn’t sound familiar so I followed the hotel signs down a winding residential road that seemed to head toward the sea. That was a positive.
I walked about 10 minutes to another fork in the road and spotted a big time temporary stage set up (I knew there was a concert later on) and a couple of people sitting at a little table. Aha! I headed there.
As I approached I saw a miniature church. It was MAYBE the size of our Gibson Street living room (not including the dining area) and was overwhelmed with flowers, a statue and a painting of San Michele. I was told that I had a 2-½ hour wait, so after some quiet time in the church I headed toward the sea.
Sangineto Lido is my idea of a resort town is Southern Italy. There is a walkway that stretches along the beach and the street is lined with villas, restaurants and the occasional small hotel. But it’s the season for quiet on the beaches here. Most of the tourists have gone. I sat on a concrete bench overlooking the bluest of oceans crashing against rocks and the concrete wall. (This is the most beach time I have had in Italy; and me without my sunscreen.)
Later I settled at a coffee shop with a view of the concert set-up and church and enjoyed the increased activity. Two nuns dressed in white appeared, carried some flowers around, and disappeared; never to be seen again in the proceedings. Townspeople began to gather and young men in robes were abundant. There was one in particular who paced, talked to himself, and generally acted as if the upcoming panoply all depended on him. Although I later met his family, I didn’t see him take on a huge responsibility other than ringing the bell off and on.
The bell-ringing was interesting because although I have seen a church bell rung in a tower, it was not related to time or service. In this case, the young man stood at the front door of the church and pulled the rope, and the small bell high above his head pealed.
Interesting note on the robed children: there were two boy whose hapless mother whined and yanked despairingly at them as they twitted other children, wriggled from her grasp and generally misbehaved (not seriously) in every way they could. These two young men later appeared in little angel-like robes. Too funny!
A desperate woman with a full book of tickets was selling them to someone near me. Her enterprising friend asked me to buy one. Seems they were giving away a car at the end of the evening just before the fireworks. I explained (maybe) that I was from the US and couldn’t really use a car. Persistence pays, however. I forked over my 5 Euros and told them that if I won it should be donated to the parish. (Of course, I’ll never know if it hits the news that some American woman won a car but gave it back.)
This interchange, however, provided me with a friend who looked after me, introduced me in offhand ways and touched bases with me through the rest of the afternoon. It was surely worth the money.
Well, eventually the priest arrived, the Scalea City Band began playing and San Michele came shakily from the church being borne, not by the robed young people, but by laymen. I took part in was a long walk of the faithful who followed their statue to the sea with the accompanying sounds of a mini-mass and a brass band. There were toddlers and old people and everyone in between dressed in high metallic heels and worn tennis shoes; tight jeans, and flowing dresses and the typical plain black widows attire.
The most interesting aspect of the entire experience was to see the combination of respect and conviviality with a healthy dose of laughter and amusement as the statue wobbled and careened with its caretakers down the country road to the beach.
The men carried the statue on a platform, placing it in a small speed boat (not at a pier but on the rocky beach) with a cross and at least 8 people including the priest, his two assistant whatevers, the carriers, the driver, and one parish dignitary who was visibly scared shitless.
The fear was understandable as the boat tipped so far over that the crowd yelped in fear and then laughed with relief as it righted. (I missed that photo…I was busy gaping!) Instructions were being called out from the masses of men on the shore. I think they were telling the man in control of the engine to lift it out of the water as they tried to push the loaded boat into the water, since each time he started the motor it clanked against sand and small rocks.
Finally it sailed. I don’t know why or for how long.
On the shore some of the robed young men huddled and waited. Maybe for Michael to row the boat ashore. People broke into small groups and began the walk back. There were a further to-dos at the hotel, which I didn’t attend.
From the size and shine of the posters, I expected an almost professional procession. What I got was a wonderful community experience of an annual ritual, which felt like the equivalent of a school play. All of the participants and their families thrilled with the anticipation and the execution of the parts that were played.
I loved it!