Friday night I experienced my first legit Italian Festa. I was extremely lucky to be trolling a few Florence blogs/info sights on September 6th, because I learned that the VERY NEXT DAY was a Festa in the nearby Piazza Santissima Annuziata! So, of course, we went! It was the Festa della Rificolona: where children (and some adults) parade into the Piazza carrying paper lanterns supposedly recreating an old tradition of rural people pilgrimaging into the city carrying similar lights. For info in English see: florenceforfree.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/festa-della-rificolona/ or in Italian: http://www.teladoiofirenze.it/firenze-life-style/firenze-e-la-festa-della-rificolona-una-storia-che-forse-non-sapete/. And the paper lanterns were tremendously beautiful:
There were store-bought ones shaped like whales, suns, and cats, or some with the Florentine giglio (lily) on them, but there were also a few homemade lanters, like this boat (in the middle of the photo):
So, not only do we have a stunning parade of paper lanterns, but another part of the festa tradition is that small children shoot clay pellets out of blow guns at them! Violence and fire! What the dreams of every little boy are made of. You would see kids running around with narrow pipes with wads of clay wrapped around that they would use as blow guns. Though it sounds dramatic, the pellets didn’t hurt if they hit you (though I was only hit by one on the ankle, unlike my dear companion who was hit three times, once in the neck). They are of course only powered by the breath of children. But the goal of the blow guns was to shoot down the lanterns and on occasion, with enough concentrated effort, the kids would manage to damage a lantern enough for the paper to tear, catch alight, and fall to the ground. The acrid smell of burning paper would fill the immediate area and the gleeful kids would continue shooting the lantern remnant on the ground.
There was traditional Tuscan music, which was catchy and mos-def danceable and we were thrilled to hear the specifically Florentine pronunciation of “c” as an “h” when one of the musicians said the word “campagna” (countryside) so it sounded like “hampagna!” Adding to the excitement were stands selling candy, cakes, and nut brittles– the hazelnut rocked our socks– which mixed the smell of sugar in with the smell of fire. And the church of Santissima Annunziata was kept open especially late. The interior of Santissima Annunciata is a rare example of a completely baroque-d church in Florence, with a few subtle (ha!) decorations that contrast to the many more austere Renaissance churches that can be found here.
While the Festa was a hugely entertaining, it was also an interesting opportunity to observe Italian children. None of the Italians I know have children, so I have spent almost no time interacting with any Italian under the age of 25 let alone 10. It was astonishing at times to see children as young as 2 or 3 carrying the paper lanters, which remember, have FIRE in them. And don’t forget the blow guns! From an American perspective it’s unbelievable that this is allowed because in the States, it never, ever, ever would be. But on the whole, the Italian kids were super calm and well-behaved. I have some experience with kids in the States. All together I have worked in childcare (both pre-schools and as a nanny for kids aged 2 mos-6 years) for nearly 5 years and I wouldn’t dream of handing a 3 year-old American kid a paper lantern with a candle in it. I don’t know what it is precisely, but there seems to be something distinctly different about the socialization of Italians vs. Americans, that allows it to be possible for this Festa to occur. A corollary is the ability for adult Italians to drink in the streets/public/squares without any of the rowdiness that occurs when Americans attempt this. Anyone who has walked down Bourbon Street in New Orleans before the street cleaners have been through knows the sea of broken glass and other less sharp but more disgusting things that can result from Americans drinking in public. Perhaps it is the emphasis on piazza life that is such an integral part of Italian culture that allows for such things, but I don’t know. However I do know, that I was thrilled to witness such a vital and beautiful Florentine tradition.