It was an interesting coincidence that both my ‘home’ town in Germany and my new town in Italy ended up celebrating city-wide festivals on the same weekends this year. And while I only took in the Italian festivities, I can safely say they were definitely lacking on the sailboat front in comparison to Kiel. I think they had virtually everything else though.
Music. Local Food. Water sports on the river. Children’s Puppet theatre. An old automobile convention. A parade in traditional costumes. A bonfire. A fireworks display… the Italians really did not hold back.
It was San Giovanni’s day, who (apparently) is the patron Saint of this beautiful city. If, like me, you unfortunately have not brushed up on your saints recently, it might help to know that his English name is St. John. As in St. John the Baptist, individual often credited with baptising Jesus. As a patron he is shared across states and cities, and one of those lucky cities is Torino.
Events for this city wide festival took place pretty much the whole week. I first noticed when I stepped out my door in the middle of the week to find a traffic jam on my otherwise very calm and quiet street. A few steps further and I encountered my first policeman, who had helped to cordon off the entire centre of the city for a procession of believers holding candles and parading behind a large statue of the Virgin Mary. Loudspeakers, especially attached to the buildings for the event, solemnly played hymns or amplified readings of religious scripture. In the heart of the city, everything had stopped. Without cars you found people strolling and chatting in the middle of the streets, savouring gelatos or looking deep into each other’s eyes.
Every day following the centre of town was cordoned off and normal life stopped. An unusual numbers of people crowded into restaurants and cafes and clogged the street. The weekend was especially spectacular. Apart from the live music, people participated in a very long costume parade, featuring dress from many different time periods. While this was amusing, I found the bonfire and the fireworks a far more breath-taking sight.
I have a soft spot for bonfires since my first experience of Guy Fawkes’ Bonfire Night celebrations in the UK. While that has a macabre back- story, the massive bonfire here seems to be far more superstitious. In the middle of town square the bonfire is built up with a large image of the bull, Turin’s mascot, high up in the middle. There is relative quiet as the inhabitants watch the fire creeping up the side of the wooden pile. As the bull begins to wobble, the crowd murmurs, an announcer comments with tension ‘It moves!’ and then, when it falls there is a great cheer.
At least, there was a great cheer this year, because it apparently fell to the “right” side, and indicates good luck for the rest of the year.
The fireworks were also impressive. Set off from the bridge across the river Po to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the fireworks went off in time to music, everything from operatic overtures to the most modern house beat. Around us, everyone who had enjoyed a day off already (and possibly enjoyed some alcohol) began singing along and dancing. The whole city was alive, vibrant, and in a great mood. A wonderful thing to experience!