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Every night from the 18th to the 22nd of August, there was a concert with a band in the main square of the village.

We girls could not wait. We were anxious to get together and take a stroll in the square. For an adolescent, the festival was like an official debut into society, a recognition of the fact that we had “arrived.”

We had talked about it the whole day. We had set a time to meet in the square and decided which clothes we were supposed to wear. That wasn't a serious problem considering that we did not have much to choose from. Before we went out, my friend Maria came to my house and together we tried out different hairstyles.

Maria had hair that was long and thick and black, while mine was a little shorter and wavy. We did not know it back then, but our hairstyles, despite being so different, were actually quite nice.

 We would gaze at ourselves in the old mirror of my mother’s wardrobe, which had been miraculously saved from the devastation of the war. After a last look in the mirror to admire our new clothes and ponder about how pretty we were, we took each other by the hand and went out together. The square was always crowded with “cultured” people who listened to the band playing famous operatic arias.

 We walked towards the middle of the square to get together with our other friends that were waiting for us. The entire square and all the adjacent streets were decorated with lights.

 There were always lights glowing in beautiful fluorescent colors. From a distance, the square looked almost like finely embroidered lace. 

The first stop was the ice-cream place, where we would all buy the smallest cone with vanilla ice cream, the only available flavor. Then, walking along with arms linked, as we used to do back then, we walked up to the hill where the carousel was. This carousel was called the “chain carousel” because the seats hung from two chains that were anchored to. But the breeze from the ride took my breath away and ruined what Maria and I had done with our hair with so much care. After the first part of the concert, the members of the band walked around the little Amusement Park that had been set up just for those five feast days.

 I remember how beautiful they looked with their dark uniforms with their large golden buttons and their hats with white brims. Perhaps not aware of the local customs for public behavior in little villages like ours, the young members of the band walked up to us and offered us a ride on the carousel if we allowed them to sit in the seat right behind us. Naturally, we had to say no to that flattering offer even though we wanted to say yes. Another of the many things that was forbidden for us girls was talking to the boys, to all boys, and we were not allowed to go on the rides with them. But the boys insisted, they promised they would behave and that they would not push our seats around. I used to watch in horror when the boys would take the girls’ seats and push them with all the strength they had. The poor frightened girls yelled and begged them to stop, but even though they wanted to, they couldn't get off the ride because the ride was still moving. Finally, when the girls got off the carousel, they were incredibly pale and looked as though they were in shock, and very often had a stomachache. I never gave in to the offer of a ride in the carousel without paying. I did not give in because it did not seem like something a good girl would do. 

My mother, sitting on the balcony of our house overlooking the square, could not see me any longer and immediately sent two messengers to find me, my sisters. She sent them to call for me and tell me to get back home. I did not know if they realized how loudly they were speaking; everybody in the crowd could hear them and I would blush with embarrassment. I suspect that they knew it very well and that they did it on purpose. At home, my mother was waiting for me to tell me that I could hear the band perfectly from home, either from the terrace or from the front of the house. It was useless to explain to her that the band could also be heard from the hill and that I did not care about the music, but about the musicians. Those were harmless things that young, simple girls used to do in small villages. It seemed safe to do amongst a crowd with lots of people around. However, that was the mentality; customs and habits of a time that has gone forever. I think about it very often and I talk about it with my friends: what would our grandmothers have thought if they had seen the girls of today–scantily dressed, with tight shirts that are so short you can see their belly buttons adorned with piercings.

 The night after that, as the hour of the concert arrived, I would have not dared to push her for it. I would have sat on the balcony and listened to the music from home. My friends passed by and saw me, and they immediately understood that that night I could not go out. And after a “Ciao Delia” they went on, without me. My cousins though, they did not abandon me; they came to my house to keep me company. The music was beautiful and melodious and now, without too many distractions, we could listen to whole segments of operas. I remember I liked the music and that I could even recognize some of the arias from the dramatic stories of the heroines from Tosca, Il Trovatore and La Bohème. However, once in a while I felt a little pang of jealousy thinking about my friends who were walking around out there while I was stuck at home.

 So, together with my cousins, I went to my mother and without asking, I told her that we were going to take a short walk and that I was going to come back home immediately. My mother, to my great surprise, said yes, and not only that, but she also gave me 10 Liras for ice cream!

 On the third day of the festival, processions of the faithful started to arrive from various provinces and dioceses. They came on foot from far away, singing as they went, accompanied by the sound of an accordion. The men had shoulder bags and leaned on long walking sticks from which images of Saints and other Sanctuaries where they had stopped along the way were hanging. Many had Saint cards on their hats and their caps. The women had baskets full of food and the things necessary to sleep outside in the villages that were celebrating the festival. The processions arrived one after another and after visiting the church, they would spend the night anywhere they could. In front of the church of St. Stefano, under the big linden tree, on the stairs and in many other places, even in front of our house. The crowd was everywhere, pushing against the doors and making it difficult for us to come in or to go out. Sometimes, a group of men, including my father, went to the entrance of the village to see the processions of the faithful close up. 

Among them was the venerated “Caietanigle” Di Preta, devout follower of the Madonna di Canneto. He came every year from Florence with his family to enjoy the festival and meet up with old friends.

 He was convinced that “our Madonna” was the most beautiful, and was more splendid than all of the other Madonnas and Saints from the other Holy Sanctuaries. When the processions passed, he observed the position of the images of the Saints that hung from their poles and if the Madonna di Canneto was not positioned in the place of honor, he would go up to the to the man leading the procession and make it known firmly with his loud stentorian voice and would make him rearrange them so that our Madonna was in her proper and rightful place. No one dared to contradict him.


Delia Socci Skidmore