Monday, September 20, 2010

Il mese finisce: Notte della Taranta

Being as I’m thoroughly behind, the rest of my month in Lecce will be a bit summarized. The month brought with it some surprises, some new friends, and some interesting experiences. Shortly after our return from Sicilia, we returned to classes; because of the departure of several of my classmates, we were a class of three. By the end of the first week, we had gained a Croatian, a Mexican, a Russian, and a Fin. Interestingly enough, the first three were all named some variation of Ana, just like one of our teachers. This meant that for two hours every day we sat around discussing which “Ana” Anna (our teacher) was calling on. The Fin, my only male counterpart, was named Lauri, but made up for the girl’s name with a rockin’ beard.

Speaking of rockin’ beards, we spent the afternoons with Dario. While he is from southern Italy, he’s a ginger, and he’s not subtle about it. Thanks to wild hair and his aforementioned “rockin’ beard”, his head was a near sphere of ginger. Despite this obvious handicap, he was an amazing teacher and a pretty ridiculous guy.

As far as my extradidactic course, I was subjected to carta pesta (paper mashay for the ‘mericans out thur). As it turns out, carta pesta is an art typical of Lecce. So to experience it, we all crammed into a tiny basement with ceilings low enough that it was clearly made by Italians. Spencer and I did our best to remain seated and save ourselves a headache or two. Our course wasn’t as much of a stretching of our creative muscles as we would have liked. The idea was that we would all make pretty much the exact same figurine. Granted, carta pesta is difficult and, taking into account time constraints, it made sense that everyone be working on the same project. By the end, Spencer, Zach, and I were able to exert a little creative force on our little peasant men. Mine ended up with a giant swooping pimp hat, complete with red feather. Spencer’s had a top hat and was a little bloodied after his fight with Zach’s. Zach’s hat was also particular, but not in a good way. It was the only indication of the day that Zach had a bottle of wine before class.

As the end of the month approached, even Lecce’s most famous man on a stick, Sant’Oronzo decided that it was just about time to celebrate. So, he threw a huge, three day party that involved thousands of lights and tons of live music and street vendors everywhere. It was quite a sight and we enjoyed every night of the festival.

After a festival of that size, you’d think no other in the region would come close, but only days after was the Notte della Taranta, a night of traditional Pizzica music attended by about 100.000 people. Spencer, my Mexican friend Ana, and I headed to the train station around ten to catch the train. When we arrived on the platform, the crowd wasn’t too large but it was thoroughly drunk. By the time the train arrived an hour late, the platform was packed and the rush to fill into the train was terrifying. We ended up cramped into the tiny space between two compartments.

Luckily, when we got to the next stop, we all knew that there was no more room for people in our compartment. Unfortunately, the people on the platform didn’t know this and seven to ten extremely drunk Italians piled in, despite the protests that there was no room. With logic that only comes after several bottles of wine, they informed us that, clearly, there was room because they managed to make it on. They then proceeded to do the only thing that drunken Italians can do when they’re in a large group, sing soccer songs. As they pounded on the walls of the train so hard I thought they’d break something, the songs got more and more intense. Before long, they were just chanting “Odio Bari, odio Bari,” which means “I hate Bari” (Bari is the capital of Puglia and soccer rival of Lecce). There was a small group of middle aged people pressed against me, who I quickly found out were actually residents of Bari. They were wisely silent.

After about half an hour crammed into one of the smaller places imaginable, I learned that there is absolutely no time when an Italian won’t smoke. When we arrived in Melpignano, we burst from our car in a cloud of smoke of all different varieties. This platform was about as crowded as the one we had left in Lecce and we assimilated ourselves into the slowly moving river of Italians. What we witnessed as we left the platform was something akin to a police state. There were barriers and heavily armed carabinieri everywhere. We proceeded through this makeshift military checkpoint and joined the herd of people walking toward what we could only hope was the concert. Before long, we spotted some street signs and realized that we were on a fairly major road which had been delegated as a footpath for the masses.

We walked for about twenty minutes before we saw real signs of the impending concert and then suddenly we were in the middle of it. We stumbled upon a crowd of 100.000 people and managed to weave our way up fairly close to the front. From there we enjoyed the spectacle that is Notte della Taranta. While it is a festival of the traditional Pizzica music, every year they do something experimental with it. Last year there was full orchestra accompaniment. This year, there was a famous Italian classical pianist, a didgeridoo, an African harp, and African drummers. There was one song that probably lasted about fifteen minutes. Throughout the entire duration, there was a woman onstage spinning, for fifteen minutes straight.

After two amazing hours, the concert ended despite the fact that the crowd obviously wanted more. We were disappointed and were hoping for an encore, but the Italians started to disperse. Many headed over to an area where there were hundreds of people asleep, or passed out, on the grass. Others gathered into small groups and instruments appeared from nowhere. We were surrounded by about ten mini-concerts of people singing, dancing, and playing. It was amazing.

After a while, we decided that we should leave and we headed back toward the train station. Crossing the now nearly empty concert area, we could see the signs of the giant crowd that had been there. Trash was heaped everywhere and at times you had no choice but to wade through it. Of course, being in Italy it was mostly big jugs that had contained copious quantities of wine.

We crowded onto a return train and made it back to Lecce just in time for sunrise. Spencer walked the two blocks from the station to his apartment without difficulty and Anna and I each walked about forty minutes to get to our respective homes.

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