Our timing was good this afternoon.
By chance, our appetite for an afternoon granita coincided precisely with the launching of Aci Castello's festa di San Mauro (festival of Saint Mauro).
We parked down the road from our favorite bar, and for the first time in 8 months I didn't have to fight to keep the stroller on the narrow to non-existent sidewalk! The streets were closed off to traffic so we strolled right down the middle of the road towards the commotion up ahead as if we owned the road.
This is a little town, but as I discovered today and again tonight with the fancy firework show that took place practically over our roof, it goes all out setting the scene for a day of festivities in honor of its patron saint, lighting the streets, putting out banners, and getting the vendors to line up along the main thoroughfares.
We walked close enough to the duomo to hear the mass finishing up inside and to see the saint being carried off on its procession (barely visible in the photo above) with a small (we're talking no more than 4 people) marching band behind it. Rather than join the masses, we decided to stop in the bar across the street from the duomo before catching up with the procession. Appetite wins out every time, and we weren't the only ones who thought so--the bar was full!
Our menu consisted of a cup of chocolate and pistachio granita with whipped cream, while I ate most of the bambino's torrone gelato, who instead seemed to prefer munching on the freshly toasted chick peas (cooked in a large cauldron filled with hot sand by a man specializing in roasted nuts) we had picked up on the way more than the cold sugary treats. Go figure!
No more than ten minutes later we stepped back outside to find that all that remained of the procession was a confetti-strewn street and a few lingering groups of people. We followed the saint's route down the main street hoping to get a better glimpse in what I assumed to be its primary destination or maybe temporary resting spot at a secondary church just right off the main piazza.
But this San Mauro seemed to have set the world record for the fastest procession finishing time, not to mention the procession route itself another record for being the shortest! I know, small town, small procession. But the only other procession I have witnessed is that of Catania's Sant'Agata, a huge event that lasts 24 hours, unlike this one of say 10 minutes. Needless to say, we completely missed San Mauro and the party seemed to be over almost before it had started. Not a big disappointment really, but I would have enjoyed taking some photos and our toddler was really keen on hearing more of that marching band.
But many hours later, sometime after dinner, a surprise firework show kicked in that proved that maybe there is more to these small town festivals than meets the eye. The fireworks were loud, pretty and long, and, more importantly (thank you San Mauro), they did not wake up our slumbering toddler!
Knowing nothing about the lives of saints or the tradition of celebrating San Mauro's in particular, curiosity got the best of me and I did read up on Aci Castello's patron post-festival. Here's what I gleaned:
-He was born in Rome in 512.
-He performed many miracles during his life of prayer, first at the Monastery of Subiaco from the age of 12, then Cassino, followed by a journey to France where he helped build a monastery along the Loire and then many others.
-Miracles he performed include healing a crippled and mute boy, walking on water to save a fellow monk, several resurrections, a vision of San Benedetto, and (my personal favorite) making a small carafe of wine pour out enough to provide for a group of 60 people.
-He died on January 15, 584, at the age of 72 in the company of his disciples.
I also discovered that there are more elements to Aci Castello's festa than I realized. Apparently there are numerous communal prayers that take place at different piazzas, and the firework spectacle we witnessed in the evening from our home in fact coincided with the moment in which the Saint was carried into the town's main piazza (Piazza Castello) in front of the Norman castle, while the fireworks themselves were launched by the fisherman down at the port.
I am hoping to see more than just a glimpse of San Mauro next year, ideally under the glow of the fireworks going off above Piazza Castello!