With much of Italy still in the throes of bad weather, despite earlier promises of spring, drastic measures are needed to conquer the final vestiges of winter.
All the areas we travelled in last week were heavily affected, especially Marche where, in Senigallia, two people lost their lives because of the flooding. As we travelled south through Emilia Romagna we were inches from our road being totally flooded over and our little Cinquina from turning into a submarine. On each side of us large lakes appeared where there were formerly fields and now the whole region is asking the nation to declare a state of emergency.
Clearly, new-anti flooding schemes must be quickly implemented to avoid these all-too-recurring disasters in a country which, less and less, is looking after its fragile geology, with less and less time spent on unblocking drainage channels and less and less time spent on deciding safe places in which to build new housing, instead of covering rivers over and spreading mountain slopes with yet more concrete.
In primeval times, apart from a greater awareness of the ferocity which nature can often inflict on the country, there were propitiatory rites to overcome the last remains of winter. Last night we were witnesses to one of the few places where these ancient rites are still carried out.
The area between Borgo a Mozzano and Cerreto, the village above it, was scattered with thousands of candles, and approaching the town it seemed as if the whole hill-side were turned into a giant ocean liner with little lights from each of its portholes.
Entering the main street of Cerreto a huge stack of firewood and hay had been built up in the tiny square between the parish church’s campanile and the adjoining houses. Fortunately, there was some protection in the form of anti-fire blankets spread between the fuel and the buildings.
The local band struck up. After some jaunty marches, the prelude from Charpentier’s Te Deum (better known as Eurovision’s signature tune) was intoned, the bells from the adjoining bell tower began to ding-dong out and the bonfire was lit at about 11 PM.
I’ve been once before to this ceremony and realised that this time the bonfire did not respond so well to the flaming torches offered to it. The bad weather, rain and hail storms had thoroughly dampened the wood and it was at least half an hour before the fire really took off. Throughout this time an obsessive rhythm had been built up with the bell-ringers joined in the tower by hammerers of two smaller bells a floor below the main bells.
It seemed to us that we were truly being transported back to an age of witchcraft, black magic and augurs.
Fortunately no witches were burnt that night and the augurs turned out to be good ones, despite the late start of the fire. From the direction of the smoke and flames and from the length of time it took for the blaze to reach the top of the stack some of the old boys present declared that, although the crops would be late in maturing, their yield would be plentiful this year.
I felt rather more confident about my allotment which, upon an earlier inspection yesterday, turned out to be a morass of flooding and mud with the salads and zucchini bravely attempting to spread their greenery out in the marshland the place had become.
The bonfire warmed us up beautifully. We met up with friends from village and choir alike and thoroughly enjoyed the flames rising higher and higher in the pile which must have reached a good eighty feet.
Meanwhile in the one and only street in Cerreto there were stalls, a lucky dip (which gained us a bottle of Vodka and some useful kitchen containers) and general merriment.
“Baldoria” is another Italian word for “Festa” or “noisy feast” or “confusion” or “mayhem” with a feel of happiness and contentment.
It certainly was a night of merriment, concluding a day in which the afternoon had been spent in Santina’s restaurant at San Cassiano enjoying the Uni-tre’s end-of-term lunch and, as we descended back into the Serchio valley, the countless little lights were still burning defiantly while the great bonfire had been reduced to a smoking ember.
How wonderful it is to savour these primitive rites in an Italy unhampered by puritanical stringent health and safety measures prevalent in other European countries and where pagan conflagrations can still be enjoyed right in the centre of a mediaeval town.
And that bonfire certainly worked wonders on the weather – not a drop of rain fell during the baldoria night (although a lot of sparks did!) and the weather today, though cloudy, seems ready to clear into a closer resemblance to springtime and May.
If you want more information about this event and can read Italian there’s a nice Facebook page about the baldoria at https://www.facebook.com/labaldoriacerreto/timeline