The latest Tuscan tale from Simon Law:
Bruno smiled over the tiny cup of his post luncheon-coffee. He was standing on the balcony outside the social club bar watching the antics in the small piazza of the Tuscan mountain village. He smiled once more: he had observed or taken part in this particular scene scores of times over the previous 60 years – and longer.
The 20th of December was the date on which the Santa Giuditta fire took place. The three steel plates that made up the base of the fire – and stopped the heat of the fire shattering the piazza’s flagstones – had been dragged up, by tractor, from the Pro Loco store earlier that day. The delicate procedure being undertaken as Bruno savored his coffee was the positioning of the steel plates on which the bonfire the size of a Land Rover would be built.
Santa Giuditta’s piazza is not large; overhead hang the power cables which regularly infuriate visiting photographers to the village. Under the piazza run a series of gas pipes and the Christmas Tree reduces the available space still further.
It would be easier, Bruno mused, if it were remembered where the fire had been set the year before … and all the years before that.
Despite the proximity of the festa del fuoco – fire festival – solstice celebration to both Christmas and the New Year, the festival began long before Christianity and the Gregorian calendar existed.
Being in the front line of the 400-year war between the city states of Lucca and Florence and having its municipal building reduced to burning rubble by the Nazis in 1944 leaves Santa Giuditta virtually bereft of any written history.
Clues to the origin of the Fire Festival remain only as fragments of folk memory – and possibly on the front of the nearby ‘cathedral’ of the 10th century Pieve Romantica – on which pre-Roman, half-human, half animal, Etruscan Gods decorate the facade.
Bruno could remember before the war when the fire was built in the small piazza outside the village church, before the Roman Catholic church decreed it should no longer be held on their land. At that time, many of those celebrating the pagan festival wore animal masks. He could also remember when, finally, the days began to grow longer, and how the fire was fed by the detritus of the previous year: irreparably damaged tools or household furniture, memories of failed crops – or more personal promises.
As the first of the tractor loads of wood that would fuel the fire that year pulled into Piazza Garibaldi, below him, Bruno felt an extraordinary affinity with the history of that place, a history which stretched so far back into the mists of time, it even predated the Caesars and their Roman empires.
A new Tuscan tale will appear on Italy Chronicles next week.
What are these Tuscan Tales all about? Find out here: About Tuscan Tales
After Chelsea School of Art, Portsmouth Polytechnic and Ruskin College, Simon began work in the film and television industry in 1979 (United Motion Pictures, Southern Television, TVS, LWT, Thames Television, BBC, C4, British Screen, Skreba Productions …) as an assistant film editor, later as an editor – occasionally a director and producer.
Simon splits time between London and a small village in North Tuscany. Between buying a house, beginning to do it up and the arrival of #1 son, he worked on: “The Last Syllable”, a connected series of short stories; a novel, “Come Again” and a series of short stories about the village, “Santa Giuditta”.
Simon can be found on Twitter as @SanQuirico