Waddy should be proud. I made it out of bed this morning not too long after 5.30am. We have a good reason. Today is the Infiorate of Spello, and we want to get there as early as possible.
The Infiorate is a floral festival of religious significance, related to Corpus Christi. The streets of Spello are carpeted with floral designs on a religious theme, and various artistic groups compete with each other. There is much behind the scenes work that should be appreciated. The concept and design work is one side of it – and then the preparation of the flowers is tremendous. They are gathered in the wild, such as the ginestra we had seen the day before, and the flowers are stripped from the stalks. Some of them are then shredded in a mincing machine, but they must still retain the look of a flower, it is not permitted to pulverise them. Other floral material such as rose buds, seeds and unopened lily stalks are also used.
The story of the Infiorate is best told in pictures. However, it would not be a blog of mine if I did not try to draw with words. The anticipation of spectators streaming through the city gates from 6amonwards. The bustle of the people creating the floral art, trickling drops of petals into minute parts of the design, treading carefully around each other, calling to the assistants for more of this or that coloured flower. They are allocated sections of the cobbled streets of this ancient town, and the night before each group erects a plastic tent, a semi circle that stretches across the width of the narrows streets and alleyways. Mounted on curved aluminium trusses, it looks like an army Nissan hut, except made of a white plastic tarpaulin. Under this protection, they begin their creation. During the night they draw out the design with chalk, and colour code the sections of the design. Then from very early morning, working under floodlights, they begin to spread the petals. By around 6am, the designs are well underway, and people start arriving to see the artwork, disregarding that it is still undercover. The early arrivals push up the plastic sides to peer inside, admire and take photographs. The aroma, a sweet perfume that became stronger as the sun rose higher, mixing with the smell of jasmine growing on bushes all around the town. The view across the surrounding valley and hills, which we took in from the back garden of a bar where we had stopped for pastries. How pleasant the woman who served us, even though this would be one of her busiest days of the year.
There is an air of cheer and playfulness amongst the working bee, and when it reaches the time to remove the tarpaulin, chaos is the mainstay. “In dietro, in dietro!” (Get back, get back!), one man yelled at the crowd. Workers took up places all around, some holding ropes to haul the plastic off, others standing ready to roll up the tarpaulin as it slid down the frame. It wasn’t a smooth process. It had rained through the night, and water was inclined to pool in the folds of plastic – this had to be carefully tipped away for fear of falling onto the flowers. Stop! Start! The head guy was trying to direct the process, whenever he could get a word in over the others yelling out instructions to each other, or falling about laughing. As the tarpaulin inched down the frame, more and more rope ended up in the hands of the people tugging on it, and they looped it to prevent any falling. All the same people yelled at each other to take care, and one fellow was in charge of a long hook to grab any that had come loose. He seemed more interested in leaning on his hook and looking cool. Every so often someone would yell at him to catch a rope and he would look around nonchalantly – “Oh – is one loose? Which one would that be?”
Well they got there in the end, amidst much good humour and laughter; and a round of applause was merited if only for the entertainment value of watching them do it.
After mass, the bishop proceeds through the streets with an entourage carrying a canopy over his head. We waited in the crowd, and some of the photos are random shots of people waiting with us. We could see little of the procession, but we followed the route later and were amazed to see the flowers were barely disturbed – just a small footprint here andthere
We were also lucky with the weather. It was cool and overcast in the morning, but it soon cleared, and stayed sunny for most of the day. It was a completely different case in the evening. We were at a pizza restaurant with Francesca, the children, and Fiorella – a mutual friend, practically a sister to Francesca, who had arrived from Venice a couple of days earlier. Suddenly we heard the deep rumble of thunder nearby, and the heavens opened again! I am constantly amazed at how much falls in one storm, and it took the locals by surprise too. We took a back road home, only to find rivers of water running down hills and across the road, carrying stones and pebbles with it. At one point we encountered a mini landslide that had just happened – sections of the roadside banks completely gouged out. It was an eventful drive home in the rain and the dark, that is for sure.
Any day that starts with me getting up so early deserves a dramatic end 🙂
Events of Sunday 2nd June 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Assisi