Sunday, July 03, 2005

La festa di Nostra Signora di Montallegro

Last night I saw the coolest fireworks show. No, it was not an early 4th of July hoohah, although it turns out that my present home had its own fireworks display last night, much to my cats' dismay.

No, this was a fireworks show celebrating deliverance from the plague, a part of a festival held in Rapallo every year on 1, 2, 3 July, giving thanks to the Madonna of Montallegro.

The evening started off with three boats in the Tigullian harbor sending off little lights into the sea. Each boat must have released hundreds of the thing, over the course of a couple of hours, and watching their small lights float away was so serene. Very different from what would come next.

Namely, the firings of mortaletti, an ancient type of firework traditional to Rapallo. Each of the sestieri, or quarters of Rapallo puts together its own display, trying to outdo the others.

I happened to be watching from just above the fifteenth-century Castello right on the harbor, and beside it was the staging area for the display given by the Sestiere Borzoli, whose pirotechnicians all wore red shirts, and their area is marked off with red pendants. They have even painted a very cool shield on the pavement there by the beach.

Sometimes they would fire off one or two mortaletti, but a few of their firings involved multiples, strung together with paths of gunpowder. They would fire off a round, and then all around the harbor, the other sestieri would fire theirs. Ssome of them were too far away for me to see anything, but for some I could see puffs of smoke after the BOUM or else a few sparks and then the BOUM. But for the sestiere Borzoli, I had to plug my ears.

Their grand finale was impressive, even though I could see in advance what they had planned: a path of single mortaletti, then a small cluster, then a few more, then a double path leading up to an enormous conglomeration of the things. From the time when the guy with the long lighting wand walked over, to the end of the sequence, was fairly short, but full of fire and noise.

After all the mortaletti was a visual show over the harbor, and although my view was not perfect, I could see pretty well, and after all, I was in my room, not standing in an enormous crowd. Did I mention that all this was happening at 11:30 p.m.? For a lame-o like me, standing in the crowd would have been a strain, but from my very own room? As long as I hid behind the door to my balcony, I could even stand outside a little bit, even though the polizia had been yelling for people to watch from indoors. There must have been quite a danger for Italian police to be monitoring things!

And the fireworks were magnificent. It was strange, as an American, to see them for a religious festival, as they always seem to have Stars and Stripes Forever in the background, instead of Ave Maria. And even the choice of the O Fortuna opening from Carl Orffàs Carmina Burana did not seem strange in a festival dating back hundreds of years and celebrating the delivery from the plague.

Look here for more about the festa, the fireworks, and the sestieri. If you donàt read Italian, follow the link to the GALLERY for a bunch of great photos.


Mo said...

I saw the festival fireworks in July 1980 from the deck of the USS Kalamazoo, anchored off Rapallo. On the middle night, a rocket ignited the storehouse that held the fireworks for the 3rd night, sending explosions, rockets, and fireworks all over the town. From 1 mile offshore, it was spectacular. Of course we didn't realize at the time that damage was being done and people were hurt. A number of sailors from the K-ZOO helped the authorities with the fires and the injured, and we hosted the mayor on board for a ceremony the next day where the mayor presented Capt. Taylor with a commemoration of some sort for our part in helping.

Isis said...

What a great story--thank you so much for posting it!

Anonymous said...

We just got back from our italy trip, we spent the three days of the festival in Rapallo and loved every part. The procession and fireworks had us jaw-dropped. The bombs went off all-day and all night for three days. Thanks for your blog, I was able to learn more about it without reading italian. Thanks