The wind always blows on the Friday, as if the Almighty was trying to remind us that this day commemorates an act of love that shook the world to its core.
When I was a child, I used to rush down as soon as I heard the village bands out on the street; they would be going to collect the Mysteries and bring them into the square, from where the procession would start. It was as if that brass-band music filled my eardrums and found a way down into my heart, and seeing those papier-maché Christs brought on a pathos that only Good Friday is capable of recreating.
Every year during Holy Week, processions seem to be meandering through the streets everywhere you go, performing the songs and laments of the Lay Brotherhoods reminiscent of ancient prayers for the suffering of the Christ.
Hooded figures walk barefoot, a chain tied to their ankle, dragging a heavy wooden cross.
There you go, I find myself saying, perhaps we commit a sin every day, but it’s only at times like these that we truly remember: each one of them on their own private road to Calvary, expiating their sins or simply following in their fathers’ footsteps.
This is what Easter in Puglia is all about, wonderfully evocative with its religious and folk rituals, because our hearts beat at precise intervals, in time with the banging of the troccole, wooden tablets with iron handles, which replace the sound of church bells which on this day do not peal.
“Vincenzo, here’s your shirt. I’ve just ironed it, it’s still hot”.
My wife’s voice stirs me to put on my dark suit and black tie, because we need to wear a sign of mourning on the outside to match the feeling in our hearts.
“Aren’t you coming to the procession?” I ask her as I spray on a spot of perfume.
“I have to finish cooking the fish. Then I’m going to be following Our Lady of Sorrows”.
I nod, because I know how devoted my wife is to the Madonna, as she too has felt the pain of motherhood.
I go down into the square too – this year I want to carry the Veil of Veronica on my shoulders. I haven’t done it for years because of my sciatica, but today I told Maria no pain’s going to stop me from doing what I used to do as a young lad during the Good Friday procession, because if we haven’t brought on the pain to begin with, then it makes no sense to celebrate the Resurrection with roast lamb and scarcelle. I also feast on glazed taralli, but first I simply must have a slice of onion calzone, because what sort of passion would it be without it?
Our Puglia is full of a combination of mysticism and gastronomy, an atmosphere filled with sensory elements springing from our poignant funereal marches and whispered hymns, in a highly theatrical dimension. And isn’t theatre the expression of emotions?
Faces contorted in pain, brilliantly sculpted by the master papier-mâché artists, Judas Iscariot’s lips pursed in betrayal, St. John’s tear-filled eyes or the pale face of Our Lady of Sorrows, with a dagger sticking out of her chest and an embroidered handkerchief in her hand; a representation brought to life by charm and faith, leading us into a cathartic atmosphere where original sin is expiated, leaving me with the sincerest feelings deep in my belly.
You can come across the mystery of the passion all over the place, in Francavilla Fontana, in Valenzano, in Noicattaro and Galatina. The Feast of the Passion starts with dishes of sprouted wheat on Maundy Thursday, the so-called evening of the Sepulchres – although they’re not sepulchres at all, as their official name is Altars of Repose.
In Bari old town, by tradition you have to visit an odd number of them – no one knows why, but everybody does it.
Until Easter Saturday morning, when some villages hold a procession with La Desolata, the Virgin Mary looking desperately for her crucified son. Scenes that evoke popular rites and beliefs, ancient tales blown in on the sirocco or on the easterly wind, two ever-presents which help hand down our tradition and our desire to keep them intact. That’s why Good Friday is always windy, as if to remind us of the lashes on the back of that madman who wanted to lead us to Salvation.