June 24 is the Festa di San Giovanni a Firenze, the feast day of Saint John the Baptist and patron saint of Florence. It is naturally a day off for anyone not directly working in the tourist industry. Families get together and eat and drink and generally have a good time.
All my running friends will be happy to hear that there is a marathon run the night before and apparently it's one of the oldest marathons in Italian history. I've never seen it run, nor will I ever run it myself. I wonder if San Giovanni was a marathon runner or if someone at some point just decided it would be nice to have something besides church services to celebrate the day with.
Yes, there's church in the morning, whether it's Sunday or not. It just happened to be Sunday this year. But he is a saint after all, so church for those so inclined is pretty much a must.
And this is where a day dedicated to a religious figure becomes a little weird. The sacred becomes secular in a big way. I hear there are parades and rowing races on the Arno River, but I haven't seen those yet. Maybe next year. Soccer in some form or other has been played here forever. One of its earlier forms is played on this day, a bloody and violent game called Calcio Storico, (read about it here) or Historical Soccer played in medieval costumes on hard sand without pads or rules. It's so violent that it was banned for several years and only recently resumed. At some point I'll watch a game because even though I don't like the violence I hear that eventually all the players lose most of their uniform and run around shirtless. And they're real athletes so it's worth watching. I'm not as evolved as you think I am.
After dusk the fireworks fly from Piazzale Michelangelo, this year for over a half an hour. It was spectacular. We rode our bikes to the river and stood in a crowd of people, half of whom were watching or listening to the European Championships. You can all relax, Italy is moving on in the contest. If you lived in the City of Florence, you couldn't ignore the fireworks. Even if you couldn't see them you could hear them and feel them. The air pulsed with explosions and the ground shook while the crowd politely applauded every time it seemed the end had come.
Children, who are much more fun to watch fireworks with than adults, oohed and aahed, described every explosion and rated them by color and sound and size, and begged to stay just a little longer because obviously it wasn't finished yet. A little boy of about seven years standing behind us just kept whispering "bella....bella....bella." He's right, beautiful...beautiful....beautiful.
As we rode home against 5 lanes of traffic (sorry Mom, but it was the quickest way home and they weren't really moving anyway because they all stopped their cars on the street to watch the fireworks or to listen to the game AND I was wearing my helmet and using lights) I wondered if John the Baptist would understand any part of this celebration supposedly dedicated to his memory and thanking him for his intercession on their behalf with the big guy. I decided probably not. All this must seem a little over the top to someone who expected their story to die with them.
It does seem like fate though, that the town I move to has a ready made holiday with fireworks so close to the Fourth of July. I will always be able to sit in the hot air of summer, swat mosquitoes and feel like I'm seven again. Bella.