Floral eruption? Floral euphoria? An explosion of flowers? Floral delirium?
Futile attempts to describe Bucchianico’s chromatic splendor, la Ciammaichella procession on the Sunday preceding the Feast of Sant’Urbano (May 25th), patron saint of this tiny Abruzzo hill town. Over three hundred women in traditional medieval peasant dress – le pacchianelle – serpentine through the main piazza, each one with a hand on hip, the other gingerly balancing a basket filled with paper flower masterpieces of kaleidoscope colors on their head. (And the older women balance without the hands!) The women of the contrade surrounding Bucchianico – for this festival has rural roots – have been gathering nightly since early January, in groups of thirty or so, wide-eyed children at their feet as they deftly cut, braid, shred, twist, and snip rainbow colors of crepe paper to create their floral showpieces.
“And soon the children start imitating the floral creations of their mothers and grandmothers. That’s how I learned,” young Natascia told us the morning of the festival, proudly giving us a preview on her phone of the paper creation she’d lift to her head that afternoon, outfitted in medieval peasant dress: a huge basket of saffron yellow wild broom.
Natascia became our informal “guide” to Bucchianico’s Festa dei Banderesi that morning when we arrived at a three-level stuccoed yellow house not far from our B&B, where crepe paper bouquets were being loaded into a truck out front. Some would be carried on the heads of pacchianelle that afternoon, others would adorn the carri (literally, “carts” – i.e., floats) depicting rural life scenes – once pulled by oxen but now by floral-wreathed tractors – in the afternoon procession to the Church of Sant’Urbano, then into the main square for the gran finale, la Ciammaichella.
This was the house of this year’s banderese (“knight who leads”), protector of the rural people in the contrade encircling Bucchianico during the Middle Ages and nowadays, the host (financially, too) of the astounding Festa dei Banderesi. That afternoon’s sfilata would be a pilgrimage lead by the Banderese family, bearing the sacred image of St. Urban and propitious offerings: the most prominent one, a huge Chianina calf decorated with a red and blue bow, colors of the Bucchianico flag (the calf will be butchered for the banquet for Sant’Urbano’s feast day).
That morning, a constant procession of rural neighbors flowed into the house of the banderese, to pay tribute to the statue of Sant’Urbano, ensconced for now in an altar made by the family, surrounded with paper flowers and baskets of eggs, sign of rural abundance. After filing past the sacred image, they kissed both cheeks of the banderese’s wife and sons, then pressed an envelope into his hands, a contribution to the festivities the banderese was hosting. As the banderese dropped the envelope into the box before Sant’Urbano, a relative nearby thanked each guest with a bag of the waffle-like canceletti cookies (over 3,000 of them baked by Franco’s family and relatives).
When an elderly white-mustached man in the traditional pacchianello (medieval peasant) red-bordered black vest and short-black pants hugged Franco, the banderese, tears started. Urbano (born on the Feast of Sant’Urbano, May 25th) lived nearby and had been a huge support to Franco in the organization of the Festa; moreover, he’d raised the calf, walking it weekly, rope through its nose ring, with drummers and a band playing nearby, prepping the calf for the upcoming afternoon procession where the cacophony of drums and bands (the men in the pacchianello dress) accompanied costumed folk dancers following the carri and the flower-crowned pacchianelle. I asked him how he felt about the post-festa butchering. He lowered his eyes and murmured, “Non ne parliamo.” (Let’s not talk about that.)
(Second half of the note here…)