HOLIDAY FOOD – Good Friday Mysteries in Trapani – PART TWO

Each ceto, or group, sets off in a preset arrangement: they precede the group of statues and are formed into orderly lines, first the people bearing the banners, then children belonging to the ceto, young people with lit candles; they all have the same uniform, the children often wear a white or blue tunic like cherubs, or wear elegant blue suits, with a large finely-worked silver plate called an abitino (a bas-relief symbolizing the ceto they belong to) hanging from their necks; young people in mourning with black robes or cloaks, or dressed like Arab shepherds, or with long Dominican robes. Some groups have young women parading past, dressed in an austere blue uniform and long blue gloves or covered with a white veil.

Immediately in front of each group of statues and in front of the bearers come the ceto nobility. You can tell they are not ordinary figures because they move about freely on the small square in front of the church. Always dressed in black, they all wear black sunglasses; they look around, give orders and advice, greet each other and talk with dignified gestures.

They move elegantly and with self-assurance, crisp trouser creases falling sharply to their shining black shoes; they are masters of the ceremony, seemingly discussing and checking that the parade is going to perfect plan, they speak earnestly on cell phones, they make sure they are seen, like people who pretend to be behaving naturally but know they are being observed by the public. It is behavior recognizable from innumerable caricatures of mafiosi in the movies: men in double-breasted suits with black hair– every so often a redhead stands out, a reminder of Norman rule – slapping each other on the shoulder, taking each other’s arm as they talk, embracing with their hands resting round each other’s neck. There is obviously a significance in all this physical contact, a precise message for the watching public; but only someone from Trapani – or Sicily – can fully understand.

And now the statues emerge: from each corner, front and back, there are two robust cushioned poles resting on the shoulders of the bearers, holding on to each other, one hand resting on the pole and one round the waist or shoulder of their fellow-bearer in front. This close contact helps to smooth out the movement: it is essential for it to be perfectly synchronized, especially when the statue has to move forward. The role of the band is crucial; it plays solemn music in slow two-four time, which indicates the tempo of the steps. The well-built men carry a huge weight, their muscles stretch under the effort. And yet, if you look up at the wooden statues, you see them sway in time with the music with the grace and lightness of a paper boat bobbing in the ripples of a pond. And if you look down at the legs of the bearers, they seem to be dancing in unison.

The statues portray scenes inspired by the Stations of the Cross, such as Washing the Feet, The Arrest, with St Peter brandishing a real silver scimitar, or Jesus before Caiaphas, with the Roman soldier resplendent in the Saracen-style plume and armor found in the Sicilian puppet theater, then leading to the most dramatic, the Ascent to Calvary, belonging to the ceto of the People. Last of all comes the Madonna Addolorata, Our Lady of Sorrows, dressed in black velvet, with a silver heart pierced by the swords of the seven sorrows; she rises from a real carpet of flowers and is the subject of particular devotion.

The band immediately follows the group of wooden figures and bearers; each plays the music appropriate for its Mystery. It is usually a funeral march or arrangement of popular melodies … all united by the same rhythmical tension and slow solemnity. The band follows its group into the night before resting a few hours and then resuming in the early morning. The procession will have meanwhile slowly passed through the streets in the town center and now be in the main Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which it follows all the way down to the Town Hall in Palazzo Cavarretta, where the Bishop will appear and give his blessing.

All the balconies overlooking the street are crowded; it is an impressive scene, the long procession stretching as far as the eye can see between the watching crowds. For families living in these houses it is a custom to invite relatives and friends from the late evening to share a privileged viewing point. Food plays an essential part in the celebration: a non-meat dinner is served based on fish and vegetables. But the proceedings may extend until morning, or friends may go to rest for a while and return early next day when they might be offered a coffee or a digestive liqueur.

Whole families and groups of friends spend the evening celebrating and go to have a pizza at Calvino’s in Via Nunzio Nasi, a traditional pizzeria in the old town center, or crowd into the fish restaurants.

By the morning the effort can be seen in the faces and movements of the procession as they slowly make their way to the trasìta, the return; their clothes are crumpled and the candle wax has dripped to form a shiny white coating on gloves, tunics and dresses … on the velvet and brocades falling from the catafalque, on the sleeves of the bearers, on the pavements, covering it like a layer of frost on a cold night. And for days the wax will crunch under shoes and car tires, causing slips and skids, like the trail of a huge snail …

Photo by Valter Musso.

Paola Nano works at the Slow Food Press Office.

Adapted by Ronnie Richards</I

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