Today was a treat. Easter. In Florence. A spectacle.
We’d heard that there was a parade for Easter so we took off to the main square bright and early. As I walked out our front door, which is right in the thick of everything, I could hear the subtle sounds of a low rumble. I wasn’t sure at first if it was just traffic, but as we walked down the road, it became louder and louder. My pace quickened and my heart picked up.
Sound echos from tall stone buildings that make up Florence. The sound of 30 or more drummers crashes off the walls and thunders down the alleys. It’s a feeling to behold. A parade is just getting underway!
When we arrived on scene, there was just a handful of people. Quickly the crowd grew and we were treated to a 30 minute scene of flag tossing by, as my wife puts it, men in tights.
The heavy beat of the snare drums accentuates the sense of tradition that pervades the piazza. Everything around us is hundreds of years old. Even the costumes the men wore aren’t really costumes; they’re the same outfits that their forebears have worn for literally hundreds of years. There’s a sense of something bigger conveyed by the traditions being carried out today.
The crowd grew by leaps and bounds. Before long, moving through the ever more congested streets became a challenge. And then, a murmur ran through the scene. Around the corner came into a view a tall cart being towed by four massive oxen. (How often does anyone get to use that word?)
This cart was built in 1672 and has been in continuous use for this occasion ever since. This cart is 100 years older than my country, the United States. Talk about a sense of perspective. It should be in a museum, but here it is getting pulled along over the same flagstones year after year.
At this point, the crowds were too thick for me to get close to the action. As the cart was pulled into place, Easter mass was in session in the cathedral. Even above the noise of the packed masses, you could hear the words of the priest inside.
Outside, the church bells clanged. The dignitaries gathered round the cart. Workers quickly rigged the cart for the main event. Finally, after 30 minutes of patiently waiting, the drums and horns signaled that the moment had come.
From inside the giant cathedral flew a dove shaped rocket - set off by the priest inside the church. With a bang and an explosion, it hit the cart which spontaneously ignited with a roar. Rockets screeched and flew high into the air. Smoke billowed upward and outward. Fireworks exploded and cracked.
Again, the stone walls of the cathedral and surrounding buildings concentrated the sound, making the snaps and booms ever more intense. With every round of fireworks, the crowd roared with excitement. You didn’t need to be a kid nor a religious observer to enjoy the show.
Finally, it was over. Something like this could never happen in the US. Everything needs to be too controlled. The idea of a rocket flying from inside a church and smacking a 300 year old cart wouldn’t fly with the fire marshal, city hall nor even the nearby homeowner’s association.
The beauty of traveling is that one gets to enjoy experiences that aren’t possible in our home territory. I think our notion of what is possible grows and we become the better for it.