Saint Bartholomew’s fair on August 24th seems to signal the start of the close of the summer season at Bagni di Lucca. Yesterday the high street was closed to traffic and filled with stalls. The scene was enhanced by the overhead display of coloured umbrellas.
These umbrella displays have appeared in several other world cities and the idea was suggested to bring them to Bagni di Lucca by a counsellor from Iglesias, Sardinia. For me the significance of these umbrellas, apart from their brightening up a part of the town centre, is to suggest harmony in our multi-coloured and multi-cultural world and also to encourage one to look more frequently at the beautiful sky and hills above us instead of gazing down at the pavement. Some, too, might wish that the umbrellas are a charm to bring us some rain: the land is becoming increasingly drier and forest fires are breaking out with alarming rapidity.
Incidentally, London too had its Saint Bartholomew’s fair from 1133 to 1855 when it was ordered to be closed because of raucous and riotous behaviour. That fair famously inspired Ben Jonson’s play of 1614 which vividly depicts the highs and lows of London society of the time with its gallants, cut-throats, swindlers, pick-pockets and ladies of pleasure (much the same as today, surely?) Shouldn’t the fair be reintroduced to London again now!
At BDL there was an atmosphere of vivacity, yet somehow muted by the horrifically unexpected news of the central Italian earthquake when we first thought there had been around 13 deaths. Now the figure is much higher approaching three hundred-plus like L’Aquila’s 2009 earthquake, with hundreds more injured and thousands without a shelter. We had to wait until our return home and watch the evening news to realise how much the death toll had multiplied during the day.
Today some of the quake’s survivors are being allowed to enter those houses which still stand in order to collect essential belongings.
What would you call essential belongings? For many of us in this digital age it would be a computer or a storage device with our favourite photographs, writings or music. I would also naturally think about our pets and some of our favourite clothes, special prescriptions and books. Sadly, for most of those affected in the earthquake it’s above all a matter of finding family, relatives and friends who may still be alive under the rubble.
The emergency services in Italy are highly equipped to deal with these all too familiar situations when the earth shakes. So what can one do? Tent cities (tendopoli) have been set up but many people prefer to sleep in their cars, or as near home as possible to prevent pilferers. Yes, unfortunately scavengers take advantage of other people’s miseries and misfortunes. In my case, when the terrible twister of a tornado devastated our area last winter I found not only my orto (allotment) shed flattened but also two bush cutters and my water pump stolen from it as well. Hyenas are everywhere, it seems.
What can we do to help? The best thing is to offer to give blood but this must be done in a planned way as blood will not keep beyond a certain time. Today, I’m off to the local Red Cross to see whether at least I can help in that way. The hospitals at Barga and Castelnuovo are organising blood donation.
There is a strange eerie atmosphere over our part of the world. The weather remains stunningly wonderful with true blue skies swept clear by a gentle wind. Yet we all seem to be waiting for something. Let us hope that it is the arrival of faith, love, help and courage in sufficient quantities to cope with the dreadful situation so many people in Italy now are having to face…