I have posted some pictures from the trip my father and I took to Italy last summer, but I have not properly written about it. Our trip, which lasted a little less than two weeks, was spent in Rome during the weekdays and punctuated by visits to smaller towns with major festivals during the two weekends. In this post I will focus on those weekend excursions.
We spent the first weekend in the valley city of Sulmona (population 24,854) and the second weekend in the tiny mountain town of Fallo (population 155). The itinerary required us to travel back and forth across the country, staying in hotels in two different parts of Rome, which may seem counter-intuitive at first glance. However, this schedule (for which my father deserves full credit) allowed us to visit places like the Vatican, the Roman Forum, and the Capitoline Museums during the week, and to see the parades for the Giostra Cavallaresca in Sulmona and the Festa in Fallo that took place during the weekends.
One translation for the word giostra is joust, and as I (in all my general ignorance of sports) understand it, it is a contest involving lances and horses, but is not exactly the same as what English speakers refer to as jousting. The competition in the Giostra involves trying to accumulate rings on one’s lance, while riding on horseback in a figure-8 pattern.
My father and I did not watch more than a couple of minutes of the competition itself, as it was hot and crowded and we could barely see a thing. However, we did see afternoon/evening parades both evenings we were in Sulmona, and when we walked around the town during the day, we saw different areas decorated with specific team colors. In the processions, people in medieval dress marched down the main thoroughfare, representing their respective teams with pride.
As intriguing as it was to see these aspects of the Giostra, the events in higher-altitude Fallo had additional layers of interest for us, as this was basically our ancestral homeland. Our last name (hard to spell, hard to pronounce, hard to remember), uncommon in most of the world, is ubiquitous in Fallo. It may belong to the majority of the people there, though I can’t say so with absolute certainty.
In Fallo, my father and I joined other relatives from our extended family for delicious meals of pasta and for the Festa events. I was the newbie, having never been to Fallo before, and I got an informal tour that included the exterior of the house where my grandfather lived as a child, the field where the family worked, the church and its affiliated smaller chapel, and so many hills.
There were parades Saturday night and early afternoon Sunday. San Vicenzo (Saint Vincent) is Fallo’s patron saint, and during the parades, a sculpture of his likeness was marched through the town, adorned with jewels and other gifts of gratitude for good fortune. Fallo is so tiny that it does not have its own priest, so a priest who serves multiple small Italian towns led the Mass and the march, and a marching band and fire-eating performers were brought in from nearby locales as well.
As someone who loves holidays and celebrations, I truly enjoyed being in Sulmona and Fallo during their festival weekends. I was impressed by the big party a tiny town like Fallo was able to throw. (Like other family members and me, some far-flung relatives return to their Fallese roots and come back to visit during this special annual event.) I am not one to cling to tradition in everyday life or policymaking, but I do appreciate longstanding customs in the context of marking occasions via holidays and parades.
Although there is still so much of the world I have never seen and want to see, it would also be wonderful to go back to Sulmona, and especially Fallo, someday. It would be even more wonderful to learn a bit more Italian before I do so.