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Festa della Rificolona

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Chapter Seven


time out in Tuscany

The crowd, their decorated paper lanterns bobbing on long sticks, accompanied by marching bands in medieval Florentine dress, their alarums blaring, their drums beating the pace, began a procession from Piazza Santa Felicita to Piazza Santissima Annunziata, led by the Cardinal of Florence. From a good distance beyond the pilgrim group, it looked as if the fantastic faces and symbols on the orange, brightly lit lanterns swam macabrely disembodied, in the opaque, dark sea of the Florentine night.

September seventh is the Festa della Rificolona, or the Festival of the Paper Lanterns, lit in honor of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary whose birthday is September eighth. Their light, a symbol foreshadowing the light that Mary would bring into the world, the light of God’s mercy, embodied in her son, to redeem mankind, or so the Christian faithful believe. But the young children of the town, believed it more fun to blow spitballs from their peashooters at the lanterns, trying to knock the lights out of this particular celebration, as they had, observing their own childish tradition, for centuries. Equally irreverent, is that as much as the ‘rificolona’ was dedicated to Mary, our virtuous Lady, the Florentine slang applies the same term to an over-dressed, over made-up one, implying something less than virtue.

“Ow!” A spitball caught Lidia on the cheek, nearly causing her to drop her lantern. “You little devils.” She scanned around for the culprit, raising a hand to the spot, now a little swollen and pink, rubbing it gently. Antonio snoozed in his stroller, oblivious to the noise and activity around him as Nick guided them to the edge of the procession and into the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, a handsome space. Three cream and grey renaissance facades fronted the piazza, their classical loggias warmly lit, their delicate columns, supporting graceful, swooping arches framing them, as elegant stages, waiting for a medieval tableau or pageant to emerge.

“Giambologna’s imposing, equestrian bronze of Grand Duke Ferdinand 1 de’ Medici overlooked the proceedings. The cardinal spoke about the miracle of the Virgin’s birth, the sacrifice of her son, then led them all in prayer. Antonio began to fuss, and Nick moved the stroller back and forth to quieten him down.

The Ponti family had been in Florence for just one week, and Antonio, as they expected, was having difficulty in adjusting. In fact, Nick and Lidia were just getting used to life in the city themselves, it’s one thing to be a tourist, quite another to have to settle in for six months with a young child. Having seen enough of the celebration, which would go on to the Piazza del Duomo, the family headed home.

Nick put Antonio down, while Lidia sat up in bed with a brandy, writing down her impressions of the evening in the hand-tooled, leather-bound journal Nick bought at the Leather School of Santa Croce established behind the church from which it derives its name. She ran her hand over the dark blue cover, so soft and sumptuous. Closing her eyes, she felt the embossed motifs, picturing them in her mind’s eye…arabesques ran around the edges, a lace web, with a large, stylized spider, upside-down in the middle. It alluded to a story about Odin, who when hanging upside-down from the tree of life, encountered a spider spinning a web spelling-out the runic alphabet. Hence, the spider became the symbol of writers, Nick explained when he presented it to her for their anniversary.

She’d never thought of keeping a journal of their ‘time-out in Tuscany,’ but embraced the idea. Something to show Antonio when he grows-up. She wrote quickly, rambling on about the startling beauty of Florence, which she’d forgotten somehow. How different it felt to see it every day, and the magic of the religious lantern festival that night, reminding her, in an inexplicable way, of pagan Hallowe’en in Toronto. Orange paper lanterns just had that vibe. She made a note to get one of those little picture printers tomorrow, to put pictures in with the entries as well.

Nick sat on the edge of the bed, massaging a foot, “Oh, that’s better, god, my feet are sore, not used to so much walking.”

“Yes, it’s the stone cobbles that get me,” Lidia said, as she closed her journal, taking a last sip of brandy.

“Lights out?” Nick said snuggling up to her.

Then lying in the darkness, not yet being able to fall asleep, Lidia asked, “Nick, do you think we’ve done the right thing, coming here for six long months?” She listened a few moments for his response when a loud snore broke the silence. She took that as a ‘yes’.


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