This past week marked La Festa di San Luca, celebrated in the Piazza San Luca in Praiano. For three days fireworks were set off in the piazza at all hours of the day. I could hear them in the morning when I was stringing up tomatoes, and I would pause during my night runs to watch them explode above the roofs. Each evening a procession carrying a metallic statue of San Luca and a magenta baldacchino paraded around the town and up to the piazza followed by a wind instrument band.
On Friday night after a late run and a late dinner I decided to venture up to the piazza by myself. Piazza San Luca is located just above Casa L Orto—a five minute walk up several hundred steps. The steps take off at a steep incline from the Piazza Moressa, just outside the gate of Casa L Orto. This little piazza consists of one small bench and a cement railing where the elderly women of the neighborhood like to perch themselves. Sometimes they lean over the railing to observe the action down at the grocery store on the street below and other times they seat themselves on the bench to observe and make conversation with the people that roll by—on foot, on vespa, or in stroller.
I passed through the piazza Moressa, and headed up the steps. Before I could see the church of San Luca or the lights in the piazza, I heard the famous refrain from the Barber of Seville, floating down to me from the square.
When I reached the piazza I chose a seat up on the stairs around the periphery of the main square where I had a good view of the bandstand, but could also look out at the moon high above the water and the lights of Salerno in the distance.
The band and all their shining brass instruments were packed into a small temporary bandstand, raised above the square. The audience was concentrated in the little group of plastic chairs in the middle of the square where the older people sat, intently watching the bandstand. Outside of this nucleus, the audience members dispersed around the edges. On the benches around the perimeter sat the more middle-aged audience members—their attention divided between the music on stage and their conversation. In the center of the square, kids played tag—darting in circles like whizzing electrons. The kids didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the music, but they created a crucial part of its landscape. The sound of their hard sandals slapping the paving stones mixed with the quiet chatter of the adults and the trumpeting of the band. Often right at the moment that the music reached the peak of a crescendo one electron would whiz by and tag another with a slap.
If you follow the narrow path out of the main square you will come to other part of the festa. Here there is no bandstand, no nucleus of plastic chairs, only the flashing neon lights of the arcade games, American pop music, and tubs of gummy candies covered by sheets of plastic. Clearly the festa is set up to have two distinct areas—one for kids and one for adults—but it doesn’t function that way. The two parts fit together organically; kids dart in and out of the main square and adults stroll along the road past the lights of the arcade.
It was past midnight and I rested my head against the stairs, eyes drooping. I stayed because the life of this little cell—its nucleus of chairs and its whizzing electrons—held me there. I stayed until the music had stopped, people had gotten out of their seats to applaud, and the chairs had been moved back into the church. I watched the musicians climb down from the bandstand and then I began walking down the steps back to Casa L Orto.