Yesterday marked the beginning of the weekend festival Redentore. This is a celebration commemorating the end of the plague (one of many) back in the 1600's. It has its roots as a religious celebration but has turned into a great day/night/weekend of fun. There is a church on the island of Giudecca called Redentore which is about 1/4 mile from Venice island. This church was built to give thanks for the cleansing of the plague. But since there is no direct way to get from Venice to Giudecca, they build a temporary pontoon bridge for the weekend so the people can ceremoniously cross and enter the church for mass and prayers. Afterwards, beginning at 1130pm, there are fireworks in the lagoon for about 1/2 hour and then many go to another island (Lido) and sit on the beach until sunrise. And on Sunday, the bridge remains open for those to make the journey to the church.
I actually went to the bridge twice yesterday. Once to see it before the crowds and then again right when the opening ceremony was taking place at 7pm. I really lucked out because the area where I was standing was right where the Cardinal or Bishop (dont know which it is) got off his boat and right where the police decided to open the gates for those people to start crossing. So, I was about the 50th person (after the religious/government entourage) on the bridge! Needless to say there where hords of people at 7pm who wanted to take part in the crossing. As soon as we made it to the other side, there were speeches and prayers and then 'let the fun begin'. By this time, there were already many boats in the lagoon for the afternoon. They find a spot, drop anchor and enjoy the sun, have dinner and wait for the fireworks with a birdseye view.
But first, I went into the church to attend mass. Because I was one of the first people around, I actually got a seat...after that, people just sort of came in, dunked in the holy water and left. Now, I didnt understand the mass (although he was kind enough to welcome everyone in several languages) but I sure wish I did. His sermon, with passion and conviction, reminded me of the likes of Martin Luther King. His voice was echoing off the marble and he was genuinely calling Christians to do something! I never heard a Catholic service like that.
After leaving the mass (it was about an hour), I walked along the Giudecca island sidewalk where the people were strewn everywhere..they just brought their beach blankets and 'copped a squat' wherever there was room. Its much like 4th of July with pic-nic'ing going on, music, family, drinking, blah blah blah. They dont do hamburgers and hot dogs and potato salad here, but they do have pasta and pizza and potato chips! And plenty of wine and Becks beer (very popular over here). So, as I was walking along, suddenly the big speaker in the sky (because I truly dont know where it came from but it was like surround sound on the island) started playing "I heard it through the grapevine"!!! Nothing brings a smile to an American's face than hearing their music at an Italian festival. The Italians do love 2 things about the Americans--our music and our movies.
After walking around on Giudecca for a bit, I crossed the bridge back to Venice and checked out that side of the activity. Pretty much the same. And there were quite a few more boats and party boats in the lagoon by now. It was about 930pm and just starting to get dark.
I have never been much of a circus, parade or fireworks person, so I didnt really intend on staying to watch even though this was the first year they were choreographed to music. So, I started heading home around 10pm but turned around to notice that there were lighted designs being shadowed on the Redentore church from somewhere. There were probably about 20 different designs as they ran through. It was really nice show. And not wanting to miss it, I 'copped my own squat' on the sidewalk and took some more pics. At this point I figured I might as well stay for the fireworks. I ended up sitting close to a barge like bar thing where people were doing kareoke. Kareoke should be outlawed in my opinion. These people were so drunk, not a single one of them had a voice, and they all had a microphone with speakers...it was horrid. And just when I thought I couldnt take it anymore and was going to leave, the fireworks started.
It started with the Star Wars theme from those mysterious speakers in the sky. And then the next song was some Celine Dion thing and then some Italian song....it is good to know that people from everywhere behave the same at fireworks--oooohhh, aaaahhhh, etc. By this time, I was done and started walking home. As I did, I could literally feel the walls of the buildings around me shake and could hear all the windows do the same. It struck me as odd at that point that they would actually do fireworks so close to everything. Afterall, these buildings are all hundreds of years old--some already leaning and crumbling on their own--they dont really need any extra jostling going on. But I also was thinking of how loud it was and how it probably sounded this way during all those wars in the history of Venice--when cannons would be blaring and guns firing. It was like I was part of history again.
By the time I made it home, the fireworks were over and the first wave of people were heading back. I think I felt the island level out again after a half a million people congregated in a 1/4 square mile area for several hours. The drinking and revelry lasted for many hours to come and I closed all my windows and shutters and turned the fan on to drown out the noise until I fell asleep. And this morning, I awoke being thankful that Venice is once again plague free for another year!