The July 14 procession
After days of float preparation, alter-decorating, and (of course!) street food snacking, citizens fill downtown streets on the evening of July 14 to see the theater, music, dance, parading, and fireworks of Santa Rosalia.
Built in 1184, Palermo's cathedral on Corso Vittorio Emanuele has since been shaped by Gothic, Catalan, and Neoclassical forces. Here, the ivory walls glowed with fire-like lights, dancers took to the balustrades, and a storyteller backed by soaring orchestral music gave a performance honoring the good fortune Santa Rosalia has bestowed on the city.
The crowd follows the floats down to the water, where music and fireworks fill the night. The good energy of the night is so infectious that even when I eventually fell asleep, in an apartment a few blocks away, I couldn't complain about the (lullaby of) laughter, music, and conversation as it continued into the wee hours.
The day after the procession, Giacomo and I went to the nearby resort town of Mondello (7 km from downtown Palermo) to shoot a time-lapse of Monte Pellegrino. When he said we were stopping for an ice-cream sandwich, I expected a gelato-filled version of the cardboard chocolate crackers we have in America. Instead, he ordered this brioche-like treat, here with nutella and pistachio gelato.
Ten days after I arrived in Sicily from America, I boarded the squeaking two-car train in Vallelunga and left the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School for the capital city of Palermo to film the Festa di Santa Rosalia, dedicated to the city's patron saint.
When the jovial train conductor heard my accent, she called me “principessa,” and asked if I was from New York. When I told her no—Portland Oregon, near California—she introduced me to the rest of the train as “California.” We’ll see if the nickname sticks next time I board the train.
Giacomo, a born-and-raised Palermitan, met me at the train station in late afternoon, shepherding me to his car for an authentic driving tour: speeding through ancient stone alleyways barely wider than the car and weaving between cars and motorbikes on the wider avenues. His driving was an art. When I asked him if the traffic was because it was post-work rush hour, he laughed: no, this was just Palermo. It did not take me long to see the beauty in this chaos. Layers of history from its inhabitants and rulers--Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Greek, Arab, Norman--have combined to create a landscape where the traditions and cuisine are as unique as the architecture. Even though we arrived a few days before the July 15 feast and parade, the spirit of the festival pervaded the city. The main streets were strung with ornamental lights, the waterfront sidewalks already filling with ornately decorated stands selling a rainbow of candy, nuts, and snacks (more on this later!).
Dieci giorni dopo il mio arrivo in Sicilia dall'America, ho preso il cigolante trenino a due carrozze a Vallelunga e ho lasciato la scuola di cucina Anna Tasca Lanza per dirigermi verso Palermo, la città capoluogo, per filmare la Festa di Santa Rosalia, dedicata al santo patrono della città.
Quando la gioviale conduttrice del treno ha sentito il mio accento, mi ha chiamato "principessa", e mi ha chiesto se ero di New York.. Quando le risposi di no-Portland Oregon, vicino California-, mi ha presentato al resto del treno come "California". Vedremo se avrò ancora questo soprannome la prossima volta che salirò su quel trenino.
Giacomo, nato e cresciuto a Palermo, mi è venuto incontro alla stazione ferroviaria nel tardo pomeriggio, e accompagnato un autentico tour in auto: in velocità attraverso antiche viuzze in pietra appena più larghe della vettura e saluti tra auto e motorini sulle strade più trafficate. La sua guida era un'arte. Quando gli ho chiesto se era trafficato era perché era l’ ora di punta di uscita dal lavoro, si è messo a ridere: no, questa è solo Palermo. Non mi ci è voluto molto per vedere la bellezza in questo caos. Strati di storia dei suoi abitanti e conquistatori- fenici, romani, bizantini, greci, arabi, normanni - si sono combinati per creare un paesaggio dove le tradizioni e la cucina sono unici come l'architettura. Anche se siamo arrivati un paio di giorni prima del 15 luglio giorno della festa e sfilata, lo spirito del festival già pervade la città. Le strade principali sono ornate da filari di luci, i marciapiedi sul lungomare sono già pieni di bancarelle riccamente decorate da un arcobaleno di caramelle, frutta secca e snack (più su questo dopo!).
Palermo is rimmed on one side by the saturated azure of the Tyrrhenian sea, and, on the other sides, steep cliffs and the impressive, shadow-casting Monte Pellegrino. As we left the tangle of old town streets, we wound our way up the mountain, passing spandex-clad bikers and hillsides dotted with clumps of prickly pear cactuses as we neared the Sanctuaria di Santa Rosalia.
Palermo è bordato da un lato dall’ azzurro saturo del Mar Tirreno, e, sugli altri lati, da ripide scogliere e dall’ impressionante ombra che proietta Monte Pellegrino. Appena lasciato il groviglio di strade della città vecchia, abbiamo ritrovato la nostra strada , su per la montagna, superando ciclisti rivestiti in tute spandex e colline punteggiate di piante di fico d'India mentre ci avvicinavamo sempre di più al Santuario di Santa Rosalia
With the successful completion of our second Kickstarter campaign (thank you, thank you!!!) our team has started filming our final round of festivals in the next few months, beginning with Santa Rosalia, which we filmed in Palermo July 11-15.
After over seven months of wonderful work, co-producer Lena Connor is safely settled back in the U.S., and already greatly missed in Italy.
We’re lucky this lovely lady will still be helping us from across the sea, in between her adventures with flocks of adoring summer campers and her transitioning into graduate school.
Meanwhile, after a transatlantic journey that included two cars, two planes, two trains, and one bus, I landed at Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School a few week to officially begin my work as the other co-producer.
Even though the days are hot, Sicily is achingly beautiful right now. The hills are golden with just-harvested wheat, a precursor to plates of delicious bread and pasta, and the trees are heavy with everything from ripening citrons to figs to olives. I’m sharing with you some snapshots of what we’ve eaten over the last few weeks, so you can, maybe, begin to taste the flavors of this magical island…
Making cavatelli pasta:
Fiori di zucca: beer-battered garden-fresh zucchini blossoms stuffed with pecorino cheese and sardines:
Crostata al al gelo di mellone: pie with watermelon jelly and crumbled pistachios
Stay tuned for a coming blog post about the wonders of Santa Rosalia, and—wherever you are—hope you are enjoying midsummer’s bounty.
- Erica Berry (co-producer)
This film project is produced by the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in the heart of Sicily. We hope to chronicle the many saint festivals in Sicily and how they support slow food cultures on the island. We anticipate that it will hit film festivals and be available for sale in 2015. This website and blog are to chronicle our progress for our financial supporters, followers, and friends.