Saint Martin strikes (Venice) againBy
As I may have said before, one of the many things I love about being here is the way life crosses the stream of the year by stepping on a series of metaphorical stones, which are the assorted holidays and feast days of some saints I hardly knew (that means “never knew”) existed. Now I know more about them than could ever be regarded as useful or even, dare I say it, interesting.
I used to think it was so exotic the way that people in the Middle Ages, according to assorted novels, would always be talking about events according to their nearest feast day: “We’ll plant the corn after St. Swithin’s Day,” “The marriage took place before Candlemas,” and so on. Now I’m doing it too.
For example, everybody knows that you don’t broach the new wine until St. Martin’s Day, which is today, November 11. The seppie begin to head out to sea after the Feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July). I could go on, but St. Martin is getting restless.
The festivities almost always take place on the eve of the official date of whatever the event may be. Therefore, yesterday via Garibaldi was strewn with small children in their “San Martin” garb — clever crowns, sometimes capes, often a bag for the candy they strongly urge people to give them — and carrying whatever bits of kitchenware such as pots and pans (or their covers) to bang and clang as they sing the vaguely threatening San Martino song. The gist of this ditty is that if you don’t give them candy, they will invoke a variety of unpleasant reprisals. Pimples on your butt is one of the favorites.
I like to think about all these people who stroll across the Venetian calendar. The Befana (Jan. 6), Santa Lucia (Dec. 13), the Madonna della Salute (Nov. 21), San Marco (April 25) and now San Martino (Nov. 11). Of course there are many more, when you add in every parish’s patron saint. Just imagine them all getting together at their annual convention: “International Marching and Chowder Society of Saints of the Venetian Year, this year meeting in Mobile, Alabama. Before registering, make sure you’ve paid your dues.” It’s just an expression. Saints, by definition, have long since paid them.
Where was I? Via Garibaldi. So yesterday afternoon hot chocolate and the crucial cookie called a “Samartin” (Sa-mar-TEEN) were distributed to the children by the good men of the Mutual Aid Society of the Caulkers and Carpenters. When they ran out of children they gave cookies to everyone else, mainly grandmothers and aged aunts who had been circling like buzzards.
Today, the late morning was clanked and clattered by groups of schoolchildren, manic little locusts in impromptu costumes swarming the shops and vendors. They were banging on their cookware and singing the San Martino song, or at least some of it.
They had also prepared a series of posters depicting San Martino at his greatest moment, the encounter with the freezing beggar by the road and the division of his cloak with his sword.
I believe he did a few other things in his life which had deeper and longer-lasting importance, but they don’t make anywhere near as good a story. Or poster.
Considering the ludicrous prices of the cookies on sale around town — a rough estimate tells me that regardless of size they cost 250% more than last year, when the prices were already too high — I think San Martino ought to cut the cookies in half.