FRIDAY: La Festa

BY BRYAN JANSING

Copyright is held by the author.

IN THE summer the usually dull piazza explodes with the lights and sounds of carnivals.  Vendors from all over Sicily make their way across the country to this small village of Belpasso along the steep face of Mt. Etna.  They fill the cool Sicilian air with fragrances of cotton candy, French fries, and my favorite, la ciambella, a large sugared doughnut.

But Salvatore brought me here for another reason.  Salvatore is twice my age and wiser.  He’s bored; bored at looking at the pretty ladies dressed elegantly, sensually draped in loose summer garments held by thin straps upon olive-skin shoulders.

“I’ve seen all the beautiful women I can take,” he says, “Let’s do something else.”

Near the fountain a small construction site litters an area with cement and PVC tubes that catch Salvatore’s eye.  “I’ve got an idea, come with me.”

At the site, Salvatore tells me, “Grab a tube, a small one not bigger than this,” and with his index finger curled and held by his thumb he makes a small circle the size of a marble, “Not bigger than that, va bene?”

Si Salvatore, but what are we doing?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.”

Anxious minutes pass before we are hidden from the piazza beneath many handsome palm leaves. All around us, people stroll with the casual air of carnivals.  Many old men and women, still trapped by customs, wear black as they mourn the loss of a loved one.  Families stroll in large groups and the children run around them like screaming satellites, chasing one another.  The smaller children, not allowed to run about, are attached at the wrist to a balloon of one sort or another.  Some balloons are yellow spheres; others are blue bunnies with long ears, while some sport Topolino—Mickey Mouse in red or green.  Amongst the children and elders many young people flirt with one another and, as teenagers do in Italy, they mass together and talk.

Hunkered below a ceiling of the minicuccu palms, Salvatore instructs me, “Bite down on one end of your tube, but not too hard, just a little like this.”  He bites down on the tip of his PVC tube and shows me where his teeth mark collapses the plastic pipe just a bit.  “Not too hard, piano.

I repeat the task under Salvatore’s watchful eye.

Bravo.  Now follow me and be very quiet.”

We climb the steep, dirt hill that rises to the piazza.  At the top, we hang low near one of the many green benches along the circumference of the piazza.  We are so close that we can hear the people above the noise of the local band plowing loudly into another ignored song.

Salvatore picks a small, brown date fallen from the palm trees and places it into his PVC tube.  He points to a young man flirting with a woman in a red dress that hugs her voluptuous form.  With the force of his breath his cheeks puff to an unusual size before the pellet launches and nails the young man.

AYA! PUTTANA!” The man, furious, searches for a culprit.  The woman is startled and scoots away while we snicker at the humiliation caused by the sting of Salvatore’s pellet.

Adesso tocca a te, now it’s your turn.”

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