Vivaldi and La Befana

Music is an intrinsic part of who I am, even though I am completely tone deaf, can’t sing even if my life depended on it, and most certainly can’t play an instrument. However, I write, cook and clean to music, and when I was still a student, I studied to it.

When in Manila, jazz or bossa music is my preferred choice, with a little new age to even things out. But in Florence, surrounded by all the remnants of antiquity, the medieval age, baroque and of course the renaissance, not to mention the cold winter air, this music is out of place. It is certainly no surprise that I turn to the classics again and listen to the notes of the great masters, understanding now with great clarity what inspired the notes, the music, the echoes, and why Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Photographed by Maike Herzog

In the same manner, I walk the very streets from which Dante Alighieri’s literature, Botticelli and and Michelangelo’s art originated, and feel embraced by the same walls and cobblestones that carry centuries of history. As I write this, I am nursing a nasty winter cold that has my head spinning and my nose all stuffed up, but Vivaldi and Puccini are keeping my spirits up. I should be down at the Duomo (Cathedral) or the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) with the rest of the city watching the Three Kings Calvalcade, a renown procession to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany wherein the participants are all dressed in their Renaissance attires, but I’m shivering at home with a hot mug of ginger tea. Maike and James are down there though, hoping to catch a glimpse of La Befana, the Christmas Witch. She reports of a medieval jester distributing candy, and wonder of wonders, a Filipino section of the parade! (Have I mentioned the large Filipino community here?) so I jokingly texted back to ask if they were represented the modern version of Filipino Christmas gift boxes known as the Balikbayan boxes?

As a child growing up in Mexico, the greatest day for children was January 6, when the Three Kings brought the new toys. To me it is a joy to be back in a country that places great importance on the Three Kings again (January 6 is a national holiday here) after the Catholic Church keeps downgrading the holiday. Over the years the Three Kings have been demoted to Three Wise Men, and then completely replaced by the Feast of the Epiphany. But there is a twist to the celebration here in Italy with the inclusion of La Befana. In South Germany you have the Winter Witch who is part of the Swabian-Alemanic Fastnacht carnival celebrations, but she is not part of Christmas. La Befana looks pretty similar to the Fastnacht witch but plays a very different role.

According to legend, on the night Jesus was born a great star shone in the sky and an old woman looked out of her cottage when a shepherd knocked on her door and asked for directions. Then the Three Kings knocked on her door next and asked for the same thing. She turned down the invitation to go along but had a change of heart and decided to run after the Three Kings after all, but got lost. Then, La Befana flies around on her broomstick searching for the Baby Jesus and distributes sweets and gifts to the children she encounters along the way. At least that is the version in Florence.


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