How does a small village like San Bernardino, in the Cinque Terre, with only 10 permanent residents, 3 dogs and about 5 stray cats manage to keep its community alive? It has certainly been an experience being a part of this village, warmly welcomed each time I visit, and feeling the need to contribute whenever I can to this small community: helping with maintenance, lobbying the Mayor for better services and listening to the local grumbles. Volunteer labour is an essential part to keeping this village alive, which in the past rebuilt the entire church!
Best of all is helping out at any festivities which are now few and far between. Even our local bar has closed as the younger generation have found work elsewhere so the social meeting point is now sitting by the bus stop. Yet the locals have not lost their resilience and resist by having the world come to them, renting out their rooms and apartments to tourists during the season. When this generation disappear the village will only be for second home owners and tourists passing through unfortunately.
Yet San Bernardino is in the hearts of many, especially those from Corniglia as it is their Sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna. And at the festival to the Madonna early September a procession led by the local priest still hikes from Corniglia to celebrate. In fact it is the religious festivals which unite these communities (like many others throughout Italy) and bring back life and laughter to the hearts of all.
San Bernardino is entrenched in the heart of a local sculptor, Giuliano Carro, who having seen the public fountain moved to the opposite side of the church square thought something more spiritual should be placed on the space it left. So after months of study and work, and on finding a large sandstone boulder he took up his chisel and gave life to this statue: Madonna dei Tarsi
Described by the Mayor of Vernazza “as a work that is the result of the sweat of one of our artists who, out of pure passion, driven by boundless love for our places, without asking for anything, in all humility, and satisfied only by the ecstatic gaze of those who will linger and admire his finished work.”
Attendance at the inauguration was a must and with over a 100 people the air was charged with chit chat and laughter, like a huge family gathering. Young and old from Vernazza and Corniglia, and those who introduced themselves to me were invariably called ‘Basso‘ the family generated from this village.
The honor of unveiling the Madonna was given to the 3 oldest members of the community, looked on rather jealously by the two youngest members. And while Giuliano could hardly get the smile off his face, when asked by the Mayor to say a few words he responded “I am a man of few words, and work with my hands.” He did however share one of his poems for the occasion (read by another local!)
the sun has not yet dawned
your footprints leave little trace
while you caress
the earth under the moon
step by step, like always,
every day until evening
always thinking of your world
you are not afraid of it
for your life, when it ends
in every stone there is a memory
hands passed over a face
as a tear falls between the vines
to the moon, to the sun, to the stars
show your huge hands
hard hands, suffered yet true,
frank hands and outspoken words,
hands full of earth, yet never dirty,
huge hands, full of love
and his comment in the brochure- ‘Stop here for a moment and think about the difficulty and poverty but also the greatness and the dignity of the people that for centuries have shaped this earth. Think of their immense fatigue, their defeats, their will, their strength, their sweat. And then, if you want to, lay a flower, or say a Prayer.’
The crowd were almost moved to tears. My amateur video failed to capture the moment the drape fell as I had to join the grand applause and cheers that I am sure could be heard as far as the ferry boats chugging along down below!
It was time to party! You could not believe the amount of food and wine that was passed out to the tables, all volunteered from San B and Corniglia locals . Generous helpings served by us with pride and affection to all the visitors who ate happily in front of the most panoramic view of the Cinque Terre.
The music blared old favourite songs and the partying and dancing continued on into the night. That’s what brings and keeps this community together.