I was rather intrigued by a recent post from the Mayor of Vernazza – Cinque Terre about an old custom that started around the 1800’s – the benediga. It appears to be almost unique to Vernazza, and I remember some years back being surprised by sweets that rained from the heavens onto the Main Street of Vernazza as a bridal couple tossed them from a balcony above.
Enzo Resasco ( Mayor) writes : “This is one of many traditions that has remained unchanged in Vernazza and it would be nice to tell the many tourists who visiit here.When there is a wedding or a baptism, after the religious ceremony, the bride and groom or the godparents, from a balcony that overlooks either the square or along the main street of the village, throw “the benediga”…..
Often, the many tourists are suddenly caught up in the middle of a crowd of children, women and men from the village who bend down to pick up candies, chocolates, nuts, confetti raining down in torrents from the sky. Immediately it is difficult for them to understand what is happening. In their eyes you can see the wonder and perhaps a hint of fear, of seeing people gather, shouting and shoving, for this manna from the sky.”
Foto credit: http://vernazza-corniglia.com
Investigating further another Italian, Guido Allegrezza writes:
“A benediga worthy of respect, must “weigh” a total of at least 45 kg, evenly distributed between sweets, chocolates and confetti ( sugared almonds). In the past, when poverty was a daily reality, the benediga saw the launch of nuts and almonds festively wrapped…..Throwing 45 kilos of candy and confetti can take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the skill of the couple or godparents parents…..” and if ever caught up in this melee he suggests to be wary of the elderly who while not at a soccer match tend to fight for the sweets with almighty fury, elbows out and baskets and sacks on the ready. Locals scream and wave their arms then dive on the goodies as they fall – something of a pagan ritual, a homage ….,”he benediga gives concrete expression to the sense of belonging to the community,” a festive celebration of a key moment in the community….and a temporary belonging to the tourists surprised by the event!
The Mayor is very concerned about maintaining traditions and not letting economic interests of tourism override the social fibre of the community. He writes:
“The biggest mistake we can make with our tourists is to make them feel as if they were still in their own country. Street signs type Fast Food, Take Away, Sangria, Happy Hour. This is not what they want.
They want Italian spirit. They want to live the rhythms of Italian life and our rhythms are special. Sit on a bench or at a table in a bar along the main street or square or the Ventega, in the evening at sunset with a Cinque Terre Doc. They do not want the supermarket, do not look for any “Gardaland” effect. They want the small shop or the weekly market knowing that to be served will mean a queue and maybe waiting for the seller to finish his conversation with the old lady of the place.”
The Mayor is fighting something of an uphill battle to retain the authenticity and uniqueness of Vernazza overrun with mass tourism and slowly depopulating, changing its face…or at least putting new make up on.
Foto credit for Yesterday: www.vernazza-corniglia.com