Finally, the clock turned and I reached the day of the Infiorata. No one went to bed that night, with all the teams frantically finishing their designs, and cleaning the areas when they were finished. Dozens of people were working on the larger designs, and dozens more were standing nearby, watching and photographing the progress. EVERYONE comes with a camera, so the crowds don’t move by very fast, when each person stops to compose a few shots at each design.
With our delay from Anna’s mother’s heart problem, by midnight we only had the design template drawn on the pavement with chalk. We were all standing by, waiting for Anna, who was the boss of the project this year.
I decided to keep up my “giros,” and kept making the rounds, walking back down the hill into the main square, photographing the progress of the many designs along the way. Only the children’s design was finished, since they had started early and then gone off to bed while parents and teachers guarded the final work.
Along the street, however, the line drawings were beginning to be filled in with flowers, and I was just one more person with a camera, watching the progress with each trip by the groups of workers. At times, and in tight places, the observers outnumbered the workers, and passage on the narrow street was nearly impossible until someone moved on.
Finally, at about 12: 30 a.m., our design was begun. Paper templates were pasted down only where the three “figures” would be: the face of Jesus, the hands of Jesus holding a man’s hand, and the hands of Jesus holding a child. These would be the guides for Paola and Anna, who would be the only ones working these areas, because of the artistic skills they had and we didn’t. Once the paper templates were down, they had to dry—so work began on the ribbons in the “knot” design, a good opportunity for those of us with no artistic skills to get working.
Dino, the husband of Graziella, made several “template” squares of steel, with designs that could be repeated over and over, and which would keep the petals separated in crisp lines when we began to fill the templates, and then pick them up and move them to the next spot on the ribbons (I think maybe Dino is the guy to know—he can make or repair ANYTHING. He and Graziella together are quite a team!)
We put out the flower petals in the cardboard flats, and got to work following Anna’s design. The work is slow, and the petals must be patted down in place, with the lines between colors kept straight and without spillover from other colors.
Members of the squadra chose locations in the design where they could work independently, and slowly the color began to fill the piazza. Graziella was giving the orders to most of the workers, including the twins, and Dorotea and Daniela.
I was floating around the action with my camera, but often on one of the foam pads, on my knees, helping out. Dino’s son, Massimo, had been a part of the group of men chalking the design onto the pavement, and then stayed to do a huge portion of the petal work. He was just “head down, elbows up” for the night, and clearly was not a stranger to this work.
Graziella had promised the team “pasta a mezzanotte,” our midnight pasta break, but it was delayed while the team waited to get started. Not only was her garage all set with chairs for all the women working there, with denim covers for our laps to protect our clothing, cushions for the chairs, benches for our feet to be elevated, and all the tools and cardboard flats and the shredding machine—but she had a small stove in the garage, and uncovered it to get the pasta sauce bubbling and the pasta water boiling. When it was time to serve, I estimate she served 30 people a good portion of pasta, making certain that everyone was “fueled up” for the rest of the night. Apparently, this is a tradition to have midnight pasta together, but no one offered wine—we had work to do, so it was sparkling water, instead.
Arianna and her friend were there, working along with all the adults and the twins, who were about Arianna’s age. The ribbon patterns were all done using Dino’s steel templates, and then it was a matter of putting down the right colors, and following the plan. Still, the work takes many hours, even with nearly 15 people working away in the night. Each time I came back from another trip to see the other designs, I got my foam cushion for my knees and found a simple task that I was capable of doing for the team. Leonardo insisted on taking my camera for a shot, and so I have one bit of proof that I was actually one of the squadra, putting the ginestra we had picked the previous morning down as the solid yellow of the ribbon design. Dino showed me how to use the stick as the border, to make the flowers settle with a sharply straight edge, and we worked together for about an hour.
Just about that time, Paola got started on the face of Jesus, since the paper template was now dry. I’m not certain where these prints were made, but they were about 6 feet in height, and were photocopies of the photo of the Pieta’ in the Vatican and other works of art that were the sources for the three central medallions. Paola carried all of the materials from the garage that were reserved for these three images, and Leonardo was at her side, doing all he could to make certain that she had what she needed to work. She has been sidelined by severe tendonitis in her right elbow, but there was no option but to use her for the artistic creations, and she had saved her arm for this moment.
The design on the template was barely visible, in low light, but she started out using the smaller photocopy, and began laying down materials over the paper base.
As she worked, the rest of the design was coming together, planned to leave space for Paola and Anna to work on the three central medallions. I kept returning to Paola, trying to chronicle the work she was doing, and seeing the face of Jesus slowly becoming visible in her work.
I left for another tour of town, and found crews busy everywhere, racing the clock to complete their designs by morning, when the judges would be passing and choosing the award-winning designs.
Now, at every design, the light mood had changed to serious work-in-progress, with no time for joking around or making frivolous mistakes. The black outlines were being filled in on those designs which had the paper templates, and the “art” of the Infiorata was becoming evident. The crews in tents had good light, but some of the other squadras had a few bulbs, or streetlights, or a spotlight to help them to see what they were doing. In the narrow streets, there were no other light sources from businesses or bars or restaurants, so lighting was an issue for them.
People of all ages were working on the designs, too. Sprawled out on the pavement of the town square, one man was completing the edge of a checkerboard design, in what could not have been “comfort.”
More and more of the designs became alive with color, and the same flowers and plant materials were used, but the designs were vastly different, as were the mixes of the flowers in the designs.
Giorgia’s team was well on the way by 1 or 2 a.m., with most of the Christ figure finished in the middle of the design. Care must be taken to work from the center outward, so that finishing one part of the pattern does not destroy parts already completed, and the workers have an “escape route” from the center of the design.
The workers were using tweezers, plastic cards, and small sticks to straighten up the edges of each color, so that the transitions were crisp and without any (unintentional) mixing of colors.
Near the top of the town, and not far from our design, the figures of two starving African children were emerging on the pavement, with ribs showing and with pleading eyes. The rest of that design was a full refrigerator (“frigoriforo’), showing the plenty of the rest of us in tandem with the want of starving children. The use of the seeds, bark and petals to create these children was fascinating to watch, and I returned over and over to see the progress of the design.
Paola, meanwhile, was still working on the face of Jesus, and much progress had been made, if slowly. I admit to fascination at watching her work, and seeing the mix that would make the tone she needed. She was pushing petals around, adding ground bark, looking for a mix to give her an intermediate color—all in the wee hours, on hands and knees, with her sore elbow. The design, though, was beautiful—and I shot close-up shots to show you how the petals and ground bark were mixed to become this familiar face.
As Paola finished the face design, I was beginning to have “sinkers,” where I was just about losing consciousness because of so little sleep for so many days in a row. I nearly dropped my camera on the ground, and realized that it was time for me to get some sleep. I had been downloading photos and charging batteries and purging blurred shots when the others went off to bed, trying to keep ahead of the job of making the slide show I hoped to create to show the squadra the story of their few days with me. I had no choice but to get some sleep, so I went back to the B&B for a few hours at 4 a.m.
I was awake again at 6, rushing outside to see what I had missed. The ribbon tail was finished, leading from the B&B through the arch to the piazza in front of the convent, where the big design was located.
The face of Jesus was complete, and already surrounded by other parts of the design, now that the workers could get into the area without disturbing Paola.
She was just beginning on the infant in the hands of Jesus, but Anna had completed the other medallion, which featured the hands of Jesus holding the hands of a man.
Graziella invited me up to her balcony, above the garage where we had been working for days, and I got to see and photograph the design from a high perspective. (Later, seeing Stefano’s photos, he had climbed to the roof!)
Paola was finishing up the last feature piece, and Leonardo and Dorotea were collecting the empty cardboard flats, and sweeping up any petals that had spilled near the design.
I took a little tour of the work I had missed. The hands of Jesus were apparent, from the stigmata, in Anna’s work on one of the art pieces. Nearby, I took a shot of the ribbon design, to show the petals and components. The white are petals from the margueritas, the pink ones are from pink carnations (“garafano”), and the green is the fragrant shredded fennel leaves. In another part of the design, the texture of the “ginestra” (fresh Scotch Broom) was apparent next to the fiordalisi blue, the red carnation petals, and the two shredded leaves: one the light wisteria, and the other the dark leaves with the silver backs.
(end of part one, maybe!)