Living the Dream

The Longest of Days
2nd July 2015

 

I was determined not to miss a moment of the festival today so I woke up at the crack of dawn, literally. I had seen the itinerary and it was scheduled to start at 5am. I sneaked out the room a little later than that trying my best not to wake Julie up as she hadn't signed up to this early rise.

It was a glorious morning and such a wonderful feeling to have the place entirely to myself. It was one of those "Life is Beautiful" moments. The Sassi looked stunning as the sun, freshly risen over the Murgian hills, casted a warm glow over the pale rock.

After admiring nature's light show I walked down the steps to the Via Madonna delle Virtu and went in search of some festivities.

The itinerary said that it all kicked off at 5am with a canon blast but I hadn't heared one. The Sassi or at least this part was desserted. However far from disappointed, walking along the edge of the La Gravina gorge all on my own was reward enough for getting up at this ridiculous time.

An intense sense of tranquility washed over me and I slipped into a day dream. The solitude was blissful.

Once my brief moment of contemplation came to an end I decided to go looking a little further for signs of someone getting the party started.

Without another soul to disturb me I walked beyond where we parked the car yesterday to where I saw in the near distance the Church of San Pietro Caveoso standing precariously at the cliff's edge and beneath a rocky outcrop which contained the preserved "cave church" of Madonna de Idris

I did meet someone. They were about to open up their store. "Buongiorno" I greeted. "Buongiorno" they echoed.

I continued to gaze out over the valley. Behind San Pietro, across the gorge, perched on the edge of the precipe Matera literally emerged out of the rock. It was an undeveloped district called Sasso Caveoso and it looked almost neolithical.

It was easy to see why the film industry has used here as a location for so many films. The most famous is probably Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ where Matera doubles up as Jerusalem 28AD.

I returned back to the steps of the hotel and sat down.

The festival's schedule had said the "procession of the shepherds" was due to pass this way so I just had to be patient.

Then the silence was suddenly broken with the loudest blast I had ever heard. BOOM. The entire place shook and the shock waves reverberated all around. Seconds later startled birds flew out over the gorge to safety.

"It's not 5am is it?" I questioned myself thinking perhaps I had mixed up the hour difference with home.

I hadn't. It was only 6am.

Soon afterwards people started appearing. Only a few, slowly walking in the direction of San Pietro Caveoso.

It was still incredibly peaceful. With the exception of one tiny Fiat 500 and a couple of mopeds the road was free of vehicles.

After about half an hour of sitting on the steps I got up and joined the trickle of people. Then when I got to Piazza San Pietro a small crowd had gathered. No more than thirty I would say.

They were all standing around waiting for something to happen so I joined them.

Slowly but surely more and more people appeared until Piazza San Pietro was full to rafters. Every conveivable vantage point overlooking the square was taken.

It was quite a sight to see.

My expectation rose as I thought all these people wouldn't be here to just watch a few sheep get walked around the city.

Then without fuss or fanfare they arrived, in amongst a flood of people pouring into the square were five or six sheep accompanied by a donkey and a flock of shepherds (if that's the correct collective term).

There was no cheering or applauding. They simply arrived in the square and continued their way through the crowd until they came to a stop a little further up the road.

We knew who were the shepherds and who were the sheep botherers as the shepherds were dressed in rustic peasant ware.

Legend has it the festival's origins dates back a thousand years but it was first documented in 1389 when the pope declared that Matera should celebrate a local vision of the Virgin Mary.

Whilst the procession of the shepherds apparently heralds back to when the local herders would get up at dawn to celebrate the festival before they went to work.

Immediately behind them walked a standard bearer shepherd carrying a banner of the Madonna or Maria Santissima della Bruna to give her her official title.

I went to have a closer look.

Sheep are notoriously stupid animals but they do like to follow each other which makes it a little easier for them to be herded.

However as an insurance policy these ones had been loosely tethered to each other so they could do nothing but stick together.

The sheep were surprisingly calm to think they were in the middle of all this commotion. Even the donkey was well behaved. I wondered if they had gone throught some crowd desensitised training?

A few curious people like myself came to have a look, some touched the sheep on the head but they weren't the centre of attention.

I could sense the mood back in the piazza was building up into a crescendo before literally erupting when these guys strapped with fireworks set themselves alight and rampaged through the crowd.

The atmosphere was electrifying. I wasn't in the thick of it but I still felt the excitement. It was so thrilling, my heart raced, my skin goosebumped and I couldn't stop smiling. It left me breathless.

I couldn't imagine how exhilarating it would be right in the piazza amongst the green shirted pyromaniacs. Those firecrackers were deafenning.

Before the smoke had even settled the crowd was on the move. I knew the planned route was to continue along Via Madonna delle Virtu past the steps to our hotel so I raced them back. Like the proverbial Olympic walker I easily outpaced them all reaching Sextantio in minutes.

I waited for them to catch up but they didn't, well not immediately anyway.

I decided to pop back up to the room to see if Julie was awake and if she wanted to come and share the experience. To my surprise she was and she did. She got dressed and we quickly returned back down to the road where the crowd still hadn't reached us.

"Where are they all?" asked Julie.

I began to worry that they had taken an alternative route, although I couldn't imagine how.

It soon became clear they stopped once again, this time at Porta Pescola (the car park just around the corner), to let off a bit more steam with a few more explosions.

When the first people began to trickle through we decided to move up onto the hotel steps. It was a great idea, the elevated position was prefected to see the whole "procession".

Despite already having seen the crowds in Piazza San Pietro I was still surprised by the amount of people pouring down Via Madonna dei Virtu. There must have been thousands.

The mass exodus of Materians even impressed a bleary eyed Julie. It was a remarkable sight to see.

It seemed the entire city march past.

People of all ages were taking part, young and old strolling down the road following the shepherds.

Although the donkey and the sheep weren't exactly leading the procession, they engulfed by the horde. However, it was quite easy to spot them. You only needed to find the banner being carried aloft behind them.

As they shuffled past I couldn't help thinking about Julie's meal last night and think her local lamb was probably more likey to be tough old local mutton.

We had another good chuckle about it, especially the bit where not even the dog would eat it!

The sheep banner wasn't the only object being carried amongst the crowd. A little further towards the back was the image of the Madonna della bruna, an oil painting of the madonna holding a child.

It was a very dark painting and many believe the "della bruna" comes from her dark complexion in the artwork.

Her bodyguards were a superfluity of priests (yes that is a real word) and it was all jollied along by a small wind orchestra.

We looked in both directions and there was an unbroken stream of people for as far as the eye could see.

When the end was in sight we returned to out hotel. It was 8am and the perfect time for breakfast.

In the large cave, the one which was home to family and its donkey (we were told once again in case we had forgotten.) there were two buffet tables laid out. One filled with savoury choices of focaccia, cheeses and traditional pastries and the other filled with sweet choices of pies, tarts and more pastries.

We both headed to the savoury choices where my eyes almost popped out when I saw what was on offer. I had plenty to choose from and I filled my plate. It was breakfast heaven.

The burratina was sublime, the fresh ricotta was delightful, the potato topped focaccia was heavenly as was the courgette version but then the warm pastry filled with red pepper and mozzarella was just the most delicious thing I’ve ever had for breakfast!

Once I had cleared my plate I walked over to the sweet table, had a good look before returning to the savoury choices and filling up on another plate full.

Stuffed and content we returned to our room where we tried to catch up on some sleep. It was a few hours later before we resurfaced ready to continue with our day.

We set off back down Via Madonna di Virtu towards Piazza San Pietro.

Along the way we noticed the caves on the oppostite side of the gorge. These were proper caves, they didn't have front doors and windows. Although we wouldn't have been surprised if they were also habitated. They would have had a great view of Matera from there!

There was one place in Matera I wanted to visit above all else and that was the Church of Santa Maria de Idris. The whole of the Sassi is an UNESCO World Heritage site but there is special mention for the Rupestrian Cave Churches which Santa Maria de Idris is one.

Actually there's another one some six miles outside of Matera which I wanted to visit even more. It's known for it's fresco of the Original Sin, the whole Adam and Eve, the apple and the serpent scene.

Unfortuntely it seemed you could only go as part of a scheduled tour and they were all fully booked weeks ago. Never mind, I was still excited about Idris, partially because Idris is a familiar Welsh name, we even have a mountain named it. (Cadair Idris)

I was also inspired by Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli and his art historian friend who visited the church whilst filming their journey around Italy.

It was such a coincidence because it was on the TV only a week or so after we had booked out trip. I took it as a good omen that I was going to make it and here we were today looking up at the craggy rock. Oh how I smiled.

Julie took one look at the climb and decided she didn't want to see it that much. So she sat outside a small bar on the corner of Piazza San Pietro whilst I went on alone.

The steps up weren't too strenuous as they rose sometimes literally over and above the rooftops. I skipped up with excitement.

When I reached the top and after all the anticipation it was so disappointing to find it was shut.

I couldn't believe it! Today along with Christmas Day were the only two days of the year it wasn't open. I consoled myself knowing that at least we were still here tomorrow and I could try again.

The climb up wasn't all in vain however because the view from here was amazing.

You could see why Matera has often been chosen as a film location. It looked like a place that time forgot. Hollywood arrived with Mel Gibson for The Passion of Christ as the city doubled up as Jerusalem.

I've also heared rumours that a remake of Ben Hur is also to be filmed here. It is certainly an unique location.

Back down the steps I skipped but now only half disappointment and half laughing to myself.

I returned to Julie who was shocked to see me so soon. She hadn't even finished her Coke Zero!

It was now 12pm. I knew that according to the festival's schedule the next event was to take place in Piazza San Francesco so we made our way along the ever fascinating streets of the Sassi.

The road gradually climbed up until we reached Piazza Giovanni Pascoli where in the corner I noticed there was an openning. It was a balcony, a viewing point from which it looked out over where we had just walked and on to the Church of Santa Maria di Idris.

It was yet another wonderful view of this most fscinting city.

I couldn't tire of looking at it but with one eye on the clock I didn't loiter for long. Julie had already marched on ahead. I caught her up as we strode with purpose through the square down Via Domenico Ridola reaching Piazza San Francesco right on time, 12:30pm precisely.

It was incredibly busy in the square. The focus was on the Baroque facade of the Church of San Francesco D'Assisi. According to records Francis of Assisi visited Matera in 1218 which is good enough reason to name drop the religious superstar and have a church in his honour.

All the focus was on the church because inside the statue of the Madonna Maria Santissima della Bruna was being prepared for a ceremonial procession from here to another church the other side of Matera.

We joined the throng waiting with great anticipation.

The first sign of activity came when this man in a very fancy dress costume came out of the church to a smattering of polite applause. He was very dandy, quite the peacock.

He wore on his head a golden helmet with a large white plume jutting upwards. Over his shoulders hung a dark green cape embroidered with a gold thread complete with oversized shoulder lapels with long golden tassles. He was the proverbial knight in shining armour with his golden breast-plate sparkling in the sun.

He wasn't the only ceremonial kinght on duty. There were four other gaily dressed men. Their uniform differed slightly but only in colour, silver armoury, red plume, blue cape but essentially it was the same outfit.

He was however the Generale dei Cavalieri, the chief in command and he went by the name of Angelo Raffaele Tataranni.

He made his way across the square and joined the other knights on horseback. All the horses were stunning black stallions and were equally elaborately dressed. One had a bridle full of flowers. We joined everyone in waiting for the statue to leave the church. Not a lot was happening so I went to take a closer look at the five knights of Matera.

Their purpose here was to escort the statue of the Madonna della Bruna from the Church of St. Francis of Assisi to the church of Maria Santissima Annunziata over in the Piccianello district of Matera.

Legend has it that some of these armours were handed down from generation to generation within the same family and worn every year since the festival's inception.

 

I doubt that very much, expecially their shiny helmets. They didn't look older than six years old let alone six hundred!

I certainly didn't envy them. It was very warm directly in the sun and they were all men of a certain age. Heat exhaustion was a real concern. I couldn't begin to imagine how hot the knights were beneath their precious metal hats. I'm sure you could have fried an egg on the peak of their helmets.

 The longer they were made to wait for Lady Madonna to appear the more chance there was of a casualty.

Most carried swords but one knight had a bugle which he tooted every now and then. I don't know it they were false alarms but it didn't signal the arrival of the statue of Maria.

Then without warning or fanfare out came this tiny little doll held high above everyone.

"Is that it?" I thought. It looked like a tiny tears doll dressed in white with a dark brown wig and an oversized crown on its head. She disappeared into the crowd.

I felt it was all rather disappointing until I realised that this was the "child" as in the image of the madonna with the child. Although I was still a little confused as it didn't look much like the baby Jesus.

I didn't have to ponder for long as the "mother" was soon on her way. There was great excitement around the square as Maria Santissima della Bruna appeared.

She glided gracefully down the church steps carried on the shoulders of suited dignatories. The statue was similarly dressed to the child in a white robe, long brown hair and an over sized crown on her head.

Progress was slow through the adoring crowd as they gradually made their way towards a horse drawn cart that waited to carry her to her eponymous church. We were all getting in the way trying to get our photograph of the moment. I was as guilty as anyone.

I loved being right in the middle of all the comotion.

When she disappeared from view Julie and I moved to try to continue seeing her. Many others had the same idea and getting a view of the procession wasn't easy. Some took to climbing walls and hanging onto olive trees to get a better view.

We decided to stand at the top of some steps where we had a clear view of the start of the convoy.

"The statue will eventually come past us" suggested Julie which made a lot of sense. It wasn't long to wait before the brass band began to strike up a tune and the horse drawn carts began to roll forwards.

The first cart was filled with VOVIPs, very old very important people, sweating profusely. Dressed in their smartest suit there was a touch of the Godfathers about them.

They were closely followed by a very pious cart filled with four bishops all dressed in purple which was then closely followed by the Archbishop Salvotore Ligorio holding baby Jesus and looking a like a very bad ventriliquist act.

Then Maria Santissima della Bruna arrived. She was securely fixed onto the cart. She needed to be as they came to a sudden stop and then rocked back and forth as the cart got off to a shuddering start.

She stood upright with her arms outstretched in the middle of a beautiful floral display.

We had a clear view of her and were fortunate that they stopped right in front of us for quite some time whilst they sorted out the reason for the delay at the front of the procession. It was a great opportunity to have a closer look at the statue.

They eventually moved on and the band piped up. The procession was to take them down Via del Corso and into Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

So we decided to follow them but used the parallel side street of Via delle Beccherie to reach the square before they did.

The square was absolutely packed with people trying to catch a glimpse of their patron saint. We couldn't get anywhere near.

You could feel the atmosphere charge with excitement and when she entered the square there was great elation. Even from the back row it was infectious.

All this excitement had made us hungry and our thoughts turned to lunch.

As if it were pre-ordained we turned to leave and noticed a small sign for a restaurant down a narrow alleyway called Vico San Guisseppe leading away from the piazza.

It was called il Terrazzino sui Sassi and we found it down some steps that opened out onto a small terrace with a great view over the old town. What a great location, a true hidden gem.

When we arrived there was one table left and it was the best one in the house, positioned right next to the edge.

We ordered a bruschetta to start. They placed it on the ledge because my pasta dish arrived at the same time. It was quite precarious and one slight fumble would have sent it over.

It tasted perfect.

The bread was crunchy, laced with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, topped with the sweetest of tomatoes, some instensely flavoured basil leaves and just a hint of balsamic vinegar.

I would have been happy if that was all that I had for lunch but I still had my pasta.

I had chosen a local speciality, another pasta shape I had not heared of before. It was called Foglie d'Ulivo which translates as Olive Leaf which was a pretty good description of the long flat shape and green colour of the pasta.

They were clearly hand-made as the shapes were irregular. Covered lightly in a basic tomato sauce it was simplicity at its most delicious.

Julie had to sit and watch me eat my bruschetta and pasta before her grilled pork fillet arrived. She enjoyed it despite it being a lot thinner cut than she was used to. The flavours were good.

It was such a beautiful spot to eat our lunch that we weren't in any rush to leave. We even ordered dessert and coffees to extend our stay.

The waiter was very proud of their home-made gelato so I chose the pistachio and truffle ice cream. I was thinking "what an odd combinaton" expecting a strange nutty mushroom flavour but the truffle refered to the chocolate truffle in the centre of the creamy pistachio ice cream and it tasted sublime.

The bill came to €34 which we thought was very good value for the quality of the food which also included a half carafe of wine.

After lunch we returned to our cave room for a siesta. It was going to be a late night tonight so we needed to bank up some sleep. With the room being so dimly lit it was quite easy to fall asleep and I think we got a good four hours of it.

Feeling refreshed we ventured out for part 3 of Matera's longest day, the frenzied climax.

Whilst we had been in the land of nod the festival had been continuing and the image of Maria della Bruna would have been transfered onto a large paper mache chariot and paraded through the town.

It was around 8pm and the sun was just setting. We followed the steps up to Piazza del Duomo where it was a beautiful glow.

Traditionally on this day this square would have been the focus of the festival but because of the renovation work to the cathedral it has temporarily moved to Piazza San Francesco. I'm guessing they are aiming to have it all completed by 2019 when Matera will become the European Capital of Culture.

Tonight there was only a smattering of people watching the sky change colour and the Sassi below fall into the shade.

We returned to our favourite little square back to our favourite little bar.

Sat on Bar Sedile's flimsy aluminium chairs sipping our glass of cheap spumante and a Poretti beer (which I'd not heared of before) the slice of potato focaccia we ordered arrived simply wrapped in a paper napkin. No cutlery not even a plate. Some foods are meant to be eaten with your hands

We just loved this unpretentiousness. It was a bonus that everything was so delicious.

There was some serious people watching tonight. The entire population of Matera seemed to be out doing the evening walk.

It was a wonderful atmosphere.

A yound boy was playing his squeeze-box going from table to table collecting donations for his own charity. Normally this kind of begging doesn't make me reach into my pockets but for this street wise kid I made an exception. His music was adding to the great vibe.

He only got 80c from me but almost every table he stopped at gave him something.

We moved on to Piazza Vittorio Venetto which was buzzing. The police were already in position to keep a clear way through the square for when the float carrying the image of the Madonna della Bruna comes back through here. We mingled for a while.

We were unsure of what to do next. Perhaps we could hang around in the square to make sure we were in the front row for when the destruction of the float happened.

It wasn't scheduled for another hour and a half so we decided against it.

Instead the delicious food and incredible location of restaurant Il Terrazzino was calling us.

Once again we were in luck, despite not having a reservation there was a table outside for us. We thought it was a lovely spot this afternoon but it was even more romantic in the evening.

We sat there holding hands and gazing not into each others eyes but across the illuminated houses of the old town. It felt so good to be here.

I went for a pizza topped with local mushrooms known as cardoncelli.

I'm often very critical of other peoples pizzas to the point that I usually don't bother ordering it. I've been on a pizza pilgrimage to Naples and I have made hundreds of my own so I have quite strong opinions on what constitutes a good pizza.

As for this one there was far too much cheese on it which flowed like molten lava. However the intense mushroom flavour was absolutely sensational and made it all worth eating.

Julie went for the Gambieri arrosto. They were five large juicy prawns. She really likes prawns but these critters were still whole and she struggled with the dirty job of eating them.

She could hardly bring herself to rip off their heads, winced whilst cracking open their shells and then shuddered with revulsion when attempting the difficlut task of delicately deveining them.

It hardly seemed worth the effort but she did enjoy them in the end.

Once again it was great value at €35.

We returned to Piazza Vittorio Veneto where a flood of people had filled the square to bursting point.

Our timing couldn't have been better as within a few minutes there was an incredible surge of excitement signalling the arrival of the Madonna della Bruna onboard the trifonale, her ceremonial float.

I wasn't too sure what to expect. I knew that local artists built the float from scratch every year and that it was largely made from plaster and papier-mâché.

As it was destined to be torn apart at the end of the evening I really wasn't expecting anything fancy.

It then glided into view... "Oh, wow!" I gasped.

It's no exaggeration that I was left breathless. I just couldn't believe how spectacular it appeared.

It was also suprisingly large. I would have said it was longer than two double decker buses where along its length several dramatic scenes were played out.

In the front, leading the charge, was a flock of angels holding on to the tail feathers of a solitary white dove in full flight as if it were single-handedly pulling the entire triumphal chariot.

Behind them was an exceptionally ornate structure like a marble tomb, highly decorated with baroque detail.

It was crowned with a globe and on all the four corners there were angels and cherubs. You could almost hear the Hallelujah ringing in your ears!

It was followed by the nativity scene of the shepherds being visited by the angels. They were stood by a well next to a large palm tree.

The detail was amazing. It looked like the well was made of genuine stone and the palm tree was real.

Then at the back came the madonna with the child in her ams positioned up on a pedestal, higher than all the rest.

Apparently the elaborate design differs each year. It was simply an astonishing work of art, all the more incredible knowing its fate.

As the float slowly rolled through the square and up Via del Corso we followed it (along the parallel street again) to Piazza San Francesco.

At every crossing it stopped to give the public enough time to have a good look.

At each crossing I couldn't resist just nipping down the side street to get closer. It was only here did we realise that the trifonale was pulled by horses. We didn't see them back in the melee of the main square.

We seemed to be the only ones attempting to follow the float and getting into Piazza San Francesco was fastly becoming a challenge. There were thousands of people lining the route and our direct path was blocked.

Standing still wasn't an option so we headed through Piazza Sedile to get back to the square before the float arrived.

We were stood near to the steps of the church of San Francesco but couldn't get anywhere near to have a decent view of the float. However the authorities had kindly put up a big screen for us to see what was happening.

The tifonale arrived and then circled around three times which had some ritual meaning before coming to a stop. It was really odd watching on television whilst just catching a glimpse of it some hundred metres away.

We continued to watch whilst a local handyman turned up with his tool box to carefully detach the statue of the madonna from the float.

It seemed to be taking forever so we left the square and had a drink in Bar Sedile.

I went inside to order my drink and the old guy who hardly spoke any English pointed up to a piece of painted plywood on the wall which he had torn from the tifonale back in the day when he was a yonger man and the action took place in Piazza Duomo.

He was filled with a strange combination of pride and embarrasment at his youthfull exhuberence.

We sat outside and enjoyed some premium people watching whilst sipping our glasses of spumante and beer. Some ten minutes later we heard loud cheering and clapping from Piazza San Francesco.

I knew this probably meant that they had finally untethered the Madonna della Bruna from her chariot. Julie was quite happy where she was but I couldn't resist. I had to get up to have a look.

Once again my timing was impecable as I arrived in time to watch her being carried back up the steps into the church.

It was quite a solemn and diginified moment and a reminder that this was of course a religious festival.

Once she was inside the church I left, returning to Bar Sedile to rejoin Julie where we finished our drinks and continued to watch the world go by.

It wasn't long before it was 10:30pm, the scheduled time the float was due back in Piazza Vittorio Veneto for the finale. So we walked down Via delle Biccheri one more time. When we reached the main square we could hardly get in. People were still pouring in from every avenue.

Every conceivable higher ground had been claimed, steps, window ledges, a slight incline had all been taken.

Every balcony was bursting with onlookers. They had the best view of all. We were so envious. We reached a point where we literally couldn't get any further.

Our view was restricted by the fact we weren't even in the square but a little bit around the corner still on Via delle Biccheri.

Julie's view was restricted even further given her 5ft 2in frame. She resigned herself to not seeing much.

Her whole life she has had to accept that when standing in a crowd she'll never get to see what's at the front.

At 5ft 10in I'm about average height which was proven to be the case tonight as pretty much every male was just as tall.

However utilising my yoga skills I could stand on tip toes for a few minutes at a time gaining several imches and getting a clear view across the square.

We all waited patiently for the triumphal chariot to arrive. It was scheduled for 10:30pm but it was well over 45 minutes late.

All the while the anticipation was immense and incredibly exhilarating.

Then as the float travelled down Via del Corso we could here the cheering getting louder and louder until it drove at high speed into the piazza.

The whole place erupted and a surge of energy blasted outwards.

It came to a sudden stop and within seconds people were swarming all over the float.

It disappeared from view beneath a tidal wave of enthusiastic revellers tearing off pieces for themselves as tokens of good luck.

They call it the "strazzo" and say it represents a story around the sacking of the town by the Saracens in the 10th century.

Legend has it that the Saracens stole the statue of the Madonna whisking her away on her purpose built cart. The Materians recaptured her and destroyed the cart so that she could be so easily removed again.

So today that destruction of the cart is re-enacted.

It wasn't long before the first pillagers were making their way out of the square with their hard earned plunder.

Pieces of the trifonale were being carried away in all directions. Heading our way was an angel wing held high above the crowd.

Whilst the frenzied looters jumped all over the chariot with only one thing on their minds the crowd away from the melee was calm and respectful. They even parted to let the angel wings through.

A few tried to touch the angel wings as it passed as if some of that good luck would rub off onto them.

More pieces followed but the longer time went by the smaller and less dramatic they became.

It wasn't long before the riot police arrived.

I didn't see any violence, not even at the front, everything seemed good natured.

Even the police themselves, with their helmets and shields ready for action, were laughing and joking as they made their way to the front.

Their arrival coincided with our decision to leave. The destruction of the float was still going on but we had experienced enough of the craziness to be happy to leave.

We caught up with the angel wings. The young lad was stood there admiring his piece of history. His curly haired friend was dancing for joy beside him.

Compared to the torn piece of painted card up on the wall of Bar Sedile this wing was a major tophy. I'm sure his mother was proud of him when he brought it home.

Unlike the mother of the another kid who had somehow managed to make off with a whole palm tree.

We imagined his mother's displeasure as he carried a whole papier-mâché palm tree into the living room trying to find some space for it in the corner.

All the way down Via delle Biccheri young men were celebrating their strazzo posing for photographs with their friends.

I stopped to photograph one pair who made me laugh.

One guy had a very succesful raid returning with three fabulous items, a golden pine cone, a complete cherub and the white dove from the very front. He had every right to look pleased.

In contrast his friend held up a torn piece of painted card trying his best to share the limelight.

We continued all the way up to Piazza Duomo where we took some time to look back across the sassi down towards the bright lights of Piazza Vittorio Veneto where the party was continuing.

The schedule for the Festa delle Bruna concluded with a firework display at midnight.

Silvio had said that we could watch it all from the comfort of the hotel. Usually I wouldn't believe the word of staff encouraging you to stay at their hotel but he seemed geniunely sincere when he insisted the view from Sextantio was as good as anywhere.

We sat outside the breakfast room on the only chairs available. Silvio kindly brought us a drink each whilst we waited for the display. It was a cold beer and a spumante although two black coffees would have been a better idea as we struggled to stay awake.

Silvio brought out benches from the breakfast room as more guests arrived. Several members of staff also turned up. They weren't on duty tonight, they just decided to come to the hotel to watch the fireworks.

It certainly highlighted the comaraderie between them. They all seemed very good friends.

In Matera they describe this as their New Year celebrations, the climax of twelve months of preparing towards the Festa delle Bruna and the start of planning for the next.

It was almost 1am, an hour late, when it began but it was well worth the wait.

To describe the firework display as spectacular would be an understatement. Some of the explosions were absolutely stunning.

Beautiful cascades of light filled the sky and literally took our breath away. They left us in complete awe.

They were followed by intricate shapes that were so creative we were utterly baffled as to how they were even possible. Heart shapes and flowers were painted in bright light onto the dark night sky.

It was so impressive I spent most of the time with my mouth wide open.

We've not been to a firework display in years. In fact I can't even remember the last one. Back home we usually only have fireworks on Bonfire Night which is the 5th November when the weather is without fail cold, wet and windy.

Now this was the way to enjoy a fireworks display.

It lasted a full half hour. It finished with a flourish and an almighty bang. Then silence. It was time for bed. It had been a very long day.

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