The Big Weekend came as always, punctual as a Swiss watch, the highlight of summer, the party everyone was waiting for – the “Festa della Madonna di San Marco”. From Thursday 11th of July to Sunday 14th, it was an explosion of market stalls, funfair, local band concerts, fireworks, lottery tickets, rolls and “piadine” ( thin italian flatbread) filled with suckling pig on a spit, and last but not least…….religion. Yes, because the fun and games revolve around the religious and cultural focal point not only of Bedonia, but of the whole province of Parma and beyond. We are naturally talking about the Basilica, commonly known by all as “Madonna di San Marco”, but originally called “Madonna della Consolazione”, and the Episcopal Seminary beside it.
Every second Wednesday of July, you can observe the enormous trucks laboriously plodding up the hill leading to the square next to the Basilica, where the funfair is located. Then the owners of the carousels deftly begin to assemble their machines, and by Thursday evening all is ready and operative. The population of Bedonia and roundabouts, which had been waiting impatiently for the ball to start rolling, are up there in a flash for the first rides of the year, for the ritual binge of piadine which do not have the same taste anywhere else….
On Saturday morning, our regular market day, in addition to the usual faces, the town center brims with other colorful stalls selling everything and anything from shoes to olives, frying pans to wallets. Come Saturday afternoon, the stalls relocate, lining the sloping road leading to the Basilica, where the real action is; it’s wild up there….the funfair is in full swing with music at ear-piercing volume, and people are just everywhere like busy ants, scouring the stalls in the hope of finding a bargain, or something unusual to take home. At this moment of the year there are many tourists in Bedonia, be they family of locals or simply visitors, and our little town is literally swarming with outsiders admiring our little haven and its surroundings. And in this weekend, the enormous turn-out transforms the fiera into an extraordinary event for socializing, great for a meeting place with friends, but also for bumping into long-lost acquaintances, not heard from in months (and sometimes you preferred it that way!!)
Getting back to the religious aspect, mass is held in the magnificent Basilica both in the morning and in the afternoon, and often the bishop himself might preside. Meetings are sometimes organised in the Seminary to discuss important religious/cultural themes during these four days, always interesting. On Sunday afternoon, at around 5pm, the local Glenn Miller Band, directed by M° Daniele Cacchioli, takes its place on the steps in front of the Basilica and whops out a brilliant concert before an enraptured audience. The band’s mixed components are all children/teenagers/young adults and adults mainly from Bedonia, who do an excellent job thanks to the Maestro’s great competence. The evening carries on amongst laughs and screams from daredevils who love the adrenalinic flights offered by the forever changing machines of the funfair, and at around midnight (depending on the weather), Bedonia’s big party winds up with a bang – literally! Expert technicians are brought in to provide an amazing show of fireworks, which can be seen and heard for miles around; a colourful, sky and eye filling sight which has everyone with their noses in the air, oohing and ahhing at the wonder of it all. Then it’s back to the fun for the young until all is put on hold for the time being in the early hours of the morning.
Monday evening sees the last rounds of the year, although by that time all the stall holders have already taken their leave for other pastures, so the festa feeling is somewhat diminished. On Tuesday we watch the enormous trucks trumble by, on their way to new big parties, but even if we are just a little sad at their departure – no matter – another festa is just around the corner!