Tradition

We’re driving. This is the first car I’ve been in for about a month. We twist and turn. City lights fade.

Loredana said she was leaving and I could go if I wanted, so I went. Her friend picks us up and off we go.

It’s dark. The road lines here are different. It’s less of a concern whether they are dotted, solid, straight and perfect and fresh. Sometimes there aren’t any lines. They seem to favor roundabouts instead of stops. We always move. No stops. Turn after turn. I have no idea where we are.

The lights up ahead soon reveal their purpose. We pull into a petrol station.

She says we are early. No one is here yet. The gas stations often have bars inside. Bars. As in: they serve alcohol – amongst other things of course. Food, caffe…. No that’s the end of the list. In we go.

The bartender greets them both and I get an introduction, of course explaining briefly my story and my lack of Italian language skills. I recite my sentence explaining that I am learning and would like some vino.

A few people enter. They carry in their arms what I soon learn are the traditional instruments called Tamburello used to play the traditional music, Tarantula. As I settle in I see there is a back room. I make my way there and notice it’s a round room, open in the middle, chairs and tables lining the walls. No decorations other than plants. It has pleasant enough lighting from a rather tall ceiling that further promotes the circular nature and feel of the room.

More people are beginning to show up now. Guitars, accordions, a button box, a violin. Young, old, younger, older, the people span generations. They know each other or they know each other’s each other. They embrace, they talk, the energy starts to build. They are wearing traditional clothing, and current clothing, old leather boots and nike shoes and maybe even a pair of sketchers. They have wool shawls and varsity jackets. They wear tight jeans and polo sweaters. They wear work pants and denim shirts. Some women wear the traditional colors and some do not.

I speak with a man, perhaps close to my age that speaks English a bit better than I speak Italian. This ratio seems to work well enough I’ve found. He shows me how to use the Tamburello. With a twist in his wrist and a particular slant to the instrument he is able to strike it three times in rapid succession which ends in perfectly positioning his hands to repeat the movement again and again. As he speeds up it becomes a mesmerizing trancelike repetition that starts to pull the energy of the room into its grasp. It doesn’t start all at once. It doesn’t start with an announcement. It doesn’t stop conversation and it doesn’t command the room. It’s presented…… the room begins to wrap itself into the rhythm. Through my curiosity and distraction I don’t notice when more and more start to join until the singing starts.

I see something I’ve never witnessed in my home, the United States. Later I will uncover the meaning of some of the songs. As everyone begins to circle up, the instrumentalists percuss in time and the button box chimes in. The violin and guitar are going strong. The guitar keeps a simple yet rhythmic sound. The violin plays along giving a lead melody. An opening verse. It’s almost like an announcement. It evokes an approving response from the crowd. I don’t know when it happens. Someone else is now singing. Similar. But different. Each verse gets a reaction. Sometimes the Tamburello strike every beat for four beats, sometimes for eight. The energy builds. Another person steps in to sing their verse, it evokes a reaction, the energy builds. Those without instruments dance traditional dances. I’m swept into the mix by a beautiful woman who is happy to allow me to misstep more than I could possibly imagine all the while grinning like I’ve just been asked to the prom.

I see old dance with young. Married dance with single. Man and woman dancing all together smiling, learning the steps, following the rhythm. This is tradition. This is community.

Later I will learn that these people come from the surrounding communities of Gallipoli, where I am staying. They don’t necessarily know each other. Each person that steps into the music to sing, recites the song of their particular, unique community and offers it to the larger community as a whole. Each small community has it’s own verse. They all come together to form the song. No one verse is the song. It’s not a song until they all unite. Beautiful. The sound of ten or fifteen Tamburellos drone and echo onwards through the energy. I am amazed by the synchronization they display with such little apparent effort. Breathtaking.

Two men, with little effort, have caused the crowd to circle up around them. Their hands hold swords of air. They posture and present their weapons and begin what I will learn to be the “Danca Delle Spade” or the Dance Of Swords. They move and circle and strike and parry and spring forward and deflect and meet each other in the eyes and finally, one man bows out. Rousing the crowd another man challenges and they agree to the match. The dance begins anew. In the days of yore real swords were used and the dance continued until death. They were fighting for the honor of a woman. Love perhaps.

It’s Tuesday. We leave at one in the morning. These people have jobs and lives that require their attention in the morning. They build their community nonetheless. By the end I have met many many people. We are all excited to be there. We all see what it means to us and what it means to the group. It’s important. It’s worth preserving. It’s special. I am AWESTRUCK 🙂

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