Do you know about the Easter tradition of the 16th century wooden cart that is hauled by four white oxen to the Piazza del Duomo, covered in fireworks, and set alight by a flaming papier mache dove that ziplines out of the church? You don't? Well brace yourself for the scoppio del carro (explosion of the cart).
Since I've arrived Betty has told me stories of this tradition, which her family has been a part of for generations. The Soldi family is in charge of making and orchestrating the fireworks for this affair. I would ask her to tell me about it over and over again because what she was describing all seemed, frankly, ridiculous. So the Friday before Easter we went to Porta al Prato where the carro (cart) lives. The Soldi family gave me a very special glimpse of their artistry and by Sunday, rest assured, I totally got it.
The 30 foot tall, 40 ton cart lives in a space between two buildings that was once a street. Outside of this home is a marker with a quote from Dante. The Soldi family spends the week before adorning the cart with hand-crafted fireworks. The view inside the has commemorative inscriptions from 1622, the Fascist regime, and the many artisans who have restored the cart over the years, in addition to a sheet with that year's fireworks lineup. Criss crossing it all are the ignition wires for thousands of fireworks. (Yes, this was a bit terrifying). On Easter morning, four white oxen bred for this purpose are hitched to the cart and haul it through the streets to the Duomo. They deposit the cart and hang out in a nearby piazza where spectators admire their flower garlands and gold-painted hooves and horns. At the end of mass, the priest sets fire to a papier mache dove inside the church that ziplines out the door and, if all goes well, ignites the fireworks (the year of the flood, inauspiciously, it didn't). It is a spectacular show that ends in a modest flourish of three white flags unfurling at the top And then, of course, there is a Renaissance costume parade.
To date, this is my favorite Florentine tradition. How utterly remarkable to take an artifact that is so old and full of history and make it so alive and vibrant through the generations of livestock; their breeders; the Solidi family; restorers; priests; congregants; observers; parade participants. Can you imagine doing the same thing with Michaelangelo's David? "Today's we haul this marble statue out with livestock, wrap it in fireworks and set them off in a public square." There is often an air of somber fragility in the halls of the Uffizi. This ruckus tradition could not be more the opposite, or more delightful. A million thanks to Betty + Pirotecnica Soldi for such a memorable experience. (You can see a video of it in year's past here. It really doesn't do it justice).