By Frank Viviano
Barga, Italy —
A peculiar marriage of wild celebration and tacit mourning takes place each year on August 16 in Barga, the hilltop Tuscan town where I’ve lived for two decades.
Its people dance in the piazzas to the music of accordions and mandolins. Outdoor markets hum with shoppers until well after midnight. Dazzling fireworks explode over its Medieval cathedral and ramparts.
This is the feast of San Rocco, a centuries-old holiday dating back to the most lethal pandemic in world history. It commemorates the ardent re-embrace of life after the inconceivable horrors of the 14th century’s Black Death – in which Barga’s Serchio Valley almost certainly played a critical role.
Over the brief span of four years beginning in 1348, the Plague carried off up to 60 percent of Europe’s entire population, leaving an indelible scar in the collective memory.
As harrowing as our struggle with… Continue reading