By Charles Joseph
The Carnevale Storico della città di Offida is held religiously every year and offers excitement and passion, merriment and pageantry, entertainment and as much food and drink that anyone could ever wish for.
This spirit of the Carnival is deeply rooted in the Offidani psyche. To an outsider the festival may seem like the greatest binge of all time, but it actually camouflages what really goes on. Despite the modern standards of carnivals today, for the Offidani (this was once a predominantly agricultural community) this ritual dates back well over 500 years. It is an ancient ritual celebrating man’s constant struggle with nature.
Carnival peculiarities include colourful members of the congreghe (similar to contrade or quartieri in other parts of Italy) parading the streets and plying onlookers with their quirky brand of music, La buffata del Martedi Grasso where il Sindaco, il Prete, il Notaio ed il Possidente (the mayor, the priest, the notary and the land owner) all dress up and stuff themselves full of food in Piazza del Popolo, drinking champagne out of potties, I Velurd, a strange, pagan ritual involving setting fire to bamboo canes and finally, Lu Bov Fint (il bue finto), a comical race which is rather reminiscent of a Spanish corrida, only that instead of a real bull what you get is a man inside a wooden frame with a fabric covering, pretending to be an ox.
Picture the following scene: packed streets as the backdrop and red and white (white for purity and red for sacrifice) costumed clad citizens as part of the scenery. The race begins and the ox is chased all the way across town, accompanied by the high drama of frenzied cries as the “animal” charges with a vengeance, venting its fury at anyone getting in its way. This goes on for hours. By early evening a fine haze of dust envelopes the streets as the crowd regroups in Piazza del Popolo. The mood seems tense. The ox is chased around the piazza one final time before meeting its timely end. Nature (the ox) has returned to dominate the Offidani for another day. But this time the people have won the battle yet again.
The words of one happy local seem to capture the mood…“il bue è finto si, però l’allegria è tanta” (the ox may be artificial but there is much happiness here).
By Charles Joseph