Posts Tagged ‘bari’

The Story of Santa Claus

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy, March to Athens on 14 March 2012 at 13:42
March to Athens

Day 128-LIV, Bari.

St. Nicholas of Bari

Bari, March 14

Dear people,

The old town of Bari protrudes like a horn into the sea. It’s a place of mystery, a tale of 1001 Nights. The small white alleys wind around and lead you astray in unexpected directions. There are no straight intersecting roads like you find them in the cities of the West, built by either the Romans or the Greeks or the Americans. This old city belongs to the East. Wherever you find yourself within its ancient walls you can never see where you are going.

Suddenly a space opens up in front of you, a holy space adorned by an immaculate basilica. Here, people from all over the known world flog together in pilgrimage.

Bari is indeed a most venerable city, no less than Rome, or Jerusalem, or Mecca. For Bari is the posthumous home of Santa Claus.

It might seem a bit strange to associate Santa Claus with a sunny Mediterranean city like Bari, but they say it’s true, the man who is at the root of the legend, is buried right here in this basilica.

To the faithful, he is known as Saint Nicholas. He is venerated in the East and the West, by catholics and protestants, by believers and atheists. And they say he performed some mighty miraculous deeds during his lifetime.

Now, the facts don’t matter. The truth doesn’t matter. The only thing that really matters is the story.

Saint Nicholas lived in the Greco-Roman province of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, during the twilight years of the empire. He was bishop of Myra. His deeds are remembered with spectacular celebrations, twice a year, on the day of his death, the 6th of December, and on the day his remains arrived in Bari, the 9th of May.

On one of my previous travels I was fortunate enough to be in Bari to see the procession which narrated his miraculous acts.

In those closing years of antiquity, during a horrible famine, a ferocious butcher had slaughtered three children and turned them into ham. Saint Nicholas was invited to taste, but he knew. He revealed himself, he punished the butcher and he brought the children back to life.

The Saint was also famous for saving the honour of three adolescent sisters. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford a dowry, and without a husband they would probably have been forced to live their lives as prostitutes. But Saint Nicholas wouldn’t let it happen. At night, he filled the young girls’ stockings with riches, enough to guarantee them a happy marriage.

When famine struck again on another occasion, the Saint showed his mercy to a crew of sailors by multiplying their cargo of wheat, over and over again. It was enough to make bread and sweet spiced biscuits for many starving cities all over the East.

After Saint Nicholas passed away he was buried in his home ground where he was revered for many centuries by the faithful. But at a certain point, the faithful were conquered by an alien religion.

With the advance of Islam in the middle ages, many of the old centres of orthodox Christianity entered the vast domains of the caliphs and the sultans of the East.

At that time, the West was profoundly christian. The various cities competed with each other in piousness and status by collecting every type of holy memorabilia. Splinters of the cross, thorns of the crown, robes, bones, teeth and skulls. As a city you didn’t count if you didn’t own at least a piece of saint.

The most glorious cities of the age wouldn’t limit themselves to mere fingertips or toe nails. They wanted the entire skeletons. The sailors of Venice subtracted the remains of the evangelist St. Mark from the muslims in Egypt. And with another memorable secret operation, the sailors from Bari raided the muslim city of Myra, dug up Saint Nicholas, carried him off to the harbour, and took him home.

Thus, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of Bari.

In the centuries that followed Bari would become part of the kingdom of Naples, and as such it came to be dominated by Spain.

This might explain why people in another pious seafaring nation – Holland – thought that Saint Nicholas came from the Iberian peninsula. In another version, the ‘Spanish connection’ comes from the oranges. These usually arrived in Holland from Spain during the beginning of December, when the Saint came to the Low Lands to give sweets to the children who had been good, and whip lashes to those who had been bad.

Holland is especially devoted to Saint Nicholas. Up to today, the Saint is celebrated every year on the evening of December 5 with songs, surprises and sweets. The people call him Sinterklaas.

When the Dutch founded the city of New Amsterdam in 1625, they brought their Sinterklaas tradition to America. Together with other Dutch characteristics and morals, it remained a part of the American culture also after the city was taken over by the English and renamed New York in 1664.

During colonial times, the figure of Saint Nicholas merged with the British character of Father Christmas, and his feast was integrated with Christmas celebrations. The Americans called him Santa Claus. His place on the calendar was taken over by the local holiday of Thanksgiving

However many times the veneration for the original Byzantine saint had changed, he had always been regarded as a moral figure. A judge of good and evil. A benevolent father who rewards his faithful, but who isn’t afraid to punish them in case they deserve it.

The last and most radical change of image, both in style and content, would come in the 20th century, when Santa Claus was adopted by the Coca-Cola Company.

Under the influence of the beverage brewer, Santa changed his bishop’s robe for a bright red polar outfit. He became a jolly old man, with a smile for all. He wouldn’t judge you. He would reward you not on the base of your conduct, but on the base of you purchasing power. He would deliver all the presents you could afford on Christmas eve, on board his flying raindeer sleigh.

Old Saint Nick means different things to different people all over the world. For some he is the original Byzantine saint, for others he is the jolly old man with a sexy bottle in his hand, and for others yet he is everything in between.

One way or another, Santa means something to all of us. Also to the March to Athens.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Bari, he is the patron saint of sailors, he is the patron saint of all Greece. And as it turns out, ‘Nikolaus’ means ‘victory of the people’.

Santa is the 99%. He is our man.


With a Little Help from the Dogs

In Italy, March to Athens on 13 March 2012 at 13:03

March to Athens

Day 126-LII, Bari

Day 127-LIII, Bari

Bari, March 13

Dear people,

We have reached the sea, but we still haven’t decided which Greek port we want to sail to. It was the first point on yesterday’s internal assembly. Patras or Igoumenitsa.

One thing that we did decide upon was that we don’t want to split up the march. After that we took a vote to get a general idea of people’s preferences.

It was deadlocked ten to ten. And the interesting thing was that our group was rigourously divided along national lines. All the French but one voted for Igoumenitsa. And except for three abstentions, all the Spanish but one voted for Patras. The Italians were divided, and one of them honoured local custom by switching sides.

As you all know, I myself am very much in favour of Igoumenitsa.

Here in Bari we have also been joined by an American blogger from Occupy San Diego. He abstained, but in the end he made a very simple observation.

“I think the solution is already in the name. March to Athens. If there weren’t a sea to cross, we would have kept on marching. The boat trip should serve to cross the sea, not to shortcut the march.”

To unblock the situation, the moderator asked people if anyone had radical objections against one of the two ports. Three of us were ready to block Patras, but in order to avoid conflict no-one did.

If the assembly would have decided to go to Patras, I wouldn’t have blocked it either. I would probably have left the march instead.

The assembly decided to send a large transversal delegation to the navigation companies.

 At the port terminal, neither of the two companies made any trouble with regard to our shopping carts, but if we went to Patras, the dogs would need to have some kind of passport.

The dogs are with us since we crossed the Apeninnes. They are shepherd dogs decided, and they probably considered us to be a herd that needed to be guided. For some, this implied a form of ‘verticality’, and they denounced it. But one of the few principles of our movement is that we are inclusive, so everyone can come along.

The Greek company serving Igoumenitsa would close an eye on it. And apart from that, Patras is twice as expensive.

So that more or less sealed it. The dogs broke the deadlock, but at the moment the assembly still has to confirm the final decision.

Latest news, this right in. It’s just passed one o’clock. The assembly has confirmed. We are going to Igoumenitsa. We will depart tomorrow evening at seven. We will arrive thursday morning March 15 in Greece at seven o’clock in the morning.

Scenes from Acampada Bari

Coast to Coast

In Italy, March to Athens on 11 March 2012 at 23:07
March to Athens

Day 125-LI, from Palo del Colle to Bari, 17 km.

‘And so it came to pass, on the eleventh day of March in the year of our Lord 2012 that the brave marchers to Athens finally reached the most venerable city of Bari…’

Bari, March 11

Dear people,

The wind comes from sea. It batters the plains and brings along the sweet odour of salt and spices. The first faint hints of the East are in the air.

It’s not just the air, or the odours. Also the colours are changing. Since we descended down the mountains into Apulia everything started to get brighter. The green of the hills, the white marble stones of the old town centres. I’m sure I could say the same about the blue sky, if we had been lucky enough to see it.

Irsina, Gravina, Altamura, Toritto, Palo. Each of them is a maze of bright alleyways and snow white houses with iron balconies. When you arrive there during the hour of the siesta, like we do, you will not find a living soul there, except for an occasional cat.

Acampada Palo del Colle

Thanks to the people of Palo del Colle

Then you come closer to the sea, and the wind gets stronger. You hop from one suburb to the other, and then you finally find yourself in front of Bari, one of the places which bears the name of ‘gateway to the East’.

I’m walking together with comrade Milton from Naples, and just before Bari we get lost. We don’t want to take the national road, but every other road we take seems to lead us away from the metropolis, or ends up being blocked.

We walk for hours and hours through the desert of an industrial park, through olive groves, past abandoned villas and old outskirts in ruins. All the while we can see the city in the distance on all sides, like a fata morgana, but we don’t seem to reach it. It’s as though Bari were protected by some kind of magnetic shield, and only the faithful can enter.

As a last resort I direct a prayer to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of the city, asking him to let us through. And lo! a small road opens up in front us. Our hearts are beating full of expectation while we start following the path that takes us straight into Bari at sunset.

Comrade Milton and the sunset

"The whole world is our fatherland"

When we reach the old centre we find the others have already been camped for hours in one of the most beautiful squares. It’s close to the boulevard. At night, when all the other sounds die down, we can hear the sound of the waves in the distance.

We have made it. We crossed Italy coast to coast. Some of us have even descended the entire peninsula. Together we sit down around the fire. We toast, and while the luscious odour of hashish rises up from the circle, we reminisce about the various episodes of the march.

Then a police car stops by. The driver addresses us with a smile and with curiosity. He asks where we are from, where we’re going and why. We explain it briefly, we give him a flyer. He reads it, he nods, and he says: “Very well. Keep up the good work.” Then he drives off.

"Only when the power of love will be bigger than the love of power, the world will know peace."

Acampada Bari in the early morning light