Monday, October 18, 2010
Over the past weeks the main square in Avetrana has developed into an absurd version of Times Square on New Year’s eve attracting endless numbers of locals, tourists and journalists ready to discuss and report the latest developments and rumours in a tragic, ongoing murder mystery.
Corriere della Sera writes about ‘La folla di curiosi’ and international newspapers are appalled by this blatant example of Italian videocracy (cf. The Guardian ‘Mother told live on Italian TV of daughter’s murder’). One family’s private tragedy in relation to the disappearance and murder of a 15-year old girl has developed into a scary primetime docu soap with archetypal puglian peasants in all the villainous, bad guy roles.
You tend to forget that Avetrana is a real town with 7 000 bravi, ordinary, law-abiding people, where old men used to rule over the piazza every evening around sunset. There they discussed the weather and the wine harvest while their wives attended mass in the Chiesa Madre that can be dated back to the 15th century, and the younger generation played football and drove around on scooters. In the spring, the city organizes an authentic carnival, and in summer, the local stadium stages rock concerts with great Salento bands like Negramaro and Sud Sound System and then everybody flicks a lighter and sings along on popular radio hits like ‘mentre tutto scorre’. Avetrana is a very nice and very typical town right in the middle of the three Salento provinces Taranto, Brindisi and Lecce.
Various theories account for the name of the town. Avetrana could be a derivation of latin ‘habet ranas’ meaning a place with many frogs due to the nearby swamps, or it could be an abbreviation ‘terra veterana’, that is the land that has not been cultivated. Both theories reflect that Avetrana has been inhabited thousands of years before Christ.
The town is separated from the sea by marshes, and sometimes a sad crying like the bellow of a dying ox can be heard from the southeast. Local legend offers various explanations of this phenomenon. There are those who claim that the sound is a cry of help from a Saracen in full armour with weapons and gold trimmings who disappeared in the swamp when riding his magnificent black horse. Others say that the noise is the crying of martyrs that has been audible since a monk desperately in love with a young woman drowned himself in the water. And then there are those who maintain that the sound is made by a ogre that looked like an ox only 10-20 times larger. One day long ago this monster washed up on the seashore and got helplessly trapped in the marshes.
Occasionally, the sad, heart breaking cries can still be heard in Avetrana, especially when Sirocco wind beats up a storm in the Ionian Sea making the waves reverberate in the underground grottoes and caves that run between the sea and the wetlands. And this crying will remain long after the present hype and televised lamentation subside.