Although Trapani is a mission to get to, the only direct flights from the UK are provided by budget airline Ryan Air so unfortunately there’s a limited choice of flight times, it is worth the effort particularly if you are going to be there for the Misteri di Trapani. We arrived at 9 o’clock local time, made our way through the airport then the inevitable queue to pick up our hire car. I was looking forward to immersing myself in the Italian experience by driving a fiat 500 but got a not so cool Clio, then with sat nav programmed for Sicily, drove the 90minutes to Trapani in the dark, very tired, much better if you can arrive during the day and enjoy the scenery on route.

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We had an ‘interesting experience’ with the local ‘roads’ in the old part of the town, to say it was ‘tight’ does not give it justice!! But found the hotel, parked then bed.

Day one started with getting our bearings and walking the key routes. Trapani in the sun is stunning, gorgeous soft yellow, tall, balconied buildings along narrow streets then widening out into the main town area and piazza, including a large garden/park area. As always I had my camera with me and captured a wonderful image of two local elderly ladies enjoying a morning chat in the sun. Poverty exists in all towns and cities and a lone homeless man sat in the shade of a tree surrounded by his life in bags, long matted hair, weather aged features, with the local cats playing and curling up to sleep on him.

Misteri Di TrapaniWe made our way to a local photographer’s studio, Sergio Cancelliere, an amazing modern space with his stunning work displayed on the walls. Thanks to my translator app and hand gesticulations we were able to understand each other. Sergio had organised the photography passes for the procession, enabling us access to the inside of the church on the day of the procession.

Time to stop for my first cup of Italian coffee and wow does it deliver a hit, it’s no wonder the cups are more like shots of coffee. One of the joys about training is the different people you get to meet and work with, and this trip was no exception. It as really lovely to be greeted back as an old friend by one of the local shop keepers, I’d bought the traditional wooden ‘clacker’ (more of that later) on my last trip and since then he has followed my work on Facebook and recognized me when I walked back into his shop.

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The evening started at the Chiesa del Purgatorio, the church is filled with the floats and people come in to take a look and photograph them whilst the floats are adorned with flowers and the silver and gold finishing touches. A constant stream of visitors including the locals walk around the church and everyone pays their respects to the ‘Madonna’ float which is kept behind a barrier and guarded.

We went for dinner at a favourite pizza restaurant, Salvatore Calvino, near the church, established in 1946, proper stone baked base, oozing with Gorgonzola and spicy salami, I highly recommend you make it part of your visit to Trapani.

Then we went off to join the Celebrazione Eucaristica at the Cattedrale San Lorenzo, a stunning cathedral complete with it’s own Caravaggio on the wall. This resonated with me as my work has been compared to that of the Renaissance fine artist and like Caravaggio I employ the technique of chiaroscuro, highly contrasting light and dark, to create depth and intensity in my editing. I was really excited to see one of his pieces of work so close up.

It was disappointing that the lighting of a candle was an electric version, but I guess that’s the sign of the times and the concerns of health and safety in what is a very popular and busy church, so breathing in the incense, listening to the almost hypnotic tones of the priest delivering the service in Italian or possibly Latin, it was time for a moment of quiet reflection.

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A walk back through a town now alive with an evening culture of restaurants, bars and shopping, and the inevitable Italian gelato!

Day two started back at the church now even busier with the floats receiving their finishing touches and those who would be carrying and escorting the floats gathering in the church. The atmosphere was different today, even as a non catholic I could sense the emotional importance of this event for the people involved, there were smiles and hugs as people greeted each other but for many there was also the overwhelming sense of what they were about to do and many people, men and women, and children, shed tears and took a few moments to still themselves.

The crowds began to fill the streets and the doors were closed during the last hour which gave the float attendants chance to get in position and practice bracing themselves and lifting and lowering the immense weights of the floats to the distinctive sound of the wooden clackers. The floats not only hold the wooden figures but are dressed with flowers, magnificent candles as well as battery powered lighting, so their weight is immense.

At two o’clock there is a knock at the church door and two men climb the inside of the great wooden door to unlock and open the doors to cheers, and the loud clapping sound of the wooden clackers. As the doors open the first band is in position playing, the attendants walk out then the first float and the story of Jesus as told in the passion plays is depicted across the twenty floats culminating in the ‘Madonna’.

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We stayed within the church for the first eight floats where I bumped into Ernesto Bazan who was also holding a workshop here.

The ‘misteri’ is one of the longest continuously running religious events in Europe, dating back to the sixteen hundreds. Each of the floats is linked to a guild or group, such as the ‘Elevation of the Cross’ which is supported by the guild of the carpenters. The different guilds take great honour in supporting their float and are often made of key local families. The procession lasts at least sixteen hours from Good Friday into the Saturday of Easter.

After about six hours we decided that food and drink was needed as frozen fingers are not great for operating cameras so squeezing through the crowds and escaping onto some of the back roads we headed for coffee and pasta.

Warm and refueled, we rejoined the procession as it made it’s way through the town. Everyone was waiting for the ‘Madonna’ and by this time it was dark. The ‘Madonna’ float is positioned to look into either side of the street as they make their way slowly along the route, the priests praying and rose petals are cascaded from the balconies overhead. At this point the procession was still making its way through the narrow streets away from the church into the town, and the crowds were waiting patiently all along the route, and for those carrying the floats and walking alongside it had already been a long day but with some people swapping positioning and taking breaks the procession still had a long way to go throughout the night into the morning and would eventually track back to the church.

We ended the evening with a glass of red and some amazing Italian cheese, bread and foie gras crostini, totally delicious, and well deserved after a very full on day of documentary street photography.

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However the procession and we did not stop there, we went back to the hotel to get a few hours sleep before an early morning start to catch the perfect morning sunlight.

Day three, so after an early start, time for coffee, cannoli from an amazing local Italian patisserie and an afternoon nap, before starting the initial editing process.

Day Four editing and putting together the ‘story’ of the procession, then a chance to indulge in more amazing Sicilian food and wine and an opportunity to take in the surrounding area before heading home on Sunday.

Postface; I definitely aim for my training courses to be an opportunity to develop some amazing individual portfolios using documentary street photography, raise skill levels and confidence, but also to provide a really good ‘experience’. Maybe from this blog I have inspired you to visit Trapani, or to come with me on one of my other training workshops, if I have contact me through my website, follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, and go to the Nikon UK training pages to see what’s booking now.

 

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