Mercu Scûrot

The small town of Borgosesia, in the Piedmont region of Italy, hardly qualifies as a tourist attraction – but from one Wednesday a year. Mercu Scûrot, a dialect name (meaning ‘the dark Wednesday’) for Ash Wednesday, is the highest point of the local Carnival celebrations – a rather huge thing in itself, consisting of almost four continuous weeks of parades and masked festivals. The day marks the end of this happy time, and since the 1800s turns it into a mock funeral for the carnival itself. The “dead” is no less than The Peru, the traditional allegorical character who embodies the town of Borgosesia itself. At ten in the morning his casket is led in a procession through the town streets, accompanied by a merry band of musicians and, most notably, by the cilindrati. They are a group of men dressed in the old-fashioned black frac and top hat once used for high celebrations, but sporting a ridiculously huge bowtie. The tour frequently stops at restaurants and pubs, where the cilindrati are offered a taste of the bean stews traditionally prepared on that day. The procession then turns back to its starting point on the main square, where a banquet for hundreds of people has been set up for everyone to indulge in the previously mentioned stews. During lunch a number of awards are presented, but more importantly the guests are handed their cassu, a big wooden spoon.

This tool’s significance becomes apparent in the second funeral parade of the day. Now the stops are at bars and wineries: whoever holds a cassu is entitled to have it filled with excellent wines, while everyone in the parade (almost two thousand persons strong) can partake in the free sandwiches offered along the way. This phase can take quite a while, and the parade customarily ends at seven p.m. on the site of a bonfire. The celebrations aren’t over yet however. After dinner another torchlit parade goes back to the bonfire to burn the effigy of The Peru, read his humorous testament aloud – and for a spectacular fireworks show. Is it a wonder that the town requires one whole year to recover from such a busy day?