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Back when the proverb was dictated by the calendar... Te Santu Frangiscu
La sita allu canistru

[On St Frances
Pomegranate in the basket]
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

This is part of a big group of ‘calendar’ proverbs, linking a day on the calendar – usually the saint’s day – with the stages and rhythms of farming. St Frances falls on October 4, and October is the month when pomegranates are picked.

These proverbs are common and deal with various aspects of popular culture:

- Weather forecasts: for instance, Te san Cataudu esse lu friddu e trase lu caudu (On St Cataldo – May 10 – the cold goes out and the warmth comes in), Ci chiòe te santa Bibbiana chiòe nu mese e na simana (If it rains on St Bibiana – December 2 – it will rain for a month and a week)

- Adages about the time when fruit ripens: Te Sant’Anna e san Giuacchinu alle fiche se torce lu piticinu (On St Anna and St Gioachino – July 26 – the fig stalk bends),

- Adages about the timing of wine-making: Te San Giseppu de Cupirtinu lu iancu intra alla utte e lu nìuru intra allu tino (On St Joseph of Copertino – September 18 – the white in the cask and the red in the vat), Te Santu Martinu tuttu lu mustu ddenta vinu (On St Martin’s – November 11 – all the must turns to wine)

- Hints about the timing of farm work: Te tutti li santi sìmmina annanzi (On All Saints hasten the sowing), etc.

Such proverbs are known both in very limited areas (like the one about St Cataldo, confined to the area where the saint is venerated) and in widespread areas, as in the St Bibiana proverb found all over the country.

They also vary as to the kind of message they convey: there are messages that prescribe (when to sow, when to perform this or that phase of wine-making), messages that describe (stages of ripening of the fruits of the earth), and messages that forecast (the weather to come).

On the one hand, the rhythm of time based on the rhythms of the religious calendar, on the other, the rhythms of work in perfect harmony with those of nature. It is evidence of the internal coherence and solidity of a world in which religious observation blended very naturally with the rhythms of nature, and this rightness gave it strength, credibility and power.

This was the terrain in which the great tree of popular knowledge shot and grew. It is not surprising that young people today know hardly any of this series of proverbs, since they survive only as relics of memory floating in the great sea of forgetfulness.

The calendar is now reduced to a diagram of numbers and cells that is consulted on the computer (the saints are only listed in discount store calendars), farm work concerns a tiny minority of the workforce and is governed by dedicated apps and run by multinationals, weather forecasting is done with mathematical models and the charts of the American Navy, rules are laid down from His Majesty the Market, descriptions are of no interest to anyone: if need be, we turn to Google.

The great alliance between religious observation and the rhythm of work has disappeared, the seedbed has gone dry, the tree that grew there – the great tree of popular culture – has withered.

It is not the end of the world, it’s the end of a world. Simply, panta rei, “everything flows”.

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