I was wandering the streets of Bologna in an attempt to hungry up -- Italy for me was just killing time between bowls of pasta -- when I came across a group of carolers in the central piazza. They looked like students from the university, and they were surprisingly talented for a ragtag group that appeared to have just collected in the streets.
They were singing in Italian (a language I at best pretend to speak) and I didn't recognize any of the songs, but that didn't detract from the experience of it. The singers were accompanied by two guys doing a bang up job on rhythm guitar, and a guy was playing the clarinet and a girl was on the sax, and they were both OUTSTANDING. Though I will concede that it's possible that they were just enthusiastic, since I sometimes confuse the two.
People were drinking wine straight from the bottle, stumbling around and singing along, and the whole thing was outrageously fun. There was a guy who appeared to be dressed as Jesus, and I assumed the whole thing was somehow related to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is way more of a big deal in Italy than in the States.
But then they stopped singing briefly, and the guy in the middle -- he was dressed as a friar and really looked the part -- started shouting something in Italian to general cheers. And then I thought I maybe heard him shout something like occupazione dell'Afghanistan, and I thought -- Oh good LORD, am I at an Afghan war protest?
But then they started singing again and it went back to being so fun that I thought -- maybe I'll stick around and try to confirm it's a protest before I make any hasty decisions about leaving. I will concede that staying did make me feel a little guilty (What would The Secretary do!?), but I rationalized it in the same way that I rationalized eating double-digit helpings of tortellini every day: R&R comes but thrice a year.
So I stuck around, head bobbing with the music and generally enjoying myself (though occasionally feeling stupid for having failed to purchase a delicious bottle of cheap local prosecco). And then suddenly everyone stopped singing, and someone shouted Andiamo! and the whole thing moved half a block down the piazza.
I walked with them -- still somewhat guiltily, I will concede -- and used the opportunity to examine the participants up close. Jesus, it turned out, had dreadlocks and a general unwashed look that really contributed to his whole Messiah air -- the guy, tinsel crown and all, was just nailing it. They were carrying an effigy of the pope (Immaculate Conception not war protest, I kept telling myself) and a bunch of people had signs in Italian that included the word chiesa -- church -- but I had no idea what they were all about because my Italian is really limited to plaintive requests for lasagna and sangiovese.
It was only when I spotted the sign with the MasterCard logo on it, and the words MasterCardinal written under a Catholic-looking face surrounded by cynical dollars and euros that I realized I was at an anti-church protest. And then Jesus and the sax player started handing out free condoms, and the friar started reading a list of complaints to which the crowd responded with mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and it all fell into place.
I left feeling significantly less guilty.