June 2 is a holiday here celebrating Italy’s vote to oust the monarchy. It also marks the first time women voted in this country. This year Italy celebrates the 150th anniversary of its unification as one nation, so it’s been an unusually patriotic year.
The holiday has the usual patriotic trappings with the laying of a wreath on the tomb of the unknown and other formal events. The highlight, as always, is a military parade. Many unexpected groups are considered military here, ranging from firefighters to meteorologists to the Red Cross. They all have a spot in the parade.
The festivities begin with the unfurling of an enormous flag (50 x 30 meters, about 164 x 98 feet) on the Colosseum. Fifty firefighters are required to manage this operation, including twenty who are spaced along the bottom of the furled banner and rappel their way down the wall, keeping the flag flat and even. This red, white, and green draped Colosseum serves as the backdrop for the parade which wends its way down the Via dei Fori Imperiali past a reviewing stand above the forums.
This year, people wearing replicas of many historic uniforms marched, including nurses wearing World War I flowing skirts and headdresses. The Bersaglieri, one of my favorite groups, always wear their historic headgear in parades and at other formal occasions. An elite group of sharpshooters, they are most famous historically for storming Porta Pia and ultimately ending papal rule and unifying Italy. They wear helmets with grouse feathers hanging from the side and they always jog instead of march. Even the brass band jogs and plays with the feathers bouncing in tune.
My other favorite is the Carabinieri mounted police band. Their formal uniforms are covered with elaborate braids and embroidery. A wide red stripe runs down the pant leg. They wear Napoleon-style hats topped with a red and white plume. All the musicians ride white horses. Like other mounted regiments, they come at the end of the parade so no one has to walk through the horse droppings.
The finale is a flyover by the Frecce Tricolori (tricolor arrows), a nine-plane aerobatics team. They do their pre-parade maneuvers in my neighborhood, so I get to watch them turn and twist around as they await the signal to proceed to the parade route. I trot back and forth from balcony to television. When the TV commentator announces that the frecce are coming, I hear one last roar overhead then seconds later see them fly over the Colosseum emitting their characteristic red, white, and green vapor trail.
Not the Fourth of July, but a nice holiday nonetheless.