San Giovanni Water
When I came to Italy for the first time, many years ago, the country kept me literally enthralled. Passing through the sweet hills with olive trees and lines of vines as far as the eyes can see seemed somehow, I don’t know why, reassuring. I would compare it with a warm, welcoming embrace. The blue sky, bright sun and pleasant temperatures completed the feeling of total well-being.
Then I came across the Tuscan population and the picture changed sharply. It was not that I did not feel at ease. On the contrary. It was because they are rather the opposite of the sweetness and the friendliness I felt inside when arriving. True Tuscans reveal, in fact, a witty and extremely practical spirit. Their sense of humour is somewhat crude, if I may use this term. They definitely don’t know what “mince the proper words” means. Apart from this one could define them as critical, proud, stubborn, almost warlike. Lastly they are deep rooted traditionalists and firmly tied to the culinary recipes handed down through the ages from generation to generation. They deeply love their family, their children… and their favorite soccer team.
Living in the middle of all this was and is all together very exciting and challenging, indeed. Experiencing their deep love for life by taking it simply as it is has taught me a lot.
Over the years I discovered another surprising side I did not expect. A lot of people (not all) won’t cross the street after a black cat. They patiently wait for somebody else doing it and only afterwards they would cross it, too. Never ever would they walk under a ladder. They go to those in the know to find out if somebody has cast an evil eye on them. In the affirmative, they will ask to have the curse reversed. They carefully avoid spilling salt and never open an umbrella inside the house. They are aware that a broken mirror brings bad luck. Often, a “cornicello” or Italian red horn is hanging on their keychain.
To these beliefs you need to consider faith. A candle is offered in church to Virgin Mary to ask for help, to thank for a grace received or to commemorate the dead. A little holy picture or a medal with a saint protector is often carried in the wallet.
And here we are talking about San Giovanni’s Water. During the night of the 23rd of June, people properly dressed and armed with paper bags and torches, go into the woods, meadows and fields and gather hypericum9, lavender, mugwort, rosemary, rue and sage. Because an official list of plants does not exist, they often add tiny wild carnations, daisies, roses and similar. It is said that each of these plants is rich in properties and virtues almost magically able to bring happiness and harmony.
In order to reach the desired effect it is necessary to put the plants into a basin and fill it with water. Then you leave it overnight on a windowsill or on a terrace so that plants and water during the whole night are kissed by the dew. It is actually the dew, messenger of the moon and the stars, to transform plants and water into a sort of magical potion.
The next morning, that is the 24th of June, the plants are removed and you wash hands and face with what meanwhile has turned into the Water of San Giovanni. For a whole year fortune will smile upon you, love will be on your side and you will have perfect health. This, at least, is what the popular tradition promises to those who believe in the power of the universe and its miracles