WHAT'S ON WORLDWIDE
Sunday 02 May 1999
Coming up today, in a field in Devon, several hundred wriggling worms. The International Festival of Worm Charming, now in its 16th year, aims to tempt as many worms as possible to the surface during a 15-minute period. Not until the morning of the contest are contestants told from which field in the village of Black Awton the worms will be drawn. This secrecy is to ensure that potential Pied Pipers of the worm world do not engage in any premature charming. Tried and tested worm wooing methods include singing, dangling liquorice, twanging a garden fork (so the wrigglers think its raining), magic stones and meditation. It's apparently a highly skilled business and such clumsy methods as mechanical diggers and liquid stimulants (pouring whiskey on to the turf) are banned.
Live snakes, a Catholic saint, TV crews and several thousand pilgrims all congregate in the tiny mountain village of Cocullo, in Abruzzo, this week during the annual snake festival. On the first Thursday in May, the residents of Cocullo celebrate the feast day of St Dominic with the Processione dei Serpari, or snake charming procession. Pilgrims arrive at this isolated, almost uninhabited village from all over Italy to pay homage to the saint in the village church before following the procession through the narrow streets. A cloaked statue of St Dominica is draped with live snakes and carried through the town. Preceding the statue are four girls dressed in local costumes carrying ciambelli, traditional sweetmeats prepared by local women, while the statue itself is covered in bank notes and jewels donated by pilgrims. Snake bearers coil hissing serpents around their necks and sing as they pass through the crowds. This unusual procession is said to recall the ancient pagan "cult of reptiles" and the worship of Goddess Angizia. The snakes used are not poisonous and snake handlers are covered by a divine insurance policy as St Dominic is said to ward off snake bites (and toothache).
Another daft spring festival taking place in the UK this week is Helston's Furry Dance, a rather solemn procession with a silly name. In the 19th century, the Helston Furry Dance (feur, or fair dance), a Cornish festival to welcome the spring, became known as the Floral Dance and under this name it was a popular ballad between the wars - and, of course, a number one for Terry Wogan a few years back. To catch the first dance at 6am, bleary-eyed locals travel the roads of Cornwall's Lizard peninsula before dawn, carrying green boughs and flowers with which they will decorate the doors of Helston's old stone houses. The doors of the houses are left open, and people dance in and out from one to another bearing the benediction of spring. Door-hopping culminates at midday with the Quality Dance, which starts at the Town Hall, led by the mayor and the town band. The Furry Dance song (an eight-bar refrain repeated for six hours), accompanies the procession as it passes the most important houses in town.
The Bun Bang Fi festival in Yasothon does exactly what it says in the title; bang, with ear-splitting volume, many times over. More like a Nasa launch than a fireworks display, this "rocket festival" sees several gunpowder- filled devices, the size of semi-detached houses, exploded high above a crowd of thousands. This area of north-eastern Thailand is less explored by tourists and ferang (foreigners) can expect typical Thai high-jinx commencing on the evening of the 8th, with heavy drinking, carnival floats and street parties. Each village builds a rocket and parades it though the town on a float. The following night, hang-overs notwithstanding, the rockets are launched. This earthshaking tradition is said to bring the rice season rains and first prize is given for the rocket that stays in the air the longest. Yes, a fire proof hat is probably recommended and no, this wouldn't get past Health and Safety in the UK. But isn't that half the fun?
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