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© Photo by Lorenzo Pesce Ball of the Spider Women: A Mystical Attitude in a Abandoned Bend of Italy Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commodity are the author’s, as appear by our agreeable partner, and do not necessarily represent the angle of MSN or Microsoft.

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Singer Enza Pagliara, the evening’s capital act, is aloof abating up. Fernando Bevilacqua, a bounded columnist who has brought my acquaintance Giovanna and me here, elbows his way to the advanced of the crowd, sidling accomplished elderly signoras in cardigans and pumps, scruffy kids with dreadlocks, men with glossy atramentous beard and accurate red pants, and adolescent women in chiffon skirts and eggplant-tinted curls. The army is di tutti i colori, as they say in Italian, all types and all colors. Giovanna, who is short, climbs the footfall of a bubbler to get a bigger view.

A few strums of guitar, several staccato curtains on a tambourine, some atrocious cello sawing, and Pagliara accomplish up to the microphone, extensive advanced with her continued accoutrements as if to embrace the absolute crowd. The complete that emerges from her aperture isn’t like dejection or applesauce or opera or annihilation abroad I’ve anytime heard. It’s an Arab-tinged bawl of abutting harmonies and dissonance, abounding of longing, lust, and lament. Her bright articulation carries over the bags of chaotic faces, and the song seems as age-old as the limestone barrio of Alessano.

© Photos by Lorenzo Pesce A abbey fabricated of pietra leccese, the region’s all-over anemic stone; pizzica accompanist Enza Pagliara. Maybe it is. Aback I acquaint Bevilacqua I can’t accept a word, alike admitting I allege Italian, he explains the lyrics are in Salentino and Griko, dialects announced actuality that date aback to the Greeks who colonized the breadth continued afore the Romans arrived. Pagliara sings hymns to endurance, beefing tunes for acquisition aureate beneath a assault sun; attraction courting dialogues with back-and-forth verses amidst articulation and instruments; and pieces with polyphonic overtones that complete like Balkan ballads. Pagliara invites her aged aunts and uncle on date to sing a few acceptable lullabies and added songs from their childhoods. The army is swaying, absorption by the mystical music, which is called pizzica. “It’s absurd not to dance, no?”

Then a corybantic song starts up, and Bevilacqua whispers that this is a pizzica pizzica, which translates to “bitten bitten.” The tambourine, accordion, and cello aces up speed, and Pagliara sings faster and faster. The words are advancing so bound now, they’re aloof sounds. Pagliara is dancing so fast that her continued atramentous beard swishes berserk and her anxiety about blow the stage. The apple vibrates with bags of anxiety anguish the cobblestones in the square. Bevilacqua glances at me and says, “It’s absurd not to dance, no?” and I apprehend my anxiety are tapping, too. I accord in to the accent and alpha twirling with the music. The army in the aboveboard break into baby circles as bodies stomp, spin, and brace off for ad-lib courting dances. The clip is dizzying; no one can abide the song’s catching energy.

Tonight, the affection is celebratory, the antipode of pizzica’s acutely bent beginnings. Legend has it that in the abroad past, musicians played these songs aback someone, usually a woman, had been apathetic by a tarantula spider. Contemporary pizzica, while advantageous admiration to the community of the past, represents a awakening and accomplishment of the region’s culture, axis article acrimonious into a blissful event.

When the concert is over, abounding in the army abide arena tambourines, their bodies afraid and anxiety tapping, and we aberrate amidst the stalls that advertise CDs, instruments, jugs of bounded wine, and t-shirts emblazoned with big atramentous spiders. The bodies about us accumulate dancing until we straggle aback to the car at two in the morning.

© Photo by Lorenzo Pesce During the show, it’s not aberrant for groups to reenact avant-garde versions of the taranta rite, above. I’m actuality in Salento in the average of a baking August for the Notte della Taranta, or Nights of the Tarantula, a weeklong anniversary that celebrates the tarantella, the acclaimed folk music and ball of southern Italy. Concerts are slated for about every night in altered boondocks squares throughout the region. Pizzica is the Salentine alternative of tarantella, and its homeland, the southernmost allotment of Puglia, is still about clear by tourism. It feels like the Italian countryside foreigners visited forty years ago. During the day, the villages are deserted, motionless, and oppressively hot; during the acknowledgment evenings, the shops open, and bodies coast out as if from beneath rocks.

I’ve appear because I’m absorbed with Salento’s allegory of the tarantula, in which women throughout history accept claimed they’d been apathetic by a tarantula, possessed, conceivably in adjustment to escape their contrarily black lives. I’d apparent images of these women in a affecting film, Pizzicata, and heard it mentioned amid my Italian friends. I capital to accept added about this culture—and its music, which has fabricated a absitively comeback.

Since antiquity, and until alone a brace of decades ago, activity in Salento was desperate, decidedly for women, who had little say in their destinies. Occasionally addition would bore inward, glassy-eyed, and activate askew on the floor, delirious. Neighbors would buzz that she’d been apathetic by the tarantula, and would amphitheater about her arena instruments. The spider’s adulteration would account her to beat and become manic. The afflicted tarantata would eventually acceleration up and ball in circles, stomping on the arena to the music (particularly the tambourine), as if aggravating to annihilate a spider, until the adventure subsided. The ritual lasted, on and off, for up to three days, and the affection allegedly alternate every year in June about the barbecue day of San Paolo (Saint Paul), who protects adjoin antagonistic animals.

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Today, Salento is bigger accepted for its broken coves and Baroque architectonics than for its tarantate, who—like the poisonous spiders that allegedly acquired their agitated state—have mostly died off. Yet on my aboriginal cruise to Salento, three years ago, I noticed signs of those spiders everywhere. Faded posters of tarantulas were tacked up on apple walls, announcement traditional pizzica music concerts. Happy-looking spiders beckoned from artery billboards, auspicious tourism in the area.

How had Salento adapted the tarantula—a austere attribute from its past—into a airy figure adulatory the arena and its music?

To acquisition out, I had to alpha with history. In the 1950s, a scattering of anthropologists and ethnomusicologists started recording pizzica music. Alan Lomax, for instance—famous for advertent Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and added American roots musicians—amassed a accumulating of acceptable Salentino folk songs. Addition researcher, anthropologist Luigi Chiriatti, recorded music and articulate histories in the aboriginal 1970s and has accounting several books on tarantismo.

After the concert in Alessano, I alarm Chiriatti, and he invites me over to his abode in a boondocks abreast Melpignano. His active allowance walls are covered with charcoal from his continued career in anthropology: masks, age-old agreeable instruments, and black-and-white photos of Salento’s past.

Chiriatti, a bashful man in his seventies, is active and animated aback talking about his region’s centermost traditions, and we babble for hours about the history of the tarantula rites, how they came to Salento (probably from the Greek Dionysian cult), and the varieties of acceptance he has calm from tarantate over the years. What puzzles me, I acquaint him, is how pizzica, which he says by the 1980s was mostly abandoned or advised hillbilly music, is packing boondocks squares in 2009.

“We had to revisit what identifies us as Salentini,” he says. Previously, best associations with Salento had been negative. “It had been advised a acreage of remorse, a acreage from which bodies emigrated because there was no work, a acreage with no accessory heroes—a acreage that had been silenced and forgotten.”

But aback ethnomusicologists began rediscovering the songs and musicians began arena them, Salentini accomplished that pizzica music and ball are what makes their breadth unique. Their appearance of the music—which is, at its heart, upbeat in sound—began to booty on a absolute cast, and this afflicted the way Salentini saw aggregate about their culture. “Through the music, we started seeing the breadth in a absolutely altered way, rediscovering the land, the rocks, the churches, the piazzas, and the sea,” Chiriatti says. The music fits the place.

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In the 1990s, a baby underground pizzica arena started to percolate, partly additional by Pizzicata, a 1995 neorealist blur that included interviews and sessions with acceptable Salentine musicians. The blur recounts the adventure of one tarantata, a young contadina (peasant woman) who was “bitten” by a tarantula and fell ill afterwards her lover was dead and she was promised to his murderer.

Local musicians, including Bevilacqua—the columnist who was my adviser in Alessano—started acclimation baby concerts and booking gigs throughout Europe. In 1997, some adolescent administrators of Salento’s baby towns accustomed the avant-garde address of the spider and absitively to use pizzica to advance bounded identity, staging the aboriginal Notte della Taranta. The accident has developed exponentially anytime since, bringing tens of bags of tourists to the breadth and authoritative Salento alike with pizzica, the way Argentina agency tango.

“By absolution the music from associations with the spider, the ritual, and religion, we’ve angry article abrogating into article greatly positive,” Chiriatti tells me.

On the day afore the final concert of the anniversary in Melpignano, a boondocks of about 2,000 people, I acquisition my way to the charcoal of the sixteenth aeon Carmine church. A date has been congenital there, and musicians are advancing for a dress rehearsal. Enza Pagliara sits on the grass, acute a afraid canteen of baptize to her face to break air-conditioned in the hundred-degree heat. I sit bottomward abutting to her and ask about pizzica’s tarantula-related origins.

Pagliara, forty-one, who has advised tarantismo and pizzica for added than twenty years, says that best bodies anticipate the tarantulas were a myth. In 1959, the anthropologist Ernesto De Martino set out with an interdisciplinary aggregation of physicians and psychologists to abstraction thirty-five women afflicted with tarantismo. His assignment was appear in English as The Acreage of Remorse (and “remorse” in Italian has a bifold meaning: re-bitten). Today, Pagliara says, best Salentini accept that the tarantula chaw was an excuse, a way for bodies in the villages to accurate rage, repressed eroticism, and frustration.

“It was a breadth that was acutely poor,” Pagliara says. “People formed like serfs, and until fifty years ago, the padrone even had the diritto della prima notte,” acceptation the bounded backer had the appropriate to beddy-bye with a helpmate aboriginal on her bells night. “For women”—she makes a beheading action about her throat—“it was untenable, and the tarantula was the way to let apart of everything, a anatomy of analysis afore psychotherapy.”

Pagliara grew up singing the songs with her aunts. She began recording, she says, because “I knew there was article adored in this music.” She went to aboriginal pizzica gatherings in the ’90s and abstruse to ball and comedy the tambourine. Aback she began to almanac her relatives, at aboriginal they were abashed and capital to sing songs from the radio instead. “Their songs accept a absolute faculty of this breadth from the earlier days. They’re the complete of the land, and I’ve capital to accumulate them alive.”

Pagliara performs at ample concerts, but additionally at baby pizzerias and at parties, sometimes until bristles in the morning. “I don’t apperceive how to sing pop or annihilation else,” she says. “Our oldest music was analysis for the tarantata, and so maybe I am a little crazy, because I accept to sing. I charge it for myself added than anything. I can’t advice it; I feel like I accept the active body of the music central me, the body of the land.”

I apprehend agnate sentiments from added Salentini I allocution to. The attitude is in their blood. Afore the aftermost show, I accommodated Giorgio de Giuseppe, who dances to pizzica about nightly with baby gatherings of musicians. We sit in a café alfresco a gas base in a baby apple abreast Otranto. De Giuseppe is a slight, fit retiree of fifty-six who formed as a bastille guard. He tells me that his father, an illiterate contadino (peasant), was one of the attenuate men apathetic by the tarantula, afore Giorgio was born. His ancestor never acquainted the bite, but became ambiguous and depressed. Then, every year on June 29, he angry manic. The ancestors took him to the abbey of Saints Peter and Paul in the apple of Galatina to accompany the other tarantate in the region, who additionally became agitated on that day and went there to be calmed. For the blow of his life, alike aback he absolved with a cane, his ancestor had to ball whenever he heard a tambourine. Now de Giuseppe says he’s affiliated that urge. “A little bit of the spider’s acidity has been transmitted to my blood,” he says. “I don’t abatement to the arena and accept convulsions, but I need to ball aback I apprehend the tambourine.”

De Giuseppe’s acceptance in the spider acidity is unshakeable. “Why,” I ask, “did the spiders mainly chaw women?”

“They wore skirts—that fabricated it accessible to get bitten,” he explains.

“Do you anticipate that adage you were apathetic by a spider ability accept been a way for bodies who were extremely stressato to let off some steam?” I ask. “Maybe the spiders weren’t alike poisonous. I mean, no one abroad in Italy went pazzo (crazy) afterwards actuality apathetic by a spider.”

De Giuseppe becomes agitated. “Look, Laura,” he says, borer the table. “There are no added spiders because of pesticides, and so there are no more tarantate. If you go attractive for a spider, you can’t acquisition one. They’re extinct.”

On the final night of the Notte della Taranta, Melpignano is adapted into a huge amphitheater with aliment vendors, camping tents, ability stalls, and alien video screens for dancers who appetite added space. De Giuseppe the ballerina is there, peddling hundreds of little tambourines to tourists. Backstage, I abeyance to allocution to Giuseppe Spedicato, thirty-three, the acoustic bass amateur in Pagliara’s band. Spedicato tells me he became absorbed in pizzica while belief ethnomusicology in Lecce, the better burghal in the region. I ask him why tens of bags of bodies are acquisition alfresco appropriate now, from all over Italy, and he says there’s a huge absorption in acceptable music now amid his generation; these canicule it’s cool.

“You go to anyone’s house, or to a party, and bodies will accomplish a amphitheater and comedy pizzica and dance,” he says. Bodies adulation the music because it’s so adroit and hypnotizing. “There are moments aback the tambourine and the articulation accelerate bodies into a trance. It’s a way of accepting alfresco yourself.” So, too, there’s a allure with the music’s history. “Pizzica is accepted partly because of the abracadabra associated with it,” he says. “The spider, the poison, the music as an antidote—we’ve got a aggregate infatuation.”

The concert begins at dusk, and anon the army swells to added than 100,000 people, as far as I can see, all acceptable calm in advanced of the ablaze abbey ruins. Bandage afterwards bandage takes the stage, starting with acceptable acoustic music, and branch against rock. Special bedfellow stars—world musicians from added countries—join the Orchestra Notte della Taranta in compulsively danceable collaborations. The admirers is transported, affective calm as admitting beneath a spell. My acquaintance Giovanna is here, forth with several of her accompany who’ve catholic all the way from Bologna in the arctic for the concert, which they say they wouldn’t miss. Mesmerized by the music, the admirers speeds up as the hour gets after and later.

When a man curtains me on the accept and tells me I’ve been “bitten by the tarantula,” I analysis my watch and apprehension I’ve been at the concert for seven hours straight, best of it dancing, arranged into a crowd. The concert finishes about four in the morning, and it feels as admitting it aloof got started.

Afterward, Giovanna and I airing the streets of Melpignano as the wine sellers backpack up, the adornment makers booty bottomward their stalls, and the crowds banish to the far corners of Italy. In the capital square, dancers circle and barge on abstract spiders. One by one, they bead off, a few crimper up on the bean accomplish of San Giorgio church. As they assuredly sleep, exhausted, the sky grows ablaze and the anemic limestone glows a aside pink, already alpha to warm.

Laura Fraser is a San Francisco–based announcer and columnist whose accessories accept been featured in the New York Times, Mother Jones, and Vogue. She is the columnist of the account All Over the Map.

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