Paciano, Umbria: Festa di Tavolo Lungo
As I was installing a lightning bolt on this British lad’s forehead, a la Harry Potter, his older brother watched carefully, and then signed up for a shooting star on his forehead: Harry Potter and Merlin as relatives!
It was indeed a day full of magic. Once a year Paciano offers its festa de tavolo lungo, literally, the festival of the long table. During this day, this charming Renaissance town becomes one giant dining room. You buy a ticket for 12 Euros, and are treated to a 6 part meal, served at stations around the town: Apperitivos, wine and water, fragioli de Umbria (beans), pasta al ragu, porchetto (pork), and dolce con caffe.
My friend Margaret had signed me up to do face painting in the main square. “You can do this, right?” “Certo, why not?” After all, I had years of experience drawing pictures on lunch bags for my children, and I knew children to be a most appreciative audience. Remembering that my son approved of my rendition of the space shuttle on his lunch bag, with a pleased and proud smile, I figured faces would be an easier medium.
What I had not counted on was the wiggle factor. The youngest were the wiggliest, and the older boys, the most distractable. So holding onto the to-be-decorated body part was a lot harder than executing the design!
After Harry Potter, lady bugs were high in popularity with the girls, and the tricolore (the Italian flag) was a favorite, to my surprise, among the boys. I manufactured butterflies in all colors — purple, pink, green with orange dots. Hot air balloons, little foot prints walking up the arms, birds, fish, spiders, girasole (sunflowers) all sprouted on arms, hands, foreheads and cheeks. One pre-teen girl consumed every picture I had on my poster, and still wanted more: clearly she was going to grow up and be a tattooed biker babe! I rose to the occasion and created several designs just for her: a necklace and a ring, painted on– I think it was a combination of emeralds and cinnabar.
One woman asked, “what can you do?” and remembering my space shuttle, I said,
“Anything. What do you want?”
“A black cat on my shoulder. Here.”
“Smiling, or arched back?” Smiling contentedly. Later my friend Margaret greeted this woman, reaching out to touch her arm, and the woman shrieked “Don’t touch my cat!!! It might smudge!”
My biggest challenge was the young boy who wanted to be Spiderman. “Draw me his whole mask.” Gosh, I only saw the film once, and this fellow clearly could quote some of the dialogue, complete with inflections and timing! But, rallying with space shuttle courage, I ventured forth, drawing ALL over his face, around his eyes, legs down his cheeks, spider head mid-forehead. Then I handed him the mirror, awaiting judgement. He studied himself, pleased, then said “You forget the line that goes from the chin down the middle of the neck. That’s where the zipper is hidden.” So we installed the zipper.
After a while, Spiderman came back, holding one of those long thin balloons, in a kind of loop. He handed it to me proudly.
“I made this for you. It’s a heart.”