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Ascencion Day and the Grilli 25/08/2011

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c. 1910

Ascencion Day is observed at Florence in a way to make it one of the most characteristic feasts in tlie Calendar of the city. At dawn, the people stream out in thousands to the Cascine, spending the day till noon in the open grass-spaces, and under the trees, of that public park. While this place was still the dairy farm of the Grand Dukes, custom prescribed that the day should begin with a drink of warm milk taken at the farm. The people then passed on, as they still do, to a rendezvous at the ancient oak-tree of the adjoining park, whence they scattered again in groups to catch the grilli, the black field-crickets, that form, even to-day, the chief object of this outing. Their prey caught and caged, the people dine; some eating on the grass the provisions they have brought; others seeking the rustic restaurants set out beneath the trees. At midday the park is empty again; the people have gone home with their grilli – caught or bought – in the little cages of buckwheat stem that serve to contain them. The cages are hung in the houses, for the Florentines think the cricket’s song brings luck to the home; especially if the grilli can be kept alive and vocal till the day of Corpus Christi. It is to be feared that few survive as long! Just this survival, however, must be insisted on; for it shows clearly what Florence has in mind when the grilli are caught. When Easter falls late – towards the 25th of April – Corpus Domini as Italy calls the further feast, tends to coincide with the summer solstice. Now the song of the field-cricket, opening feebly about the beginning of May, reaches its height only at midsummer, to die away about the 15th of July. Thus, when Ascension-day falls on April 30th there are no singing-crickets; and evidently the solstice is the date at which any observance connected with this insect should properly fall. With this reference to the solstice ancient authority fully agrees. Pliny, who mentions how the giylliis was caught in his time with a hair holding an ant as bait, quotes Nigidius for the great importance attached to the field-cricket in the doctrine of the Magi. It burrows in the earth, he says, walks backwards, and sings by night; such are the reasons he offers for the attention it attracted. Now the same backward movement was noticed in the scarabaus of the Nile and in the crab. Egypt made the scarabaus a symbol of the sun, and the world saw the crab in that sign of the Zodiac which the sun entered at midsummer. In Cancer, the sun began his annual retreat; hence a perceived relation between this solstice and all backward-moving animals. Among such then the grillo held a place of honour, and belonged, like them, to the same great moment in the year; gathering all the fancies with which the solstice was associated.