Why you should care
Because jinx isn’t just the name of that goth girl you want to get with.
If you think tribal dance survives today just in Papua New Guinea, the Amazon or Africa, you’re wrong.
Wait till you visit Puglia.
That’s Italy’s heel, to be precise. Dubbed the Maldives of the Mediterranean because of its lovely beaches, Puglia is also home to a special kind of predator: the tarantula. In Puglia, the venom of this infamously poisonous spider will course through your veins — even if you don’t actually encounter one. That’s right: No spider bite necessary, and the “venom” is actually a good thing in Puglia.
What affects people who come here is likely a combination of summer heat and the primal vibrations of this prehistoric piece of land, which was once roamed by Phoenician wizards, pirates and seafarers. Locals and tourists alike are “naturally” bit by this hairy spider — again, metaphorically, though if you end up wandering in the sunburned fields, you might get nipped by the real thing. Either way, the poison will not kill you. The tarantula’s bite makes you start dancing and dancing like a mad cat thrown into water. People go wild trying to chase the evil venom away — a symbol of demoniac possession. You must dance all night until you fall in a trance and faint. And at the end, you’re totally healed.
It’s great fun!
This ancient dance has a name — “Pizzica,” meaning “bit,” “pinched” by the tarantula.
In Puglia, only the dance has the power to heal you from whatever dark forces are controlling your soul and/or body. So each summer fans get together at a festival in the tiny village of Melpignano to celebrate “The Tarantula’s Night.” They spin around till dawn, jumping in the air like monkeys, dressed as sort of gypsies with drums, tambourines and bells. It’s a contagious trend. Pizzica dance schools are flourishing across the boot. Sicily and northern Alpine villages have adopted it, and Italians living abroad are helping with the export.
So if you think you’ve been “bitten” by the spider or are somehow under a negative influence and weird stuff has happened lately — lost your job, the love of your life and glasses keep slipping out of your hands — well, then, pack your suitcase and get to Puglia — fast! A curse has no doubt been cast on you. A network of villages spread out across the region like a spiderweb hosts simultaneous concerts, dances and events. There’s no escaping Pizzica. You’ll be caught in the net like a fly and will feel the rhythm pulsing through your veins.
“I’m from Milan and never believed in jinx or magic, but the first time I came here, I just couldn’t resist the music. I started shaking and shaking and next thing I knew, it was dawn. Also, believe it or not, but two days later I found a job!” says Marco Trevigiano, who’s been coming here every year since that lucky night.
How did the myth start? The tarantula today is an embodiment of evil and bad luck, though in the past, poor farmers working their asses off in the orchards really were bitten by the spider hidden in the grass. They got a high fever and were brought to village magicians for an exorcism. Some made a pilgrimage in their pajamas to a crowded church and would start bouncing in the air, clinging to columns. The only remedy was the healing dance. Then all of a sudden, they would fall asleep on the altar and when they woke up, the “disease” had disappeared.
Things might have changed a bit, but when it comes to Southern Italians, superstition rules their everyday lives. They’re obsessed with it. If you’ve just had a baby and no milk oozes out of your nipples, it means an envious childless woman has laid a curse on you. You must go to her and ask that she take her curse away by squeezing your breasts.
I’m not saying everyone still practices such stuff, but it’s out there.