Blame everything on the heat, because it’s damn hot right now, and all your plans for the day revolve around getting things done before it’s too hot, or waiting for an evening breeze so that you can venture outside again. Allora, it’s August in Italy, in all of it’s baked glory.
We’re only 11 days away from the start of our August festa, the Donazione della Santa Spina. Our festa is a medieval themed week-long event involving ceremonies, competitions, drum beating, trumpets blaring, lots of people in heavy medieval costumes, archery contests, the smell of roasting meats from the tavernas, the sound of drinking games going on until the wee hours, and of course, the spettacolos or plays. Town is divided up into 3 riones, or sectors and we compete against each other for the honor of winning the Palio.
There is an archery contest, but the big hullabaloo is over the spettacolos. These aren’t cheesy little plays; they are full blown, fully costumed major events. We’ve been involved with rehearsals for the past few weeks, nightly events that start at 9:30 or so and go until midnight, and that’ s just as extras. One interesting cultural note: the Italian language does not make a distinction between drama and melodrama, which as you spend time here, makes more and more sense in all sorts of contexts. The specttacolos are melodramas loosely based on the history of the town, and primarily feature our illustrious forefather Braccio Fortebraccio. (Or as our friend Tom calls him Armie Armstrong…. A loosely literal translation of his name.)
Braccio Fortebraccio, a condottiero or mercenary, in the early 1400’s was at the forefront of guerrilla warfare tactics, and developed a lightening quick style of battle maneuvers called Braccesca, which was named after him. Legend has it that he was given a thorn from the crown of Jesus, in thanks for a battle won, and as he approached Montone, the bells in town spontaneously started ringing and flowers started blooming. Our town festa commemorates the honor of receiving the thorn, and after a week of festivities, the winner of all the competitions is announced and the thorn is shown to the populace. The thorn then goes back under wraps until Easter, when it is once more displayed to the townspeople.
What this means is that there are a load of men in tights running around to the sound of trumpets, I get to cook in the taverna kitchens, and proudly wear the blue and gold colors of my rione, and Jeff works in the cantieri handing out wine, which comes in white, black (nero, not red) and vin santo. I’m not sure why, but red taverna wine is usually referred to as nero. This could be an indication of the wine quality.
A few weeks ago, I attended a food committee meeting for our Del Verziere rione. This was a four hour long meeting, where at the end of the meeting, it was decided to make the same things they make every single year….since medieval times. At one point, I suggested making some panzanella (a bread salad common in Umbria and Tuscany) and although it merited discussion, it had never been done before so it was a very risky idea. To put this into American perspective, every year there is a town picnic and every year we have potato salad, and now, some one wants to bring cole slaw! Can you imagine such a thing?? This discussion was followed by a 45 minute debate on whose sausages should we have at the taverna. Now bear in mind, they’ve all grown up eating either Guido’s or the other’s guy sausages, and by now you would think some consensus had been reached, but you would be wrong! And just to be sure that we had it all under control, we went to a practice dinner on Saturday night.
Unfortunately, I can’t show you any pictures of the dinner, because the menu is a closely guarded secret. (As are the plays. If you are caught discussing the play outside of rehearsal, it’s a damnable thing. Why, just anyone could hear and there are spies everywhere! The Palio is a serious business). Let me just say, that we ate like kings on Saturday night! The meal went on and on, and I’m very happy to say that a dish that I brought is now actually being considered for the menu. If you PROMISE not to tell ANYONE, I’ll tell you what I made…. I made faro salad. SSSSShhhh…. What if one of the other riones takes into their heads to make faro salad? It will be on your head!
P.S. Speaking of secrets…there is news black out on the orto currently in effect. We want to surprise our co-croppers who arrive this weekend!