The first sign of something brewing was the flower petal design placed on the tarmac in front of our little church.
Then the neighbors invited us to Sunday lunch for the feast day of San Giovanni Battista.
One thing I knew not to expect when I bought a house in Italy was acceptance into the fabric of the local community. I had heard stories of rejection not just from Brits and Americans, but by folks moving from places as foreign to northern Tuscany as, say, Naples. In this sense, we are truly blessed by Italian neighbors who have made an extraordinary effort to include us in local celebrations.
In any case, by 1pm everyone in our little cluster of buildings in Piano di Collecchia (sopra) was gathered around long tables under a sunshade. The aperitivi were brough out: Insalata di Farro—a salad made from the grain from the Garfagnana region to the south of the Lunigiana—meats like lardo di Colonnata, homemade salami and coppa, bread, and two types of torta dell’erba.
Then came ravioli in brodo, a meat-filled ravioli in broth. Then the chickens stewed for the broth came out along with some delicious green sauce to add zip to the rich, round flavors of the long-cooked chicken. A sformata of vegetables cooked in the wood-fired oven rounded out the course.
Then, just as you thought “well, that’s the meat course, now on to dessert,” out came the real meat course. Platters of roast suckling pig and roast chicken were set on the table—all washed down by wine made by the very folks eating with us.
Dessert had to come some time, and four o’clock in the evening was as good a time as ever. There was a flan and an “experimental” tiramisu with forest fruits at the bottom. Then came the mirto, a traditional Sardinian liquor made from myrtle berries. By this time, feeling frisky with the alcohol, the outsiders (including a Sardinian architect and her Napolitano husband) were called upon to plan our own feast days.
The fourth of July was selected for us. I suggested a meal of hot dogs and “birra come acqua” (which brought forth a shout of “Budweiser!” from the assembled masses). Obviously, mediocrity is universally celebrated.
Then came the protest, “But you have much better hot dogs in American than we have here!”
Now there was something I didn’t know. Can hot dogs really get wurst?
So we decided upon roasting a turkey—an enormous turkey. Big enough that you’d need a ladder to climb up in order to reach the breast—and maybe you’d need a chain saw to slice it. Everyone nodded in agreement and pointed to the hunter of the group.
Now that would make a stand-out American celebration! Along with some fireworks, of course.
Now that we were part of the crowd, we had to drink a sample of all the other homemade liquors at the table, including walnut liquor and and centerbe, a liquor made of local herbs and roots. As I slumped back into my chair, I asked “how can you all eat and drink like this day after day?”
“If we did, we’d all die young.” came the answer.
Evidently, the day’s menu is the same every year; the particular food we’d just consumed was a long-standing tradition based on this particular feast day. Thank goodness for religion or we’d never experience food to die for.
After sunset John the Baptist, standing rigidly on a platform hoisted upon the shoulders of six faithful, was paraded from one side of town to the other—right smack in the middle of the main road. Startled drivers screeched to a halt to avoid hitting the villagers following the saint, their candles puncturing the dim light of late evening. It was quite a sight.
(click the procession picture to see it larger at Wanderer’s Eye)