Gassano is a little village with one of those medieval cores that you don’t find much outside the Lunigiana—one that hasn’t been modified a whole lot since the middle of the millennium. Narrow lanes go up, down, through arches—and you never know where you’ll end up unless you’re familiar with the territory. We like to do this at night, when folks are at home and the flickering glow of lights lends some atmosphere to the place.
Gassano also seems to be sagra city. It seems we’re there almost every weekend in the summer, eating with the locals. A few weeks ago we were slugging down fried eels. Last night we consumed polenta with capra (goat) and chinghiale (wild boar). The side dishes you see in the picture are farro salad and tomatoes. You probably figured out the tomatoes.
As with most sagre, you look at the price list and memorize the stuff you want. Then you go over to the table where people will write your desires down on a sheet of paper, total up the cost, take your money and hand the paper back to you. You can see this process in the picture below.
Then you find a seat and hand the paper to your “waiter.” A bit later you find yourself soaking up the last bit of sauce on the plastic plate with a piece of bread. You can go through the process again and order more.
As we were chowing down, the dance band (Ikebana Group and Fabio Ceccarini) was tuning up. Well, they weren’t tuning up exactly, they were testing the limits of the sound system, all 17 jillion watts of it.
Gassano is the ideal place for a sagra with dance band because they not only have a perfect space for it, they also seem to have cornered the market on wattage for sound equipment. We older folks try to eat early to avoid the assault to our ears. But last night…
The procedure for testing the sound system seems to involve turning the volume to full, then having the musician play the instrument while the sound man nudges the volume control counterclockwise until the screeching just barely stops. Alternatively, the sound man can listen for the cries of “Basta!” from the people trying to eat in peace and act accordingly—or not. Once a sound level is reached that can split an eardrum as easily as a big axe splits balsa wood, the sound man can leave the village to let his ears recover.
I often wonder how music ever existed in Italy before electronic amplification. I was once at a traditional music festival in Sardinia which got called off because they couldn’t get the electronics to work. These guys were playing 2000 year old instruments. Go figure.
Oh, and the cinghiale was very good. The polenta was so-so. Now that Fabizio and Marla of Bella Baita have introduced me to the polenta they have in the alps called pignulet, made from a type of Piedmontese heritage corn and so much more flavorful than standard polenta, I’m a critic, especially of the “instant” crap-polenta some restaurants serve.
Have fun at a traditional sagra. Today they’re celebrating truffles at Lago di Monte.