Could You Keep It Down?
I’m in desperate need of some sleep. I am now questioning our decision to live in the centro storico instead of an isolated farmhouse surrounded by vineyards. Grapes, after all, are quiet. Our neighbors are not. I’ll write more about the one-woman wrecking crew who is the next-door signora another time. For now I’ll stick with the frenzy of activity we’ve had going on that has kept me away from the blog.
You’ve been reading about La Quintana. It finished up last weekend with the mother of all pageants the Sfilata, in which 1500 participants in costume paraded through town sestiere by sestiere. It’s an epic event proudly carrying medieval overtones, with people representing old-world themes, such as archers, falconers, mountaineers, and more. Fascinating to watch, we stood in the sun for two hours as they marched elegantly past us.
But the end of La Quintana coincided with the Feast of Sant’Emidio, the patron saint of the city who not only protects the town from destructive earthquakes but warrants a major party in his honor which mixes the sacred and profane, as so many things in Italy do…religious processions preceded punk rock concerts; a special mass before the church-sponsored lottery drawing, with everything culminating in a gigantic fireworks display the likes of which we’ve rarely seen even on the Fourth of July. Thundering booms so loud they shook the earth beneath our feet punctuated the sky-filling explosions of elaborate, dancing light.
Did I mention the fireworks didn’t start until 1:00 a.m.? Now you know why I’m so tired. The concerts are in the nearby piazzas and we hear them whether we exit or not. Ditto with the fireworks, so we figure if we’re not going to sleep because of the noise, we may as well join the crowd outside. All week we weren’t getting to bed until well after 2:00 a.m. Those of you who know us well know we’re normally in bed by midnight - max.
So when we left Monday for the sleepy hamlet in Basilicata that is my ancestral town we were excited about the prospect not only of hanging out with my cousin but getting some decent shut-eye. Despite having a patron festival going on, we knew that the place had only 2000 inhabitants, so how rowdy could it get?
Quite a lot, it turns out. The population swelled to 5000, what with the returning Lucani who live in other parts of the country, students home for the summer, and people from neighboring villages…all of whom wait all year for this grand party. Who knew? Our rustic cabin (read, *rustic*) was set in the woods and quiet, so that wasn’t the issue. The partying family who wouldn’t relinquish us to bed was the problem. What do you mean you want to leave? It’s only 1:30! exclaimed Michele. Only? We’re exhausted, we whined! But what could we do? We were the guests and didn’t want to offend them so we soldiered on, returning to the cabin after 2:00 a.m. every night, dropping like the dead into bed and then waking with the sun when it glinted through the wooden slats.
Their hospitality was overwhelming, though. We were welcomed into their circle and accepted immediately by their friends. The notion of southern hospitality is alive and well in Basilicata. They shared their wine, their food and their hearts and we will be ever grateful and ever touched by their kindness to the foreigners. We sat down for lunch and spent 3 ½ hours dining among them, learning dialect words for the dishes and learning that here we are considered family. One dinner ended at midnight and was capped with fireworks at the top of the mountain, which in turn set the hillside ablaze. The dry grasses ignited easily but quickly flamed out on the rocky terrain, but gave us a dose of adrenaline that (of course) had to be tempered with a digestivo. Michele and the crowd remained at the bar at 2:15 when we gave it up and went home with their cries of protest and laughs at our wimpy-ness echoing in our ringing ears.
They wanted us to stay longer. The festa would continue another two weeks, after all, why should we leave now? For some sleep, we said. We need some sleep. We’ve discovered that Italians like to part-ty. Everyone is on vacation in August, so why not live it up? Even in a sleepy village on the side of a mountain in remote Basilicata.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my pillow is calling my name. While the Ascolani are eating lunch it may be the only quiet time I get for a nap. I need to take advantage of every precious hour I can.