Friday, January 28, 2011

A Mid-Winter Night's Feast

The preparations started days before. A truckload of sand was mounded in the piazza. Then, for an entire day great logs were conveyed through the streets on a squeaking, suffering tractor. They were painstakingly stacked on the dirt so that, in the end, the teepee of tree trunks reached up one story high. Old men stood beholding the scene and discussing how the bonfire would be bettered if they’d have loaded the logs in a different manner; how years ago the blaze was bigger; how there were bonfires in every contrada of the village. How they used to each put potatoes and meats to roast in the coals the morning after, the whole contrada gathered and ate together. Nowadays…mah. Things have changed, they moaned.

The festa di Sant’Antonio Abate is a big-deal shindig in these parts, a mid-winter party to liven things up and have a little fun. The party is to honor the saint who is important here in rural Italy, the protector of animals. I assumed that the many Antonios and Antoniettas we know here would have special cause to celebrate, as the onomastico, or saint’s day, is often more celebrated than one’s birthday. However, they told me that they are all named for Sant’Antonio di Padova, “the Italian Antonio, naturalmente”. Ah. Sant’Antonio Abate, it turns out, is from Egypt. Who knew?

This festa is a much-anticipated party regardless of which Antonio it celebrates. The little town garnered three bands to provide music. Stands were set up to provide typical local dishes. On the eve of the party I went to watch the pasta brigade as they hand-crafted 35 kilos of cavatelli. Brave donne, all of them. I learned their secrets, and while they wouldn’t let me actually make the pasta, they did let me lay hands on it and line the little cavatelli up neatly on the trays while they rhythmically dragged out the shape and flicked them my way. At the festa, it was served with a mouth-watering sugo di cinghiale (sauce with wild boar). Naturally, that was the first thing we ate.

Then it was on the porchetta – just a taste, mind you, we split a panino between the two of us – because Bryan was committed to the salsiccia that was being grilled up by a friend, the rising aroma of which drifted up and down the corso. But not content, he also had to try the cuturiedd, a lamb and potato dish found in these parts. That’s when things got going, as Bryan was found by his cronies and made to sit. And drink. Guys bond while doing testosterone-ish stuff together, and in this case it was the pig slaughter. They spotted him and slapped him on the back and rolled out the home- made wine. “Sure, they said, you could buy some vino cheap at the booth, but Raffaele’s is much better. Taste it. Dai…now tell me, is that not good?” They didn’t want the glass to become empty; Bryan had forgotten the Basilicata Rule of “Drink Slowly”. We finally convinced them to release us so we could wander the corso between the two piazzas and see what was happening.

We joyously found friends who came from another town, and Michela and I danced (badly, but who cares) some of the country dances while Bryan stood off to the side taking video. Other friends wandered in and out; we laughed and stood by the bonfire to warm ourselves, and shuffled between venues to take it all in. I danced with another friend (again badly, but we neither of us claim any twinkle toes), though it may have gone better if Sandro had relinquished his panino during the ballo. No matter, we laughed and twirled and had fun, which is, of course, the whole point of a party.

When I was still a little dizzy from the dips and swirls, an acquaintance approached, smiled and said, “You know, we are so happy you have chosen to live here. Seeing you smile and laugh and be a part of our village…it is so nice.”

It was a notte bianca (white night), meaning the festa lasted til dawn. We capped off the night with a final glass and toast with Sandro and company and toted ourselves off to bed at 2:00 a.m., which seemed to be the magic hour when nearly all of our acquaintance also wandered away from the flickering warmth of the bonfire to the warmth of their houses.

Despite the old men’s griping about the modern rendition, we thought it was a pretty punchy party, a bigger deal than most street festivals we've attended in metropolitan areas in the US. Our village of 600 rolled out a rollicking night, a welcome break in the bleak of winter with food, fun, friendship and festivities. My kind of party, indeed.

Bryan also posted about the festa with some photos on his blog.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Year End Meme

Mea culpa!  I know, it's been an absurdly long time since I've been around.  Scusatemi!  I could fill you in on all the daily activities that have kept me occupied, all the feasts we were forced to endure (I know, sometimes life is tough ;), and all the tribulations of travel that laid me low for a while.  But it would take more time than I have at the moment.  Pazienza, as they constantly say around here.  (For a nutshell version, hop over to Bryan's blog.) 

Instead, I'm settling back into the nest with a meme.  It's been quite a while since I've done one, and I was inspired by friend Laura over at Ciao Amalfi to head into the New Year with this one. 

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
Bought a house in Italy!  Made two trips without Bryan (but one was with dear friend and side-kick Maria, aka Louise, making it my first international chick trip!).  Acquired a rustic room that used to be a stall that will one day be incorporated into our living space.  Met an entire village.  Carried furniture through narrow medieval pedestrian lanes.  Learned to live with heating from just a fireplace and a small electric heater.  Participated in three grape harvests.  Went to two Italian funerals.  Watched a pig slaughter (well, we said we wanted to "go local", and thankfully it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be).  Cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 28 people.  Spent four months in Italy without visiting any historic sites or traveling around.   

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't make resolutions.  But I do choose a theme song for the year, which helped keep me focused. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No, nobody.  Sadly, I'm getting to that age when my friends' kids are having kids, maybe this year!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No one close to me, but my neighbor and a friend's dad died, so we attended both of their funerals.

5. What countries did you visit?
Italy (three times, including the move).  Though in a way the year in Viriginia spent more like visiting than residency.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
The winning lotto ticket!

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I am not good about remembering specific dates, though I ought to be able to remember the day in January when I signed the paperwork for the house (jetlag...I blame jetlag!)  I do remember that I arrived in Italy on September 14 to become a resident of this here village.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting through bureaucratic hurdles again comes to mind.  But becoming a real resident of the village is the best thing; trudging through with my Italian language skills, being accepted and made to feel part of the town has been a real achievement.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not working hard enough at adapting to metro DC life.  I gave up rather easily.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Just the usual seasonal allergies and cold/flu.  Thankfully.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A 300-something year old house!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Our friend Tonino.  Without him, things would have been more difficult and definitely less fun.  He's been a hero...and a great guy to hang out with.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Well, Berlusconi comes to mind. 

14. Where did most of your money go?
House, home and hearth.  Pretty much in that order.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Leaving northern Virginia!  (Are you catching the drift that I really didn't like living there?)

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
My annual soundtrack.  (See question number 2).  Go With The Flow by Giovanni Allevi was last year's soundtrack.  For 2011 I have chosen another song by Giovanni Allevi - Back to Life- because I feel like leaving the grief and stress of our life in northern Viriginia to live in this lovely village did help bring me back to life.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
Happier, thinner, and poorer. 

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Laugh.  Especially at myself.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying. But I come from a long line of worriers; it's in the genes.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
A tavola!  Five days of feasting marked our first Christmas season in Basilicata, and it was beautiful!  We even had a nice dusting of snow to make it perfect.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?
Yes, with our village and its inhabitants; and with a kitten named Lucano.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I don't watch much TV, but I did get into White Collar (all blue eyes and charm!) and I liked Castle.  Here we have only three channels so it's a bit limited.  I find myself watching i Soliti Ignoti rather often.  And I still like the crime-fighting priest, Don Matteo.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No, I don't hold hatred.  There were some people who severely ticked me off, but I don't hate them.

24. What was the best book you read?
That Summer in Sicily by Marlena di Blasi.  Her writing is sumptuous and the story is amazing.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Boh.  I didn't have any.  I listened to a lot of jazz to relax.

26. What did you want and get?
A little house of my own.

27. What did you want and not get?
That winning lotto ticket I already mentioned!

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
It's been ages since I've gone to a theater, and for some reason I can't remember most of the movies we'd rented last year!  So I'm going to have to say...and don't judge me for this...The Bounty Hunter.  Why?  Because it's only movie I can definitively remember and because I do *heart* Gerard Butler.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Well, this meme is rather nosey ;)  I turned 44 in November.  We celebrated by having pizza with friends and staying up past midnight to toast my birth, a sweet gesture on their part.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More work and more money.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Same as always- comfy, casual and classic.

32. What kept you sane?
Bryan, aka The Voice of Reason.  And walks.  Lots of walks.  And Giovanni Allevi CDs.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Can't say I'm totally impressed with any public figure or celebrity at the moment. 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Do you really want to get me started?  Did you not notice that I live in Italy, where Berlusconi makes a monthly mockery of the political system?  And then there's the Tea Party people, health care, immigration...oy veh.  Don't want to go there.

35. Who did you miss?
My sister, my mamma, family and friends.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Can't pick just one as I met an entire village!

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
Things work out in the long run.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
I can see clearly now the rain is gone; I can see all the obstacles in my way.  Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind, it's gonna be a bright, bright sunshiney day.

Buon anno!
Please feel free to create your own end of year meme and post the link in the comments!