Category Archives: Festivals and Sagras

Otto Cento…the finish

I went out Sunday morning to see what mayhem had ensued overnight. There was cannon fire and rifle fire echoing all around the town and I went to see what was going on.

The first thing I ran into was the Briganti flag in the piazza. When they take over during the night they always hoist their flag and remove the Italian banner. It may look messy, and it is, but it’s intentional. Disregard the scaffolding on the Comune building. the red fencing is normal in Italy around construction work. So is the hand road sign. There is a briganti on the hand sign. And there is a yellow ATTENZIONE LAVORI IN CORSO or Caution, Men at work sign.
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Next we see a close up of the yellow sign. Maybe now you get the meaning?men_at_work

And, in keeping with the theme, here is a work notice that they post at all construction sites here. The briganti is at the top. The name of Umbertide used to be La Fratta. And note the date: February 30, 1861. A date that doesn’t exist! Hah! work_notice

So I went off to see what all the shooting was about. I came upon a bivouac. Apparently the soldiers had camped under the Rocca and were now shooting at another group up on the ramparts. One group wore black uniforms, the ones up top wore red. I am woefully uninformed about who these groups are. I will need to ask Angelo. He may know.
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They had muzzleloader rifles which definitely slowed the action down a LOT.
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They brought their horses too.horse

And here are some of the costumed re-enactors. costumes1

Over the door it says 8th Bersaglieri. This means the 8th battalion of riflemen or sharpshooters.costume2

So ends another Otto Cento. A fun time was had by all!

My fourth Otto Cento!

It is September 2nd. What a long HOT summer we have endured. Yesterday we had our first rain since April – over 100 days with nary a drop! It is so dry. Many trees are already dropping their leaves. The Umbrian grape harvest is predicted to be down 40%. But they do say the vintage will be epic quality. When I got up this morning I heard the sound of gunfire from all around. Then I realized the beginning of the hunting season starts in September. Signs of autumn.  It is clear and cool today after our storms.

Thursday marked the begining of our annual Otto Cento festival. It will be our fourth. They moved it up into late August this year. Until now it has been on the third weekend in September. We went out last night for dinner with friends. During the festa all the regular restaurants change over to set menus. Last night we had four courses, water, vino and coffee for 25 Euro a head. There are also around 15 or 20 pop-up restaurants along with numerous stands selling specialty things and drinks. The stilt walkers were back. So ethereal and graceful. There was a puppet show for the kids going on.

After dinner we walked around the town and looked at all the action. There were millions of people out and about. Umbertide has seen a decline in summer activities this year so I think everyone was ready for the party now. Here are some pictures of the festival scenes.

One of the pop up venues. Notice the costumed folks over on the right. There were lots of people in costume this year.
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The Rocca – our fortress.larocca2

One of the busy street scenes.street_scene1

Moon over la Rocca. A beautiful evening for the celebration.
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As we headed back home we decided to pay a call on our Briganti. They are the bad-boys always up to no good but really the most fun place. Here is a group of the Briganti musicians.
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He is my favorite Brigand. He has a great smile.
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And of course, the bad boys and girls must have the brothel with the Ladies of the Night.
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I will check back on the Briganti during the night Saturday when they take over the town. It is all part of the reenactment of the events in the late 1800s forming the Italian country. Usually the Briganti do something naughty to shock everyone. You can look back at past September posts to see previous years. Hopefully, I can get pictures on Sunday morning of the mayhem wreaked on Saturday night and early Sunday before the authorities remove it.

We stopped by to see my friend Angelo who owns the Alimentari downstairs from us. He was is a great mood. He had transformed his shop for the festival.angelo

And, of course, we paid a brief visit to Bar Mary to find Mary manning the bar. They also serve snacks during the festival.mary

A final observation. I have NEVER met an Italian who did not love to have his or her picture taken. They are cute.

Only Wine Festival – Città di Castello

Every year we have meant to go to the Only Wine Festival in the town just north of us. This year we did. The purpose of the festival is to promote young winemakers around Italy. The winemakers must be under 40 years of age. It helps them get publicity and visibility they may not have gotten elsewhere. The festival has a website and we checked it out. There were many special tastings such as a Whisky tasting, Sparkling wine tasting, Cigar tasting, beer tastings, regional wines such as Umbrian, Tuscan. These had to be reserved and had a fee. We decided to go for a targeted wine tasting of wines grown in volcanic soils around Italy. We really didn’t know what to expect so this was an exploratory mission. entrance_to_fest

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We arrived around 5:15 and our tasting was at 6PM. This left time to do some of the regular tastings. There were many different venues. There also were two full floors of a palazzo that had numerous wine stations for tastings. Ostensibly you paid 15 Euro and that entitled you to five “Free” tastings of the wines. Only in Italy would they say you were getting free tastings but you had to pay the 15 Euro for them. Anyway, since we were going to the Volcano tasting we decided to just get one “Free” tasting for the 15 Euro and we’d share it. They give you a nice glass with a little sack you put around your neck to hold the glass and five tickets for the tastings. Turns out no one takes your tickets so you go in and it’s unlimited tastings for as long as you can stand up! It wasn’t too crowded because it was early. We enjoyed all the young winemakers who were eager to talk about their wines.

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Then we went upstairs to the Volcano tasting. We didn’t know where it was and there were no signs. Typical. We asked but no one knew. Finally we found the room way back in a corner. We went in and there were tables set up with six glasses at each setting. The room was hushed. We sat at a table in the front and after we sat down three other single men came in one after the other and joined us. A sommelier came and introduced each wine as they were poured by numerous pourers throughout the room. Of course I didn’t understand everything he said . But I did manage to catch the grapes for each, whether they were aged in oak and for how long, and the region they came from. The first one came from Lazio, north of Rome. Next two from Orvietto. Then one from the Veneto and finally two from Sicily on Mt. Etna. All were white except for the last one, a light red. It was quite interesting. One of our table-mates asked if I could understand it and I said, maybe 30%. Turns out hes a vintner from near Orvietto and one of the wines was his. It is also a vineyard we tried to visit once and were turned away. We will try again soon. One amusing aside, they had a signer for the deaf. She had both Luther and I suppressing giggles every time we looked at her. Signers have the most expressive faces and she was one of the best with rolling eyes, smacking lips, pursing lips and bulging cheeks. I wondered if the sign language in Italy was the same as in the US…

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The sun was setting when we left and walked through this park to our car park. Beautiful!
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We will go back next year but this time we’ll stick to the regular “Free” tastings.

Buona Epifania!

Today is Epifania or Epiphany in English. I looked this up…”On January 6 the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Epiphany. This religious feast brings a fulfillment of all the purposes of Advent. Epiphany, therefore, marks the end of the Advent-Christmas season. Three mysteries are encompassed in this solemnity: the adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi, the Baptism of Christ and the wedding feast at Cana. Epiphany is also known as Three Kings’ Day, in other branches of Christianity. A Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.”

Here in Umbertide we also celebrate Befana, the Christmas witch. Amusingly, she arrives in an Ape, a three wheel truck-type vehicle. She distributes candy! I took her photo and she gave me candy! I must have been good this year. Here she is!

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And there she goes…
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In Italian folklore she is thought to have originated in central Italy near where we live. Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus. Since before Babbo Natale arrived on the scene, Italian children have been celebrating the annual visit of La Befana.

Befana is said to visit all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney.

According to legend Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Christ child was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she said no, that she was too busy with her housework and sweeping up. Later, la Befana had a change of heart, and she tried to search out the location of the baby Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so forever after, la Befana has been flying over the grapevines and olive trees searching for the little baby and leaving children candy in hopes the Christ child is there.

There are many different versions of this legend to this day, some darker than the above. One tells that la Befana was mother to a child that died, and she went mad with grief. When Jesus was born, she sought him out. She thought that he was her child. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave la Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

Now la Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, and she has become a national icon. In the regions of the Marches, Umbria and Latium, her figure is associated with the Papal States, where the Epiphany held the most importance.

You can find images of la Befana all through Italy. She is not romanticized, she is an ugly hag with missing teeth and a torn dress holding a broom with a crazy grin on her face. I guess Italians don’t want to make their hag a prettier, more acceptable figure. They like her just as she is. A very Italian attitude!
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And the Italian children love playing the la Befana game. The words of this song vary in different areas, but what I read is that children gather in a seated circle with a shoe behind each of them. The designated witch walks behind them while the children sing:

Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana

The English translation is:

Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!

Prettier in Italian!

Once the song is over, all the children open their eyes, and check their shoes. Whoever finds the candy that the “Befana” has hidden there wins!

I hope my friend Michelle Damaini of il Bel Centro won’t mind my quoting her here…she wrote, “Because I love celebrating La Befana. Not just for the very Italian-ness that connects me back to the curling fog and hastening twilight of January in Spello. No, you see La Befana as a reminder. A reminder to stop sweeping, look up, and listen. Magic is all around, we just need to be open to it. We just need to listen.” Nice…
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Yesterday it snowed…
Just to document it, we had snow squalls here yesterday. South and east of us they actually got a lot of snow. Here it is very cold and blue skies today. See our snow squalls…
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Festa di San Martino

Today, for the first time that I know of, Umbertide is celebrating the Festa di San Martino. It is celebrated with roasted chestnuts, new wine, sweets, prosciutto, and bruschetta. Lovely and one of my favorites. I took a couple of pictures, bought some chestnuts (which I love), and we engaged in the passagiata on the chilly evening.

Canaiola wine.
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Roasting chestnuts.
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The band.
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Yesterday was a good day. We got lots accomplished. First and foremost was the everlasting issue of our immigration agreement. If you’ve been reading, it is recurring theme. As you may remember, we signed an agreement when we got our first Permessi di Sigorno to fulfill certain criteria. Well, since we had not fulfilled these, not because we hadn’t tried mind you, we got a letter in the mail telling us our two year period was over and we were on probation for another year after which we’d be deported. So, we decided to pay a visit to the immigration office in Perugia. We finally managed to find a person who knew what was what and could help us. Wow! Very friendly, nice, and helpful. We had, of course, pretty much complied. All we need to do is bring our proof of passing the A2 level Italian proficiency test, our deed that we purchased our house, our health cards showing we have gotten health insurance. They said that would be sufficient. Yay! Happy days.

Our third Otto Cento

It was a success! There were fire eaters, dancers, music, burlesque, beautiful stilt dancers, costumes. We had some friends come and have dinner with us Friday night. We joined in the merriment and were serenaded by the Briganti. Speaking of which, they got up to their usual antics on Saturday when they took over the town. This year they had a “christmas” theme. If you look back over my previous Otto Cento posts you will see they are very naughty boys.

An antique cycle. It was a cycle inside a big wheel with what looked like training wheels.
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The decorated town.
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The “christmas” tree. Look closely.
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Victory flag.
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Umbertide doings…

A couple of things going on here. First is the week-long Pitulum music festival. Everynight we are serinaded by an orchestra or band. All are different. Thursday was the Madonna del Rega holiday, which is an Umbertide holiday. They had a procession through town on Wednesday night and church services on Thursday. On this day, since it is a special Umbertide day, the orchestra is the local Umbertide one. It draws quite a crowd!
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Then, yesterday, I kept hearing applause and went to investigate. Looking out the window I see it is a wedding. But I could not find the bride. Then I realized it was two men. Our first same sex union here in Umbertide! It was just legalized here in Italy a few months ago. Handsome couple. And congratulations to them!
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Starting this coming Thursday is our Otto Cento festival. It will be my third. I will not be here to photograph the antics of the Briganti as I have the last two years. My sister is arriving early Sunday morning and we will pick her and her husband in Rome.

Fun stuff since we got home!

Last Wednesday we were invited to a dinner at the frontaio or olive mill where our friend Fabio gets his olives pressed. It is owned by Roberto who is a very sociable character with aspirations of having a restaurant in his mill. This turned out to be an eight course death by food extravaganza. I tried to pace myself, I really did! But I just couldn’t make it. I could not eat the last three courses. Everything was good and being in the midst of a bazillion chattering Italians was amusing as usual.

Last Saturday there was a free concert in the Piazza called Mozart on the Piazza. It was a pretty night and we enjoyed the music. They performed Concerto per clarinetto di Mozart. Finally on Sunday we went to Calagrana for their annual barbecue. They get real Maine lobsters and T-bones and grill them outside. There were a ton of people for this crowd-pleaser.

We have just entered augusto. That means everything stops for … Vacation! In Italy even government offices and utility companies close for the month. It is one reason we’ve been rushing to get the chores done this week! The actual holiday is kicked off on August 15 and is called Feragosto. But the whole month is pretty much shot for getting anything done.

Our weather is hot but not oppressive. Good summertime weather. We still do shutter and window management but the nights cool off nicely so good sleeping weather.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Pasqua or Easter is a big deal here in Italy. They start on Palm Sunday with a Mass held outside with olive branches in lieu of palm fronds. Then on Good Friday they have a procession through town. They have a body representing Christ that they carry behind all the priests with big torches burning. The band plays a dirge and the faithful follow behind with candles. It is pretty moving to watch. I took a film which is below. It is from our third floor window down into the street below as the procession passed by. On Easter Sunday they have the traditional big lunch after Mass. Lamb is the tradition. Tomorrow is Pasquetta (also a holiday) and traditionally all the Italians go for a picnic but sometimes to a restaurant for ANOTHER big lunch! Their reward after Lent I guess.

We have been trying to get out and about more lately now that the weather is improving. We took a trip to Cortona (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame). We had been once before on a vacation and in all this time here we had not returned. It was a blustery day and the parking lots, normally full, were empty. The front of the theater has this cool lantern on it
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We went to the Osteria del Teatre for lunch. It is a very old fashioned Tuscan place with friendly service and was pretty popular. Note the projector and retracted screen for presentations on the beamed ceiling.
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I had the baccalà, or salt cod. It has to be soaked for days to go from it’s totally dried out state to something edible. It was good.
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I don’t normally have dessert but my interest was piqued by this odd looking thing below. It had a handle inserted into the center which they turned and a blade shaved it into curls. It is made of white chocolate and ground pistachio nuts. I had it on homemade gelato and it was divine!
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Our wine had the same name as the house from Under the Tuscan Sun. I don’t think they are related, but maybe?
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View from the town. See Lago di Trasemeno in the distance? Also the town, named Terontola, on the flatlands has the main Rome to Florence rail line. You can see the straight arrow of the tracks. This is the station we use to go to either place. It has safe, free parking.
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Then on Friday we drove down to DiFillipo winery in the Montefalco area to taste and buy some wine. They don’t call this the “Green heart of Italy” for nothing!
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And continuing my food theme. Another of the odd differences between Italy and the US. This time of year there is a lot of lamb for sale. Not other times very much. It is hard to find. So I indulged in the lamb shoulder roast as I had a recipe. As I unwrapped it I noticed that it had the actual leg attached to the shoulder. And on the leg there was what looked like the hoof! Or what was left of the hoof. Note below. I am here to report the lamb was very good. I just ignored the hoof!
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End of Autumn, beginning of winter, fireplace, l’Imacolatta and Christmas!

I am very late with this post. It has been pretty busy here. First a final farewell to Autumn color.
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And a hello to winter. It has gotten cold here. Real wintery. Snow on the distant mountains.
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Our town Christmas tree looks nice. Smaller but there are more lights.
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Along with the tree and the lights, Baba Natale came to our town to visit the kids. A wonderfully chunky horse pulled the kids in a cart. Isn’t he magnificent?

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We went for a short break to Chianti last week. Two nights. Pretty there with lots of fall color still. We stayed in Locanda il Gallo in a little town called Chiocchio. Fun to say – chee-ooch-che-ee-oh. It was comfortable and we ate there both nights. Quite good food. We also visited about 5 wineries. I enjoyed the pretty Tuscan scenery. This picture from one of the wineries.
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We got our new fireplace doors in the kitchen. Yesterday we built a test fire and it burned pretty well and the chimney drew. We have arranged to buy wood from a friend of ours whose husband who will actually bring it up here to our house. Nice! Also more pellets for the stove and Luther won’t have to tote them up the stairs.
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First/test fire.
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Other mundane things. We did a shopping trip to the big IperCoop for supplies and gifts. It was surprisingly empty considering the proximity to Christmas. Never in America!

We went to a new installation at Galleria Grefti. Our friend Joseph has teamed up with Francesco and opened a small art gallery down the street. Interest is great with lots of potential artists showing their works. This new one is sculpture made with wire and chickenwire. There was even a nearly full-sized rhino. The gallery is a nice addition to Umbertide

Our downstairs neighbor was so proud that he scored all the “seconds” from the market for free and somehow with the language difficulties I ended up with a crate of apples. Not sure how I can use them up! I made two cakes yesterday and took him one of them.

We went for pizza at Calcio e Pepe our new favorite place here in town. They are just so welcoming and Italian! They have great pizza too! They are from Napoli. There were families with many kids there so it was boisterous and happy and, did I mention, Italian?! The proprietors know us and we get many double kisses.

December 8 is l’Imacolatta or Day of the Immaculate Conception. We looked it up and discovered we were wrong about what it meant. Turns out it is the day that Mary was conceived to her mother. I had thought it was Jesus’ conception but was confused as it is only two weeks before his birthday.  This picture shows the procession of people who walk through the streets following the priests. The band plays music. I leaned out my window to get this. Sorry it’s blurry.

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And finally, I will be spending the holidays with my sister in Virginia. I am pretty excited about going back to the US after a year and a half. Doing a bit of shopping. Eating exotic things!! Reservations at Raisika (spicy Indian fare) YUM!  I am not religious but I still like to wish folks Merry Christmas! Please accept it in the spirit it was offered. Merry Christmas to you all!