Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Festival Italiani

Italy abounds with meticulously themed festivals during the summer months and each one invites gleeful participation. The La Marche region, being outside popular tourist meccas like Rome and Venice, offers a plethora of possibilities to delight locals and travelers alike.

It is quite imaginable to spend an evening in July hopping from one festival to another. Outdoor celebrations, music, dancing, history, chariot racing, delectable food, fire throwing, drink, performance art, color, re-enactments, glass blowing, juggling, flag tossing, period costumes, beautiful men, exuberant women and life call from every corner.

I attended three festivals in Italy. While I was certainly welcomed at each, it was clear that the celebrations were not designed with me, the English-speaking American, in mind. There were challenges in even the smallest tasks, such as ordering food.

At the Palio del Somaro festival (donkey races) in Mercatello Sul Metauro I bravely ordered a porchetta sandwich (delicious!) but had an awkward moment at the counter because I kept saying "sì" to an either/or question. That little dance went on way too long before I was rescued by clever hand gestures and lots of pointing.

There was certainly a friendly spirit throughout the opening ceremonies (of which I understood only a few words but contented myself with people watching) and the excitement peaked as the donkeys were mounted for their race around town.

Donkey races are slow! The donkeys seemed totally uninterested in winning or even competing at all. The good humored frustration of the riders was encouraged by the large crowd who appeared to realize that this was part of the fun. In the end I was unsure who actually won but there was no mistaking who came in last. I think the loser must have taken a detour back home before deciding to cross the finish line.

At the Fano Dei Cesari festival 5,000 men, women and children paraded in costume. There were peasant girls and slave boys, fire throwers, charioteers, servants, revelers and lots of whoops and wails. Families mingled with wild party boys, police good-naturedly accepted being pelted with ice from drunken merry makers and despite the oppressive heat and sweaty bodies everyone was touchy feely. This is a country unafraid to show affection. Everyone hugs and kisses. I loved it.

The grand attraction here were the chariot races. Unlike the donkeys, these things flew around the track. In my mind I was telling them to slow it down - what's the hurry? Somebody is going to get hurt! - but the ever-swelling horde of spectators felt otherwise. Well, it's not every day you see a chariot race.

On our last night in Italy we attended the Palio Dei Conti Oliva festival which is an homage to medieval times. Strolling musicians wandered the streets past glass blowers, merchants, jugglers, knife throwers, craftsmen and spinners.

I watched a family perform acrobatics and banter with the audience. Again, I didn't know exactly what was being said but I had a pretty good idea.

The finale was an extensive flag tossing ceremony with men in multi-colored tights performing perfectly choreographed routines. By then it was getting late and we had to get back "home" to pack because more adventures were awaiting.

* Pictures taken either by myself or Mike Thomas.


willow said...

Wow, you have some fabulous photos, Gary. Itay is high on my bucket list. Looking forward to more of your pics. In the meantime, I'll pop in some of my summery Italian flicks, to tide me over.

Barbara said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Italy, every part of it I've ever visited. The warmth of the Italians makes up for any lack of understanding. Even I want to embrace everyone I see, and that's not a typical feeling for me. I'm so glad you got to be a part of so much merry-making. You will have so much to share with next year's class. Don't you feel a trip like this enriches your life forever?

Gary said...

Willow - This was my third time in Italy. The first time was 20 years ago as a thrifty backpacker, the second just last summer. It is a beautiful country. When you are making your plans let me know and I will make a few suggestions- everyone is full of suggestions aren't they? I am planning more posts on my trip with lots more pictures. :)

Barbara - I was taking pictures and collecting items with my students in mind. There was a fantastic chef posted outside one restaurant in Assisi I thought my students from last year would appreciate. I have come to the point in my life where I would rather spend money on experiences than stuff. I have too much stuff and am trying to clean house as it is, but expereince!? Enriching indeed.

Mickle in NZ said...

What a wonderful holiday you have had - seems you were staying in "Festival Central"! A very well deserved holiday too. Please enjoy your August holiday time at home too, before starting the new school year of teaching, learning and discovery. Sending care and huggles, Michelle and Zebby Cat, xxx and purrrumbles

Gary said...

Mickle - I still have about a month off before I start back to school but already I am dreaming of that first day. I can't believe how lazy I can be in the summer months. It is simply too hot for me to go at my usual pace, but I'm not complaining. It is wonderful to have this time to recharge.


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