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.