Auguri, Italia!No, Italians are not flag-fliers. A nationalistic sense of being Italian is missing. For an Italian, first reference point is the family. If you are Italian, identity point is the section of the town where you grew up (whether it be called quartiere, terziere, rione, or contrada). After all, most festivals are about competitions between town districts. The town itself follows as next reference point and there is a word for this loyalty to one’s town square (with the ubiquitous belltower): campanilismo.
Examples of this appartenance to a smaller microcosm rather than a national entity are endless: here in Assisi, the local accent is different than that of the Spellani and Spello is only sixteen miles to the east of us! The accent of the Perugini twenty-two kilometers to the west makes some Assisani grimace. Christmas dinner is a different dish in each of the three towns, geographically so close to each other. Spellani and Perugini do not attend our medieval festival, the Calendimaggio, and not many Assisani head to Spello for their amazing floral petal wonders, Le Infiorate, celebrated annually for the Feast of Corpus Cristi. Few Assisani even know about the Perugia celebrations at the end of January in honor of the city’s patron saint, San Costanzo! The almond-paste cake of Perugia, il torciglione, is too sweet for our Assisi taste-buds and our strudel-like rocciata is probably too heavy for the Perugino palate. (Spello? If they have a traditional sweet, we don’t know about it!) …and on it goes.
“We have made Italy: now let us make the Italians”, urged Massimo D’Azeglio at the time of the Unification of Italy. The making of the Italians remains an on-going process. After all, Italians only fly their tricolored flags every four years for the World Cup Finals – when for a few euphoric days, Perugini, Assisani, Spellani, Milanesi, Fiorentini, Romani all feel ITALIANI as they cheer on their Azzurri (“the Blues”).
No World Cup this year, yet Italian flags are fluttering in gentle breezes all over Italy – as they hang from terraces, shutters, flower boxes, wrought iron balconies and are strung out on ropes above small pizzerias. I’ve seen festive red bows decorating medieval windows and tricolored banners and bows hanging on doors and gates. My favorite coffee bar in Assisi has even tied a tricolor to the coat rack inside! This year, Italy is celebrating its 150th birthday. Cities all over Italy – and especially Turin, Italy’s first capital – are sponsoring cultural and educational events celebrating L’Unificazione dell’Italia, March 17, 1861.
On the last Saturday in May in the Assisi main square, the main personages of the Unification in authentic costume seated stately in a nineteenth-century carriage – Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, King Vittorio Emanuele II (“Camillo Cavour” was home with a fever!) – were saluted with the thrilling rapid-fire music of the Bersaglieri, an Italian Army corps created in 1836 as a high-mobility, light infantry unit, able to move quickly from place to place and recognizable today by their distinctive wide-brimmed, feathered hats and fast jog pace (rather than march). The Bersaglieris’ quick-fire staccato bugle music – blared out on a dead run – brings out a sense of ItalianitÃ in anyone!
Auguri, Italia! Happy birthday, Italy!
(P.S. Giuseppe Garibaldi was in fact a “Giuseppe”, ie, my Sicilian husband Pino: with his hair-chopped off Garibaldi-style by our farm neighbor Peppa!).
For more on the Unification of Italy, see this article
To see the Bersaglieri fanfare on the run, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0kBETseDmQ
More YouTube on Bersaglieri fanfare – and their run: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CYOeLEwT0U