Perugia’s SAN COSTANZO – and a Sweet Wink

January 27, 2012

Perugia is not just proud of its chocolate, Etruscan artifacts and the Umbria Jazz festival: this provincial capital of Umbria also boasts not just one but three patron saints! Legend tells us that one of them, San Costanzo, first bishop, was buried outside of the city's Roman walls after his decapitation in the 3rd century. Celebrations start the night before his feast day, January 29, with the luminaria, the candlelit procession to the Church of San Costanzo, built on the site of his martyrdom. read more...

Sant’Antonio e il Malocchio

January 19, 2012

Our beloved San Francesco di Assisi might be revered as the patron saint of animals in other countries but certainly not here in Italy: Sant'Antonio Abate, 4th-century hermit saint who lived in the Egyptian desert with just a piglet for a companion, is the protector of Italy's animals. On his feast day, January 17th, animal-lovers gather at a designated church - cats in arms, dogs on leashes, turtles in boxes, canaries in cages, sheep harnessed, horses bridled - to have their animals blessed... read more...

Il Calendario di Sale

January 9, 2012

Onions and salt to predict the weather in the New Year? Over our years on the land, I've learned how farm women can take off il malocchio, how St. Anthony's image in a stall will keep the animals healthy, how a cross made of woven reeds can protect the crops in the field and that you never shake out a tablecloth nor throw out the crumbs swept off the floor after the Ave Maria (ie, after 6 pm) - and now I've learned how to predict the coming year's weather with onions and salt. read more...

Naples: A Street-life Nativity

December 22, 2011

In a bustling narrow alleyway in downtown Naples, Neapolitan life and Naples' highest craft traditions merge. I can't imagine Christmas without a walk in Via San Gregorio Armeno, nor any visit to Naples without a stop here. The sacred and the profane blend in wondrous harmony in the Neapolitan creche tradition - and are alive on the streets. read more...

Self-Exile on a Mediterranean Island

July 11, 2011

Augustus Caesar banished his libertine daughter, Giulia to Ventotene, tiny Mediterranean island just south of Rome and north of Naples. The exiled Giulia might not have relished the peace and natural beauty of Ventotene but today the island (1 km long and 700 m. wide) attracts those who seek a sort of "self-exile": a move out of the fast lane into a world of all things "slow", from the island food to the idle pace of Ventotene life... read more...

La Scarzuola:  From St. Francis to Savador Dali

June 10, 2011

A recent visit to La Scarzuola, in northern Umbria - where our region almost merges with Tuscany - plopped me right into a surreal world of Dali-Miro'-Escher-Fellini-like bizzarities. The name "Scarzuola" derives from a marsh plant of the area, "la scarza", used by San Francesco di Assisi, legend tells us, to build himself a shelter here in the early 13th century. read more...

“Planting May” in Umbria

April 26, 2011

On the vigil of May 1st, a small Umbrian hilltown not far from Gubbio, San Pellegrino, celebrates a curious May ritual grounded in Christian tradition but celebrated with a decidedly pagan flair: la Festa di San Pellegrino. Culminating moment of the festival is the "piantarmaggio" ("the planting of May"). read more...

St. Anthony’s Fire, St. Anthony’s Blessings

January 25, 2011

"St. Anthony's fire" - tormenting (and yes, fiery!) skin flare (ie, shingles, herpes zoster) - is named after him. His image in Italian stalls protects the sheep, the oxen and all the farm animals. Pane benedetto ("blessed bread") is distributed on his feast day, January 17th, day of the blessing of the animals here in Italy - and he was Egyptian, not Italian! read more...

La Befana: Ancient Roots, New Twists

January 13, 2011

La Befana viene di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte,Con le toppe alla sottana, viva, viva la Befana!" ("La Befana comes at night, her shoes all torn, her slip all patched...long live the Befana!"). Clutching her broom handle in front of her, an ugly old beneficent witch, La Befana, rides through the starry night sky on January 5th, sliding down chimneys to fill the shoes or the stockings of good Italian children with sweets, leaving coal (nowadays, made of sugar!) for naughty ones... read more...

Here comes La Madonna!

December 7, 2010

No, Madonna is not arriving in Assisi but La Madonna is - or so the children believe.As darkness creeps in on December 7th vigil of the Feast of the Immacualte Conception on the 8th... read more...