La Sagra: Something Sacred?

June 9, 2011

There certainly is something sacred about the sagra: a local village festival offering the best in local cuisine at minimal prices, top (and free!) dance band music outdoors til the wee hours and entertainment for all from pre-schoolers to the elderly. At some sagras, there are mini-soccer tournaments, others offer a performance of a local dancing school on one night, and others fill the food tent walls with artwork of the village school children. read more...

Gubbio’s Glorious Mad May Race

May 12, 2011

Dramatically perched on a hill overlooking the ruins of its Roman theater, Gubbio seems suspended in the Middle Ages: time has stood still in this stunning medieval hilltown. But slumbering Gubbio erupts in frenetic euphoria on May 15th for the mad race, la Corsa dei Ceri... read more...

Calendimaggio: Assisi’s Glorious Celebration of Spring

May 5, 2011

Since time immemorial, man has heralded the arrival of spring with ritual and festivity. In Assisi, committees meet nightly for months to plan the annual traditional salute to spring, the Calendimaggio. The three-day festival - which lasts three days - is a re-evocation of the medieval celebration of Nature's rebirth and the initiation once again of the life cycle.
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...

Blessed Easter Abundance in Umbria

April 18, 2011

Driving through the Umbrian countryside during the week prior to Easter, you'd note whiffs of smoke drifting up from the outdoor stone bread ovens fired up by the farmwomen. Holy Week for the Umbrian farmwomen is a busy one, an exhausting one: making the torta di Pasqua ("Easter cake") or pizza pasquale, as it is often called, in the stone bread ovens is a major task. The traditional Easter "cake" or "pizza" is a raised cheese bread, make of eggs, flour, olive oil, salt, pepper and three kinds of cheeses: parmigiano, pecorino and groviera... read more...

Spello’s Infiorate: Flowers of Passione

April 17, 2011

It all started on a late June Sunday in the early 1900's when an elderly woman from Spello (Umbria) scattered shredded bunches of brilliant yellow wild broom and mossy green wild fennel on the cobblestone street in front of her home. She had scrambled the slopes of Mt. Subasio, backdropping Spello, to pick the fragrant broom and pungent fennel for her floral "carpet" laid out to welcome the Communion Host venerated by Catholics as the true Body of Christ. It was carried through the streets by the bishop on the Feast of Corpus Domini... read more...

Bevagna: Passione for the Middle Ages

April 17, 2011

I often tell my tour guests that appreciating Italian passione is key to fully understanding the Italians. Passione is the underlying theme of all things Italian: from the elegant presentation of colorful gelati behind pristine glass to the artistic display of meats on butcher's shiny metal trays to the full involvement for months of all the townspeople in preparation for the many local festivals which bring alive Italy's culture and history. 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...

Orvieto Trumpets in the New Year

January 12, 2011

n the mid-thirteenth century, Franciscans shared meagre fare in contemplative silence here in the refectory, attached to their 13th-century San Francesco church. In this once-sacred space - now called the "Ristorante San Francesco" - the jubilant Italians Italians rock out to blues, soul and jazz rhythms as Umbria Jazz Winter blasts in the New Year in Orvieto. I thought about those Franciscans as we joined in the Ristorante San Francesco Jazz Dinner a couple of nights ago, singing along with Italian guests (mostly) to "Respect" sung by Chicago blues singer Chick Rodgers, (who dedicated this song to Aretha Frankln)... read more...