Narni in May: Medieval Passione Takes Over

May 8, 2012

In the 14th century during the first three days of May, Narni town criers called young riders to join in the races over the next few days: the race for the ring and the race for the Palio (flag), all in celebration of the martyrdom of their patron saint, San Giovenale. The ceremony lives on in early May in Narni as town criers on horseback crisscross the town, galloping under the colorful banners of the three terzieri ("district"), while drummers and buglers announce the festivities. read more

Madonna Primavera Reigns Over Assisi’s Calendimaggio

May 2, 2012

Fanciful legends, myths, age-old folktales, medieval morality plays, ballads and poetry are woven into the rich tapestry of Calendimaggio, Assisi's three-day May celebration of the arrival of spring. A much-loved Assisi legend recounts that long ago, a hooded old crone crept into a noble banquet, ignored by all the merrymakers except for five young damsels who proffered her food and drink. The old hag threw back her veil, revealing herself as La Primavera ("Spring") and the young damsels who assisted her are remembered today as five young damsels are chosen for each of the two factions of Assisi - La Nobilissima Parte de Sopra (the upper area of the town) and La Magnfica Parte de Sotto (the lower area). Another folktale recounts that Springtime who rectifies the chaos of the natural world thanks to her five daughters who put order and harmony into the five time periods of the day: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening. read more...

Crossbow Passione in Assisi

April 30, 2012

In Umbria, you know spring is in the air when the balestrieri ("cross-bowers") compete in the piazzas seated behind their crossbows, one eye closed, taking aim. The crossbow is an inherent part of colorful medieval festivals animating Umbria, "Italy's green heart" and here in Assisi, La Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi is integral part of the wondrous pageantry of Assisi's early May festival, il Calendimaggio, celebrating spring. read more...

Gubbio’s Festa della Liberazione, April 25th

April 23, 2012

"L'Italia e' libera. L'Italia risorgera'" ("Italy is free. Italy will rise again") announced the headlines of the newspaper Il Popolo, referring to the liberation from Fascist control of Milan and Turin April 25, 1945. Nowadays, on this day all over Italy, Italians gather to honor their fallen soldiers and in paricular, i partigiani, the partisans of the Italian Resistance who fought the Nazis as well as Mussolini's Fascist troops. Some towns will celebrate la Festa della Liberazione with political rallies or tributes at war monuments, others with concerts or marching bands, and some with flags, huge ones. read more..

Running with Fire in Grello

April 20, 2012

Rural youth living near the tiny walled hilltown of Grello (pop. 45) run whenever they can these days. In serious training. But not for a a track meet. They'll be running with fire on the night of June 23rd, vigil of the feast of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of this mountainside castle-village. Rituals in the Baptist's honor intertweave water rites with fire (his feast is at the time of the summer solstice); in fact, fire and water, propitious elements of purification, combine and merge in many late June Umbrian festivities, all rooted in Roman rituals. read more...

U.S. Tour, 2012: Communication, Connections, and Putting in the Soul

April 3, 2012

If there was any central theme to the 2012 U.S. tour (my fourteenth annual winter tour!), it had to be "communication". Above all, through cooking - but not only: in Denver, I shared "Memoirs of Rural Life" with over 400 persons through my Power-pointed lecture. Another lecture in Denver, "Italians, HANDS ON!", encouraged participants to communicate with Italian gestures. A few Italian gestures also slipped into my Umbrian rural cuisine cooking classes in private homes from Los Angeles to Washington, DC. Read more...

Good Friday in Assisi: Ancient Traditions Live On

March 31, 2012

Countless religious customs - and innumerable processions in particular - are rooted in medieval street theater. The Holy Thursday and Good Friday of Assisi traditions are living examples. On Holy Thursday night in the 12th-century San Rufino cathedral, the crucified Christ image is detached from His Cross in the ceremony of the scavigliazione (best translated literally: "un-nailing") and laid on a wine-colored funeral bier, covered with a gold-fringed burgundy canopy. From the Middle Ages, crucifixes with removable Cristo Morto images were common and were made specifically for the religious processions which were really a transformation of popular street theater, often acted out in the piazzas and on church thresholds as a way to teach the common people ecclesiastic truths. A living liturgy. read more...

Onna, Abruzzo Wounded

February 6, 2012

When we opened the shutters, the view of the majestic snow-capped Gran Sasso ("big rock" and it IS) unmistakably defined our location: Abruzzo. After breakfast, we headed to the new Comune (L'Aquila's old city hall and most of the centro storico were destroyed in the 2009 earthquake) where Pino had to present a proposal for seismic restoration. I waited across the street at a new cafe' - with modern minimalist lines - and talked Aquilani, stopping there for an espresso before or after one of their innumerable visits (over the past years) to the Comune. Most are still in pre-fab housing and almost nothing of the centro storico has been restored. Only those with houses (now in ruins or leveled) can enter the city center and no car traffic is permitted. Read More

In Le Marche, Golden Serpents, Lace Wonders

February 2, 2012

Lost in time are the origins of Offida, medieval hilltown of Le Marche, certainly inhabited in the Bronze Age, later by a local Italic tribe, then finally by the Romans. The town's name might derive from the temple dedicated to the serpent Ophis/Ophite, sacred edifice, where worship took place before a golden snake. Legend relates that the high priest of the temple could miraculously cauterize open wounds and bites by passing his wrist, wrapped with a writhing sacred snake, over the injury. The legend lives on in Offida: il serpente aureo ("golden snake") recurs again and again in place names of the town: after visiting the nineteen-centruy frescoed theater, Teatro Serpente Aureo, we walked down Corso Serpente Aureo to the Ristorante Ophis (ah, that snake again!) read more...