Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Feste, Sagre, and other entertainments

In my last post I wrote about the Festa dell'Immacolata, the festa that we celebrate in the Castello/Ioffredo section of Cervinara.  Last night we enjoyed an evening of music at the Festa dell'Addolorata, celebrated in the Ferrari section of town on the Piazza Elena.  Once again, a lovely evening with good music and nice company.  So what are all these festas about?  And just what is a "sagra"?
Every town, and every "frazione" or neighborhood has a patron saint.  Usually these saints are linked to the local churches, but not always.  For example, our church is San Nicola, but I've never seen anything dedicated to him...no festas, no processions, nothing.  But inside our church is a statue of the Immacolata and another one of Saint Anthony of Padova, and for some reason those are the folks who are honored with processions and festas. Our Immacolata is a lovely statue, with the requisite blue mantel and a crown of stars. In the Santuario down in Ferrari, there is a statue of the Addolorata, or the grieving Madonna.  She is dressed all in black and is rather lugubrious in appearance.  It is in her honor that the first weekend in September, the Ferrari frazione holds its festa.  Of course because the Chapel of San Rocco is also in Ferrari, they get to organize a festa for Rocco too....that's the second weekend in August.

The processions are great money raisers.  As the statues go by, people come out and put money in a box or a basket and get a picture of the saint in return.  They are also ways for the town to provide free entertainment to the populace.  The town and local merchants work in concert with the churches to pull everything together, from the entertainment to the vendors to the fireworks to the lighting displays.

The lights are ubiquitous in Southern Italy.  During the summer as you drive from one town to another, you pass under arcades of brightly colored lights.  They form an arch across the streets and, when illuminated, are quite lovely.  There are companies whose only source of income is to design, install and take down the many lighting displays in each of the towns.  We have watched them be put up and taken down and sometimes it is a hair-raising process.  Last year we happened to be in Aversa, a big city of over 70,000 people, when the lighting displays were being dismantled.  OMG....it's obvious that OSHA doesn't exist over here!  Workers were climbing up the most unstable of ladders, unhooking the wires that were taped together and that had many exposed wires where the insulation had worn through.  They hung from posts and poles to undo connections and basically risked life and limb to do the job.  We were amazed that they came through unscathed!

Another source of local entertainment is the "sagra".  A sagra is not linked to any religious event but is always connected with the culinary gods.  Sagras celebrate a local food product or crop and tend to bring out massive crowds of hungry folks who want a good time and some good food.  Along any stretch of road now, there are posters up for one sagra or another.  From May when cherries are celebrated in Arpaia to the end of October when chestnuts are celebrated in Cervinara, every weekend could be devoted to some great culinary treat.  Oftentimes we don't even know what food is being offered, because it may be some local type of homemade pasta whose name is not known outside that particular village.  We saw a sign yesterday for the sagra of "Panuzzo e patate al forno".  I asked Mike what 'panuzzo' was....he had no idea, but it was being linked with baked potatoes.  Go figure.

In Dugenta, they spend every weekend of September and October celebrating the "cinghiale" or wild boar.  They set up stands in the piazza and every dish offered has some cinghiale in it.  There is also lots of music, dancing in the streets and strolling through the town.  Last October we went to the Castello sagra of the chestnuts.  Every street was decorated with murals, chestnut branches and local artifacts of the chestnut industry.  Busloads of people came in from Naples.  Local families turned their homes into restaurants where visitors could enjoy a chestnut based meal, or some other rustic specialty such as polenta or homemade tagliatelle.

Anyone on a diet has a tough time here, believe me!  There are temptations on every street corner in every town.  But it's a lovely tradition, that of sharing your local products and celebrating the fruits of local labor.  I wish there were more opportunities for public gatherings such as these in the States.  It brings a community together, adds to the local economy and gives folks something to look forward to.  It's a small town feel, even in the big cities.  Viva la festa!  Viva la sagra!

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