Wednesday 7 April 2010

The Maggiolata in Assisi

On this beautiful spring afternoon, I went to Assisi and stop outside its ancient walls at San Damiano, a tiny Franciscan sanctuary set in a grove of olive trees, cypresses and wildflowers. I went there to enjoy The Maggiolata an unusual culinary festival occurring in private gardens throughout the old town center of Assisi in May. Each course of this long supper is served in a different garden and it is accompanied at each location by different musicians and singers.
Compared to the centuries-old traditions and festivals of this lovely Umbrian town, this festival of food and music is relatively new. The owners of some of Assisi’s most renowned and historic restaurants have established the event to celebrate the best of the local cuisine and talent. The Maggiolata is a progressive dinner set in the little gardens and hidden cloisters of Assisi, offering abundant food, wine and entertainment.

At arounf 6 o'clock in the evening, we gathered (we were about 200 people) in the garden of the Church of San Vitale and we were treated to welcome appetizers and flavourful wedges of focaccia. Here, musicians performed spontaneous verses known as May songs. This tradition is slowly dying as the young have neither the time or inclination to follow in the footsteps of their fathers country folk who in times past would go from farmhouse to farmhouse singing for their supper. With accordion and tambourine, our present-day musicians sing for our enjoyment. Our next stop was the olive grove of a private house. A long path lined with cypress trees leading us through this immense forest with silver-green olives glittering in the light that gilds the landscape. The tree branches framed little postcard scenes of tiled rooftops, you could see church spires and the varied fields of the valley far below. We were in the foothills of Mount Subasio. Stretched out in front of us there was a long table covered in a red table cloth, groaning under the weight of delicacies to whet our appetite.

Loads of lovely food, wine and more wine! From the surrounding woods, it was possible to hear music from a bagpipe, violin, bass and accordion.

Some pasta with wild fresh asparagus was waiting for us at our next stop, another intimate garden where wisteria vines and climbing roses crept in and around the railings of a characteristic terrace overlooking the breathtaking panorama of Assisi. The sun was setting as we walked the cobbled streets where lighted candles guided our footsteps to the garden of San Stefano. Along the way, we made a pause for a brief concert by a mezzosoprano singer, singing with the accompaniment of mandolin and classical guitar. It was a moment of pure magic.
Now in the full dark of night, we proceeded to the garden of Sant’Andrea for sweet endings and a performance by tango dancers, whose graceful, sensuous movements delighted the eye. It is nearly midnight as we approached our final destination the Basilica of St. Francis, with its white fa├žade illuminated against a blue-black sky. On the patio beneath its stone rose window, framed by the arched portals, a baby grand piano sits was waiting. Despite several courses of delicious food, we decided to go for one final note of pure harmony. A tenor and a soprano gave voice to that wish, and for about half an hour, I really experienced joy.

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