Wednesday 26 January 2011

Feast of St.Costanzo - Perugia, January 29th

San Costanzo, martyred in the third century and one of three patron saints of Perugia, was buried (according to legend) outside the walls of Roman Perugia, today an area inside the medieval walls, near the church of San Pietro. The feast of San Costanzo, on January 29th, is celebrated in Perugia with a special mass in the Cathedral (always an integral part of a town's celebration) and the Fiera of San Costanzo. The fiera (or large open market) is also integral to celebrating the feast day (see October 5th - Assisi). Perhaps because at one time (until the early 1970's) much of the Italian population lived on the land with only rare visits to town, on foot or by mule. Most were subsistence-level farmers or sharecroppers working for landowners, with very little cash on hand in the home. A saint's feast day was a special event, a time to wear one's best clothes (meticulously clean, if not elegant) and go into town for mass. It was a time to see others, to socialise in the main piazza, and perhaps - in honour of such a special day - to spend a few precious lire. One booth would always have (and every market still has many of these booths) dried fruits, semenze (pumpkin and sunflower seeds to munch on) and nougat - special treats for all. The market fills Borgo XX Giugno, the area near the legendary burial site of San Costanzo.

For this feast too, a special bread is a highlight, il torcolo di San Costanzo, a ring-like cake made with pine nuts, raisins, and candied fruits. A city document, from 1595, even defines the required ingredients. An incision of a pentagon is made on the bread to represent the five city gates of Perugia. For the past few years, the city of Perugia has celebrated this feast with a competition among all the area's bakers for the production of the best bread. In the morning, all the citizens are invited to join in a "comparative tasting". The bread was once eaten only on the feast of San Costanzo and made only in the home, but today every Perugino has his favourite baker and the bread is available throughout the year. Another tradition, lost until a few decades ago, is for an engaged couple to visit the Church of San Costanzo and stare at the Saint's image. If the Saint winks, the couple will be married within the year. If not... be prepared for a wait!

Friday 21 January 2011

Nothing in the world makes you love home so much as being gone far from it for far too long

I would like to share this poem with my clients and expats friends living in Umbria. My books of Billy Collins' poems are amazing, his love and understanding of Italy - its people, its food, its wine, its gioia di vivere - shine through in all his pieces of writing.


How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,

wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns,

How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,

fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard

and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous

domes and there is no need to memorize a succession

of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.

No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's

little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home

than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.

Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?

Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyes camera

eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,

I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress

known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning

paper, all language barriers down,

rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone

willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.

I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal

what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.

It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself

and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off

down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Happy New Year

It's purely arbitrary that we mark the first of January as the start of the new year. Our pagan ancients celebrated the coming of a New Year in spring, a logical time of new beginnings. Blame that pesky Julius Cesear for plunking the New Year down in January. Didn't he even think about airports and travel and snowstorms? Those Romans!

Well, the New Year has to start sometime and I try to remember to eat lentils to bring good fortune into our household... this is what we do in Italy.

Abode wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy New Year!