Sagra

Throughout the summer months, posters adorn Italian walls with the word, ‘sagra’ clearly taking prominent position in the advertising, so what does this word mean?

The literal translation is, festival, but the definition of sagra is a local fair and celebration connected with food and local produce; for example on the 24th and 25th of August this year, the local town of Altino hosted its annual, ‘sagra del peperone dolce’, (festival of the sweet pepper). During the celebration the streets are filled with people dressed in medieval costume and Tables are set out to serve different dishes that must include peppers and chillies within the recipe. The dishes vary, so one stall may have a pot of pasta ribbons coated in a piquant sauce and the next one may have a chilli flavoured cheesecake. Once the eating of pepper infused dishes is over the evening culminates in a musical extravaganza.

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The village of Brecciaio, oddly calls their festa, Non é la sagra, (It’s not the festival) with the tag line, ‘but we eat, we drink and we dance’ and the longest local sagra must be the one hosted by the town of Pennapiedamonte, where their cinghiale (wild boar) festa goes on for 27 days.

Attending a sagra is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Italian country life, add to this the opportunity to sample local cuisine as you sit at long communal tables to eat with the local population and you get a real feel for how Italian’s come together to celebrate.

Finding out about a sagra is very straightforward as most of the posters follow a similar format, the main heading will tell you where the festival is held and the date; these are mostly in bold typeface and large enough to read from a passing vehicle. Once you’ve found one that interests you, the poster will give you the start time, destination and other events that will be staged.

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You don’t have to be a local to attend and most towns welcome outsiders and tourists to their celebrations, the lines of parked cars stretching out of the town will indicate that you have arrived at the right place, and those who arrive early are usually the last to leave due to the sheer volume of traffic attending. In fact some sagre (the plural of sagra) are so popular that the towns have a coach service to ferry people in and out of town to keep the streets clear for dancing.

Sagre take place throughout the year, with most taking place during the summer months. So next time you’re holiday in Italy, keep a keen eye on the local posters and find a local sagra, and for one evening become an honorary Italian and enjoy all the town’s hospitality has to offer.

Adapted from my article written for Italy Magazine, April 2014

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Dancing in the Street

One of the great things about being in Italy is the coffee culture, I enjoy nipping to a local bar and handing over my Euro for a shot of strong black coffee. Here it’s simply coffee, not espresso. But if I fancy a more sedate experience rather than the traditional, quick mouthful followed by water whilst standing at the counter, I head up to Casoli. Situated in Piazza del Popolo is my favourite bar, Gran Caffe Del Borgo. Recently I sat outside enjoying a cappuccino with friends as life passed us by. Granted this taking time over a coffee is not really part of traditional Italian coffee culture, but as people who’ve chosen to adopt Italy as our home, we’re bringing a little of the non-Italian coffee shop culture with us. That said, when you’re sat in the perfect place to people watch, why would you want to rush.

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20.15 Outside on 09.10.2013

It was a particularly sunny October morning when after a stroll through town we converged upon the bar we fondly refer to as ‘the borgo’, sitting in the sunshine we give Simona our orders, and with a smile she caters to this handful of complicated tea and coffee drinking Brits. The bar is situated perfect for anyone wanting to absorb Italian life, as the piazza is on one of the main roads into the town. Opposite is the Post Office, and a morning sat watching the queues build and the local police try their best to keep the traffic moving is often entertaining. It’s festa time and the post office is closed today, so we sit watching the slow pace of life that passes by. A mother scolds a small boy for running ahead, two elderly gentlemen, meet, shake hands and pass the time of day and one of our friends calls out a cheery ‘”’giorno,” as he walks towards the tabacchi.

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We’ve tried all the other bars in Casoli, but it’s the service here that brings us back every time, here, there’s always a smile and whether you’ve dropped in for a ‘Pepsi Twist’ on a sunny morning or a beer on a busy evening service, you’re always made to feel like a friend. It’s a relatively young gathering in the evenings, and unlike the English bars, young and old mix together perfectly. Recently we dropped in during the start of the October festa. As a group we took up most of the corner of the outside space, our tables laden with drinks and the complimentary snacks we listened to the music from the band set up in the piazza. As the night drew on people began dancing in the piazza, it didn’t take long before Lisa was up and joining in. A few beers later and I was also tempted to join in. We tried our best to keep up with the dance steps, even after some assistance from a lady, we still couldn’t manage to get them right. But no one minds, it’s festa time and the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Something we do every time we drop into the ‘the borgo’.

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Pasta Festa in Fara

August is festa time in Italy and every town celebrates something, Altino celebrates peppers, on the road down from Castle Frentano it’s fish and chips: Invented by the ancient Romans of course, and obviously in Fara San Martino it’s pasta. A few evenings ago it was the time for the pasta giant, De Cecco to host the celebrations and myself being a pasta snob, I had to go and see what all the fuss was about.

We arrived early and took a leisurely stroll up to the school where the evening’s festivities were going to take place. We paid our €10, received a yellow ticket and joined the queue waiting for the food that was ready to be dished up. Our ticket entitled us to a first course of pasta, a second course including side dish and bread and a drink. The first course pasta options were, tagliatelle three meat pasta of lamb, veal and pork, seafood linguine or chicken and asparagus penne. I opted for the former three meat option and had a second course of sausages with chopped fresh salad, bread and a glass of red wine.

The school playground had lots of benches set up at long tables and easily could accommodate 500 people, at the far end was a stage and there was a man on a keyboard accompanied by a lady singing. We took our seats and over good food we chatted as the air cooled to a pleasant short-sleeves and sandals temperature. As the venue filled up with diners the evening became full of shouts and waving as neighbours acknowledged each other and families welcomed friends old and new. The tables were attended by teenagers in de Cecco T-shirts and the transition from food to festivities flowed well.

I went to fetch a couple of bottles of wine for our table and my friend, Vivienne, introduced me to a man with no bottom teeth; he turned out to be the local dentist, we exchanged pleasantries and when the bill came for the two bottles of wine and one of water, the dentist nodded knowingly and we received a discount of €3.50. Other friends from the neighbouring town of Palombaro had joined us and as the wine flowed the urge to dance grew. We watched the locals doing some elaborate group dance and fuelled by bravado we decided to give it a go. Needless to say we failed miserably. I whirled Vivienne around the dance floor in a mish-mash of ballroom, tarantella/improvisation style of dancing. But we didn’t care as we were here to have fun, not be scored on our technique.

More wine was consumed, more jollity at the table was shared and the toothless dentist joined us at our table and handed me a De Cecco T-shirt, apparently Seppe had asked him if he could get one for me. That made my night, could it get any better? Yes, the music changed from traditional to pop and nothing could stop our tableful of Brits from rising from their seats and moving across the playground with haste to join the throng of Italians dancing to the Village People hit, YMCA. Well what did you expect it was a party after all, and a splendid one it was too.

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My De Cecco T-shirt.