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

When the Words Fall Out

I’ve posted short pieces previously about not being a native speaker in my adopted country and that the Italian language can at times lead to hilarious circumstances or great confusion. I’m happy when Italian’s praise me on my command of their language, and do find it easier now after several years to hold more than basic conversations. Partly this is due to my working in an office where 75% of the staff don’t speak English, (apart from the few, less than glamorous English words I have taught the boys). I’m equally proud when English people comment on my language skills; however sometimes I do feel like a fraud as I’m not as accomplished as they perceive me to be. But every day brings new vocabulary and a better understanding of those pesky irregular verbs. Only last week in the office I needed a pair of scissors and Nicoletta was on hand to tell me they are called, forbici

Then there’s those pesky words that trip up foreigners, words like, pesce (fish) and pesca (peach), the amount of times I heard an English person in a restaurant ask what’s on the peach menu is innumerable. Recently I fell victim to these tricky nouns: I was offered a coffee and biscotti by a lovely couple whose house I was showing to clients, I accepted the coffee but told them I’d already had breakfast so would pass on the biscuits. The man then asked me what I’d had for breakfast, and I replied that I have the same thing everyday, an egg. However as the Italian for egg is, uova and grape is uva and my pronunciation was lacking that morning, he assumed by grape I meant I have wine for breakfast, which he and his wife found most amusing.

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The most frustrating part of learning a second language is those days when the words fall out. Some mornings it’s as if I’ve woken up and parts of my stored Italian lexicon have fallen out of my ears during the night. For example this week I had a morning when I couldn’t recall the Italian for the word, who and yesterday I’d misplaced the word for, lost.

Another moment was when out one evening in L’Aquila we stopped to get some take away food and I asked for some salad, however as we were in polite company I didn’t want onions and despite foraging through the deepest recesses of my brain the word just would not come, so I ended up with onions, and onion breath all evening.

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There’s also those other moments when the words fall out, usually after too many glasses of wine the night before or a plethora of Peroni. I’m certain that under the influence my language skills are still adequate (although this could be disputed) but the next day I seem to have left great reams of words and whole sentences on the pillow.

This said, I have come to the conclusion that on the whole people are very forgiving of foreigners who mangle their language. I’ve found all of the Italian’s I have come into contact with very helpful and polite and I’m sure this can be said of most people regardless of their country. Unlike years ago in France when I went to buy a loaf of bread. The French shop keeper huffed and puffed before pedantically telling me my pronunciation was wrong. Needless to say I didn’t buy her bread.

No doubt as I continue on my journey with the Italian language there’ll be many more moments where the words fall out or my flat Northern vowels scramble what is in essence a beautifully lyrical language.

Bad Influence from Stevenage

My friend who has a house nearby is over at the moment from the UK to enjoy some early Italian sunshine and get her neglected garden back in order. We met a few years back and spent a riotous summer together in Italy in 2011 as both of our partners were in England at the time. I have to admit that we both have the same irreverent sense of humour and also occasionally have no internal volume switch. So a couple of weeks back she tips up at the airport. I pick her up and from that moment on my routine begins to unravel.

We’ve had assorted trips into different towns when I’d be sat at my desk normally doing research. We’ve enjoyed meals at lunchtime when I’d normally grab a sandwich as I proof read. There’s been many visits to the local bar when usually after a day writing, I’d be cossetted on the sofa with a glass of wine  watching Emmerdale.

So last week, when another friend pointed out that I was having a very busy social life of late, I pointed out the reason why; my errant friend from Stevenage. The friend comments that my recent status updates have featured less about my work and more about my procrastination, and I have to admit to being one story behind on my monthly schedule. I then jokingly lay the blame for this firmly at my visiting friend’s door, saying she’s a bad influence.100_9239

Several minutes later said bad influence sends me a message saying, ‘fancy trying the new bar in town?’ Am I strong enough to resist the temptation to indulge in jovial behaviour while partaking of grain based beverages?

No. So where does the blame lie?

Who really cares when a good time is being had by all, I can get back to the mundane 9 to 5 routine later in the month. Life is too short to put work before friendship.

Carrots, Confusion and the Great Wine Jaunt

With friends who own a house nearby over from the UK, I had the opportunity to have something’s delivered from the homeland. Now as regular readers know there’s hardly anything I miss from England, but I did have a thing for Tesco tinned whole carrots; I know they make a lot of people shudder, but I love them, so I dropped the lovely Annie a request for a few tins and she turned up with 12 of them and some horseradish sauce, which goes wonderfully with fresh mackerel and fava beans.

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Following the carrot delivery, we all decided it was time to pay another visit to the local cantinas and have a days wine tasting and buying. So the weekend arrived and we drove to the first winery at Casalbordino. We bundled through the door, the English rabble causing the lady behind the counter to step back in shock. It’s 10.00 am and she looks upon our request to try the wine this early in the day with a raised eyebrow..

We sip at the red, then the white and all agree the white is very good, a couple of us aren’t impressed with the red, but we put it down to the lack of breakfast and the early hour. We make purchases and then head down to coast road towards Vasto. We drop into another winery and more wine is tasted and purchased. We finish off at our favourite winery and once again bottles are opened and we’re tasting away: Although we’ve purchased these wines before, it’d be a waste not to have a glass or two of freebies. Between us we manage to confuse our host before we purchase 109 litres and after bidding her farewell we head into town.

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Image pixelated to protect the innocent Smile

We enjoy a coffee overlooking the beach before heading off for lunch where we do our best to confuse the waitress before we are all feasting on delicious plates of pasta and gnocchi served with more red wine.

Finally we are in Italy, and at the seaside, so we must end our trip out with ice-cream, so we pootle en masse to a lovely gelateria we know and after being served sit outside on the stools that look like upside down waste bins and round the day off with our ice creams.100_8943

Favoloso…we can’t wait for our British chums to return again.