Sunday 16 August 2009

It's Ferragosto...

Or, strictly speaking, yesterday - being August 15th - was Ferragosto...except that the event appears to have become more of a concept than an actual date, and the midsummer holiday that it betokens will now stretch way into the middle of next week, having wound down into into ever greater levels of somnulent inactivity over the last half of last week. Everybody has left for the beach, town is empty, and in the shattering midday heat, the street outside has a silence you could cut with a knife.

When we first arrived in Pisa, and discovered that Italy too has a holiday on August 15th, we assumed it was the same holiday as in Greece, where it's celebrated as the assumption of the Virgin and is one of the major dates in the church calendar. When we lived there, it was well understood not to travel on the ferry to Athens in mid August, as we lived on the same ferry route as Tinos, and you could be certain that all boats during that period would be packed to the gunwhales with hysterical and over-excited hordes of the (literally) halt and lame, all on their way to ask for a miracle from the wonder-working icon of the Madonna housed in Tinos Cathedral. Or, even worse, the same hordes, but tired, tearful and disappointed, making the return journey afterwards.

In Italy, however, although the church tries vainly to claim Ferragosto as a celebration for the virgin, nobody takes much notice, and what it has resolutely become is a festival in honour of ice-cream and beaches and not getting up until noon, and of doing absolutely, gloriously nothing as the summer holiday extends into one stultifyingly hot day after another...
In fact, even the name itself seems to pre-date christianity, and refers directly back to a festival of Diana that the romans celebrated at around the same time - even as I write that, I wonder if the name was re-introduced as another of Mussolini's strategies for reminding the Italians of their great classical heritage, but to be honest I'm feeling too lazy right now to go and check...

For us, though, Ferragosto is about lazing around at home, and revelling in the silence of the surrounding town. The two chores of the moment which I'm taking steadily - an hour a day at most, every day, in order to render them tolerable over time - are stripping the Caci tree of its unripe fruit (thousands and thousands of the things, all of which will ripen and drop messily at the end of September if left to their own devices) and dead-heading the lavender and laboriously collecting the flower heads in order to have scented bowlfuls of them around the house through into the winter months. At the moment, the smell from the decapitated flowers is heady and intoxicating, and hits with a menthol intensity immediately on entering the kitchen.

It's a hard life!

Tonight's dinner:
Salade aux noisettes (Lambs lettuce and butterball lettuce leaves, dressed in walnut oil & lemon, mixed with crushed hazelnuts and diced emmental)
Boned chicken, roast with basil and shallots and butter under the skin; roast celeriac.

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