How not to do Feste

There are feste, or sagra, for everything here in Tuscany. We’ve been told that after Christmas there’s a special ‘Celebration of Animals’ – people bring their pets along to be blessed by the Priest in the town square. H. can’t wait to take Zephyr for his official welcome to Catholicism. I think she has visions of cradling a passively purring Zephyr through the streets for his Holy Moment. The cat box reality might be somewhat different.

In any case, it’s summer at the moment (or it is here, I’ve been told you might still be waiting where you are), and there’s everything from Festa della Luna to Sagra de Pici (a particular type of spaghetti-esque pasta peculiar to this area). As we whizzed past M. on Saturday we noticed a poster  for for Sagra delle Ciliege:

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Now, you may or may not understand Italian, but I think you can see from this poster that proceedings appear to start sometime around 09.00h and end sometime around 22.00h.

We had already promised the children the swimming pool for Sunday, having been reliably informed that from Saturday 21 June it would definitively be hot enough to use it. (As you’ll remember, we had three very disappointed children last week when our swimming pool excursion was thwarted by the Italians’ distinctly un-British attitude to the weather.) Given that even the temptation of cherry tarts and cherry biscuits was unlikely to persuade H. and P. that we could postpone swimming again, we decided to combine the two, it seeming a shame to miss our local Sagra.

It’s a lovely walk to M. from our house and H. and P. were in ‘intrepid explorer’ moods: while I ate breakfast on the terrace they packed back packs with binoculars for lizard spotting, whistles to attract attention or alert of danger, bug boxes for insect catching, water bottles for rehydration, spray bottles for cooling down. And Doggy, Mousey, P-P Rabba and Bila, with whom most of you will be familiar; for those not in the know, these favourite friends accompany H. and P. on most outings to new places.

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Tom carried la Principessa, who is adorable, and very good for smothering with kisses en route, but certainly no shrimp. I travelled lightly, partly knowing that I would probably end up carrying most of the above, partly in the belief that we would be sampling cherry treats at the Sagra so there was no need to worry about endless snacks for hungry tums. Zephyr uncharacteristically set out with us, strangely excited by the family excursion.

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As olive trees in groves were gradually replaced by walnut and fruit trees of gardens, our anticipation grew and the children’s tummies rumbled – to be fair, it had been a 45 minute walk up some very steep hills. We saw the posters again, the roads shut off and areas marked for parking. But, save the sounds of the odd dog barking, it was strangely quiet. Nearing the main piazza, we checked the poster again and checked our watches. It was definitely 11 am, we were definitely in the right place. There was definitely not a great deal happening: a few women were wandering around the piazza with bits of paper cut into squares. A couple of men were opening out trestle tables. Right at the top of the piazza the hopeful sight of gazebos beckoned, but closer inspection revealed only more trestle tables.

I’m not really sure why I was surprised. The last time I left the UK for an extended period was to go to the Middle East where everything happens – if at all – ‘bukra, insha’allah, (tomorrow, God willing); where negotiations are proceeded by at least 45 minutes of coffee and polite conversation about anything but the matter in hand; where parties are advertised as starting at least three hours before anyone should even think about putting on their best frocks. Mediterranean Italy was bound to follow similar rules.

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Wandering around the piazza, the children turned hopeful faces to the lady behind whose open door were tables laden with baked goodies firmly wrapped in tin foil. Finally, having exhausted our wandering, replenished our water supplies at the fountains and checked out the local cats, we returned to Lady of the Baked Goodies and asked what time things might start?

‘Si, si, raduno canino a le 11.’ When I glanced – for my own reassurance at my watch – Lady of the Baked Goodies apologetically acknowledged that it was well past 11 – nearing 12 in fact, and save the friendly mutt nuzzling H.’s hand, there wasn’t much dog action to be seen. As we tried rather pathetically not to appear so terribly British and On Time the children pointed again to the Baked Goodies and were rewarded, this time, by offers to taste and then, finally, purchase the sustenance for which we had trekked through the olive groves.

Intrepid Explorers and chubby bambina were fed cherry biscotti and torta with the crumbliest of home made pastries and all was well in the world, though the dog show still seemed far from materializing, and Famiglia Doust learned the first rule of Feste Italiani: believe nothing on the poster and arrive well after siestas have finished. Next Sunday there’s another Sagra in another Tuscan hill top town. The English chap doing some carpentry near us tells us he is arriving to set up at about 10.30 in the morning. We’ll wander over at about 6 pm…

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