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524458_closed sign. jpgIn Italy it was Ferragosto, yesterday…

A bleaker Ferragosto, this year – because of what happened in Genoa the other day, with the motorway bridge collapsing – but still, Ferragosto.

Feriae Augusti, back in the day (and the day was 18 b.C.) when Augustus thought it both nice and expedient to have a public festival right after the harvest season, and named it after himself.

It used to be a mixed affair of rest and play for men and beasts, a holiday of eating and drinking toasts to the Emperor, horse races, a day of rest even for oxen and donkeys…

Perhaps it is no surprise at all that it survived the Empire and continued through the millennia. In time it came to coincide with the important religious holiday of the Assunta – the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – but remained an almost universally kept day of rest and celebration. So much so that it is still around. Imagine something half-way between Bank Holiday and a Midsummer festival, involving rest, games, eating…

Italy stops – you have no idea how very much – and celebrates. Italians still widely Palio2tend to take their vacations across this period, no matter that it often is as hot and damp as it comes – but then, it is when most shops, factories and and offices close. So we invariably have what the news never fail to term an exodus toward the sea and/or the mountains. In towns and villages, traditional games are held, like the half-barbaric but immensely thrilling Palio of Siena, a breakneck bareback horse-race in a beautiful medieval square. Maypoles are raised – except they are not for dancing, but for climbing to get the hams, salami and other good things hanging from the top.* People go picnicking, and eat a lot. In my corner of the world, tradition has it that cotechino can’t be helped. A cotechino, you see, is a huge, very soft, very rich sausage that you boil before eating it with bread and, sometimes, a salad of beans and onion. Killer fare, when the weather is as hot and stuffy as it was, for instance, yesterday…

But traditions must be kept, so cotechino it was – and to top it all, the Dolce Torino – a concoction of soft biscuits soaked in alchermes, covered in a cream of chocolate and butter… as I said. killer fare.

Which probably goes some way to explain why I’m this lazy and languid today. A traditional Italian Ferragosto takes some strength.

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* To make it more fun, these augustpoles (hardly maypoles this time of the year, are they?) are usually slathered with grease . Eww.

 

 

 

 

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