Like pioneers on the big walls of Yosemite putting up first ascents in furious rapidity, only without the chalk dust, bloody knuckles, and rapidity, I have been doing many things for the first time recently. First time to the post office. First time getting chased by a dog in Italy. First time out to take photographs of the town cemetery. First time getting kicked out of a library in Italy. First time buying a pink newspaper. First time encountering the bureaucratic “Yes, tomorrow you can come back and we’ll fix this.”
For example, my first festa della birra, a beer festival. As you're not a pogo stick and I'm not a kangaroo, let’s not jump ahead. [On a side note: the accessories which in the US are called fanny packs are more or less ubiquitous here. It is my current theory that these must be given to Italians as they come of age as elsewhere are given spirit names, cars, or bank accounts in Zurich. In Italy, they are logically referred to by many as "marsupials."] These are not beer festivals like you might expect to find in Portland or Denver or even Lowell, the Mill City. At tonight's party, you could only get one kind of beer, Heineken, but then beer was not the primary attraction.
As basically everyone is on vacation for the month of August (please hold any and all comparative labor law disputes for a later time), towns up and down the country hold festas. While similar for in their exuberance and communality to festas common to Little Italies I have seen in Boston and New York, many of the August festas here are not religiously based. Some are held for a particular crop or local historical event - the strawberry festival (where's Pete Seeger when we need him?), the festival of the sea, the festival of the escape of the ox, and, if all else fails and you're just a small town looking to have a party, la festa della birra. If you are a small town without such a festa, or merely a resident of one, here is a recipe that has proven successful:
- (one) big loud band
- (at least 3 gross) people dancing, most likely a mix of retirees, newlyweds, 7 year old girls in pigtails, parents out to embarrass their teenage children, and, if you’re lucky and/or skilled at marketing, two or three odd Americans [emphasis here is on “odd”]
- (200 bushels) good and cheap food
- (a lot) beer
- (another lot) wine, mix of white and red
- (one or more) large tent(s), preferably white
- Optional: dueling trumpets, insufficient benches, hilarious cook who also drives a school bus and plays baseball, hedge maze.
Allow to simmer under the summer night sky for 5 to 7 hours. Serves many. Here are photos of last night's finished product.
Tomorrow I’m headed south to Siena for the Palio, a centuries-old horse race resplendent with medieval pageantry. I am sure there will be stories to tell...