A feast for the senses

There are so many stories I want to tell – and opening sentences that I’ve turned over in my head many times, only to be discarded half written as I try to settle down to what it is that I really want to say.  I’m brimming with tales of how we’ve moved, slowly but surely from summer to autumn: of Ottabretta Romana and the pile of Sagre – the numerous local food and wine festivals, that have toppled over each other to whet our appetites for the changing seasons and the culinary feasts that lie ahead.

Things got underway with our local Porcini Festival as we headed out to the woods at Colle di Fuori, where long trestle tables heaved under the strain of locals and their copious plates of tagliatelle, parpadelle and risotto, all playing homage to the king of mushrooms. From tiny babies to groups of conspiratorial older men and women, friends and family sat under shady trees sampling the porcini dishes that various pop up restaurants, in full on street food mode, vied to produce. Bottles of wine and water were being ferried in abundance to grateful diners as all around us, locals greeted each other warmly.  As lunch slowly drew to a close, large glasses filled with peaches and wine began doing the rounds as we looked on greedily.  Did we have room for more?  We did.  To escape the temptation of tempura funghi and porcini gelato, we managed a seemingly impossible game of baseball, played with spiky conkers and a stick.  September is mostly still hot and we were glad of a walk under the canopy of still-green leaves and the damp forest, that had provided everyone with such glorious funghi.

September gave way gracefully to October and with it came La Sagra dell’uva di Marino. In its 95th year, this Festival of Grapes, is the oldest of its kind in Italy.  Marino is a beautiful old town in the Castelli Romani, nestled between Grottaferrata and Lago Albano. With its many steep, cobbled streets, narrow passageways, hidden alleyways and crowded, crumbling buildings, it’s a place that whispers discovery. A festival dedicated to grapes is a festival dedicated to wine and here it was in abundance, for 1 euro a cup, at times even flowing from the town’s main fountain. Here we were naïve bystanders, wine and suppli in hand, as we watched the various processions unfold, not realising that we were witnessing the celebration of the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571! The noise from the parade of drummers was deafening as we moved with the throng towards the Colonna Palace Staircase where the battle’s victory announcement was re-enacted.  Quite what this all has to do with grapes and wine, I’m still not sure…

It’s important I don’t get carried away telling you about Marino’s Sagra di Cioccolato, where we tried and failed to resist the numerous offers to sample, not only chocolate, but salted caramel sauces, mountains of fudge, studded with pistachio and dipped in chocolate as well as bottles of chocolate liquor. Resistance really did prove futile, especially when a compelling case was made by a local nonna, that it would warm us up on a winter’s morning. It was at this point we decided we would give the following week’s Sagra della Ciambelle (Festival of Donuts) a miss.  And so, with a glass of wine in hand, on a still-warm autumn evening, watching chestnuts roasting in the alleyways of Marino, with the smells of Italian street food coming to life, against the backdrop of a sky swathed in orange and pink, my nostalgia for English autumns slowly melted away.

There’s more; swimming in the sea at Sabaudia with the low October sun casting Mimi and I as giant long-legged giraffes whilst we collected the last of this year’s shells. And when we’ve not been exploring, friendships have slowly started to form, both for Mimi at school and for me. There’s been an abundance of invitations since the start of the school term, gratefully accepted, to classmates’ birthday parties, where we’ve learnt to sing ‘Tanti Auguri a te’ rather than ‘Happy Birthday to you’. We have also accepted that the two hour (three at the most) party rule so strictly adhered to in the U.K. is now a thing of the past. Italians possess a pretty much unrivalled passion for socialising, which I’m enjoying adjusting to and I think, I think, I’ve finally got the hang of whether to go in to the left or right when double kissing…

And amongst all of these autumnal experiences, nestled upon blankets of chestnut coloured leaves and up high where the clouds dip beneath the mountain pines and the reds and yellows of the Italian alberi are at their most prominent, we fell in love with Abruzzo.  But that is a whole other post…


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