Old Crafts at Colognora

It’s the high season in our part of the world for ‘feste’, ‘sagre’ and ‘palii’. There’s one of these happening somewhere practically every day here. If one’s diary is well-organised then there’s no excuse for not dressing up and going out in the afternoon or evening to have a really good time eating, enjoying and generally people-watching.

Just in case you were confused about the terminology a ’festa’ is a festival based on a particular theme. It’s normally a mediaeval festa, although renaissance-style feste do occur and also ones based on local traditional themes (‘festa paesana’). Food is ok here but the real splendours are the costumes and the activities displayed. A ‘sagra’, on the other hand, has food as its main theme. It could be a Sagra ai rigatoni (a type of pasta in the shape of tubes with lines on the outside – and don’t tell me that all pasta tastes the same no matter what shape they are!), del maiale (pig) and one of my favourites, the sagra delle crisciolette which runs on 29-30-31 July and 5-6-7 August 2016 at Cascio di Molazzana.

You can only eat crisciolette at Cascio incidentally – you certainly won’t find them in Tesco’s. They’re toasted pancakes using maize and wheat flour and eaten with a sort of local bacon or cow’s cheese. Delicious!

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There’s a very decent web site at http://www.sagretoscane.com/sagre/ which will direct you to your favourite food sagra. As yet I have not yet found sagre of pork pies and pasties although, as anyone whose stayed here for some time, there’s an excellent sagra di Pesce e patate, which authentically translates as ‘Fish n’ chips festival’, at Barga, which will be on from 27th July to 17th August this year. I definitely never miss that one: Britain’s culinary gift to the world tastes so much better with lovely sunshine, plenty of company on long tables, a dramatic Apuan alp backdrop and some nice local red wine!

Sagre are accompanied by ‘ballo liscio’ (dancing from waltz to rumba), singers and stalls. They are truly the place to eat well, convivially and cheaply.

The ’Palio’ is a competition between the rioni (districts) of a particular town. Of course, the Palio di Siena is world-famous but there are so many more in Italy that’s its quite unbelievable. A Palio is generally divided into a costumed presentation and a sports event. I went to the Palio di Gallicano last night and the standard was unbelievably high – it was truly mesmeric. More of that one in my next post, however!

Food isn’t a significant feature at a Palio although crowd participation certainly is! There are stalls but they are usually overpriced and it’s best to eat elsewhere before attending these supremely Italian events. Again, there’s an excellent web site on Palii in Tuscany at http://www.ilpalio.org/toscana.htm

The big feature of the sagra, festa and palio is the ability of local Italian communities to organise themselves in such an amicable, creative and vibrant way. It’s truly something their government could learn from!

Colognora is one of the most beautiful villages in our area. Situated in the comune di Pescaglia its ancient streets are filled with some noble palazzi and the atmosphere is very picturesque.

Colognora is famous for at least four main things. It’s the home of the fascinating Chestnut Museum which evokes times past when chestnut flour made the ‘bread of the poor’ and helped the population survive through the hardest of times (like World War two).

It’s also the home of one of Italy’s greatest (and most neglected) operatic composers, Alfredo Catalani, whose o-so tragic life I’ve described in my post at: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/catalanis-calamitous-life/

It’s also famous for being the setting scene of Spike Lee’s film “Miracle at St Anna”. Fourthly Colognora has a very attractive local crafts festa where traditional skill like wood-carving, iron-forging, needlework, plaster statuette moulding, miniature stone house making (for Christmas cribs), basket making, broom manufacture are displayed.

Near the top of Colognora stands the very beautiful church of San Michele e San Caterina which contains some lovely altars and a fine organ. I especially liked the fresco of the Last Supper with a well-fed dog hiding under the table.

The church has some beautiful stained glass windows representing the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) designed by Giovanni Lorenzetti and carried out by Lorenzo Marchetti. They were inaugurated in 2010 and are absolutely beautiful.

I think that if the world’s human inhabitants abided by the four cardinal virtues they could make it such a better place!

Here is a selection of the activities and street scenes I saw when visiting Colognora last Sunday 24th July:

Catalani’s modest house now has a plaque affixed to it. I’m not sure that the sculpture is entirely appropriate. It makes poor Alfredo look somewhat brutalist. He was, in fact one of the most sensitive of Italian composers and persons. There are plans to make the house into a museum when funds permit.

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I was, therefore, very pleased to visit the recently opened Sala Catalani at the chestnut museum. The well-arranged room contains original letters written by the composer in his small, faint script, photographs of him and his family, a Catalani family tree and plenty more.

But the best thing there is La Divina Maria Callas’ dress which she wore for a lead performance in Catalani’s opera. What a treasure!

There were also mementoes of Mario Del Monaco who loved singing the composers’ works and linked him with the Del Monaco exhibition we visited at the Teatro di Vetriano earlier this year. (For more information on Vetriano theatre and the great Mario see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/the-smallest-theatres-biggest-programme/ ).

What a valley for music Pescaglia is! Puccini’s family lived just a couple of villages away at Celle. Extraordinary. But then are also certain Welsh valleys special for music..

It was such a lovely afternoon at Colognora. Crowds were considerable but not overbearing and I could see everyone was having a good time, especially me!

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