Monday, June 4, 2012

Lunch and festivities in Baiardo

Sunday morning and the sun is shining at last. The church bells were quite incessant with the first ringing at five this morning. Between ten and eleven they hardly stopped and they were not at all melodious just a continuous clang, clang, clang. One of our Canadian friends is the godfather of one of the Ceranasque girls attending her first communion today. Stationed in the square in front of the church, we watched the priest lead the six children about to receive their first communion.
We decided to explore the town once again. There are only a couple of roads where cars can travel and everything else is really a maze of narrow passageways with ancient, uneven cobblestone streets that may or may not have an even path of bricks, where you can walk. Many of the houses are abandoned. Sometimes the old stone buildings will have evidence of one resident on a third or fourth floor with the other floors being empty. Suddenly you round a corner and all the floors of a building will be occupied with colourful flower boxes everywhere. On the other hand some of the passageways we walked through were quite dark and a little scary. The houses have come down through many generations but as people moved away and families became smaller many were left empty.

Promptly at noon we were back at the church square. The band formed up, the doors of the church opened and out came young family members of the six new communicants. Then came the girls in their long satin dresses, and a boy, carrying a small madonna followed by the priest, their parents and family members. They paraded along the main street of the town and back to the church.

Meanwhile we met up with our friends and their ninety-one-year-old friend, Nino, who looks like he is sixty. He still works his land every day. Perhaps the secret to his longevity is that he never eats leftovers. The Mediterranean diet and the fact that you have to be fit just to get up and down the steep hills of the town are probably the reasons that so many people live to a very ripe old age in this town.

Everyone was off to lunch to celebrate the communion, while we decided to drive up the mountain to Baiardo, another small hillside town, for lunch with Lynn, our Canadian friend. We were lucky to get the last seats in the restaurant, which was filled with locals. On Sunday you don't order lunch. It just comes. You have to pace yourself as you are never quite sure how many courses are coming and today was porcini mushroom day. A great treat. Porcinis are very hard to find and you never tell people where you find your porcinis when you go porcini hunting. At yesterday's market they were €30 a kilo. The first course was steak tartare, some goat's cheese, grilled red peppers, sliced raw mushrooms, and a little piece of proscuitto. The next course was a few little pastries with vegetable-like fillings. Then came a home made bow tie pasta with a really tasty porcini mushroom sauce. All the portions are quite small.

Next came a mushroom risotto followed by a homemade ravioli. Thinly sliced porcini fritters were next....and we had seconds of these. Next came a few grilled artichokes with chanterelles, a tiny bit of potato and a little roast beef. By this time we were definitely slowing down. My favourite, rabbit, cooked in wine with olives was the penultimate course. Finally, tiramusu and a light strawberry flan followed by espresso finished off the meal. What a wonderful experience.

Now it was time to walk. Baiardo has had a lot of money injected into it in the last few years, which has made it very pleasant place to visit. The houses have been refaced and cobblestone streets and passageways redone. However, there isn't much commercial activity except for a few restaurants and a little store. We headed up some very steep cobblestone passageways to the old, ruined church at the top of the town. This has been a religious site since the time of the Druids, "from 1000 years JC", according to the sign. The church was devastated in the Baiardo earthquake, 150 years ago. The views from this spot over the lush green Apennines were quite magical. So beautiful and so tranquil.

We took a different route back into one of the squares, where we found a group dressed in renaissance Italian costumes performing with flags, accompanied by a band. We followed them down to the church square where they continued their performance flinging the flags higher and higher in the air and catching them.

Another band of older men in Alpine type hats started performing music, much of it Beethoven, while a man climbed up a ladder and tied a rope around a very tall, stripped tree. This took an age. Then he repeated this. At one time he had the rope around his neck. What was happening? Finally, the second rope was tied around the tree.

The men with the alpine hats, some watching and some in the band, were former Alpini troops, who have quite a distinguished history defending Italy's borders. More music. Then some of the townspeople formed a circle and began walking around the tree, while the elderly ladies sang. An inner circle was formed and they moved one way and then another. Some tourists were in the circles. I'm sure they were wondering what they had got themselves into as it went on for ages, while the band music got darker and then finally the circle dance was finished and the music lighter. A king then appeared. As the story goes a king had three daughters. One disobeyed him and ran off. He had her beheaded. Apparently, the stripped tree represented this daughter.

The makeshift arrangement at the bottom of the tree was dug up. The king started barking orders. Men took up the ends of the rope and the tree was lowered slowly with the king's commands. Finally, the tree was down. The ceremony over, we meandered back to the car. It was lovely to watch something quite unique to the area even though we didn't quite understand it all.

It was back in the car to wind our way through the beautiful hills back to Ceriana. There are definitely no plans for dinner tonight.

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