Friday, May 24, 2013

Festa di Primavera in Ceriana

Sunday arrived, the day of the food festival, where local towns brought their food specialties for everyone to sample. This was the first time Ceriana had hosted the event in fifteen years making it a special day. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't totally cooperative but by eleven o'clock the sun managed to come out.

We wandered along the main street looking at the foods the various vendors were selling including some delicious Toma cheese and hand-made ricotta that we just had to buy. There were wonderful breads and the most delicious bread sticks. Aside from this the people selling plants were doing a brisk trade. Other than that there was lots of jewelry and crafty items for sale.

After several trips up and down the street we walked to the piazza, where long tables had appeared for our eating pleasure. Music was playing and a band was setting up. All the food vendors were getting ready with each town cooking the food that it was famous for. It wasn't time to eat yet so we just spent time in the square chatting with friends.

Then it dawned on us how the whole thing worked. You had to get in line to buy tickets but you had to know exactly what you wanted as you paid for and got that particular ticket. The prices were all different. The line was very slow because you told the lady what you wanted and she went to a little book for that particular town and dish and then wrote out what you were eating and the number of items. Since there were at least 15 or more vendors you can only imagine how long this took. As one friend commented, "We Italians can't organize anything." For us it was even more difficult as we had to know the names of the things we wanted to eat and although they may have looked familiar they often seemed to have different names like the bruschetta on lovely dark bread that was called something totally different.

Finally we had our tickets, a place with our San Remo and Ceriana friends at the long tables and wine for the table. There was tripe, snails, gnocchi that was very rich, sardinara, torte which is a Ligurian vegetable pie, delicious sausages from Ceriana made with a secret recipe handed down over the generations and wonderful swiss chard fritters. The potato pie looked really good. We didn't buy everything because the portions were huge. In fact back at the table we ended up sharing everything and then sending the leftovers to one friend with a hearty appetite. The desserts were very good and not at all sweet. I had a pie with raspberry filling and Seamus had apple flan.

The local jazz band played throughout our meal with a couple of stops when it looked like it was going to rain. It was hot, cold, hot and finally wet but we had finished our food by this time and now we needed a walk. As part of the festival there was a photographic display lower down in the town in one of the ancient churches.

We walked very carefully on the wet cobblestones through very narrow passageways. Every so often the passageways would become a little wider and opening up on lovely stone houses decked out with loads of bright flowers. Then we would move on looking down steep steps leading to dark passages and hidden doorways. More of the houses looked occupied than on our last trip down here. We passed the house, now abandoned, where one of our friends was born. Apparently, someone owns it but it still sits empty and unloved.

Finally, we reached the church that dates back to the 11th century. There behind the altar and in the vestry were the old pictures of life in Ceriana. We actually knew some of the people in the pictures but our friends who came from Ceriana were in seventh heaven looking at old school photos and identifying their friends. There was a beautiful picture of our young friend's great grandmother picking olives, while another friend was working at the olive factory. There were pictures of people harvesting grapes and olives and carrying the baskets on their heads. For me it was quite lovely to see the faces of the  elderly people in the town light up as they saw old pictures of themselves or their friends.

We were ready to leave the church but the weather was definitely not cooperating. It was bucketing down. This gave us a good opportunity to look around the old church that had always been under renovation on previous visits. There was a lovely blue fresco on the ceiling in one part and the remains of some frescos on the walls. The view through one of the long windows up to the town was magnificent. There was an ancient Baroque altar and the remains of the previous church have been unearthed in places. This church is actually in use a few times during the year.

We finally braved the elements and crossed the old Nocetta Bridge across a quick running river and past the ancient abandoned hospital and started up the path back to the main part of the town. We stopped where our young friend's grandmother lived and it was pointed out to her where her grandmother and grandfather had courted. Next we came to the Gate of Sorrow, that was closed each night to keep out marauders. There is a gap near the door above where boiling oil or water was poured on any Barbary pirates trying to break through the walls of the village.

Back in the piazza we said good-bye to our San Remo friends hoping to see them again soon. Later that evening we visited other friends from Ceriana, who had lots of wood for their wood-fed oven. We had a little to eat, some wine and much laughter with them. It was a lovely day with lots of friends, good food and wine. A perfect Sunday.

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