Ferragosto, or Why Italy Closes in August

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Aug 14, 2022

Buon Ferragosto! A popular greeting heard among Italians this time of year. Ferragosto, technically August 15, is the official start to the Italian exodus out of the cities . . . and a part of Italian cultural DNA which is to head for the beaches or mountains during the month of August, with this tradition dating all the way back to 18 B.C.!

This was the year Emperor Augustus, after whom the month of August is named (it was his favorite time of year), formally instituted the August ‘vaca’ by connecting various annual festivities celebrating the harvest to create an extended period of rest from the year’s labors. He filled this period with rituals, races, games and FUN. Known then as feriae augusti and today as Ferragosta, it later took on a Christian meaning as well coinciding with the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven celebrated on August 15th.  Today, August 15th is a national holiday and much like our 4th of July or Memorial Day culminates in dazzling displays of fireworks filling the night skies.

Usually, public holidays mean a total shutdown, even in major towns and cities, with everything from post offices to public transport closed, and that’s the case on August 15th — though a few major tourist sites in major cities remain open, as well as restaurants, at least for lunch. You’ll see ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs popping up all over the place, often with images of the mountains and the sea.

Rome comes alive for the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto, a city-wide party during which every street, square and corner is filled with people dancing. Larger squares host dance performances all day, getting more and more professional (or absurd) as the sun goes down.  I have never been in Rome for this, but the massive dance party’s theme is participation, so if you hit the streets you’d better be ready to get your own personal dance on!

Featured photos were taken in Procida, Cortina, Elba, Capri, the Aeoliean Islands, Sardinia, Puglia and the Amalfi Coast. Special thanks to Frank Yantorno and Ciclismo Classico for several of these dazzling images.

 

Burano’s Candy-Colored Casas

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Jun 4, 2022

Forty minutes from Murano, world famous for its glass, is the island village of Burano, famous for its lace … and where the dazzling colors of locales like the Caribbean meet the haunting qualities of the Venetian lagoons. Many visitors to Venice, perhaps forgetting one out of confusion with the other, or perhaps due to time constraints, choose to go to Murano and not take the second 40-minute vaporetto journey to its almost-namesake. But those who do are treated to some very yummy eye-candy. Along the canals are charming two-story houses — cherry, pink, chartreuse, azure, tangerine and canary yellow, with contrasting-hued shutters, brightly patterned curtains for doors, window boxes and ceramic pots overflowing with flowers, and some very nicely art-directed clotheslines.

Burano is also famous for its lace known as punto in aria, or “points in the air,” as it is not stitched onto fabric but only onto itself. Demand exploded in the 1600’s and the Venetian government turned lace-making from private production into a lucrative business of the Republic, organizing women into a guild — one of the richest in Venice — and moving most production from Venice to Burano due to the island’s lower costs.

No one really knows how all this exuberance began, but there are, naturally, many stories about the origin of Burano’s vivacious color scheme. One plausible suggestion was that back in the day, painting each house a different color helped define property lines. Another more amusing, though less plausible suggestion is that on days of winter fog or very rough seas, the fishermen could not go fishing and spent their day playing cards and drinking vino. By the evening they were feeling so festive they couldn’t recognize their own houses. So it was decided to paint every house a different color so every wife could be sure the right man would return to the right home after a day on the town.

A Passion for Puglia

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Apr 2, 2022

In the deep south of Italy, surrounded by crystal-clear waters and 500 miles of Adriatic and Ionian coastline, is the enclave of Puglia that sits on the sun-baked heel of the Boot. I first visited years ago and fell in love with its sleepy whitewashed villages, colorful folk traditions, its unique trulli set amongst olive trees, endless plates of mouth-watering food and some of the most gracious people in all of Italy.

More than 800 of the gargantuan trees at the ancient olive farm, Antica Masseria Brancati, near Ostuni, are considered natural monuments. With their gnarled and knotted trunks, many are upwards of 3000 years old.

The city of Lecce dates back to Magna Graecia, but because of its exquisite Baroque architecture it is known as the Florence of the South. The architectural style in Lecce is so distinctive that it was given its own name – “Barocco Leccese.“ The city’s opulent palaces and churches are built with Lecce stone, which has been used since ancient times.

Food is a surefire way to get to the heart of a culture and makes travel to Puglia ever-rewarding. Puglia’s tradition of rustic “cucina povera” centers around freshness and simplicity. The cherries are amazing, as is the burrata, focaccia and the orecchiette con cima di rape (with broccoli rabe), just to mention a few.

Puglia has plenty of charming towns ideal for leisurely wandering including Martina Franca; the labyrinthine whitewashed streets of Locorotondo and Ostuni; and the hobbit-like trulli of Alberobello (along with the stunning seaside towns of Polignano a Mare, Otranto and Gallipoli).

The town of Polignano a Mare has dedicated a statue and waterfront to the great Italian singer Domenico (Mimmo) Modugno (popularly known as Mr. Volare) who was born there in 1928. Mimmo was a singer, songwriter, actor, parliamentarian and three-time Grammy award winner.

His song Nel Blu Dipinto De Blu, popularly known as Volare, became a huge international hit in 1958 and sold over 30 million records. It also won him his first Grammy award (and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show 😉

But what makes Puglia so appealing is its authenticity. Things move at a slower pace and people will always make time for you. Everyone is so proud of their region; they don’t mind when you take photos and are keen to help in any way they can.