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.
Sardinia beckons with its crystalline blue waters and sun-soaked beaches, dramatic rugged landscapes, eclectic cuisine, and gentle, gracious people. It’s also a mysterious island filled with much to discover reflecting its unique history and geography.
Though the island is now part of Italy, Sardinia produced a culture distinctly its own over the last two millennia. The ancient Nuragic people were its first inhabitants, as far back as 1500 to 460 B.C., and their presence can still be felt in the 7,000 conical “nuraghe” megaliths they left behind.
And the island’s relative isolation has resulted in the development of native vegetation as well as animal species, such as the white donkey of the Asinara.
For those seeking distinctive gastronomic experiences, Sardinian food and wine offer culinary treasures galore. With over 1,100 miles of coastline and an abundant mountain interior, Sardinia features marvelous seafood (what would you expect, given its name!), rustic specialties like roasted pig, and unique breads and pasta preparations, including fregola – a cross between grain and pasta with a nutty flavor and texture all its own.
Moreover, Sardinia is known as one of the five locales in the world with the highest number of centenarians – those living 100 years or more. Why? In truth, there is no definite answer to this question. Some scientists believe that the secret lies in distinctive local DNA; for others, the answer relates to a lifestyle of pastoral simplicity along with Sardinia’s cuisine which epitomizes the healthful Mediterranean diet.
Another thing I especially love are the hundreds of murals, virtual open-air museums, that express Sardinia’s unique cultural identity, customs and traditions, daily life and even political discourse.
Renowned for their poignancy and immediacy, the murals found in the town of Orgosolo, painted in the 60’s, reflect the artistic verve of a group of feuding anarchists.
I hope this whets your appetite for Sardinia as you dream of and begin to plan a post-Omicron sojourn exploring the many cultural and natural glories of the Boot.
The popular expression “dog days of summer” has exactly zero to do with the effects of intense summer heat on our canine friends. Both ancient and celestial in origin, the phrase was translated from Latin to English about five hundred years ago and has since morphed in meaning—a common tendency when people don’t know the true origin of a phrase and seek some plausible explanation … perhaps it comes from a day when the weather is so hot that dogs lie around panting and acting lifeless and lazy; or a day not fit for a dog; or a day so hot even mad dogs and Englishmen can’t handle it. The phrase lives on but the original meaning has been long forgotten.
During Roman times (and back to the time of the ancient Greeks as well) there was a period when the dog star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, rose and set with the sun. This phenomenon occurred for about forty days between early July and mid-August. The Romans thought the combination of the brightest light of the day, the sun, and what was normally the brightest star at night, Sirius, was responsible for the most extreme heat of the summer season. The star sometimes seemed to glow with other colors, and they believed its reddish radiance augmented the heat of the sun.
Geminus, a Greek astronomer from Rhodes, in 70 BCE had a more accurate view: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the ‘dog days’ but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun’s heat is at its greatest.”
Still, the contemporary interpretation of “dog days” has a certain resonance, maybe even appeal, especially in non-pandemic times when one could venture to the ball park on a summer afternoon: hot dogs anyone?!