Spello’s Gold

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The quaint alleys of Spello

 

What I really miss of my husband’s (short) running career are those fantastic week-ends, when his races took us to visit many picturesque towns and villages. We used to choose the competition according to what the place had to offer for what concerns artistic beauties and, why not, food tradition. First you run and then you eat, it was a great combination after all, even for me that I didn’t run and the only task I had to accomplish was to welcome him at the finish line. So, as there are no races in sight, what did we have left? Well, the answer is simple: food.

Yes, food. After all, Italy is the land of food, and this is so true that we celebrate food every weekend, in every corner of the country. I’m talking about “sagre“, annual country festivals in honour of the typical products of the land: strawberries, cherries, chestnuts, pasta, mushrooms, bread, even flowers, only to mention the most famous ones just around Rome. These festivals are major attractions and a fantastic reason to quit the big city, take a breath of the fresh country air and taste juicy traditional food. Last week’s destination was Spello, an ancient town built of stone and enclosed in a circuit of medieval walls on Roman foundations in the province of Perugia (east central Umbria). Spello also boasts about two dozen small churches, most of them medieval, but the reason why we were there, was gold, Spello’s liquid gold: olive oil.

spello4Certainly this hasn’t been the best year for olive oil. A combination of bad weather (very mild winter 2013/14 followed by a rainy summer) has led to Italy’s most disastrous olive harvest of the century. Furthermore an insect called tignola plus some fungi belonging to the Anthracnose family have plagued what had remained, completing the disaster. Despite the adverse fate, the annual festival hadn’t been  cancelled and hundreds of local people put on their traditional costumes to welcome tourists and make the celebrations start.

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street dance

Even the children were happy actors of the ceremonials.

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lovely little girls following the procession

Everywhere you could see people playing, dancing and having a good time. The city streets were filled with stalls offering “bruschetta” ( grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper), and extra-virgin olive oil, skewers, sausages etc..

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tasty skewers

All of a sudden the most amazing pagan procession started. Rather than the usual religious statues of saints or the Virgin Mary, dancing and singing people started to follow their local gods: olive trees adorned with food carried by old tractors.

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“bardascitti” means young boys in the local dialect.

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the festive procession

In this genuine, joyous atmosphere, made of the little, simple things typical of the past rural tradition, I couldn’t help but wonder: even if those people didn’t have all the comforts of modern, technological societies, weren’t they happier after all?

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the future of tradition

 

The Monastic Run

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Hello, has anybody seen the summer? Where are the heat, the sunshine, the blue skies and that longed laziness on sandy beaches? We are all here, ready in our flip-flops, towels and bikinis but, actually, this July looks like more a rainy April. It’s really unfair for those who are on vacation and for one person in particular: ME.  That’s why this week-end we have decided to go somewhere else and drive to Simbruini mountains, about 100 km far from Rome, to reach Subiaco. Why? To run, of course.

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The monastery of St.Benedict

Subiaco is particularly renowned as a tourist and religious resort for its sacred grotto (Sacro Speco), in the medieval St. Benedict’s Abbey, and for the Abbey of St. Scholastica. In July there is a very picturesque race called “la Jennesina” . The route is enchanting as the race starts at the monastery of St.Benedict, then you run through the sacred places where the Saint lived and dictated the “Rule of Saint Benedict“,  which contains the precepts for his monks ( the most famous is “Ora et Labora“, that is “Pray and Work” as you may see it chiseled at the entrance of the monastery), to reach the fascinating medieval hamlet of Jenne. 10 kilometers of history, natural beauties and all uphill!!!

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A view of Simbruini mountains

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Mr Run’s concern

When Mr Run and I reached Subiaco, we soon realized that we had left spring behind to be welcomed by a gloomy, rainy, autumn day. We had to stay in our car for more than half an hour, because of a heavy, endless shower. What does that motto say?”Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know“, in fact, I started to wonder, that maybe we’d better stay at home, as I was picturing myself waiting for him under the rain at the finish line, or in the car for a couple of hours. I didn’t even have my iPad or a book with me!

Magically the rain ended and the air was clear and fresh. Mr Run soon put on his running shoes and with some friends of his team rushed to get to bus to reach the start at the monastery, while I would wait for him in Jenne.

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The four musketeers

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Alleys in Jenne

Well, I had all the time to visit the place. Jenne is actually  really quaint. You can feel that atmosphere of the middle age, typical in central Italy, in the stony alleys, little colorful houses and churches. In the late 12th century, it was the birthplace of Pope Alexander IV.

 

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Belvedere

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The statue of Pope Alexander IV

When I came back to the finish line, the runners were just about to end their fatigue. The winner took a little more than 36 minutes to run 10 kilometers uphill. Only when the last 500 meters are dangerously downhill as you can see :

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Mr Run’s arrival

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Few meters to the end

Running uphill is not exactly what Mr Run loves the most, in fact he confessed he had even pondered to leave the race at the third kilometer. But Mr Run is not a quitter, particularly in the land of “Ora et Labora” so after that short crisis, he rolled up his sleeves and managed to end the competition in 51 minutes. He was disappointed of course, but his discontent didn’t last long, as after the race, the inhabitants of the village had organized a feast for the runners and their families, based on the local culinary delights as pasta with mutton tomato sauce, roasted mutton etc.

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Ladies serving mutton tomato sauce pasta

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Final toast

After all this “orare” and “laborare”, “manducare” (to eat) well, is the right reward, isn’t it? 🙂