ferragosto m 1. (il 15 agosto) August holiday, Feast of the Assumption, August ‘Bank Holiday’ 2. (periodo) August holidays pl. August holiday period.
The days preceeding and following Ferragosto are the longest and hottest of the year and mark a ritual moment of italian idleness. August 15th represents the acme of physical and psychological wellbeing: you’re feeling good because you’ve left behind work and worries, yet ahead there’s still more holiday to savour. Anxieties are put aside and all attention is brought to bear on this moment of pure stress-free laziness. In Campania this means big family get togethers with food, wine and song and I have rarely seen people have such a good time.
This year Federico and I were on the opposite side of the idleness spectrum as we were helping cater the big Ferragosto buffet lunch for 100 people at Terre di Conca. The day was crowned with beautiful weather and people began arriving as early as 10 am in order to take advantage of the sun and swimming pool. Toddlers were playing with the cats who were in turn getting in the way of the chefs. Friarielli, portulaca and zucchini flowers were being brought in from the fields and the batter for the deep-fried pizzelle was rising. Federico and Peppino (the singer) were setting up the sound system.
Hunger struck at one o’clock and the buffet began. There was a brief moment of tension as everyone surged toward the buffet table, but this group of old customers knew that Berardino served more food than anyone could possibly eat so the atmosphere was easy going and everyone actually lined up like Brits at a taxi stand! First came the fried antipasti: pizzelle (puffed salted pastry filled with tomatoe sauce and basilico), zucchini flowers, portulaca (a green weed) and friarelli (small green peppers). People ate, drank and relaxed while listening to Peppino sing nostalgic songs by Fred Bongusto and Andriano Celentano, accompanied by tasteful recorded arrangements.
Then came the fresh, oven-baked pasta made with tomatoes, eggplant and hard-boiled eggs. A few teenagers returned to the pool to top up their tans and Peppino shifted gear to more rythmic pieces. Husbands and wives, grandfathers and grandaughters, mothers and friends began dancing, embraced in each others sense of belonging. By the time the roasted meats arrived people were ready for more food and wine. Desserts were served at around four pm followed by cold watermelon, chilled prosecco and provolone cheese. Peppino took out his guitar and sang the classic neapolitan songs: Mare Chiaro, Turna a Surriento, U Sarracino…
With work over, the staff started to enjoy themselves with a bit of wine or beer and accompanied Peppino, singing off-key into the microphone. The evening came to an end when Berardino carried his assistant over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and jumped into the pool.
There may be many problems facing this country but, grazie a Dio, Italians still know how to seize the moment. Carpe Diem.
(Thank you Dorothy for two of the pictures!)