Just when you think the heat has taken its final toll on the countryside, when the trees are wilting with thirst, when the high grasses are nothing but a tinderbox, when you can’t stand another day of brutal sunshine, the rain finally arrives. Soft and gentle, it soothes and cools and relieves your anxiety, giving way to a physical feeling of release and renewal. People here describe it as sense of grace. When you live in southern Italy it’s easy to see the ties between the people, their land and livelihood, natural and supernatural phenomena, and religion. Events that are promoted by the Church are often tinged with a little paganism, such as in the food festivals that take place throughout the year: there is the cherry and apple sagre at S. Agata dei Goti, the wheat festival at Foglianise, even the mushrooms are feted at Cusano Mutri; all these crops are anxiously awaited and their bounty celebrated. A case in point is the Festa dell’Uva at Solopaca.
Solopaca is a small town (population just over 4000) located at the base of the Taburno Mountain and has been known for its wines since the 12th century although its origins date back to pre-history. Like many towns in Campania, it was invaded by the Normans after the fall of the Roman Empire. In the 15th and 16th centuries it came under the rule of feudal families such as the Monsori, the Lagonesse and the Caraccoioli.
Grapes and wines represent the mainstays of the local economy, so this is a really important event. Mayors from all over the region are seated on a raised platform strategically placed before the main church, accompanied by the city’s police force carrying their colorful municipal banners. Solopacan’s parade along the main street in period costumes, solemly pacing ahead of the sbandieratori (flag throwers). There are brigands and pulcinellas, peasants playing the putipù, kings, queens and damsels, gayly defying the brooding clouds that are gathering over the mountain tops.
Hundreds of people line the streets, young and old, eating sausages, broiled corn and ice cream, waiting to see the giant floats as they pass by (which will then procede to Naples to be displayed the following day). But they all have one thing in common: they are completely covered and carefully inlaid with grapes: green, gold and black. First come the various wine producers with their logos interpreted as mosaics of grapes. Then comes the triumphant Madonna, elegantly cloaked in black and gold (grapes).
Then follow the bigger floats with subjects running from political satire to television shows. My favorite had a sign boasting, “Non farti prendere dal panico, futtite ‘na bottiglia e Aglianico” (“Don’t get yourself into a panico, relax and drink a bottle of Aglianico”).
I enjoy participating in these events where the sacred and profane intermingle quite naturally. A nun strolls with a woman in excruciatingly tight pants; priests and politicians pose amicably in front of the church. Life is too damn short and everyone wants to enjoy the last summer sun… as Winter is just around the corner.