Friday, October 5, 2007

Day 4: Soriano nel Cimino

We have another satisfying breakfast in our apartment. I do love my large cups of strong drip coffee;Michael has the coffee blended and ground specifically to his taste by a local coffee shop. Today we are going to visit a villa near Orte (20 minutes away) with Mary Jane Cryan–an ex-pat American living in Vetralla whom we met through the internet. Her web site
is full of information on the area of northern Lazio. We meet Michael, Mary Jane and her friend Fulvio in the piazza for coffee and then we take a tour of the three apartments that Michael rents in Soriano…all in the Rocca rione and all very nicely designed. We make a quick stop at Michael’s house in the country; the farm house is from Paola’s family and they are in the midst of a major renovation which will enlarge it and make it quite spectacular.
The villa outside of Orte is owned by a Belgian woman–Elisabetta–married to an Italian. She is a practicing medical doctor with a family but she rents the house out during the summer and sometimes takes guests for bed and breakfast. The villa is beautifully sited with a pool, terrace and plenty of space to stretch out in. We get a tour of the house and enjoy a late morning “snack” of coffee, fruit, cheese and prosecco while talking and enjoying the sunny day and the view.
We had planned to go to lunch in Orte but Mary Jane has to get back to Vetralla, so we head back to Soriano and have a light lunch in one of the trattorie just off the piazza. The pasta is a local specialty–gnocchi col di ferro–which is more like a lighter version of pici –and the sauces–al funghi for me and arrabiata (spicy) for them–is very good.
After lunch, we head back up the hill to the apartment to work and rest—tonight there is a big ceremony in the piazza…the benediction of the participants in the festival’s contests….followed by dinners served in the tavernas of each of the rione.

I take a quick walk around town….up to the Castello that crowns the town and down to the Palazzo Chigi-Albano and the Fontana Papacqua which was one of the noble palaces but has been left to deteriorate and just now is being fixed up. The Castello used to be a prison and they haven’t done much to spruce it up. The views are very nice and they have some art exhibitions in some of the rooms. They are setting up for a market during the festival weekend but most of the vast space is empty.
The Palazzo Chigi-Albani is down some steep streets and steps below the piazza….there is a lot of construction equipment and scaffolding set up but the main gate is slightly ajar so I go in. According to the Cadogan Guide, “the 16th century Palazzo Chigi-Albani, a Mannerist confection designed by Vignola, consists of two wings united by the extraordinary Fontana Papacqua, decorated with eleven “mascherone” and other figures, and a sculptural group featuring Moses in the central niche.” There are many broken windows and the interiors seem to be in very bad shape. Michael told us that only twenty years ago the place was a showpiece but the city has let it slip into ruin and only now are they making an attempt to restore it.
There are two buildings that are connected by a very ornate fountain–the Papacqua decorated with large carvings, statues and bas-reliefs on two faces. There is no water flowing at the time but it is still very impressive.
I stop to buy a porchetta sandwich from the butcher shop that we pass everyday… is very good…..a very tasty late afternoon snack.
The weather is beginning to threaten…the wind is blowing and rain appears imminent….but as we leave for the opening ceremonies, the threat has disappeared and the evening is very pleasant. The grandstands that have been set up in the piazza are filled when we arrive and there are people several deep standing around the square. We stake out a position opposite the duomo to watch as each of the four “rione” march in–drummers, trumpeters, flag-bearers, an archer and finally, the horse and rider that will represent the neighborhood in the weekend’s competitions. There are speeches and the horses and riders are blessed by the priest – and the rione are assigned starting positions for the competitions later in the weekend.
The person in the white shirt and shorts is Michael Kovnick, who is photographing the event.
The audience is very involved in the ceremony, cheering loudly when their “rione” enters the square. This type of Italian sagra is definitely not staged for the tourists (there are hardly any except for us) but is an important part of the town tradition.
As we are watching the ceremony, I see a familiar face walk past …a person we know from Washington D.C. who used to handle the coffee bar at Casa Italiana (our language school), worked for Alitalia at Dulles and whom we would meet at Italian movies in D.C. Antonio is also very surprised and pleased to see us…it turns out that his family is from Soriano and he was born here, moved to Rome when he was five but used to spend summers in Soriano with his grandparents. He is here for the Sagra and is visiting his brother who still lives in Soriano. It is a small world…..
After the ceremony, we go to the rione dinner in Papacqua with Michael, his family and friends. The dinner is held in the large vaulted room that is the rione headquarters. Dinner is loud and lots of fun—bruschetta, polenta with ragu, steaks, sausages, good Marche wine. At the dinner, we meet all the people that we know in Soriano….Carla, Rita, Maurizio, Tiziana, even Antonio is there… we feel quite connected, and very comfortable.

After dinner, we go to the piazza with our table and have a goodnight coffee before heading up the hill to the apartment. The partying in town continues and we hear the music from a concert being held in the Trinita neighborhood.
Tomorrow we leave Soriano (somewhat reluctantly) for Cortona.


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