August 15 is Ferragosta, a national holiday in Italy. It’s a day of celebration and marks the ascension of Mary into heaven. It also it somewhat of a start of the August vacation period that most Italians take. Literally, it means the Festival of the Emperor Augustus and was initially started as a period of rest for the hard labor performed during the previous months. So now it’s kind of religious, kind of secular, but by all accounts very much observed. What it means for us is that most everything is closed, except of course the restaurants. We did find a supermarket open and judging from the crowds inside it was the only thing open for miles. Here everyone asks where you are going for Ferragosta, much like we ask in the US where you’re spending Thanksgiving or Christmas.
All the restaurants had extra tables set up and were busy all day. Even the little restaurant below us was open all day – no midday break. They worked straight through until dinner. That meant we had wi-fi all day and it was very nice. Once everything opens back up after this holiday (we’re not sure how long it lasts) we’re going to get a hotspot. It wouldn’t be critical, but since I’m working I have to have the internet. Walking down to the café is fine, but it’s hard to remember everything you need – calendar, notes, etc. – and invariably I leave something behind. I’d like to have all my work in one place and be able to access the internet when I need it, not when the restaurant is open and they remember to turn on the guest access.
This morning (Sunday) I got up early and took our little dog out. All the elders in the neighborhood were already up. Our plants on the steps had been watered. This morning I caught a glimpse of the benefactor. It was our neighbor across the street, an older gentlemen who is outside all day. He speaks not one word of English, but we are understanding him a little better every day. We see him all over town – here in our little corner, but down in the main piazza, too. He knows everyone and it’s clear he’s well-respected. I don’t know if he and garden lady up the street trade off watering for us or it’s whoever gets there first. All I know is we’ve never watered our own plants because they get up so early and do it for us.
The neighborhood waking up is much more interesting than it shutting down. In the building across from the restaurant there are apartments above the shops, just like ours. It’s hard to tell how many apartments are there, but directly across from us is an older woman who either has dementia or some other form of diminished mental ability. She has caretakers around the clock and we’re not sure if they’re relatives or paid. I think it may a combination of the two. Every now and then she’ll open her window and, in a very mournful, almost heartbreaking, voice will utter some stream of Italian. One night she became agitated and her caretakers were having a hard time calming her down. No one on the street blinked an eye – they know her situation and respect her privacy, even when it becomes public.
This morning at the entrance to those apartments, a woman was scrubbing the pavement outside the door with a broom dipped in soapy water. It reminded me of when I was a child and my mother would sometimes scrub the kitchen floor like that. This place is so clean it’s unbelievable. Someone is always sweeping or scrubbing. I hate to think what they make of my housekeeping skills. Every day a woman across from us on the front shakes all her rugs out of the windows and leaves them hanging over the edge to air out. Every day. I vacuumed our one and only rug once. Once. There’s also a man who comes around almost every morning with a broom and dustpan sweeping the streets by hand. He works for the city, I think. There are little trash cans mounted on almost every corner so there’s little reason for trash on the street, but he sweeps up anyway. I haven’t seen who empties those trash cans, but they’re never full and always have bags in them.
Last night we celebrated Ferragosto ourselves in our own way. Since we had a big lunch at the restaurant downstairs, we decided to have a caprese salad at home. Before we ate, we took a little stroll around town, our own little passigiato, and walked down to the main piazza. It was buzzing with activity – people were clearly in the holiday spirit and the little bar was packed with people having aperitifs. We joined in and had what everyone else was having. These beautiful red and orange drinks with huge orange slices in them. I had the orange one and my husband had the red one. Mine was Aperol and soda and his was Campari and soda. It was delightful! Very refreshing and just what we needed after our long day of doing nothing. We wandered on back home and started putting our salad together. I bought a few tomatoes from the fruit and vegetable vendor in town a day or so ago. Here, at small places like that, they select the produce for you. You say what you want and they select it. You never touch it. They take great pride in picking out the best pieces for you. In fact, I think it is in very bad taste to touch the produce yourself. Anyway, he selected a perfect tomato. I didn’t take a picture because it just looked like a beautiful tomato, but it tasted like summer. Have you ever eaten a tomato so fresh and perfect that you can taste the sun and water, and even picture the soil it grew from? That was this tomato. Sweet and juicy, with just the right amount of acidity. A little buffalo mozzarella and basil from our window box and that was dinner. While we were putting it together in our little kitchen, we had music playing. Ray Charles singing Georgia, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers all helping us prepare our simple Italian supper. Later we danced to the Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody. Maybe not the traditional Italian way to celebrate Ferragosto, but it was exactly right for us. A merging of our two worlds, taking some of our favorite things from each of them and bringing them together for a night to remember.