Déjà vu

A jumble of images and thoughts and feelings lie forlornly scattered around my sleep-hungry brain. It remains incapable of tidying them into neat piles of sense and logic. Instead it just keeps shoving them back and forth in the vain hope that meaning and order will somehow magically appear.

“No……!” Mr Blue-Shirt’s strangled roar. The broken window. The ransacked kitchen. The crow-barred stairs. The crow-barred door. A break-in – again. The ransacked study. The ransacked bedroom. The wonky pictures and out-of-position cupboards. The mangled and empty safe and our most treasured possessions gone. Disbelief and shock – again. Howls of rage at the intrusion; tears of pain at the loss – again. This time not tools, but a shared lifetime of birthday, anniversary and Christmas gifts lovingly chosen and given, and joyfully received and worn. The precious mementos of my late parents, too, among which his wartime medals, her grandmother’s pocket watch.  Carabinieri, statements, theories and evidence – again. Lists of stolen items, insurance policy checked, meeting with our agent, loss assessor booked – again. Why? When? Did anyone see them? How long had they been watching? Wasn’t once enough? Bastards.

Sorting, cleaning and laundry: reclaiming and erasing. Repairs, stronger hinges, bigger locks, and more: they will not beat us. Attempts at defiance, resistance and resolve. Yet in the heavy silence of the endless night, doubt and suspicion hold sleep at bay. Irrational – or is it rational? – fear creeps in. Fear that they are still watching. Fear that they might come back. Fear – for now – of even going out together.

Which means that despite the promise we made ourselves this time last year, we simply cannot bring ourselves to go to one of the village’s biggest events of the year, the Sagra del Carciofo, its annual artichoke-fest. So, based on our experience a year ago, this is almost certainly what we shall be missing …

Much as the 57th annual festival did last year, this year’s sagra will doubtless involve a full weekend of solid partying that will take over the entire historical centre. That is, after all, the nature of the beast. Sagra is one of those annoying words that is so particular to the culture that it defies accurate translation. Even the lexicographers who compiled my breeze-block-sized Italian dictionary realise that translating it as ‘festival, feast’ doesn’t do the term full justice, so they helpfully go on to explain that “A sagra is a rural festival held in the open air with folk music, dancing and games. Many are based around one or more culinary specialities, which can usually be sampled in the various booths. These festivals normally take place during the summer months.” (Collins) Which is true enough as far as it goes – except for the fact that this description sucks every last drop of joie de vivre out of the thing.  For these sagre (and there over 5000 of them up and down the country) are not worthy-but-dull events run by local do-gooders in a fruitless attempt to cling to a bygone golden age. Nor are they a cynical ploy to attract gullible tourists and hoodwink them into spending lots of money on ‘traditional’ wares. They are, rather, a celebration of the produce that supports the local economy – many of the fields hereabouts are once again covered with neat rows of the prickly deep green mounds from which the prized thistle-like edible blossoms appear in spring – and since this varies from community to community, they are also an expression of a community’s individuality, and also of civic pride and solidarity.  Moreover, because they revolve around eating and drinking, processions and games, music and dancing, and lots of making merry, there is something for everyone to enjoy, from black-clad nonna to tattooed teenager to curly-haired toddler. And enjoy them they do – in vast numbers, too.

So, were we going, Mr Blue-Shirt and I would be walking the 4km into the village, as the place is bound to be absolutely heaving with life, with every last parking space long since bagged. The narrow, cobbled streets will be crammed with stands selling piles of freshly harvested deep purple artichokes, and with stands selling jars of artichokes preserved in golden olive oil that are a favourite antipasto, and with stands stacked with shiny waxed drums of pecorino (the typical accompaniment to artichokes), offering tastings of all the different vintages, along with a collection of other stands proudly displaying an array of locally-produced artisan foods from hams to honey – all of them doing a brisk trade. It will of course be the stands selling hot food where the real action will happen, though, with a permanent queue of people waiting to take their pick from whole roasted artichokes topped with grated pecorino, roast pork with artichoke, artichoke salad, artichoke and pecorino frittata (omelette), deep-fried artichoke hearts, and olives stuffed with artichokes. Not to be outdone by these pop-up stalls, the pizzeria in the main square will be churning out artichoke pizzas at a furious pace, and the other two restaurants in the village will also have made the artichoke the star of their menus for the weekend. To be honest, though, some of the dishes on offer are still likely to be downright odd. Last year, Mr Blue-Shirt managed to secure one of the last tables in the long-established family-run restaurant on the main street, and to round off each of their specially created four-course artichoke-based menu, the dessert was artichoke strudel, and we later found that the gelateria was even serving homemade artichoke ice cream. Which I still think sounds like last-ditch contributions to a late-night culinary brainstorming session.

Having eaten our fill of artichoke dishes (minus the strudel and ice cream) we would make our way through the crowded streets up to the even more crowded main square where a five-piece band would probably be twanging their way through a selection of country and western favourites. The concert stage, huge speakers, big screen, dry ice and fancy light show would still look slightly incongruous set against the backdrop of the imposing medieval bell tower and grand town hall. But we would no longer be surprised to see the ancient square so buzzing with life and energy and fun as having now been to several such festivals, we know how much our fellow Monteluponesi love to party.

The following afternoon will naturally bring yet more artichoke-themed celebrations, the most bizarre of which will remain the procession of specially made floats that each form a different artichoke-themed tableau. One after the other, they will be towed by a flag-bedecked tractor onto the main square where homage will be paid to the precious artichoke in the form of a brief playlet performed in front of the jam-packed square. We would probably be no less baffled than last year by all this, but would find it no less enjoyable for that. More eating and drinking will doubtless follow, and late in the evening proceedings will reach a climax with another live band pounding out a programme of popular rock ballads that will be carried in through our bedroom window on the soft night air as we search for sleep once more. And curse the thieving bastards whom we shall not – shall not – allow to steal our dreams as well as our memories.

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