Italy in Books - Christ stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi

Christ stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi was first published in 1945 and is a first-hand account of the author's exile in the towns of Basilicata during 1935-1936. I'm not sure why I chose it really. I guess one reason is curiosity. I've never been further south than Sorrento in Italy, and from speaking to my Nonna-in-law, I know Italy in 1935 was a very different place. I guess then, I wanted to see a different Italy, separated in space and time, to that which I see today, just to get some perspective. Anyway, enough about me, what about the book?

Due to his anti-fascist beliefs and activism, Carlo Levi was banished to essentially the middle of nowhere by Benito Mussolini. A native of Turin, the medical doctor initially struggles to adapt to his new surroundings, feeling like a fish out of water. He entered a world centuries away from his own, cut off from the state, with it's own cycles of sorrow and hardship, where the people seem to be from a completely different country, relying on ancient folklore and witchcraft, rather than religion and imperial order. Slowly, perhaps predictably, he begins to see past the outward differences in clothing and mannerisms to understand the people. From the ambitious local 'gentlemen', trapped in generational pretty squabbles over local disputes, to the commoners, working long hours under the unrelenting sun. While the premise may sound a little formulaic, the book is so well written, both in terms of prose and in terms of historical documentation, that I found it hard to put down. Dr Levi observes the locals, befriends them, and very quickly loses his prejudice and outsider tag. He spent little over a year in Lucania (now, roughly, Basilicata), staying in two towns, Gagliano, and Grassano, spending his time talking to the locals and indulging in writing and painting both the people and the barren landscape they inhabit.

The title of the book comes from the fact that Christianity (read civilisation) appears to have stopped in a small town, about half-way between Naples and the town of Gagliano, called Eboli. The locals of Gagliano don't consider themselves part of Italian society, nor Christians, and indeed, use the two terms synonymously. That's it. This is all the book is about. Doesn't sound much does it? The book doesn't really go anywhere, there isn't really a plot, a murder mystery to solve, or anything like that, but it's none the poorer for it. Dr Levi details the local culture, from the casual approach to sex to the coming of the pig doctor, with local rivalries, mystical townsfolk, witches, crestfallen priests and rampant malaria all added to the palette of personalities that grace the page.

In the end, the book is all about the journey, rather than the destination, and despite my initial annoyance that it was a bit slow and not going anywhere, I was sad when I finished it, as I was completely submerged into the strange, anachronistic world in which Levi found himself. For this, and for the richness of the language and the pleasure I had through being immersed in 1935 Lucania, I can heartily recommend this book.

Christ stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi should be available in all good book shops (or can be bought from Amazon here) and is published by Penguin books.

The other September reviews in the Italy in Books challenge can be found here.

Chestnut festivals in Lazio - Sagre delle Castagne

Updated 25/09/2012.

It's harvest time in Lazio. That means only one thing in the province of Viterbo... Sagre delle Castagne! These festivals feature everything chestnut-y (Castanea sativa) and are thrown all over Northern Lazio.

One of the largest is in Soriano nel Cimino, about 11km east of Viterbo, north of Lago di Vico. As with most sagre, it features a medieval parade and open air restaurants. What sets it aside from others, apart from its size, are two unique events. The first is a Palio, where the four quarters of Soriano nel Cimino compete against each other in medieval sports such as jousting and archery. The second, a reenactment of an ancient battle with neighboring Vignanello, where the sorianesi successfully defeated and indeed killed the Count of Vignanello, who tried to take Soriano, coveting it for himself.

The festival starts on the 28th September and finishes on the 14th October. Check out their promo video below, it's amazing (especially considering it's about chestnuts!). Click through to their website for more information.

For a full list of sagre in the provincia di Viterbo, not just for chestnuts but also mushrooms (e.g. the Sagra del Fungo Ferlenga in Tarquinia) and sausages (e.g. the Sagra della Salsiccia in Morlupo on the 27-28th October) click on this link to the folclore website (in italian).

If you have a glut of chestnuts yourself (what would that be called, a cacophony, a catastrophe?), check out this blog post from Pane, amore e Creatività, which gives 100 cooking recipes using chestnuts, which should keep you going for a while ;)

Fabulous Fondi

Everyone knows that the best explorers don't do everything alone. They ask for help and advice along the way, not just from fellow travelers but also from the locals. An area I don't know so well is just south of Rome, the province of Latina. Here, guest blogger Rick Sotis gives us a personal tour of Fondi, a small town in the province of Latina, where he and his wife have a small holiday home.

Fondi is a magical little town located midway between Rome and Naples about 8 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. My life became entwined with this beautiful city many years ago because it is the place where my grandparents were born. My wife, Mia, my father, Giacomino and myself have visited Fondi twice in the last year and a half. There are a few things to boast about to you in and around Fondi. So as your tour guide, get ready for a written and pictorial holiday. Here we go!

Sagra della Porchetta!

Every so often, something comes along that makes you thankful you're in Italy. Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, if you like pork, that something may involve the town of Ariccia, just south of Rome, right about now.

For four days in September (predicted to be from Tuesday 3rd in 2013), Ariccia is home to a Sagra della Porchetta (festival of porchetta). The town of Ariccia, about 27km south-east of Rome, is one of the castelli romano towns, perched in the Albani hills. 
This year is the first year they hold the festival after the porchetta from Ariccia received an IGP mark, conferring protected geographical status for porchetta from Ariccia. Porchetta is a savory, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast. The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. It's often heavily salted, in addition to being stuffed with garlic, rosemary, or fennel. Although popular across Italy, it is believed to have originated in central Italy, from Ariccia. Porchetta is one of two iconic culinary products of the Lazio region, the other being the sheep cheese pecorino romano, and you know what they say, 'when in Rome...'

The festival starts with a wagon working it's way through town around 6pm on the Thursday night, throwing sandwiches filled with porchetta into the waiting crowd, followed by the town band and local folk groups. There is a festival atmosphere with music, workshops and the all important porchetta every night of the sagra.

Pork, music, a picturesque Castelli Romano town, all just outside Rome... what are you waiting for?

By car from Rome:
- take the GRA  ring road and take exit number 23 SS7 Appia
- head on the SS7  Appia in the direction of Ciampino- Albano Laziale
A 1  Roma Napoli motorway exit for Monteporzio Catone
By bus: Cotral lines departing from  Roma – Anagnina station
By train: Trains from Roma Termini go to Albano Laziale, approximately 2km from Ariccia.

Photo credit: