Italy in Books - An Italian Education, by Tim Parks

I know, I know, it's been a while. I promise I'll put more book reviews up here in the future. Here, at last though, is another one. Here's my review of one of my favorite books - An Italian Education, by Tim Parks.

This is my second Tim Park book, and, while I enjoyed A Season in Verona, partly for the Italian aspect and partly for the footballing aspect, I think I like this book more. Focusing on Tim Park's musing about his children growing up Italian, this book is a window into Italian culture from someone who's living it, both vicariously through his children, but also through the close interactions that having children in another country brings.

The book starts on the beach, explaining in great (and accurate, in my humble opinion) detail the precision and metronomic perfection of Italian beach life. Hilariously, this idyllic, regimented hierarchical structure is compared to an English beach holiday. Something I can easily relate to. By doing this comparison, Tim Parks opens the book by opening the mind of the reader to the possibility that la dolce vita is less about a carefree frolic in the sun and more about following a set pattern, never stepping outside of opaque boundaries, and never, ever, going for a swim until 3 hours after lunch. It's a great opening, and one that helped me adapt to my own Italian beach experience this summer.

After this, the book relates various aspects of Italian life, detailing the social fabric of the local community, the little white lies and manipulations present in every society, plus the joys of attending an Italian school's parents evening, and generally living a life Italian. I found the book really easy to read, and fun. I particularly enjoyed the sections where Tim Parks talks about his kids learning uncomfortable jokes or coming out with something deeply Italian. It's a perfect beach book (in fact, I read it on the beach at Riccione), and is a good book to take with you if you're traveling around Italy. It's quite light and funny, yet still covers some serious stuff.

An Italian Education is filled with anecdotes about Italian life. It's all told with compassion and understanding, so I never felt as if any situation was overplayed or exaggerated. It's obvious that Tim Parks loves his adopted country, and his musings on Italian life, seen through his eyes and through watching his children grow up Italian, are a joy to read, as well as an education.

An Italian Education can be bought from Amazon (US) through the LazioExplorer Amazon store, or from all good bookshops.

Sagre and Feste in October - it's Chestnut time!

The nights are drawing in. Winter is supposedly coming. In northern Lazio, an area famed for its chestnuts and hazelnuts, the sagre take on a distinctive nutty glow, while in other areas mushrooms of all shapes and sizes come to the fore. So, as the air turns chilly and the leaves crisp-up, here's my selection of sagre and feste around Lazio this October.

First up, here's a few Chestnut festivals...

Giornata della castagna, Canepina, Prov. di Viterbo
13-14th, 20-21st, and 28-29th October

In its 31st year, this festival, which runs on the last three weekends in October, acts as the cultural hub of the area, with a series of artistic, music, and cultural events spread around the town, all accompanied by free handouts of roasted chestnuts. The festival is opened on Friday 5th October by a 20 hour 'dinner of solidarity' with nearby Viterbo (called 'Viterbo with love'). The dinner costs 22euros and includes a taste of local dishes and is a great way to give back something to the town and pro loco association for all the free chestnuts. More information on the dinner, and the chance to go on a horse-riding trek around the woods of Canepina on Sunday 7th October, can be found on the Canepina pro loco website.

Sagra delle castagne, Soriano nel Cimino, Prov. di Viterbo

This is the big one. Over the first three weeks of October, Soriano nel Cimino really becomes the Chestnut capital of the world. Along with the inevitable roasted chestnuts, there's jam, sweets, sauces, AND historical reenactments. That's right, Soriano gets medieval about chestnuts! Don't just take my word for it, check out the video...

Promo Sagra delle Castagne 2012 - Soriano nel Cimino from WebNovo on Vimeo.

The streets and squares of the town are arranged according to ancient traditions, with processions of local people over 500 strong marching through the town in medieval and renaissance costumes (I'm not vouching for their historical accuracy here - they look authentic to my untrained eye). There's also a parade of horsemen and swordmen and flag-bearers and... well, you get the picture. It's a big thing. So big, in fact, that we've even given it its own blog post.

Now it's time for fungi....

Sagra delle Tacchie ai funghi porcini, Bellegra, Prov. di Roma
6-7th and 13-14th October

Hosted at the town hall, this sagra pays homage to the many mushrooms found in the fungi-filled forests around the small town of Bellegra, perched in the mountains to the west of Rome. Lunch or dinner at one of the many food stalls will cost 13 for a taster of bread and mushrooms, a plate of tacchie pasta with porcini mushrooms (tacchie is an old traditional type of pasta where the pasta is cut randomly but in such a way as to give irregular rectangles, perfect for soaking up mushrooms!), a portion of meat with mushrooms, and a glass of wine or water. There's also a child's menu for €8, which is disappointingly mushroom free, consisting of a schnitzel, chips and a coke (oh dear...). The fun starts at 11am with a craft market, while the food stalls open at 7pm. As with any sagra worth its salt, there's live music and line dancing. Why not head down there on Sunday 7th, when there's also a handicraft market and music from midday?

Maybe a little wild meat to go with those chestnuts and mushrooms....

Sagra del Cinghiale, Castelnuovo di Porto, Prov. di Roma
14th October

Castelnuovo di Porto, a short trip up the SS3 from Rome (or train from Piazzale Flaminio), is hosting the opportunity to 'know and taste' cinghiale, or wild boar. For the meateaters, this simple sagra provides wild boar in a variety of formats. A primi piatti of pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (ribbon pasta with wild boar sauce), a secondo of wild boar sausages and french fries (they get everywhere), and, for dessert... cinghiale ai cioccolato, which sounds, unusual... 

Fancy a less meaty dessert?

Festa di Sant'Edisto - Sant'Oreste, Prov. di Roma
12th, 13th, and 14th October

Also known as the 'Compleanno di Sant'Oreste', this festival involves the whole town coming out to share in the festivities in celebration of the founder and patron saint of Sant'Oreste, Saint Edisto. To celebrate, there are stands with local products, street performers (usually with fire), secret botteghe with cheap food and great music (the first time I had a polenta-jazz fusion), and of course, a massive birthday cake.

Enough food? How about a night of witches...

Notte delle Streghe, Calcata, Prov. di Roma
October 31st

Calcata, a charming bohemian place, hosts a notte delle streghe (night of the witches) on Halloween, where locals recant pagan rites, play folk music and perform dances. More information on Calcata can be found in this recent blog post

Whatever you do this month, be sure to check out the Lazioexplorer twitter feed and facebook page for more updates about sagre and feste in Lazio.