13 August 2007

Southern hospitality


We drove down the Adriatic coast to visit Valerie’s cousin and his family in central Basilicata, which is situated in the instep of the Italian boot. We have wanted to get back to Valerie’s ancestral town of Anzi since we first met Michele last fall and, since this was the towns Festa di San Donato, we decided this would be a good opportunity.

The drive along the Adriatic Coast was uneventful as we crossed the plains of northern Puglia until we entered the rolling hill country of central Puglia and northern Basilicata. This area is spotted with medieval hilltop castles of Federico II overlooking fields of olives, wheat, corn and vines. We also made a short stop at a town named Ascoli Satriano, the only other town we know of named Ascoli. Once we passed Potenza we climbed the mountains of the southern Apennines.

Anzi is situated on a mountain at 1000 meters (3000 feet) and we were looking forward to the cooler temperatures at that elevation and the quieter atmosphere of a small town after the heat and activity that has been Ascoli Piceno this summer. The weather was an improvement and we even donned jackets in the evenings. Quiet was another issue.

Many of the sons and daughters of Anzi have moved off to other parts of the country for work but the Festa di San Donato, their patron saint, sees the population of this town of 2000 double as many return home to see family and friends. We found ourselves in the middle of this huge reunion. Michele’s friends were more than happy to help entertain us, the stranieri.

We arrived to see the evening procession of San Donato snake down 3 kilometers from Anzi to the Chiesa di San Donato below town and a small fireworks display. This of course was followed by food and drink and we did not return to our lodgings until almost 2AM. The next day we were back in town to witness the procession of San Donato back up into Anzi. That night the small central piazza was packed with a stage and people as a favorite southern Italy group played until midnight. Again we were not back to bed until almost 2AM.

The final night we had dinner with Michele’s family and friends and then returned to Anzi for fireworks above town. All of Italy has been experiencing drought and wildfire conditions and Anzi is no different. We watched not only the fireworks in the sky but the resulting grassfire below that created a glow in the sky. Fortunately this burned out quickly on the steep rocky slope. Again it was close to 2AM before we put our heads on our pillows.

We have been to Anzi on two previous trips for less than half a day, and have seen little of the town other than the main piazza. This time we had the opportunity to visit the 13th century church above the town, a neighboring lake and to drive through some of the surrounding countryside. Like our home state of New Mexico this area has pine covered mountains and has a lot of uninhabited country. Also the food is great and the people are very friendly.

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