Sadly, Ben was out of commission today. Not feeling well, he elected to spend the day recuperating at home. That meant that it became A Girl’s Day Out, with the remaining three of us making a plan. Knowing that the heat has a lot to do with how we feel about a city, we chose a smaller community close to the water, Caorle. It is noted as a tourist haunt but the description of the beach promenade and brightly coloured narrow streets beckoned us anyway. Abby seemed a bit jumpy once we got in the car and I asked her who she was more nervous with driving the vehicle, me or her dad. She said she felt about the same level of nervous tension, but for different reasons: “Dad gets more agitated when something unexpected or wrong happens but at least, I know he knows how to drive. You seem a bit too laid back when something happens so I don’t know if you’ll react quickly enough.” Words to grow my confidence for sure! I was determined to show her that I could navigate well ... well enough, anyway.
So, we set off, bound for Caorle. Five minutes into the drive, I suggested we could just park at the first town we saw and still tell Ben we had a great time at the original destination. I think Abby was actually considering it until I indicated I was only joking. The drive was beautiful, past green vineyards and yellow wheat fields, each belying the heat of the day. We, enjoying our air conditioned car, could put off the inevitable for a while longer. We passed through a number of small towns before we reached the seaside, which was about 40 minutes away. Even though we often insist on parkade shopping when Ben is in the driver’s seat, I elected to go easy on myself and park at the first downtown parkade we saw. It would come back to haunt us later in the afternoon when I had to pay over four dollars an hour for the privilege. However, for the moment, we were happy that it netted us close access to the centre of old town and the tourist office.
We spent an enjoyable time amongst the clothing and jewelry shops, taking good advantage of the fact that the lone male was not along. Lunch consisted of a slice of pizza and the best darn breaded calamari we have ever had; if that was the quality served up by a little hole-in-the-wall place serving us on bar stools, I can only imagine what the high class Italian fish restaurants serve. Winding through the shaded multi-coloured alleyways, we navigated our way to the promenade. I was bound and determined to locate the breakwater here, famous for its sculptures. Originally meant just as a breakwater of large stones, in 1992, an artist decided to carve a couple of figures in the stone. The idea soon took off and now there are artists coming from several countries to add to the 100 plus carvings on display. When the sculptures proved elusive, much to my kids’ chagrin, I persevered in hunting down this phenomenon by asking random people “Sculptura?” Abby chastised me by indicating that I couldn’t hope to have myself understood in Italian by merely adding ‘a’ to the end of a word. Personally, I thought it was a plan with some merit so persisted despite not gaining success with the first people I tried (they were German anyway). It turns out that ‘sculpture’ in Italian is ‘scultura’ so I wasn’t far off. Within a short timeframe, these two older Italian fellows caught my gist and gesticulated towards the carvings. They then engaged us in conversation for a few minutes, providing much advice during the short dialogue: “You must go to Venice; it is so beautiful. But don’t buy anything there! And don’t forget, Italy is the best country in the world. Where you from? Canada, well, Italy is still the best. We are from here. Why go other places? This is true Italy! Right here, and Venice. We are in the Republic of Venice right now! But it is still real Italy. Not like Sicily – Sicily is Africa! There are many Muslims there. Firenze is OK, is the real Italy too. You understand? You enjoy Italy; don’t forget, it is the best!” They were real ambassadors for their country and brought wide smiles to our faces. The sculptures were quite varied and very interesting. As much as possible, they distracted us from the heat. Once we reached the end of the promenade, however, we had to retrace our steps. By that time, most of the stores were closed for the midday break. We searched for a gelateria, noting that, sadly, many of those were closed too. But, we only needed one to be open and zeroed in on it once located. We reckoned that the few open gelato storefronts must make a killing during this self-imposed daily shut down.
Sagra food tent
Returning home in the afternoon, we found Ben valiantly hoping for a recovery so that he might join us in our evening`s plans. We were slated to meet up with Italian friends for an evening out. I have a good friend, Ornella, whose relationship harkens back to junior high days in Prince George (a mere thirty-five years ago!). Her parents had emigrated from Italy to Prince George back in 1959 and had their family there. On various family vacations back to the old country, Ornella`s younger sister, Stella, fell in love with Italy (and with an Italian!) so emigrated to Italy herself when she was about 20. Her mother has since returned to Italy as of five years ago and now lives across the street from Stella. When Ben and I had traipsed through the area many years ago, Stella and Lorus were kind enough to put us up for a few days. We were looking forward to meeting them, their daughter and Mrs. Bazzo once again.
Stella had asked whether we wanted to experience a tourist town or join in on a local event. As we could always find a touristic place ourselves, we gladly opted for the local excursion. It did not disappoint. There is a tradition in Italy for several villages to host a ‘sagra,’ a food festival devoted to a certain type of food common to the area. It can be as specific as a single food, such as an onion, or particular to a way of cooking. Many times, it can also be combined with a saint’s feast day. In this case, the focus was on meat, which was a hit with us, and involved a lot of barbequing. Proceeds from such events are applied towards community needs.
Stella escorted us to the event, while Nona was a passenger in my car should I get lost (a distinct possibility with all these back roads). We arrived at a large, gravelled area, divided into sections for parking, eating and entertainment, as far as I could make out. Hundreds of people were milling about and all manner of Italian was being used, or so I surmised from the expressions, tones and gesticulations. As we made our way to the two large tents set up for eating, our friends were greeted by their acquaintances every few steps, people showing off new babies, others calling out hellos, and cousins exchanging hugs. It was great to be absorbed into the very strong community atmosphere. Rows and rows of communal benches had been set up in the tents, hundreds were already sitting and chatter and eating were in fierce competition with one another. Because of the popularity of the event, we had to wait about half an hour for seats to clear. That gave us time to review key events of the fair: inline dancing by groups in marvellously bedecked costumes and a sports competition between teams for what I can only describe as ‘soccer on soap suds.’ They had prepared a large rectangular area fully enclosed by netting on the sides and top; on the bottom was soft white plastic, onto which was squirted liters of water and soap suds. As you might imagine, this generated havoc with the usual awesome skills of the Italian footballers, creating a real gong show of slipping, sliding and bubbles. However, those Italians are ALWAYS serious about their football, even when the ball is a glow-in-the-dark version and copious amounts of foam are involved. The locals who had formed teams still decked themselves out in new uniforms for the event and, when we saw one goalkeeper allow an easy goal by leaving his net for too long, his teammates looked quite put off and immediately relieved him of his net duties. Sagre often feature a competition of some sort and this was obviously Motta Di Livenza’s choice of contest.
Once we obtained the much-valued table seating, Stella translated the various offerings from the menu: grilled options such as chicken, pork chops, miniature quail-like birds, spareribs and sausage platter, jackrabbit, mixed fish platter; and sides like gnocchi with duck sauce, fries, salad, calamari, or beans. The emphasis was on the meat so Stella encouraged us not to order large portions of the sides as we would all receive polenta as well. When our plates came, Hannah was treated to three smokey-like sausages and several spareribs while Abby and I each received a whole chicken. I believe I did my meal justice, leaving Abby, who was too chicken to eat her whole plate, in the dust. Hannah, a renowned carnivore, similarly conquered her offering. Sagra food is typically very reasonably priced and this was no exception. It is definitely the way to eat out in Italy. The meal passed with great food and conversation. It was great to visit with my friends again; Stella is very much like Ornella in looks, mannerisms and speech so it really felt like I was seeing my old friend whom I haven’t seen in quite a few years. Stella and Mrs Bazzo were so comfortable to be around that my girls had a very relaxing time as well.
The next education in the art of attending a sagra came after the meal, when we went to an adjacent building where you could feel the excitement in the air. There, people purchase little rolled up pieces of paper; each paper has a number or street name on it. If it’s a number, it could correspond to one of about 100 physical prizes, the largest being a plasma TV; however, every paper was a winner as they gave you a little something to take with you regardless. Feeling optimistic, we quickly worried what we were going to do when we won the TV; with some relief, we determined we could give it to Stella and Lorus should we win. The optimism was misplaced as it turned out but we did get a grab bag full of useful items: yoghurt, a scrub pad, tomato sauce, juice, cookies, a chocolate bar, and even a bottle of wine! It was good fun.
The evening ended with an Italian jazz band taking the stage. They were quite entertaining and the girls enjoyed the camaraderie between the eight band members. Also, it didn’t hurt that they were young Italian guys! We all really enjoyed the evening but tried think of ways to downplay it for when we came home and told Ben about it, as we knew he would feel badly that he missed the sagra. When we arrived home, however, we couldn’t keep all the experiences in and ended up regaling him with the great opportunity we had to partake in a slice of real Italian life. We’ll just have to go again.