'The Bandits of Sillico in the Garfagnana of Ariosto ...at dinner time'. The translation into English of the title of this historical and gastronomic festival leaves most of the story untold. As you'll see below, the real joy is in the way this tiny mediaeval village works together to present a spectacular meal and show. But you'll need a bit of local history to get into the spirit.
In the 1400s the Garfagnana (the mountainous region north of Lucca) wanted to free itself from the tyranny of the Republic of Lucca and asked for help from the Este family, the Dukes of Ferrara. The Dukes obliged and installed a governor at the region's capital, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. In 1522 they sent the poet Ludovico Ariosto to fill the post. He hated all three and a half years he spent there, especially his dealings with the local brigands whose chief was Moro of Sillico. When Ariosto arrived, they essentially ruled the Garfagnana. Being a poet, he wrote many letters to the Duke complaining about their activities and asking for more troops, and through his descriptions we have a lot of detail about the brigands.
To this day Castelnuovo vaunts its noble governor while Sillico brags about how Moro outwitted him.
I know the back route to the upper gate where the queue is shorter. The entertainers are arriving too.
Here's Giulio, director of the Sbandieratori and teacher of our fogaccia di Gallicano lessons, another tradition he's helping to preserve.
Let me quickly brag a bit on Giulio's behalf. His troop has performed throughout Europe and is known for its fast, explosive and unpredictable style. It has won the national championships more often than any other group. Bravi!
8.00 pm—Opening of the gates
9.00 pm —Historical procession
9.30 pm—Dance of the courtly damsels
10.00 pm—Play "Ariosto arrives in the Garfagnana" (spoiler, Moro wins the poetry competition improvising in ottava rima)
10.30 pm—Sbandieratori di Gallicano
11.00 pm— Show "The Muses of the Devil" (wish I had the stamina to have stayed for this)
Now we climb the steep cobbled streets to arrive at the terrace where the main course is served.
This is Nadia. Her husband Bruno lights three metati (chestnut-drying huts) every October and I often take my salumi course participants to see how much work goes into producing the naturally sweet chestnut flour of the Garfagnana. Festivals are good places to meet old friends.
The quickest route to the piazza where the shows take place is through Palazzo Carli where we are catapulted from the 16th century into the 19th.
We come out of the palazzo to a spectacular show in the piazza in front of the house where Moro was born.
We climb to the top of the village to arrive at the fourth banquet: dessert.
I'll leave you with the sound of the bagpipers.
Thank you to Klaus Falbe-Hansen for supplying most of the photos in this blog and to him, his wife and their friend for accompanying me for this thoroughly enjoyable evening.
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