Dreams of ancient Roman and Ciociaria with Fave dei Morti in Aquino

The old traditions of November 2nd resume in Aquino in southern Lazio where the ancient Via Latina, which passes under the Roman Porta Capuana, goes just parallel to the modern road and it is unclear whether you live the present or the past. The original Aquinum is astride the way to the modern town centre.

The town square is large and rectangular, being surrounded by obviously rebuilt houses and shops from after WW2. At one end is the cathedral, one of post war circular plan that, today, as we pass the hours, hosts two funerals.

Maybe Aquino is a good place to die. It also feels a good place to live.

At the other end of the square is a statue to Our Lady and, behind a bar, is an old medieval tower and some buildings of a similar age – all possibly having been repaired over the past century. If you delve into the small square behind the bar and look back, you will find a newish sign on the first floor landing informing of the office of the Italian Communist Party – still.

But it is the square that attracts our attention today. It is the day of ‘Fave dei Morti’ – possibly translated as ‘Beans for the Dead’. Well, those being remembered in the cathedral should have waited another day or so to pass on as the serving of fave and sausage from the large pots, with corn bread, is delicious.

The townspeople appear from all corners of the square at a predestined but not specified hour to have their plastic containers filled or to accept a

plate of this old traditional recipe from the Association ‘La Torre’ whose pleasure has been the creation of this morning feast. Apparently, the fave are now recognised as unique to this area, so with every bite, we consume a little of the soul of the Aquino territory.

Interestingly, there are more old men than women. From all aspects of society, be-suited professionals, obviously retired gents awaiting the opportunity later in the day to sit at one of the bars and play cards, bureaucrats escaping the office for a short period, artisans, and those promoting Aquino as a bio-district. There are a few short talks to encourage the locals and visitors to support the programme.

It is about 11 in the morning. I sit a short distance from the ‘action’ and note that I am under the influence and shade of a very large oak tree, one that obviously escaped the power of the two destructive bombings of this peaceful town in 1943 and 1944, the bombs that eliminated all the nearby buildings. I wonder whether any of the other trees predate those ‘gifts from the sky’.

One gent attracts my attention. He has two plastic bags, each holding a container of Fave and sausage. He has nearly perfectly white trimmed hair and is dressed in a shirt with pale ochre trousers, light brown coat and dark soft shoes. He comes to a bicycle leaning against the oak.

He negotiates the bags until he decides to hold both in his left hand while getting on his old Lennano bike. He turns around and slowly cycles back across the square, maybe taking an early lunch home for his wife.

About twenty others remain after an hour of this feast, talking mainly politics, or coming back for another serving of Fave dei Morti. But now it is time to leave my bench and rejoin the world.