Why are we in Morolo on this sparkling clear winter’s morning on the last Sunday of January?
Morolo, nestled on the side of the Lepini Mountains, climbs up the hill just as so many other Ciociarian towns created by the efforts of the medieval population to escape the interests of the barbarians and Saracens, only to be terrorised by the trampling, gunfights and bombing of the second world war.
But, be joyful, today is ‘Sagra della Polenta’, the Festival of Polenta, that favourite Italian ‘paste’ – special flour, water and a bit more, stirred in a large canteen over a flame for most of the morning awaiting topping with ragù or just sauce plus maybe even sausages, bacon or pork ribs to make a complete feast. An exciting feature of the festival in Morolo is, we notice that the polenta is free but the beer and wine are €1 each. Seems that we can have a feast for €10, unless we choose an expensive salsicce (sausage) panino at €2,50.
The festival includes a typical market of artisanal goods plus second hand and antique wares, presented on tables along the stretch of the corso (street) from the square of the new elementary school. Yes, one table has horses in bronze.
The ultimate destination for the visitor and locals is the old town square, Piazza Ernesto Biondi (whose bust overseas proceedings), that is mostly filled with benches for the festival. On one side are the kitchen. The willing servants and serving tables. On any other day, you would probably only notice the Church with its pale-yellow facade towering over the square telling us the time on the bell tower face and 6 o’clock on the other, and the large contemporary frescoes of 1984 covering the buildings on the western side.
These frescoes tell us some stories of the town: one can wonder whether the Statue of Liberty in one of them is a thank you to the American forces for liberty or simply tells of those from Morolo resettled in USA, maybe even New York, those refugees of the second World War who took their few possessions and emigrated – were they greeted or farewelled by the portly policeman?
It is 11 in the late morning, time for mass, the locals and a few visitors commemorate Christ in their church that remembers, as well as the Holy Mother, the most well-loved of Italian saints – San Rocco and his faithful dog. There is a message in that dog.
In the square the Pro Loco, that group of citizens who give their time to promoting their town, are present in their black labelled shirts, charged with the success of the feast, and the action is increasing in the ‘kitchen’. As the morning closes, the main noise in the square is still the competitive barking of dogs on their daily walk.
Mass has finished, it is near midday, the benches are filling and the hubbub of the citizens in the square grows. Yet still God’s servants call us through the loud peals of the two bells in the church tower. Lest we forget that this is God’s day of rest. He reminds us every half hour or is it quarter.
I note that the bench I occupy, shared with other ‘revellers to be’ is just outside the town hall and that a band is setting up, I do hope that its fare will be saltarello and that I can resist too many helpings of the food of the festival. The queue has formed and even this early for an Italian Sunday feast, the feeding swarm has commenced. I go.
I am back, the sun is disappearing over the mountains, and the wonderful warmth it brought is replaced by the dancing – yes it is Saltarello, it is a traditional Ciociarian feast – and it is wonderful.