Have you read Adam Grant’s work on procrastination? No? Well, to recap, there is a bell curve relationship between procrastination and creativity. Those who complete tasks immediately aren’t very creative, because they usually go with their first idea which is often not the best. Those who never complete tasks are also not very creative, because they spend their entire lives eating Cheetos and binging on Netflix. But then there’s a big sweet spot in between filled by those who procrastinate just enough to allow the creative juices to flow and the big ideas to take form. These are the “original thinkers”, and this is the magic land where we all want to live.
All this to say that those of you who think that the reason it took me four years from having the idea to throw up a quick monthly post listing events in and around Assisi to executing that idea is because I’m a lazy S.O.B. are wrong. I’m an “original thinker”.
Events In & Near Assisi, September 2016
**A note: there are, of course, dozens more events in addition to those I list below. I selected these based on their interest for those who may not speak Italian, quality, and personal experience. If you think I missed something good, please leave your suggestions in a comment below!
Pope Francis – Assisi (September 21)
This may be either a reason to visit or a reason to stay away, depending upon your views and tolerance for crowds. Either way, The Man in the Tall Hat is coming to town to mark the International Day of Peace (or International Day of Prayer for Peace) by meeting with leaders of the world’s most important religions. His Holiness will land by helicopter in Santa Maria degli Angeli, and then proceed by motorcade to the Basilica of Saint Francis. If you are hoping for a peek at the pope, try waiting along the road running from Santa Maria to Assisi between 11 and 11:30 am, or his public address at the ceremony beginning at 5:15 pm in the Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco.
Food and Wine
Festa della Cipolla -Cannara (September 1 to 11; closed the 5th)
I have called this the Uber-Sagra in the past, and it remains both the biggest and onioniest food festival around. September is a great month for food in Umbria – the mushrooms are in season, the grapes are picked, and the tomatoes are bottled up – and it’s still warm enough in the evenings to sit outside at a sagra and savor the authentic atmosphere (read: plastic cutlery and loud music). There are a bunch of food festivals around in September, but if you have to do one, do this one. http://www.festadellacipolla.com/
Cantine Aperte in Vendemmia – Wineries across Umbria (September 11)
Cantine Aperte is a huge winery festival held in late May during which producers across Italy open their doors to the public with special tastings, meals, concerts, and events. It is, quite frankly, a bit of a madhouse and in recent years rather than just wander from winery to winery – which was the original concept when the event was first created – I have chosen a single cantina to hang out at for the day, usually based on the event they were offering and the price. Cantine Aperte in Vendemmia is its quieter younger sibling, an open winery event held just one day in the fall when the harvest is in. The fewer numbers of wineries that participate and the limited fanfare make this a less of a scene and the perfect way to visit a number of area producers. This year two wineries I like, SAIO and Terre Margaritelli, are both participating, among others. For the full list, check here: http://www.movimentoturismovino.it/it/news/umbria/1/umb/1856/cantine-aperte-in-vendemmia-2016-umbria/
Enologico – Montefalco (September 16-18)
Montefalco is one of my favorite hilltowns in Umbria, home to my favorite restaurant and Umbria’s flagship Sagrantino wine. You can enjoy both during this weekend dedicated to Sagrantino, with tastings of both the regular and sweet passito paired with savory dishes, chocolate, and even cigars. There are also concerts, themed meals, events in area wineries, and guided hikes and bikes through the surrounding countryside. You’ll have to wade through the program in Italian, but it’s worth the effort: http://www.enologicamontefalco.it/programma-2016/
Culture and Music
Sagra Musicale Umbra – Towns across Umbria (September 8 – 18)
This is one of the region’s music festivals that I list among the best, and not only for the concerts. The venues are often just as much of a draw as the music, and many musicians play in churches, abbeys, and palazzi generally closed to the public. The larger orchestral concerts are held in the Perugia’s historic Morlacchi Theater and Saint Francis’ Basilica in Assisi, but check out the soloists in spots like the Museum of Saint Francis in Montefalco or Abbey of San Nicolò in San Gemini. For a full program and ticket prices, you can take a look at the official website here: http://www.perugiamusicaclassica.com/sagra-musicale-umbra/
Stagione Lirica Sperimentale – Spoleto and other locations (September 9 – 25)
Spoleto is famed for its Festival dei Due Mondi, a global gathering of music, theater, and dance each July, but its excellent Experimental Opera Company is less known. That’s a shame, because if you like opera (like I secretly do), they put on quality productions that are often just enough off-kilter to be interesting; this year they are staging Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”. You can see schedules and information on the website at www.tls-belli.it and purchase tickets through Ticket Italia (www.ticketitalia.com).
Giostra della Quintana – Foligno (September 1 – 18)
Umbria is awash with historic festivals, most set in the Middle Ages around the time the local saints – Francis, Claire, Benedict, and Valentine, to name just a few – put this region on the map. Foligno’s Giostra della Quintana in September instead evokes the Baroque 1600’s, with a jousting tournament done in elaborate period costumes, elegant banquet dinners, pageants, parades, and drum corps, and a parallel Segni Barocchi festival celebrating the music and culture of that period, all of which relatively undiscovered by tourists. The high point of this sumptuous festival is the solemn procession and blessing of the horses the evening before the tournament. Check Quintana events at http://www.quintana.it/ and the Segni Barocchi program here: http://www.comune.foligno.pg.it/categorie/segni-barocchi-festival-xxxvii-2016
Mercanti in Piazza – Foligno (September 10th)
An antique, artisan, and used market held the 2nd Saturday of each month from sunrise to sunset in the center of Foligno.
Mercantino dell’Antico – Perugia (September 11th)
Perugia’s monthly antique market is held the 2nd Sunday of each month in Piazza della Libertà at the far end of the main corso through the historic center. You can find antique furniture and decor, art, clothing, and accessories.
L’Antico….. fa Arte – Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi (September 11th)
Assisi’s tiny antique market is worth a stroll if you happen to be in town the second Sunday of the month. There is a small group of tables hawking antique treasures and gewgaws in the piazza along the side of the basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli, located in the valley below Assisi.
City Vintage – Perugia ( September 9 – 11)
I went to this fun vintage market last year, and had a ball. Lots of great fashion and accessories, alongside vinyl, decor, and lots of rockabilly tattooed ladies. It’s held at he Frontone Gardens, so take a stroll along Corso Cavour to check out the great shops and restaurants in this hip neighborhood of Perugia’s centro storico.
I had, until recently, been living under the false assumption that Gubbio was the town of crazy people in Umbria. That is what I had been told, and I believed it. Until yesterday, that is.
Because yesterday I discovered that Spoleto is home to Umbria’s insane.
Mental instability is the only possible explanation as to why someone, some eighty years ago, took a gander at Spoleto’s main thoroughfare–a torturous and steep two-lane road of death–and said, “Listen up, folks. I’m thinking we should run a go kart race right down this bad boy. I’m thinking that the only rules should be that the karts have three bare metal ball bearing wheels, a strip of tire rubber hanging off the back for a foot brake, and one guy who pushes and one who steers.”
Tension at the starting line.
The top of the line high tech starting horn. I hope Calzolari got his car battery back.
This is not why Spoleto is full of nuts. Some eighty years ago, when that suggestion was tossed out, the folks standing around all said, “Hey, that sounds like a great idea! Let’s make sure the course includes at least three hairpin curves and a couple of straightaways with at least a 42 degree incline. And let’s all gather at the most dangerous spot along the route, hoping to witness a spill.”
The cockpit. Note the tire rubber strip of brake tacked on to the back.
My kids wanted to hijack this and join the race. It didn’t happen.
This is not why Spoleto is a cuckoo nest. Some eighty years ago when that suggestion was tossed out and the folks standing around thought they’d invented fun, a whole mess of teams showed up with their rickety karts, pushed them off with a sprint, and proceeded to barrel down the center of Spoleto at breakneck speed in the hopes of bringing home a large ham and glory.
And they’re off!
This is not why Spoleto should be cordoned off from the rest of the rational world. The reason is this: eighty years on, they are still doing all of the above. (Except the ham part. Reports were vague, but I gathered that the prize this year was gift certificates. And glory, of course.)
Spoleto’s annual go kart race (called vaporetti here, though go kart is fetchingly translated go kart in the rest of Italy) has been held off and on since the 1930s, with pauses for various wars—international and local. The latest hiatus ended in 2012 after six years—in large part because the event scored an important new sponsor: the local blood bank. I’m just going to let the irony of that sit here without comment–and thus the craziness was able to commence with renewed vigor.
Fender benders happen.
Trash talk happens.
Indeed, more than sixty teams registered for the race this year and shot down the Spoleto hillside in their modern, souped-up vaporetti. No longer a simple board fitted with wheels and steered by rope, these hot rods are sheathed in fiberglass bodies plastered with their sponsors’ slogans (one has to wonder at the marketing strategy which led the local acrylic nails salon to sponsor a go kart race, but it could work), and include steering wheels and some basic safety gear (um, helmets. And some elbow pads.), though the original package of three ball bearing wheels, a rubber strip brake, and two person teams remains unchanged.
Luckily, the vaporetti set off in groups of three or four, which means that spectators can witness teams push off at the starting line (complete with running commentary and car battery-powered start horn), and then meander their way down the 1.5 kilometer course watching the groups of teams whiz past on the hills and (we all secretly hope) crash and burn in the curves, until reaching the finish line, where the crowd lingers to watch them fly through the final stretch. Competition is fierce but friendly, and it is clear that this is a deeply homespun event organized by and for the Spoletini. One of the highpoints is the running commentary, almost impenetrable with its local dialect, insider jokes, and wine-loosened language. The bits I could understand were hilarious.
Does the vaporetti race have any redeeming cultural or historic value? No, probably not. But it’s fun as heck, a kid-pleaser galore (my sons were distressed to find out that minors are not allowed to race), and a light-hearted peek behind Spoleto’s impenetrably staid facade into its crazy local traditions.
Crazy being, of course, the operative word.
A special thanks to Spoleto natives Marina and Armando Lanoce, who are crazy enough to invite friends to the race, but not crazy enough to participate!
One of the biggest selling points to visiting Umbria in spring is the plethora of wonderful traditional local festivals, during which the region awakens from its long winter hibernation and welcomes spring with open arms.
Here are a few worth checking out:
Late March to late April:
Pasqua/Pasquetta (Easter weekend from Venerdì Santo through Pasquetta). Easter is not about a bunny in Umbria; it remains a solemn and deeply religious holiday which begins the week before Easter Sunday.
On Venerdì Santo (Good Friday), many Umbrian towns hold costumed religious processions, when (often barefooted) monks and members of religious fraternities transport statues of the Virgin and/or Christ along torch-lit medieval streets. One of the most moving is in Assisi, where the statue of Jesus is taken down from the cross inside the Cathedral of San Rufino and transported on a canopied litter to the Basilica of Saint Francis and back. Many other towns–Todi, Norcia, Montefalco, Perugia, and Gubbio, to name a few—hold a Stations of the Cross pageant reinacting the martyrdom of Christ.
On Pasqua (Easter Sunday), most Umbrian families attend Mass and enjoy a long leisurely lunch together. After lunch, both children and adults unwrap the brightly colored mylar paper around their huge chocolate eggs, breaking them open to reveal the sorpresina prize inside.
Pasquetta (Easter Monday) is usually spent with friends, often day-tripping to another town for a passeggiata or walk down the Corso. One of the most popular events in Umbria on Easter Monday is the Ruzzolone cheese rolling race in the pretty town of Panicale. Huge wheels of cheese are rolled along a course around the village walls, and the winner is feted with music and wine in the piazza.
Giornata Nazionale delle Ferrovie Dimenticate (National Forgotten Railways Day)—This is one of my favorite annual events, during which ex-railway lines (many now retrofitted as hiking and biking trails) are highlighted with organized excursions, railway museum visits, and period photography shows. This year the events are during the weekend of 5-6 April, but unfortunately the website is only in Italian.
Giornata FAI (Open Day for the Italian National Trust)—FAI is a non-profit fund which protects artistic, historical, and natural treasures in Italy. Many of their sites (if not the majority) are closed to the public for most of the year, but for one weekend annually (26-27 March in 2011) some of the most unique and breathtaking of these open their doors for guided tours and visits. If you are passionate about off the beaten track villas, castles, monasteries, and parks, this is an event to watch.
Settimana della Cultura (Culture Week)– The Ministry for Art and Culture has periodic discount days for State museums and monuments across Italy. During the annual Culture Week (9-17 April in 2011), all State-owned museums, monuments, and archaeological sites are open free of charge and some organize special events, guided tours, and extraordinary openings to closed sites.
La Corsa all’Anello (The Race of the Ring), Narni–In one of the most beautiful (and off the beaten path) hilltop towns in the region, you will find the epitome of the Umbrian festival: medieval pageantry, costumed locals, banner-festooned streets, outdoor taverne with food and wine, torchlit processions, and, of course jousting.
Festa del Tulipano (Tulip Festival), Castiglione del Lago–After World War II, a group of Dutch families resettled on the shores of Lake Trasimeno to coltivate tulips, and with them came the tradition of celebrating the arrival of spring by decorating the town with the petals of the first tulip blooms, which were too short to be sold at market. The Dutch no longer raise flowers here (though there is a concentration of Dutch expats around the lake still), but the tradition continues in decorated floats, flower shows, and petal-strewn streets.
Picnic a Trevi–Art, music, and food among the olive groves of lovely Trevi.
Antiquaria d’Italia (Antique Show), Todi–One of the most important and prestigious antique shows/markets in the area, in the beautiful period Palazzo Landi Corradi.
Calendimaggio, Assisi–Perhaps the most spectacular of all Umbrian festivals, with its squaring off of the two medieval halves of the town–the “Parte di Sopra” and the “Parte di Sotto”—who challenge each other during three days of costumed pageants, medieval reenactments, vocal and instrumental concerts, dances, processions, archery, crossbow, and flag corps competitions. Splurge for tickets so you can get a good look at the action in the main piazza (the most breathtaking show is Saturday night, when antics with fire play a huge part).
Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio–“A candle race” doesn’t quite capture the over-the-top town-wide frenzy that takes over this otherwise stoic village on May 15th each year as three teams carry gargantuan wooden “candlesticks” on their shoulders and precariously charge through the thronged streets to the deafening cacophany of cheering, drums, and bells.
Il Palio della Balestra (Cross-bow competition), Gubbio–If you want a piece of the festival action, but maybe a slightly smaller piece than the Festa dei Ceri dishes up, try this historical costumed event the last weekend in May
Cantine Aperte (Open Wineries)–Wineries big and small open their doors across Umbria (but concentrated in the Sagrantino-producing area near Montefalco) for tastings, guided tours, and special events.
La Palombella, Orvieto–A caged dove representing the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles follows a wire from the Bishop’s palace over the heads crowding the piazza to end in a fireworks display on the opposite side in front of the basilica’s breathtaking facade. The festival is held on Pentecost Sunday, so dates vary.