When I was young I wanted to be a journalist as an adult. I had been, romantically, figuring myself sending reports from far lands, facing dangers, avoiding bullets and having troubles and adventures. Then life drove me through other roads: I found a job as employe when I was 19, just at the return from a three months trip in England to improve my English skills.
I applied at University to study Foreigner Languages, but i have never attended a class. I tried again some years later signing at the Superior School of Journalism: same end. I had to do boring paper and telephone work and I have been doing it for 8 years. Then my husband and I decided to open a restaurant. You can well understand that I had to forget my willing of writing professionally.
But life starts again every single morning. You never know what there is round the corner.
Here I am writing. Writing professionally, I mean, because, as people who write well know, writing is a primary need, as I have been doing it every day, almost the same way I sleep or eat every day.
What took – and is taking me – to see my young desire to come true is….food.
The very day that changed my life one more time was exactly May 15th, 2004. A crazy day, at a crazy feast, with a crazy companion and a myself, suddenly (and maybe for ever) got crazy.
Imagine the heart of Italy, in Umbria, a hilly country side pointed with several medieval castles.
Imagine the soft, almost mystic atmosphere, with silence, birds sound, green trees, churches and, at noon, magic ring from bell towers.
Imagine something that breaks, I’d say, kinks the usual peace. Beating drums, shouting voices, flying flags thrown by banners in colourful renaissance uniforms. Imagine the whole population of a town running down the streets, like a flooding river, filling them completely without a bubble of air between the crowd and the edges of the narrow alleys.
That was what I saw behind one of the last corners of my life, that was actually the angle of a stout grey wall of an ancient house in Gubbio: a river of humanity running the crazy race.
My good companion of adventures – in reality the one who convinced me , not with great effort, but just with her graceful and the same time naughty smile, to go there – was Lauren Cranford. Not enough words to explain our friendship, based on lovely smiles, respect, estimation and a bit of crazy-ness.
We were terrified, stuck flat at the wall, while the crazy river was running half inch from our noses.
Maybe it was destiny that my professional writer career had to be started with something dangerous, like in my dreams of young girl.
The people in Gubbio were celebrating their patron, Saint Ubaldo, whose mummy lays in the sanctuary on top of the hill facing the old town. The race is not a real competition and it is known as the Race of the Candles. The Candles are not made of wax, but they are three gigantic wooden columns, as tall as the houses. On the top there are the statues of three saints, Ubaldo, Giorgio, Antonio, representing medieval guilds. The huge candles are lifted on platforms: the ceremony of their lifting has a big emotional impact on the people of Gubbio. Then the platforms are carried on the shoulders of teams of strong boys, called Ceraioli. What they have to do is to run the Crazy Race with the Candles on theirs shoulders, making a few stops to allow the change of the bearers. All the people run behind their saint, along slopes going up and down, while the Candles lean dangerously on a side, or forward down, on the crowd. The big deal is to be able to reach the platform and just touch the Candle. Old and young people, men and women: all try to get to their Candle and would cry as they do it.
All this happens late in the afternoon, until the long running tail reaches the sanctuary.
It is the Festival of Crazy-ness, the real celebration that takes place in Gubbio every year. Like a sort of common purification: when you run like crazy, you forget all the bad things of your life, clarify your mind, wash off worries, - at least for the lasting time of the race -. Within that short segment of time you feel free.
Wasn’t that the perfect point to start from?
I did not run, but I was touched by a good crazy-ness that made me to see my actual problems much smaller and to become more optimist about the future.
Although the deepest aim of the feast is a social purification, rather than the glorification of a Christian saint, however this festival is sanctified with a profusion of food.
Which kind of food?
Something that would sounds a little crazy, too: sea food and fish.
That it would not be strange if Gubbio, in the middle of Italy, that is the heart of Italy, would not lay in a territory locked to the sea. The sea water is not visible, even with a binocular.
The reason is fasting: May 15th is the anniversary of saint Ubaldo’s death.
Since the meat was abolished for fasting times, to justify the lack of it during winter and convince poor people that was God’s willing, the medieval monks inside the cloisters had the smart idea to start fish farming in pools built with this purpose. Fish was not meat in their opinion. So they were allowed by the Mother Church to have fish also in fasting times.
The anniversary of a death is fasting time. Thus, fish!
The most available kind of fish in such a far place was salted cod. Of which Italy boasts the most number of recipes and is the biggest consumer in the world.
Here they are a recipe with cod with which you would delight your guests. And believe me: good salted cod is not that much “fishy” .
SALTED COD FISH WITH TOMATOES AND PRUNES
Ingredients for 4- 5 people:
800 gr (2 Lb) salted cod fish
800 gr (2 lb) canned tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
garlic and onion, minced
¼ glass vinegar
100 gr ( 3 oz) raisin and dried prunes
Soak the cod fish since the day before, changing water often. Cut it in big chunks and take off the bigger bones.
Make a "soffritto" with the olive oil, minced garlic and onion. Add the pureed canned tomatoes, a tiny pinch of salt, hot chili pepper. Cook a few minutes before adding the fish and the raisins and prunes previously softened in warm water and squeezed. Put a lid on and continue the cooking on low heat for 15 minutes, stirring with care occasionally. Pour in the vinegar and let it to evaporate on higher heat and without the lid.
Serve hot with toasted bread or slices of polenta.