August 9, 2008
Last night was the feast of San Romano. As far as I can gather the story goes like this.
The central part of Torri is comprised of three main groups of buildings; the Piazza, where I live, Lupi to one side and Palanchi across the bridge. In times gone by, at the feast of San Romano each of the three would compete to see who could light the biggest bonfire. These days such a competition would be somewhat dangerous and would probably destroy the road surface, so to keep the tradition alive they have a festa in which food and drink are provided free to the villagers. After dusk, the sides of the roads entering and leaving are covered with paper trays of tea lights, and children are given paper lanterns with candles inside.
At one point the sound system set up here outside the church was in competition with that from the osteria across the bridge. Combined with the buzz of conversation it was slightly bizarre. I was up on the terrace watering the plants. Up there there’s no sense of being four floors up, so the unusually loud noises coming in made for a surreal effect. At about 9pm the smoke and smell from the cooking became too much to bear, so down we went to take part.
I have to note the contrast between village life here and in Apricale, where I previously lived. The latter lays on regular events through the summer, but because so many of the population are holiday visitors you don’t see many familiar faces and the events have a kind of staged feel to them. Here the same faces can be seen every time and animated conversation flows freely.
I suppose Torri, with only 200 or so full-time residents and another 100 holiday home owners, has the advantage of being smaller and more intimate, but it’s also surprising how dead Apricale appears to be during the day. It’s not really a very friendly place and the main piazza is often occupied only by a few tourists wandering about looking for the real Apricale. I think it lacks soul, suffering from once having been voted Italy’s most beautiful village. This is an honour almost impossible to live up to; it’s become a kind of theme park devoted to simply being Apricale rather than relaxing and taking life as it comes. I have no regrets about leaving the place; the last time I went there a few days ago I felt no sense of empathy or belonging, whereas here these feelings grow every week.
So we sat on plastic chairs, ate a variety of tidbits made by local residents and chatted for a couple of hours while children laughed and played around us without ever once bursting into tears. Eventually the hundreds of candles gutted and died, so we packed everything away and retired to our houses, leaving a single group sitting on the benches under the trees and chatting until about 2am. Probably; I was well away by then.