August 26, 2008
A fair old show
A few days ago we had some friends over; a nice couple from just outside Apricale who’ve done an enviable job restoring an old rustico. I wish I had that talent. Anyway, they suggested eating out, so we chose Torri Superiore, about five minute’s walk from here. It’s an “eco village”; an old Ligurian pile of stone houses that had long ago fallen into near ruin, and which were bought by a small group of mainly Italian people. Over the past few years they’ve been gradually restoring the place as a centre for cultural activities, and this being Italy that also means eating. You can book a table there so that’s what we did.
The menu is fixed and a secret until the night (saves on printing). It’s a self-service eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet at a fixed price of €17 per head. Not bad. Very informal; if there aren’t enough of you to fill a table – they seat up to eight or so – you get to share with someone you never met before. Our companions were a couple from Milan and two ladies I believed to be of Dutch origin. A pitcher of wine and a basket of bread are placed on the table, to be politely shared among its occupants, and you get up and fill your plate whenever you like. It’s like eating at a friend’s house and having to pay at the end but not do the washing up. It’s not gourmet or haute cuisine but it’s friendly, cheap and (for some) local. For anyone interested:
On Saturday Dolceacqua held the annual celebration of its history, mainly comprising bloody conflicts between the Doria and Grimaldi tribes that flowed back and forth across the town in centuries past. The celebration takes the form of a sound and light show with smoke generators and pyrotechnics, and is free to all comers. We arrived at the town over half an hour before the show was due to start; just as well because the nearest parking was a mile out of town, both sides of the road being already lined with parked cars. While the show is under way the entire centre of the town is closed, so anyone who wanted to get to the towns and villages beyond Dolceacqua would have to wait.
The event is fairly standard, with only minor changes in the format compared with last year. This means the organisers know how to get it right. The result is a spectacular must for anyone able to get there, so note it in your calendars for this time next year. I admit I’d not been paying attention otherwise I’d have made sure of getting into our Calendar here. Next year I’ll make sure it’s announced.
The show takes about twenty minutes, an incessant barrage of sound and light. There’s a sound system able to shake the foundations of the entire town, which they use for a commentary (in Italian, naturally) telling us little bits of the history, and for playing stirring music while the fireworks explode overhead.The fireworks are mostly on temporary platforms mounted on the edge of the Nervia river that runs through the town, all computer controlled and timed with the music, a most impressive feat. At the point describing the town in flames, all the smoke generators are running flat out while red searchlights blaze from behind the smoke, making the effect highly realistic.
The Italians have a reputation for putting on a good firework display and this is ample justification. Dolceacqua isn’t a large town but the budget for this pyrotechnic extravaganza must be huge, and it’s all for free. The viewing point is anywhere along the main road and in the piazza, both of which are totally packed with people. At the critical point all the street lights go out, then the show begins with three loud bangs overhead. The show runs at a breathless pace with never a pause, then ends twenty minutes later as abruptly as it started. Don’t miss it next year.
Today we needed some bits of wood and our usual shop was closed for holidays, so we went over to Self in Arma di Taggia. We’d heard there was some kind of craft fair in Sanremo, so we called in there first. The venue was the flower market, a purpose-built industrial shed on the outskirts of the city, with (unusually) ample parking at an adjoining multi-storey. Inside was a full-blown exhibition with maybe 50 or 60 stands selling edible products, leather goods, carpets and other grown or manufactured products.
The range of products was less than you’d expect from a similar event in the UK. For true variety you need to go to the village craft markets, where stalls presumably cost a lot less than at this one. So there was a fair amount of repetition. Some of the foodsuff stands were set up to feed a small army, though this might be explained by the fact that it was only 4pm or so and the place wasn’t due to close till midnight. Here’s a mouth-watering array of sweet tidbits:
Just round the corner was a stand – again one of many – selling olives of all kinds and sizes. This was one of the prevailing themes, another being cheese. Naturally there were plenty of free samples to be had. On one stand we tried some goat cheese; this turned out to be delicious, though fiery enough to strip the varnish off the front door, so we thought it best not to buy any.