Mediterranean Climate: a type of climate distinguished by hot, dry, sunny summers and a winter rainy season … as is the characteristic of the Mediterranean region and also parts of California, South Africa and Chile.
What foreigner buys a house in Tuscany in mid-winter? Is there anyone out there as crazy as us? We have now stood at the window for the past three days, gazing at the rain. It seems that when it rains here, it sure rains … great buckets of water cascade down from the heavens, and oh, it all seems so familiar. Greve-in-Chianti? Cape Town? Hemispheres apart? I am beginning to think not. Then all of a sudden the clouds part, there’s a hint of blue sky above and I push open the wooden gate and look up the muddy road …
Manuela (our neighbour, and Pasquale’s wife) is outside picking rosemary. ‘It’s Carnevale in Italy,’ she says, ‘and my little grandson Frederico is dressing up for the parade in Castellina-in-Chianti. You should drive down and have a look.’
Carnivalle is all over Tuscany today – Greve, San Polo, all the little towns have had their bill boards up. We head off for Castellina-in-Chianti at about three. Cars are already starting to park on the hills surrounding the town. The high street is festooned with streamers and we enter the upper section through an enormous red curtain. Everyone who has access to a costume has put one on … anything goes …giant mice, horse’s heads and masks galore.
But it is the children who stop me in my tracks. Italians love a festival, and Italians adore children, and the combination today is a knock-out. Wide-eyed, beautiful boys peep out from their mother’s knees, drinking it all in. They’re the tigers, the bears, the clowns and the jesters. There’s a cardinal too – a solemn seven year old in his red velvet hat with rolled rim and his ermine coat.
Then there are the girls – beautiful hooped taffeta dresses mirror pale green and blue eyes, their hair turned lovingly around grandmothers’ fingers, until it cascades down their backs in ringlets …. and if it is not natural, why, there’s a bright orange wig or two added to the fun.
From beyond the church a small group is getting ready. They are dressed in black and white. There’s a mime, a piano accordion and a drummer. They head up the street followed by an extra-ordinary looking fellow in a skirt and bright knee socks. He is pulling a sort of tumbrel, in which there is a broken chair. I’d love to know the symbolism.
The crowd follows until they reach the piazza, forming a circle around them. The mime takes over, and a small boy of about three runs towards him. The mime waits until he is close, and then leaps into a puddle, spraying water far and wide. The small boy, soaked and aghast, turns and searches for his mother. The crowd roars with laughter. This ability to simply enjoy, this is what I love about Italians: it’s time for fiesta, seize the moment …
We head up to the main piazza. Another band has started up and begins its parade towards us. This must be the town band, but today it’s different, for the entire front section is made up of about 40 children, each with a drum. They beat the rhythm with the band, keeping time beautifully: little side drummers and tenor drummers. Proud parents stand and watch.
We stand together and cheer on the children: for it seems to me that whatever the symbolism of ‘Carnevale’ is in the rest of Italy, here in Castellina-in-Chianti it’s all about the new generation: a hands-on lesson in living, breathing and being Italian.
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