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Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's Easter in Tuscany, too! Buona Pasqua!

People are always asking me, "When's the best time to go to Tuscany?".  My short answer is, "anytime".  The long answer is Spring and Fall.  And don't ask me to choose between those two.  Since my calendar says it's Spring (although it snowed last week), let's talk about Spring in Tuscany.  Primavera.  Just the sound of that descriptive word makes me go "Ahhhhh".

Spring in Tuscany is celebrated as the reawakening of "Madre Terra", (Mother Nature) after a long winter's sleep.  The month of April can be as temperamental as March, but tends to have more sunny days than not.  "Aprile dolce dormire", as the Tuscan saying goes, meaning that the gentle warmth of spring makes one sleepy.  Many villages take advantage of the season with various medieval-themed festivals with lots of parades, food, wine, games, and markets. 

One of my favorite rites of spring in Tuscany is being able to eat outside.  Contrary to my Italian friends' habits, I love to eat breakfast.  However, it's nothing like the American breakfast.  The usual Italian breakfast consists of a caffe, cappuccino, or caffelatte, accompanied by something sweet such as a croissant-like pastry called a brioche or cornetto, or a piece of cake or some cookies. 

                                          All together now..... YUM.

Springtime in Tuscany always smells good, too.  Not just the cappuccino and dolce, the outdoors just smells good.  The countryside seems to explode in the warmth of the longer days - producing flowering trees, plants, and shrubs in all colors of greens, yellows, whites, and pinks.  The wisteria blooms in abundance.  This plant was first brought to Italy from the Orient in 1840, where it was known as the "blue vine".  The Italian name is, "glicine", which means "sweet plant". 

                                        All together now..... INHALE!

This year, the month of April also brings Easter.  And Easter in Tuscany is a really big deal.  It's so big that I actually tell travelers NOT to go to Italy during Easter.  That is if they have plans to visit the big cities.  There are so many "pilgrims" invading Rome, hotel rooms are hard to come by and the historic sites are overrun with tourists.

However, if you're stuck in a busy Italian city over Easter, there is one event that's worth attending  -  it's called, "Pasquetta", which is "Little Easter".  This occurs on the Monday after Easter.  As the Italian saying goes, "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi", ("Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you choose.").  Apparently, for those in larger cities, the idea is "gite fuori porta" (to go outside of the city).  Pasquetta is an Italian national holiday with religious roots.  It's also called, "Lunedi dell'Angelo" (Angels Monday), and commemorates the heavenly messenger's meeting with the women who had hastened to Christ's tomb and had heard the message, "He is not here, for He has risen."

Although based on a religious event, the celebration of Pasquetta itself has a carefree feel.  Schools are generally closed from the Wednesday before Easter to the Wednesday after.  Pasquetta offers a release from the serious religious rituals of the preceding days.  And, believe me, Easter is serious in Italy. 

I read that the entire point of Pasquetta is to allow people to eat themselves into a stupor.  One festa included pyramids of roasted artichokes stacked on a table, and the menu included a frittata of wild asparagus, melted pecorino, lamb grilled with spring onions, a salad of wild greens, plenty of local wine and a platter of sweets.  A neighboring picnic included 125 pounds of beef and pork, and an entire sheep. The whole idea is to get out into the meadow and celebrate the return of spring.  Pasquetta is a time to reaffirm that warmth and light have returned to the earth.

All together now..... HEAD FOR THE MEADOW!

After an extremely long, cold winter, I'm ready for some Tuscan warmth, light, food, and wine.  Since I won't be there for Pasquetta this year, I'm planning my own "little Easter" out here on the acreage in the countryside. 

Regardless of when one goes to Tuscany, the beauty of the landscapes, the food, the festivals, the wine, the people, will leave a lasting impression.  It's not about what time of the year you should go - it's how soon.

Buona Pasqua!  Buona Primavera!

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