Saturday, 24 September 2011

Love and food in the Apennines 3

Marriage Italian style
At the bottom of the mountain, just before the railway line, sits the bar/restaurant/general store called Il Ponte de Ceserana, otherwise known as Claudio's place. We met Claudio for the first time last year, on our return from four hours in the local hospital having my broken wrist set in plaster from fingertip to armpit.  He bustled around dispensing cold beer and warm sympathy in fluent English disconcertingly delivered with a  broad Scots accent. He then put together a selection of pasta dishes and fresh salads as a take-away lunch for us and our hosts the Cloke-Brown family and their three hungry sons.

When we returned to have supper later that week we discovered that Claudio was an innovative cook and indefatigable host. Not only does he eschew a printed menu, he doesn't write the menu down at all, simply regaling each table with the wide range of local dishes that he has produced that day. Dishes such as gnocchi with lemon and hazelnuts with a beef jus, or rabbit with olives and tomatoes, or penne with crabmeat. Sparkling white wine is on tap, there is a very quaffable local red and at the end of the meal, Claudio puts a selection of weird and wonderful looking bottles containing homemade liqueurs, ranging from deep purple myrtle, through brilliant green menthe through to a clear grappa.

So this year we look forward to renewing acquaintance. On our return from shopping on Friday, we call in at Claudio's bar for a restorative beer and to find out if he is cooking the next evening. Sporting a natty new apron (fake waiter's waistcoat in scarlet and black), he beams from ear to ear when we walk in, welcomes us warmly and assures that he is certainly cooking dinner on Saturday and books us in for 7.30.  But why don't we come down around 6.30 he suggests, and have a ringside seat for part of the wedding celebrations of two couples in the commune that day.

We had noticed posters fastened to posts and railings along the roadside, and on walls and notice boards in the villages above the house. Some featured the smiling faces of Serena and Nicola, others those of Agnese and Eduardo, announcing their weddings that weekend.  

Claudio explains that a tradition has grown up in Fosciandora for bride and groom to come down the mountain following their church ceremony, to cut a white ribbon that has been strung across the road just before the bridge and to raise a glass of celebratory Prosecco. Although the two ceremonies next day are taking place at different churches, at different times, the couples insist on gathering for a joint ribbon cutting.

Community spirit
We duly arrive on Saturday evening at 6.30, after a four hour walk in the mountains to justify a four course dinner, and sit down on the terrace. Strung across the road just by the level crossing is a large white banner, looking suspiciously like a kingside bedsheet, which has been adorned with a message announcing the gratitude of the inhabitants of Fosciandora for the great sacrifice of Eduardo and Nicola in relieving the commune of two spinsters.

Claudio’s wife Clementina, anticipating a spate of weddings that summer in addition to their own daughter's, has invested in enough ribbon to mark out several miles of carriageway. Claudio and son have created two flamboyant bunches of looped ribbon on one side of the roadway and stand ready to string the lengths across at the appropriate moment. But true to form, both of weddings in general and Italy in particular, the timetable shifts somewhat. The ribbons are taken down on three occasions, to allow cars and trucks through. We try to slow down our wine consumption and Claudio provides interim entertainment by showing us the photographs from his daughter's wedding the week before.

Then a bridesmaid arrives, a forerunner of what turns out to be a stream of incredibly slim, attractive young women on impossibly high heels and wearing incredibly short dresses. One bridal couple is definitely on its way, she announces, so the ribbons go up again. Then comes a report by mobile phone that the other couple are on their way too, so out come bottles of Prosecco and a tray of glasses.

A stream of cars begins to flow down the mountainside, accompanied by much horn blowing augmented by a strange contraption that looks like a tyre pump, but which emits a row as ear-splitting as several zarzuelas. A whippet thin cyclist in spray-on Lycra suddenly zooms through under the bedsheet and then wobbles perilously as he spots the marital ribbon booby trap. But he safely dismounts and decides to linger to watch the fun before tackling the mountain.

Eduardo and Agnese, Serena and Nicola
Just how the wedding couples are going to reach the ribbon cutting through the stream of cars that has now effectively blocked all traffic, does not seem to be of much concern and sure enough, suddenly the brides appear. One is wearing a classic ivory satin gown, the other in warm rose chiffon adorned with swirls of roses. Did they confer, I wonder, knowing that there would be a double photo opportunity at Il Ponte de Ceserana? 

Two pairs of scissors are presented on a velvet cushion and to much cheering, the ribbons are snipped, the Prosecco popped and car horns sounded. The two parties then disappear to the next stage of the celebrations in chaotic scenes of reversing cars, near collisions but universal good humour and Claudio retreats to the relative calm of his kitchen to prepare the usual impressive selection of dishes.

We are introduced to our fellow diners and chairs rearranged so we can all have a good blether, as Claudio puts it. Then to put a final seal on the marriage theme of the evening, it turns out that the parents of one of them were not only married in the same town as Rod and I, Colchester, but just two months earlier in the same year. 

Cin, cin

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