It is a warm midsummer night in July, the year matters not exactly, but as I recall it may be 1611.
We are in Carpineto Romano, the fiefdom of the Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew of Pope Clement VIII. His sister, Donna Olimpia Aldobrandini, has made this town the centre of her “great state”, uniting the territories of neighbouring municipalities of Montelanico, Gorga, Gavignano and Maenza.
Our fortune is to be invited to a celebration dinner on the occasion of a visit by the Cardinal. It is rare for those of us, ordinary citizens of the future, to be granted a space in the time warp to share a feast with His Eminence. Yet with about 100 other souls from various eras, we await the arrival of the Cardinal’s retinue at the entrance to the Convent of Reformed Minors of Saint Peter, adjunct to the church, both recently completed, and a favourite of the Cardinal.
Carpineto Romano sits on two adjacent ‘camel backs’ and wherever I look from the front of the church except down the valley towards Montelanico, mountains tower above us.
As dusk settles, we are ushered into the cloister and the walls of this square immediately enclose us. It is a tall two level building with windows opening onto the courtyard from the second level. Now, nature has left us and our world is monastic. No thoughts of the joys of nature can arise in this home for souls seeking God, except to gaze into the heavens. The period is Baroque, but the architecture has avoided that influence in this cloister. But we are not here for a lesson in architectural styles.
A fanfare sounds and the Cardinal’s party enters. Donna Olimpia with her second husband, governors, ladies, and, interestingly, Frati Riformati from the Franciscan order. We feel quite ordinary in our garb compared to the fine vestiture of the Aldobrandini family and retinue, but more comfortable with the Franciscan brothers and servants.
The feast began after dark with traditional Lepini appetisers, Carpinetano lard, Amaseno ricotta, roasted onions, and Lepini cheese, accompanied by a rich local red wine from the vineyards of the popes. As the wine flowed the first course was served, a very large bowl of polenta with pork and sausage and sauce of porcini mushroom, leaving most replete.
The entertainment festivities were led by a group of four flag throwers producing a dazzling array of aerial stunts with their flags. A typical play making fun of local political figures pleased the guests, maybe even those subject of the friendly gibes.
As the feast continued with roast pork and potatoes and the clock struck the bewitching hour, the guests, fully sated, thinned from the tables, such that it would seem there may have been ample still to flow from the chefs to satisfy the taste buds of many local peasant-folk.
We look forward to the return by the Cardinal to his apartments in Carpineto next ‘groundhog day’.
‘From a citizen of XVII century’