Once more Jupiter shone on the Lepini Mountains and allowed Bacchus to fulfil his promise of a grand harvest of the grapes of Sgurgola and an even more exciting Grape Festival.
In the three days from Friday 23rd September, the Corso, streets of old town and the Piazza Dell’Arringo thronged with locals and visitors, from at least USA, Canada, Australia and Sweden. The centre of action was the parapet lined Piazza Dell’ Arringo from where the distant towns of Frosinone and closer Anagni can be seen with a backdrop of the Ernici Mountains, capped by swirling clouds forming temporal sights such as a prancing grey horse neighing towards the south.
For those of a cultural or historical bent, the old town of Sgurgola with its steps and stairs invited adventure, from the town square outside the Santa Maria church, through the clock tower arch and down to the Church of St John, then up to the old bell tower and past the many wall murals on buildings throughout the town, each painting themed on the joys of musical entertainment.
The stage was set in the Piazza Dell’Arringo for three nights of creative folk music, not just of Ciociaria, though its style was most sought after, but also from other regions of south Italy, Puglia and Naples being specially remembered. The weekend of music and dance began appropriately on Friday evening with lessons in Saltarello, the famed local dance, by the belles of Sgurgola’s youth, girls of all ages, garbed in Ciaiarian traditional dress.
Cantinas around the square, down the Corso and in the old town, sated the thirst and hunger of visitors with traditional Ciociarian fare (even Baccala) and mostly Cesanaese or Passerina wine from Sculca and other local producers. As the evenings advanced, so did the saltarellan skills of the not so young, and Saturday saw the dancing pass the night till nearly dawn.
Yet for many, particularly the belle donne, the flavour of the most renowned of Sgurgolan foods, was the attraction. As Laura Pace recounted the history of the Ciambelle, the ‘Queen’ of donuts, wearing a crown, the eager consumers ‘broke bread’ with a sip of local vino. Interestingly, coffee was not a menu item at this festival, much to the delight of Bacchus.
Sunday afternoon came too quickly for many, when the Piazza Dell’Arringo saw the fruits of grape harvest in floats from the local producers. The grand designs of the floats were gradually decimated as the bunches were thrown to the crowds. Meanwhile the visitors were harangued by stories from the inventive genius of the racconteurs of the floats.
Meanwhile we were overcome by a musical band La Sbandata dressed for Carnival and ‘bussed in from Viterbo’, comprising the core of a brass marching band and instruments of great invention two of which included a wind instrument based on a bullock horn with what appeared to be timber extensions plus an item of tympani created from a large metal pot with lid (on which sat a monkey) that was raised and lowered by a shaft to the beat of a drum, and yet more that were not describable.
A prefix for the final evening saw the local couples who have lived many years among the stones of Sgurgola, enjoy a dance somewhat similar to an old English ‘barn dance’. On this occasion the men also wore traditional outfits including the simple yet practical footwear, the ‘ciocie’.
Even the ever smiling cantina volunteers were showing signs of wear come the Sunday evening repast. Yet the evening was reborn by the folk music of the Hernicantus group displaying great musicality in exciting tunes on traditional instruments of southern Italy including the ‘zampogna’ (bagpies).
And then to bed. Sgurgola Grape Festival, not to be missed next year.