The Saga of the Sagra

“You’ll see notices pinned on trees. Look for the word sagra, signora. It means a village feast with whatever their speciality is. Could be chestnuts, could be wild boar…You can’t go wrong.”

Borgo San Lorenzo in Tuscany’s Mugello Valley had a tortellini sagra last week. Tortellini are like a larger version of ravioli, pale cushions stuffed with mashed potato and cheese, served with different sauces. More delicious than it might sound.

A marquee had been set up in the main piazza, and lots of stalls with local produce and other attractions lined the streets, such as the tombola stall you’ll find at every sagra.

The menu was pinned to the entrance of the marquee, and inside was the noisy sound of a hundred Italians doing what they enjoy most, eating and drinking. There were trestle tables covered in sheets of white paper and set out in rows with bread, water and wine at regular intervals. You placed your order, paid in advance and found a space.

It was very popular, with hardly any free seats, but we at last sat down with a group of locals, five youths who looked as if they’d come straight from the harvest with bits of straw still in their hair, and a plump girl with a squint and gap teeth who didn’t say much but smiled all the time. They grinned at us, shuffled up to make more space, and passed us bread and wine. We seemed to be included in their chattering, but couldn’t understand the thick dialect. It became apparent that the girl held a special position within the group. They all constantly fondled her, fed her morsels, and patted her approvingly whenever she ventured to speak with her mouth full. We came to the only possible conclusion in view of such widespread intimacy that she was shared by all of them and gave her favours willingly, delighted to be their pet.

The groping, no doubt helped by the wine, grew more intimate as the meal progressed. It was something of a relief for us to move away from the table and saunter over to the space where dancing had begun. There was an accordion, a violin, a guitar and drums, and the dancing was old-fashioned and wholesome.

Our group of young peasants seemed to have difficulty establishing whose turn it was to dance with their floozy. Eventually the impatience of those waiting their turn was too much to bear. They all danced with her in one big tight circle, and she dreamily smiled from one to the next, accepting their embraces and swaying to the rhythm.

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