Friday, August 12, 2011

Falling Stars, A Saint, Music, Free Pasta

     The second week of August in Italy is called Le Notti di San Lorenzo (aka the Night of the Falling Stars).  Italians flock to the hills, away from city lights, to see the shooting stars.  The expression is also the title of a famous Italian movie by the Taviani brothers, which I never managed to see.  The San Lorenzo alludes to St. Lawrence, whose feast day is on August 10.  Avid readers may remember the citation in Little Women, when Laurie referred to himself as "St. Lawrence on a gridion," for that was how the saint met martyrdom.           
  San Lorenzo was also the ruling Medici family's church during Renaissance Florence.  The facade, which remains unfinished (despite Mayor Renzi's recent proposal to finally implement the 1515 Michelangelo facade design upon finding sponsorship), resembles a humble cheese grater.  The church, a stone's throw away from the Cathedral (Duomo) is located in a characteristic Florentine neighborhood near the Central Market.  The latter, before the arrival of mass tourism, was where many residents (including myself) did their grocery shopping.
     The evening of August 10, 2011 in Florence was illuminated by a full moon which lit the annual festivities in honor of St. Lawrence.  I was inspired by this year's exceptional spring to christen this blog "Beautiful Florence," and the incredible weather, always sunny and rarely too hot, has continued into the summer.  So at 9 pm when people (including photographer Elke and myself) arrived in the square before the church to listen to the free concert, for once and probably for all time, no one was sweating thanks to a  boiling night characteristic of August in Florence.

We immediately saw St. Lawrence
on his gridion on a banner
above the church's main door.
When Elke and I showed up, 
a little before 9 pm, 
the very few people in the piazza
were sitting on nearby stone ledges 
jutting out from ancient buildings.

The Rossini Philharmonic Band started playing about 15 minutes late, and suddenly all the Italians arrived in a wave, filling the square.

 It was delightful to hear a band composed of wind. brass and percussion instruments in Italy--it reminded me of the many West Point band concerts I enjoyed lying on a blanket at Trophy Point above the Hudson Highlands and River.  The 150th anniversary of Italy's unification was obviously a theme, as musicians performed Verdi's Va Pensiero and the Oscar-winning soundtrack, The Song of Exodus.

A soft breeze ruffled the sheets of music, as the Rossini Philharmonic band moved on to Overture to a New Age, a selection of Beatle hits, Lord of the Dance, where a musician played the bagpipe part on a clarinet, ending with Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks 
(Clint Eastwood would have certainly enjoyed this).
The last piece overlapped with traditional Florence music from the '30s and '40s performed the rest of the evening by a band one street over that decided to start on time.

Walking towards the food tables, we saw a vendor selling a souvenir of the evening.

Why Pinocchio?  I explained to Elke that Pinocchio's author, Carlo Lorenzini aka Carlo Collodi, was born in the San Lorenzo neighborhood before his family migrated elsewhere.

We talked to many local volunteers who explained to us that all the guide books write lasagna and watermelon are served free of charge to all comers courtesy the San Lorenzo Market Consortium, which was no longer true.  Gianpaolo Lazzeri, resident on nearby via Guelfa, said that local hygiene laws banned lasagna a few years ago, which is substituted by the Florentine dish penne strasciate--short pasta "dragged" in hot ragu (meat and tomato sauce) in a large frypan placed on a burner.

I recognized Sandro Savorelli holding the frypan.  He owns a traditional civaio shop, which sells beans and rice from large burlap sacks as well as spices and practical household goods in addition to items like beach umbrellas, on via Taddea.

"Hey, I didn't know you were a cook," I said.  "I didn't know you were a journalist," he commented.  His pasta was authentic and delicious, accompanied by a plastic cup of red wine.  The local milk consortium, Mukki Latte, donated cartons of yogurt "as dessert," in addition to the traditional watermelon.

I explained to Elke that when I arrived in Florence during the '80s, in the era of no air conditioning, during the hot summer months, cocomerai (watermelon vendors) were stationed at stands open most of the night on the boulevards (viali) encircling downtown Florence.  Elke complained that the watermelon attracted mosquitoes, to which I replied that only she, along with American girls on their way to bars would dare walk around summertime Florence in short skirts and bare legs at night, especially during Le Notti di San Lorenzo.

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