Marino & Vino!

_DSC4785Autumn is a magical time of year in Italy, and nowhere more so than in Marino, a small hill town south of Rome, not far from the Pope’s summer residence in Castelli Romani.  The people of Marino  celebrate this harvest season in high style and we were thrilled to take part in their Sagra dell’Uva (Festival of Grapes), the first weekend of October.  We arrived in this little town high above Lake Albano early in the morning, thinking we would have time for coffee and a wander before the famous festivities began.  No chance!  The town was already thronged with revellers, mass was booming out over the streets and squares from loud speakers inside the church.  Parking was impossible and we felt late, at 11:00am!  Lights were strung across the narrow streets, banners flew from balconies, the parks were filled with markets and everywhere, grapes, grapes, grapes!  Guidebooks say this festival celebrates the triumphant return of local general Marcantonio Colonna after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and indeed, we did get to see the spectacle of medieval costumes and flag bearers and horses, reenacting the general’s return.  But the truth is, this festival is all about the grape harvest and the new wine!  Stalls fill every square, serving wine for 1 euro, ciambelle (big soft quishy doughnuts) made with grape skins and sugar are handed threw the crowds, and everyone turns out to dance and drink and smile in the autumn sunshine.  Every fountain, every statue, every doorway and window frame is decorated with bunches of grapes, grape leaves, sheaves of wheat and autumn flowers.  The entire town seems full of good cheer (and good wine), with everyone enjoying the street food and music.  The official celebration, with a procession of 500 costumed townsfolk, takes place mid afternoon and we had to laugh at the juxtaposition of fiercely handsome Carabinieri officers in their sharply tailored uniforms, holding back the laughing, swaying crowd, as the medieval players (often wearing Ray Bans and chatting on their cell phones) made their way up the main street, throwing their flags and blowing their trumpets.  Only in Italy does it seem quite normal to watch a young man in red tights and a feathered hat, clutching an iPhone to his ear and gesturing wildly at his laughing girlfriend in her skinny jeans, jump off his battered scooter and run to find his place in the traditional centuries old parade, while his Nonna shouts from her window three floors up, asking has he eaten enough lunch!  Undoubtedly the best part of the Sagra for all of us was the moment when the bells rang out across the town and the three main fountains suddenly flowed with wine — an annual event for the Marino inhabitants, but a wonderful sight for our uninitiated clients.  Clutching our sturdy plastic cups (we had been warned), we swarmed the fountain with the hordes and managed to fill and refill our cups just enough times to make Marcantonio Colonna proud.