FORLIMPOP-OLISTIC-EXPI-ALI-DOCIOUS (even thought the sound of it is something quite ….. )
It’s the end of June, it’s deliciously warm as opposed to hot and sticky, you’re with the person you love, you’re even celebrating a wedding anniversary from long ago, you’re on a gastro-tour you’ve been invited to join in Emilia Romagna, there’s the keen sense of expectation, the kindled good will towards people you’ve yet to get to know more closely, themselves also invited along as co-observers (photographer, journalist, film-maker, food writer, government worker, communication specialist), to take in, take part, and take away, arousals and impressions galore. That’s the idea, you see: we are supposed to ‘translate’ what we see, hear, taste, feel and do into a written and/or audio-visual packet that will hopefully coruscate, entrance and enthuse like a precious baton of knowledge to be passed on in a relay race for cultural tourism. What follows is my impression, my little tale of tattle travel. And it begins with the name of this town, smack in the middle between Forlì and Cesena.
Forlimpopoli. Isn’t it onomatopoeically so very Mary Poppins? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and stepping in and out of pictures on the pavement? Forlimpopoli — go on, take a deep breath and have a go at pronouncing it: 4-lynn-pop-olly.
The sound of it makes one think that nothing ever bad could ever happen there, no less than at the posh jewellery store as Audrey Hepburn said in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yet there we would be wrong because THE man for which Forlimpopoli is so famous, the one and only Pellegrino Artusi … more about him in a minute … well, his family suffered at the hands of brigands who strode into the town, creating as much havoc as any bandits in ye good-ol’ respectable 1950s cowboy film, and after much pillaging and raping (including his sister) made Mr Artusi decide it wasn’t a safe enough place to live in any more, and he went off to live in Florence, never to return. That was in the middle of the 1850s and I expect that nothing worse happened after that, if not the tragedy that was WWII.
For those who do not know, Pellegrino Artusi was to Italian cooking and gastronomy what Garibaldi was to Italian politics — a great unifier. As written in a beautiful coffee-table book published by Unilever called “Taste and Tradition – A Culinary Journey through Northern and Central Italy”, “Artusi brough Italian cuisine together in his Art of Eating Well (1891), a family treasure passed down from mother to daughter”. The home he owned no longer exists but another house has been lovingly restored and fitted out to become “Casa Artusi”, a testament to his memory and work; it includes a library, a modern kitchen for cooking classes, a lovely courtyard, a restaurant and much more besides — including a church that can host conferences (La Chiesa dei Servi). Definitely worth a visit — here is the website: http://www.casartusi.it/en. Mr Artusi’s seminal book, The Science and Art of Eating Well has been translated into English by more than one author … but I was on the look-out to spot the version translated by a food writer and blogger called Kyle Phillips, whom I admire very much and who I hope is blushing if and when he reads this. I’ve yet to meet him in person but, aside from knowing so much about Italian history, social mores, cuisine and wines, he comes over as being a real gentleman — and that would be most in keeping with Artusi’s demeanour.
As our group meandered into the town, there was music playing in the distance and various clusters of people ambled in all directions, never hurrying, some silent and others in animated conversation — young people, older people, old people, little children and that in itself was a bit of a wonder to behold: I like it when generations mix, it makes the atmosphere special. There were lots of food stands … obviously the main point of the festivities … but somehow, and I can’t explain this, it wasn’t all about the food. It seemed more to me about the mood.
Some of our people walking towards the main square — the fortress ahead of us, garlanded with brighly coloured banners that shone in the evening light. A touch of the medieval.
Wise words showcased in the window, probably uttered by Artusi: “Molto cibo e mal digesto, non fa l’uomo sano e lesto”. A cautionary piece of advice informing us that a lot of food and bad digestion will prevent a man from being healthy and limber. There were a series of boxed trees lining the pavement outside Casa Artusi … A peep at the restaurant within … The courtyard at Casa Artusi … and a dignitary holding forth about Fellini and his ties to Romagna. I’m sure he had a lot of interesting things to say but I didn’t stay behind to listen … A “lunario” is some kind of almanac … since “luna” means “moon”, perhaps a lunario draws its time according to the phases of the moon? A rowan tree … il sorbo. Melograno: a pomegranate tree. Cocktail hour … As we draw closer to the centre of town, the crowd gets more ‘madding’ … but we don’t want to be far from it!Here we are flanking the fortress, La Rocca … and will you just take a look at the intensity of the colours in the magical light!
And here we are now in the main square … a bit hard to get a good impression because it was full of food stands, and tables and chairs and people milling aimiably about or sitting and eating. To the left of the bell tower is where Artusi was born — the house itself no longer stands. The stand “Comune di Polesella” were cooking a risotto based on Artusi’s recipe (recipe no. 43 as it so happens). Ooops … I might have caught their chefs at a bad moment. These things happen of course but I wonder what the pique was all about? Please note the price for one plate of risotto: Eu 3 … Here are some wall plaques on the wall of the bell tower, mentioning former citizens caught up in fight for the Unification of Italy. Foreigners tend not to realise that Italy was unified just over 150 years ago … not so long ago. Farmer’s market food stand and a lot of contented customers. And here, instead, we have food from … The Philippines of all places! (I actually had a rice and seafood dish of theirs and it was delicious.) Et oui! we even have La Bella France in our midst. A winner! These lovely girls were selling balsamic vinegar … the proceeds were going towards help for the damage wrought by last year’s earthquakes (“Sisma 2012”). Down one of the roads behind the bell tower … Produce from the Fattoria Tori … the pigs are raised out in the open (allo stato brado) and the cheeses are made using unpasteurised milk (latte crudo). Good stuff! Easy atmosphere, easy-going lapsed table manners … Personally, I hate plastic tables but somehow, that evening, the relaxed picnic-like atmosphere of it all was truly pleasing and totally in keeping with the idea of ease … slow … promenade … chat … enjoy. Hearts strung up above us for a touch of romance! Abbruzzo’s answer to kebab: the one and only arrosticini. I’ve written a couple of blogs about these, they are incredibly yummy. (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/the-trouble-with-buffets-and-why-arrosticini-are-a-god-send/, and https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/sundays-lamb-sauce-for-fresh-pasta-ragu-di-arrosticini/ ) Here are our friends from Bosnia and Herzegovina, posing for a photo op, looking very glam! They cooked an amazing Bosnian meal for us at the Casa Artusi two days later … And here is a view from up top the town’s fortress, the Rocca. More food stalls on the left in the distance … music playing down below … A corner for children to have fun with: painting … An art exhibition … However, what I found most intriguing was the cinema that was part of the Rocca. It was a cinema like those I remember from my childhood in Italy, when people were allowed to smoke … indeed when they smoked so much that there would always be a thick pall of smoke hovering above the screen! Here I am, peeking between the banister of the cinema staircase … looking at the posters from the 1960s. Such atmosphere! A film was actually been shown inside the cinema — a vintage Fellini film, “Roma”. Look at the red plush armchairs. Cinemas had style back then … A bit of naughty innuendo … but then Fellini was kind of famous for it! And here, I beg you, please stop and stare and tell me: arem’t those two ladies on the left the EPITOME of a Fellini character? Look at how they are dressed! How they stand and wait. For whom? Why? Giulia Pretto, our indomitable organizer and timetable-keeper extraordinaire and the good-food authority Gareth Jones walk away as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths … but it did! Do you see what I mean? Incredible! Yet another poster … this one mentions Giuseppe Verdi, who was born in Emilia Romagna. Our very lovely Laura Carlini, magnificent organizer and host.
And now we get to our rendezvous for the evening, our appointment with the lads from Rovigno, in Istria (Croatia). Below you will see the menu. The heading, the word “batana”, refers to the typical fishing boats used in Rovigno …that somehow find so much similarity with fishing boats of the Adriatic Coast in Romagna. Below is a description of these traditional boats. And here were some of the tempting fish dishes we had the pleasure to eat — simple and delicious as only ‘simple’ food can be if it is sourced properly. I just had to take a photo of this bottle of wine because its name “Pagadebit” literally translates as “it pays the debts” ! I love the sense of humour in Emilia Romagna. Here are our boys from Rovigno … it turns out that one of them played the guitar beautifully and all of them could sing. For the first half hour I didn’t realise they were from Rovigno, I presumed they were Italian. They spoke it perfectly and knew a wealth of popular Italian songs. It turns out that the erstwhile people of Rovigno were largely Italian-speaking and spoke something very close to the Veneto dialect. Politics changed all that after WWII and Yugoslavia coming into existence. Here is a group of Croatians and Italians raising their glasses and enjoying themselves … Our fantastic singer! Even the dignitary joins in the singing! Looking on amused … When people feel free to sing, i.e. when they lose their inhibitions because frankly what’s the point of NOT loosening up … that’s when the atmosphere can get truly magical. We still weren’t well acquainted at this point … but just a few hours later, I had them singing in the coach on the way home! Our suave and wordly photographer arrived a little later but joined in straight away … one look and Saverio Lombardo Vallauri knew he could let his hair down and puff away to his heart’s content. And this is when our friend from France was persuaded to join in — the guys from Rovigno rightfully intoned La Marseillaise … and he was off! Almost like a scene from “Casablanca”, except fortunately we were at peace and not at war!The chef even knew all the words (I didn’t … only some of them …).
Saverio, tired as he was, just couldn’t resist … Passers by … stopped … some even joined in, it was ‘catchy’ ha ha ha ! And now … as I draw to the end of my little tale … I grow a little wistful.
The photos that follow were taken the following day and so by now we were all quite chummy and more than happy to return to our singing friends from Rovigno. As the evening wore one, our gathering grew. And I noticed an elderly couple to the left of me. A very young couple opposite me. And then came an old lady, a widow. It turns out she is 84 years old. The young man got up so she could sit down. The songs being sung were those that she would be very well acquainted with, and so she relaxed and joined in the singing now and then, and her enjoyment was quite visible to behold.
To the right of her sits our colleague Sabrina, from the Regional Government in Molise. The young couple on the left, the lady in the middle, with Sabrina flanking her on the right. The young chap looking lovingly at his innamorata … The sheer beauty of youth! The radiance and energy and care-freeness of youth!The song being sung may have been old fashioned … but who cared? This old man did something very nice … he went up to the 84 year-old widow and, ignoring her initial protestation, locked her into a dancing embrace, and danced with her for a few minutes. I got the impression that for those few minutes, the old lady felt young again and forgot the slings and arrows of elderly life. These photos of course cannot do justice to what was going on, but can hopefully depict at least a hint of the mood and the bonding that a town festival like that of Forlimpopoli can give rise to. It was nearly time to go home now … one for the road!Sabrina’s sunny shoes.