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This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales, to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”.
The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).
This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story.
As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.
Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.
It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.
In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.
There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.
There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.
As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner.
As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300′s. Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.
The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church has some ancient frescoes.
Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated. Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.
Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo. Well done to each and every one who took part.
For more information about the town of Maranola see my website: http://maranola.shapcott-family.com
Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event.
I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!
I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!
For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website: http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com
When Elsie, and two of her belly-dancing friends, Karen and Sylvia, volunteered to come and help us with the olive harvest, I begged them to bring their costumes, so that perhaps we could put on a little show.
They have been attending belly-dancing classes for several years, perfecting the necessary muscle control and complex choreographed manoeuvres of this dance form. They belong to a dance troupe who perform locally in South Wales.
I organised for the “Belly-Dancing Extravaganza” to take place one evening at the Bellavista Restaurant, which is run by our good friends – la famiglia Riccardi.
We had invited several of our Italian friends from Itri, some of whom have known Kay and Elsie for many years now, but in true Italian fashion, up until the last minute we had no firm idea of how many people would be able to attend.
We arrived in good time, so that the girls had time to dress and prepare themselves.
Then, one by one our invited friends started to come through the door and it soon became apparent that there was going to be a good turnout for the evening’s entertainment. This resulted in augmenting the girls’ pre-performance nerves, which were already running somewhat high.
The girls looked absolutely stunning as they elegantly swished their way onto the dance floor.
Their glamorous costumes were richly bejewelled with sequins, glass beads and jingling coins.
Each had taken great care in putting together their exotic, eye-catching ensembles.
Sylvia dressed in rich purple …..
Karen dressed in vivid scarlet …..
and Elsie in opulent black and gold …..
As the rhythmic music began the girls began to gracefully undulate and gyrate, whirling and twirling, with a shimmy or two of the hips. Their elegant flowing movements were seemingly effortless.
The audience was totally captivated by their magnificent performance.
Especially Massimo !!!
Later members of the audience were invited onto the dance floor to try their hand at some of the typical moves. Some individuals turned out to be somewhat more competent than others, which resulted in much hilarity !!!
The evening proved to be a great success, and was enjoyed by all.
A big Thank You to the Belly-Dancing Girls from South Wales !!!
Two of our friends, Kay and Elsie, who are regular visitors to Tre Cancelle, volunteered to come and help us with this year’s olive harvest. Elsie also recruited two of her friends, Karen and Sylvia, who all belong to a popular Belly-Dancing group in South Wales.
Itri’s undulating hillsides are tinted with the silvery green foliage of olives trees, indeed Itri has been noted for the quality of its olives since Roman times.
The “Itrana” cultivar is exclusive to this specific area, thriving as a consequence of the unique environment, quality of the fertile soil, temperate micro –climate, sea breezes and fresh mountain air.
So for the last month the olive groves around Itri have been a hive of activity, with the cheery banter of workers laughing and jesting whilst preparing for the olive harvest, strimming grass and weeds and trimming and burning suckers. Little “apes” (pronounced Ah-Pays, which translated literally mean “bees”) – small three wheeler vans noisily buzz and rattle along the local lanes, sometimes with a husband and generously proportioned wife cosily crammed inside the tiny driving cab.
By November many of the olives have grown round and plump and are gradually turning from bright green to dappled pink. Those harvested in November / December produce the much sought after “Early Harvest” Extra Virgin Olive Oil and / or Green Table Olives.
Other farmers prefer to harvested their olives when they are fully ripe, during February / March, to produce the “Mature Harvest Extra Virgin Oil and / or Purple / Black Table Olives.
After the well received comments from our last years November oil, we elected to harvest our olives early in the season, which whilst it produces less in volume, yields a wonderfully green and intense olive oil.
The weather seemed to be in our favour being set fair for most of the week. The “Welsh Girls” were keen to get stuck in.
We started by carefully spreading out nets around some of the trees on the first terrace to be worked. Paul fired up the compressor to which can be fitted a variety of pneumatic tools, in this case a mechanical rake on a 4 meter telescopic pole, which is used to comb and vibrate the laden branches, causing the olives to cascade onto the nets below.
Some of the trees had grown very tall, and required pruning back, so Paul climbed up a ladder, and with his trusty chain saw, and lopped off the tops to a more manageable height of 4 meters, thus allowing the olives to be easily harvested at ground level.
This is done by hand either by using small rakes or by gently running one’s fingers over the fronds, popping of the colourful fruits, a task I find enormously satisfying.
Inevitably the odd stray olive manages to bounce off the net so we scrambled about under the trees collecting these up.
The nets were then carefully gathered up and the olives rolled to one edge, where stray twigs and leaves are pulled out before pouring the olives into the waiting plastic crates. The huge nets were then lugged to the next batch of trees to be harvested.
Ideally the olives need to be processed within 48 hours of being harvested, to preserve the very best of their natural characteristics.
The minimum batch size to take to the olive mill is 200 kilos, or 2 quintale, to ensure that your olives are processed in a single lot, and that you retrieve your own oil at the end of the process, and that it is not a mixed with someone else’s olives. We think this is very important because by choice we do not use pesticides and herbicides whereas some other producers are not so ecologically minded.
Therefore, in general we tend to work two days on and one day off. Our team of volunteers worked well and following the first 2 day harvest we were able to take 209 kilos of olives to the mill.
The following day the “Welsh Girls” deserved a well earned day off.
Here at Tre Cancelle our Farmhouse and Olive Groves are immersed in the greenery of the Italian countryside. Just behind us stands Monte Marano, which reaches a height of 516 metres.
We are so lucky to be surrounded by abundant wildlife including many species of song birds as well as Kestrels, Hawks, Buzzards and Owls.
Our favourite is our Hoopoe who visits every year and calls out its calming, reassuring and steady “Hoop-Hoop-Hoop” from the top of our tall pine tree. He is a very fine bird, quite large in size with a long slightly curved bill, a pinkish-fawn head and breast, an impressive crest and black and white striped wings.
We also have other regular visitors such as wild boar, porcupines, foxes, hares, and stone martens.
Indeed, this area of South Lazio is so rich in Natural Beauty – It is blessed with the best of many worlds:
The nearby Coastline with its sandy beaches, rocky crags and coves, hidden caves and sheltered harbours …
Yet closeby here in Itri we have the dramatic Aurunci Mountains and their Protected Natural Park. Much of the rock is limestone, and the scenery is ever changing as the mountains spectacularly tumble down to meet the sea.
Also locally there are several more wonderful Protected Natural Reserves to explore:
Sperlonga has the Roman Ruins of the Villa and Grotto di Tiberio and Coastal Path
Fondi has the Ausoni Mountains and 3 Coastal Lakes with dunes which form a peaceful natural haven for diverse wildlife.
In Gaeta is the Parco di Monte Orlando which has dramatic rocky crags and cliffs overlooking the beautiful Gulf Of Gaeta.
In Scauri is the Parco Suburbano di Gianola e Monte di Scauri
In San Felice Circeo there’s the extensive and varied Parco Nazionale Del Circeo
There are also stretches of beautiful coastline which have been designated as Marine Natural Park, collectively known as the Oasi Blu, which is maintained by the World Wildlife Fund WWF, that ensures optimum water quality providing an ideal environment for an extensive variety of marine life. Therefore these areas are popular with scuba divers.
All of these nature reserves are an absolute paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers, providing tranquil habitats for numerous animal species, particularly a wide range of bird life ranging from birds of prey, to sea and water fowl.
All the parks have well signposted hiking trails which traverse wonderful varied terrain, providing magnificent vistas and panoramas of the mountains, coastline and nearby islands. There are also routes suitable for mountain biking. We have a selection of useful maps and local guide books.
So all in all Tre Cancelle
is an excellent base for discovering and exploring
the boundless natural beauty of South Lazio.
Perfect for True Lovers of Wildlife and Nature.
Come and see for yourself !!!
At the end of August we were delighted to have our younger son Ben, his “other half” Emma and “Baby Bump” to stay. They are expecting a little arrival at the end of November and were both much in need of a relaxing holiday. This was to be Emma’s first trip to Italy.
Although their stay here was all too brief, Ben and Emma managed to fit in ….. a couple of days at the beach …..
some local sight-seeing (Sperlonga) …..
and a day in Rome.
We were all kindly invited to our friends, Luca and Loredana’s home, for a special meal to celebrate Luca’s 50th Birthday. Buon Compleanno Luca !!!
By the way -such a landmark birthday is shortly looming for
Paul this October !!!
One day we were also invited to San Donato and Atina in the Val di Comino and enjoyed another delicious meal with our Italian cousins.
Emma is a very passionate and creative cook and during her stay, delighted in preparing some srumptious food for us all.
Please come back soon Emma !!!
“Papa Woods” and Emma are about to move into their new home together in Cardiff, in time to get settled before the little addition to their family arrives.
We wish them all lots of love and all the very best in their new home.
One Saturday evening, we received a phone call from one of our friends in Itri, asking: “What time our local road was going to be closed tomorrow?”. This was the first we had heard of it, but we were soon to learn that, on Sunday, our normally quiet little lane was to be transformed into a race track . Evidently the local residents had been given little or no prior warning of what was due to take place, a car rally on their doorsteps. This is Italy !!!
Come to think of it, we had noticed an increase in noisy traffic that day, presumably as some contestants had been familiarising themselves with the route.
This 3 day event over 11-12-13 of June 2010, was the very first Gaeta Rally which consisted of various trials and heats over different course routes: http://www.rallygaeta.it/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3
The finishing line of the Sunday race was to be located down by Itri Cemetery.
So, not quite knowing what to expect, the following day, we braced ourselves for the off. In the morning, a marshal, dressed in a high visibility jacket arrived on the stretch of road outside our house and on the sharp bend proceeded to put up a “safety barrier” consisting of a reel of red and white striped plastic tape, tied between the olive trees up the side of the road.
A blue and white Polizia car then drove around the course with siren sounding loudly, followed by the official marshal car with its yellow light flashing.
Before very long we were to hear the screeching of tyres and the revving, roaring and intermittent loud backfiring of highly tuned internal combustion engines reverberating around the valley.
We must admit it was somewhat exciting to watch, but the dogs, poor things, were in totally awe of the proceedings.
This mayhem continued intermittently all day, with only a 45 minute pasta break at lunchtime.
By 7 pm we felt we had had quite enough excitement for one day, and we were more than glad to revert to the normal peace and quiet of the Italian countryside.
During August we had the pleasure of having a lovely French family to stay with us. We soon learned that their summer holiday was booked to coincide with a family wedding that was to take place in this beautiful area of South Lazio. The bride’s family originated from the small town of Casalvieri, which is very close to Atina, the birthplace of my Italian grandparents, in the beautiful Val di Comino. The wedding was to be held at the Abbey of Casamari in Frosinone, which is located between the towns of Frosinone and Sora, close to Isola del Liri, with its beautiful waterfall.
We expressed interest about the wedding, and asked if we could tag along to observe the celebrations.
Thus, on the day of the wedding, Paul and I drove to Casamari. We purposely arrived early so that we had plenty of time to explore the ancient abbey, which is still a functioning monastery housing approximately twenty monks.
The Cistercian monastery dates back to the 13th century and is dedicated to Santa Maria, San Giovanni and San Paolo. It is noted as being a fine example of early-Gothic architecture, similar to that found at the Abbey of Fossanova, near Priverno.
The church has an elegant nave with clean simple lines and a vaulted ceiling. Despite its simplicity there are some examples of beautiful intricately carved stonework ….
… and some wonderfully ornate bronze doors.
Interestingly many of the windows, instead of being made of stained glass, are glazed with translucent slices of agate alabaster which give the majestic building a golden amber glow.
The main altar is of an ornate Baroque style, and was beautifully decorated for the wedding with exquisite arrangements of white roses.
We also explored the outside of the Abbey, the courtyard and gardens.
The tranquil Cloister and covered walkway has an ancient well as its centrepiece and the flowerbeds were planted with stunning scarlet salvias.
Before long the wedding guests began to arrive and the ceremony to celebrate the couple’s union got underway.
What a splendid location for a fairy tale wedding.
We wish the radiant couple much love and happiness and many splendid years together.
Our special friends : La Famille Filatriau: Regis, Domenique, Solenn and Tatiana
One morning, in amongst the normal chatter of the birds and chirping of the ciacadas, we could hear voices coming from down the hill, and recognised that they were different from those of the normal olive workers trimming their trees. Very soon it became obvious that the noise was coming from one of our neighbours who has a tiny country villetta on a corner of land adjoining ours. The whole family had gathered for the annual ritual of making tomato passata. Being curious we wandered down to check out what was going on.
We were warmly greeted by the family, all three generations, who were working on the terrace, under the shady pergola of the grape vines.
They were keen to show us the preparations and procedures of the task in hand. We learned that they had ordered and taken delivery of 350 kilos, or three and half quintale, of fresh ripe plum tomatoes.
To make the passata, batches of the tomatoes were first chopped into quarters.
These were added to a large saucepan and cooked for a short time over a wood fire until the tomatoes began to soften and the skins loosened.
Next they were passed through a special type of mincer or masher which separates the pulp from the skins and seeds.
Using a funnel the tomato mixture was then carefully poured into an array of clean beer bottles that had been carefully gathered by the family throughout the year. Then, there was another device for fitting crown caps to all the bottles to seal and make them air-tight. The bottles were than stacked in beer crates.
We walked down into the lower section of their olive grow where the men folk were busy preparing three large empty oil drums, which had been placed on metal frames to allow a large wood fire to be set underneath. In the bottom of each oil drum some old rags had been thrown, upon which the filled beer bottles, some 250 of them in total, we being arranged on their sides in layers, gradually filling up the drums.
A hose-pipe was then used to add water to a level to cover the top layer of bottles. A fire was then lit under the three barrels and the water slowly but steadily brought up to the boil. The passata bottles were then kept in the boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, and then removed and left to cool.
Meanwhile some of the women folk were busy chopping yet more tomatoes into quarters, which were then being placed into large wide-necked jars, which were to be sealed and boiled in a large container of water in a similar fashion to the passata.
These ancient methods of preserving capture the very essence of summer, allowing tastes and aromas to be released in the darker winter months when the delights of fresh grown juicy tomatoes are a distant memory ….. well until the next summer.
Later that day we were the very happy recipients of three bottles of lovely homemade preserved passata, still warm to the touch, and ready for storage.
Well, we have had a busy summer here in Itri, and a very hot one, with temperatures getting up to around 40 degrees C during July. We had a second heat-wave towards the end of August, which zapped our strength.
We have welcomed some lovely guests from all around the globe, from the USA, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Serbia, England and Scotland in the UK. Consequently we have had the great pleasure of making some very special new friends. Here are just a few:
Our first guests from Russia were Marina and Andrei, who kindly presented us with a calendar of their home city of St Petersburg, together with a bottle of rather special Russian Vodka. They absolutely loved Sperlonga and the little medieval hill top town of Campodimele.
Paul was delighted when an ex-work colleague, Martyn from Bristol, paid us a surprise visit en route for a week’s holiday with a group of friends in Sorrento. Martyn seemed very taken by the beautiful area that we are so lucky to live in.
The abandoned puppies that we took on, as you can see, have continued to grow well and have benefited from lots of love and attention from all our visitors.