Puttering up the winding mountain road today on the vespa, we stopped at breathtaking vistas from the top of Monti di Villa overlooking the valley between the Appenines and the great craggy mounts of the Apuans. We were in those craggy mountains yesterday on our way to Carrara to partake in a cultural evening with accomplished pianist, Shigei Hirosawa, at a lovely manicured B&B and gallery, Ars Apua, owned by a Japanese lady. It was a beautiful balmy night on a terrace overlooking the marble quarries, nibbling on sushi and sipping earthy red wine amongst lots of artists and cultural aficionados. We took the journey there over the pass from Castlenuovo to Carrara. It is a very windy road but the views are spectacular with the old quarries piercing the rough hostile peaks. Trucks still rattle up and down the mountain with their great loads of marble so we prefer to go on a weekend or holiday as their formidable presence on these narrow steep roads are scary.
But today we are at the Festa of the Donna at the isolated mountain church of Sant’ Anna, nestling between Monti di Villa and Montefegatesi. Three hundred years this festival has been running and it was nearly overturned by a car rally. Amazing. Last year the locals had to forego the Festa because the rally was on the evening before. Every year, this rally is a really horrible night, though probably not for all the locals because they are out in the wee hours of morning barracking their favourite teams onward. Yet all night from midnight, the screaming of cars rend the air till morning, the skidding tyres cutting up the roads, rubbish and toilets left everywhere. Few people gain from it, the commune least of all, as they are left with the debris to clean up and the roads to patch with no remuneration. At this year’s rally, there was a tragic accident on the other side of the Serchio valley, on the road below Pieve di Brancoli, killing two people. Whether the deaths had anything to do with it or not, we heard today that the Bagni di Lucca commune will no longer support the rally in these mountains, a cause for celebration as it ensures the ongoing festa and the continuing peace and beauty of the mountains.
The festa is celebrated annually with the local communities getting together for mass and lunch. Everyone sits al fresco in the mountain air under the old chestnuts. It is a lovely hotch potch of shade cloth draped through the trees sheltering long tables and benches, children running up and down the terraces in the chestnut groves, pelting each other with their prickly chestnut finds, dogs under the tables nudging for scraps. Little tables and chairs are perched precariously up on the terraces surrounding the church and cars are parked closely on the narrow road either side of the annexe of flatter land surrounding the church. Today’s feast of tortellini and ragu, roast beef and potatoes and fresh tomatoes, fruit for desert, is washed down with a bottle of local red wine and water and coffee. Our Sylvana from Pieve dei Monti di Villa, is part of the team of volunteers who make the food for the day and spend hours serving us from the makeshift kitchen behind the church. The rest of us, maybe 100 – 150 people, indulge in the sweet ambience of company and laughter and warm summer heat, our damp faces aglow, all of us with friends or new friends of the day. Before we leave we are urged to buy raffle tickets and something from the little shop set up at the front of the church with handmade things for sale in aid of the orphans in India. Una Bella Vita!