“And a beautiful world we live in, when it is possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done-- done, see you!-- under that sky there, every day.”
When last we met I told you about the certain strange and not unpleasant sense of pride and belonging I felt while wandering along through the Sagra del Baccala in Tuscania. It was a singular feeling and one that was aided and perhaps only possible because I was alone, and was a wholly different experience. The Sagra degli Gnocchi, however, was a very different experience based on a few key points. Mostly, it was the presence of a very special Sagra Crew.
This is Martina and Giuliano, and they are perhaps the most professional Sagra team I could imagine, in the best possible way. They knew the entire system from start to finish (yes, there is a system!) and they had the inside scoop on the best sagre in the area. Plus, they're great fun and a really wonderful couple. Martina is a pastry chef and Mark's Italian tutor, and she is absolutely stellar at both. Giuliano owns a graphics and printing company in Tuscania and crispness of his wit could very nearly qualify him as British. They are a great couple.
But that was not all, friends!
That's right friends, do not adjust your screens and pay no attention to the blurriness of the shot but the elusive creature known as Mark-with-a-night-off was indeed spotted and positively identified at the Sagra degli Gnocchi! It was his first as part of the official Sagra Squad and indeed he picked a good one.
The Sagra degli Gnocchi in San Lorenzo Nuovo is well known around the region for being a great party and is one of the longer running Sagre around, with this years' being the 38th consecutive year. A festival that's been running since Jimmy Carter was president and my father had a giant mustache is as close to an institution as you'll find. As it also runs for nearly a week instead of the normal weekend long Sagra schedule, it is also chock full of musical guests.
We were in attendance for Carpineti and I would like to ask that if any of you happen to know Carpineti you please get him in touch with us because I think his story needs to be told. I'm also incredibly curious to know anything about Pamela, who must be quite an important performer to be given the Saturday night spot, especially on the sacred ferragosto night.
But importantly, onto the gnocchi!
A sagra of this size requires a substantial infrastructure, and the sagra degli gnocchi does not disappoint. Giuliano directed the operation, which began with the important order sheet that would determine our fate.
Once the order sheet was filled (and after an important debate about whether or not one order of potatoes would be enough), we got on the line. In a system such as this, one pays first for the order and then receives tickets for each respective dish. While it does eliminate the impulse buy at the end of the process, it is an infinitely more organized way of managing this many people.
And let's be quite clear: there was an impressive number of people on what must have been one of the Sagra's slower nights (apologies to you, Carpineti). People clustered around the main square in tables or in standing groups and there were throngs engaged in what I realize is the traditional Sagra dance, the waltz. It was by far the most populated Sagra that I have seen thus far, and the very scale of it made it feel like an entirely different experience.
I admit that the Sagra has seemed to me at times to be a quaint sort of relic of a bygone era; I have been reminded of holidays we used to take to Southern California to visit our grandparents and the community potluck dinners they often had, or the senior center where my grandmother volunteered to deliver Meals on Wheels while my grandfather played bridge. But it is much more than this, much more indeed and a thing which we have lost in many other places: it is a thing that brings people together and it is safe, and familiar, and its fun. And sometimes that's all you need.
Oh right, and there's GNOCCHI.
You guys, let's talk about the gnocchi. Made from local potatoes, we took the full selection of flavours: ragu, pesto, butter and sage, and vodka sauce (yes New York friends take heart- vodka sauce does indeed exist here). Because of my pork problem I could only eat the butter/sage and pesto iterations but I confirm that they were excellent and well worth the trip. The pesto was particularly nice, and even those who had eaten the ragu/vodka versions were in agreement.
However of particular note were the fried potatoes, which Giuliano rightly insisted were worth the not inconsiderable wait for them to be fried to order.
And so to the strains of Carpineti and the succulent pesto gnocchi, we all enjoyed the very best type of sagra there is; a big loud one full of tasty food. As we drove back to Tuscania from San Lorenzo Nuovo, getting sidetracked by the many narrow lanes that wrap around Lake Bolsena, I thought about the different Sagre I had seen thus far and about my own experiences in them. I think Sagre really are best enjoyed in groups and there really is something to be said about finding yourself in a town that you may not have seen otherwise in order to take part in this communal feasting. But there is something to be said about swimming in the multitudes alone, and getting a bit lost in the midst of this timeless moment where even the smallest town will open its gates to any and everyone.
The best of times, indeed.