It was in August that I moved to Sicily. 12 August 2011, to be precise. So it looks like I’ve got a two-year anniversary coming up. Mind you, in the way of all relationships, there are various points from which you can start counting the time. The 12th of August was when I arrived in Siracusa with a few bags and a couple of nights booked in a hostel. On the 14th I hopped over to Taormina to enrol on a language course and started sending out job application letters. At the beginning of September I secured a job in Catania, and I moved into a permanent flat at the beginning of October. So I suppose you could say that Sicily and I started flirting at Ferragosto, got a bit more serious after the holiday romance was over, and decided to make things official a few weeks later. If only the rest of my relationships would run as smoothly.
Ferragosto here in Sicily is fun. For those outside Italy, it’s a national holiday on the 15th of August. However, it often extends out either side so that the whole of August ends up being (depending on your point of view) either a long holiday or a source of frustration when you can’t get anything done because everyone’s off sunning themselves at the seaside.
My ha’porth?: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
In fact, in Sicily businesses tend to remain open. Given that Sicily is where the people who live in the landlocked northern parts of Italy come on holiday, our shops carry on trading while the aforementioned landlocked ones close. It’s now, in the middle of July, that things are shut here in Catania. Or if not shut, being spruced up inside and out in preparation for the arrival of the tourists. My street yesterday was a hive of painting and decorating activity, and a few streets over all the windows had been ripped out of a local cafe to be replaced. Painters and decorators, it appears, are the same the world over: there may not have been wolf-whistles as there would have been in the UK, but there was plenty of pausing, mid-brushstroke and conversation, to scan passing women up and down with appreciative grins. It’s a wonder any work got done at all. Still, they’ve got two weeks before the crazy-mad influx of tourists begins, and a month until Ferragosto, so there’s time.
Ferragosto is a holiday that has its roots in many different traditions, In Ancient Roman times, the goddess Diana was worshipped on the 13th of August. Then along came the emperor Augustus, who decreed a break from after the festival of Diana to the end of the month, to celebrate the end of the harvest and to give workers a chance to relax.
After the Romans, the Catholic church appropriated the date to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It makes sense: Diana and Mary are both women venerated for their chaste fertility, although Diana (dare I say it) has a much sexier image. It’s the outdoorsy hunting-ness and skill with a bow and arrow that does it – so much more attractive than riding, heavily pregnant, on a donkey into Jerusalem.
The modern tradition of Ferragosto, in which everyone in Italy decamps to the sea, started in the 1920s, when Italy was under the grip of Fascism. Essentially, the regime organised mass train trips to the seaside or the mountains, and fares were slashed from the 13th to the 15th – so of course that’s when everyone went.
Train travel over Ferragosto nowadays is a pain in the bum, due to the fact that train drivers need holidays too. However the idea of heading to the sea over the national holiday persists, and this is how I’ve spent the last two years on the night of the 14th, running into the 15th – on the beach, swimming in the sea at midnight with friends. Because you can do that kind of thing here. We’re not in England now, Toto. And, for that, my sun-melted brain, gelato-filled stomach, and comical love life thank Ferragosto.
Here’s to many more years happily living la vita Siciliana.
The theme for this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable is August in Italy – don’t forget to check out the other ladies’ great posts as well:
- ArtTrav – August in Italy: chiuso per ferie
- At Home in Tuscany – On the Beach in Tuscany with your Dog
- Brigolante – Panzanella
- Italofile – August in Italy: the Things You’ll Need