Days of Celebration in Small-town Umbria — Page 2
By Debi Goodwin



As much as I could, I took part in the festival's activities. The local restaurants served dinners of several courses at a premium price. But temporary taverns run by volunteers served meals with local ingredients for fifteen euros. At least that what's their signs seemed to suggest. I decided this would be a good way to sample regional cuisine and chose a tavern set up in yet another church.

Montone festival

A Trial in Italian Hill Town Food Ordering

I could read enough Italian to know I had to pick my table first, then line up with the table number to order my food which would be delivered there. Couples and families left someone behind to save a table but since I was alone, I picked a table in an empty back room and unfolded a brochure like a placemat on one table.

Tying to order food from the Italian menu was harder. This was not a tourist menu with familiar Italian food. But I picked items that had at least one word I knew. I chose some sort of antipasto that I knew had a tomato bruschetta, some kind of cheese and some kind of meat. I ordered the polenta with mushroom sauce and because I couldn't figure out which of the tagliatelle wasn't smothered in boar meat, I ordered torta formaggio thinking it would be somewhat like a slice of quiche. Then I ordered the one side dish that had verdure, or vegetable, in its description. When it came time to pay, I was asked for nineteen euros because I'd ordered extra. Since I didn't know which item was the extra one, and the line behind me was long, I paid. It was only when I examined the sign more closely that I realized I was to pick from two categories for the fifteen euros.

Montone festival band

When I returned to my table, it had been taken over by children; a pink jacket rested on top of my brochure. The table next to it was filled with more children and adults. My near non-existent Italian became totally non-existent as I stood by the spot and waved me arms to indicate I had to wait there for my food. When a skinny older man who was the waiter arrived, he seemed to understand the problem and pointed me to a table at the back of the room where he brought me wine and course after course.

I had ordered too much food; the antipasto plate would have served four, filled as it was slice upon slice of what I'm sure were artisanal salamis. The torta formaggio turned out to be dry slices of cheese inside a sort of pita quarter. I only learned later that torta bianca was a speciality flat bread from the town. Luckily, that course came in a bag, so I could take it to go.

On the way out, the man who'd been my waiter stopped me, "Va bene?" he asked, perhaps sensing my confusion. "It was okay?"

"Va bene," I said, smiling. It wasn't his fault that I'd had little idea what I'd been ordering and little taste for the gamey specialities.

Festival Culture and Memories

Montone festival prizes and games

I had better luck with the cultural activities on the program. One night the beautiful Church of San Francesco was taken over by a Tibetan musician who used the vibration of Tibetan instruments to encourage deep meditation. I sat with my eyes closed in the cool open space of an ancient church and when the musician hit a bell right by my ear, I felt like new synapses were forming in my brain.

The next night the same church became a venue for a Vivaldi concert by a music school. It was fun to watch the excited students, all dressed up, play The Four Seasons on their stringed instruments with their confident and showy instructor. As I walked back to my apartment through the throngs crowding the main square, I stopped by a clothing shop where an older musician was entertaining even older residents. The participants were all encouraging one elderly woman to remember each tune and try to sing along. Her beaming face told the story of the joy of remembering songs from her youth. When they saw me stop to take a picture, they all encouraged me to join in.

rooftops of Montone, Umbria in Italy

But by the last day of the four-day festival, I found myself leaving the village to wander again in the quiet countryside. And on the day after, it seemed residents were glad for it to end. The street cleaners quickly returned the cobblestones of the laneways to a pristine shine. Wares were packed in trucks; garage doors shut tight; stalls disassembled. Laundry once again hung from windows. And in the evening, locals gathered at the café for an Aperol spritz or a glass of wine, and women stopped each other in the street, perhaps to talk about the glory days of the festival or their relief at the return to calm.


Debi Goodwin is the author of the non-fiction book, Citizens of Nowhere. Her memoir on grief and gardening, A Victory Garden for Trying Times, will be published by Dundurn Press in Canada in September of 2019.

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Related Features:
The Truffle Hunt in Umbria - Susan Van Allen
A Hedgehog Hospital in Italian Wine Country - Claudia Flisi
Get Me to a Nunnery in Rome - Susan Van Allen
On Beauty and Foie Gras in Southwestern France - Beebe Bahrami


See other Europe travel stories from the archives


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