I must say that I love all of the seasons here in Italy, but autumn is dear to my heart just because it has so many different festivities it'll make your head spin. You could say that the celebrations go into overdrive with a sagra or festa for just about anything and absolutely everything. Bread, chestnuts, polenta, wine harvest, donkey races, porcino mushroom extravaganza, music, artists, food, and drink, and, food and, did I say food? Well, I believe you get the picture. Then the leaves start to turn and work their golden magic, so, why not get out and sample just as many as you can?
Our big town of Pinerolo, (population around 35,000 with the surrounding frazione/hamlets) which lies at the mouth of our valley has more than their fair share lined up in rapid succession. Each year it seems they just get better with each new edition of the festivities. Over the past month we have been able to enjoy 3 of Pinerolo's offerings. The "Mostra del'Artigianato" is a weekend of various artists displaying their work, with an emphasis on the woodcrafters.
Many of the artisans ply their trade with the more practical elements of woodcraft, adding elaborate decorative elements to the Italian doors that are so fascinating and found everywhere throughout Italy. Often even the most humble looking dwelling will have a distinctive door that just sets it apart and draws one in to admire the craftsmanship. This year the woodcrafters were lined up around the perimeter of the church in the center of the old part of town and busily working on their different chosen specialities.
Whimsical or serious, hand made wood carvings are a thing of wonder to me. I love the ability of someone who is able to bring a piece of wood to life. What a gift and opportunity to see that transformation occur before your eyes.
Sharing the same weekend as the artisans festival is a town favorite, "I Concorsi Ippici"or the Equestrian Event. This weekend is an international horse jumping competition with 34 countries represented this year.
Pinerolo was the home of the original Calvary before moving to Bologna about 10 years ago, and so has a long love of horses and tradition of equestrian training and competition. We have a wonderful Calvary museum in town that is free to the public. There is another weekend of national competition the following week, making for a lot of gorgeous horses and competitive jumping to enjoy.
Then our other favorite annual autumn festival is quite a unique and unusual event, and that would be the "La Maschera di Ferro", or the Man in the Iron Mask festival.
This annual recreation of the arrival of the mysterious "Man in the Iron Mask" starts on the first Saturday night of October with the famous musketeers bringing the masked man to town where he was imprisoned for 11 years before being moved on to another prison up the road in Exilles. This festive period celebration brings out all manner of people in period costumes and street performers carrying on what might have been a typical festival back in the day of his imprisonment, which was 1669. You can find out some of the history in this Wikipedia entry here. There is a great YouTube video but out by the local association for the festival here.
It is by far one of my favorite festivals. I love the costumes and activities that bring this period to life. The town really comes into its own at night with the campfires, torches, music, jugglers, flag throwers, and the marching corps with lords and ladies all parading around town in their finery, while the peasants roast chestnuts, cook up some stew, slice off juicy pieces of pork from a slow roasting pig on a spit and dance a jig or two.
The next day the festivities continue while everyone enjoys some of the games on offer and a chance to get a good look at the prisoner and try to guess his identity. They always have an Italian celebrity every year and unlike the real mysterious prisoner, the identity is revealed at the close of the festival Sunday afternoon and a collective gasp of surprise usually arises from the crowd.
It is a great time all weekend long, so you might want to consider making plans to come and visit us during this festival to feel like you've stepped back in time and privy to a mystery still unsolved to this day.
Last year during the festival we had the pleasure of hosting travel and educational film makers, Sid and Mary Lee Nolan, as our guests during this festival as they wanted to film the festival, to add some flavor to short film they are making about Italian wine regions. What a wonderful time we had showing them not only the festival but also our local treasures and introducing them to a few of our wine producers as they filmed away.
We enjoyed their many stories about their varied travels as they have been filming exotic location for over 35 years. Mary is a professor of geography and thought that filming many of the locations that she taught about would be not only interesting but a lot of fun as well as a means to travel to just about any location in the world you might or might not be interested in visiting. As one of our other guests remarked, "Every time they open their mouth, we're in a new country." They have produced an extensive selection of short, travel and geographic films and when they are not globe trotting or still busy teaching, they enjoy presenting their films to a wide range of audiences. They are always keen to find a new project that will launch them on to their next adventure. I can't say I don't blame them. You can find out more about them and sample some of the work on their site Academic Media Network / Globe Scope Travel Productions. I don't think they have finished their Italian wine regions project just yet, but when they do I will certainly put a post and update about it here when they do.
You can read about previous Maschera di Ferro celebrations here. You can follow us around last year when we brought them around to a few of our favorite places and introduced them to some of our wine makers in my post, Vendemmia in Val Chisone.