Fam-Tastic Holidays

“The best part about our vacation? The time we had with each other. It’s tricky to get everyone together since we don’t live in the same city anymore, and Rocca di Benano was the perfect place for a reunion. It’s a little sad that we have to go across the ocean for such uninterrupted family time, but we can’t wait to do it again.”

A guest wrote this about their summer vacation at Rocca di Benano, but our villa is a special place for reunions at the holidays, too. I’m speaking here from recent experience. Paul and I had a wonderful reunion with old friends over New Years this year.

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IMG_3433We planned our holiday around the Umbria Jazz Festival, which comes to Orvieto every year between Christmas and the New Year. I had heard about it for years, but this was our first chance to experience it.

And what an experience it was! The streets of Orvieto, which are alluring under ordinary circumstances, come alive for the five days and nights of the festival. There are pop-up stores, Christmas trees, and little white lights and illuminated stars strung over cobblestoned streets. And there’s the music.

I know what you’re thinking: December and January!? What’s the weather like?

It was fine, and here’s what meteorological history tells us. Pretty good! Still don’t believe me, or even the meteorologists? Then take it from guests who celebrated New Years in Benano several years ago. Their story is here.

So the weather is nice, but the real draw is the jazz. If you’re a serious music fan, you can find the schedule online and plan your visits around favorite artists, concerts held in historic buildings, or special jazz dinners organized in some of the finer restaurants in town.

You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado, though. Just being there is experience aplenty. The music and its lively energy permeate everything. When a door to a crowded bar opens to the street, music from a small combo playing inside might waft out into the brisk night air. Best of all, there are regularly scheduled “funk-offs” in which a small band winds through a different part of town. Schedules are posted, so it’s easy to catch one.

Once the funk-off goes by, it’s practically impossible not to join the crowd and follow as they lead you, Pied Piper fashion, to a piazza where they will perform for another 15 or 20 minutes.

What a unforgettable way to ring in the New Year!

National “Girls’ Night Out”

Yesterday was “Festa Della Donna,” or Women’s Day.  Women are traditionally given mimosas, fragrant little yellow flowers.  It’s not a romantic gesture like a valentine.  For example, the director of the language school I’m attending gave each woman on his staff three (odd numbers are good luck in Italy) candy-coated almonds packaged with a small sprig of mimosa.  Women give mimosas to their girlfriends, too.  My class consists of three women, and our teacher brought mimosas for each of us.

The mimosas I received at dinner last night

But wait, there’s more!  It’s also traditional – or at least popular – for womenfolk to leave the men at home that night and go out for dinner together.  I had been planning a quiet evening of study last night, but when I heard about these parties, my plans changed in a flash.  Sure enough, the sleepy little restaurant I’ve been frequenting wasn’t so sleepy last night.  There were several large groups of women enjoying the sisterhood of friends.

But that’s not all they enjoy.  A few of these parties feature strippers.  This was all explained to me in Italian, but I think I got the story right.  Handsome men, some dressed as, say, police officers or firemen, will enter a restaurant filled with these tables of women of all ages and … don’t make me go on.  Apparently the restaurants arrange for the entertainment, but the men do accept tips.

I was offered directions to a restaurant in Orvieto Scalo that promised a cultural education I wouldn’t forget, but I chose to stay closer to home.  My sleepy little restaurant didn’t have any outside entertainment … I don’t think.  I wasn’t the last one to leave, so who am I to say what went on last night?

Signs of Life and Death

I was walking in Orvieto on my lunch hour-and-a-half (this is Italy!) when I saw this happy sign above a door.  The note attached to it proclaimed the baby boy’s name and date of birth.

On a sadder note, this is a photo of the Benano village gate with the death notice that was posted recently:

Death notice at Benano

Death notices like this are standard in Italy.  My Italian teacher told me that Orvieto has a prescribed place for posting such notices, and people will go and browse them, sort of like some of us browse the obituaries in the newspaper.  This death announcement includes what you would expect: the deceased person’s name, date of the death and funeral arrangements.  It also included her age. This woman was 97.

If the little boy just born in Orvieto lives as long as the woman from Benano who just passed away, he will live until 2107.

May it be so.