Friday, September 13, 2013

Assisi in December ~ The Magical Hours Begin ...

It was December 7th when I arrived in Assisi on the train from Rome. I would miss the tree lighting at the Spanish Steps that evening but was I making it to Assisi just in time for La Madonna that night! 

I caught the little bus at the train station that takes you up the hill to Assisi. This time I got off the bus up at the highest stop so I could roll my suitcase down hill. I'd learned my lesson on the first trip!

The air was crisp and cool, like when you head to the mountains to go skiing. It was afternoon, maybe around 3 o'clock, and I could see my breath. There was snow on the distant mountains. It was beautiful and maybe in the low 30s.

I rolled my suitcase and carry-on past residences with little Christmas lights and decorations until I got to my little hotel. Of course, there were stairs up to the lobby and I felt kind of ridiculous with my enormous rolling bag. I also felt like I needed to explain to everyone that I was going to be gone for quite a long time in order to justify my haul! And hello, of course I want to look cute in Italy!

I'd hoped that Anne Robichaud was going to be around. She's an American who's an official guide in Umbria and has lived for decades in Assisi. Anyway, she was out of the country but hooked me up with some folks who would also be in town at that time.

Chris was a writer Anne knew from Australia, who'd been staying in Assisi. Chris and I  were going to meet up, along with a couple (Nancy and Ben) from Minnesota. As the text says, we were to meet at 4:45 at a little cafe on the main Piazza for the La Madonna bonfire. More on that in a minute.

After getting my suitcase up the stairs, and checking in at the Hotel Palotta, I dragged my suitcase up another set of stairs to my room. Now I was sweating bullets in my mom's heavy cashmere sweater and wool coat.

The window in my room was a little high for me to see out but stepping on the ledge, in front of the little heater, this was the view! That church you see is the Basilica of Santa Chiara. 

The man at the hotel (one of the family members that run it) said it might snow on Sunday (my birthday) but everyone else said that wouldn't happen in December.

I was anxious to go down to Piazza del Commune to see the Christmas Festa booths. Anne had sent an email with a whole itinerary of things that would be happening all weekend long and I was beside myself. So excited.

Any sort of melancholy that I'd had in Rome, with all the rain and visuals of poor tortured martyrs, completely evaporated as I'd walked down into Assisi. 

Now I was was so excited I could hardly contain myself! I threw on tights, winter silks long johns and my warmest lined wool pants. We were going to be walking up to the top of the hill town, to the Rocca Maggiore, and it can get downright blustery up there!

After bundling up I headed to the piazza. As I'm writing this, my eyes are welling up. It was so magical and Christmasy and Assisi was as wonderful as I had remembered it! Even more so.

The Assisians are smart. They put all the fun crafty stuff in a huge tent. Then they blow very warm air into it with huge heaters that thaw everyone out! 

And music was playing ... Christmas music. As in Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Christmas music!

There were hundreds of handmade ornaments, soaps, knitted scarves, carved wooden kitchen utensils ... all kinds of wonderful goodies!

After doing a big "once around" the tent, I found this ...

Hot mulled wine, People!
Perfetto! I love how the Italians think!

I asked how much and they shook there heads no. It was complementary, you see (but you can give a donation, which I did). 

Here I am toasting the town. The light blur, on the right, is the tent. 


It was starting to get darker but still not 4:45. I had some time to do a little more photographing and enjoying of the lights before meeting up with the gang.

The building to the right of the big bell tower, below, is Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which had been a Roman Temple. You can see the tops of the Roman columns.

I met up with Ben and Nancy from Minnesota and Edna, a flight attendant from Chicago, originally from South America. Edna had rented an adorable studio just above the piazza where she stays these days when she has breaks from her job!

Anyway, we all headed up the hill to the Rocca Maggiore.

Every year, men from the forestry service build a huge bon fire up at the top of town, at the castle fortress. It is to light the way for La Madonna, as she passes over. Apparently, she drops off gifts to good kids. 

It seems kids must have it pretty good in Assisi. They get gifts from la Madonna on the 7th (the night before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) from Babbo Natale (Santa) on Christmas and la Befana showing up on Epiphany, January 6th! 

As you can see in the photo above, it's quite a ways up hill! It also turned out to be quite windy, just as I had expected. In fact, I was having trouble holding my camera still enough to take a shot down the hill toward Santa Chiara so it's pretty blurry!

The Bonfire just getting going ...

And look! A tent where they were handing out roasted chestnuts and more hot mulled wine!!! Woohooo!!! I sound like a wino but I'm telling you it was quite chilly (low 20s)! With the wind the wine was a lovely hand warmer!

We were all comparing notes on how many layers we had on and even the Minnesotans were cold! That tells you something!  ;)

Ben took this of me and by the looks of my cup I was in need of more ... warmth!

Ben and Nancy, below, taken with Ben's camera ...

And below, you see how big the bonfire started to get! 

Nancy and I, with Edna in the middle! Thanks for taking this photo Ben!!

Below, the Bonfire with the Rocca Maggiore in the background.

The Castle Fortress was knocked down and rebuilt over the years. In fact, the people of Assisi plundered it in 1189 and in 1367. A cardinal had it rebuilt but there has been some sort of fortification up there since the Roman times.

My first trip to Assisi I went in there by myself and went through the low, dark tunnels alone! Hardly anyone was around!

The smoke seemed to enjoy following us around the bon fire and eventually hot soup beckoned! Below, the shot was taken walking down past my little hotel and down to dinner.

Though Anne (the American tour guide, who lives in Assisi) couldn't be there she'd asked us by email (before the trip) if we'd all like to have a dinner of warm soup and chestnuts. It would be at Franca's restaurant, La Fontanella, after the Bonfire. 

We were all set! We got there and it was like being in someone's home! During the off season, you just let Franca know ahead of time that you will be coming, and she'll make dinner for you! It was just our little posse, that night.

Edna at La Fontanella ... photo by Ben 

Franca's kitties ...

Chestnuts roasting ...

Edna ...

Ben ...

Nancy ...

Photo by Ben ...

I think the soup was barley. I'll have to ask because it was amazing. You can see the toasted bread in it, with parmigiano and the most incredible olive oil drizzled over the top. Oh my word ... It was the best soup I have ever eaten in my life!

On this night, it is tradition to have new olive oil and new wine. At least, I think that's what the deal was. We had quite a bit of that new wine, so don't quote me on that!

Mmmm potatoes ... I think there must have been lemon on them or something. It was all so warm and yummy. Italian comfort food!

Chestnuts and more wine ...

I really don't mean to torture you, but I have to share dessert. 

Franca's out of this world Tiramisu ... mmmm

We sat and talked for quite some time. I can't even tell you what about but I remember the feeling. It was all wonderful and such a lovely evening with these lovely beautiful humans.
I got so into the moment that night that the photography fell off. 

I had a cooking lesson with Franca, a few days later, as a birthday gift from my sister Penny. Plus, I ate there again with more new friends the night before I left! So basically I ate there 3 out of my 6 nights in Assisi! More photos of that in later posts.

The next day, after the bonfire, the magic continued on through the weekend and my birthday. I mean, it's always wonderful there but you will see ... all the magic. 

It really felt like the world, for a time, was sprinkled with fairy dust.


For more about Franca and La Fontanella, click here.
The address is ...
Via Bernardo da Quintavalle 7
06081 Assisi, Italy 
Anne Robichaud, Umbrian guide extraordinaire, click here.
History of the Rocca Maggiore here  

It would seem that the following video has nothing do with Italy but ... It really was Magic there!!!  So, it is perfect.  

Everything is actually magical
When you see it with your heart
~via Alice

Blessing and light!
And a whole lot of magic to come!


Unknown said...

Lucinda ti ringrazio tantissimo, sono delle bellissime foto e tu, da artista e persona sensibile, hai veramente colto l'atmosfera della Fontanella. Torna poresto, un bacio

Candy said...

Lucinda, you really make me want to hop on a plane in December, even though the idea of it being so cold that Minnesotans were cold scares me:)

Isn't Doris Day great?

Loree said...

I think I would b e perfectly happy if I lived in a place like Assisi. I've been longing to visit the place for ages. Maybe soon...

Loree said...

I think I would b e perfectly happy if I lived in a place like Assisi. I've been longing to visit the place for ages. Maybe soon...

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

This has to be one of the best on-line visual tours I've been on, beautiful one! I could stay up all night wandering the lit-up streets, imagining the centuries of wanderers before me, the artisans that built these fabulous stone structures, smell the smells (ROASTED CHESTNUTS!) and just continue on the journey. What great pictures and the food...oh dear, THAT SOUP!

Thank you. And thank you for coming to visit; I will continue to post, but my schedule needs much adjusting these days, but I never want to leave blogging because behind every blog post, there is a person just like me who simply wants to communicate.

BE WELL!! Anita

donna baker said...

Lucinda, I've been waiting for these Assisi posts and it has been wonderful (you know, as in I live vicariously through you).

Tito said...

Hi Lucinda, complimenti e grazie per questo tuo fantastico reportage su Assisi. Le foto sono splendide e danno pefettamente l'idea della magica atmosfera che si respira in quei giorni pre-natalizi. Un lavoro eccezionale! Ciao!

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Magical indeed! Obviously the night rooted itself deep inside you from your beautiful descriptions. Thanks for the tour and thanks for making me crave some of that home made zoupa!

isabella kramer - veredit said...

Oh, this was such a beautiful story with amazing and very moody images!!

Thanks for sharing this amazing memories with us. That's really La Dolce Vita!!

un abbraccio

Anonymous said...

How wonderful Lucinda.

Anonymous said...

How wonderful Lucinda.

Cobalt Violet said...

Thank you all so much for coming by and leaving comments! Happy to share one of my favorite places on the planet with you!!!

jmac said...

OMG!!! cannot believe this!! I stayed in Anne's apt for a month while I was there in Oct. '12. and it's right around the corner from Franca's and I ate there so many times I don't know the count! Spent many many days with her at LaFontanella!! This is so crazy that I've run across your blog from abbey style home...
I even smiled when I saw the glasses at Francas that you had your wine in....I had many many of those too!!!
and her cats....aren't they precious??!! can't wait to read more!