By tradition the World’s Largest Christmas Tree is lit each year on 7th of December and, as with many, we are in town to party. Since 1981 Monte Ingino the hill above our beautiful medieval town of Gubbio is illuminated by over five hundred huge coloured lights.
A team of volunteers start work early October. To erect the 650 metre high tree the guys lay over eight and a half kilometres of electric cable. It is a monumental task. So it merits only the most important people to be given the honour of turning the switch, lighting the tree and initiating a splendid firework display. Just some given the honour in past years are the President of the Republic and the Pope. This year the honour was given to the pilots of the “Frecce Tricolori” Italy’s Airforce formation flyers.
Waiting for the captain to press the switch we congregate in main piazza, witness flag throwing, pageantry, and speeches. Italy and Gubbio certainly know how to throw a great party. A torch-lit procession wends its way down the dark hill from the basilica of S Ubaldo seen in the top of the photo below. The city wall through which the procession passes is seen brightly lit on the right.
Passing by the Palazzo dei Consoli seen illuminated in the photo below the procession arrives with a fanfare in the piazza to be greeted by the ‘Sindaco’ or mayor.
This is the signal for the Captain of the “Frecce Tricolori” to hit the button and eureka! the dark hillside is now a multi coloured display of the World’s Largest Christmas Tree radiates over the medieval town.
The light sponsored for you readers, guests, and friends of Bellaugello Gay Guest House is right in the centre 🙂
Maybe for once I should be thanking global warming (did I really write that!?) but this unseasonally glorious weather made an excuse to take an away day. These days are warm and sunny. Early morning mist clears to reveal clear blue skies, the colours are magical. What better to leave off raking leaves and explore Umbria and head to Orvieto in the south east of Umbria. The town, like so many in Umbria is a gem, and it is also one of my real favourites.
The road to Orvieto takes the traveller south of Perugia following the course of the river Tiber. Passing by the hilltop town of Todi, voted in the 1980’s Condé Naste’s Top 100 places to live and itself worth a day visit, one peels off and takes the road following Lago di Cobarra. The twisty road along the artificial lake never ceases to amaze me. Because of the need to raise the road above the lake it hugs the shoreline and passes over curved bridges and through a series of short tunnels. The scenery is attractive in an artificial sort of way, and there are several lay-bys presumably meant as places to appreciate the view. I well remember driving this road in the 1980s and seeing many camper vans parked up, presumably tourists enjoying the scenery and peace. But, no, I have for long known these are not the reasons.
The camper vans are places of work. Unlike the road near Gubbio where ‘ladies’ stand by the roadside or sit in cars, at Lago di Cobarra the ‘ladies’ work openly in their camper vans. Clearly there is more money in this area. Passing this time, the vans without exception, looked shabby and unkempt. I guess business is bad. I’ve never understood why there are not ‘gentlemen of the night’, but there are not. It is just part of the Italian culture. I am not advocating this lifestyle, it saddens me and I find it weird to find it so evident in a Catholic country.
However I digress. In the time I have known Orvieto the opposite is true, it has seen a boom and rejuvenation. Approaching Orvieto the road passes by well tended vineyards and slowly winds its way up the volcanic tufa hill to the entrance to a stunning medieval town. We parked the car just off a piazza which has overtures of pompous 1930s architecture and headed off to explore. Our first stop is the hanging gardens. Entered through an imposing stone arch the views westwards are expansive. The gardens immediately giving a sense of calm and contentment.
A few paces away we bought tickets for the Pozzo di S Patrizio. This 53 metres deep well was constructed by Antonio di Sangallo the younger between 1527 and 1537 to ensure a good supply of water when the then Pope was in residence. A small circular building gives no idea of the architectural gem that awaits the visitor.
Entering through a digital turnstile you start the descent. There are two concentric staircases lit by seventy arched windows. It is ingenious. The double helix staircases allowed a constant flow of mules to descend and ascend with water, and these steps are the ones we follow.
We walked to the bottom and crossed the bridge to start the ascent. The ascent on the second staircase was, even for the unfit, surprisingly easy.
We stopped for the obligatory coffee in one of the many small bars that line the street heading uphill to the town centre we breathe in the atmosphere. Main streets are lined with alimentari, galleries, stylish design stores, artisan craft shops and a myriad of restaurants. Side streets are narrow, residential and even in early December flower filled. This town has a vibrant feel.
Our destination is the Duomo or cathedral, my favourite in Umbria. From the first glimpse the visitor has no concept of just how well it sits in its environment.
The elaborately carved and mosaic facade begins to reveal the magnificence of this building. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary work on the cathedral started in 1290 with work continuing until the twentieth century. The body of the cathedral is constructed in alternating layers of white travertine and black basalt. The golden facade attributed to Maitani was built between 1325 and 1330 with additions to 1590. Wow! it is breathtaking, a masterpiece. Three pointed gables top mosaics and intense carvings and bronze figures. The entire cathedral sits so well in its piazza, to me a perfect harmony of spatial architecture.
The details are stupendously daring. The stone carving is detailed and intricate. Four bronze statues, symbols of the, Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle dart forward leaving the facade. I particularly like the winged Ox signifying S Luke.
On my first visits the tourist was free to enter and leave the cathedral at random. Now it is ticket entrance guarded by handsome young men in smart uniforms. We enter the cathedral by a side door, the main bronze doors sculpted in the 1970s by Emilio Greco are rarely opened – see a later photo on this post. I am blown away. Inside the travertine and basalt layers seem to continue, but in fact the basalt finishes at one and a half metres in height, the remaining contrast layers being painted. Yes, I read the guide book!
This in no way spoils the effect. Softly lit by alabaster windows and lit by large wrought iron chandeliers, it is a harmonious space.
But it is the chapel of the Madonna of San Brizio with its rich frescoes that draws us. The vault – “Christ in Judgment” is by Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli and is magnificent in itself;
However it is the Signorelli frescoes that are the real draw. In 1499 Luca Signorelli was commissioned to paint frescoes depicting the apocalypse and last judgement and his treatment of the nude male is utterly stunning. The figures are heavily muscled and exude life and movement. I particularly like the “Damned taken to Hell and received by Demons” .
We tear ourselves away from the chapel and head to the exit. As a funeral cortège is leaving the main doors are open, we have to wait. We follow through the enormous bronze doors and out into the warm sun.
It’s Italy and time for lunch. Lunch is very important. Having remarked earlier on a sign outside a small trattoria of a huge pig lying on her side whilst her piglets are suckling, somewhat gross we thought, we decide to return and check it out. The window is filled with home cooked antipasti and salamis and pecorinos. It looks real and locals enter, and, so we dive in to “L’Oste del Re“. The marble topped tables in the small ground floor space are taken and we are shown upstairs. Choosing hand cut prosciutto and marinaded figs to start, we follow with a local pasta ‘Umbriachellini‘ made with only flour, water and red wine, yeah! Served ‘in bianco’ with luxurious plump porcini, it is exquisite, a good choice. The kitchen is on the top floor, above where we are eating, those smiling waiters sure have their work cut out.
Time marches on….
….and we still have not seen the extensive underground city but that will have to wait for another visit. After a creamy gelato we head back to the car and wend our way back down the narrow streets still busy with tourists and with smiles on our faces and on to Bellaugello Gay Guest House.
Sunshine and warmth at Bellaugello Gay Guest House have been the predominant feature throughout September. It is a month I enjoy; The infinity pool is deliciously swim-able, the heat of high summer has warmed the land and the stones of our ancient house, and autumn colours just begin to show their golden ruddy hues.
Early mornings are magical, mist clinging to the valley below whirls and swirls gently. Slowly it lifts and dissipates to reveal another fine day.
I am particularly sad right now as I am not at Bellaugello. A long planned short trip to Istanbul to both see the sights and meet a friend has me sitting, not at my kitchen window, but, in a hipster hotel bedroom. My view through a grimy narrow window has me looking down an alleyway. So very different to the large views at Bellaugello Gay Guest House. The strokes of my keyboard are punctuated by the hammering of drills, grinders cutting steels and busy city life.
Flying in, the immensity of the city, a city I had long dreamt of visiting exceeded my imagination. A massive white city with futuristic skyscrapers punctuating blue skies. Straddling the Bosphorus, the beginning and meeting of two cultures had always drawn my curiosity. The road from the airport to the city runs along the shore of the Bosphorus. The water punctuated with tankers and cargo ships each petulantly announcing the movement of global mass trade. Lining the shore new skyscraper apartment buildings reach skyward. Stainless steel and glass, security entrances, irrigated gardens, I’m sure they have awesome views and fine concierge services. Sadly they are unlikely to be lived in, built solely for investment. Like ubiquitous street furniture architecture has become globally bland and depressingly uniform. Another day another city but the same banality. Simply September is best at Bellaugello.
Banal is not a term that you can use about Bellaugello Gay Guest House. We strive to be normal, but rarely achieve it. September has been a red month. We delighted in hosting a young couple of honeymoon guys from the USA. Red roses on arrival, petals strewn on the bed, a private dinner cooked for them and served in their suite. Romance and a honeymoon crafted with love, you cannot beat it!
Their pampering included relaxing massages on a deck deep in the beauty of the Bellaugello Gay Guest House gardens. Simply September at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.
Recently I spent a hot day at my neighbour’s organic farm harvesting red grapes. We worked down the rows on the softly sloping hillside. Conversation flowed as we plucked juicy red grapes from the vines. The vendemmia is good this year. Plump luscious grapes yielded 22˚. A generous jug of the sweet juice was placed on the lunch table. With hands sticky from the grapes in the shade of the Mulberry tree we ate truffled pasta. Simply September in Umbria.
Intensely red burns the wood in our oven during our ‘giro pizza’ evenings. The oven is fired up to 430˚c and pizzas take a mere couple of minutes to cook. Guys take their hand at making and cooking their own pizzas. It is not as easy as Matteo makes it look! As the fire subsides at the end of the evening I bake bread. Surely there can be little better bread than organic sourdough baked in a an ancient wood fired oven. It takes a lot of turning and checking, and as I pull the baked loaves out of the oven I put in the beans. As in the past the heat of the oven is used for many purposes. I have discovered the trick with Cannellini beans in a bottle. This Tuscan recipe, which incidentally nobody here in Umbria seems to have heard of is simplicity itself;
Soak 500g of dried cannellini beans then boil them for 45 minutes in salted water.
Throw a large pinch of rock salt into a sterilised jar.
Add two plump cloves of garlic.
Two sprigs of rosemary and two bay leaves fresh picked from the garden.
Fill to 1/4 height of the beans with Bellaugello extra cold pressed virgin olive oil.
Sit the lid on the jar (do not screw it down tightly) and place overnight in the oven.
As the fire cools the beans slowly cook and absorb the flavour of the oil and herbs and seasoning. Ten to twelve hours should do the trick. At Bellaugello Gay Guest House we serve them as an aperitivo or snack to accompany a glass of local Sagrantino that best of Umbrian wines. They will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. Simply September at it’s best.
Simply back by popular demand is our breakfast cake. At Bellaugello Gay Guest House it seems September brought out the sauciest of cakes and deserts. This time chocolate with gold glitter.
and for a desert rich soft Swedish chocolate cake with a pink sparkle dusting…
Simply September being a bit naughty 😉
And for those of you who follow my blog and were upset at not having seen my cock and reading that indeed I had lost my cock, I have good news; Recently holidaying in Sitges two Bellaugello guests spotted my cock or at least wrote “We have a large cock in hand (So to speak)” and they are having it returned to me at Bellaugello Gay Guest House. I am so looking forward to be reunited with my cock. Photos to follow upon receipt. Simply splendid September 🙂
Sitting at my kitchen window overlooking rain falling gently on the beautiful Umbrian countryside it is time for a rant. This topic has been fermenting for some time and I hope that I can express myself clearly. “Gay Friendly“, how I so detest that term. Increasingly any internet research for gay travel is swamped by so called “Gay travel agents and operators” who are elbowing in to the market using the term gay friendly as a justification for their existence. They are not in the slightest bit interested in equality or gay rights but only in making money. They do not help the gay traveller find a really gay lodging. They merely promote any old chain hotel or guesthouse that wishes to be advertised as ‘gay friendly’. No regard to gay ownership, gay lifestyle or gay choices. These are not places where gay travellers can relax and be themselves, they still have to keep guard and in many cases be discrete. Lodgings screaming “Gay Friendly” are thrown by the bucket full at the gay traveller.
What ramifications does the phrase ‘gay friendly’ have for the gay traveller?
To me it is an instant turn off. I will not search any of these websites. I see the listings as ‘I guess we have no choice but to accept the gays‘ and ‘gay guys have two salaries so are a lucrative market that we should be tapping into‘. I find the term cynical and want to be no part of it. When marketing Bellaugello Gay Guest House I actively stay away from such websites.
Open any Google search for gay holiday and the first page or so is swamped with websites that on closer look principally promote ‘gay friendly’ accommodation and have links to the multinational hotel booking websites. The individual gay accommodations are by their very individuality not featured and are pushed down the rankings. This is bad for gay travellers. The gay traveller has to search harder and in much greater depth to find a true gay place to stay.
Open a guide such as the ‘Spartacus’ gay guide and again you are swamped by hotels and lodgings that are ‘gay friendly’ huh, that is really all there is in these guides. They are effectively listings of lodging businesses which will grudgingly or otherwise accept gay guests. Ok, good so they damn well should. We are living in the twenty-first century and all can and should expect a decent chunk of harmony. Whatever reason could they not have for accepting all honest well behaved clientele of whatever sexual orientation especially those who pay their bills? All too often these ‘gay friendly’ places might be welcoming of gay guests but there is no guarantee whatsoever that the other guests will be equally welcoming. They are just chain hotels looking to increase income stream. Increase in guests are numbers for the bottom line.
Why, I ask are lodgings happy to be included in such detestable guides? Are they afraid that if they are listed as ‘gay’ they will be reviled? Marked as ‘stay away’ – ‘to be avoided’?
I suggest guides and websites claiming to be for the gay traveller must stop the saccharine publicity. They should not be a cynical money grabbing marketing tool unnecessarily flooding the travel market but be true to gay. We need to campaign to change the use and connotation of the phrase and the eradication of such useless websites.
The cheeky imp in me sees one useage: Turn it on its head; As travel advice for those intolerant homophobic travellers that still remain: Flag the lodging as a place whereyou will encounter openly gay travellers. If your beliefs present you with a problem, then don’t go there.
But NO! this is not interpretation I wish the phrase should be put to. I want it to be used in a positive way.I do see a very valuable and valid use for the phrase ‘gay friendly’:
Where lodgings are located in blatantly homophobic places. In countries where being gay is still (unbelievably and sadly) illegal, punishable by death, or subject to putrid inhumane ‘conversion therapy‘ then such lodging listings are clearly important places of safety.
In fundamental regions of countries with established gay rights but where to be openly gay is a terrifying experience, there is a need for such a list.
Applied in these cases, like government travel advices, a listing of places where gays can be safe is imperative. Gay guys have to live and work in such countries and these hateful homophobic communities. They might wish or need to travel within these places. I suppose that one’s employer might want to make one have to go to such neanderthal places ‘for business’. That action to me, obviously seems unethical, and cynically supporting homophobia. However we do not live in a perfect world. Such employer pressure is reality. So let’s use the term ‘gay friendly’ as a place of sanctuary.
Many will argue such a list could be used by those wanting to perpetrate gay hate crime. The lodgings will be targeted. As a gay man living in an openly gay business gay hate crime is always, all be it, far back, somewhere obscure in the back of my mind. International hotel chains have huge legal and security teams so less need to be paranoid. I, like all lodgings in Italy have a legal duty to register guests with the Italian police. Ostensibly one could argue that the lists I send could be used for a ‘gay register’. When joining gay apps such as Grindr, Scruff or Romeo guys willingly make open their sexuality . Data recorded in these apps is huge and comprehensive and geolicalised. Privacy, safety… rise in fascism… religious fundamentalism… and intolerance…. This is a very interesting subject for a future blog post. Watch this space 🙂
So let’s be positive, let’s turn the phrase around, let’s change the presentation. No longer let ‘gay friendly’ be a cynical money grabbing marketing tool unnecessarily flooding the travel market hampering the promotion of real gay lodgings: Make gay friendly a term in homophobic localities to indicate safety and refuge for the gay traveller.
Who will help me in my campaign?
Oh, and by the way the phrase “GayOnly” is one I detest equally.
A message last night from a really good and kind friend asking if all is ok and enquiring why I had not posted on my blog for almost one month has got me back to the keyboard in my gay paradise. I replied to him that I have not felt inspired to write, the hot summer days have rather taken up all my time, and I have been enjoying the company of and looking after my many guests.
August has been a great month, the weather is delicious. By day azure skies, in the evening a myriad of stars and the red warming presence of Mars in the southern sky. Temperatures have been in the low 30˚s centigrade and a light breeze has wafted the heady scent of lavender over the gardens and pool. I simply adore our infinity pool. As well as being a place to laze, cool off and enjoy the spectacular panorama it is a pool long enough for serious swimming…
I have found myself more in the kitchen this summer and have enjoyed both the act of cooking, and the rediscovering of recipes and filling the air with scents of baking and jam making. One of the most often ask for cakes is our ‘Bellaugello’ breakfast cake. Always slightly cheeky, different and delicious. The gay paradise team is always curious to see which part is devoured first.
Back once again for their holidays two guys from Germany brought me a gift of a decorated ceramic ‘kugelhopf’ mould and Bernd spent time in the kitchen showing me how he makes this most delicious of cakes. I watched intently as he carefully measured the ingredients and, like me so evidently cooked with love. The result was so delicious:
As we all feasted we had a discussion over breakfast as to the name – Kugelhopf or Gugelhopf, it seems both are correct. Of course cooking is not only done in the kitchen we have been busy at the barbecue, such a delightful way to eat great food in the company of international (hey I mistakenly typed ‘ginternational’ I kind of like that word) guests on the starlit terrace and a good excuse for us to be caught in an unguarded moment on camera.
Quieter moments in this gay paradise are spent in relaxation, guys sit on their private terraces, sip coffee or Aperol, read books, chat to fellow guests, or write up their diaries, Bellaugello is all about relax. It is a place of good times where friendships are made.
In this world of craziness I am so fortunate to be a simple peasant farmer living up an Umbrian hillside. My home is idyllic, my neighbours delightful, I adore my local town of Gubbio and, as with the late John Fothergill of the Spread Eagle at Thame UK I have nothing but beautiful interesting guests to stay (none else are allowed).
I am however distressed by the path the world is taking, and despair of the extremism that is fast becoming accepted into all cultures. During August I have received the first trolling abuse calls in all my years here. Always late at night, Italian voices on withheld numbers. I suspect, as with so many, from guys who are scared of their sexuality but happy to be disgusting to me down the phone. I reply to them that Bellaugello is a Gay Guest House and open to all.. (ok, read above even if you must be both beautiful and interesting 😉 ) but it saddens me to have started to receive this abuse. Today I read the president of the USA admits paying ‘hush money’ but out of his personal account (as if that is ok and he is safe in the knowledge that like Berlusconi supporters his will be proud of him and aspire to be him). We live in frightening times where abuse is either encouraged, and certainly not discouraged… I was taught ‘lead by example’
I sit back and think just how in recent years the world has fundamentally changed and sadly for the worse. Had the allegations and innuendo been about ’44’ how totally different would the situation be. Can you imagine the rage? Russians, Prostitutes, Affairs, Dodgy lawyers, Racism, they are all now apparently quite acceptable. 44 must be very sad, knowing that if even one millionth of a percent of these allegations were levelled against him he would long have been totally disgraced, out of office, hunted and berated.
I am reminded of Brexit which was passed with a very minimal of contra publicity, and what little there was, was poor and amateur. Where was Europe, how were what are now recognised as myths allowed to be perpetrated? In Turkey the autocratic president has been re-elected. In Saudi any opposition or dissent is met with prison sentence or worse. In Poland the government has taken over the justice department, no longer independent, now political appointees. In Hungary laws are changed at whim to suit the government. Even property rights are rescinded. In Italy our minister of the Interior chooses to ignore an immense infrastructure tragedy (possibly the first of many) and ‘tweet’ denying desperate migrants permission to land at Italian ports. Where is the opposition, where are the alternative voices, why is nobody of substance speaking out? We are rapidly becoming a neutered society. What I want to know is who and what organisations are behind all this. It is too frightening and sad to consider, so back to life as an Umbrian peasant. You too can be part of our gay paradise.
The first weekend of August is a one I look forward to as it is the one that draws back a special group of guys and together we head off over the valley to the village of Carbonesca to their annual Sagra of Polenta and Salsicce. This tiny village somehow manages to host two weeks of party culminating in a sausage and polenta party with live music for over 1,500 people. This year the Bellaugello guys were there in our usual spot and of course in party mode.
So popular is this first week in August that all but one suite at Bellaugello Gay Guest House is now booked for next year.
A few hours of rain have refreshed the garden, the trees and plants can all breathe. You almost hear them sighing with relief, and I certainly see them smiling. Another benefit of the rain is the wonderful early morning mists that dance in the valley below Bellaugello.
Usually we only get to see these shows in spring and autumn, but this last week every morning has been like this. Take your iPhone set it on the windowsill and initiate time lapse program of our gay paradise. It means an early start – very, but the results are amazing, you see the mist running with the course of the river Chiascio below the house. If you can tear yourself away from the view then you might just catch me drooling over Matteo’s grandfather’s original Fiat 500 or Cinquecento. From 1982 it is in original condition and has only 14,500km on the clock. Recently put back on the road Matteo brought it over to show me. What happy childhood memories of school runs.
Recently out and about in the hilltop town of Trevi I spied a cinquecento in its garage. Cute car designed to fit the space available:-) Note the circular mat hanging on the left wall. It is an original old olive press mat. The modern replacement type to the same design is used in the frantoio in Gubbio that we take the Bellaugello olives to to be pressed. Olive harvest starts at the end of October. If you are interested in helping us pick olives in the time honoured way then drop me a line.
Ok that’s it for now. I am back in blogging mode and my next post is going to be a rant. Tune in soon, in the meantime have a wonderful day
The 15th of May every year is held sacred to the heart of every citizen of our town, Gubbio. This is the day that diaries are cleared to allow everyone to be in town to celebrate the “Festa dei Ceri” or “race of the candles”. It marks the culmination of several weeks of partying as the Ceri are erected and paraded around the town before being raced up the hill to the basilica of S Ubaldo the patron saint of Gubbio. It is indeed the very finest of pageantry and hospitality at the Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio, Italy.
Throughout early May the town awakens, and the excitement rises tangibly. People gather and parties are held. A lot of food and wine is consumed. On the evening of 14th May the ‘Taverne‘ are in full swing. Townsfolk open their doors and invite friends and neighbours to share copious quantities of food and wine. I and all the Bellaugello guests received an invitation from my dear friends Laura and Roberto to join them at their friend Roberto Rossi’s Taverna. We walked through busy streets and arrived at the house, but no host! After about half an hour Roberto appeared, more than merry, he had been at a good and clearly bucolic lunch. As the sky lit red we were warmly greeted, lots of kisses on both cheeks, and rapidly supplied with wine and delicious food laid out on tables in the street.
There are three Ceri, S Ubaldo, (yellow) the patron saint, S Giorgio, (blue) the saint of the townsfolk and merchants, and S Antonio (black) the saint of the farmers and countryfolk. As a peasant farmer my saint is Antonio, and dressed appropriately I headed into town for the day.
I met up with my Ben, my best friend and together after the obligatory coffee we headed into the historic centre of Gubbio. Guys in white pants and coloured shirts filling the streets of the city of stone.
Why am I always the shortest in every photo?
We climbed to the Piazza Grande where as the huge bell high in the bell tower is tolled by hand the pageantry and splendour of the Alzata or ‘raising’ started at 11am.
A bit about the history of the event as told by the city itself:
The tourist arriving in Gubbio for the ancient folk tradition known as the “Ceri festival”, is left in awe by the morning ceremonies; The Holy Mass, the procession with the saints’ statues, the parade of the “Ceraioli”. They cannot help but breathe the extraordinarily festive, excited, and passionate atmosphere that engulfs the town. After the medieval ceremony of investiture, they find themselves buzzing with excitement in the Piazza Grande. Then, like a colourful cascade the “ceraioli” rush down the staircase of the Palazzo dei Consoli into the square. As the Ceri are raised skywards accompanied by the tolling of the big bell, emotions in the piazza also rise higher.
Here is a video clip of the actual moment the Ceri are washed with wine by the ‘Capodieci’, the jugs then thrown high into the crowd as the Ceri are erected and then run around the flagpole three times before exiting the piazza to go and salute the townsfolk.
During the afternoon race the thrill of the event continues to enrapture the tourist. This is when the three Ceri, topped by the statues of St Ubaldo, St George and St Anthony, run along Corso Garibaldi, the main street of the town. The spectator is caught by sudden excitement as shouts of joy and applause merge into a deafening roar that rises up to the sky. It is as if everyone has become an actor on a huge open air stage.
But before the run up the hill I had an appointment to keep.
I had received an invitation from the Comune to the VIP lunch held for the ‘great and the good’ in the Palazzo dei Consoli, the building that dominates the piazza in the cente of town. This “Tavola Bona” is a lengthy banquet of fish dishes (the day is the eve of Saint Ubaldo, so only fish is consumed).
Five hundred guests are seated and the party got underway… I ran unsteadily up the stairs and got a bird’s eye view 😉
Wow! do the Eugubini know how to party. Wine flowed and flowed and the band played more and more frequently, second and third helpings were offered. Napkins were twirling, people dancing, everyone, laughing, chatting, merrily having an amazing time. For me as a foreigner it was very special to be invited to the lunch, the ‘inner sanctum’ of the event. Now I totally understand the soul of Gubbio and what makes the townsfolk tick. Their passion and enthusiasm is infectious and real.
Several hours later as I headed out I stopped to chat and say ‘thank you’ with a couple of the people working in the kitchen. They told me they were a team of only twenty, and as well as feeding the VIP lunch they also fed 1000 ‘ceraioili’ – the team members who ate in the huge arcone below the piazza grande. What a feat! Bravi! This passion to me sums up the spirit of the town which has welcomed me and my guests and which I have come to love and call home.
For those interested in the origins and history of this amazing event please do read on;
In the 1950s, journalist Franco Cremonese wrote: ” The people who cram the streets on May 15th are not a public of spectators, but a delirious crowd, floating, shouting, crying, sharing the Ceraiolis’ passion. When the Ceri run, nobody can be just a spectator: for a few moments, even perhaps for a few minutes, no-one can avoid feeling a collective anxiety, an excitement that leaves one wondering whether to either smile widely or cry”. These few words express the unique charm of the festival. Of course words alone cannot describe in full the atmosphere pervading the spectacle. That can only be experienced by running after the Ceri.
To have a close at the Ceri and even touch them, it is necessary to follow one “Cero”, the one that attracts you the most at first sight. During the so called “show” you have a chance to get close. At certain points as the Cero is carried along the streets it stops and the Cero circles three times to honour old “ceraioli”, who then reach out and touch the saint from their window.
At 6.00 p.m. the great race begins. After the three dizzy ”birate” (turns) in the Piazza Grande, the ceraioli rush towards Mount St Ubaldo, and in 8-9 minutes, the Ceri fly along the winding uphill road to reach the Basilica. This is where the incorrupt body of St Ubaldo lies. To renew the promise of everlasting devotion by the citizens of Gubbio made on May 16th 1160, the day when St Ubaldo ascended into the sky, the Ceri, the ancient symbols of medieval craft guilds, are placed at his feet.
What can we say about the origins of the Ceri? There have always been two theories: Some scholars, claim their origins go back to the ancient propitiatory rites that the “Ikuvini” celebrated to obtain the favour of the numerous gods mentioned in the seven Eugubine Tablets. Christianity did not eradicate such ancient rites, but preferred to “Christianise” them. As quoted in the 11th Canto of Dante’s Purgatory, this policy was also implemented in relation to the worship of the “Blessed Ubaldo”. The other theory suggests that the origins lie in the candles and lights that illuminated the whole town on the death of St Ubaldo. It was then that the citizens of Gubbio said prayers and held a wake for their bishop.
It is not appropriate at this point to delve more deeply into this discussion. However, we cannot but, agree with Don Angelo Fanucci: “Even if the Ceri had had pre-Christian origins, since Gubbio has St Ubaldo, and the Ceri belong to him, the history of their origin is of no importance”. The Ceri, in their deepest significance, are sacred vessels which have always cemented the very strong sense of community of the people of Gubbio. It is this community who, on May 15th, share love, joy, pain and passion with almost a purifying fervour.