Il Primo Maggio

We’re just back from a great trip to Radicondoli. Only one problem….it was far too short!

We were determined to be there for May Day, as it’s a really big celebration for the town. It starts at 7am with the Radicondoli Band playing at different parts of the town, (a bit like an irreligious version of “the Stations” in Ireland). At each stop there are refreshments in the form of home made cakes, cheeses, cold meats and wine, or if you are really “lucky”….the demon grappa! Now for the uninitiated, this is a VERY acquired taste. Whereas Marcus is very fond of it, I think it resembles something from the selection of solvents in my studio, (and would probably do the job just as well).


This goes on until almost midday when everyone arrives at the Pergola Restaurant for another speciality of the region “trippa con sugo” washed down with local red wine. Now if you didn’t recognise what it was from the name, you could mistake it for a pasta dish. BUT IT’S NOT! It is TRIPE. This is yet another area where LSH and I disagree. Alarmingly, he’s beginning to like it.


After this stop, a group dressed a bit like English Morris dancers, (only there are both men and women), sing and play traditional folk music. From the bits that I understood, this is where the likeness ends, as the songs are much more risqué!
Then the band returns with gusto for a visit to the cemetary.


At 5pm the festivities start up again with a “merenda” in the park. This is where the whole town brings a picnic up to the park, and once again the Radicondoli Band obliges with the entertainment aspect of the day. I have never been fortunate to go to this before as it had been cancelled due to rain for the past 8 years. This would seem, to the uninitiated, an innocent, easy going, uncontentious part of the day, but it is far from it. Firstly there is a battle royal to get “the best spot” to set up. I, in my naivety, arrived at 5pm with rugs, chairs, food, wine and LSH and Ben (my father-in-law) in tow, only to find the place jammed with families already installed. I ran around and finally planted my basket in quite a good position, and went back to round up the others with a certain air of smugness at my achievement. This soon disappeared when we returned, as another group had simply ignored my “pitch” and, in that short space of time, were completely ensconced, looking like they’d been there all day! I was horrified and, hoping they had set up on an ant hill, we resumed the pitch hunt.


After we’d finally settled ourselves, and were joined by other friends, I looked around and sensed a certain undercurrent to this seemingly arcadian scene. Firstly, it appeared there was a merenda equipment competition between the different groups. Some had entire patio sets, complete with tablecloths and umbrellas, (matching of course!) The best piece of kit I spied was a retro 50’s table which, when opened out, contained 4 chairs. Then there was the “master chef” angle to the day. Some had brought hot casseroles, pasta dishes, cakes, AND with real china and cutlery! I was instantly transported to (Irish) picnics of my childhood…. curly soggy sandwiches, with the compulsory sand coating, warm “minerals”, and Cyril, my father, insisting on boiling up water for the tea on the tiny, wobbly primus stove, which always ended in one of two ways. Either the whole thing blew over and the operation had to be abandoned, or was only boiling as we were packing everything up and even though NO ONE wanted tea by this stage, we all had to stay and “enjoy” a cuppa before we headed home! It was light years away from the Radicondolese Merenda and I wondered what the Italians would have made of our efforts!

Back to the park, and by now people are sharing their feasts, and I was thanking God that Hazel, a super cook, was part of our group, as she’d brought a fantastic spread of food, and Toni had brought home made wine. I really didn’t believe we’d have such a good day and had just brought along, (I’m ashamed to say, shop bought), cheese and wine. But during this "sharing", you could see from people’s faces that they were secretly judging the quality of the home produce fare on site! Also during the festivities two young boys played cello and violin…they were magical! It was the best rendition of "Bella Ciao" all day.


As the sun went down and it became a bit cool, everyone began to pack up and leave, but not without event. Remember the fabulous retro table and chair I spotted? Well, two elderly men (think the “Odd Couple” with Oscar and Felix), were left in charge of packing it up, and whatever they did wrong (grappa-fuelled?), the chairs seemed to have grown in size over the day and no longer fitted neatly into the table. After a lot of huffing, puffing and jamming they sort of got it packed up, but I doubt it will ever grace the merenda again!

Later the Radicondoli Band set up outside the Bar Nazionale with 2 guest musicians and played well into the evening. It was a wonderful, if long day and I would highly recommend it to anyone to witness at least one time in their lives.

Il Primo maggio This is a link to a video compilation of the day's events...