Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Herding Cats

Last week Todi held its annual Arte Festival. The Comune (county) of Todi has less than twenty thousand residents, half of whom live in the city, but in addition to its three major tourist-worthy churches and a large main piazza, which has served as the set for films such as “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and “Romanoff and Juliet”, the city has a magnificent 140 year old theater. The orchestra seats are surrounded by four tiers of boxes in the opera house style of the 1870’s. There is also a large 18th Century palazzo, the Palazzo del Vignola, which was restored following a tragic fire in 1982. The weeklong festival utilizes all these venues and while there are numerous concerts of various types of music, the emphasis is on theater, with the Teatro Comunale hosting a different play on each night of the festival.

On Friday I attended two concerts and several art exhibits with some neighbors I had recruited. A world-class noon concert at the theater, in which Ramberto Ciammarughi improvised for over an hour on movie music from Fats Waller to Leonard Bernstein and Disney to John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, kept the audience, which may have numbered as many as 45 people, totally enthralled. After lunch we headed for a large show of paintings by Roberto Banfi Rossi, in my humble opinion one of Italy’s finest living painters (I’ve written about him last February on this blog). The glossy 88 page program stated that the show was open in the morning and from 4 to 8 in the afternoon, and indeed the building was wide open at 4 PM when we went in. The subtleties of his glazes and incredible detail were not enhanced by the fact that nobody had turned on the lights. On the way out I asked a cheerful young woman downstairs in the huge Palazzo del Vignola about it and she said, “Oh, the show doesn’t start until 6 PM”. By 6 we were at a delightful concert of Neapolitan jazz by the Marco Zurzolo Quintet. Given that all 48 seats in the beautiful little Chiostro delle Lucrezie were filled, I suppose it could be regarded as a sell-out, as well as an undeniable artistic success. The Italians present may have numbered about 15, although I suspect none were local.

A couple of weeks earlier our tiny village of Acqualoreto had its own weeklong festa. I serve on the eleven-member committee which governs the Circolo di Acqualoreto and organizes the festa. My participation is essentially by default since, excluding children and women who no longer remember what month it is or where they’ve left their teeth, eleven more or less represents a quorum of the full time winter residents. What we really do well is food. The president of the Circolo procures and prepares most of the food himself, with precious help from some of the better cooks in the village. We had no trouble filling the tent for our opening night supper in the piazza with about 200 paying customers, well over our pre-established limit of 180. Younger people in town serve the food and all the diners seemed to love it. From there on our promotional skills seem to go downhill.

An old saying states that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. My long experience with cats has taught me that you can offer them new types or food, or their regular favorites, but you can’t make them eat. Forget about teaching them to do anything else. I’ve always been amazed by circus people who manage to train lions and tigers to jump through burning hoops. Tigers are, after all, just big cats.

Our local people are easier to deal with than horses or cats. You can always get them to eat or drink. The jumping through hoops becomes more difficult. In the case of our festa, it consisted of participating in a bocce tournament and an art contest. I foolishly tried to organize a bocce tournament. While bocce is a game frequently played by older Italian men, our 16 team tournament was made up of children, some of whom re-enlisted after losing in the early matches, and recent èmigrès from Bermuda and Ireland. The hordes of Italians, who return to sit in the piazza for the month of August, continued to sit in the piazza. We set up an exhibit of the artworks done, mostly by their grandchildren, during the art contest, but none of them ventured the 100 meters to the show during its three day run. Several did buy their kid’s or grandkid’s drawings, unseen, at the auction. But then again, attendance and participation in these events by the members of the organizing committee matched that of the piazza sitters.

I suppose that there will be a festa next year, since the people all say they are happy that there’s a festa. They just don’t want to get involved, except of course, to eat. My own involvement has brought me little satisfaction, but on the positive side, every year brings me a greater understanding of how Mussolini came to be so popular in Italy, before he wasn’t.