Today, I was out with my husband. We had one of those glorious winter days that we are sometimes gifted with here on Vancouver Island. The sky was pale blue with little white clouds floating stationary above us. Driving down our street, I had to squint against the bright sun reflecting off the frosty lawns. The air was cold but so clean that when I filled my lungs I could almost feel the oxygen flushing toxins out of my cells.
We walked along the quiet downtown street on this Sunday in our little Island hamlet looking at all the Christmas decorations already up in the storefronts and it brought me back to a moment last summer in another little island hamlet.
Last summer, I got a Facebook message from my friend, Linda:
“Hey, what are you doing on Aug 16th?”
“Recovering from Ferragosto. Why?”
“You HAVE to come and stay with us in Buccheri.”
“They are throwing their Medfest.”
“Crazy medieval festival – jugglers, costumes, lots of drinking, lots of food and men – straight men – in tights throwing flags.”
“Men in tights? I’m in!!!!!”
So, on the morning of August 16th we found ourselves packed into our little smartcar and on the road to the other side of Sicily to Buccheri, a little mountain town in Siracusa.
After a couple of side trips and a parking lot of a traffic jam on the way into Catania, we found ourselves pulling in to Buccheri after dark. Bruno, Linda’s husband, met us and drove our little car with Nick to find a place to park while I walked down the hill to meet Linda in the piazza.
The piazza was chock full of people – locals, tourists, people in costumes, people laughing, singing, dancing and – above all – eating. Every inch of street side was filled with stalls and kiosks selling all kinds of medieval kinds of food – mostly meat. Roasted horsemeat, wild boar, sausages, and other meats that I couldn’t identify. And wine. Wine everywhere. It was a raucous, crazy, block party à la Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
After stuffing ourselves with horsemeat and sausages, we wandered through the crowds, stopping to see the churches that were decked out in all kinds of medieval displays.
We spent the night in Linda and Bruno’s airbnb, a gorgeous apartment high on the edge of the town looking out over the whole of Buccheri.
We got up in the morning and wandered from one side of the town to the other, stopping at the piazza for breakfast (gelato in a brioche and a cappuccino) and eventually stumbling across the best restaurant in town and one of the best in Sicily, U Locale, where we dined on roasted wild boar and snails big enough to fill a soup spoon.
On a side note, as we wandered, we kept bumping into the same group of 4 Italian tourists. At one point, one of the men approached us and asked Nick if he were an actor. Nick shook his head and the man told us that his group was sure he was a famous English movie star! They couldn’t remember the name of the star but I’m thinking it must have been Gary Oldman as Sirius Black.
A nap in the afternoon and we were ready to go again. Linda, Bruno, Nick and I made our way through the rapidly growing crowds to see the displays of acrobats, fire dancers and (of all things) Irish folk bands. Stalls of goods for sale from traditional handicrafts to kitschy junk from China and Taiwan spread up and down streets all over the town. At three in the morning we stopped at a food stall just around the corner from the apartment and sat on some stairs eating cannoli filled with warm, sweet ricotta and sharing stories with Linda and Bruno.
We said goodnight to our hosts, and just before we opened the door to the apartment, Linda reminded us to leave on the outside lights to keep away any drunken revellers from treating their doorstep as a convenient urinal (apparently a common occurrence during Medfest).
Medfest was an exciting, exuberant bacchanalian party. This is not normally our kind of celebration, but there was something so joyously adolescent about this unruly and boisterous festival that we vowed we would come back again next year. And we suggest that you do too.