I recently wrote a column about “what grows together.” My wife and I, during our travels to Italy, make every effort to meet the local people and learn the customs and traditions of the area we are visiting. Each has a history and social and food culture of its own.
I am going to test your knowledge of one region in particular, not only because of its interesting history, but also because this region contributed so many to the Italian immigration to America.
If I said “The Big Stone of Italy,” which is the highest mountain outside of the Alps is in this region, does that help you identify it? Some of the customs and traditions can be traced back before Christ. Besides being the tallest peak and a famed skiing location, it has a great historical significance. In 1943, King Emanuel III had Mussolini arrested and transported to the top of this massive mountain known in Italian as the Gran Sasso, or “The Big Stone.” This location was selected because it was most secluded and thought to be unassailable. There were no roads to the top and could only be reached by cable car, with an irony that it was Mussolini himself who had built the area and cable railway. If I said that Mussolini remained under heavy guard at the only hotel on the mountain, Campo Imperatore, does that help you identify the region?
Mussolini remained at this location and was the hotel’s “only guest” for two months before being freed by a little known German plot which included members of the German army who arrived via gliders and snatched him from the mountain in a quick take-off plane and shuttled him to Germany. Il Duce would return to Italy and lead a weak Fascist movement in northern Italy which would then see him captured and killed. Today, the Gran Sasso is a popular resort area.
If I said ‘zampogna’ does that help identify this wonderful region? Zampogna are bagpipes and are popularly used at Christmas to play carols and signify the shepherds who honored the Christ Child at the stable in Bethlehem.
This region is Abruzzo and has a reputation of calmness. With that said, there exists a culinary tradition which I can only justify as a Carnevale-like celebration. It is called the ‘Panarda,’ which is an annual meal in which its presenters spend many months preparing and consists of no fewer than ‘thirty courses.’ True…thirty courses! The invited guests must finish all of them or run the risk of insult to the hosts.
I have tried to give you a few examples of what makes each region different and Italy so special. Please take the time to learn about your heritage, you will find it interesting.