This pre Lent festival is a celebration of excess, feasting, fancy dress parades, masked balls and the throwing of confetti. It is a time for Italians to let their hair down before the serious business of lent begins, and the run up to Easter. Interestingly, it’s the only time I have seen young people raucous with a little too much wine, partying in the streets of towns like Offida (near Cossignano) and Castignano where there are large parades. Local Le Marche folks are normally fairly reserved but during carnival I have been to local parties where everyone, young and old have been strutting their stuff on the dance floor. Shrove Tuesday (martedi grasso) or fat Tuesday marks the culmination of the festa. Carnival or mardi gras is of course important to all Catholic countries and although Italy is famous for it’s Venice carnival, all Italians like to celebrate with a bit of madness and lack of restraint. It is a party season with ancient roots, when the wearing of masks meant that even the rural workers could escape from normality for a while before the hard work of Spring begins. The word Carnival derives from the Latin ‘ carnem levare’ or ‘take away the meat’ which signifies the abstinence of lent.
The local cake shops are full of carnevale fritters and mini doughnut like sweet bites. Deep fried, sweet and strangely tempting – after all it is only once a year. There are the Sfrappe (flat pastries) sprinkled with icing sugar and chocolate stripes. They are light and crumbly like puff pastry. Then there are the twirled ribbon like strips, tinged with pink and the pink Bombette ( doughnuts) rolled in sugar. Interestingly,the pinky red colouring comes from the use of Alchermes liqueur, popular in Le Marche in various sweet dishes such as Zuppa Inglese ( English Soup) The infamous Le Marche, English Soup/trifle is maybe worthy of a further post. The alcoholic drink is made with herbs, perfumed with rosewater and coloured red with the use of cochineal (powdered insects). Even this fact doesn’t put off my children from gorging on the pastries placed before them.
A slightly more adult pastry is maybe the Ravioli di Castagne, a crescent shaped pastry full of sweetened chestnut mix, or the Arancini twirls, flavoured with a hint of orange.
The Offida Carnevale Lu Bov Fint (the Fake Bull Run)
Near to Cossignano is the gracious town of Offida and during carnival is the infamous Lu Bov Fint (the fake bull run) High on adrenalin or too much sugar from all those pastries and a few too many glasses of wine; the locals, dressed in white with red scarves chase a pretend ox around the streets of the old town It’s a crazy place to be and things can get pretty wild. The tradition dates from the 15oos when a real bull was used, reminiscent of the well know bull run of Spain.
The finale of Carnivale is a huge bonfire. In Castignano there is a parade of torches into the old town lighting up the cold night skies and maybe reminding us of the rebirth of spring which is just around the corner.