Back home in Canada after my AFS exchange to Italy, I was finishing my first year of university and pining for anything Italian, when I got The Letter. “Come to Italy this summer”, it said, “we’ll send you a plane ticket, give you room and board and a small stipend in exchange for looking after our kids”. A nanny job, yes, which I had done before. But in Italy. I was 19, and most of my friends were going to spend the summer painting houses. “Yes, yes, yes!”, I wrote back.
The family lived in a palazzo whose façade took up an entire side of the main square. Huge paintings of their ancestors, like ones I’d only seen in museums, hung in gilded frames on the walls lining the enormous main staircase; the flip-down pasta-making table in the kitchen was used on a regular basis for making spaghetti, gnocchi, and ravioli. One wing of the house was closed off, but on a rare visit I saw an old carriage that had belonged to someone in the family. In the garden behind the house was an authentic wood-burning brick pizza oven; and when I played tag with the boys, we zig-zagged around the artichoke patch and through the fruit trees. And it was the first time I ever heard the music of cicadas, an all-encompassing chirp on a hot, hot day, that sounded like it was coming from the sky.
I was in Brisighella in July and August, the hottest months of the year. Nevertheless the kids and I frequently climbed the long staircase to the Torre dell’Orologio or clock tower (photo above is a view from the fortress),and took in the spectacular view over the town and countryside while resting with a drink of water. We played around the Rocca Manfrediana, or Manfredian fortress (photo), wandered through the raised, covered medieval street, Via Degli Asini, and admired the sanctuary of Monticino (photo). (At least I was admiring and enjoying – I’m not entirely sure about the 3- and 5-year olds. But I think they had fun.)
When the medieval summer festival started, I hardly knew what hit me: the usually quiet streets filled with performers dressed in robes, local spectators, and tourists. The older sister of the kids I was babysitting, who was my age, invited me out with her friends: we put charcoal on our faces, dressed up in rags, and explored the festival as a group of streghe, or witches.
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