I’ve never seen the cafe on our corner closed. Until today.
It’s Ferragusto, which next to Christmas is the most important holiday in Italy, and an even older one. Today is a Catholic holiday marking the day when the Virgin Mary ascended into heaven but August 15 was first celebrated in ancient Rome. As noted by the AP, “Proclaimed by Augustus (Julius Caesar’s nephew and heir, and the first Roman Emperor), the feriae augusti were originally a full month of continuous celebration later reduced to a single day in early, and subsequently mid, August. The feriae marked a period in Roman society in which the division of classes slackened, witnessing the rare social mingling of citizens and slaves. All mundane enterprises ceased during these festivities.”
And it really caught on. Even today most Italians (most Europeans actually) spend the month of August on vacation. This means many stores and restaurants are closed tight for at least two weeks, often the whole month. Now as I understand it, this is happening less and less as Italy becomes more accustomed to the ways of America and other cultures crazy for capitalism. The upside is more shops for tourists but it seems a shame to lose a bit of Italy’s personality for the sake of Pantheon-shaped fridge magnets. So, with the days of “closed for August” somewhat behind them, merchants have taken back this one day as a representative of care-free summers past.
And around here they take the summer holiday very seriously, usually relocating to the beach. Seeking shelter from hot summer sun, people head for lakes or one of the many seaside coasts surrounding Italy. Either one will do but all beach combing is best done from the comfort of one’s own villa. As someone who owns no real estate in Italy, or anywhere else for that matter, it’s amazing to me how many Italians have worked their way into mortgage-free ownership of city apartments plus homes on the water. A nice setup if you can manage it, which seems to be largely accomplished by one generation gifting to another. Our landlords, for example, bought the 3-bedroom apartment we live in back in the 70s. A few years ago they inherited a bigger apartment across town from his parents, where they live now. Keeping the cycle going, they’ve recently bought an apartment for their grown daughter in Rome. You could ask them more about it but they’re all at the family beach house…for the rest of August.