Old historic Spello is divided into three “terzieri,” or three big neighborhoods, and the one here at the top of town (my “district”) is the “Terziere Pusterola.” According to the lesson I just had with my teacher, Angelo, at one time there were three principal palaces in Spello, each with a “godfather” of the district. The three were always at odds with each other, and at night big chains were stretched across the roadway coming up the hill, dividing the “terzieri” so that thieves and soldiers from other districts would not invade during the night. Each morning the chains were opened again, and traffic could pass upward through town.
The three “terzieri” were formed in medieval times, and named for specific attributes of each area. The lower third of Spello is the “Rione Porta Chiusa,” or “the district of the closed door.” An old Roman entry to the city was too narrow for carts and horses, and was closed to allow the construction (still in Roman times) of the Porto Consolare, the bigger entry to Spello that now allows the passage of cars on the main street. Piazza Kennedy is the piazza for this district, down the hill and outside of the tower capped by an olive tree, and the arch with three marble statues of the “consolare” (members of the Roman council), standing above the arch on pedestals. The old smaller closed door (“porta chiusa”) still exists, but I’m not sure how to find it yet.
The middle “terziere” is the “Rione Mezota,” or the district “in the middle,” which includes the Piazza Repubblica with the fountain, and most of the small businesses now in the historic portion of Spello. The huge chain (“catena”) is still visible hanging on the wall in one of the small alleys, and is probably a reproduction of the original chain (not a speck of rust) from more than five centuries ago that divided Rione Mezota from the third district, Rione Pusterola.
The upper district is the “Rione Pusterola,” from the Latin word “pustierla” for “small door.” The large exit out to Mount Subasio (Porta Montanara, for traffic heading toward the mountain, the “monte”) once had a smaller pedestrian doorway beside it, as well as having another pedestrian door out to the “fontevecchia,” the “old fountain” where Spello women washed their laundry in huge marble baths supplied with spring water from the mountain, running continuously into the baths. I live on Via Porta Fontevecchia, near the doorway out to the fountain, and the “Terziere Pusterola” is my “neighborhood.” There is still some friendly rivalry among the terzieri, and yellow flags along Via Giulia carry the crest of this district. Our piazza is Piazza Vallegloria, containing the Santa Maria in Vallegloria convent and church, and also the ingresso to my house.
Once a year, there is a progressive dinner beginning at the local bakery on Via Giulia, and all of the small businesses and some of the families put out food for all of the neighbors, including casual passers-by. The people wander up Via Giulia for course after course of their progressive meal, stopping for poetry readings, music and recitations. I watched as Leonardo delivered 7 kilos of pasta to Graziella’s house in the afternoon—where she was planning on cooking and serving every last bit with gallons of her amatriciana sauce, made with bacon (pancetta), onions, garlic and red chili flakes in a tomato sauce. After a preview of her plans for making so much pasta, I didn’t dare eat a thing, planning for the night of “Food and Poetry” that had been advertised for weeks on posters all over the terziere. We began on Via Giulia near the Teatro Subasio with hot, fresh pizza and finished at the old Cappuccini monastery near the Roman arch with desserts and sweet wines at the Osteria del Buchetto, a small restaurant I have not yet tried.
I started down the hill from my place and was distracted by the music coming from San Biagio, a very small chapel near my house. It is usually closed, but open before Easter when the cooks of the family all take their ingredients for the Pascua dinner to be blessed by the priest there before they prepare the meal. When I popped in to look (a rare opportunity), there was a young man tuning and warming up his violin, and he was happy to let me take a photo or two of him playing.
Further down the street, I stopped at the Fornaio Scarponi, my local bakery staffed by the two Scarponi brothers and their wives—always up at 4 a.m. to get the bread started for the day. There, the pizzas were lined up inside the bakery near the ovens, awaiting the start time for the event. A few minutes later, the pizzas were coming out to the street in serving-sized pieces, and people were lining up for beer, prosecco and pizza at the first stop on the way up the hill.
The next stop was for appetizers—crostini with fresh figs, grapes and mortadella on picks, and apple fritters hot from the fryer of someone’s home nearby.
Up the hill once again, the stop was at In Urbe, a small bar about halfway up the hill, where they were serving a pasta with fish and clams, and it was delicious. They made batch after fresh batch, and the entire neighborhood stood around, picking up plates of hot pasta and having their conversations together.
After the sun had set and the lights came on along the street, the entertainment arrived. Angelo, my teacher, seemed to be one of the organizers of the event (the former Minister of Culture here in Spello, and a published poet himself). First there was a poetry reading by a woman, accompanied by the young violinist I had seen earlier in the San Biagio chapel. I paired up with another American, Evey Jones, an artist from New Mexico staying here for 2 months (and taking the Italian lesson after mine at Angelo’s each day). We found our corner to listen to the poetry, and then Angelo began his own reading there in Via Giulia. (Unfortunately, the traffic was not diverted—there were many interruptions as cars tried to pass by, but the crowd only opened up when each poem was completed—a new version of “crowd control,” with the crowd in charge.) Our young violinist played a small piece for us all, a solo, and then we moved up the street.
Our next stop was a recitation in the street by Massimo, Graziella’s actor/singer/musician son. He studies all disciplines of entertainment here in Spello, and is often on stage for one talent of his or another, and is also a bass saxophone player in the Spello band.
At the top of the hill, we reached Graziella’s garage and her pasta amatriciana, with huge pots of sauce and pasta ready for the crowds arriving at Piazza Vallegloria. She heaped giant portions out to everyone on plastic plates, and I’m certain had more pasta than takers, since she had prepared for hordes. Who but Graziella would have two stoves IN her garage, along with the one in her home? She often provides the location for big neighborhood parties, and the party for the Vallegloria team after the Infiorata—always in her garage.
Evey and I called it “quits” after the pasta, and headed to my place for some water, a bit of time off of our feet, and then she headed home. The next day, I was scolded for not continuing up Via Cappuccini to the Osteria del Buchetto, where the desserts and sweet wines were the last course (OK, we missed it—but we had eaten PLENTY along the way, and nothing was less than wonderful).
This was my first “progressive dinner” for my terziere, and I’m lucky to have been here to have the experience at least once. Next time, I’ll be prepared to make something to contribute to the party!