The big cheese keeps on rolling. Things you may see in Italy during Easter

cheese rolling in italy on the day after easter. tradition?
PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–At Easter, I often like to ponder which came first: the Bunny or the Egg. I was almost starting to make headway on that abstract chocolate-based concept, when from out of the clear blue day-after-Easter-sky comes: Cheese Rolling. What could the seasonal tie-in be? Panicalesi are known to eat cheese; but, as far as I know, they don’t make any of it. Wine, yes. Olive oil, yes. The sport itself seems to be the slightly demented offspring of the marriage of bowling and golf. Not a very wide spread sport, it may be only practiced in the Umbrian hilltown of Panicale, for all I know. What I do know is that it takes place every year on the Monday after Easter, Pasquetta (little Easter), and is called by the locals “Ruzzolone” or The Big Wheel.
cheese rolling in italy on the day after easter (Pasqua).  a Pasquetta tradition?
There is a course (of course, of course) laid out in the streets around the village walls. Whoever “bowls” their Big Wheel O’ Cheese around the course in the fewest “strokes” wins. The gioccatori (sounds like jokers, but means players) wrap leather straps with wood handles around the cheese and send a perfectly good nine pounds of round cheese lurching wildly down the curving street with somewhat of a yo-yo and string effect. The cheese rolls, the crowd runs along side of it and someone marks where it wobbles to a stop with bit of chalk on the street. That is, when it stops on the street. Being cheese, it is a bit hard to control and the pecorino often wheels off the course and starts bouncing off down the hillside, through the olives, local officials in hot pursuit like kids chasing after the Gingerbread Man. Or, the unwieldly wheel of pecorino will stay on the road, whew, but get wedged, rats, under the one Fiat Uno that didn’t get the No Parking message. The winner takes the wheel of Pecorino home our friend Francesco tells us. Not that I know what someone would want with a cheese that has really “been around” like these have. As Francesco says “maybe they should give it to the losers”! If the cheese hits one of the village’s stout stone walls wrong, then the game and the cheese are all over, anyway. Si Mangia! Pecorino is local cheese made from sheep’s milk. Milking a sheep. Can you picture that?
cheese rolling in Italy the day after Easter. the cheese goes off course. later a bad band
Regardless, long before our first outdoor cheese race had concluded, the crowd had heard the band “music” off in the piazza and had wandered that direction for the milling about, for the free wine and for the ever popular, post game hard boiled eggs, all being served by the apt sounding Pro Loco. I know it means Local Promotion Group, plus or minus, but doesn’t Pro Loco look like it could mean Pro Crazy? Curiously, as soon as the music started, no one seemed to know or care if the annual cheese rolling contest had a winner or not. And what a sight the band was! Reminiscent of the finest Fellini. The band we saw was named “Bandaccia” (Bad Band) and pots and pans and car horns and stuffed animals were involved, as you can see in the photo above. In spite of their name, they weren’t actually all that bad, but quite loud and festive – in a Spike Jones sort of way! Even though we’re going to miss the festivities this year by a few days, we’re happy to know that somewhere there is something this dizzy and whimsical signaling the happy start of spring. I know all our friends in Panicale are counting the days till this year’s Running of the Cheeses. Happy Pasquetta to all!

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

More low impact fun in Italy

low impact fun in Italy
PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–It may LOOK like I am just standing absentmindedly in the piazza. See shady character in center photo. That could be me. Spending quality time gazing pensively at my reflection in the back window of an allegedly Smart, but very dusty car. And photodocumenting the moment for all posterity. It may not seem like a productive way to do business. But don’t be fooled. This is power networking I am doing here.

I am, at some level, just waiting. For a miracle. Named Maurizio. Katia says if anyone can unscramble my bushel basket of computer wires and modems and routers and random equipment and make their sum total equal me being on broadband, it just might be her Maurizio aka “Bel Genio”. So, I’ve left the olive harvest celebration lunch and am pacing myself back and forth around the edges of Piazza Regina Margherita. No Maurizio so far.

Ah, but what is this? It is our dear Swedish friend Gun (pronounced goon, not gun) sliding into the piazza in her battleship gray Fiat Panda. This car works for a living. And looks it. Gun uses it like it is a two ton diesel dump truck. She has her cheery Dutch friend with her. We air kiss through the open car window and banter a bit. You have to catch a moment of Gun’s time when and where you can. She says, in a long suffering way, that she has thirty Swedes working for her, picking olives for their room and board. She says feeding them is a full time job; so, she isn’t certain Who is working for Whom. “And Some of them are So Old”, she cries. “They can hardly pick. But they eat like starved people”.

Gun is a bit over 70, but doesn’t look it or act it; you have to know she means typical old people. NOT like her. Well, they couldn’t be like her. No one in their right mind works as hard as she does. I know, I know! Ask me! I have an idea Gun – Why not feed these lollygagging old people according to how well they pick, and see if they pick up the pace? There is the “woosh” of air brakes and our whole field of vision is filled with one apartment-sized tour bus. It is Her Swedes coming back from their olive oil pressing. Gun’s son, the Swedish priest, is in the front window – tour guide microphone in hand. They spill out of the bus and swarm around us, covering her in bright, perky Swedish. She gives me a wistful look, and I’ve lost her.

But look over there. Isn’t that Giancarlo in his shiny acid green Fiat? He’s pulled up to the Stop sign, he rolls down his window, takes a furtive last drag, and kicks a butt out on the street and makes an appointment to for us to get together the next day. We’ve both got cell phones, land lines, emails. But he acts like he totally expected to see me right there, right then. Ok, there he goes. See you tomorrow.

A young guy goes by in a car. Is that our Maurizio? Nope. Guess not. Like I said, I have a cell phone and, just to prove it, it is ringing away. Oh. Hi. It is Maurizio. I hear laughing and see him, waving, a few feet behind me. That WAS him in the car. All the planets aligned in under five minutes of piazza standing. And a couple hours later, Bravo Maurizio had us wired. Life as we know it can go on.

Some of my finest work.

See you in Italy (I’ll be the one in the piazza)

Stew Vreeland