Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wine, Music, and Cheese IN A CAVE

This is my Italy.  Music & wine in strange locations.
There is a fabulous thing in Italy, really and truly magnificent.  It's called 'Cantine Aperte.'  It translates into English as 'open cantine.'  Generally, you pay a small amount as entrance (5-8 euros, depending on the event), they give you a glass, and you get to go buck wild tasting as many wines as you want in as many places as you want.  They also let you stuff yourself silly with traditional foods that are supplied aplenty, while listening to rollicking traditional music.  That's the general gist of it.

I'm a physicist, so let me provide you with this simple equation to make understanding easier:

Wine cellars opening doors+wine glass+food+music+good company=good time

This was the second one I've been to.  The first one was right before my wedding, and took place at all of the fancy-pants (AKA delicious) vineyards near my house.  The cool thing about this is they gave you a thing to hang your fancy-pants wine glass around your neck.
My darling Aunt demonstrating proper use of a wine glass at a Cantina Aperta

Now, this one I'm writing about today wasn't fancy-pants.  It was a big freakin' party in the streets of a small town called Donnas.  It's in the southern part of the valley, and a cute little town where they make really fantastic wine.  Donnas wine.  It costs a pretty penny in the US if you can manage to find it.  As one of the few fiddlers in the region and part of the traditional music scene here, I was lucky enough to get to play in one of the open cantines.  I think it might have actually been someone's personal wine cellar, I'm not really sure.  We hauled our instruments through the streets, and entered through the back door, with a special knock, to where a bunch of little Italian ladies were busily preparing  'Zuppa alla Valpellinense' (or if you prefer it patois, the regional dialect, 'Seupa a la Valpelinentze').  It is a funny sort of  cabbage soup that is topped with bread and Fontina cheese that is baked in the oven.  It's quite tasty.  They prepared huge sheets of it for the hundreds of wine-heads pouring through the door and milling in the streets.
Pans full of the cabbage-bread-Fontina soup ready to be eaten by pub crawlers
After eating and drinking an appropriate amount of local wine, we launched into playing.  There was another fiddler, upright bass, button accordion, piano accordion, mandolin, guitar, percussion, bagpipe, whistle, and my husband on the banjo.  We were squished together, quite literally, and I kept poking folks in the nose with my bow.  It was a little wine cellar with arched stone ceilings, and we were perched together wherever we could squeeze ourselves, while locals likewise squished themselves together while drinking vin brule (hot mulled wine).  It was a pretty great time.

All photos of us musicians squished together in a jolly manner, underground, amid wine and partygoers

However, we eventually decided to take the party elsewhere.  We played randomly in the streets, until we stumbled upon the best thing ever.  Seriously.

A cave.

Yes, a cave.  In the center of town.  It had an entrance a bit like any other building in an alley way, except it opened into a real cave.  I don't think it was dug out or anything, I think it was just there and they build this village around it, and others, thousands of years ago (not kidding...2000 years would be pretty accurate).  But this cave was way more awesome than your average cave.  It not only had hundreds of bottles of wine ready for everyone to drink, but some GIANT cheeses, waiting for us to eat.  Like, man-size cheeses.  Anyways, we marched in there, hopped up on some big rocks, and started playing our guts out amid the drunk and merry locals, man-sized-cheese, and endless bottles of wine.  It turns out that caves have incredible acoustics.
A giant cheese in the cave

Music, jolly Italians, cheese, wine, in a cave!
Not content to leave well-enough alone, I was recruited on the street to join a band that was in search for a fiddler.  They asked me if I played 'populare' music.  I translated that as 'pop' music, so I responded that I used to play in some classic rock and punk bands as a teenager.  They looked at me like I was a bit crazy.  They proceeded to start playing some music that sounded a bit like some kind of traditional music, and people started dancing what looked to be some kind of traditional dance.  It was simple enough, so I played along and jumped around while doing so, as I'm prone to do.  I found out later that 'populare' means traditional music.  Apparently they play traditional southern Italian no wonder they thought I was a bit crazy when I told them I used to play in a punk band when they asked me if I played their music!

But, yes.  If you can go to a cantine aperte, do so.  Especially if you get to party in a cave. 


  1. What an amazing adventure! Today when I am daydreaming I am going to be in that cave with you in Italy :o)


  2. Hi Annie

    I've been reading some of your posts on Yehoodi, particularly your most recent one. I wondered whether you knew about the traditional music and dance festival that happens every year in Fenis:

    Given that you talk about playing music in this post - and I see accordion, bagpipes, etc. I guess you maybe do know.

    I've been a dancer of french "bal folk" (nothing to do with balboa) for several years now - originally from about 2h away from Aosta in switzerland - and am now in Pittburgh for a few years.

    In lindy - and balboa, which I've just started - I find the same connexion/partnership and community aspects which I enjoy in traditional dancing. It's not lindy, but you will find some extraordinary dancers. I'd be very happy to suggest dances that are 2-4 hours from Aosta that *might* be worth your while (on the other hand, one can't like everything so maybe you wouldn't enjoy it, just as I don't particularly like Salsa or WCS).

    Best Regards


  3. Thank you for your comment, Gregory! I actually dance bal folk (when I am not in the band playing the music for it), and it's a lot of fun. There are many opportunities to dance and play music for it around here, which I take full advantage of| Feel free to send me info for dances in other places, though. I do in fact know about the Fenis festival (it is very close to my house), but I have always been in the US visiting family while it is happening. I am friends with the organizers of it and have always heard great things. Good luck with the lindy and bal, and let me know if you are ever in Aosta|