Re-enactments come in all shapes and sizes don’t they, maybe Abruzzo’s Fara Filiorum Petri holds a record for their combustible 7m reed farchie interlaced with bangers that celebrate an 18th-century defeat of the French.
In 1799 Saint Anthony Abate appeared in the town’s local oak wood setting it on fire to turn the French invaders on their heel. As their way of expressing their eternal thanks to the saint of the ordinary people, the local townsfolk created the ‘farchie’ feast with no doubt a few historic pagan ablution rites thrown in.
The reeds for the farchia are collected over the winter from as far away as L’Aquila and take a week for the men to knot together, yes this is still man’s work and looking at the cut reeds I hope they wore some serious heavy-duty gloves. Building these is an art, misalignment could mean they could topple when being burnt causing serious injuries.
The ladies within each Contradaioli (district) work together, cooking collectively for each nightly feast as a reward for those hard working men! Imagine this on top of your day job. One lady I spoke to said she had boiled 30 kg of pasta last night for her district to eat. But it is a period that is looked at with fondness, like any good celebration it looks backwards and forwards and feasts, a perfect mid-winter pick me up until Carneval comes bustling in. Abruzzo4foodies is creating a special tour of these pre-celebration feasts.
Once the farchie have been ceremoniously paraded and stood upright in the piazza, a Jack be Nimble skinny boy shinnies up each of the farchie and unties the heavy marine looking style knot ¾ of the way up each one. It was at this point when I visited with my toddler son that, a similarly shaped knot began to grow in my stomach despite plenty of toddlers running about. That cord they untie is a string of bangers, which of course should have been expected, Italy is the land where having a good time equates to throwing a few and then a few more bangers. 15 x 7 metres high worth of bangers was going to be a lot for a 2.5 year old to handle.
The Farchie are lit, catherine wheels whizz, and of course the bangers furiously erupt. Unsurprisingly my little boy had had a meltdown, we went for a walk till the firecrackers had finished but smiles returned as we walked back into the cemetery’s piazza into the centre of the 15 farchie. Here circles of men create an electric atmosphere, belting out folk songs that I often hear but can never identify, accompanied by accordions, drums, and, of course fruity Montepulciano d’Abruzzo lubricant from demijohns. At 7 o’clock in the evening it sounded good, I am not sure what they sound like at dawn! The farchie are perfect for warming bones, although standing in the middle of the fires made me think of being one of those little plastic characters pushed into a spongy birthday cake surrounded by candles being blown and blown till were all gone.
Fara Filiorum Petri Farchi Tips
- Try the home-made cakes, delicious and do make a good offering. Despite this event being such a spectacle on the Abruzzo agenda they don’t receive a penny in cultural funding
- The old ladies of the town will have bagged the spectators’ area so no point arriving early on this count.
- Parking is incredibly organised we arrived at 3.45 and still managed to get into the car park.
- Look up squint as ash and bits do fly about.
- Restaurants will be closed but arrosticini and sausages accompanied by mulled wine etc are available.