The Apricale Year
Sunny days but cold nights. The village bells ring in the New Year. Families eat the traditional meal; of pigs trotter sausage with lentils and villagers gather around the seasonal bonfire in the piazza, with a drink and a few songs, a meeting point until the feast of the epiphany. New Years eve/day are a time for going out to eat, restaurants have special programmes with music and dancing, these need to be booked. There are now just over 600 permanent residents in Apricale. More than 30 nationalities have settled here. Records show that in the 16th century there were well over a thousand. The last of the olives are picked in this month before the presses are cleaned and shut down until next year.
The pizzeria in Isolabona is busy all year round but now people like to sit inside near the oven in the evenings. Flurries of snow are possible on the hills overnight, but lunch outside in the sunshine is still a possibility most days. A local food fare and tasting is held in the castle in Apricale. Orchids and the first mimosa appear on the hillsides. San Remo, Dolceaqua and Apricale celebrate carnival in this month.
Wild crocus and hyacinths appear in orchards and olive groves. Spring salad and herbs are on sale in the markets. New broad beans are served as anti-paste on Sundays in the Favorita. Planting of summer vegetables begins in hillside gardens. Now the possibility of frost is over it is time to prune fruit and olive trees. There is a smell of wood smoke as residents light their wood burners in the evenings, which are still welcome at times.
Now the days and nights are much warmer Apricale’s other industry, tourism, gets going, tables in the square are busy and the weather ideal for walking and picnicking on the hills around the village. Records show that people have been visiting Apricale for many hundreds of years, to drink it’s clean spring water, eat bread baked in it’s ovens and trade salt cod, sausages, flour and cheese. All of these can still be bought in shops in Apricale. The old people of the village, like the little figures on Swiss clocks come out when the sun shines, if it rains they are nowhere to be seen. In April they start to linger in the square much later in the evenings talking Apricalese, the local dialect which is a particular version of the Ligurian language spoken in Isolabona or other hilltop villages. Apricale still recognises the weeks of lent leading up to Easter with religious activities.
From March to June a great variety of wild flowers can be seen on the hills. By May they are at their best, soon the hillsides will be dry and dusty. Strimmers can be heard very early in the morning. The best of the grass growing season is almost over, strim now and nothing much grows for months. Food is served in the square and the first serious sunbathers appear on the beaches. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage grow wild on the hillsides and release a lovely aroma as you walk overgrown paths. Each of the little churches has their special feast day with processions and music throughout the summer.
School is finishing, the weather getting hotter and youngsters make for the beach and river to swim at weekends and after school. Records show that there has been a little place of learning in Apricale since 1498. Foreign voices re-appear in the square, and the little baggage truck is busy carry suitcases to summer holiday homes. San Pietro holds its festival on the last weekend of the month. The parish priest comes to celebrate mass in the ruined monastery, after which people unload their cars of homemade delicacies, including copious amounts of wine and grappa.
The finals of the palone elastico contest are held. Cups won are exhibited in the bar in the square. The holidays get under way, families and friends return. Children stay out late to enjoy puppet shows and music in the piazza. The patron saint of Apricale Luigi is celebrated on the 21st and Bastiile Day is celebrated with a spectacular firework display over Menton harbour. At the end of the month everyone turns out for an Apricale village dance, young and old, visitors and locals. The commune does a brisk trade in red wine and slices of pizza.
Since 1990 the Teatro della Tosse has arrived from Genova. The bicycle on the church spire remains from one of their productions, another summer they brought a pig, which lived in a cantina in the square. The piazza is a natural theatre, which becomes the set for plays throughout the month and the upper square; walls and steps are vantage points from which to watch the production. The village is noisy, people arrive from afar, cars queue to park on the road above the village. It is difficult to book a table in a restaurant. Mid month Fireworks light up the castle and roll over the bridge in Dolceaqua in a fantastic display accompanied by music. With temperatures soaring to the mid thirties, thunderstorms are likely. Everyone shuts up his or her business for the summer holidays. I always thought May was Mary’s month. Here in Apricale she is taken on a little tour round the village in August accompanied by a jolly oompah band!
Apricale festival is held from 8th to 10th of the month with processions and vast quantities of ‘panserole’ cooked in the square. Showers bring out autumn crocuses in the olive groves. In the chestnut woods above Apricale fungi appear, for those who know where to look. For those who don’t, they begin to appear on market stalls and on local menus. Vines are laden with grapes. Children return to school around the middle of the month after the long break which began in June, mothers breathe a sigh of relief. Wine making starts and the San Remo car rally tears through the village! Enthusiast watch the handbrake turns in close-up as they swing round the Perinaldo/Biardo turn.
Chestnuts tumble from trees all over the lanes and paths around the village and are roasted in the square in Buggio at their harvest festival. Cinghiale hunting gets under way. Groups of camouflage-clad men roam the hills with dogs, guns and mobile phones (seems an unfair advantage!) Lots of wild boar are eaten with polenta. Those in the know comb the chestnut and beech woods with baskets to collect funghi to be dried, sautéed with herbs or put into risotto. All of these and more can be sampled in Pigna at their funghi festival.
Rain when it comes is torrential, crashing down hillsides, loosening banks and old walls, making landslips possible. When the weather looks dry and bright terraces are cleaned up, nets laid, sticks pulled out from cantinas and the olive picking season starts. Records show that this same process has been carried on in Apricale since the sixth century, when oil production was already the principal economic activity of the village. The old frantoio can still be seen in the San Rocco valley below Apricale. Piles of sacks and boxes are now transported to various modern millers where the olives are washed, crushed to a paste and cold spun to extract the oil. At this time of year men in bars anxiously discuss when to pick. Too early then you get less oil and poor flavour, too late and icy winds could damage the crop. At the frantoio Cassini the results will be solemnly chalked up against your name.
The year is rounded off with Christmas celebrations. A tree and bonfire are lit in the square. There is no one traditional meal to be eaten on Christmas day; fat capons, lamb and lentils are favourite foods. Woe betide naughty children it is said that they may get a visit from the witch Bifania on the feast of the epiphany early in the New Year.