La Veglia, Rural Fireside Chat

March 6, 2013 / Local Interest
Umbria
3Rural after-dinner fireside chats – called la veglia – once warmed winter nights, literally and figuratively as farm families gathered around the farmhouse heat source, sometimes joined by neighbors, arriving in muddy boots after treks across the fields.

After finishing up wintertime chores in late afternoons, farmwomen prepared hearty dinners – often a robust legume soup, bruschetta toasted on the wood stove, perhaps steamed broccoli or cabbage with potatoes or spinach. Dishes were few, clean-up took minutes.  Television had not yet dominated farm kitchens and after dinner, everyone slid their chairs towards the hearth.

After our wintertime dinners, Pino and I slipped on rubber boots, grabbed the flashlight and headed across our fields to our neighbors, the Pica family, for treasured evenings of “la veglia” (literally, “the vigil”), listening to rural lore, rural wisdom as hands and feet toasted near the fire. We left our jackets on: the fire warmed the front of you but the north wind whistled in through the cracked mortar in the old farmhouse walls.  

The use of firewood was parsimonious so Nonno Genuino, would blow on the coals through a steel pipe.. Marino, Genuino’s son, passed around glasses of their red wine as we talked, and sometimes the pungent smell of roasting chestnuts filled the farmhouse kitchen.

par6Some nights at “veglia“, we helped the Picas husk the summer corn crop and often, Genuino and Marino repaired the handles and sharpened the blades of their tools as we chatted: hoes, axes, shovels, scythes. They wove the willow baskets for grape harvests and olive-picking and made brooms for the stalls, binding together dried branches of ginestra (broom). Marino’s wife Chiarina would stir the legumes bubbling in the copper cauldron hanging in the fireplace. Nonna Ottavia twirled a hand-spindle as she listened to the stories and sometimes, she knit the family socks, needles falling, head dropping on her chest as she fell asleep. If she snored, her husband Genuina elbowed her, shouting “Ottav!” and her eyes would flutter open, she’d pick up her needles and knit a few more rows. Til sleep took over again.

Ottavia and Genuino are no longer with us. I miss them. And I miss “la veglia”, too. We still visit our farm neighbors on winter evenings. I still relish their stories. But no one is repairing tools or spinning wool or weaving baskets. The houses are warm, the T.V. is on.

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Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

33 Responses to “La Veglia, Rural Fireside Chat”

  1. Pat Carney-Ceccarelli

    Love this note! Am forwarding it to fiends in the UK who are working hard on their carbon footprints and creating community-trying to recover abandoned orchards and research old forgotten skills. a warming note, thank you, Anne!

    Reply
  2. Ah, that we could rekindle this kind of activity in more places, even urban centers like Chicago (currently covered in snow, with the TVs burning bright). All the more why this is such a special story. Grazie, Anne!

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  3. Anne Robichaud

    Alison, am now near you: here in snowy Wisconsin for an Umbrian rural cooking class in Madison…remembering a snowy night or two near the fireplace in an Umbrian farmhouse, roasting chestnuts as we all chatted.

    Sigh

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  4. Such a heart-warming story Anne. Your great photos and evocative commentary will help keep alive what seems to me the gradual loss of the important values your neighbours adhered to and enjoyed. Grazie!

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  5. carol weed lundin

    Frank and Brit are right! You should write! A book!!!
    You’ve got an amazing amount of already written “chapters” and everyone would welcome having a collection of all your articles, all in one place, that we have read enthusiastically for very many years in Italian Notebook.
    Forza!

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  6. Janice

    Another vote for the book Anne! You have to collect these stories because so few remember. It would be interesting to hear what your kids remember of this era.

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  7. Nancy Mazza

    Frank and Brit and Carol and Janice are right! Combine these wonderful stories and photos into a book. I thought we came up with your title years ago, “Under the Umbrian Moon”. This fireplace “veglia” story was heart-warming. Grazie.

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  8. Ann Bowerman

    Sweet story! We need to get back to that as entertainment.

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  9. Iris Mathewson

    Wonderful story Anne, it reminds me of spending each summer commercial salmon fishing in S.E. Alaska where we would often gather several boats in one cove, row ashore and build a bonfire to sit around, swap stores and legends in the evenings. We’ll hope that many people around the world still partake in this lovely custom.

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  10. Thank you Anne; Today’s article brought up fond memories of my youth here in the States and later in Italy. As a child being part of a veglia was an introduction into all that adulthood was to offer. Since during such a session children kept quite we little ones were introduced to topics of wonder that 21st century youth will take years to maybe, just maybe, ponder: cookery, high and popular music, poetry, jokes, affairs of the heart, stories of the ancients so vividly told that it brought to the present someone from over a hundred years ago. Later years during veglie in Piemonte I had the joy of listening to people who witnessed so much of Italy’s late 19th and early 20th century history, what a golden experience. The veglie I witnessed in Italy were totally mythic being they were always done in a dark room in front of a wood fire, since the usual beverage of choice was good strong grappa as the evening progressed you can well imagine how colorful the stories became! –Che gioia!!

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    • Eleanor Walden

      Dear Gian, Adele sent me the stories of your health and hospital disasters, but I would much rather respond to the warm and joyous stories of the veglia. How wonderful to read your memories about old customs and vivid stories. I want you to know how much I appreciate being part of the participation. In the event I am beating an old horse, I apologize, but I still recommend that you use your sick time to write more of the stories and attach them to recipes.
      Love,
      Eleanora

      Reply
  11. Madeline Margraves

    Memories like these are treasures our grandchildren will never know. You made me remember the wonderful unique times growing up in rural Louisiana in the 40’s and 50’s. No fireplaces, but screened in porches to cool off in the evenings and listen to the adults discuss things!!!!

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  12. Tom Calvano

    Ann,
    What a beautiful depiction of authentic Italian Culture.
    Thank you. Please keep them coming.

    Tom Calvano, Treasurer
    Italian Heritage Society of Indiana

    Reply
  13. betty bruynell

    Anne,
    Such a warm and wonderful story. Your photos capture the essence of your words.
    Betty

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  14. David fleming

    Annie
    Annie

    Great story reminding me of our own La Veglia so many years ago. How vividly I recall Liz and I visiting you and Pino in March, 1976 before you hit the big time! You were living in the old farmhouse, no indoor plumbing or heat.
    Liz and I slept in front of the big fireplace in the kitchen and in the middle of the first night I grabbed a good sized log to keep fire going , and us warm.

    Next morning Pino had you tactfully ask that we not burn the firewood since supply was short. We felt terrible about using up your heat source. Obviously we all survived!!!

    Flem

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  15. Valerie

    Anne, I love the article!! You really have some great stories to tell of the most wonderful experiences living in the Umbrian countryside. Not many of us (in the US) can say we have participated in la veglia. I’m jealous as to have not known anything like this, not even with my grandparents who came to America when they were teenagers – or maybe I was just not listening. I can’t wait to hear more of these heartwarming stories. Thank you Anne for sharing. :)

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  16. umberto'burt'levrini

    how well i remember those evenings of my youth sitting around the the pot-bellied stove -there was an elder widower who we would please,please tell us a story,and first taking a whif of snuff in each nostril ,he would begin to speak of old ancient fairy,tales—sometimes the stories were very long and we would have to wait on pins and needles, until the next night but always his stories had a happy ending.thank u Anne for bring back does wonderful memories…..

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  17. I love this story. Reminds me of my very early childhood, traveling from Texas to very rural Tennessee to visit my grandmother. She did not have electricity until I was about 6 years old because lines had not been installed on the mountain where she lived. I have memories of her turning out wonderful food on a wood burning stove and everyone sitting in a circle in the living room around a giant coal burning stove in the evenings when the adults told stories and the children present, just listened or occasionally pleaded for a favorite story to be told again! We never had a name for those evenings, but now I do, La Veglia!

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  18. Leaving a trail of fond memories everywhere you go Anne. Now that is a great life!
    Send your healing energy to my brother Tom in Madison
    Stay warm ~
    Gina

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  19. Cindy Tanner

    I love this story. What wonderful memories you have of your neighbors and the times you spent with them. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening based on your description of La Veglia. Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Elaine Marone

    A lot of change happens as the years and generations go by, but our hearts still long for the interactions and customs you so aptly and poignantly describe. Maybe a book of your stories would be just the right way to keep these so sweet life memories alive. Many of us seek meaning and renewal in the values and traditions of a simpler time. Thanks, Anne, for these endearing recollections.

    Reply
  21. Suzanne and Jack

    Anne, another wonderful story. It made me feel wistful for the pre-television, pre-climate control days growing up in Western Australia during our warm summers. Many memorable nights spent sitting on the lawn with my parents and siblings while my father hand watered the lawn (pre-reticulation). Neighbours would be doing the same thing and ‘across the street’ conversations between adults were a fabulous source of information for young children.
    You must write that book.
    You paint such evocative pictures with your words.

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  22. Sarah (Sally) Currie Walters

    Annie- you should write a book and a cookbook! I use your recipes all the time when I entertain friends and famiglia!

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  23. Kathy Weeks

    Annie, you have such a way of putting us (your readers and friends) right in the middle of all the tradition, culture, and warm friendships you and your family have experienced for years with your neighbors. Thankful that I have had the opportunity to meet some of them and enjoy lovingly prepared meals and the camaraderie that is included whenever I am in Assisi. So many of your articles remind me of my “old country” grandma, who brought her traditions with her to America as a young girl. I agree with those who encourage you to collect your favorite articles into a book…fantastico! baci, abbracci, ed ben essere a te, amica.

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  24. THANK YOU SOO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR MEMORIES WITH ALL OF US :)

    GOD BLESS YOU

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  25. Nancy Lorraine

    You paint a vivid picture with your words, Annie! Such wonderful memories. Always nice to see Pino and Peppa, too:-)

    Reply
  26. Kevin Crocker

    Annie,

    Great to see you last night and yes that is my black and white picture of the two Marino’s and Pica. I do remember those cold firesides evenings in January and February around your fireplace an the fireplaces of the neighbors.

    Can wait till June.

    Ciao.

    Reply
  27. An eloquent and soothing description of times past, such a reminder of what humans require for balance and health. I so love your writing, as it envelops me with the sense of life there, now and before. The sense of the wild Asparagus, of your days now and when you first began living there. I love seeing Kevin’s photo, which I have relished on the wall all these years, among these others. Thank you for a beautiful, informative, creative website. Look forward to meeting you one of these days!

    Reply

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