Everyday Life In The Country


In Berici Hills rural society a woman who were going to buy a baby (who were pregnant) kept working in the fields until the very last minute. Her condition was no matter of conversation, and it was only whispered about by women; she was once in a while given a glass of red wine, lest the baby was born with red marks on its skin. Baby were baptized in eight days since their birth, and were given the name of either grandparent or of a prematurely deceased relative.
A child's education was up to ita mother. Its few toys were all home-made: a rag-doll, a ball made of old clothes, a toy-cart. When a child was sick it was cured with traditional remedies: against stomac-ache a piece of buteered sugar-paper was laid on its belly, against tapeworms a necklace of garlic-clovers was hung around its neck. The only "real" medicine, administered against any health disorder, was castor-oil.

Children started to work at an early age: after school they would take cattle and sheep to their grazing, and when it was time of busy agricultural activity, they would help the grown-ups in the fields.

With a pen-knife (roncolina) older boys would carve pieces ofwood to make slings, whistles, stopari (shooting-canes), s-ciopèì (toyguns), archìti (bird-traps). Girls would mime women's chores or play scalòto o scalòn (a game of quickly jumping on one or both feet), ball, bones (with peach-bones or pebbles). Older boys would play saltamuléta or mussa (leapfrog), scaja with a flat pebble , and baléte (little clay balls to throw with your fingers).

When the years of school were over, the years of playing were over, too: boys would follow their fathers to the fields, girls would help their mothers at home. When young men received a call-up for military sevice, it was a celebration: they would carouse about the town on a cart adorned with wreaths and wine-flasks, parading their sturdiness. When a young man returned from military service, he was ready to settle down and would start to look for a morosa (fiancée) amongst the village-girls. Sunday-masses, religious processions, town fairs (where out-of-the-town men who might have shown some interest in local girls were highly unwelcomed), harvest- and vintage-time, and winter-night family meeting (filò) were all chances to do so.

A few weeks before the wedding, the couple had it publicly announced on posters and local newspapers. In the meantime a taylor asserted the value of the bride's dowry: linen, a trousseau and a materass. The best time of the year for weddings was Autumn, especially on St.Martin's Day, when harvest-time was over, fowls were fat and the new wine was ready.

Married couple moved to the groom's house. The groom's father still was the undisputed head of the family: he was the one who took all decisions.

And as far as brides were concerned, it was their mothers-in-law who hold the mescolo (the ladle) in their hands.

Country people were born at home, and they died at home. In the evening, neighbours would gather at the dead person's house to say terzeto (the third part of the rosary). All the people of the village wuld attend the funeral and would comment: "His/her troubles are over, at last". Male relatives would wear on their jacket a black button or ribbon for six months after the funeral, while women would dress completely in black; widows had to mourn for at least one year.

Peasants' life through the year in Berici Hills

Agriculture is the job that is the most affected by weather and other natural conditions. Peasants always observed carefully natural phenomena, in an attempt to foresee what the weather was going to be like, because "the land had to be worked when it was ready for it". Moon had its influence, too. With a waning moon you embottle wine, you sow corn, and you let hens hatch, so that chicken will be born with a waxing moon. With a waxing moon you let silk-worms make their cocoons and with the January moon you sow garlic. The most popular moon-calendar was Giovanni Spello's Pojana, which could be found hanging in every kitchen or stable.

Hail was the most dreaded weather-perturbation: in a few moments it could destroy a year's work. To prevent hailing blessed candles were lit and blessed olive-branches were burned in the fireplace.

Agricultural activities were planned on the blueprint of a traditonal calendar, based on the recurrent festivities of saints' days. "Good new year's day, good day, good soup, good turkeys, good appetite..." children would sing as they stopped at every household in town on New Year's Day, in order to be given the bujelo: a few nuts, some flour or a little change. On the 2nd of January it was S.Bovo's Day (Saint Ox), protector of cattle, and his blessed image would be hung on the stabledoor. The day before Epiphany (6th of January) children would hang a socket onto the mantelpiece, hoping that during the night the good old witch Befana would fill it with peanuts, carobs, dried chestnuts and maybe even an orange.

In January work in the fields was suspended, but after the Blackbird's Days (the last days of January), when it was supposed to get a little warmer, it was time to start digging and pruning. On the 2nd of February, the Purification of the Madonna was celebrated, also called Candelora and Seriola, because of the blessing of candles during the ceremony, and on the following day it was S.Biagio's help that was begged for, against sore throats. It didn't mean that winter was over, anyway, yet during Carnevale the village was cheered-up by the singing and laughing of masked people, who would call at every house to receive some buns, fritters and sweets.

On the first day of March bonfires were lit-up to celebrate the coming of springtime; pranksters loudly announced fake engagements for the village girls. On the 25th of March the Fair of the Madonna attracted scores of peasants to Lonigo. On Palm Sunday olive-tree branches were blessed, and this was thought to bestow some magical power on them. In April peas were hoed and corn was sown before St.Mark's Day, on the 25th, for: "if it rains on St.Mark's Day, it'll make corn grow even on rocks", and "on St.Mark, half of the polenta in the land and half in the sack". In April the whole family had to start to take care of the silkworms, which they were going to do for the following two months. In the three days before Ascension there took place the Rogazioni: the priest and altar-boys would go all around the countryside singing lithanies and blessing the fields: "A fulgore et tempestate, libera nos Domine".
In May, work in the fields got harder and harder, but the evenings were dedicated to saying fioretti (little flowers), that is, saying the Rosary in the church or before road-chapels in honour of the Vergin Mary. In June corn was hoed again, vineyards had to be taken care of, and cherries were harvested. The holydays were Corpus Domini, St.Anthony with the Saw 's (13th) and St.Peter's (29th).

July was the month of the great heat, cicadas but also of reaping, which was performed by all: men, women and children. In the ditches, melons and watermelons were grown, to be eventually sold in the typical straw-huts that can still be seen today.

Heat started decreasing in mid-August: "San Lorenzo (10th August) is very hot, San Vincenzo (22nd January) is very cold, but they both last little"; a little shower was enough to harbinger the end of the summer: "August's rain cools down the forest". The 15th of August was Assumption Day. September was polenta-time, because maiz was harvested; the land began to be ploughed. On the 8th of September, on Madonna of Monte Berico's Day, hundreds of pilgrims walked from all over the province to the Berici Hills' shrine.

In October (on October's first Sunday, Rosary Day, duck was traditionally cooked for lunch) vintage required the labour of all the family's members. After the grapes had been foot-pressed, wine was kept boiling in special tubs for a few days and then stored in barrels.

Before All Saints' Day wheat had to be sown "By the Saints' thow it onto the field, by St.Martin's take it to the mill", because St.Martin's Day (11th of November) was the beginning of a new agricultural year: all payments had to be settled, rents had to be payed and those who couldn't had to "celebrate St.Martin's Day", that is, leave their houses.

On the 25th of November St.Catherine's Fair was hold in Barbarano, where farming tools, wooden shoes and the new moon-calendar could be purchased. On the second day of December the weather conditions for the following two months could be foretold. In December the pig was killed, the family's most treasured possession.

By then, work in the fields was basically over: everything was covered in frost and the farmer spent his time in the stable repairing tools. For Christmas a nativity scene was prepared in every house with moss and chalk figures, and a juniper-tree would be used as a christmas-tree.

In the evenings from Christmas to Epiphany children with a large paper star would go from house to house singing carols (singing "the star") and would be given some flour, some food or a few coins. The year ended at the singing of "happy ending and happy beginning".