Monday, September 2, 2013


Confetti as you never knew it...
Where I come from, 'confetti' means small pieces of coloured paper or streamers that are thrown during a wedding or celebration. In Italy, it means almonds, or maybe chocolate or hazelnuts, coated in bright sugar confectionary, often done up into flowers or bouquets or other elaborate presentations -- compulsory at Italian weddings, and all other celebrations of any significance. My 'Rough Guide' guide book to Italy says:
Through ingenious marketing the Sulmonese confetti barons have made gifts of their intricate sculptures de rigeur at christenings, confirmations and weddings throughout Catholic Europe.
A 'confetti baron'! The phrase conjures quite a vision - a portly gent draped in confectionary? A smoke-filled room with senior businessmen clustered around a table full of...confetti?

Confetti barons...?
Sulmona's Roman aqueduct and the facade of San Francesco della Scarpa.
Garlic in the market in Piazza Garibaldi.
At the heart of it all is the small city of Sulmona, in Abrruzzo in Central Italy. Apart from confetti, which is everywhere in the town, Sulmona is also famous for being the birthplace of the Roman poet Ovid, and for being frequently destroyed by earthquakes, which are a serious threat throughout Abruzzo. It's only a few years (April 2009) since the main town of the province, L'Aquila, suffered a very serious quake.  Sulmona does still have a broad Piazza Garibaldi, where you can buy the local garlic (a speciality) on market days, and a quite well preserved Roman aqueduct. But if all that's left of the beautiful church of San Francesco della Scarpa, after earthquake damage, is a weighty portal, why not devote the town's attention to something lighter - and more profitable - like confetti?

Ovid contemplates his birthplace.
Ovid still looks down on it all, from a statue in a small piazza; and inside a palazzo now put to use as a museum (though usually closed) there's a terrific sculpture of Ovid masquerading as a Christian friar. From pagan love poetry to clutching the Bible. He lived from 43 BC to AD 17 or 18, and is considered one of the greatest writers of Latin love poetry; he was a great influence on later poets and writers. His famous 'Amores' tell in three books of poems of his grand affair with Corinna. Here's a sample of what you can find if you read ancient Latin - or find a translation:
...the opening poem [in Book 2] tells of Ovid's abandonment of a Gigantomachy in favour of elegy. 2 and 3 are entreaties to a guardian to let the poet see Corinna, poem 6 is a lament for Corinna's dead parrot, 7 and 8 deal with Ovid's affair with Corinna's servant and her discovery of it, and 11 and 12 try to prevent Corinna from going on vacation. 13 a prayer to Isis for Corinna's illness, 14 a poem against abortion, and 19 a warning to unwary husbands. (source)
I'm particularly drawn to the ode to a dead parrot (inspiration for Monty Python perhaps?) and will now need to seek out Ovid's poems in modern English. But meanwhile, I like to think that the small boy Ovid looked upon the same Roman aqueduct that still crosses Sulmona, and perhaps walked the same Corso Ovidio street that now bears his name. But I'm very sure that he never posed as a monk holding aloft a Christian Bible.

Ovid re-interpreted.
Having been led astray by consideration of Ovid, I should return to Sulmona's current claim to fame - the ubiquitous confetti. Claims as to the origin of the confetti recipe vary from "since Roman times" to 300 years ago. The confetti factories of Sulmona are still often family affairs, with the sweets being made in the traditional way, by hand in a four-day process. It's true that the sweets taste much better when you can eat them fresh in Sulmona, unlike packaged ones which may have spent some time in transportation or on the shelf -- the confetti of Sulmona is exported widely.

Dazzling confetti displays...
...trying to out-do each other.
As to why the English word 'confetti' came to mean paper rather than sweets, Wiki says:
The English word confetti (to denote Jordan almonds) is related to the Italian confectionery of the same name, which was a small sweet traditionally thrown during carnivals. Also known as dragée, Italian confetti are almonds with a hard sugar coating; their name can be translated from Italian to mean confit, as in confiture. The Italian word for paper confetti is coriandoli which refers to the coriander seeds originally contained within the sweet. By tradition, the Italian confetti (sugar coated almonds) are given out at weddings and baptisms (white coating), or graduations (red coating), often wrapped in a small tulle bag to give as a favour to the guests. For a wedding, they are said to represent the hope that the new couple will have a fertile marriage. The British adapted the missiles to weddings (displacing the traditional rice) at the end of the 19th century, using symbolic shreds of coloured paper rather than real sweets.
Di Carlo & Figlio carries on the tradition.

These days, thanks presumably to those 'confetti barons', confetti comes in wild and varied guises, and cellophane, ribbons, bows and wires are manipulated to produce fantastical concoctions of confetti.

Perhaps Ovid would have presented a bouquet to Corinna. To soothe her about the loss of her parrot.

A basket of confetti.
Confetti under the aqueduct.

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