Martino and his (sweet) summer

of Antonella Zanoni

Folklore, tradition, regional culture and food

The gorgeous autumn days that are following one another, where from the Dolomites to the Venetian Lagoon the sky is set ablaze with breathtaking sunsets, recall “the summer of San Martin” and the traditions related with it.

We all know the parable of the prince and the poor man: Martin cuts half of his red cloak with his sword and give it to a cold needy man found on his way. Perhaps we remember a little less that the episode happened (apparently) shortly before mid-November and that a cold and wet day was suddenly pierced by a ray of sunshine through the dark and rainy sky.

In the Lagoon the ritual of “bater sanmartin” (to beat Saint Martin) hardly resists. It does not mean to beat the poor Saint but refers to the beating of ladles on pots causing a big noise! When I was a child on Saint Martin’s Day, November 11, we went out disguised in a cloak and armed with a toy sword to emulate the Saint. Well, we sow havoc among alleys and squares, sometimes only with lids and wooden spoons, hoping for housewives to open the windows and drop some pennies or sweets. In fact, it was more often to get a harsh told-off ad some buckets of water!

A sort of “trick or treat?” ante litteram, in short!

There is also a nursery rhyme in Venetian that comes in several versions: I’ll provide you with the least goliardic and most suitable for children!

San Martin went to the attic

to find his fiancée

his fiancée was not there

Saint Martin falls down!

And with our little bag (to store the sweets,TN)

Long live, long live Saint Martin

On the mainland and in the countryside, “far sanmartin” (doing Saint Martin) still means to move and alludes to the fact that in the past, on November 11th, sharecropping contracts expired. Whole families of peasants therefore had to load their few possessions on a cart and leave the farmhouse where they had served for months.

This is also the perfetc time to taste “novello” (new) wine, a kind of beaujolais nouveau, if you’re more into french wines! That’s why we say: A San Martin castagne e vin (At Saint Martin’s, roasted chestnuts and wine)!

In any case, thanks to the Saint or to moon phases, the first decade of November almost always gives us warm and sunny days, as an old poem learned in the kindergarten recalls:

Oh, sun of Saint Martin

Won’t you give the poor man a little fire?

It is very cold down here:

life is hard, nature is naked!

If you lack, it’s trouble!

Don’t miss to warm us up a little

with a little of your fire:

Oh, sun of Saint Martin

And I can only close this post with a sweet touch from Burano island: the Saint Martin made of shortbread decorated with royal icing and bon-bon! Can you make out the silhouette of the steed and the knight with his cloak and sword?

San Martino

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Guide of  – Antonella Zanoni

Antonella Zanoni

Hello there! This is Antonella, a Venetian born and raised, travel and culture addicted tour guide. To my clients I don't offer only the factual information but also a cultural context that creates a more rewarding experience. I "sense" the…
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