As October knocks on Rome’s doors, Roman roofs awake at morning covered with a wonderful golden light. In the main daylight hours, along the shady avenues, a thousand shades of green, yellow and red light up the landscape.
At sunset, a soft breeze rises and permeates the streets with both old and new perfumes. Rome and October are a perfect duo: a magic atmosphere is felt and many consider it being the most favourable moment to visit it.
Today the expression “Ottobrata” recalls an endless summer which extends in time until the beginning of Autumn, but it once had a complete different meaning. Ever since the first decades of the XX century, the “Ottobrate” were joyful outdoor trips organized by young groups. Early on Sunday or Thursday mornings, they would leave all together on little decorated carts, where women dressed up with flowers and feathers sat on, while men followed wearing lavish outfits.
Daylight hours were spent in vineyards and plots and the preferred evening destination was Testaccio with its many caverns created there where old cellars and taverns stood: real wine catacombs.
Those were the days of common euphoria and this is the reason why it is believed that the “Ottobrate Romane” origin from the wild Baccanalia and Dionysiac festivals (linked to the cycle of seasons).
The end of grape harvest was celebrated between scent-exciting vineyards, where must overheated souls and bodies moved at the rhythm of “saltarello”, a typical Roman dance accompanied by guitars, castanets and little drums. Their moves were often accompanied by a refrain like:
quant’è bono ‘sto sartarello
smòvete a destra smòvete a manca
smòvete tutto cor piede e coll’anca”.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the fame of “Ottobrate Romane” spread across Europe. The gayness and vitality of young Roman people in those mild climate days seduced foreign visitors who often chose to visit Rome in October. Nothing could have diverted a Roman from that trip. Arnaldo Frateili wrote in Rome’s yearbook: “But in Rome, in October we go on the “Ottobrate”.
Even if the world falls down, the good Roman won’t give up the beautiful trips and the wine break in the peripheral taverns. On this bright October days, even the night must leave the burden of sadness on its path, if it wants to look under the pergola of the crowded, noisy taverns.” Lately, in the Italian capital city, this month is mostly a synonym of art and exhibitions.
For example, it is possible to visit in the Chiostro del Bramante the exhibition called “Love. Contemporary art meets Amour”. Starting from October, the works of major contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Francesco Vezzoli, Yayoi Kusama, Ursula Mayer, Gilbert & George, Tom Wesselmann, Marc Quinn, Ragnar Kjartansson, Joana Vasconcelos, Robert Indiana and Francesco Clemente will be on display. In the Rione Monti the event “Ottobrata Monticiana” reaches its twenty-eighth edition.
Those traditional feasts and their joyful moods are going to be the leitmotif of concerts, shows and good cuisine. Times changed and once an outdoor trip did not mean going too far from the city: plots and vineyards were everywhere, Monteverde, porta San Pancrazio, porta San Giovanni, ponte Milvio.
The beauty of the “Ottobrate Romane” can only be imagined, lighted up taverns glittered and were presided over by publicans, who stood on the doors waiting for the arrival of little carts: just like a cheerful parade, a long line made up by three, six, ten carts, crawling along the path. And when the sun set, sellers lighted up acetylene torches so that the shadows would not eat the oven-scented goods. An accordion, amidst the tables, played cheerful songs until it covered the crickets’ singing in the fields.
From now on, those celebrations will be tamed too, assimilated, politicised, but the very same convivial recall appeased different classes. That custom has disappeared, but in this very moment, someone in the world is booking a trip to Rome in October, unaware of all the protagonists, spect-actors that towered over the scene of the city, starting from the Host to the high priest, to the cart driver that strolled along the vineyards and the taverns, from the beautiful women and many others.
This year in October, a traveller is going to get to Rome and is going to fall in love with the city. Every single year in Autumn, this love drives people back to the Eternal city, even though they do not know of a distant and “almost blissful” time, when people used to celebrate the “Ottobrate Romane”.