I had afternoon tea with a mayor yesterday. This sounds very grand but in fact it wasn't really. In 24 years of living in Britain, I don't think I ever met a mayor. In Italy, where I have spent a sum total of around 5 months, I've met three or four. It seems that every small town or “frazione” (a smaller town outside of a small town) has its pwn mayor and if you have anything at all to do with the local community, the chances are you will meet him or her.
Yesterday, it happened like this. We went to visit a toy museum, which is about an hour from Milan on the bus. In the morning, we had a tour of the museum and in the afternoon the children did a toy-making workshop. The whole place was housed in what looked like an old farmhouse. The mayor and her husband lived in part of the farmhouse and, while the children were being entertained by the workshop leaders, they invited us for coffee. Coffee turned out to also include a large fruit tart, which none of us was going to say no to. (I'm not a big fan of pastry normally but in Italy, the base of a tart is made with something more like shortbread. Mmmmm.) We sat on their old floral sofas, looking out at the chickens running around the garden and discussed everything from toy collecting in a camper van to immigration and multiculturalism.
Before we left, they showed us this pillar, which marks the official starting point for the village's La Befana, who is something like the Italian equivalent of Babushka, except that she's a witch, and she goes on her travels on Epiphany. Unlike the Father Christmas story, which requires Mr Claus to use magic to do a tour of the entire world in one evening, La Befana is very practical. This Befana, Befana number 6, is one of many and is presumably only responsible for a certain, carefully delineated area (which she nevertheless gets around on a flying broomstick).