19 May 2013

LIFE: Chiavari's Flower Fest

CHIAVARI, Italy – Flower fair this weekend. The streets of old Chiavari resemble walkways to heaven. The heady fragrance emanating from the thousands of flowers and herbal plants on display was hard to resist, not that anyone was thinking about resisting.

There is a part of the Italian Riviera called the Riviera of the Flowers. It’s on the side of the Riviera that goes from Genova toward the south of France. It’s right next to the Riviera of the Palms (See http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2013/03/life-palms-vatican.html  LIFE: Palms@ the Vatican). 

It’s on that side of the Riviera that Italy’s flower industry began. The first flowers to be exported were carnations, followed by roses and violets. The top flower clients were the perfume houses located in and around Grasse, in France.

So the chances are pretty good that my favorite perfume, Chanel No. 5, was made from essence of flowers grown in Italy.  Why the Italians never developed a perfume industry of their own is still a mystery to me, but you have to hand it to the crafty French, they saw an opportunity and they took it.

Italy’s flower industry really took off when the railroad line connecting Liguria with the rest of Europe was completed. The year was 1894.  It wasn’t really an organized industry back then, local flower growers would gather at the train station with boxes of flowers and flower buyers from France, and other parts of Europe, would come in on the train, look over the goods and buy.

Flowers are still one of Italy’s major exports and the center of the flower industry is in the town of San Remo. What that means is no matter where you live in Europe, there’s a good chance that some of the flowers you buy at your local market and florists were grown on Italy’s Riviera of the Flowers.

So this weekend’s flower fest is a tribute to the flower growers. The weather is a little uncertain, but I doubt a little rain is going to keep people away. The whole town is celebrating and many of the bars along the streets hosting the fair have set out pots of blooming flowers on their outdoor tables.

Even the kids were having a good time sniffing and smelling whatever flowers they happened to come across that were at their level. Two seconds after I snapped this photo the little boy on the right spotted his grandmother standing across the way and dashed over to give her legs a hug. 

While most passers-bye were oooing and ahhhing at the beautiful lemon trees, the lemon tree guy was looking rather bored. Hard to believe lemon trees could lose their charm, but then again . . . . . And the kids from the Istituto Agrario in Marsano, Italy’s future flower and herb growers and all around tenders of the land, had a small stand too. To their credit they brought giant pots of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, which smelled absolutely delicious.

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