In this relentless heat we’re having at the moment, I’m becoming more and more like a rose every day. Sadly not in the way of looking beautiful or having a gorgeously heady and fragrant aroma, but in the way they shut down when it gets too hot or too dry!
According to ‘Fine Gardening’ magazine roses do this as a self-defense mechanism – by shutting down they need less food and water to survive. The article goes on to say that… “if they look a little droopy, hit them with some more water. If they aren’t droopy leave them alone” .
Well I’m seriously droopy, so please someone hit me with some water!
Not only are roses symbolic of eternal love but apparently – and rather surprisingly – they are cooling in nature. Spraying rosewater on your body can physically relieve and cool inflammation – great for sunburned skin – whilst taken internally it can also soothe an overheated digestive system. Their smell meanwhile can help calm a person’s anger and irritability helping to bring serenity and peace to the senses.
Which was maybe why I so loved going to the Festa delle Rose this year in Bossolasco, a medieval stone village in the Alta Langa hills of Piemonte, also known as the ‘Pearl of the Langhe’ or ‘Il Paese delle Rose’ (Village of the Roses) for the mass of climbing roses that decorate it’s old houses and streets.
The first week of June however is when the rose is really celebrated here and the whole village becomes one large rose garden in bloom – they clamber over the stone walls of houses, bars and restaurants; meander around old wooden doors; droop becomingly from window frames and just generally chill amongst old bricks and crevices.
It was a heady experience just ambling through the town in the June heat, inhaling the scent of hundreds of roses and listening to the live jazz singer’s low, sultry voice drifting lazily along the main cobblestone street. We were nearing the church of San Giovanni Battista at the top of the town and in my soporific and rose-induced state I was sure I could almost feel the presence of an angelic force. I remembered how people often mentioned smelling the fragrance of roses while communicating with angels in prayer or meditation.
And then as we finally reached the church, I glanced briefly round the piazza taking in the splendid ivy-covered Palazzo Balestrino and historic Hotel Bellavista before ….wonders of wonders….coming face to face with an actual angel! …..albeit a very physical metallic angel!
This particular contemporary sculpture “L’Angelo dell’Alta Langa” commemorates the enormous bravery of the villagers of Bossolasco who all closed forces to hide and protect a group of Jewish people from the Nazis in the Second World War. The resistance was very much alive and strong in the Alta Langa and so this is just one more reminder of those partisan men and women who fought and gave their lives for freedom.
Rather than go any deeper into the history, I prefer to leave this to Suzanne Hoffman, a dear friend whose passion for the people, land and history of this area inspired her to write the gripping novel ‘Angel of the Alta Langa’. Beautifully researched, her story evocatively and hauntingly portrays those harsh days of the Second World War as the local people fought for their lives and the preservation of their beloved families, vineyards and land.
Having sat a while musing on the dark past of this area and admiring the protecting angel…..I decided I needed to be ‘hit with some more water’…so I wandered off in search of a cool drink. As well as a drink, I was offered an inviting bowl of ice-fresh watermelon chunks – watermelons are not only delicious but are about 90% water and known for cooling the blood, so I gratefully accepted.
The taste was sweetly and juicely divine, in fact I think Mark Twain sums up the experience perfectly when he said that: “one who has tasted watermelon knows what the angels eat.” Everything was becoming more angelic by the minute.
To finish on a distinctly trivial note – and because I love this photo! – it’s said that Hippocrates one of the ancient Greek physicians, thought highly of the healing properties of watermelon and would treat heatstroke in children (and dogs?!) by placing wet, cool watermelon rinds on their heads…..(note to self to try this).
And then there are some who say that dogs are angels without wings!
RECIPE: Watermelon, Lime & Rosewater Granita (with an Alta Langa sparkling wine)
My day in Bossolasco inspired me to make a refreshing granita for these hot summer days. Similar to a sorbet, this Italian frozen dessert is made by hand instead of machine so it’s icily crunchy …almost like eating mouthfuls of crispy snow.
Serves 2 in small bowls
Prep time: 5 minutes
Chilling time: 3-4 hours total
2 cups/400g fresh watermelon cubes (seeds removed as much as possible)
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp rosewater
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
Blend all the ingredients together. Pour into a shallow metal container and put in the freezer. After about 45 minutes you should see ice crystals forming, so take a fork and scrape and break up these icy bits. Then re-freeze. Repeat this procedure about 2 or 3 times and then leave to freeze fully.
Serve in ice-cold bowls to eat whenever you need cooling down!
N.B. also lovely served with a glass of chilled sparkling or rosé wine…
There is a popular French rosé wine called ‘Whispering Angel’ which would go wonderfully with this theme, and particularly as there’s a hint of rose running through it. But we enjoyed a local wine, a rich and creamy sparkling Alta Langa wine from the Bossolasco vineyards of Contratto (owned by Giorgio Rivetti) – that I could see from where we were sitting. The wine tasted of ripe apricots, honey and sweet almond whilst the mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes produced a beautiful golden yellow and pale orange colour – like a hot summer sun.