Encounters in Italy

Dusty encounter

It’s lunchtime in the blistering heat. The town, where I’m picking up a sandwich, looks deserted. The average Italian doesn’t risk to get out on the streets. A group of dusty millennials is sitting outside under a lean-to at the baker’s shop. They are armed with big bottles of cool water and tiny bowls of salad. Exceptional company, they make me curious. They are dusty but they don’t look like the typical workers who manage the lands.

I take the risk and use my best Italian to initiate a conversation. They are employees of the regional archaeological department. They are young and enthusiastic, and they tell me that they are working for a farmer who wants to lay an orchard. In Italy that’s not easy. Before even pressing the tip of your shovel in the ground you need a thousand stamps and an investigation of the lands. A team of archaeologists come to examine every square meter of the terrain. After having proven that no ground resources are destroyed, the project can commence.

The work activities are a foot length away of my holiday home. If I want to come watch. My heart jumps, awesome. I get enthusiastic and they explain me what is going on. A guy looking like a touareg is capturing the terrain accurately with his camera. He has a big black turban on his head and wobbling on some steps he takes pictures. There have been Hellenistic discoveries, but nothing of great value. It’s the farmer’s lucky day.

Next year, I’m probably eating pesca from the new orchard.

Love goes through the stomach

The journey is unexpectedly long. It’s the first of August and there is a heat wave. The thermometer in the car tells me it’s 45 degrees Celsius. The concrete seems liquid. On this day, the Italian holidays start officially, and there are millions of Italians on their way to their holiday destination. The roads to the coast explode. We are part of a large procession of cars with miraculous loads. Complete drawers, lamps, refrigerators and paintings are moved from one destination to another. Cars stuffed with toilet paper and melons... Everything to guarantee the best summer holiday. In the traffic jam we get to observe the average vacation Italian.

Sticky and tired we arrive at our destination in the Abruzzi. The temperature is still high but not in the exasperating way we experienced during the day. The people are lovely and welcome us into their home. The family is just having dinner, the pasta is fresh from the kitchen. After a long journey, we can join the family. Extra plates come from different cabinets. There is some nervosity, pasta with sea fruit is not exactly the typical dinner for a four year old child. My kid’s expression is priceless. “How do they know my food?”. Sweetly he sits next to the grandmother of the house, nonna. With a big smile, he downs his food.

With the reaction that the pasta ”la migliore pasta nel mondo” is, we can see some liquid glisten in nonna’s eyes. It’s almost a declaration of love. A new friendship is born between a Dutch 4-year-old and an Italian nonna. They don’t understand each other but nonna knows how to make a young boy happy. During the meals, she keeps giving him delicious bites. She points out to him which vegetables are ripe and can get picked from the garden. During the day, she shows him that you can eat the fruits right from the trees. Fresh plums, figs and peaches from the orchard. It’s like warm jam. Italian love goes through the stomach.

Treasure map

The love for Italy took root in me a long time ago. It is a marvellous country to be and to satisfy my need to “treasure hunt”. It’s rich in art and culture, and you find “jewels” every once in a while. With my standard travel friend I have made many trips to visit archaeological sites. Amazing to be dozing off and fantasizing about the way in which the Romans or the Etruscans lived. At a poignantly hot afternoon, I share my passion with Vincenzina. She takes me to the library that is richly embellished with all books imaginable. She wants to show me something special.

A wonderfully illustrated book with her name on it. It is her thesis. The owner of our vacation home studied architecture. Her specialization is ecclesiastical architecture and she wrote her thesis on that. The world surrounding us doesn’t exist anymore while she takes me through the pages with pictures and fragments of old terrain only a few kilometres away from the Abruzzi. She did research based on an old diary she found in the library of the church in that town. A rich lady from the region owned the diary two ages ago and described the land around her. Who lived there, what vegetables were cultivated and what flora grew there. The reports were illustrated with rich and detailed drawings.

Vincenzina broadly explains her discovery. She combines all drawings and a map was created that apparently was a good representation of the region. She surprised friend and foe and her cynical thesis supervisor. By researching the roads, paths, rivers and tillage they found out some houses must have disappeared, but also a little church. She does more research in the ecclesiastical archives in Rome. As in a fairy tale she finds blueprints of the church that came up on the map. Amazing! The search ends with the murals she discovers in the house that is on the location where the church would supposedly be. The structure of the church is still visible and coincides with the blueprints from the archive.

How long we have been looking at her Italian thesis I can’t say. Beautiful to be taken away into another wonderful world.

Experienced & written by Marije