We would call it the “siesta” I imagine, those hours from say 12:30 when everything, absolutely everything, shuts down and all go home or stay behind closed doors and do whatever it is they do, eat, nap, make love, until 4:30 when life begins anew. In the south of Italy, Calabria; it is such a part of life that the Italians, who have a name for everything, have no name for this period. It just is as it always has been and will continue as it always has: therefore it needs no description.
And then is when I make my escape; take my daily “passeggiata.” The streets of my little medieval town are deserted, the shops shuttered, even the old men that inhabit every sunny corner have retreated to wherever it is they spend their time before they resume the serious business of hanging out.
Today, I take the serpentine route, up the steep hill that finally straightens out—just before I think I’m going to take my last gasp—and I’m rewarded by the panorama of the town spilling down its namesake mountain and the Mediterranean far below. If it’s a particularly clear day, I’ll see Stromboli with her always telltale plume to the east and to the south Etna brooding on the horizon.
As I plod along the straight, a spring in my step and smiling in the knowledge that from here on it’s all downhill, I check out the orange grove behind the fence off the road. The closest tree is delightfully laden, its fruit hanging temptingly within reach. A quick hop and in no time my pockets are bulging.
A door opens. I look over and there’s a guy standing in the doorway giving me a hard look; vieni qua (come here) he says and goes inside. I approach the yawning maw of the doorway trying to arrange my Italian into a semblance of an apology and to offer to pay for the oranges that I was clearly stealing. I poke my head inside. He and his wife are sitting at the kitchen table; he gestures for me to come inside and sit down. I do so, carefully, as there’s an orange jammed into each of my back pockets.
“So,” he says, while his wife pulls out a bottle of red wine and pours us each a glass. “Where are you staying this year?”
Of course, he knows me, everyone knows me. I tell him, which initiates a discussion of the family that I’m renting my house from; then he asks me what I think of the wine which he made last year. There’s no mention of the stolen oranges. I tell him that the wine is great while finishing off the glass upon noticing his glass is already empty; I’m remembering that they drink wine here like a cowboy knocks off shots of rotgut. She pours us both another and compliments me on my Italian. This is ridiculous. Every time I open my mouth here,
whomever I’m speaking to compliments me on my Italian. I know and they must know that my Italian is lousy. It has something to do with the culture; I believe that the Italians, here in Calabria anyway, are so appreciative that you’re attempting the language that they want to encourage you to keep at it. I always say thank you as if it was true and as if they really mean it. We inhale another glass then they both accompany me back to the grove. She has a shopping bag which she fills with oranges. Just before I stagger off, he calls me back and hands me a bottle of his wine.
So, here I am making my way upon the long, straight road overlooking the town with a shopping bag full of oranges in one hand, a bottle of homemade wine in my other and a half-liter or so peacefully reposing inside. I come to the end of the straight where I have to make a choice; continue on the road which winds around to eventually come out on the other side of town or take the steps directly down to the center.
Here’s a medieval southern Italian mountain village; it winds up its namesake mountain which is usually surmounted by a tower— which explains as you must ask, as I did, why these accursed villages, with their steep, winding cobblestoned streets lined with stone houses, exist? Think Thirteenth Century Saracen raiders. They would periodically make the relatively quick trip from North Africa to the Calabrian coast where they would scoop up the inhabitants of the coastal villages to support their cottage industry of slave trading. After a few hundred years the locals decided to relocate their villages up the mountains where presumably, it would be more difficult for the Saracens to root them out. The Saracen threat eventually receded but the villagers, with a wary eye out to sea, remain to this day.
Regarding the steps; considering the town’s layout, essentially up and down, the streets are connected by stone steps which ascend to the very top of the town—which was where I found myself with my burden of oranges and wine. As I negotiated down the steps, which are narrow, steep and lined with the aforementioned stone houses, a door opened and I was greeted by a man whom I vaguely knew. He invited me in—for a glass of wine of course. And of course there is no such thing as a “glass” of wine. After the required two or three glasses and following his obligatory compliments on my Italian and my admiration of his homemade wine, I continued, very carefully, down the steps and thence home.
Tomorrow will be another passeggiata. Perhaps I’ll try another route; or maybe not? I’m acquiring a taste for this life.
Want to read more stories from Stu? There's plenty! Check out his books covering many subjects. Boating, traveling, and adventures galore.
Dyeing with Graphite Sue Muldoon
Monterosso has a beautiful museum with history of local farm and arts. Of particular interest to me is the dyeing of natural fabric with graphite. As a basket and seatweaver, I am always looking to add to my list of artistic skills, especially unique ones.
There are some similarities here and in the town I grew up in, Manchester CT. Both towns were known for their fine silk production.
While I was doing some research on my family history, I discovered that my Great Grandfather was listed in Portadown, Ireland as a weaver. I found out from my cousin (who is amazing with her geneology skills) that he had a weaving room attached to his house where he wove linen, as there were no factories at that time. Everything was indeed, a cottage industry.
Moving forward to 1916, my Grandfather, Joseph Muldoon came to America through the Cheney Mills recruitment of 800 families, to weave in their silk mills in Manchester CT. He was a silk inspector, and met my Grandmother Sadie there.
It is a joy to relate to this when I am in Monterosso, exploring the museum with all of it's flax, linen, graphite and silk history. It's akin to walking an ancient parallel path for me. I knew my grandparents worked in the silk mills, but I had no idea my Great Grandfather was a weaver, by trade. Apparently I have inherited that genetic trait. See some samples at reduxforyou.com
Here's Grandma Sadie in the middle, with her two friends in front of the Cheney Mills Silk Mill.
During my stay in Calabria, I will be learning how to dye with graphite and natural mordants from Nella. You can too. Learn a little more about the town and the process in this video from WRAD.
This is the first tour of the collaboration of Antonia and Velia, Stu and Sue...but certainly not the first for Antonio and Velia. They are amazing hosts.
Our trip is currently not full, and we will extend our deadline to January 24th. After that? We will just start planning another adventurous trip in October 2020 and March 2021.
We realize a lot of folks have already made plans for this year. If you can join us? delightful! If not....put a reminder on your calendar that you want to plan ahead for one of our next trips.
Stu and Sue