Author: Vittorio Musca. Author’s blog
I want to be honest with you, also because that is how I am and that was my first intention when I was asked to write something about Italy; besides, for my sensibility and for I feel like I experience everyday living in this country, it would be quite impossible to create out of nothing something which isn’t already there.
Considering that every 10 km dialects, society, lifestyle, change in my country, I’ll start for this article to write about my little village, Torchiarolo, promising to be completely sincere and hoping not to forget anything about it.
First thing to know about my village is its geography. I’m not simply talking about the fact that’s just 4 km far from the sea and that’s possible to enjoy a wonderful weather and swim since April till, in the luckiest years, the first half of November. I look at this little spot on the map as to the exact point where 2 lines meet each other. One goes from Beijing to New York and, the other one, from Stockholm to Cape Town. I travelled in different countries, mainly in Europe and I never visited any of the cities I mentioned above, but still, for the way I imagine them and for the informations I got about those places, it’s like I can find them altogether in the quiet and nice spot where I grew up.
What I’m about to describe is not a hidden corner of Wonderland (though to my eyes, everything that happens here is a wonder); it can be better than how it is, though, for me, it’s perfect this way. It’s like being immersed in an uncontaminated contaminations of features, ages, ideas, rituals.
Tourists who visited it during the ceremonies for the Patron Saint soon after Easter, looked at the colorful lights decorating the streets as if they were in Las Vegas; people who go to work, early in the morning still use old cars to reach the countryside, like African or Asian traditional tribes would still do. To reach” is probably not the right verb in this case.
Nature, here, is all around; it’s so German and Swedish in every single detail out of the edge of the village (perfectly defined lines of trees, watering systems, special cares and attentions for each plant) and so familiar and spontaneous “in town”, so similar to a savannah that it seems like houses, modern, English Empire style, were somehow added there, coming from a different place and age, by some unknown circumstances and chances.
Man and nature lived together here since centuries and their relationship is at the same time both human and “natural”. My grandpa, for example, was used to consider his trees as part of the family, scolding and yelling to my father or uncle if an olive hadn’t been watered enough or some branches were pruned in a wrong way.
People, here, got roots and they are proud of them, and they travel. The name itself of the village proves it. At the beginning it was connected with “Turkey” at the time of the Turkish invasions in Italy in the XVII century, but later it meant “golden winepress”, for the quality of its oil and wine. It’s located so close to the sea that you can almost breathe the perfume of Albania, Croatia, Greece…Middle East.
As I said if on one hand people are so into this “land”, on the other they use to promote their abilities and talent anywhere else. Here you can find the European Champion of billiard or two painters whose works are appreciated all around Italy and in many countries in Europe, people who are extremely creative and willing to promote and increase the fame and the dignity of this little community, with their little ideas or projects, one of the best singer of the traditional music of my region, “pizzica” which is, as the village is, extremely local and, at the same time multicultural and international. Amazing food.
Coming back from Spain, this summer, I noticed for the first time that the same tree got different shapes, according to the way it’ cultivated, the place where it grows, etc. The same thing happens with my village. As I said it’s a place with strong roots, not better, not worse than others, but genuine, ancient, pure. Characteristic in a certain way.
I chose intentionally the adjectives I just used. Torchiarolo is just few centuries old (it was built by the end of the XV century most probably) and, together with new villas and houses you can still see tracks of past ages. Valesium, for example, is an archaeological site where for years Dutch archaeologists came for their researches; churches are mainly baroque or modern, a little Castles is there since almost half a millennium, three or four towers, few meters out of the edge of town defended it in the past and tributes honor to the history of the village. Few hundred meters out of its borders, close to a Sanctuary which is considered somehow holy by Torchiarolo inhabitants due to the discovering of a painting during annual plowing (cause of hilarious dispute with some villages nearby and source of legends), you can find an open park, a reserve, a bird sanctuary where, during spring and summer you can find hedgehogs, baby falcons, herons, foxes, hares and many other animals in an unregulated countryside.
As I noticed lately, people are more willing to complain about their country or city or village where they live there, but as soon as they move out from there, somehow, almost everyone starts to appreciate and laud those places he or she comes from.
So now, imagine an inhabitants, let’s say me to make it easier, who’s moving from a whatever point in the universe to the center of Torchiarolo. Whatever was “normal” and necessary wherever else would look like something unusual and unmatchable with the rest. Private beaches (actually just one with some beach chairs), people over an iPhone rather than talking with each other, having and using one car per person instead of sharing it, just for the pleasure of showing it to the others, etc. All these things are starting to appear here but still the deep being and root of the village is probably dancing in the old town, by the harbor and the sea, some group song or waltz. Still old people are talking with trees or those whose destiny wasn’t very lucky are walking around the city with their dogs, really loving and caring about them and not only for a fake animalism. Streets are full of kids playing, inventing the world every day, making the adults involved in their spontaneous plays.
Looking at all this it becomes difficult to decide what’s the negative side of this reality, if the fact that while the world is “evolving” this area is still saving some traditions and discovering every years new ones (from traditional food prepared for birthdays’ parties or events, to the folk music and it’s contagious rhythm, from the slowness of agriculture to nights spent fishing in a haunt which is somehow a fair battle with the fish) or, on the contrary, all these new modern features, to which new generations mainly are adapting themselves, the business you can get out of the seaside or features of local identities. Torchiarolo is a village on the edge of two districts, like the Turkish man chained to the Castle, but out of the Castle, on the emblem of the city, who doesn’t belong to those who captured him neither, somehow, anymore, to his original country.
Torchiarolo is so. It gives you at the same time the will to visit it, to stay there for a while but then tries in many ways to keep you there. Streets almost unpaved, people who hardly talk foreign languages (and even Italian in some cases) but who put all the efforts they can in making the guest feel welcome and instilling somehow a melancholy when the passenger is about to leave. That’s why probably, in spite of the fact near Torchiarolo you can find other villages, bigger than this one, or cities, full of light and beauty just few km far from her, like Lecce or Ostuni, most of those who come by (Italian tourists from the north or people from other countries during summer, or people from Rumunia or Albania or Ukraine who moved here to work, or English and German people who spend here their years after they stopped working).
I didn’t spend my childhood here and I started to know things and people here when I was already 20, or even older. That’s one of the reason why, in spite my will to be sincere I don’t feel like, “disliking” something about my hometown. I don’t spend here a lot of time (unfortunately), due to work and studies and the fact I know I can always be back here at any time, so I look at it somehow as a tourist. Besides, what I should complain about? Almost unpaved streets (vintage I’d say)? The dispute between nature and houses to gain some more space for themselves? Few minutes arguments, ado about nothing? Innovation and lack of knowledge and education about new technologies or alternative sources of energy installed here and there? The fact there’s nothing to entertain yourself with, but still, with nothing you can have great times with friends or people you just meet once, talking about three funny cats who walks nearby or listening to the story of some “idol” of the village? Or just relaxing and sleeping by the sea or sea-kiting or drinking some beers next to a little bonfire? Or entering a bar, old style one in the afternoon and suddenly finding some people there playing? Little old things, on delay with Italian standards, which are already on delay on European ones, but still from my point of view, so precious and rare and so difficult to save.
I would have liked seriously to talk frankly about my village, but, really, the worst thing here is not so bad and even if it was, there’s still such a sense of community, helpful people and the presence everywhere of the sea or of a healing nature, which would make those situation tolerable. It’s difficult to do something against your own heart, and even if reason could understand the reasons of the heart, when they are so into it, it’s impossible to report them.
Words are too much for such a little thing, and for such a little thing too little as well.