Some Enchanted Evening

“You should have bought a house in Fara San Martino.” My builder said on the morning of July 8. “You’re always over there.”

I was telling him how we had spent the previous evening watching the torch-lit procession down the mountain there. On July 7 people hike up to the top of the mountains, they trek along the ridges high above the town and some do it in remembrance of the Alpini, the alpine soldiers. We’ve all heard stories about the young boys, who while watching the sheep up there would fill their pockets with stones to prevent themselves being blown off the mountain. (These are actual facts, not romantic notions.) The wind up in the mountains can be quite fierce, and small boys would crawl rather than walk upright as a matter of self-preservation. Seppe, once told me how he’d be up the mountain for several days watching the sheep, and how he’d take cheese and a goat with him too. “We used to sleep in hollows made from rocks, and the smell of the cheese attracted the greedy goat inside, and the goat provided the warmth needed at night when sleeping.” I asked him if the goat ever ate the cheese, and he said, “Only if you were foolish and didn’t hide it away properly.” So who ate the cheese I asked him, “Me of course,” he replied.

We arrived in Fara just as the evening light was fading and walked across the bridge lit by candles to a clearing where a stall was set up to sell hot food. Here we met some friends and passed a few evening pleasantries before joining the crowd of onlookers taking up position over the river in the mountain’s shadow. Applause sounded as the orange glow of torchlight appeared at the top of the mountain, we watched as these pin-pricks of light arranged themselves into order the begin the long descent in darkness. Very slowly the group became an orange flickering line of light as it twisted and turned its way downwards.

At the halfway point, someone looked like they dropped their torch and immediately a bush caught fire. As fires are banned during the summer months for fear of them becoming out of control, frantic action took place and the fire was quickly put out. The procession resumed and as the torch-bearers navigated what looked like a tricky incline, their red jerseys became more distinguishable. After three hours the first person descended to applause followed by others as they walked along the river’s edge over the bridge and passed everyone who had come out to watch their alpine trek.

The evening condensed into two minutes

Hanging Baskets and Ancient Cat-Flaps

Last week I took a trip over to Fara San Martino to visit my friends Vivienne and Seppe. Fara is a town renowned for its exceptional pasta and being the only place that produce the pasta destined for the Vatican. I wrote an article for Italy magazine sometime back about this: LINK HERE But I wasn’t in Fara to talk about pasta,

Vivienne, teaches English and had a lesson booked so Seppe took me to see the mountain town of Civitella Messer Raimondo. His fiat panda climbed higher and higher up the mountain past empty bars and vacant shops, “It’s a shame,” he said, “so many people have now left.” For many years, with dwindling work prospects many of the people from this hilltop town have boarded up their homes and moved away to the cities. We park the car and walk through streets that are silent, no footfalls can be heard but ours. “Years ago,” Seppe points to an empty house, “People were selling these houses to foreigners. Many made a healthy profit, but those times have gone, and the foreigners don’t come as often as they once did.” This of course has a knock on effect, with no tourism the shops close as do the bars.

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We walk through a narrow vincolo (alley) and are treated to a view down to Fara, the late evening sun is cutting through the mountains, spilling over the red rooftops creating a magical effect. We wander along streets with empty narrow properties, three storey high, I peer into an empty cantina and it’s almost like looking back in time. It’s unchanged, a piece of living history. Seppe points out the ancient feeding trough, telling me this would have been for the family’s donkey, over in the corner is an old cage, possibly where rabbits or chickens were kept. We continue along and see where water over the years has caused damage. Looking into one house we see the upper floors, having fallen years before, lying derelict upon the lower one. It’s a haunting image, knowing that years ago the walls would have contained the clatter of family life. We pass a door with a plaque upon it, “It’s where the old Alpini would meet and talk about the old days,” Seppe tells me, “I’m not sure if the old mountain soldiers remain or still use their club.” 

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The visit to the town is tinged with a little sadness but when I look up and see flowers growing in the cracks in the brickwork above my head. I feel hopeful as life will always find a way. Seppe points to a neat little square in the bottom of a cantina door, I look at the cut and it’s definitely man made, the house next door has one as does the one next to that. “Do you know what that’s for?” asks Seppe, I shake my head, I’ve not a clue. “For the cat,” he tells me. I laugh, an ancient Italian cat-flap. Of course it makes sense, if you keep animals and feed in the cantina beneath your house you’re bound to get rats and mice, so a cat is a necessary part of the family and therefore must have its own door.

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Our visit over and we return to Fara in Seppe’s Fiat, and I’m treated to a trip along streets as narrow as the car and with almost impossible right angle junctions, as he’s an experienced Italian native this is normal for him, but to me it’s an amazing feat of navigation. Back at the piazza opposite his house, like all Italians he squeezes the car into what looks like an impossibly small space and we go back to his house for a cup of tea. Vivienne’s lessons have finished and we all sit chatting as the light begins to fade. I leave with a portion of Seppe’s local history embedded into my consciousness and with one of the amazing olive wood hanging baskets that he makes. Below is a photo of the hanging baskets he makes and his amazing handmade olive wood strawberry planter.

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