26.04.10 – It’s a sunny afternoon in Piane d’Archi. The door is open and music spills out onto Via Castello. The iPod is not on random shuffle and is only selecting songs by the Italian singer, Tiziano Ferro. Mio Fratello is playing, the gentle track well suited to the mood on the street. The neighbours have carried chairs outside and are sitting in a circle talking. Every now and then a car travels down the steep strada, and bottoms are hurriedly lifted from seats and chairs pulled back to allow it passage, only to reform the circle once again. Our neighbour, a robust woman with a reddish tint added into her now greying hair, waves at us as we sit beside the front door. “Ciao, come stai?” I call as she walks past; we’ve passed many pleasantries over the past fourteen days, so it’s acceptable to use the informal exchange. “Va bene, grazie. Ciao, ciao.” She calls back over her shoulder as she drags a chair behind her on her way to join the neighbours. With an average age of around fifty-five, they are all traditionally dressed, ladies in black, some with their heads covered by scarves. The men all wear trousers, shirts and jumpers, despite the warmth, two wear jackets. (April is far to early for Italians to consider summer attire).An elderly chap, well into his eighties I guess, and supported by two walking sticks very slowly walks uphill to join the group. He glances across towards me, I nod my head in greeting, “Sera, sera,” he responds. I toast him with my glass, a gin and tonic – how English. A young novice priest arrives, cassock billowing behind him as he half walks, half skips up the steps. He walks towards our front door, pops his head inside and calls for someone. Our neighbour tells him he has the wrong address; he apologises and skips off next door. One of the men says something that causes the women to cackle like witches. I can assume it’s some remark about the young holy man.
Tutti, the little tabby has appeared and is rolling around at our feet, exposing her belly to the warm sunshine. The song changes to the more upbeat Rosso Relativo, the young priest re-appears and skips off down the steps turning right he heads downhill. Once again the man says something and the women laugh loudly. The aroma of cooking wafts out onto the street, I go into the kitchen where I have a pot of ragu simmering away for dinner: It’s always better to cook twice for a richer flavour. Tiziano now sings Ti Voglio Bene, as I turn the pot off and pour myself another G&T and go back outside.
It’s so peaceful this high up, a gentle breeze occasionally disturbs the warmth and the Majella, icing sugar topped is clear, no hint of mist today. Absent-minded I begin to count the tiles on the roof of the house opposite, I get to fifty-six before I give up, on such a tranquil afternoon, counting is just too much like hard work. Between the two houses opposite is a narrow opening, looking through you can see the valley below, the swathes of poppies that are bloom give the impression that the earth is bleeding. Stitches of borage, eye shadow blue sew their way through the grass. The heady aroma of lilac rides on the warm air and in the distance a battalion of bamboo, tall and slender rattles in the breeze. In the little alley is a blue plastic crate, the sunlight picking out the white lettering. A butterfly dances in the cool air between the two properties before landing on the crate, giving the blue box some majesty. Ants, oblivious to our leisurely afternoon go about their business, little black beads rushing about. The song changes again, now it’s Il Sole e Per Tutti.The feral friend, mews expecting food, I hold out my hand and she sniffs at my fingers, then with the trust you can only get from an animal she allows me to stroke her. She purrs, a deep guttural vibration. Then just to make sure we know she’s wild and in control, she walks away, tail held erect. The cat is the epitome of Abruzzo, in places it’s untamed and uninviting, then without warning it’s calm and serene, just a hint of birdsong on a lilac ether. Life on via Castello is generally slow, the steep incline of the road dictating the pace. There has to be something about spending every day walking up such an abrupt gradient that has health benefits. The exercise alone must account for the longevity of its residents. Our octogenarian, leaves the group and carefully balanced on his sticks heads downhill, “Sera,” he calls to me as he passes. To my right is the garden, I look through the gaps in the gates ironwork and can see two butterflies dancing. An ignored patch of land beside the garden has that unordered look that only nature can craft. Lazy grass, lanky green blades protest as the breeze forces it to move. Three new people join us, drawn I think by the music, three ladies that look like they could be sisters. I don’t think they are but they are so alike, but I think that’s a result of a tight community and tradition. One of the woman smiles at me, a wide, broad open-mouthed grin, I smile back and she waves, then wiggles her hips to Tiziano who is now singing Stop, Dimentica. I imagine the others must think her actions improper, but she obviously doesn’t care, and as one of her friend tuts, she laughs. I say hello, she responds, saying something in dialect that I cannot understand. It would be futile to try to have a conversation with my pidgin Italian. We don’t need words, not this afternoon.
This is not a typical afternoon on via Castello, but a moment we have been privileged to be a part of. So how do you capture a moment like this? You can’t, you just have to be able to recognise it when it happens.