Most of you have heard about or seen the lovely little Umbrian villages in the hills north of Rome. But it is impossible to describe the magic of being captured by another world that remains local in food, wine, family and stories. Perhaps the best way is with a story:
Valerio, who is a PhD student in the philosophy of art, took us to the town where he lives in his grandmother's house, and where he was born. Collestatte is bulit inside the walls of a medieval castle. There is one grocery, a small post office and a "bar" which is where the whole town, including the town dog, gathers in the morning for espresso and in the evening for aperitivo. The contrast of a place that is built from eleventh century Roman walls and churches– with the most elaborate, immaculate espresso machine I have ever seen, is keen– and really magnificent for a coffee lover.
We joined the town for aperitivo, sitting in chairs on the cobblestone street. Here Valerio's uncle showed us one image after the other of his paintings of famous people– including musicians like Joe Cocker. He enthusiastically tested our audience recognition. Once we had the right answer, he would run into his house and bring out another painting. "Everyone here is either a friend or a relative," Valerio explained. "And we like to give anyone who comes a gentle welcome."
The sense of welcome is genuine, and also present in Spello– home of truffles, painters and weavers– with annual traditions like the flower festival, infiorate, when they work all night to make carpet paintings from flowers that cover the streets. In Spello, I was welcomed by an old couple:
I roam a narrow cobblestone road,
shops and homes open to the street.
An old couple sits in their doorway
which is the curb, watching.
In the square a man on a tractor
clears the wreckage from an earthquake.
From a high window a woman peers down.
I pause in front of the couple.
Their clothes are ochre shades of stone
with the dramatic distinction of scarlet
in the buds flowering on her skirt.
Their hands are empty, unfettered.
From an open doorway a call
and response prayer fills the air.
Dona a noi la pace.
E con il tuo spirito.
They have few words or movement
or any need to be occupied.
Their dark eyes are full
and bright with time.
Buongiorno, he says, inviting
me into their world. I ask
if I may take their photo.
He smiles, revealing one remaining tooth.
Siamo Belli! he shouts,
as he puts his arm
around her, and poses.
We are beautiful.
There is a sense of coincidence, synchronicity and confirmation in meeting an open-hearted stranger. Have you any stories of encounters with strangers? I'd love to hear from you.
PS I will return to teach in Italy and Germany in the fall of 2020. Come and join us.