Hi, Facebook friends!
This is my last post for a while. If not forever…
I’m in a beautiful town in central Italy but I’m not going to tell its name, because I don’t want to be found. Actually, I’m saying goodbye to the old me… The cynical me… The don’t believe anything or feel anything me.
3 days earlier…
After a breakup with my girlfriend, I decided to head to Italy to clear my mind and regather myself. I was born in Sydney and my parents are Italian, but I always thought that this was the birthplace of my soul. Especially the region of Abruzzo, with its rustic charm, rich culture and giant national parks.
I ‘unofficially’ bought an old Fiat from my cousin, because it’s easier to buy a house then a car in Italy. I stayed in an apartment in the old city of Chieti and visited my auntie in Sulmona, for Sunday lunch. It was so beautiful there and day was warm, so the fields were alive with the sounds of birds, crickets and grasshoppers.
The breeze carried the aromas of the fruit and olive trees that it had passed, and the smell of my aunties cooking was magical.
I left my zia’s (auntie’s), carrying my stomach like a baby… a food baby and decided to take a short cut around the Maiella, which was a mountain that formed part of the Italian Apennines.
I was changing the radio station, scrolling ‘Insta’, driving at the same time and in hindsight, that may have been unwise. Especially as I almost hit a wild boar. The poor animal leaped off the road and I thankfully missed it, but I didn’t miss the small tree that I turned into kindling.
I got out of my little old Fiat to survey the damage and noticed a sharp branch had pierced my left front tire. Great!
Popped the hatch to get the spare, but it’s wasn’t there. Fantastic!
Went to call my auntie for help but there was no reception. Awesome!
I walked onto the little road that I had been travelling and looked in both directions. From where I came from, nothing. To where I was going, even less. I decided to walk east, toward home but made a mental note to punch my cousin, who told me about this short cut.
I walked for about an hour and hadn’t past a house, or a car. Finally, I came across an old gravel track, that lead into a gully, so I followed it to see if it led to a farmhouse or something. Twenty minutes later, I was still walking.
I was about to turn back, when I caught a whiff of meet cooking on a barbecue. Actually, it smelled like lamb, so I decided to keep walking and found a group of buildings. Three of which, looked like houses, while another few looked like sheds or barns. They were arranged around a central courtyard area and looked very old, made of stone and some of the walls were of buttress construction. Meaning they would be ‘really’ old.
I saw a family around an arrosticini barbecue, making arrosticini. Which are small pieces of lamb or mutton, on wooden skewers. They noticed me walk toward them but before I got anywhere near them, I’m greeted by an Abruzzese mastiff. Which are big, beautiful dogs that are white in color and used to guard sheep. Or in this case, a family.
I was thankful that its master called it back because it was a daunting sight. These dogs were used to guard sheep against bears and wolves so it would have made mincemeat out of me. Literally.
“Can I help you?”
I heard from an elderly gentleman. He asked me not in Italian but in an old Abruzzese dialect, but I was familiar enough to converse with him. It always amazed me how different each regions dialects were to each other.
I walked up to the gentleman and saw that he had a few missing teeth and his clothes looked very old and threadbare, then I responded,
“My name is Mario and I have a flat tire… I was trying to call my zia to come and pick me up, but there’s no reception here. Can I please use your phone?”
I held up my new Samsung phone, to show him but he looked at it like he didn’t know what it was.
“What is that?”
He asked but it was a young girl standing near him that answered.
“Nonno, (Grandfather) that’s a telefonino cellulare (mobile phone).”
She walked up to me and said,
“Hi, I’m Ciara. I’m sorry, but we don’t have a telephone.”
“Oh… You’ve all got mobiles, huh?”
She seemed a little embarrassed and said,
“How do you call people… or text them… or communicate? Do you have laptops, computers or Macs?”
I don’t know if I was confused or frustrated.
“We… don’t. I have an older brother that comes to visit once a week and he tells us what’s new in the world. We give him letters to mail and helps with anything we need.”
I didn’t understand what she was saying! Was I in the Italian version of Brigadoon? Was I abducted by aliens? I think that Ciara understood my confusion and tried to explain.
“We live… off the grid. I think that’s the right term for it. I live here with my nonni (grandparents), mum and dad… and Zoro!”
Ciara said, with a giggle.
“We grow everything we need. Vegetables, fruit, sheep, goats, chickens and pigs. We’re self-sustained but my brother helps out with things that have to be taken care of… with the town or whatever.”
Ciara looked to be about twenty-five, so about my age. She was quite pretty and fit, with long brown curly hair and brown eyes. Her parents seemed to be in their sixties and nonni in their eighties.
“How far is the next town?”
“Uhm… Lama Dei Peligni is about fifteen kilometres east from here and it’s a bit of a climb. Hang on a second…”
Ciara went to ask her parents something and she came back with her father.
“Ciao! Mi chiamo Antonio (Hi! My name is Antonio).”
“Hi, Antonio. My name is Mario.”
He gave me a big smile and he shook my hand, warmly.
“My daughter told me about your problem. If you try to walk to the town now, it would be dark before you get there, and everything will be closed. Or, you can stay with us overnight and make your way tomorrow… but if you wait another few days, my son will arrive, and he can give you a lift.”
He was very welcoming and friendly.
“Are you sure that’s OK? I don’t want to impose…”
“No… You are doing us a favor! We made too many arrosticini and if we don’t eat them, they will go to waste! Come…”
Antonio escorted me to the barbecue area. The smell of the lamb was mouth-watering, but I was still full from lunch. Not that it was going to stop me eating a bunch of them! These little skewers were like meat crack!
Antonio introduced me to everyone, and we sat around an outdoor dining set, covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth. There were bottles of homemade wine, toasted homemade bread covered in, you guessed it… Homemade extra virgin olive oil. Beside bowls of salad, olives and cheese.
The conversation was friendly, and we asked about each other, then Antonio said,
“You’re not Italian, are you.”
Everyone turned to me as I answered.
“No… I was born in Australia, but my parents are from Casoli, not far from here but… I keep coming back here to… replenish my soul and to find peace.”
I turned to look at the Maiella and continued.
“I look at this mountain and feel… a force. I know it sounds funny… but anyway, that’s why my accent is mixed.”
My second lunch was amazing, and I couldn’t believe it was all raised or grown here. After our meal, Ciara took me to where I would stay for the night, which was a room just above one of the barns. It was like a cute little country penthouse and the window and door faced the mountains.
There was running water from a well and the plumbing went into a sewerage pit. Light was taken care of by gasoline lamps, as there was no electricity. Meaning even ‘if’ I remembered to bring my charger, there would be nowhere to plug it into anyway!
Antonio came up to me after I was settled and asked,
“We were hoping that you could help me, and Ciara pick some tomatoes. We’re going to make some tomato sauce tomorrow… Please don’t feel obligated to say yes!”
“I would love to help you! I used to help my nonno when he was alive with his garden… until he passed away.”
I said, while thinking of my nonno. He always said I had a green thumb, but the love of gardening left me when he died. There were a lot more tomato’s than I thought there would be, and time flew by quickly. Actually, I looked at my Fitbit and saw that it was nine o’clock, but it was getting dark already.
Ciara looked at me and said with a giggle,
“Ah… The Maiella tells the time for us. Or me precisely, what time to go to sleep. Do you know it’s called la bella addormentata (sleeping beauty)?”
“No, I didn’t!”
Once we were done, Ciara and I sat around the outdoor dining set and talked about Sydney, mostly but I wanted to know more about her. She was quite bright, very pretty and I couldn’t understand why she lived here.
“Ciara, if you don’t mind me asking… what are you doing here?”
“You mean… why am I living like a hermit and not hanging with friends and going to nightclubs?”
I said, a bit louder that I intended. Ciara let out a sigh, looked at the mountains and tried to respond to my question.
“When I was eighteen… that ‘was’ my life! Instagram… Facebook… hanging out with my friends… getting drunk… getting high… then one day, I took a bad turn and I tried to kill myself.”
She stopped for a moment to wipe tears from her eyes.
“I was in a mental institution for a while and I wasn’t getting much better. Then one day, my parents and grandparents, brought me here after the bought the property. They thought that if we just… slowed down, it would be good for me – for us and they were right.
I used to love gardening with my nonno too and they thought that doing something ‘real’ would be therapeutic. So, you see, I’m not here because of them. They’re here because of me.”
We were quiet for a moment then I asked,
“Don’t you miss… life?”
Ciara cocked her head to one side and really thought about what I had asked.
“I don’t know… It depends on what you think life is. If you want real love… love that will last a lifetime. That sustains you, then it’s here.
There’s no TV but… there are the stars at night, the animals playing on the mountain during the day. The earth supplies almost everything we need, and my brother comes every week to see if we need anything. At first, he would have to go to the chemist to get my nonni’s and parents’ medication but, they don’t need it anymore. The land had cured them as it cured me.”
I looked into Ciara’s beautiful brown eyes and saw… peace. I then turned back toward the mountains and saw the last of the sun’s rays. I was so intrigued by this special girl and I couldn’t help asking her,
“Your nonni and parents have each other, what about you?”
Ciara gave me a brilliant smile and said,
“You mean, a boyfriend?”
She giggled for a moment and said.
“The land has provided everything for me up until now and I know it will in the future.”
A few moments later, Ciara’s parents called us for dinner, so we went into their home and sat around a large wooden dining table. The room was lit by kerosene lamps, so it was unintentionally romantic.
Ciara’s mum Maria made us capsicum frittata sandwiches, which we washed down with more red wine. Followed by limoncello liquor.
The conversation was warm, friendly, and they were so welcoming. Asking about my parents and grandparents then after an hour or so I asked,
“Have you thought of solar electricity?”
They looked at each other with a little concern and I think that they were worried about bringing in any sort of technology, so I explained.
“The systems are very simple and sits on your roof. They even make batteries to attach to them, so you can have power at night for hot water or lights!”
I saw that they were thinking about, then started nodding to each other, then Antonio announced,
“You see? The Land has provided for us again. He sent us this nice young man, to give us this great idea!”
Then as if on cue, they all looked at Ciara, who blushed at the attention. She then looked at me and blushed even more, before quickly getting up and said,
“I forgot to feed Zoro! Excuse me.”
She quickly felt the room and we continued talking. I told them about my life in Australia and my family then Antonio asked me to show him my mobile phone. I pulled it out of my pocket and saw that I only had half charge and had a little panic attack. Then I explained all the things it could do and what I could do with it but Ciara’s nonno said something that I didn’t fully understand at the time.
“It owns you, huh?”
It wasn’t long before the evening came to an end and I made my way to bed. It was so quiet outside, that it was a little unnerving at first but once I got used to it, I fell into a long, deep sleep. Until the rooster decided it was time for me to get up.
I looked out the window and saw life had already started on the farm with everyone out and about. I rubbed my eyes, used the facilities and joined them outside.
“Buon giorno, Mario (Good morning, Mario)!”
I turned around and saw Ciara, carrying a wicker basket carrying apricots.
“Good morning Ciara! How did you sleep?”
“Very well, you?”
I stopped and thought for a moment. Did I move or wake up at all last night? I know one thing, I felt amazing this morning.
Zoro came up to me and I scratched his head, then Ciara held out the basket in front of her and asked,
“Would you like some breakfast?”
“Ooh… Yes, please!”
And grabbed an apricot and I thought I’d kid around with her then cheekily said,
“You know, there’s a story in the bible about a woman giving a man fruit. I don’t think it ended well.”
She didn’t think it was funny, instead she became serious for a moment and asked,
“What… what did my parents and nonni talk to you about after I left to feed Zoro last night?”
I thought back to last night and responded,
“Just about my parents… and my nonno’s garden. Why?”
She seemed relieved for a moment and said.
“No reason… Would you like to help me with some chores or are you going to leave?”
I was really enjoying myself here and this girl was so intriguing. I wanted to know more about her, so I said,
“I think… I want to wait for your brother. Would that be OK?”
She seemed really pleased, so after a few more apricots, we went to work. First, we went into the chicken coop to collect the freshly laid eggs. Then Ciara milked a few goats, so her grandfather could start making cheese. We continued until lunch, when all the family got together for a bight to eat.
The day went by quickly and I found myself at the dining table having dinner. The more I got to know Ciara the more I… OK, she was beautiful, but it was her inner beauty that was shining for me now. How she saw the world, viewed her life. She seemed so wise for a young girl and I started to appreciate the simpleness of everything. The almost Japanese minimalism.
The next thing I know, the rooster had got me up again and I looked out the window to see the family already at it. I went out and joined them and they seemed a little down, especially Ciara.
A few hours later, a car drove up the gravel driveway and we met Paulo, Ciara’s brother. Antonio explained what happened to me then Paulo said,
“I’d be happy to drive you to Chieti! I’m ready to go now if you like?”
I looked at Ciara and saw that her eyes were glistening.
“That would be great!”
I gave everyone an Italian goodbye, thanked them and when I went to hug Ciara, she hugged me a little longer than I expected.
Before I knew it, we’re on the road heading to Chieti and I had reception again but the further I drove away, the worse I felt. Then I thought about what Ciara had said. If you want real love… love that will last a lifetime. That sustains you, then it’s here.
I asked Paulo to stop the car, so I could send a message to my parents and then to FB.
I ended my post with Just know that I’m well and happy. Mario Pelino. Signing off…
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