I am such a lucky girl. Paola, the girl I met while touring in Ireland, invited me to Sunday dinner (lunch for us Americans) with her Italian family. She, her sister and parents live in a medieval home.
In this particular home, the immediate family lives on one floor, and an Aunt lives on another floor. Looking from the outside from a narrow street, it was hard to imagine how modern the inside might be. This home was very modern and beautiful. It had all the modern conveniences and was as solid as any other building with 3 foot thick walls.
Ermanno has a diploma in a similar field as architecture and even has a map of the historic village with all the known tunnels. Many of these buildings used these tunnels for escape passages that connect to other buildings. Some still exist but others are full of rubble and dirt, so are still unknown.
The tunnels are currently
used as basements and storage areas etc.
I used to wonder how cities were forgotten and then built over without even realizing there was a city below, but after seeing the ruins of Serbia and how people cannot afford to fix things, I understand better. Once trees start growing through windows and the roots of plants take hold, the circle of life continues. Plants rot and become earth and new plants grow on top of this, covering rocks and bricks, which crumble and support new plant life. I think of my bed of flowers and how I add more mulch every year. The soil improves and the bed gets little deeper until after a few years, I need to take some of the dirt away,. I probably take that dirt and fill in a hole somewhere else. It happens a little bit by little bit. Over the years medieval structures became just another hill, and the renaissance era built on top, then it becomes a larger hill, and modern roads are built over it and new structures arise.
This is the entranceway and hallway
Ermanno and Anna (the parents of Paola) on the rooftop terrace
Paola goofing off while going down the hallway staircases.
The office space where Paola and Ermanno work.
Paola’s closets and bedroom
When Paola’s father purchased their home 50 years ago in Civitanova Marche Alta – the historic area that was built in about 1600, he climbed into the cistern to clean it. He looked around and spotted something that looked like a pineapple- but was actually an unexploded bomb left over from WWII! He scrambled back out of the cistern and called the police.
The cistern is in the corner where the girls are standing. This is where he found the bomb..
Paola says most of the homes have courtyards in back- what a nice surprise.
This building has several courtyards, both upper and a lower.
Civilization in Italy has been around for so many years, that buildings are used and reused as time goes on. This home had previously been a church, and could have also been used as stable or a restaurant as well even before that.
In Italy, girls typically leave home around 25-30 years old, but with the economic crisis, these girls are unable to. So, the sister lives on the top floor- which in this home is a modern loft. The serious boyfriend is part of the family, and spends the night at the family home as well. Even though they are not married, it is not frowned upon- at least in the families I met.
A different view of the office
Family lunch on Sundays is still extremely important, and I was lucky enough to get to join one.
The dining room
The first course consisted of a fish soup which included Panocchie- a semi lobster and shrimp looking fish,
This shellfish was about 6 inches long. It was in the soup and I had no idea how to eat it. The head, legs and tale confused me, since the soup was served with a spoon. Fortunately, l learned that it was ok to pick it up with my fingers, to break the head off, then bite each segment and suck out the insides. Then bite the next segment and do the same. Although I had no idea of how to eat the shrimp in a soup, Sara was kind enough to demonstrate the proper way to break off the head and suck the juice out (even while the shrimp’s eyes seemed to be looking at me), and how to use my fingers to hold the panocchie while taking bites of each segment and discarding the shells. When people laughed at my clumsy attempts, we all laughed together. They laughed with me, not at me.
The soup also contained as calamari, octopus, and huge shrimps with the heads, legs and shells still attached. If you have never traveled, you may be surprised to learn that the seafood in Europe is usually served whole, so the shrimps still have their eyes, legs, shells, tail and pretty much everything else that is removed in the USA.
The Polenta had a texture of mashed potatoes and was served in portions. It was to dipped in the soup to eat the broth. Everything was very flavorful. Wine was served with lunch as well. After we finished our servings of soup, Anna insisted we have more, and we got a 2nd serving of shrimp and more soup.
2nd course was the salad, then for dessert came 3 kinds of ice cream, and then a huge plate of bakery goods that was given as a gift from Sara’s family. After I thought I could not eat another bite, fresh fruit, including grapes, tangerines, and plums was served.
And to finish it off, coffee that made of toasted barley, called “Orzo”. It tasted similar to coffee but not as strong. I don’t usually like the taste of coffee, but it was pretty good. I could easily learn to like it.
The Italians sure know good food.
Sunday night, the kids took me to the historic city called “Ascoli Piceno” where the girls attended University and studied Architecture. I don’t know exactly where it is, but it was about an hour drive and 11 tunnels away. By the way, if you ever need a tunnel built, get an Italian. The tunnels I saw in Italy- and there are many, are well built. They are well lit, and are easier to drive through than the tunnels in the USA. I think it is because of the lighting and paint. They don’t seem like tunnels. They are very tall, and have fire fighting equipment along the sides- just in case there is a car-b-q.
Being with such lovely people, made me feel like a friend, not just an acquaintance. When I enthusiastically sang out “buongiorno” at night to a new person that I was introduced to (which means good morning, or good afternoont), everyone laughed good naturely, and I realized my mistake. When I (thought I said in Italian), sit here next to me because you are a good person, I had actually said sit here you sexy, beautiful person- which was also appreciated, and laughed at too.
Before we went to lunch, I had put my clothes into the washing machine, and Sara’s mom was kind enough to take them out when they finished washing and hung them to dry since they don’t use dryers. She even put the jeans (which take 2 days to dry) nearest the radiator. She was a mom to Sara, and a mom to me- even though she had to drive from her home to the apartment to do this for a practical stranger and foreigner. It was inconvenient for her, but again, this is what family does for one another.
In the end, I felt so welcomed by people who had been strangers a short time ago. We discussed so many topics and exchanged cultural information. Many times, Americans at home have warned me how the world is a scary place and how everyone hates Americans. I find this information more often than not comes from people who have not traveled outside the USA very much. This has not been my experience at all. From strangers sharing a bus in March 2014, to new wonderful friends and the kindness of their families, in November 2014 I feel there is a lot of hope for people to understand one another in this world. We look differently, we eat differently, we have some different cultural values, but int the end, we are more similar than different. The kindness and welcome I received is a testament to human nature.
Of course there are bad people in the world. That being said though, I think there are more kind and good people in the world. We just hear about the bad stuff, because that is what sells newspapers and tv shows.
For those of you who wonder what this world is coming to, with kids like this generation, and their families, the world is in good shape for the future.
*A thought about war – One of the many problems with a war is that once the war is over, there are still weapons left over. By now, you would think humanity would be smarter than this. My friend ‘s (Isa in Germany) family had this problem too. One day while her grandmother was visiting her grandfather in the old age home, and a train went past her house just as it had for decades. Only this time when the house shook, an unknown and unexploded bomb that was buried underneath the house, finally exploded. Can you imagine? Thank goodness she was not home, but she lost everything.
While in Serbia- I learned that another part of the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia, has a big problem – the land mines had shifted because of the rain and flooding. that happened while I was there. An area that may have been safe earlier in the week, now has unexploded landmines. I cannot imagine my kids playing tag, and one of them or a friend inadvertently stepping on a patch of grass that explodes and cripples or kills her. How do you explain to a neighbor parent that while under your supervison, the kids were playing outside, and now her legs are gone forever and her life has changed forever? Or worse.
Maybe instead of jumping to wars and weapons when there is a conflict, perhaps we should take time to reconsider other options. Sometimes a war may be inevitable, but it seems to me that the people who make the decisions about going to war, are not going and do not have their children going to war. They are ordering other people to fight, and in other places. There have got to be better ways to solve problems.