Thursday, March 4, 2010

Early morning, second last day

Photo taken by Helen Tuesday, from another ridge,
of the castle and old town of Soriano nel Cimino.
Our apartment is inside the walls,
directly facing a clock tower above the inner gate.
You can, if you click to enlarge the photo,
see the clock tower behind the top of the power pole.

Having a cold and perhaps also because in reflective mood I have yet to put up that report on Viterbo (but it now appears below this one, drafting commenced earlier). We leave Italy in 35 hours and there is much to do, also much to think about.

Here is the view from this kitchen window at 4am this morning. There are only three things I can see there that would not have been there over hundreds of years.

We don't know the history of who has lived in this apartment, but you will see from the photo that we can see through the inner gate to the outer gate of the old city, through walls protecting a castle built in 1278, never taken by force, only by popes. If I were the boss around here, through any of that period, I would want this window in the hands of someone I could absolutely trust. Imagine, just imagine, conversations and mutterings and dark night awake wonderings about who is watching the gate.

Helen the other night was reflecting on the fact that our neighbour's family, in a small apartment, have been there for seven generations. Then she the feminist social worker, focused in how short generations have been, how young many mothers... how many generations in 800 years.. and thus, in utter contrast to how we feel in relation to death in a house in Australia, how many have died in these walls, how many ghosts are here with us. And woken to discuss this, my mind fell, eventually, to reflecting on how many died before the age of say 3 (being conscious that among my father's father's six siblings, one other lived to the 1950s, two died in World War I, and three died before eight years old. So, and I had never thought about this before at all, nor does it seem to enter literature, a high proportion of the ghosts out there - and in here - are tiny tots. Age is a rare and mainly modern privilege...

There is a risk of romanticising Italy entirely, especially in such a place, look back again at the top photo and at our travels. But there is also a lot of blood on walls, and a lot of physical grief for ordinary people, however salved by religious belief.

We watched last night Ermanno Olmi's wonderful 1978 film L'Albero degli Zoccolli (The Tree of Wooden Clogs) which won virtually everything at Cannes 1978, and which presents the life of peasants in northern Italy as it was 100 years ago. And I have been reading again Eric Newby's book Love and War in the Appenines, which presents life as continuing and slightly updated from then, in World War II.

And you see the continuum of history if you look and inquire, everywhere. In Viterbo I took the liberty of politely asking a couple opening their front gate, to beautiful courtyard and home (geez they must get fed up but I actually asked the question while saying politely no, to his invitation to come in for a look):

"Per quanto tempo sono state qui, vostra famiglia"
"Dal trecento."

How long has your family lived here? From the 1300s.

We may say wow, but this, here, is life. (We also had families alive (I suppose) around 1300, but we most of us come from such a vagabond and upheavaled horseback-horsewhipped place as England that we have no clue about our past - and we often scoff at Aboriginal claims to history, huh.)

And it is continuing life. Ian laments that the young generation will not keep places like Soriano intact, they are captive to globalisation. I am less sure. At least away from the big cities. The rhythm of life is powerful.

Last night Helen and I agreed that among the many ways we are still outside (and we are 96% outside, really) is our failure to adjust to the daily rhythm. We look from our window in the evening and say "oh", once again we have missed it. The kids go to school 8.30 to 12..30. Shops open 8.30 (earlier for food, later for fashion) and everything shuts at 1pm, except the bar (coffee, juice, alcohol, there are no drinking hotels, no sign of gross drunkenness, at least outdoors) and the restaurants. And then everything is open again at 4pm or maybe a snoozy bit later (and after 5pm in summer) and closes again at 7 or gossips on a bit longer (or at 8 in summer). The gelateria just past the church is there late if we need a little palate cleanser later. But we have failed to adjust to this rhythm, this very sensible business of siesta and revival and going out for the passeggiata in the evening.


This is no great help:

Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary © 2006 Oxford University Press:

passeggiˡare intransitive verbwalk, stroll
Glen catches it nicely:
in fact, just glimpsing that site now, you can see we are not alone.

We failed in this month to get even the rhythm of the passeggiata. Of course, this has been winter and the fact that it has been quite cold has kept us and locals off the evening streets; now my wretched cold cancels our plans to do the Viterbo passeggiata...
fa niente, possiamo tornare, la lasciamo per un'altra volta.... forse
No matter, we can come back, we can leave that for another time ... perhaps.

We are also very conscious, and this is more important than attachment to a place where we will always be outsiders, we know more about ourselves and about each other from this trip, and we carry away from it not just such a wonderful body of new knowledge but also new eyes to what we have at home and what we can do in our own spaces at home.

Helen had been on a brief visit in the late 70s. I had been here for two years when really very young in 1968-69. It has been wonderful for me to find that naive understorey of understanding has enabled me to be more confident and fluent than before, to slip into so many conversations so easily, to see so much more than then (because I have seen so much more life than then).

For Helen it has also been wonderful, I know, though the language cliff has been enormous, not least coming directly from her management role with ten fleas under ten fingers, as the Chinese would say, back home. For her the adventure has been enhanced by her outings alone, as yesterday to Viterbo, in this non-English-speaking world. I leave it to her to write more - when she may have a chance - but it is evident that she can hear it and say it, even in this place where language is complicated because accents are local and speech interwoven with dialect. (I smiled at the point in Olmi's film where at a local fair an earnest young bearded socialist is giving a speech to a crowd of peasants about the rights of man, in Italian; the film otherwise in Bergamo dialect, full of sloshy sounds and words derived from French.

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