In Calabria cultural experiences are not necessarily related to art museums. Of course, there are musical events and archeological sites which should not be missed. And the the 14th century frescos hidden away in Centro Storico are a delightful find. But my greatest memories are of the culture itself; the people and how they live.
Italy historically moved between the Romans and the Greeks. Some areas retained the Greek influence. When we visited this fairy-tale town in the evening, it was obvious that the passegiatta was male dominated. The only women we saw were close to their own back doors. The men walked, sat on benches, visited, etc. Greek!
We did a lot of walking in this little town; to the top of the clock tower for a perfect view of the statue in a niche across the little valley, and searching for a restaurant where we could have the local fare (failure on this one).
Grisolia, which we also visited in the evening, was fascinating because of its beauty and the friendliness of the people. Everyone we passed looked directly into our eyes and greeted us, “Buona Sera.”
Except for Campagna Inocencia, who, I believe, was old enough to consider herself totally invisible and studied me surreptitiously.
Sylvia stopped me on the street in Grisolia. Where were we going? Where did we live? Why were we here? She was bright and friendly and loved that we both had short white hair. She had lived 18 years in Milano and was the most cosmopolitan woman I met in the small fortress towns.
While Nan wandered off to take sunset photos, Sylvia insisted that I visit her home. I thought she had been telling me that her husband had been dead for six years. Language barrier. I entered her living room and saw him sleeping on the couch. The house smelled of illness.
She explained to me that he had been sick for six years. He doesn’t talk. Doesn’t get up. Lies with the TV positioned in front of him. She must be with him 24/7 and only goes to the market, the medico, and the farmacia. When I sympathized and said that this must be difficult for her, she remarked, “E la vita“. No complaining here!
Offering guests something when they come to the house is a part of Italian hospitality. Accepting a small glass of juice is the least a guest can do. In the home of Miss Cranky’s daughter, when I delivered a photo, I was pushed to join their meal. There was such visible excitement in offering me juice and stuffed zucchini that I couldn’t refuse.
We all huddled in the tiny room which was filled with smiles.
Nannette’s experience in that home was the same as it had been at the home of a woman who repaired a zipper for me. At the first home, the husband talked with her in rapid-fire Italian as she looked stunned. His wife intermittently interjected, “She doesn’t speak Italian.” He ignored her and happily continued his monologue.
At the second home, our hostess stood directly in front of Nan’s chair. (There weren’t enough chairs for all of us, plus I think she was to excited to have stayed seated.) She smiled broadly, told her stories in Italian and asked her questions. When Nan smiled and shrugged helplessly, the woman would look at me and smile expectantly as I tried to translate her stories and Nan’s responses.
At Gina’s (our landlady) house, juice was never enough. She wanted to fix mashed potatoes because she knew that we must be missing them. Mashed potatoes were her favorite memory of food from her early years in the U.S.
When she served meals we would first be served a large plate of pasta. A new dish was brought when the potatoes were served. Still another for the salad. We must always have cheese and fruit.
She and her mother, Flora, were not happy just to feed us. They must drop by with treats. They provided us with equipment in lessons for making the delicious pasta. We were their best entertainment.
One family trattoria-style restaurant, Ristorante La Stella dell’Isola, was a cultural event in itself. We went there
with Vincenzo (the Italian friend who found our apartment for us) and his wife.
We were immediately greeted warmly and served water, pane, and their home-made wine. And then the antipasti began to arrive. A highlight was the wonderful fried peppers. These peppers which we see drying on every balcony are seasoned and deep-fried. The best description is a pepper-flavored potato chip. Absolutely addictive. When Nan raved about them, they treated her to an extra plate and a paper bag to carry them home.
The patriarch of the family treated us to fairly accurate descriptions of ourselves and tidbits of information that he “felt” about us as we entered.*
My personal cultural experience in Southern Italy is one of warmth and welcoming. Of food and hospitality. Of color, of support and of joy.
Goodbye from Italy, 2012.
*One of the “sightings” of the psychic father was a guardian angel who walked in behind me. He asked me if anyone had died who would be watching out for me. Nannette and I agreed that it would probably be my father but could also be my sister, Pat.
My angel left (he surmised) when it felt that all was well with me. It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?
Ristorante Stella dell’Isola is one of the many agriturismo sites in Southern Italy. They make and grow what they serve. They have a van and are willing to pick customers up at the Diamante or Cirella bus stops so don’t let the lack of a car stop you.
They also have 8 guest rooms.
I talked with the owner who is happy to entertain guest by providing cooking classes at a reasonable rate. I’m going to try to make it back for this.