This winter in my Bucks County Pennsylvania home, we've had less than normal snow, and they've all been little annoyance snowfalls... half inch here, two inches there, a dusting, a coating of slick "black ice". I think my son Lucas has only enjoyed two leisurely "snow days" so far, the last for a very wet and slippery 4" of wet snow. A couple of years ago we had over 6 feet of snow over the winter--one event dropped 28 inches in one day. That's the sort of snow that stops everything for a few days until we plow and shovel out.
But in Italy, at least in the more central and southern parts, snow is more rare. Sure, in the mountains they get snow, but in Rome, not so much. So when it snowed on Rome this past Monday, Romans were both delighted and crippled. Snowball fights erupted, cyclists slipped and slid their way to work and police were called to many fender-benders.
They are simply not used to the white slippery stuff. In fact, the government announced they were going to call the army in to clear the snow away... all 2-4 inches of it. Hell, I love when the snowfall here is more than two inches because I can use my snow-blower rather than have to shovel it by hand. Our local road crews spread a salt slurry on the roads before storms and have the roads cleared before breakfast.
But when the snow hit Rome, it suddenly fell silent. Few cars were on the streets that usually host a melee of honking horns, "bee-doo, bee-doo" sirens, scooters, cursing and Grand Prix wannabees. People stayed home... perhaps to simply enjoy throwing snowballs or making a pupazzo di neve (snowman). Enjoy it while it lasts... Rome will heat up soon enough. Trust me.
Matera, located in Basilicata near the border of Puglia, is one of the most unusual towns in all of Italy in this respect... because of its Sassi (literally, rocks), the cave homes dug into the mountain that the city sits upon. People have been living in caves for 50,000 years here. The Sassi have been restored into posh hotels and B&Bs and apartments with Matera itself declared the Capitol of Europe for 2019.
In winter, the surrounding rocky landscape and the Sassi homes are a wonderland, especially with a dusting of snow...
In December and January, visitors to Matera can walk through the Sassi, along the edge of the gorge and enjoy the Living Presepio displays. Much like small presepio displays, besides the Nativity scene itself (with Joseph, Mary and Jesus), there are costumed Materese portraying shopkeepers, musicians, beggars and gypsies from the time of Jesus.
On the Cinque Terre coast, the Voyager will come across il Gigante, the gigantic statue of Neptune in Monterosso on the beach near Fegina. Sculpted by the Arrigo Minerbi in 1910, he is over 40 feet tall and holds up part of the Villa Pastine. Neptune used to hold a trident and a giant clam shell above his shoulders that was used as a dance floor by the Villa. During World War II, Monterosso was bombed by allied forces, and the Neptune statue and the Villa suffered serious damage. A strong storm in 1966 damaged the statue even more.
Most people watched the recent solar eclipse through pinholes projecting tiny images on a piece of paper. Or they wore very dark orange eclipse viewing filters, looking like they were about to watch a 1950s 3-D movie. My son and I built a large projector using a pair of binoculars that gave us a crisp 4" large image to view. But the most interest method is the way Italian Nonnas might have used in to view eclipses in the past... just go in the kitchen and grab a scolapasta--a common colander. You'll have to agree, the varied patterns of holes make for some great eclipse art... some of which look absolutely astronomical!
When my father was a boy, he and his brothers swam in the Hudson River... brown on some days, green on others, always polluted from industries up river. He lived to be 86. Similarly, in Rome people often took a swim in the muddy, polluted Tiber River, even though it has been polluted and undrinkable for many centuries. Today, the river always runs green. The saying, "swimming the Tiber" or "crossing the Tiber" at one time became a metaphor for a Protestant converting to Catholicism. Today, it is illegal.... swimming, I mean.
As the rivers nears Tiber Island adjacent to Trastevere, fallen trees, debris and other flotsam don’t escape the pressures of a low-head dam. A swimmer drowning in the Tiber would more than likely be discovered stuck in the dam. Paddling or swimming the river nowadays is a fools game...
The Pugliese town of Vieste has a unique geographical location at the end of a rocky peninsula called the Gargano in Puglia. The white houses in Vieste give a Voyager the feeling that they are in Greece--in fact, the Greeks, Saracens and Slavs all influenced the history of this town. At either side of the town are long sandy beaches, one with a large white rock monolith over 80 feet tall called Pizzomunno (lacy beard). The white cliffs in the surrounding landscape contain many grottoes, weathered rock formations and sea arches, created by the action of wind and waves on the calcarerous rock. Some of the best beaches and grottoes are best seen by boat. This is one of the most picturesque beach areas in all of Italy with the most pristine water environment.
If visited during summer, the hotel and lido beach club adjacent to the beach at Pizzomunno will offer loud music and lots of resort types... Better to enjoy the natural environment during the off season when the hotel and lido are closed.
The Legend of Pizzomunno
Every day Pizzomunno--a handsome, strong fisherman--went out into the sea to fish, and every day beautiful sirens tried to seduce him with their songs. They even offered him immortality and the honor of being their king. But Pizzomunno always returned to his lover, the beautiful Cristalda. One night, as the two lovers were together on a small island, the sirens kidnapped Cristalda, pulling her down into the depths of the sea. Pizzomunno could not save her. The scorned mermaids' vengeance was yet to be satisfied... the next morning he was found on the beach, his enormous strength and anguish transformed into the white pinnacle we see today. Legend says that once every century, Cristalda rises from the abyss for one night to join her young lover again.
The olive tree is a metaphor for the Garden of Eden and perhaps life itself. It tempts us with its fruit, which many consider to be the "forbidden fruit" that Eve succumbed to. It releases its oil, so amazingly useful for lamp light in the ancient world and for cooking throughout history. It is said that Athena planted the first olive tree on Mount Olympus itself--its descendant can still be seen there today. The olive was cultivated before there was written language--about 6000 years ago--and spread from Asia Minor to Iran, Syria, Palestine, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and across Northern Africa. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 4,000 ago.
The Romans used the oil not only for light and cooking, but for preserving food and cleansing their bodies. They bathed in it, washed their bodies with it and then scraped away dead skin. They drank it as a curative and swished it in their mouth to clean their teeth. Mothers used it to heal their babies rashes and to sooth their nipples from breast feeding. It was used to keep hair healthy and beautiful. It moisturized their skins and hands after a hard day of labor. The oil was also used to Olive oil can clean and waterproof leather coats, boots and belts. The oil polished wood furniture and shine brass. The military used to to polish their helmets, swords and shields. It was also used as a lubricant on chariots and carts.
The average lifespan of an olive tree is 500 years. In Greece, Spain and in southern Italy, you may come across threes that are estimated to be from 1000-3000 years old. These ancient trees grow outward from the center, with their inner trunks rotting away, often leaving an intricate pattern on the outer surfaces, somewhat looking like a lattice pattern. On older trees, the center can be completely gone, leaving a hollow interior large enough for a person to step inside. Still on others, one ancient tree might look life two or more trees growing around an empty void in their center. Often they can look like people trapped in their growth... faces, arms and legs and human muscles.
Their beauty is memorizing to me, often making me think of them as old sages or time travelers, with me wondering what history they have seen as the millennia marches by. We can only be humbled by their muscular and impressive stature...
Copyright 2017 - Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved