Typically, on days that I don’t walk to Bagnoregio for groceries (aka my cardio workout), I practice yoga on the stone floor of Il Nuovo. In lieu of today’s practice, I showed up at Tony’s in the late morning to assist him in preparing a meal for four Americans from Lynchburg, Virginia — two are visiting homeowners and the others, their guests.
As I have many times during the past week, I once again challenged myself to define Civitonici. This couple has owned a home in Civita for 15 years, which they visit a couple of times each year; while they’re away, they lend their home to friends or rent it out — as do most Italians and other Europeans who own homes here. What is different, of course, is that these are Americans.
The Lynchburg Four are indeed connected with Civita, with Astra and Tony, and with the other Civitonici, including the Rocchi family, (“We need to get us some of that Rocchi red! Can you get Sandro on the phone and have him deliver it tonight?” Frank called to Tony as soon as they entered.) However, I had a difficult time answering that question in the affirmative because they are in every way –language, culture, accent, lifestyle– not the same as other residents I’ve met so far. Throughout lunch mi chiedo: are they really Civitonici?
Today also marks the brief return of Ilaria and Bernardo, here for two days from Rome as Ilaria, a landscape architect, consults with Luca at his giardino. I felt thrilled to receive her email asking to have dinner together, which is the first instance of a non-NIAUSI member –and non-American– seeking me out in Civita. I realized that the reason it felt so good was that this is exactly what Civitonici do when they discover that they’ve both dropped into town at the same time.
After nearly five hours of preparation, eating, and dishwashing, our Lynchburg lunch wiped out most of my afternoon writing time; the gentle buzz from Tony’s supply of delicious Rocchi wine didn’t help, either. I stepped out to fare una passagiata to clear my head, circling vicino Josè’s empty house e dopo I stood by the high wall near the Marchesa’s palazzo to take a little sun. Ever in search of a comfortable seat amongst all this stone, I walked back through Via Mercatello with a nod to Maria, who attempted to wave me and a few tourists into her famous garden for a Euro.
I looked with new eyes upon the gate that Fabrizio and I scaled as I continued out Civita’s back road where I found a fantastic outcropping upon which to sit, write, and reflect. There had not been formal introductions when the Lynchburgers arrived, and I noticed that they didn’t speak to me at first, which initially had me feeling slighted; however, I learned that they simply weren’t sure if I spoke any English, since I had greeted them in Italian. Similarly, when I answered Tony’s phone during lunch with, “Pronto?”a visiting NIAUSI member who was calling to announce her arrival in Lo Studio assumed I was Italian, and stuttered a request to speak in English.
Enjoying the breeze from atop my sunny stone, I had a proud, private laugh: how great does it feel to have people assume first that I am Italian — and have the Italians so quickly welcome me into their lives? How lovely is it that I have begun to explore the secrets behind many of the seemingly closed doors –and garden gates– here?
As I scribbled several lines, I wasn’t at all surprised to watch several couples walk down near me, snap a few photos of the valley, and turn around, missing the discovery of Mary of the Incarcerated and the tunnel that runs underneath the city.
That’s when I began to consider what my presence in Civita will be like over time; what role will I play here? Will I be missed in my absence and greeted warmly when I return? How will I leave my own physical layer? I began to envision future dinners that I would host downstairs in the campo or coffee dates with Josè, Maria, Marcella, Gaia, and Bernardo. I pictured long-awaited hugs and wine-fueled conversations in Italian, Tony’s opera playing in the background. I began to think about other projects I could conduct here that involve food and storytelling…
Those thoughts brought me back to the arrival of the Lynchburg Four and Frank’s commented pleasure at hearing Sandro the Tractor Man say “Good morning,” in English — for the first time ever. We all have an effect on each other, a layering of influence over time. That brought to mind my primary goal in this fellowship, which is to begin a experiential dialogue between Civita and people throughout the world — to bring faraway layers closer together through a personal exploration of built forms, people, nature, food, weather, language and time.
For me, that goal grows ever stronger. When I bring readers along on my daily journeys, I hope to inspire them to experience Civita on their own someday. Primed with a deeper understanding of what they can discover here, I hope to open a door to adventures far richer than buying a bottle of limoncello or a bag of pasta before turning to leave…and missing all of the good stuff.
When I return each year –which I already plan to do– I hope to see one layer of my legacy come to fruition: as I sun myself on what is now my favorite rock, I hope to watch more and more people pass by without stopping, inspired by my book to find Mary and the tunnel below for themselves.
Perhaps 15 years hence, people might even consider me Civitonici.