Monday, June 30, 2003

Ars Amatoria

We slept much of the way from Pescara to Sulmona, and when I woke up, it seemed as if mountains had just sprouted up beside us and the light from the sun was dull and hazy--almost grey in color. It was not Le Marche at all, I noticed immediately, and I felt a sure sense of being in the South. We passed towns that barely clung to their cliffs, and others that sat in the low valley among heavy woods and sweet streams. The Abruzzo region is often described as 'the border between northern and southern Italy,' but it was barely a border at all, just a sudden jolting move into the south, for me. A new country completely.

We all loved Sulmona. It was decided from the start as we stepped off the bus into a lovely strange-shaped piazza with a brooding bronze statue of Ovid at its center--Sulmona's favorite son and practically the town's patron saint--that Sulmona was completely enchanting. Everything in Sulmona has to do with either Ovid or confetti (Italian almond wedding candies) or, if possible, both together. The Sulmonese know the art-of-monopolizing-on-town-treasures as well as Ovid knew the Art of Love. We, at heart just everyday tourists, quickly partook in these town treasures as well, practically eating our way through Sulmona's almond candies and other gastronomical delights.

But it was the people that make Sulmona, and Abruzzo in general it seems, right in touch with the South. Our one-day rented apartment was in the center of a purely residential neighborhood, where nonnas shouted down to their families from balconies at dinner time, mothers rounded up their children in the street, and, in the morning, women cooking in the kitchen sang tonelessly to music on the radio, loud enough for the whole town to hear.

We sat outside one afternoon, drawing and writing on the steps of an ancient church while a service was going on inside. Halfway through the service, a handful of Italian men came outside to smoke cigarettes and talk, and when they saw our friend Kelsey drawing the horizon, they leaned over her shoulder like art critics but were friendly in asking her about her work. This, her vision of Sulmona, was as welcome in their eyes as we were--fresh and unquestionably new.

People on the street would just begin to talk to us in English without even hearing our voices, yet somehow always knowing we were American. "Good Morning, I am Italy," one of them said proudly. And they all laughed because we were a novelty--three American tourists with writing material and drawing pads sitting in the crumbling piazzas of Sulmona, copying down the loveliness of their city in our own way.

On the train ride back, the sky grew dark and it looked like rain, but I was mistaken into thinking that the sky of Abruzzo was always like this. A sort of grey, shadowy place, sheltered in by mountains, closed off to the rest of Italy. And this, in itself, was enchanting to me. I watched as we passed it by, with our train moving further toward the coast-- back to Le Marche and, eventually, back home.


Update: Found these paintings of Sulmona's fountains on the web, by painter Lucio Diodati. Sulmona water is wonderful and very drinkable from its fountains. There are fountains everywhere in Sulmona, which makes sense due to the presence of a medieval aquaduct in the town's main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi.


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