Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Quest Begins

We have been in Italy for about three weeks and have been settling in rather nicely. We have accomplished a lot in a short period and feel that we are adapting to our new, albeit rather remote, surroundings. We have become comfortable in our little house, have performed extensive extermination and cleaning of the guest house in preparation of my parents’ arrival, and have made ourselves fixtures in the small, nearby shops. The weather is rather cool again, but as it heats up, we will spend a lot of time on the beach, figuring it best to take advantage of the sea while we can. We desert-dwellers marvel at the expanse and mist and waves, finding the tidal movements calming.

But, we will not be here forever. This home is temporarily on loan to us and we must find a place to live for the term of our residency in Italia. The past several days were spent driving around the central region of the country as we visited some friends and explored some new areas in our search for a home. We are looking for a spot that screams, “HERE! You need to be here!” Perhaps we are looking for an epiphany, but I think we are just seeking a certain feeling of calm and a sense of history. There are towns we enter where we feel a little giddy at the mere sight of the ancient stone buildings and historical roots. Citta della Pieve was one such town.

We went to visit friends from New Mexico who are in residence there for two months. Evey, a fellow classmate and all-around fun gal, invited us to spend a night with her and husband Wayne to see the area. She not only graciously opened the door to their sprawling apartment, they brought us green chile to boot! Talk about hospitality. The town sits prettily on its hill and oozes charm. We walked the narrow streets and liked what we saw. Until we looked in the window of the immobiliare and saw the real estate prices. We would not be able to afford to live here.

After this brief visit we drove to Chianti region, where we spent a day with a group of expats at a party hosted by the website Bryan used extensively to gather information. They are a lively, fun bunch and it was a pleasure to meet them and to converse easily, without having to struggle for words and verb tenses. Several people I hope to meet up with again. Chianti is famously beautiful and rightfully so, but extremely expensive, too, and – we felt – a little too over-run by foreigners. Being foreigners ourselves, this may seem a little hypocritical, but we really do want to be immersed in Italian culture and society, and prefer to be in an area where English is not heard as frequently as Italian. One every turn down the winding road we saw three (or more) signs for hotels and other tourist facilities. Don’t get me wrong, we truly enjoyed our visit with friends. It was wonderful to see them and we look forward to other visitors coming from America during our year. And meeting expats is nice, too, but, at the end of the day, I still want to be here for the experience of Italy.

We wound our way down the surprisingly steep mountains to the lower area south of Siena. We had spent a week in Asciano on a previous trip and enjoyed the town and countryside here very much. Driving through the Crete Senese reminded us of how enchanted we had been with the landscapes here. Strolling through town and dining at a little osteria we had previously enjoyed (with a few home-made dishes on offer daily) jogged our memories at how friendly we had thought the town to be. We like it here very much, but again, doubt that we can financially swing a move here, as it is in rather close proximity to Siena, a city of renown and touristic interest. We didn’t really have an intention to look at Tuscany, anyway, but we really do enjoy this section of that region.

We set out from there to explore northern Lazio, an area unknown to us but intriguing and, from what we have seen on real estate websites (read, possibly affordable). We entered the provincial capital of Viterbo and promptly got lost. The streets were so narrow that even our itty-bitty slender Matiz car seemed too large. We barely made it through some of the turns. The town (at least what we saw of it) didn’t impress us, but we did stumble upon a Middle-Eastern diner and enjoyed a rendition of chicken gyros for lunch, so all was not lost.

We loved the view of (and from) Bolsena, on the lake of the same name, but figure it to be a rather seasonal town, like Anzio (only much, much prettier). An old woman was washing her clothes at the still-used communal washing well. She hunched over the stone basin and beat the daylight of her clothes with a huge bar of soap, then drowned them in the water to rinse them. The atmosphere was altogether charming and we may explore this town more indepth.

There was one cittadina that really struck us, the sight of which made us gasp and utter, “whoa”. Soriano is perched precariously in the Cimini mountains, high above the valleys. Driving around a bend we caught of glimpse of her stone buildings tumbling down the hillside, towers reaching heavenward and we were smitten. Driving into town confirmed our first impression; it was beautiful and ancient, yet larger than it had first appeared with ample shops and restaurants and a couple of hotels. The views over the mountains and valleys were breathtaking. We wandered the old, medieval borgo section of town on foot, leg muscles screaming at the exertion on the very steep, cobbled streets. We walked down sinewy alleyways and gawked. This was okay as we were also being gawked at by the inhabitants, though not so much as to feel completely conspicuous or uneasy.

On one street an old woman stopped us and said that we were “una bella coppia”, a beautiful couple. When I spoke with my heavy accent, she said, “Ah, you’re not Italian? Ma mi sembra italiana” But you look Italian to me. I told her about my Italian grandmother and she nodded, smiling as she departed. Yes, we liked Soriano very much. The problem, though…its rather remote location up the mountain. The closest city is Viterbo and the drive was not exactly a short one. I fear that the remoteness we feel here will be very exaggerated there since it is pretty much the only town up on that mountain. There is a lively centro with more stores than we have access to here, and a train station too, so we will need to check into the schedules and routes. We would like to return for a few days to see if the initial feeling of awe remains.

Other towns blur together and none really impressed us as being quite right for us. Sutri was pretty and we enjoyed a fantastic meal there, but in the morning, the constant stream of traffic below our hotel window informed us that this was a commuter town; a conversation with the hotel owner confirmed the fact that many people live here and drive into Rome, about an hour away.

So the quest continues. We have several areas that interest us; we just need to get out and explore, more difficult to do without a car of our own, but we are confident we will find what we’re looking for…”seek and you shall find”.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider


Geek girl said...

I love those mountain towns - they are so beautiful. But as a visitor you don't really think about how remote they are. I know you will find a great place to settle.

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