Yesterday I arrived in Roca di Mezzo, on the Altipiano of Abruzzo, a large plateau home to five quaint mountain villages set at 1350 metres above sea level. Rocca di Mezzo lies between the capital city of the region, L’Aquila, which was recently devastated by an earthquake and Avezzano, a medieval university city to the south.
The weather was gorgeous. Warm in the high twenties with no wind and bright sunlight. I had an awesome lunch with the family cooked by Zia Luciana. The meal was exquisite and it was rounded off by her homemade straciatella ice-cream and a liqueur, crema di limone. She had made this a few years ago, with alcohol infused with fresh lemons then mixed with boiled milk. The end result was a liquid creamy lemon scented drink that smoothed the path to my bed for a siesta. I lowered the shutters leaving enough space between the slats for the bright afternoon light to filter through into the shadows like some lanquid lazy waterfall in slow motion and fell asleep.
When I awoke the house was deserted but I heard low voices from two sides of the garden. I walked downstairs past Zio Franco’s museum, which houses old agricultural and military implements. The large metal garage door
faces the afternoon sun and in winter is frozen; ; now it emanated a haze of heat. I opened the small factory type door to get out and saw the men sitting under the shade of the gazebo next to the vegetable garden. Tomatoes were training on simple bamboo poles while spinach flourished, some recently harvested. A variety of herbs released subtle fragrances into the warm still air. An old friend of my father-in-law, Italo, was sitting with Zio Franco. I knew something was wrong when Italo did not recognise me. I had only met him once but my previous experience with the villagers was that they had memories like elephants and never forgot. Then the second time he asked me if I was from Rocca, I knew he had lost it. By the end of the half hour visit he had repeated four verses of his favourite poem perfectly five times, each time not realising he had just recited it a few minutes ago.
It was a lovely poem, something to the effect of “the road is long but I’ll take it anyway, and if my soul needs a rest I will stop.” And it ends “and when I leave, I will be fortified with wine to continue”. Italo has a beautiful voice and in the quiet of the mountain the words resonated against all the mountains around he had climbed with his youth. The men had climbed all the peaks in their youth: the hills around like Monte Rotondo and Monte Canio, the mountains behind, Sirente and Velino and across the L’Aquila valley, the highest in the Appenines, the Gran Sasso. This peak forms part of a high ridge whose skyline forms a silhouette of a sleeping beauty, la bella dormentata.
He left and we moved to the other side of the gardens under the shade of plane trees and drank some beer and spoke and laughed and played with the children.
That is just a few hours of summer in the Apennines. Imagine a whole summer!