Thursday, December 10, 2009

Being tourists: Montalbano 30/06/09

Yesterday we went to Montalbano, the famous town high up in the mountains I have been hearing so much about, apparently one of the most beautiful hilltop towns in Italy. It felt like going back in time. We wandered the narrow streets, heard old people muttering in a barely intelligible dialect in their houses after their lunch or siesta. There was a viewpoint over a rugged valley with loads of hazel trees. Like San Marco d’Alunzio, it seemed there were only old people. We stopped outside a house in a row of terraces - where my husband’s grandfather (nonno) lived, now being restructured. It still had his name on the doorbell outside, Domenico Cambria. Everyone knew him and talked to him and greeted him, he was an important member of the community, a taxi driver of late after his early days on the horse and cart selling salt and matches and apples in the post war period. Mia suocera later said the women favoured him above the other itinerant salesmen because he was young and trustworthy an didn't try to cheat them, like the men who put false bottoms in the bags to measure out less salt! So then he would be disliked by the other men, and had to get the evil eye taken off him too. Before he bought the house there, he came up on the horse and cart from Milazzo. It must have taken hours – it took us about 45 minutes on a new road, with all the curves on the windy mountain road. He started coming up when his father died, and as the oldest of a large family, his mother sent him off to earn a living for them, when he was a child of ten or so. Mia suocera had a funny story about how one night when he was about 15 he didn’t come home, having been seduced by the infamous village widow. His mother got a neighbour to take her up on his horse and cart, made a few sharp enquiries and burst in on her son, whom she dragged from the widow’s bed by the ears, cursing him for having a good time while the family was waiting below for the earnings. The harsh mother took all his earnings until he grew wise to her ways and started to keep back a few pennies for himself.

Three little girls in their mother's high heels came clacking down the street, giggling at my purple colourful trousers. They looked funnier in their massive shoes. The older girl spoke to us confidently when we asked her if there had been workmen there recently. Then two boys came along whom the girls hugged ecstatically, the older brothers maybe. They told us to eat in the square since Salika (famous trattoria) was closed. So we went to the square, watched by the three giggling girls, and had the most amazing foccaccia in small bar. It took ages to make it, with melanazane (aubergines), provola (local speciality cheese) and pomodori (tomatoes), because it goes in the oven, not the grill, but it was worth the wait. Then we had coffee and typical biscuits of nocciole, hazelnuts, since the woods outside and round the city are full of them.

WE continued our wandering, and came upon a building like a museum by some little summer chalets or bungalows built into the rockface, and recently restructured. Mio marito felt drawn to the building so he went up and was invited in. A man on a couch and an old lady making circular moves over his head and praying and wincing. The man said it was to take off the mal’occhio (evil eye) because he was a public figure, and therefore more at risk than most! We said immediately so were we, and could we do it too! So when the man was released, mio marito sat down next to the old lady; she was grimacing away and moaning and tears came out of her eyes and she muttered her prayer and incantations and moved her hands over his head. After, she said it was a strong evil eye, and female in origin! I didn't have it at all, she said so she just gave me a blessing.

Our new friend took us on a tour of the old house. There was a beautiful piano in an upstairs room and I played a bit while they two men got engaged in talk. There was an old people's centre below where they were colouring in material and drawing stuff and then it was music time and they put on mambo and merengue and our new friend danced with me; the old people were delighted.

We wandered down other streets to get back to the car; an elderly man stopped us and asked us had we seen all we should see, and an old lady told us there were many visitors to the cottages and Russian student doctors were coming soon. Everyone knew everything about everyone else. We drove past the large square on our way out; a long row of old men on one ledge of the cathedral, followed two rows of teenage boys. The future! All the heads turned to stare at us as we passed, the forestieri.


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