In Montelupone, there was a place I’d go to retreat. It’s on the road that follows the town’s medieval wall on the opposite side of where I used to live. It sits at the top of the hill that the town was built on, offering an all-embracing view of the evergreen rolling columns, farm lands, and winding narrow roads below that lead to unwalkable distances, and in my imagination, adventures. For the past month, I’d lean on the thin and wobbling railing after a post- class or late afternoon walk, stare out into the distance and daydream in this spot. The first time I discovered it was on a beautifully rare and sunny Tuesday morning. And whether it was because of the “Tuesday spike” (the slight spike happiness that occurs after getting through a Monday… yes Monday’s suck everywhere, even in beautiful places) or the joy of having sun on my face after so many cold and rainy winter days, my mind and heart melted in contentment.
I’m admittedly a pessimistic person, so it’s very rare that on the contrary I’ll admit to something being underrated. But a view of Marche’s rolling columns below a cloudless sunny sky is the DEFINITION of underrated. Now, I can’t honestly compare because I’ve never been to Tuscany, but from everything I’ve heard and seen, Marche is equivalent to if not more stunning than Tuscany. Just replace the abundant vineyards with olive tree orchards, and villas with run down mansions, add beaches 20 or so minutes away, and you’ve got Marche. Needless to say, other than the lack of walking distances and dependency on cars (remember I’m from NYC and pretty much don’t drive… ever), I have no regrets in coming to this area.
But let’s talk about these lack of walking distances. Last Tuesday, I took the 45 minute walk into the center of my new town, Potenza Picena. My new host family warned me about the hills, but you never know what to expect until you’re walking up and down several of them, huffing and buffing. Good news is my ass has never looked better.
I was mentally prepared to be active… hell I was even prepared to play soccer. But this family takes active to another level. The best way I can describe them is GO, GOING, GONE. They are perhaps 1/4th of what immediately comes to mind about an Italian family born, raised, and living in the Italian countryside. They value leisure, but not for it’s relaxing nature, but for the free time it provides to be doing something and everything. Everyone, especially the 12 year old son, is into extreme sports and juggling several extra curricular activities. I mean wind surfing, rock climbing, sailing, dirt biking, and even unicycling. Regardless of their Speedy Gonzales habits, I’d be shameless if I didn’t mention their incredible kindness and hospitality. I was generously welcomed into their home with flowers, smiles, and home cooked meals.
I got my first taste of their outdoorsy lifestyle when they took me on a snoe-shoeing hike in the mountains. It was a brand new experience for me and enjoyably challenging. There was blinding fog and I wasn’t expecting to hike straight into the night, but the group was a bunch of friendly faces and it was nice to see my host family in their element. My favorite part was the 10 course meal of regional cuisine that followed (not that anything could ever top good food in my book). Think wild boar with broad noodled pasta, polenta lasagna with bolognese sauce, fried zucchini, roasted lamb, vodka penne and tuna, wild mushrooms in cherry balsamic vinaigrette… basically orgasms on a plate.
I met what could have been my first real Italian friend on the hike. But he lives in Padova, which is about 5 hours from me. Whomp Whomp. The thing about Italian men is that they are exceptionally charming in the friendliest way. They won’t flirt in an obvious way. No touching or flattering compliments about your looks. They just talk to you with what seems like genuine interest. Some small talk, but mostly deep questions, such as your passions or reasons for traveling. It makes you want to open up and tell them things you wouldn’t usually tell a stranger. Then they ask for your number to hang out and you’re like sure I could use a friend. Then they actually follow up and keep following up until they finally get you out with persistency. And then when they get you alone they pounce. It’s really quite genius if you think about it. The point of this scenario is to say that this new guy, could be a friend or he could be just waiting to pounce… you never know. Regardless, I could use an Italian friend my age and he seems like a good one. And he speaks English. Plus, I’m really good at brushing off advances or at least making them less awkward.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, wants to know if you’re single here. It’s been the running joke in the school. “Hai un ragazzo?” Translation: “Do you have a boyfriend?” It’s the #1 thing the kids ask after where are you from. As I’m sure you can guess, I don’t have a boyfriend. And truth be told, I doubt I’ll find one here. My life-time experiences and expectations with Italian men deserves an entire post of it’s own, but right now finding a sister spot with a breathtaking view to retreat to in Potenza, like the one in Montelupone, is my top priority.