Home. It’s an interesting concept. We’ve all heard the saying “home is where the heart is.” But what if my heart has been torn and left in a thousand places over the years. Everywhere I go fragments of me are left with the people I meet. Now, I’m not so conceited to think I leave a lasting impression on everyone I come across, but I imagine each exchange to be a thread in a forever weaving web that forms the foundation of my life… and the thickest part of that web is what I consider home. Although I’m certain that part is New York, my birthplace, Italy, and in particular the Marche region, is a close second. And now that I’m home in NY I can see that more and more.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. Le Marche is undiscovered territory. At the risk of sounding like a tourism ad, I’m going to wrap up this part of my life with all the reasons why I fell in love with this uncompromisingly beautiful region of the timelessly attractive Italy:
1) The land and the food it bears
Couldn’t have asked for a better first time experience in the county-side. The never ending olive orchard fields and farms full of seasonal greens (in the middle of winter no doubt… fennel, chicory!) had this city girl wanting to get down and dirty. I loved it when my host mother asked me to get a lemon for a pastry she was cooking and all I had to do was lean out the window and pick it off the tree in her backyard. Or when she’d complain about the rabbits that roamed her yard because they ate the last of her rosemary and now she had to cook the chicken she had just butchered only that morning without it. #FarmLifeProblems.
2) The medieval hilltop villages and it’s inhabitants
Traditionally, Italy is known for it’s friendly and open people. Over the years and an influx of overly eager tourists later, I found that generally, people have lost their patience and appeal for foreigners, especially in the bigger cities. Its a very real and palpable resistance that I and I imagine many Americans feel in Italy. However, because the gorgeous, but isolated hilltop towns of Marche see so few tourists, the people aren’t as jaded and more importantly, still curious. Throughout my time in Italy I was often amicably approached, mostly and surprisingly by an older crowd from the jolly local priest, to the market merchants, to the cafe baristas. Other times, I was just stared at because they didn’t know what to make of my dark skin and mixed raced features. But for the most part, people are still generally friendly.
3) The natural attractions
From beaches to caves, there is no shortage of natural wonders to satisfy any one looking to feel like a small part of a majestic and vast world. Afternoon strolls along the beach become apart of my weekly routine. The fact that hundreds of Italians flocked to the “Porto” towns in the summer to enjoy some sailing, fishing, windsurfing, farmer’s markets, and then some late night clubbing says it all. Civitanova and Porto Recanati were my personal favorites, but I heard Porto San Giorgio was where it’s at. Too bad I wasn’t there in the summer to see it.
One of the first things my host family said that I HAD to visit was the Grotte di Frasassi or the Frasassi Caves a couple of hours by train away. I saved the trip for the end of my stay, so I could go with some friends, and what an adventure. One afternoon and a few delayed trains later, we ended up at the Grotte on a rainy day. We were bused to the Caves and assigned to a tour guide. The guide took us through what seemed like endless crevasses of minerals and we weaved our way through billowing, spiky stalactite and stalagmite formations that covered the floors and high ceilings. It’s said that Milan’s Duomo could fit inside and I imagined the Cathedral’s gothic towers camouflaged and blending into the cave walls as we took photos illegally behind the guide’s back. We were such rebels that day.
The Caves are not too far from Ancona’s port, one of Italy’s main port cities along the Adriatic Sea. When I took a day trip there, I discovered that the greeks inhabited it at some point and you can tell by the recognizable architecture. While there, I wondered into some government building (which exactly is still a mystery to me), thinking it was a Visitor’s Center and was amicably greeted by an Obama enthusiast. “I love Obama, but he really needs to be careful, there are tough times ahead of us,” he repeats several times and then proceeds to give me a tour of the clock museum upstairs.
4) Unpublicized traditions of a regional nation
In earlier post : Fat Tuesday and Moments of Clarity, I gave you a taste of the nation wide tradition of Carnival and how it was a special experience to see it in a small town like Montelupone. Because so much of Marche centers on the land and it’s history, its no surprise that their festivals celebrate the vegetable most prominent to that town, such as the Festivale de Carciofi, or Festival of Artichokes in Montelupone. A parade with floats and booths of delicious artichoke dishes… even artichoke gelato! Full disclosure, the next two photos are not photos I took, but taken from the internet to give you an idea:
Much like the infamous Il Palio, horse races of Siena, Fermo, a town about 40 minutes from Potenza Picena, has it’s own race to celebrate the medieval tradition. People race the streets barebacked and dressed in traditional attire. Also, just something worth mentioning, Fermo has a cathedral perched on the top of a hill that offers the most breathtaking view. That’s saying a lot since Marche has no shortage of those.
A new language partner of mine, Fabio, who is coincidentally from another town is Marche, told me the other day about their tradition of having the fattest man in town ride a small donkey for comic relief. I pictured a poor little donkey strenuously walking with the weight of some fatty while everyone around it laughed their asses off, no pun intended. Despite the sympathy I felt for that donkey, it was nice to hear about it and be taken back to another one of Marche’s quaint traditions.
It’s rare to find a truly affordable place in the western world. To put it into perspective, my sister showed me this article comparing European real estate to that of America’s most expensive city, San Francisco: 5 Apartments that are cheaper than an apartment in San Francisco. To sum it up, a CASTLE in Marche is less expensive than a STUDIO in San Francisco. Sold! I do believe in less is more, but I’ll take a gorgeous historical castle in an equally gorgeous historical region living in peace, comfort, and prosperity over a backbreaking tiny stuffy apartment in aggressive silicon valley any day. It’s not about the size, it’s about the value. Location, Location, Location… no, value, value, value! Now I just need to find a life partner who’s as obsessed with Italy as I am and willing to spend half his time in the US and the other half in Marche to enjoy it with. Any takers?
And so I close up my this glorious chapter of my life here with what I hope was an excellent pitch for why everyone and anyone should visit, move to, discover, fall in love with, or gain an obsession for Marche. As I took a bus to my departing flight to the Ciampino airport in Rome, with snow blending into the luscious greenery of the Sibilini mountains, emotionally supporting me with it’s majestic presence in the background, I actually looked forward to returning home despite the 40 hour journey ahead of me. Because I knew that this story of a restless young woman trapped between adolescence and adulthood, adultlesence, was only a small chapter of many waiting ahead of me.
Up next, a good old fashioned American cross- country road trip. Stay tuned!