Aug 19, 2008

Serra San Bruno Italy

Outside the Priory

After suffering in 33 degree C heat for days on end, we hopped on A's motorbike and literally headed for the hills. Serra San Bruno is another quaint village in southern Italy, but different than the seaside towns. The temperature dropped and the vegetation changed as we rode higher and higher. Ferns!! Pines!!! and a cool breeze. The town is in the middle of mushoom-land and everywhere there are different types of mushrooms for sale. Not surprisingly, in almost every course for lunch...there were....yes...mushrooms.

We had stopped for a delicious meal at an agriturismo just out of town and after stuffing ourselves we headed back to check out the huge church at the other end of town. Turns out it is The Priory, and no women are allowed. I took photos only from the front entrance.

It has become quite a tourist attraction with areas set up for the sale of local ceramics and mushrooms in different forms. There are buggy rides and horse rides. Naturally, A pointed out the little one and teasingly said it was the perfect size for me. Naturally, I disagree.

A little further down the road from the Priory is St. Mary's Church and we decided to stop for a drink. Surprisingly, we saw police heading in and were told that some other bikers had ridden by but didn't stop to pay at the booth. I have no idea how they could have passed the two women sitting by the gate without realizing they were supposed to stop. We were told to park nearby and walk in as the sanctuary needed to be in quiet. There was also a procession coming to St. Mary's (another of the many religious events...this one for the town only) and the roar of a bike, or even a car just wasn't acceptable.

We walked to the center and beheld at least 8 sport bikes parked next to the medieval "fountain of miracles" where people go to be blessed. I hoped each one got a fat ticket.

There were two large buildings on the premises...one was the church itself and there was a service in progress. The other was the tomb for the local Saint Bruno from who knows how many centuries ago. It is such a lovely peaceful place.

Until the roar of 8 bikes started up and raced off.

A has stories for each place he takes me. This one was of a wedding for 500 that took place at this church. That made quite an impression I am sure. There were many wealthy and important personalities that were invited to witness the union. Then there were caterers who came to feed the 500 the delicacies of the south. Fish and mushrooms and of course meat. Since they are so close to the sea there were all kinds of fish served...including one that made A and others very, very sick. That made quite an impression I am sure.

Naturally, I thought that story very funny.

We didn't have time to visit other churches in the area but here is a link to some lovely examples in their area.

Aug 15, 2008


It’s August 15 and another holiday throughout Italy. One year ago on this day, 6 men were killed in Germany at an Italian restaurant; the hands of the Mafia, for the first time known, had extended its deadly hand in a foreign country. Two of the men were from San Luca, Reggio Calabria, several hours drive south of where we live. It’s a town where people go to disappear, sometimes voluntarily and other times not. The story is in the news today, the mother remembering one year later and not at all surprising that she can not and will not forgive those who took her sons from her.

But stories of vengeance and retribution are not always so far away. Two days ago at Bivongi where Antonio’s parents live, we were walking from their house to the crowded piazza when a stocky man in a white T shirt walked past us. Antonio whispered to me “his brother was killed here some years ago by the mafia.” I was all ears. Why? Where? What happened next? Story after story poured out and unexciting places I’d gazed upon previously, changed in a twinkling, into a definite point of interest.

Bivongi used to have its own capo or boss. He offered protection to the residents in his area and was well respected. Over time, he acquired a lot of land that came to the attention of another capo who wanted to buy the land. Apparently there was no deal and Bivongi’s capo was taken out while he was out visiting his orchards. The area is now under the “protection” of the capo in Siderno, another neighboring town, about 20 minutes away, where we go for the shopping center.

Another man, successful in irritating the mafia, lost his life a few steps from his home, broad daylight. Antonio showed me the house and where the man took his last breath. I’m morbidly fascinated.

The man we saw that night is now living in Milano after losing his brother and also his uncle. They were shepherds who allowed their cows to roam the hills freely. Not everyone appreciates this presumption as on occasion, something gets eaten, trampled, pooped on and certainly destroyed. There are always warnings. Verbal ones, or more persuasive, bullet riddled walls and broken windows. Unheeded warnings mean certain death. The brother was shot in the mountains he loved. His uncle who was also “guilty” of free roaming livestock, made an appointment with someone one fateful day in the country. They found the scooter first, sunlight reflecting off one mirror, and the body shortly after. He must have suspected something as a knife was found concealed on his corpse but he never had a chance. As he rounded a corner, he was knocked off his scooter with the force of the bullets that entered his body. Mr. White T-shirt moved away to a safer life in the north.

Two unfinished houses stand like beacons on the beach that we pass every time we go to Monasterace. They are identical in design and if their ghostly state didn’t grab attention, the fact that they were owned by brothers who were assassinated in Monasterace by the mafia would do it. The land did not go to family, but back to the state. Until they are torn down (built without permits), they remain a constant reminder and warning to those who know more of the story.

Mafia hits in general are carried out on holidays such as birthdays or religious holidays, a day to remember. Wives and daughters are apparently still untouched. It must be a blessing and a curse to be born a boy in this area, especially if there are ties to a clan and worse yet if there is a feud. The mafia is not like terrorists where innocent and guilty are indiscriminately killed. There are sometimes unfortunate incidents where a bystander gets caught in the middle, but mostly, the hit is directed solely to the intended victim without unintentional bloodshed. One of the two men in Germany was leaving the restaurant after celebrating his 16th birthday. Today, I am wondering if there will be news and if another mother will add another photo to the growing family plot at the community cemetery. Today or not, I think it will be inevitable.