Sep 30, 2009

Going Jogging,...where?...

The jogger squinted at his watch in the dim light. At six-thirty on an unusually warm fall morning there was still time to take several laps around the little meadow he was about to pass. He veered off the road and soon felt the springy grass beneath his feet.

A surge of vigor coursed through him as he sprinted close to the bushes that fringed the grassy field, breathing in the scent of the wild butterfly bush as he ran past. The only sounds he heard on that quiet morning were the soft thud of his shoes on the spongy soil and the distant bark of a neighborhood dog.

Nearing the end of his second lap, a faint light flashed on and off in the bushes immediately to his right, stopping him dead in his tracks. His heart, already beating fast, managed to pick up even more speed as he stared into the dark bushes trying to make out a form, any form. Feet that were as light as air a few seconds ago had now grown roots.

He heard a whisper coming from the ground, "You planning to keep running much longer? Or shall I just leave now?"

Without any hesitation, the jogger was once again on the road leaving behind a man, who was lying on the ground, with a pair of binoculars and a rifle beside him.

In fact, the man had settled into his position a couple hours before and had waited silently, still and patient. But, instead of being rewarded with the sighting of a much prized roe deer, the only game that appeared was a two-legged galloping ass.

(It's hunting season now and this was one of A's encounters when he went hunting. I accompanied him on scouting excursions and felt what life was like on the other side of the coin. 'I' would usually be in the place of the watched, walking or running (like a gazelle naturally), instead of being the watcher.

Now my thinking goes... the walls may have ears, but there are eyes everywhere.)


Sep 28, 2009

Ndrangheta Boss Killed in Riace Calabria

It was at the small village of Riace that presumed Calabrian mafia boss, Damiano Vallelunga, met his untimely end. The Ndrangheta is the Calabrian version of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and is comprised of a multitude of clans whose loyalties are secured through arranged marriages and blood relationships.

Family feuds and businesses gone wrong are still sometimes settled in blood. Well, not really settled as its just a matter of time before the vendettas continue.

If tragedies are immortalized with anniversaries, observed in remembrance of the lost and of lessons learned, the mafia know how to make an event twice as memorable. Holidays, or 'festas' are dangerous times, whether secular or religious.

One of the most widely publicized killings occurred in Germany in 2007, marking the first brazen murders outside of Italy. (Stories link below) The victims were celebrating the youngest man's birthday. He was only 16. It is believed that the murders were in retaliation for the shooting of the young wife of another Ndrangheta clan chief during the previous year, on Christmas Day.

The latest clash of clans occurred yesterday towards the end of the annual festival that celebrates Riace's patron saint. Devoted worshippers come from all over Calabria and Vallelunga, a regular attendant, came from nearby Serra San Bruno.

The crime could be a scene taken straight from The Godfather. It was pouring rain when Vallelunga exited the santuario SS Cosma e Damiano before the service was over, along with his wife and other family members. As soon as his wife got into their vehicle, two men approached Vallelunga with a rifle and pistol and gunned him down. The assassins escaped in a white Fiat, which was later discovered to have been stolen from Catanzaro.
Photo from La Locride, Riace

Which clan is responsible for Vallelunga's death? Don't yet know. Why was he killed? Not sure either. Why was he killed in Riace instead of his own village? Perhaps he was more vulnerable in Riace, out of his area of influence. He who really knows isn't telling.

I admit this side of Calabria is morbidly fascinating to me. I wanted to know who had been killed because stories abound of people who are connected to, or have been threatened by the Ndrangheta (See Stories and Images of Bivongi). I was curious if the man in the Bivongi picture ceased to be "a dead man walking".


Sep 25, 2009

The Characters of my "Hood" in Italy

In a couple of weeks, I will mark two years in Italy. I've spent most of my time in the north, with easter, summer, olive picking season and other odd weekends in the south. Today, as the sky thickens into a gray stew and the leaves remain ominously still, I found myself mulling over the acquaintances I've made, or not, on this little stretch of road.

The house directly across from ours in the north stands tall and mute, it's windows open but no life ever shows through. It's as unfriendly as it's owners who never greet us unless they are unfortunate enough to have eye contact. Their dog once came sniffing around our courtyard and as A chased it away, it stopped on it's exit run to look at him, I swear in defiance, while it raised a leg to leave its parting shot. The nerve!

Thank goodness for Gianni and his pet who take their daily walk past our house. Without fail there will be a wave or small conversation as he passes by our gate. I will again be reminded of his age and how fine his 10 year old dog is doing, all due to being on meds.

And Bruna, a short distance down the road, is the life force behind her strange family. She is as robust and friendly as her husband is thin and timid. I once told her I liked one of her plants in her yard and that afternoon, I was presented with a potted version of the same plant.

Her husband tends to his goats in the surrounding hills and often walks past our house, large wooden basket strapped to his back and pint sized Bessie barking at his feet, to their forest plot to gather food. Even with Bessie announcing my presence, he managed to ignore me for months. Now, I get a nod in response to my enthusiastic wave and ONCE, he even spoke to me. I'm making progress.

Their son Sandro is a kick. He rarely leaves home for any reason but for work, and never takes vacation. That works for us as we rely on him to take care of our Macchia and Argo when we go south. He bought a fine looking motorbike and all the protective armor that a responsible rider would have, but hesitates at taking any ride longer than 15 minutes. He too is spare with words so it is no wonder I caught a moment where he and A sat on the ledge outside our house and shared a beer in silence.... comfortable communion.

I've not yet met Damiana who is the artist with a reputation for collecting morbid artwork. A skeleton hanging on the wall near the entrance is her form of welcome. She lives adjacent to Bruna but goes inside when I pass by.

Two years and so little connection with the people who live right around me. Part is my fault for not being more outgoing, but the north is known for being cold and aloof. When a rafting guide heard that I'd stayed in nearby Alagna for some time, he didn't wait for my story, he just immediately apologized.

By contrast, in the south I've stopped to ask for directions and walked away with the info I needed, their life story and a sense of connection. And for a stranger, because two years still makes me a stranger, that behavior is very welcome.

Sep 23, 2009

Charterhouse Monastery Museum Calabria

Serra San Bruno is the home for one of the many Carthusian monasteries throughout Europe. The monastery itself is not open to the public, but the museum gives a glimpse of life through the ages for monks of this order.

Brief History of Serra San Bruno

The first hermitage was built in a valley of the French Chartreuse Mountains thus giving its name to the Charterhouse order. Saint Bruno came to Calabria in 1091 and built his priory in a town called Torre dell'altipiano, Tower of the High Plains (Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter jumped to mind). In the fourteenth century the name of the town was changed to "Serra" during the reign of Ferdinand of Aragon, and "San Bruno" was added to better describe the town and to honor the founding father of the Carthusian House.

The Museum in Photos

Two old towers delineate the space devoted to the Charterhouse Museum

An example of early documented music

The entry to the U-shaped museum

Woodwork in the chapel

A typical living unit or cell

The Oratory of the Cell
"... At the sound of the bell, all pray at the same time, so that the whole Monastery becomes a single act of praise to the glory of God."
Wall plaque

Early woodworking table and tools (left) and loom

Incredible inner workings of a large clock. Truly a time machine!! Imported from Grenoble

The shadow of the woman gives you an idea of the size of the clock. The face is so tiny compared to the inner workings which also mechanically master the ringing of the bells. Still working to boot!

A photo of a photo as I am not allowed inside to see the grounds. The newer portion is built after the French Gothic style. Click here for more on the history of the priory

This photo taken with me standing on tip-toe on the edge of a raised flower bed from across the street. Still can't see a thing

When this gigantic door opened to let in a woman who had made an appointment, a crowd quickly formed. The sliver of light behind the robust monk didn't reveal much. I admit though, HE was much more interesting than the building that remained a secret behind him.

Open all year
April to September: 9:00 - 1:00; 3:00 - 8:00
October to March: 9:30 - 1:00; 3:00 - 6:00
Website (Italian)
0963 70608

Links to sources:
Carthusian Monastery of Serra San Bruno
Filcoo, Serra San Bruno


Of the "40 Charterhouses existing in Italy, this is one of two that are still inhabited by friars."

Sep 21, 2009

Italy Mourning Kabul's Six Victims

Days ago, the unrest in Kabul, Afghanistan, claimed the lives of six Italian soldiers when a suicide bomber rammed his lorry between two Italian military vehicles. The six were not the only victims as locals also lost their lives in the blast.

Italy is one of the strongest supporters of the peace-keeping effort with a participation of about 3,000 troops. This translates to - many families who have loved ones serving overseas and who are concerned on a daily basis for their welfare.

For a country that makes the family unit so important, this tragedy strikes home even for those who don't have members in the military. Today the state funeral for the six soldiers was held at the Saint Paul Basilica in Rome, before mourners who traveled far and wide to pay their last respects. For those who could not make it, several TV channels broadcast the service.

Several of those who were interviewed, some in tears, all had one thing in common to say... "It could have been my brother, my son...".

Photo: timesonline.co.uk
News report Associated Press NYT
News video BBC News


Sep 18, 2009

Worth 1000 Words

Notice pasted on road signs riddled with shot: "Trap Shooting Competition, August 8 - 9"

Sep 16, 2009

Castello di San Fili, Riace Calabria Italy

An old castle ruin sits on a hill near the Riace Marina in southern Italy. It housed soldiers guarding the coastline from marauders in a previous life. Today it stands alone, neglected except for those looking for an impromptu bathroom. Once in a while, it stands for a few moments in second-hand glory when couples, with a little vision, make the trip to take wedding photos.

Outer staircase to the middle level. The entrance to the ground floor is under the stairs. I did NOT enter the area as it was unceremoniously dotted with discarded nakpins. Although it is currently in deteriorating condition, it was included in 1996 in Legambiente, an environmental organization.

Even in disrepair, the entrance to the castle is still beautiful. The castle is built in the form of a triangle and is separated into three parts with lookouts at the corners. The central area housed the fireplace. A very narrow and low spiral staircase joins all the levels.

View of both land and sea. The tower on the right is part of the stronghold. One thing I notice in Italy is that abandoned homes are generally left intact. This building was stripped; the door was taken as well as the shutters over the windows. The building had been converted into a residence at one time before being abandoned.

Where boats once tried to land and unload Turkish or Saracen warriors to wage war in the 18th century, boats now attempt to land and unload illegal immigrants from the African coast. This abandoned boat was one of the many that make the trip across the Mediterranean loaded full of people looking for a better life even if it begins in an Italian jail.

The remnant of living quarters during the 18th Century beside fortified tower.

Too small to be used like a fireman's drop, it was perhaps used to pass items back and forth from level to level without leaving position.

The roof. The wall reaches about waist high which would be the perfect height for a person to view the ocean while sitting at a table for lunch. It would be a great place for an agriturismo or bed and breakfast, with the layout of the building and with a view like this.

It's not the first time I wished I had lots of money.

Sep 14, 2009

Photos of Badolato Calabria

Slideshow of Badolato in Calabria, an inland village that still gets a view of the Ionian sea.

Sep 11, 2009

The Meaning of the Black Lines on Front Door Entrances

The old way of life, recording or passing information to others in "code" such as the tolling bells and now this door.

As usual, the stone archway and step begged me to take a photo. I noticed that the door had deteriorated at the bottom and that some delinquent had not only scribbled on the door but had painted two very prominent black lines across the two doors, marring it badly.

What I learned next made that door more interesting than any other that I've seen.

Years ago, when one of the owners of a home passed away, his or her death was recorded with a black line painted across the door. When the spouse also passed away, another line was painted. That the two lines are touching on this door means that the passing of the owners occurred at the same time.

Perhaps we are in an age where technology is at a fascinating level and we are living with so many conveniences and comforts. But what I'd give to learn more about how people lived during the last century in this country. In particular, I'd like to know more about the little traditions that marked daily life or as in this case, the passing of life.

Sep 7, 2009

Old Homes of Bivongi and Badolato, Calabria

Old homes appeal to me and there are a lot of them in the old villages in the south of Italy especially in the Historic Center. They are inconvenient, designed for an era that is past. Cars of today will not pass the through the narrow cobbled streets to deliver you right to your door and groceries will have to be lugged up and down the streets of these hilltop towns.

For young Italians, it's better to move to a condo or apartment in the newer section and once the older generation has passed or moved to be cared for, many times theses old homes are abandoned and eventually fall into sad ruin. Here are a few that made me stop for another look and to entertain a fantasy of buying one.

This house in Bivongi stands away from the center but I liked the location. It looks as if it is supported by huge pillars but instead stands on property beside the road. It must be a thrill to open the third story double doors that open to a low iron rail that drops off into open space.

We parked the car at the top of the old center and I walked past this attractive gate...

I fell in love with the entrance to this Bivongi house. The gates open into a small upper garden that lead to the front door. The grounds have been cared for even though the house has been abandoned for about 20 years. I was curious if it was for sale and the asking price. It seems small from this angle but below...

...it's not so tiny. If the size didn't dull my interest, the tales that objects constantly move from place to place on their own finished me off. What would an old town be without a haunted house, or houses...this is not the only one. The town admin is interested in making it into a hotel.

A small square offered up another lonely home...

...abandoned, which means no-one lives there but there is someone who will gladly take your money if you offer to buy it. I imagined myself looking out of the window into the town and valley below, but I could NOT imagine myself going to an outdoor bathroom like this....

Since there was no room inside, balconies were either enclosed to include the 'gabinetto', toilet, or a small room would be tacked onto the side of the house. Not very attractive, but certainly convenient, even if a little weird - (Some are enclosed in colored glass!)

Another home that made me salivate, this time in the town of Badolato. Again a view, with a patio on top and a garden to care for. Although freestanding, it is close to the center that is filled with streets like this one...

...and with homes like these...

That must be the Penthouse Suite on the right. They too have an awesome view and perhaps of the sea as well.
And if you take the time to renovate...

Oh, the detail...


Sep 4, 2009

Images of Bivongi, Mercato della Badia in Calabria

There are two big festivals that we like to attend in Bivongi during the summer. One is the Mercato della Badia and the other is the Sagra del Vino.

I went early to take photos of the old center before it got swamped with people.

Porchetta, a favorite of mine, is usually cut from the unfortunate pig that is set out to effectively catch your attention.

Older homes are narrow, with many floors. Quaint, but it has to be hard on older knees and it is usually the older generation that is left in the historic center.

An arch always draws me

View of Bivongi's main church. There is a small chapel higher on the hill but I don't know if it is used often.

Another stall being set up. Almost a year ago I learned this man had been threatened by the local mafia and it was thought his days were numbered if he remained in town. The fact that he is still here suggests that he himself has become more powerful in the underworld.

There are five entrances off this small courtyard that lead to five different homes.

This is NOT the narrowest stairway in Bivongi. There is one path that fits just one, slim person.

A Bivongi piazza during the Mercato della Badia after it is in full swing.

Some of the evening's entertainment. Walking on stilts, a tall unicycle, a comic performing in the square and for the first time, an american indian.

Not shown here... the many vendors that cook and sell traditional foods and desserts of Calabria.