The end of August south of Rome, in Lazio, Ciociaria, on the road to enjoy a short walk in Sgurgola on the edge of Lepini Mountains.
It has been a dry hot summer with regular fires alongside the roads where drivers adopt the memory of old movies and flick their cigarettes out the window to create a minor conflagration.
A month with no rain that creates a tinderbox of the undergrowth and bushes. A time when the farmers must be expecting rain as there are numerous tractors raising clouds of brown topsoil dust as they plough the dry earth. But today we are escaping the fields of the valleys to once again climb the Lepini to have a short walk in Sgurgola, the highest town in the eastern side of this spur of the Lepini, a town originated thanks to the Barbarian invasions.
Arriving in Sgurgola, the Lepini Mountains adopts a rugged pose of rejection above us to the west, while across the valley to the east is the hill of Anagni, with the international pharmaceutical and plastics factories and warehouses from Italy’s period of industrial pride camped in the Sacco valley in-between the two ranges.
There appear to be two main squares to visit on a short walk in Sgurgola one at each end of the Corso Della Repubblica. The first, Piazza Dell’Arringo, where I sit under the shade of an oak, appreciating the soft cooling breeze thanks to the mountains, has what seems to be the only open coffee bar on the corso, surely a unique situation in Italy.
The piazza is peaceful, even though there is a continuous burble of voices in many keys, old men sitting on the parapet; typical Italian families of grandparents, mothers and children sharing a late morning coffee and ‘cornetto’; bored students whiling away their days before school starts again; and tables of card players without whom this could not be Italy.
Opposite is the simple memorial to the victims of the wars – (Ai Suoi Figli) ‘to our sons’ – inscribed on a concrete plinth. There is a bell sounding for 11:15, eleven bells and then one. Today is Tuesday, there is an irregular fruit and vegetable market in town, making the transit of the free bus just that little more perilous for shoppers and strollers.
Yet, it must be this small sign of commercial activity that has brought out many of the senior citizens who hold the secrets of Sgurgola to occupy, not just this square but also other spots on the Corso where the vendors vans have parked.
Some 200 metres south on the cobbled corso, past the Laboratorio Salsicce (Sausage Factory), is the main square (whose name I failed to find) but with a key architectural feature of this town, an arch with a three level tower seemingly (but not so in practice) precariously balanced on the walls on either side of the narrow road (possibly Via Roma according to the sign).
On the right side of the arch flutter the requisite flags of the city hall above an entrance. Yet on this ground level the doorway is arched by the green lights of ‘FARMACIA’. For the uneducated, a little advice is necessary to realise that the entrance to the town hall is through the arch a few metres up the ‘Via Roma’ and the offices sit on the upper levels above the pharmacy.
To the right in the square there is a bar, but as the proprietor pours another case of empty bottles from last night into the recycling skip, he reminds us that he is closed during daylight hours, so now for my morning coffee our short walk in Sgurgola must return to Piazza Dell’Arringo.
On the opposite side of the town square stands the church of Santa Maria Assunta, with its 1960s brick facade now covered in a more aesthetic plaster. It has a single nave and 4 chapels on either side, peaceful and deserted on this summer day, except for the sound of my coin – metal on metal, as the offering is accepted and a second electric candle slowly comes to life. A solitary prayer and we depart to the open square without an open bar, but still with a few of the old folk of town seated chatting away their day a little more noisily than in Piazza Dell’Arringo.
Summer has had its effect on this town as on most others of the Lepini Mountains and Ciociaria, the locals sit awaiting the heat of the afternoon, and then the much sought after cool of the late evening, that may be accompanied by a further draught of beers or savouring of local wine to excite the spirits and eventually bring on sleep of another Sgurgolan day.
Yet there is more to find in a short walk in Sgurgola, walls decorated with outdoor art, ‘frescoes’ that combine music and art, the works of Sgurgola music painters – ‘sgurgoladepingerelamusica’ on the plastered walls of the old town. Just up the road through the clock tower arch, past the city hall, you find in front of you three works – ‘Beatlemania’, ‘Nota di colore’ and ‘Il sogno’, and there are more such as the excellent ‘Ultimo Tango’ in the corso; if you seek you will find. Maybe the town is another denizen of the saltarello. Shall we wait till evening?
Sgurgola is building for its annual Grape Festival in September, a festival that brings excitement to the town and wakens even the most drowsy summer dreamer to the pleasures of Bacchus and the dance and the opportunity to seek more secrets of Sgurgola.