My Molise mother was from Molise. To be exact, from Colletorto. There as a child I spent my summers.
I have childhood memories of those summers, and the more time passes, the more they are dear to me.
I was born in Milan and 50 years ago, and more, the distance that existed between the two places was not only geographical.
Emigration had, as it were, uprooted us from our history, our people, our culture. From a rural and peasant reality we had transformed into citizens and workers.
In the summer, people would return to their own town, perhaps showing off the car or some tinsel that would show the well-being achieved in the city. But we never spoke of the poverty and sadness that one was forced to live, far from their roots.
I was a child. These things I would understand only later. It was a source of amazement for me to see the peasants return to town in the evening with their donkeys and mules and taking them to drink at the public drinking trough before putting them in the stables: in Milan they were scenes that were not seen.
And even “o ‘strusc’ serotino” (evening walk) I couldn’t understand it, and why the participants greeted each other every time they met even if it happened several times in a row since they were going up and down many times.
In fact, the ‘struscio’ was the walk that was made in the main street of the town and in which one shared one’s presence in the community. ‘Serotino’ because it took place in the evening immediately after dinner.
And the men took off their hats as a sign of respect every time they greeted someone. It was like a dance in which we talked about everything and with everyone. And it was a way to meet and exchange news, when there was no television or telephones.
I did not understand those men and women sitting in front of the door of their houses who spoke in a dialect that I did not understand at the time, and who greeted me, and especially the women, hugged me and kissed me.
It was their way of blessing me, but I couldn’t know at the time.
And I was fascinated by the fires of “le ristocc ” in the dark of the night. The ‘restocc’, or what remained of the grain after it was harvested. And the rest was burned so that the Venus nourished the soil for the following sowing and for the new harvest.
The fires that could be seen in the night were a magnificent sight. Seen once, their image remains in your heart and mind with absolute clarity.
In Colletorto, from the terrace below the Palazzo, which rises over the valleys below, you could see them light up the night in August evenings. And it was a wonderful sight.
And the women who returned from the oven, carrying on their heads “co maccatur ‘n’cap” the trays in which they had cooked the dishes, especially on holidays.
The women carried incredible weights on their heads, helping themselves only with a woven handkerchief. They put it on their heads to distribute the weight, just like that of the copper basins with which the water taken from the fountains was transported, and to protect themselves from the heat of the pans and pots that, while still hot, were brought from the oven.
And those desserts that did not exist in the city: sweet and savoury taralli, (pretzels) with or without sugar icing, those with almonds, simple pizza, made only with tomatoes and my favourite: “a pizza doc” with layers of cream.
I remember the trips to the sea at Termoli with bread and tomato and some fruit, and water and beer put to cool down on the seashore. And they all had a nickname: Pepp u Piattar, Lina Bambà, Pepp u’ scazzllus. But I didn’t know what they meant.
And now at the very thought, remembering these things, I am moved and my eyes become moist. Because I didn’t understand then, but over time I realized that all those things were petals of happiness, and the luck of having lived them enriched me and those memories made my life better.
Because little is said about Molise. And few know that it is a bit like the land of happiness.
Molise is the place where you can find the most important cures: cares for the soul.