Vinchiaturo, in the mornings of August, smells of tomato sauce.
The filled pots simmered in the alleys, grumbling in an archaic and severe language. The mountains of the Matese, on the horizon, watched curiously that minute bustle of small and strong women.
And they, sentinels of a time distracted and heedless of the somersaults of the centuries, with the same gestures of their ancestors, distilled good red gold to warm the winter. The stones of the ancient houses watched in silence, warm with a noble and proud sun.
As proud as the courage of the Pentri, Samnite warriors who raised their spears to heaven against the Roman legions here. They lost, but whoever defends his land, his family and his honour never loses.
We children, on bicycles, ripped through the still air pedalling screaming all our joy. Be careful of the vipers’, the grown-ups told us.
Asped’ (short for aspidi – vipers), with the onomatopoeic and creeping S, just like those small greenish vipers – ‘aspidi’ in fact – that came from the fields to the town, slinking among the tiny holes in the dry stone walls.
But we were not afraid, because as children we are afraid only of not being loved.
We ran to the slaughterhouse, where the streaks of dried blood covered the cobblestones, telling without words the thousand-year-old quarrel between men and beasts.
At noon, the sun was beginning to fry the black saddles of the bikes. It was time to bathe in the fountain of the lions in the shadow of the church steeple. A bell tower that seemed infinitely high to me, slender but robust.
Like the arms of my grandfather, who passing from there took me in his arms and hugged me in the chest. It smelled of lavender, of tobacco, of brilliantine. He smelled of all the stories he told me.
He told me of the enterprises of the brothers, war heroes and reckless aviators, the pride of Vinchiaturo that had paid homage to them by naming after them schools, streets and monuments. Then he and I walked home. With one hand he held the bike, and with the other he held mine.
Happiness is a small thing when it is pure.
Lunch time. Time to give thanks to the generosity of a shy, but kind and generous land. Red Tintilla, sausages, steaks, Boiano mozzarella, freshly baked focaccia, aniseed donuts.
My grandmother cooked for everyone. It was Tuscan cooking, but it was as if its most intimate essence had delicately rested on one of the milestones that led to the town. After eating, time stopped and dozed with us, while from the slits of the shutters a lazy streaked light fell suffused like snow.
And then, when the sun finally became convinced that it had done its homework that day, a shy gust of breeze peeked shyly to announce that the carousel was starting up again.
The tractors heading for the fields roared on the street, the women chatted from the balconies, the shutters of the little shops reopened clattering.
It was an authentic, circular world that was sufficient in itself. Many, over the years, had gone away. Some to the North, some to Canada, some to America. But everybody was there in the summer.
Because the heart can have only one place to stay. I went out again, to breathe that pure air and enjoy those clean, clean colours.
Just outside the town, the cultivated fields had the nuances of Antonello da Messina’s paintings. When the afternoon sun pierced them, they gave off an absolute, transcendent light.
We ran into the fields, to that light. We went through as we go through childhood. With crazy and boundless happiness.
In the evening, after dinner, we all went out together. Uncles, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, cousins. From Milan, from Genoa, from Rome. All there, all together for a few days a year of summer.
We went to get ice cream. And sometimes we went to the echo bridge. A few hundred meters on foot just outside the town, amid the chirping of crickets and under stars so overpowering as to put us at awe.
My grandfather, without showing up, was throwing coins into the air and telling us that they were falling from the magical trees on the roadside.
We knew it wasn’t like that, but why not believe in the power of fantasy in the exact moment you are completely immersed in it?
Cover picture by Michele Monteleone