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“This valley of ours is as beautiful as a woman can be in the eyes of a man in love.”

This sentence serves to clarify, to those who come to our valley for the first time or to those who cannot feel it as their own, what and how extraordinary the relationship that unites us to the Valle del Giovenco is. A territory that has always given us the colours and scents of its seasons.

Ortona dei Marsi and Monte Genzana

There is certainly better, but it is equally true that only here can we feel that we are in our place, that we are at home.

My book “Welcome to Avalon in the countryside of Ortona dei Marsi” was born from the purchase of an apple orchard and from the initiative “Adopt an apple tree from the Valle del Giovenco” which I shared with numerous relatives and friends who want to live an experience of nature adopting a plant. The idea was to plant 130 young apple trees up till now and to share the project.

In exchange for the membership fee, those who join have in return the apples produced from the already productive apple orchard and other typical local products such as potatoes, beans, walnuts, almonds, honey, etc …

The idea was successful and in a short time all the plants found a parent. To all this was added a periodic newsletter sent to the e-mail addresses of the affiliates.

Even these newsletters on the apple world have met with interest and, month after month, I have put together many topics concerning the world of the apple. All this is collected in the book which, by monitoring  human knowledge, ranges from the environment to mythology, from literature to painting, from geography to mathematics and including popular traditions.

The conclusion is that really “eating an apple is good”, as well as for the body and for the mind. A book, therefore, healthy and sustainable.

But where does our story with Ortona dei Marsi start from?

It was a grey winter day when, in the mid-1960s, I entered Ortona dei Marsi for the first time. My mother was curious to learn about the small mountain village from  which my father originally came.

Castle of Ortona dei Marsi

Grandfather Guido was born in Ortona in January 1900, and here he spent his youth before moving to Rome for work where, in June 1929, my father Mario was born in the family villa of Città Giardino in Monte Sacro which, then, in September 1958 , also welcomed the undersigned.

So I was just over 7 when I was introduced to Ortona for the first time.

The day was particularly gloomy (as Lucio Battisti would have said), with persistent rain and cold wind. My first impression was that of having entered a haunted country with the houses of dark stones falling steeply over our people as we reached the old family house on foot along the ruve of the village.

When grandfather Guido left Ortona, he commissioned a local person to maintain the house but many years had passed and when we reached the end of Via Melonia the sight that presented itself to our eyes was not particularly edifying.

The house had suffered serious damage, the walls were cracked, the roof had partially collapsed and when I entered it the thing that struck me most was the leaden colour of the sky that entered from the ceiling above my child’s head.

I do not know for what reason or for what appearance but my mother was bowled over by the places and had no doubts in asking my father (a skilled builder in Rome) to arrange, as soon as possible, the property that would have become so, every year, at the end of the school, our summer vacation home.

In those years we went on holiday in the Alps, in the Veneto region, on the slopes of Monte Grappa, not far from Vicenza, the city of mother’s origin. So, already in the summer of 1966 we began to frequent Ortona.

My father commissioned Giulio Maggi to follow the restoration work on the house and, for the first two years, we were guests of Marietta Venti on Viale Roma, at the entrance to the town.

At the end of summer 1967, we entered the family home, finally welcoming and spacious enough for all our large family: dad Mario, mom Rita, myself, Massimo, Marco, little Marilena, our little dog Lillo and, sometimes, grandfather Guido, aunt Esterina and uncle Celestino.

For us, over the three summer months of play and freedom, the doors would have opened regularly in these exceptional conditions for city children conditioned by the limits and dangers of urban environments.

In those years, even in a town like ours, already then of a few souls and which today has sadly even less, trade was very much alive and thus proved to be one of the special activities of the human race.

The community, which, if we also consider the hamlets, came to count a few hundred presences, was served by a large number of shops that provided enough to satisfy everyone’s primary needs. I like to mention that the three grocery stores also sold more. And it is in these other items that they found their uniqueness.

For example, in addition to cured meats, pasta and various seeds, from Edmondo & Peppe you could also purchase clothing and haberdashery. The shop consisted of two rooms communicating with each other: one for the sale of food and the other for the haberdashery.

It was very likely that the customers in need of both goods were served by the same person who, after a very quick and brief cleaning of the hands, passed with absolute naturalness from a mortadella to a piece of fresh linen and vice versa.

If then it was Peppe who served, everything took place with the musical background of his continuous and almost soundless whistle, which did not remain silent even when he made the final bill. For this operation he used the first piece of paper that he came across, a box of rigatoni or the wrapping of the loaf for example, and between one whistle and the next he added the various amounts with the only help of his piece of pencil that he wore perpetually over his ear.

Meanwhile, we went to Evelina to buy sweets and chocolate, postcards and stamps, newspapers and magazines, but above all we went to telephone. At the time, private telephones were rare in the village, while cell phones, the Internet and even Facebook were the result of a lively imagination.

In order to be able to talk to distant friends or relatives, there was only the jerky public phone of Evelina. Here, for the need to communicate important news to someone or for the pleasure of hearing the voice of important people only to someone, we all went there and especially in the evening.

More than fifty years after my arrival in Ortona, I decided, therefore, to imitate my father (builder and farmer) by committing, for now part-time until retirement, to become a farmer in the Valle del Giovenco.

Following the acquisition of the apple orchard, I have a new activity code (cultivation of apple fruit and stone fruit) and I have equipped myself for field work (salvaging the expression “arms stolen from agriculture”).

Through the initiative “Adopt an apple tree from the Giovenco Valley” I tried to frame the cultivation of apples into a broad vision (social, environmental, cultural, artistic, etc.) and describe the area of the valley in an empathic condition.

The book was born out of this desire. Thank you for visiting the Valle del Giovenco, the gateway to the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park.

Maurizio Urbani (with the contribution of Vincenzo Buccella)

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