It has been three weeks since Sebastian and I landed in San Marco dei Cavoti. Some three weeks down and another 50 odd weeks to go. Our days here aren’t numbered, so it’s really hard to put a definitive quantity of time on our stay. What isn’t hard to say — or put into words — is how our fellow villagers feel about this extended visit.
Let’s get one thing clear: S. Marco isn’t a village; it’s a town. A small town, but a town replete with a rich history, culture, tranquility, boundless beauty and opinionated inhabitants.
Yet, somehow, villagers sounds better to me than townies — so that is what I will call the S. Marchese.
And these villagers must certainly know something that I don’t.
I am not entirely unknown in town, after all, the Piteo family have lived here for over 200 years, and I, personally, have visited with some frequency over the last 31 years.
Our farm, what is known in town as Basso Calisi, along with the farms of the Cocca family and more recently, the Cerritello family, is tucked away some 200 metres below the town’s centre.
My father was born on this lowland farm, as was his father before him. By the 1970s, babies were being born in hospitals, even in Italy, so I was brought to Basso Calisi after a seven day stint in Benevento’s Clinica Santa Rita. It was a strictly maternity hospital — a place where little Italian babes were brought into the world. The clinic still stands today, on Viale Melusi, but it is no longer a medical facility that ushers in life, but rather a palliative care clinic, where the regional Italians shuffle off their mortal coil.
The place where I was born is now the locale where people are sent to die. That can’t be a good omen.
Speaking of omens …
Like Anne Boleyn, who counted the 1000 days that King Henry VIII loved her, I can count the days I’ve spent in Italy. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll use averages, and tell you I’ve usually spent three weeks at a time in Italy. Those three weeks have never, ever been enough.
It’s a small country, but it packs a lot of fucking punch.
When Sebastian and I wander into any of the fine establishments in town, the first thing people try to figure out is who we are.
I’ve become quite adept at saying, “I am the daughter of Clara and Valentino Piteo. This is my son, Sebastian.” So adept, in fact, that my Canadian accent is only just a lovely hint and not a glorious Canuck fuck you.
The next two questions that follow are always the same:
“Are you staying with your aunt in town?”
“No, my son and I are staying on the farm — basso Calisi”
“Are you not afraid?”
Afraid of what?
My mind starts racing. Are there wolves deep in our valley? There have been murmurs that the regional Italian wolf, relative of the grey wolf, has been lurking around killing dogs. But I think this is more folklore than fact.
Is there a homicidal maniac living on the loose in the Benevento region. I do a quick search on crimes rates for his area and yield nothing. Either crime is low or so bloody under-reported, perhaps criminally under reported, that I find nothing. Odds are, my Italian is so bad I just don’t know how to search for this kind of information.
I decided to put my worries to rest until Mrs. Cerritello asked me the same damn question, are you and your child not afraid alone on that farm?
I give the same reply, afraid of what, desperately hoping someone might actually answer.
Her face contorts, bewildered, and we stare at each other in silence for a length of time that exceeds comfort.
What the fuck, Elena, break this long, awkward silence.
My concern escalates because the house at the end of the road is hers — one of the finest homes in town. She and her husband have spent roughly 400,000 euro to restore and it's place that remains empty despite the extensive labour and cost required to return it to its original glory.
What has left this woman and her husband so spooked that they have never lived in this majestic home?
I’ve put some thought into it and I can only come up with two reasonable explanations:
First, Elena and her husband just don’t like country life. It’s rural down at the farm — I mean really fucking rural. As soon as we start to descend into the valley, my phone quickly loses reception. I’ve taught Sebastian, in the event that I seriously maim myself or suffer an embolism, to run down to the neighbours — who sill have a landline — and say uno-uno-otto. UNO-UNO-OTTO! Their 118 is our 911.
Second, there is no second. I have no fucking clue, so I am resigned to believe that these villagers know something I don’t.