A brief climb along a narrow, vineyard-lined road leads the traveler up from the valley of the Tiber River and Lake Alviano to Civitella d’Agliano, a medieval village in the Province of Lazio. Here we are 1.5 hours and a thousand modern bellwethers from Rome, which is why I like it. Civitella (locals leave out the d’Agliano much of the time) stands out for its multi-generational population, basic amenities, ancient architecture, great coffee bars (2), and the vitality of a village that continues to evolve and shape itself. One saving grace for a person without a car is the bus line that passes through quasi-regularly and runs south and north, either to Viterbo, a major regional center, or Orvieto, a favorite hill town in Italy.
I rolled into Civitella in March ’17 after embarking on a “house-hunt” road trip with a friend. We covered nearly two thousand kilometers in five days, saw over a dozen properties from coast to coast, and ended up here, where a local realtor showed us a half-dozen viable homes, piccolo e grande. After a mental plinko session that went on for several days, weighing, comparing, reviewing photos, running the numbers, I bought a two-bedroom, 55 square meter casa in Civitella’s historic district overlooking a green, umber, and golden landscape. The view is worth far more than I paid.
NOTE: I know that when someone says, “I bought a house in Italy,” it sounds as if she has lots of money. I don’t. Houses in Italy are very cheap. Think nice used car. Review another story of mine for details.
Three weeks into my first summer-long stay in Italy, I have transitioned from the quick visual scan and benign dismissal granted a visitor to “Buon giorno, signora,” and even “Sei la signora che ha comprato la piccola casa in Piazza Sant’Antonio?” (You are the lady who bought the little house in the Piazza Sant’Antonio?). The citizens are interested and welcoming. I have been introduced to the mayor, a hotelier and vintner, his electrician, a businessman who assists European universities by hosting archaeological studies of Etruscan pottery, the local photographer and artist, another newcomer from Rome, and a half dozen others. Old ladies, of which I am one, walk up to me to say “Welcome.” Lucio, a Turino and factory owner, is also visiting for the summer; he came up and started chatting as if we already knew each other, which I am fairly sure we don’t. Finally, he asked me how on earth I ended up in Civitella, so, in very bad Italian I tried to tell him as he shook his head in wonderment. No other Americans live in Civitella, though greater Europe is represented by a few seasonal Germans and a Brit, a lovely woman with enviable Italian and young children who is married to an Italian.
I don’t have a fence to lean against and from which perch collect news and gossip from passersby, but that is because no Italian ever needed a fence. Townsfolk make sure to tell me about events, such as the four-day music, food, and dance festa that just passed, an art exhibition in a village just a 30 minute walk away, and another concert in Bagnoregio next week. I have had more of a social life in Civitella than in a half year at home. I have heard, in confidence of course, that a man up the lane is a misogynist whose wife and daughter planted him here and left. From another willing conversationalist I learned of heartbreak and a deal gone bad. Lucio, the Turino, told me of his life on the sea and the journeys that took him all over the world.
Everyone speaks Italian barring the rare and heaven-sent exceptions such as the owner of my favorite coffee bar. For the untutored, an Italian coffee bar is both, a bar and a coffee house. It is an arrangement I find interesting but not necessarily convenient since I don’t drink. Other folks do, but their drinking, perhaps because historically it has ever been this concurrence of caffeine and alcohol in Italy, is very different from the US bars I’ve been to. Here, a person drops by for a Cinzano or something else colorful or clear, chats with the coffee drinkers, and then, leaves. Having come by for a drink and a bit of conversation, people seldom stay to have another. Thus, no obvious drunks, not even with the late evening activity all through the square near the bars, a square where children play until the air cools at midnight, couples cuddle without canoodling, groups chat and gesticulate like Zubin Mehta in front of an orchestra, and I sit with an acqua frizzante and watch it all.
Four lanes lead from my house up passed the church and on to the central square. Depending on mood, the weather, or the sound of flies circling poo from a neighbor’s cat or dog, I choose one and climb up and then down into the town. My steps, around a 1000 of them, traverse hundreds of years of history, buildings with 15″ walls, small windows because they used to be taxed, and cobbles set by the current citizens great-grandfathers. Seeing children exit through the arched, thick wooden doors is a simultaneous flashback and current event. Every stone has a story, and I hope, over time, to learn many of them.