Village life is about minutiae rather than drama. When I climb from my house toward the church square and exit the narrow lane where today a neighbor was unloading dry, splintered, winter wood, and temporarily blocking the path in the process, an older woman, blessed with the cushiony comfort of late-life rotundity will be sitting on a bench to my right. Wearing a house dress that varies slightly from day to day, her round face ready with a friendly smile, she invariably responds “Buon giorno,” to my greeting and sometimes offers up a brief hand salute. In truth, she knows more about me than I do about her, receiving any tidbit about the new American from an encyclopeople of information, but over time and with each improvement in my abilities with Italian, I will gain her story, rather like a tenacity trophy.
Crossing the square, I drop empty plastic bottles in the color coded container and descend through the church arch to Via Roma. Turning left, I notice the same white-haired man 100 yards away, sitting in a white plastic chair, observing the summer current of village life as it ebbs and gusts with one person passing, two cars, a boy on a bicycle, and repeat. Just as I am appreciating his consistent presence, he no doubt finds succor and interest in noting my regular passing and that of his fellow villagers.
Through the the arch and left, the route passes an old folks residence, home to 15–20 elders of indeterminate age. Those who are still ambulatory are seen all over the village, conversing in the square, buying sundries at the Friday market, or sipping an espresso in the coffee bar. They are viable and valued members of the community and often have lived here always, simply shifting to the retirement center when living at home became unsafe. And, to be clear, since Italians are notoriously long-lived, many of them may have remained at home into their late 80s. For several days, whenever I passed in the cool of mid-morning, a dozen residents would be seated at tables placed on the terrace, cutting and stringing colorful stars amid a companionable din of conversation and direction. Then, one evening, returning from a gelato run to the coffee bar, I saw all the residents and staff outside in the cul-de-sac, eating a huge meal beneath streamers of homemade stars dancing in the breeze.
There is one woman whom I do not know, though we greet each other daily. I admire her courage and determination. She is severely disabled, with both feet permanently splayed into a balletic first position. Her black high-top leather shoes support her ankles and give her the balance necessary to walk, buttressed by cane-braces one gripped firmly in each hand. And walk she does, managing to retain her physical dignity while resembling a sweet, elderly duck on crutches. Her route runs from the retirement center in the historic district to the bank on the high street and back twice a day. It is a total daily distance of about a mile and includes four trips along a steep lane to the main piazza. Nothing loath, she walks down the main drag, designing her path around parked cars, stopping for traffic, and always propelling her frail body forward.
Already, after only a month, mental printouts of dozens of always elements, followed by usually and sometimes are constructing new, Italian networks in my brain, gradually thickening into a strong enough web that they will be promoted to long term memory. Names still elude me — which is Luciano, and what is Simone’s mom’s name – but names are abstractions, not fully supported by the physical environment so they will take longer. Observation, interaction, and repetition serve as substitutes for intimacy in this place I am just coming to know. Still, I have met, greeted, and spoken with at least 70 citizens of Civitella, including shop keepers, baristas, law enforcement and municipal officials, and regular folks. In their patterns, personalities, and freely-given benevolence, I find consequence and fascination.