In the beginning of June a group of students coming from different universities, different backgrounds but with shared passion for Italy, travelled from the North to Mazzano Romano. Upon the first arrival, the tiny village seemed to be a definition of idyll – what are we going to fix there, I asked myself, while climbing up a hill to the old Castello. The historical town standing majestically on top of a cliff, drowning in a possessive jungle, a wild greenery as far as I could see with a promise of Treja river getting lost underneath.
The identity of the place seemed to be clear, present and one would wonder, why it has not become a popular international tourist attraction yet. It had everything a good Sorrentino movie would have had – dozens of cats wondering through the labyrinth of narrow crooked streets, beautiful ruins of a church right at the end of the old quarter with bared interior of the main nave where we decided to hang out the very first evening, sitting on our own with a bottle of beer at the place where the altar used to be, a portrait of a saint on the wall above us, soaking in a pink sunset, enjoying the breathtaking view from the only window left. We soon recognized it is a place favored by more swallows than tourists.
When I was thinking what I was going to write this blogpost about, I was convinced to depict the beauty of nature that is indeed a great benefit of the location. I was about to describe our adventurous search for an old mill, lost in a forest that we later found out has spread out around the town just in last 40 years. Before that the fields around served for growing crops and vegetable and by time got lost altogether with multiple paths used daily by the locals. We tried to hike a few of them, some were more maintained than the others, some were more adventurous but all of them exposed magical sun rays fighting their way through the gorge of leaves and shimmering when reaching the river surface. The walk from Calcata was especially magnificent. We stayed for a quick picnic by the river next to an Italian couple, that decided to spend their Sunday fishing there. We reached the antic Necropolis, soaked in sweat in hot Mediterranean afternoon. If any place has inner energy, it is this one. Was it the distanced, calm location on top of a hill or was it the adrenalin of climbing over the wooden fence? Have our predecessors located this spot for its chilling vibes or are they the result of years serving as a sacred place?
There are indeed plenty of lost secrets hidden both in the woods around Mazzano as well as in the town itself that rise questions that only the cats, swallows and lizards know the answers for. However, after ten days, during the final night while merrily celebrating the success of our workshop after final presentation, I hope I solved at least one question mark levitating above the city since our first encounter. After couple of days we got used to the Italian way of living – siestas, tardiness, late dinners of five dishes that take hours of cheerful conversations, music and storytelling. That night, sometime between petting two big, very friendly dogs and approximately seventh glass of wine, I decided to catch the moment in my diary. And I caught myself. I do not write a diary daily, only when I want to make some specific moments eternal and remember them in detail later. And I caught myself not describing the wonderful nature or the bare stone walls around us. I caught myself portraying the people.
I wrote about the first Finn, who, after changing life in Thailand for Mazzano, served as a lighthouse to the upcoming colony of Northern visitors, us included. I wrote about the artists we never met that are still coming for inspiration and silence. I wrote about the nice lady in a vegetable shop surprised we only came for the house wine. I wrote about our neighbors – true fans of Coldplay and Lana del Rey as well as meditative music, playing it loud as a concert for the cats. I wrote about Pino’s best pasta I have ever eaten in my life and his cellar full of memories hung on the walls. I wrote about Carla being the soul of Piazza Umberto I., that will be forever remembered as Carla’s Square. I wrote about a collection remembering those, who already passed but whose spirits never left Mazzano. About the antic objects kept inside their homes by local families for centuries. I wrote about a guilty pleasure of doing laundry by hand during the night. I wrote about the dogs and their owners. About the teachers chasing cats in the middle of the night to feed them. Imaginary friends and the real ones. About us, students trying to improve this place and searching for its identity. About the group of various people sitting at Carla’s every day, playing cards, drinking, smoking, wildly parking on the big white dot in the middle that I sincerely hope is going to stay there forever as a reminder of passionate determination of locals to evolve but also cherish their heritage. This place does have a genius loci. The people.