The Italian Job

Italy here I come. The flight from Amsterdam was uneventful and me and my bags made a safe landing. However, the impending chaos around the baggage carousel can only be found in Italy.

Firstly, it is a trick to find the appropriate carousel as there is an absence of signage. However, if you have your wits about you and have noted some of your fellow passengers on your flight it is a good bet that you are at the right carousel. After half an hour, three bags tumbled down the conveyor belt onto the carousel and this immediately set off a herd Italians, like a stampede, to rush over and grab their bags. However, this was just some cruel joke by the baggage handlers, as these three bags were obviously not from our flight and they then spent the next half hour circling waiting for their owners to claim them. Finally, after another 15 minutes, our bags streamed out and away I went to meet my car to downtown Rome for an overnight stay at the Hotel Lord Byron. This was just a brief stop before the main act, which was Orvieto in south-western Umbria, about a two-hour drive from Rome.

Orvieto, a centre of ancient origin and is situated at the top of a single mass of tufa (known as “la Rupe”, or cliff). It rises above the agricultural plain at 325 metres above sea level. It has been inhabited since the Iron Age, and became famous for the earlier Etruscans, who were present on the cliff from the 8th Century B.C. At the destruction of the city by the Romans in the year 264 B.C., there followed a long period of total decadence which lasted for at least six centuries. Italy then became the scene of barbaric invasions as the Roman Empire became increasingly unstable. Orvieto rose again as a “garrison” to protect and represent its people.

Beneath the city there are an incredible number of artificial cavities, and an intricate labyrinth of tunnels, galleries, cisterns, wells, caves, and cellars carved into the tufa.

Today, there is little evidence of the Etruscan or Roman civilisations but now, there is the enchanting Medieval Orvieto with its palaces, towers, and churches. Of particular note is the Duomo, called “The Golden Lily of Cathedrals”. This Italian Gothic masterpiece has always been the most representative image of Orvieto around the world. It was begun in 1290 and was completed over the course of three centuries.

This is one of the great masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It is covered in the most glorious mosaics depicting various biblical scenes and central to the mosaics is the large rose window built by the sculptor and architect Orcagna between 1354 and 1380. It truly is an impressive building and breathtaking when you see it for the first time. In the late afternoon the sun falls onto the façade and the richly coloured and gold mosaics shimmer as though they are lit from within. I spent many early evenings sitting in any one of the bars in the Piazza del Duomo sipping on my apertivo of choice – Spritz. This is a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day – Aperol, prosecco and a dash of sparkling mineral water.

I am living in the medieval part of Orvieto, a maze of twisting, cobbled streets, lined with ancient 3 – 4 storey stone buildings. There are a number of churches around me so I am regaled by church bells on special days, masses and weddings, and of course every hour and quarter hour the time is rung out – no watches required here.

The entrance to my building is gained through huge wooden doors from the street and you climb the ancient stone stairs to the apartment. The walls are 3 feet thick and the ceilings must be at least 15 feet high. It is cool and restful inside. I open the windows and hear the sparrows, pigeons and swallows (and the bells). There are thankfully, no trains, cars, sirens, garbage trucks or yobbos as in Sydney.

Living in the old quarter is close communal living as every room has a neighbour. Outside my bedroom window my vicini (neighbours) are anziani (pensioners) who bicker and shout at each other. Across the stair well reverberate battles at all times of day and night. La Mama mutters to herself, but just loud enough to irritate him into action, so he shouts “che”? (what?), and that then gives rise to a stream of frustrated shouts from her at him. He shouts back grumpily. The louder she shouts the louder he turns up the TV. She then crashes the pots and pans muttering to herself and then finally it all goes quiet. I lie there wondering if she has finally put a knife in him because he complained about her cooking for the last time!

Another irritant to my vicini (neighbours) which is constantly coming under fire – is their cat. At right angles to my bedroom window is theirs, and both open onto a stairwell. Their bedroom window has a metal venetian blind which is open and closed, raised and lowered according to the time of day and the position of the sun. As you can imagine, as this blind is metal there is a considerable amount of percussion that goes with its tidal movements. The cat adds to this cacophony by pushing through the blind so he can sit outside on the window sill and survey the sky and wish that a bird would land near him. However, he has not worked out how to get back inside. Consequently, he will brush up against the blind and create a clattering of metal as the slats rattle. This sets off Mamma – “Vieni qua! Vieni qua!” (Come down Come down!). Meanwhile Papa has been woken from his slumber and the domestic sparing match is on again.

Outside my lounge room window, there is a young couple with a tiny crying baby – Carlo. They seem to be at a loss of what to do when Carlo gets into top gear and is screaming his lungs out. However – the last couple of days all has been quiet and there appears to be no one home. I wonder if they all have been packed off to a sanatorium for new parents.

Upstairs lives my landlady Sabrina, her husband Cesare and 3 year old Alessandro who gallops around all day. They also have a three month old who is a happy and smiling baby. Also living with them are Cesare’s parents who own a small enoteca (wine and food store) around the corner.

Living at such close quarters with your neighbours must create many tensions along the way, particularly if you have a “un ficcanaso” next door. This is the Italian for a busy body – “Ficca” being derived from the verb ficcare – to stuff, to put in the “il naso” – the nose.

Everything is so close – that is the beauty of living in a small country town. No car is needed here and there is no traffic on the streets, just an occasional delivery van or local car so the whole town is virtually pedestrian friendly.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Italian Job

  1. KateD

    Love “un ficcanaso”!

  2. Jodi A

    Wonderful and so descriptive….just like being there myself!

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