Tuesday, August 11, 2009
A Place Called Colleminccio
Collemincio, Italy sits deep among the hill towns of central Italy, in the center of the “boot,” about two and a half hours from Rome to the south. It’s situated in what’s known as the Umbria region, alongside the region of Tuscany to the west. Florence and Milan are far to the north, as Naples is far to the south. The closest town is Valfabbrico, if that helps you.
Collemincio is a speck of a location, one of hundreds of hill towns scattered across this region, and it has to be one of the smallest. I believe I counted less than ten buildings in the entire town, situated along a tiny road which snakes through green rolling hills, eventually connecting you with Assisi vaguely to the west, Perugia vaguely to the east, Foligno to its south, and not much of much to the north. (The town had a car wash, but the guy who owned the car moved. Sorry. They had a library, but someone checked out that damn book and never brought it back. Again, my apologies.)
I arrived on a searing hot July day, and was greeted by my longtime friend, Caris Arkin, a talented singer/songwriter/musician who’s lived in the area for 17 years now, and speaks fluent Italian, though he remains ever the American.
We spent the first afternoon dining al fresco at an Italian pizzeria (Of course they have them, Cupcake.), and shopping for a replacement window for his car. (It’s a long story.). Then up the very long, winding drive up the mountainside to his secluded home.
His home is a two-story, two bedroom former school house, the first one on the right, past the Colleminccio sign. Surrounding the home and village on all sides are miles and miles of gently sloping hills and fields crisscrossed by tree and shrub lines, seemingly stretching to the earth’s curve. From a nearby peak, the distant view of fields, farms, roads, tiny scattered houses and churches is breathtaking. Though the afternoon was swelteringly hot, inside the house all was quiet, darkened and cool.
His neighbors, who can apparently be heard, yet rarely seen, are an older couple directly across the road, whose occupation seems to be screaming at each other. The town “piazza” is a small carportm the entrances of several small stone apartment buildings and a snippet of grass which faces the entrance of the tiny church.
The local padre, Father Michael, lives with his young male companion in one of the small apartments that surround the church. No one seems to bat an eye at this. I won’t either.
I’ve arrived a day later than planned but still in time for the Umbria Jazz Festival, which will take place in and around the town of Perugia all week. Though the festival is mostly jazz, as the name implies, a number of pop and rock acts have topped the bill over the fast few years. Last year it was REM. This year it’s Steely Dan and James Taylor who will headline at the local stadium.
I’d arranged for press credentials some months ago, and been promised one, just one, for the week-long series. Caris had informed me in an e-mail that he had “pilfered” it while I was en route, however, and later that evening as we strolled through town, I was just trying to clarify:
“This press badge with your photo on it and the name of the magazine on it, is mine, right? Is that what you’re telling me?:
“Um, yes. I told you that,” he offered, sheepishly.
I was momentarily stunned at his audacity, but I realized I would only be in town two full days, and the pass allowed him in to see jazz acts I wasn’t really interested in, and it allowed him to bring his daughter in to one of the major venues to see Steely Dan.
And life is really short.
And he might read this. And he might not.
Let’s move forward.
The town of Perugia, like every other town in the region, sits high on a hilltop. When you’re constantly feuding with your neighbors, or always in danger of attack from marauders of every stripe, it’s best to be able to see all around you, so went the medieval thinking.
Its historic center, where most of the action is taking place this week, is reached by a long modern escalator, or one can take the ancient Roman steps winding up to the top, a little more of a challenge.
During this week, the many courtyards and small plazas are jammed with locals and tourists, and shows seem to go on continuously. On a main stage a college jazz band is holding court. There are least two other small shows going on at the same time and many of the local restaurants and pubs have their own music as well.
Families and couples fill the squares in equal numbers, along with small groups of young Italian men, strutting in designer t-shirts and surging with testosterone.
To be continued.....