By Malcolm Watts
We met a charming Italian man, a restauranteur, in Ascoli Piceno, Marche, three years ago. He was offering a Flyer about his restuarant, set on the edge of the Roman walled town, inviting my wife and me to come. Turned out he was a rather disgruntled man, angry about Italy's dependence on 'old dusty buildings and archaic paintings' for its place in the world. Wanting, himself, to sell up and come to the US to open a Clam Shack somewhere on the Maine coast. His beautiful town is one of those suffering after the recent quakes. I do hope his restaurant is still standing. The food was excellent.
He had a point yet missed a bigger point too. Yesterday's richly stalwart architecture, the great painters and their art, the natural vistas, the mountains and the valleys and their rivers, the treasuring of a slower pace in a modern frenzied world - all of that and the friendliness and fun of Italians in general,help make Italy what it is. A combination of living history and contemporary style, a blending of crazy politics and creative energy.
We were back there a few weeks ago. This time to north Umbria. A family of fourteen across three generations. Enjoying an English owned and beautifully restored farm (a three year project) 1600 feet up on a hill top above the medieval town of Citta di Castello. Peace. Stunning vistas. Space. Contentment.
We here in the US have, perhaps, a tendency to think little can be learned from the rest of the world. I'm English and know from our own history that Britain felt the same when it, too, once ruled a world of Empire. Some English folk still feel that way and want to leave the European Union.
Oh dear ! We go to Italy, in part, because we need to touch the richness of past years. Because mere modernity is sometimes crass, sometimes a shade juvenile in its reach for something new and different. We relax there (if we give enough time) into the way of life, of family, of eating and drinking, that speaks with eloquence of a more community based and steadier flow of more substantial living. That morning cappuccino is somehow unique. That pasta somehow richer, that mellow evening sun somehow longer in the sky. And all of this in a country, a nation, just 150 years young !
Just across the lovely square where we met our restless restauranteur there stood a bookshop. Set in the thick walls of a sixteenth century merchant house. Beautifully laid out. The restoration subtle and tasteful. Full of light. Well displayed books. A coffee and cake area. Helpful staff. A gentle ambiance. And within this setting, an Apple centre. Celebrating a pinnacle of 21st century technological achievement. Ancient and modern. Together. Looking backwards and forwards. Simultaneously.
Long may it remain so.