After celebrating our wedding anniversary on a ten-hour flight to Rome, my husband and I are in Spoleto, Italy. Spoleto is located in the region of Umbria, known for its verdant hills and vineyards, and aptly called, the Green Heart of Italy. As anywhere, the east blooms with light in Spoleto. But here, the same sun wields an old master’s brush, suffusing transparent layers on the walled medieval hill town. Each morning when we awaken, one of us shouts out, We’re still in Italy!, as if a miracle keeps occurring in this place halfway around the earth. Our stay is for six and a half weeks, and we have fallen in love with not only the quality of the light, but the people, the food, the language. Often in our apartment we pause at the open windows to hear the melodic intonations of a language more akin to song, a gestalt of tongues, a rise and fall.
We walk narrow, cobblestoned streets mindful, that here, pedestrians do not necessarily have the right-of-way, and small, fuel-efficient cars and Ducati motorcycles zip past with alarming speed. At an outdoor cafe near a canopy of umbrellas, a waiter brings out a boombox and plugs in two loudspeakers. Music bounces off the walls of the buildings on either side screaming the American words, Oh baby. Oh baby, You’re my girl. Oooh-oooh, oooh-oooh. Just then, cathedral bells toll.
A short walk, and we arrive at Spoleto’s majestic fortress, now a museum, situated at the apex of the town with a walking path circling below. In one direction are views of a multitude of buildings with curled clay roofs mottled in gray, bleached pink, and dusty melon. In another direction, the slopes of the Sacred Forest astound with its thousand shades of green, once home to St. Francis. Midway across the aqueduct of zinc-hued columns, possibly on Roman foundations, we stand at an arch which opens to a sky filled with mountains and valley. My hand outlines the rough pitted stone. Surprisingly, the arch itself is etched and painted with graffiti. One sees these messages frequently spray-painted on other historic buildings as common cursing, or sometimes, political statements.
We hear angelic singing wafting up from the duomo, our next stop. Late cathedral-goers head towards the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. This site is famous for the Festival of the Two Worlds, an annual summer music and opera festival with its ending performance held here. As we rest on the low walls, suddenly a procession begins from the far end of the piazza. A long line of clergy stream towards the duomo. A young woman hurries past them. My husband captures the photo which for us becomes the epitome of modern day superimposed on age-old tradition.
Before we leave this magical town, that some have called a fairytale setting, we will walk up or down every steep street. We will dine with new friends; taste the best food we have ever eaten: traditional truffle-laced noodles, lentil soup, green olives and olive oil, carbonara, and wood-smoked pizza topped with arugula and artichoke hearts, warm apple cake with cream gelato, and more. Everything fresh, everything local.
We will daytrip by train to other hill towns, picnic in places with views startling in their natural beauty surrounded by buildings and streets dating back thousands of years. But at the end of the day the pull of Spoleto calls us back, back to street vendors selling fennel and figs, back to where cranes are as likely to be seen as cathedral spires, back to where we feel most at home.
Life goes on in this ancient city, where the past is never forgotten but adjusts to the present moment. The town is always being rebuilt, nothing torn down to the ground but restored, or patched together. A cathedral with a large clock now serves as an apartment building. The teatro, an amphitheater, for centuries its stage and tiered seating under layers of dirt, is now a popular museum. In the library, a section of glass flooring allows patrons to look down into what once was a Roman well.
We walk back to our apartment, past heavy wooden doors with metal doorknockers covered with a patina. The aroma of simmering tomatoes and rosemary drifts down from an open window. Its flowerbox brims with red and white geraniums. Across from our apartment hydrangea vines weave privacy for a wrought iron balcony.
The cathedral bells signal dusk. Another day well-spent in the Green Heart of Italy where the re-visioning of this town encourages us to re-vision our own possibilities. The sun sets in the west, and Spoleto drinks the light as anywhere, but here, the dwellings and butter-colored walls shimmer golden.
About the Author: Jo Brachman has previously placed work in the Birmingham Poetry Review, Poetry East, Waccamaw Journal, The Southern Poetry Anthology by Texas Review Press, The San Pedro River Review, and Town Creek Poetry.
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