My family history mostly takes place in a small village called Giffone, nestled in the lush mountains of Calabria in southern Italy. Untouched, wild nature provides the views, and on a clear day you can see Sicily in the distance.
In August of this year, I spent three weeks in the village hoping to do some writing, and perhaps collect a few more stories. My parents own a holiday home there. With no TV, internet or mobile phone reception, and a population of 500, I imagined a perfect retreat-like holiday, while enjoying spending time with my parents.
The first morning I was woken up by the smell of organo drying on the other twin bed in my bedroom. “I can’t dry the Oregano outside,” my mother said, “it might rain and it will get ruined.” Sleepy from a day of traveling, I didn’t quite process what that meant, when I collapsed into bed the night before.
I’m not sure if it was the waft of wild oregano (which has a strong, almost mint scent) which served as my wake up call, or the loud voice of the 82 year old neighbour, Peppino, making arrangements with someone for a ‘pick up’ later that day. The loveliest man you’d ever meet, Peppino owns a slightly larger version of a tuk tuk, which he uses to deliver goods for people who live in the really narrow streets. Peppino is losing his hearing, so he doesn’t hear how loud he is speaking, nor the maddening sound the muffler-less tuk tuk makes. He and it roared under my window at 7am most mornings.
The other daily alarm clocks included, the rising steel shutters of the news-agent opposite our place, at precisely 730am. The shrill, deafening sound was the equivalent of a freight train slamming on the brakes. The shutters opened and closed four times per day. By 8am the passing villagers chatting, and mothers screaming for (and at) their children, was in full chorus. The church bells would also be announcing the morning mass.
By 8:30, I would groggily make my way downstairs to the kitchen (with lazy holiday lie-ins a distant memory), where my mother was making coffee. No sooner was the coffee in front of me on the table, and there would be a knock on the door, signalling the first of many drop-in visitors throughout the day. “Come in for coffee,” my mother would shout from the kitchen.
A quiet little holiday, I thought. A lovely time in my parents holiday house in the village, I thought. Plenty of time to write and read, I thought. The village had other plans for me. I did get a firsthand understanding of how social and active life in the village is, and was.