Saturday, 14 July 2018

Friday dawned bright and clear, plus the Saturday flower show

In fact it was clear before dawn – I can bear witness to that.

Awake at 5am, what’s a chap with a commission and a camera supposed to do, other than take pictures?

So I went and stood on the balcony that overlooks the 2 main settlements visible from here. The sky was gently changing from a steely grey-blue to pinkish at first, and there wasn’t much light, so off came the 28-105mm zoom that’s for walking around and on went a my old manual focus 135 f2.8 prime that can deliver decent landscape images at f4 instead of f13. The sun gradually came up, throwing light first on the mountain opposite, then gradually down onto the settlement on the ridge before inching down towards the valley. Over about 30min it went from dark to daylight.

Finally I went back to bed until 6.30.

Today’s plan was to get to the Piano Grande below Casteluccio for the wild flowers, with journey time just over an hour, we left at 8am so that I could photograph the fields of wild flowers before the sunlight became too harsh.

The roads round here are bloomin’ twisty, and en route we passed an increasing number of cracked and partially ruined houses. Finally some kilometres west of Montegallo we found the road closed and could go no further. Now normally a satnav/mapping app will provide the user with a bunch of options for choices of routes, but in this case Microsoft Maps remained resolutely blank, refusing to show the road maps I’d downloaded. We turned back, drove a different way, forced it to re-calculate and then followed it’s suggested route for around 20km only for it to take us back to the exact same spot. In the end I’d had enough after driving for 90min of some near-lethal roads (often in 1st or 2nd gear, hoping that no-one came the other way on a carriageway barely wide enough for 1 car).

We stopped for a bit in Montegallo. The town had been hit badly in the quake too, and although there were a few residents, the place was like a ghost town, bars and restaurants shut, weeds growing between paving slabs and on footpaths, drifts of dead leaves at the edges of steps.

We stopped at the Tigre supermarket in Comunanza on the way home to get more groceries including a particularly nice local speck (smoked cured pork usually found in Austria and Germany). Just before shopping it began to rain, with huge, widely spaced droplets, and showered hard while we were in the shop, easing again as we came out.

Quick siesta, then off to Ascoli Piceno, which is the nearest city/provincial capital.

Just before we left, some really substantial clouds rolled in creating some interesting lighting & formations over the mountains, & we could see it absolutely pouring in the distance, though we just had a few drops before it cleared again.

Ascoli isn’t huge, but it’s no town either. We parked up & walked in across a bridge, enjoying the view of another smaller bridge across the river in the distance. While we were enjoying the sights of the cathedral in the main square, the rain caught up with us and after leaving we both got wet getting back to the car. This time it absolutely poured on the way back, and we saw a number of cars just pulled over, drivers unwilling to continue. The rain continued hard until we were just a few kilometres from the house.

Naturally it stopped raining as we got here.

It’s an ill wind, as they say. The rain & clouds gave rise to some great skies and great light as the sun went down, and we even got in a pleasantly cool post-dinner stroll after sunset.

An interesting flipside of knowing someone who owns a house here is that it’s easy to start playing the ‘where would you like to live’ game when driving past semi-derelict houses (abandoned before the quake, and there are plenty).

This house is wonderfully isolated, yet seems to have gas, electricity, water etc, and I get reasonable 4G wireless internet* on my old Lumia. The views are nice – not breathtaking, but still pretty good – but the dirt track isn’t ideal. So we’ve been looking at some of the empty places round here, some even up for sale, thinking what about……..

It’s not going to happen, but speculation isn’t always bad.

*Think I’ve sussed the non-functioning of my Xiaomi. Italy uses 900/1800mhz for 4G data, and I suspect my phone doesn’t have those bands, but what really kills it is that, unlike England, they don’t also push data down 3G. Although I can make voice calls, there’s no data and therefore no internet.

Today is Saturday and we went to a flower show.

But first, breakfast – everyone should start with a good breakfast.

Italian bread has a built-in self destruct system that makes it stale by the day following purchase. That even applies to soft brioche-style rolls that you might buy the day before in order to eat the following morning for – you’ve guessed it – breakfast.  I understand this house has a breadmaker, somewhere, and now can see why this isn’t just a bit of faddish frippery like it has been in so many UK households.

So this morning we went to the market in Comunanza, which took a very little time, and then for a walk around the old part of the town, which has some fascinating nooks and crannies. And quite a few buildings ‘a vendi’*. Bits of it look seriously ancient, and also some parts are really crumbly. We saw through a few front doors, and behind at least one smart door lay a mouldering hallway, while behind another was a very attractive home. Damp is a problem with many houses, from what we could see.

So what of the flower show?

Chris thought she’d managed to find another route to Casteluccio and the Piano Grande plain where the flowers grow in the fields of Fioritura (that sounds like something from the Hitchhikers Guide).

And she was right.

So rather than use the fairly direct route through Montegallo, which would take about an hour, instead we drove to Acquasanta (Father Christmas in a wetsuit) then Arquata del Tronto and finally to Casteluccio.

We turned right shortly after Arquata del Tronto onto a crumbly winding road that climbed into the mountain on narrow hairpin bends. On the way up we passed through 2 villages that had been effectively destroyed in the earthquake, and they looked like a scene from WWII. Some houses were just piles of rubble, while others had lost an entire wall, leaving rooms, still fully furnished, open to view. Still others had round holes in the stonework, as though some kind of projectile had entered. below the villages (and others that we saw later) there were new villages of single storey pre-fab buildings in neat rows where we guessed the residents had been re-homed.

A part of my plan for this trip was to enter and photograph some of the abandoned houses, but seeing how things were here, I just couldn’t do it – legality and safety issues aside. These weren’t homes that someone had carelessly left to rot, but the result of a disaster and then extended hardship.

On the way up to the great plain we entered the Sibilini mountain national park, and could already see in increase in numbers of wild flowers by the roadside. However nothing prepared us for what we saw after rolling over the final crest and starting down into the plain. The road descends over the distance of a few kilometres, and in the distance against the mount on which Casteluccio was built we could see chequered fields of red, purple and blue, with the occasional white or yellow field beside the road. The hills rise up all around the plain, with a couple of steep mountainsides punctuating the rim.

In the distance we could see the town of Casteluccio, and it didn’t look too bad at that stage. We stopped for photos a couple of times on the way down before finally reaching the fields and having an extended walk and photo session.

Eventually a need or food drove us up to the town, and as we drew closer we could see the true extent of destruction. While many houses were still standing, in places there were cascades of rubble where houses had fallen and the stones poured like water between the other buildings.

At the main junction, where one would normally turn into the town, there were armed soldiers standing in front of the wire mesh barriers erected to keep visitors out and the area was declared Zona Rosso – something we’d seen in other closed off sections of places we’d visited. In front of this were parked about 40 or 50 motorcycles, with people milling about, queuing for food at the mobile snack bars and buying drinks etc. We drove carefully past, eventually finding a parking space about 100 meters out of town on the far side.

We found a place doing Panini formaggio e salumi – Chris didn’t fancy the salumi, but was much happier whe it became prosciutto instead, however we were a lot less impressed with the ‘panini’ consisting of 2 slices of stale white bread. Those with more facility in the language might have complained, but we just got on with it and used the calories.

After lunch we drove down the other side from Casteluccio, where there lies a second great scooped out plain, though smaller than the first and without the dramatic flower show. The plan was to find things to do in the park until the sun had descended somewhat in order to get good lighting, however the villages that we might have visited on the other side were likewise destroyed and inaccessible. Eventually we gave up & returned, however the clouds had moved in and so after a few more photos, we headed back to Comunanza for dinner, then home.

I may yet try a 5am photo-trip back there for special light, but that’s only a maybe. Tomorrow, the plan is local walks, possibly also photographing the house interior.

*We keep doing the ‘what if’ we bought a house here. While I love the solitude of Casa Bella Vista as our friends named this place, and the views are OK, it’s a real drag to have to drive up 1.7km of steep and narrow dirt road multiple times a day. I’ve developed affection for Comunanza and Chris thought a medium-sized apartment in one of the older buildings would be ideal, but I’d rather have somewhere with at least some kind of interesting view, perhaps a bit more out of town. Guess we’ll never know. J

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