Summer in a Small Town in Marche, Italy: Part I
Images by The Travelling Light + Filippo Carbonari in Marche, Italy
I spent the entire summer this year in the small town of Fratte Rosa in the Northern part of the Marche region of Italy – recently named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions to visit in 2020. I’d been coming here to this part of Italy for twelve years on holidays with my family, I never wanted to leave when I was here, the trips always seemed too short. The breath, the freedom this slow way of life gave me always made me want to stay.
So this time I did stay – you can read my account of how that came about here. This is what life felt like for a foreigner and ex-city girl living in a small town in Italy this summer, images mostly captured on film, a fitting format for documenting the slow, analog nature of this place I think.
Daily life took on an entirely different tone here than the one I came to know in big-city Paris and even Brisbane, Australia, my hometown. When everything around you is slow, you feel very little guilt or discord adopting that pace yourself. My summer consisted of very slow mornings, I’d rarely sitting down to work before 10, sometimes not working at all in the mornings. When it was super-hot in August, I’d even take a short (or sometime long, oops) nap after lunch, languishing in the sleepiness the heat seems to always give. I’d do the bulk of my work in the afternoons, sitting oh-so-quietly at my little desk in peace.
My boyfriend and I would make a real meal for lunch almost every day and sit down together with a set table to eat together and talk. We’d cook dinner at home most nights sitting around our kitchen table with music and wine.
Nonna chats and sunset spritzes outside our front door.
Sometimes we’d have a drink perched on the old town walls outside our front door for sunset, while the wine and truffle bar three doors up blasted Elton John every single day for four months straight (no complaints here) and a mix of locals and foreigners watched the sun go down over the valley below us.
Our neighbours, wine and truffle bar, Cianni Tartufi e Figli
I’d love to say I went to the local markets on foot every day and picked fresh fruit and vegetables but I didn’t. This town is too small for a market but I don’t mind because the alternative is pretty good. There are but two small shops in this town, one is owned by a lady who sells the most beautiful produce, some of it from her very own garden, much of it from the farmers in the surrounding area.
It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Chiara, the shop owner, to say something along the lines of, ‘Oh you want tomatoes today? Well I have these ones from my garden but you probably want the ones from the real farms’. ‘No, I'll take the tomatoes direct from the person who grew them, thank you’, I always answered.
The delight is almost in the fact that this shop does not always have every single thing you want. For one thing, it’s not always the season for everything, though big supermarkets would have us forgetting this. For another thing, the weather isn't always conducive to every type of produce, sometimes it's just too hot for anyone to grow spinach right now.
Responding to the wills of nature makes me savour everything more when we do get to eat it. And this produce tastes all the better for it. Nature knows what she’s doing, she serves up only the very best eggplant, only the ripest tomatoes in season, the sweetest wild berries only show up right at the end of summer, nature don’t make no crap when you let her do her thing.
Summer brought with it many distractions – night markets, beach parties, dinners in the garden, aperitivi, wine tastings, picnics and festivals. Most Italians will tell you that the difference between summer and winter in these towns is so marked you almost feel like you're living in a different place depending on the season.
Italians know how to party and they do it all summer long. Every different food and drink under the sun is honoured with its own summer festival in one of the tiny towns around here. Onion festival? You got it. A festival celebrating a very specific cut of meat from a pig's neck? No problem. A group walk through the hillside ending with...another festival in honour of a type of grape used to make white wine? Let's do it.
I even attended a town meeting once where the subject was the planning of one of these festivals. The intensity (there may have been some yelling) and length of the discussion around the food and wine that would be served, who would be making it, how it would be served, explained a lot about the way Italians think. And I like it. The pleasure taken from eating and drinking, the devotion to having a good time and enjoying life together has changed the way I think and live my life so much. The way Italians balance work and enjoying life so artfully, so unapologetically, is so different from the way we do it in Australia or in the U.S. It's left me feeling much admiration for the Italian way of life.
Another part of life I admire and appreciate so much up here is the feeling of community. There are downsides to trading big city life for life in a small town – your friends can't (or probably just won't) come with you and there are less people to befriend when you get there, there's less going on, less to do.
But when there are so few people living in one place (Fratte Rosa boasts a population of 950 people), it's hard to ignore one another, you can't help but start to remember and know people, because there's not many people to remember. You can't help but say 'buongiorno' or at least smile at every person you pass throughout your day.
Most of these people have known one another their whole lives, and their parents or even grandparents before that have lived side-by-side in the same town. The feeling of community between all these people is beautiful.
And when you're a foreigner, you certainly don't go unnoticed, you can't fly under the radar. People remember me here, and so, everyone greets me, talks to me when they see me, acknowledges my existence, as I do theirs. It's impossible to be anonymous in a small town. Even if the introvert in me liked to hide in the anonymity of big cities, I think I prefer the way this place forces me to interact with my neighbours.
As my friend who's lived in this town his whole life once said to me, 'You'll never feel alone in Fratte Rosa'. And I never do.
This post has become so long I've had to split it into two! Part II can be read here. And if you're craving some Italian vibes, have a listen to my ever-growing collection of Italian tunes on spotify on this playlist...