This character I remember well. He was obviously the village cobbler, and he spent his days in his cave of a shop with his leather apron, his shoe nails and his glue, sheets of leather and sharp knives. Lorenzo had a radiant smile and he also owned the only payphone available for miles around. When my mother wanted to call her husband in London my sisters and I would troop into his shop and while my mother struggled with the operator to place an international call we would get to play with his tools and his lumps of dried glue and hear his stories about the latest village goings on. The call which lasted perhaps three minutes might take three hours to place and it would always be dark when we left.
Nicola the blacksmith was a prominent figure in our lives. He was always on call to repair broken farm machinery, ready to weld whatever critical piece of equipment was brought into his roadside shop. His other skills included shoeing my sisters' horses a job he undertook with no great confidence in the gentle nature of the horses and he tended to shoe them while attempting to dominate them with the fierceness of his personality while my sisters tried to calm the other end of the animals. He also rebuilt my bicycles when I wrecked them and later my motorcycles sometimes saw the blue flame of his torch when I ride them too hard off road or crashed as one does as a youth, unprotected by gear or Kevlar or other such esoterica. This picture perfectly captures the intensity of his job, and the permanent coal miner's tan he lived with. Seeing him in Church for mass on holidays it was always a shock to see his soft white and pink features cleaned from the grime.
Local TV. Notice the iron bars on the street level window. Crime was unknown in those days and you could leave your motorcycle by the side of the road even with the keys in it and no one would touch it. Everybody knew everybody and the price you paid for not getting your bike stolen was everybody knowing your business.
Women knitted all the time. This was not a huge cash economy in the 1960s. World War Two veterans were getting pensions and they supplemented their income by growing vegetables and raising a few animals. Everyone's saving grace in these villages was that there were no mortgages, no debts and no banks. It was paradoxically a cash economy and people worked the farm for my family, or held government jobs, like road mender, letter carrier or some other sinecure. Notice the roof racks on the cars, by the time vehicles were making an appearance the family sedan, usually a Fiat or Lancia had to do triple duty including hauling family crap. This was when commuting started and younger villagers drove to serious jobs at the Krupps steel works in Terni 45 minutes away.
The older women always carried stuff on their heads, in this case a woman walking down the gravel road with a basket on her head and a plastic bag in her hand. Plastic bags were everywhere when I was a kid and it always makes me smile when Americans tell me shopping bags are a European tradition. Not where I grew up! There was also no municipal trash disposal in those days and garbage was thrown out as though on a medieval midden in a mutually acceptable spot just outside the village. Weird to think of today, trash just piled up on the edge of a field in a ravine.
This dude and his wife are shopping at one of he itinerant vendors who drove through the villages on scheduled days. Most of them used smaller vehicles, typically a three wheeled truck built by the same people who make Vespa motor scooters. I can't tell what this truck was selling but it must have been bulky stuff like household goods. The three wheeler dude I remember best sold vegetables and fruit, coming round every week and letting us kids taste his watermelons so we'd pester our mothers to buy us one.
The man here has obviously just come in from the fields where he hand cut a bunch of clover probably to feed his rabbits kept in cages ( for meat not pets!). His wife in her sturdy rubber boots does her own chores outdoors. Life was not a lot of book reading in those days, up with the sun, and falling asleep at night in front of the black and white TV.
There was a school house and kids in Italy get a free education all the way through university. Combined with free medical care life, though stressful in different ways, had its own balance. It was a very Huckleberry Fin kind of childhood spending summers riding my bicycle, and later my Vespa moped all over the place. Paved roads didn't arrive in these villages until about 1975, and I learned to ride on gravel, and I learned to pick gravel out of my bloody flesh when I crashed. I remember distinctly the sting of the grazed skin and the sight of the bright red blood welling up out of my wound which was powdered white by the gravel like face make up pancake.
In this picture we see my brother-in-law's brother Mario driving the tractor. He had a job in the city but he'd come back to his native village to help his brother with harvest season. The dude with the flat cap was my brother-in-law's helper, an old dude strong as an ox with two stubby teeth left in his mouth and the ability to work hard for fourteen hours a day. Manilio was one of the happiest people I knew always smiling, enjoying a joke and wielding his machete like it was a butter knife in his huge paw. In his leather shoulder bag he carried his lunch, pasta, meat bread and a flask of wine along with a bottle of water. Home made wine was a breakfast drink and a lunch drink every day. Kids drank it and drunkenness was not unknown but not an epidemic. After lunch in the fields the works would take a nap for an hour in the grass, in the shade before working on till duck most days. It was tough.
This was a bit before my time, but I remember the Vespa around the village. In the 1960's cars were still rare and most people commuted on two wheels to local jobs. My generation got used to having a car and I was of course perverse in that I only ever rode a motorcycle. people thought I was lucky in summer and crazy in winter as I rode by...
When I was ten years old my summers would begin when we arrived from England for three months of bliss. I would pull my bicycle out of storage and ride off to find my buddies. We made slingshots and we explored the forest trails and paths. We played war games ambushing unsuspecting villagers at their chores. later in the summer we would find ripe fruit like this arbor of grapes and we would sit and eat grapes, pears, apples or whatever we could find until we got indigested. My mother used to get mad if I came home for lunch with no appetite. She's take me upstairs for an afternoon nap and throw her arm over me on the bed. As soon as she started to snore I'd slide out and meet my buds for a game of cards or target practice with our slingshots while the adults slept off their lunches and the only sounds were bees and flies in the heat of the afternoon.
Winter was olive season when adults were paid to climb trees and hand pick the berries. We had a family olive press where workers stayed up all night crushing olives and keeping a roaring fire going in the stove all night. That was where the stuff you order in Italian restaurants as an appetizer, bruschetta was invented. For a snack the mill workers would put slices of bread on the stove to toast, the root of the word bruschetta, and they would take a bottle of the fresh pressed oil, add salt and maybe a little tomato and hey presto gourmet snack! Shown here with excessively green fresh oil:
Writing about it, it wasn't a bad childhood. My sister shad such a blast they never left and live outside Morre to this day. Me? I had to travel and see the world so I did.
Still, this is where I grew up so I guess I can never escape my past even if I wanted to. I used to hate being from here and I remember when I saw the movie ET I wished I had grown up in a Spielberg suburb, a place apparently filled with friends and adventure. Weird that I didn't recognize those same qualities in this funny little village where I lived my own alien adventure.
The source of these pictures, Quelli delle Morre su Facebook came to my attention thanks to my nephew's wife. I was hanging out with Roberta last September and she said "Have you seen this?" I was amazed. It was completely outside the world of the few family photos my sisters have kept. The old pictures kept ping round in my head yet it took me six months to pull them together.