This blog first appeared in Original Marche . Thanks to Angela for inviting me to contribute to her blog, which is indeed original as it deals with lesser-known aspects of Le Marche, and introduces readers to local artists and unusual recipes.
Since 1992 we’ve spent millions of lire and thousands of euros on restoring our ex-farmhouse in Corinaldo. We’ve undergone lots of stress and had three burglaries. I’ve passed countless sleepless nights in England worrying about the cost of building works, the local bureaucracy, the water getting into the house and all the problems you have when there is no landlord to complain to. Typically, you can recognise our house by the crooked roof, installed by the builder when we were in England. So why did we choose this project? Are we mad? (No, but it helps when you are restoring a house at a distance!) I’ve written this post at the request of my good friend Angela, to explain why. I’ve also written it as a thank-you to my dear, long-suffering husband, the Chelsea Fan, without whom…
I love the Mediterranean landscape, climate, culture, history, food and wine. I spent my childhood in Greece and Italy (my late father was a diplomat) and thus I always feel at home there.
Pines, olives and oleander – characteristically Mediterranean trees. My husband always remembers how I said “I feel that I’ve come home” when after a long absence I saw the oleanders along the Italian motorway.
I was born in Greece
My mother and I at Sounion
And then we went to Italy, where we spent one year in Bologna and two in Rome. I’ve always loved those two cities and feel happy when I’m back there. In Rome I quickly assimilated Roman culture, although I went to an English school and spoke very little Italian. My sister’s and my favourite game was called “Mamma Mia”. One of us used to ride the trike, the other the scooter. At a certain point the two vehicles would bump into each other. Immediately we jumped off and began to gesticulate and shout “Mamma Mia!” This sequence was repeated as often as we felt like it.
At Christmas we used to like going round the presepi (cribs) in the different churches in Parioli, the Roman suburb where we lived. We specially liked one with lights that turned on and a little stream that began to flow when you turned the switch. Also at Christmas our parents used to take us to the Piazza Navona, where there was a large presepio and the shepherds used to come down from the Alban Hills and play their bagpipes.
After Italy we spent five years in Greece. Here I learned to love ancient Greek and Roman civilisation. It was this love which inspired me to study Classics at school and university. Of course Virgil’s Georgics was one of our set books, and these lines always make me think of Le Marche’s beautiful hill towns:
“tot congesta manu praeruptis oppida saxis
fluminaque antiquos subter labentia muros.”
“So many towns piled up by human hands on sheer rocks
And rivers gliding beneath the ancient walls”.
(Georgics II, lines 156-7).
Arcevia [By Claudio.stanco via Wikimedia Commons.]
Urbania [By Belmetauro via Wikimedia Commons]
My academic studies linked to happy childhood memories motivated me, at the age of 18, to spend three months at the Università degli Stranieri at Perugia learning Italian. Three happy months! I was in a pensione with a group of lovely Italian boys – I was the only girl and I got on with all of them. My mini-skirts were considered a bit shocking though!
Thus I began to live like an Italian in the 1970s. Here are a few domestic memories. Every week they did the laundry. Although there was a washing machine, for the household linen there was the ritual of the “bricco”: A huge pan of water was heated up, and our landlady and her maid washed the linen by hand. At lunch we ate pasta, meat and pudding; at dinner we ate soup and a lighter dish. On Saturday we used to watch a TV programme introduced by Romina Power, the daughter of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian, singing a little song “Io sono per il sabato” (I’m for Saturday).If you want to understand Italian youth of the period, find it on U-tube. How sad it seems today – poor Romina’s daughter disappeared in New Orleans at the age of 24. The singer has never got over it and I find that nowadays she cuts a very unhappy figure.
Like many young people, I was only aware of myself and the group of which I was a part. However, the beauty of the city and the language had an effect on me, and next year I went back to Italy, to the British Institute in Florence.
There I followed a course on Italian art of the 15th century. I went to the Uffizi gallery every day, where I often used to look at Piero della Francesca’s portraits of Duke Federigo of Urbino and his Duchess, without knowing that in actual fact they were part of the Dukes of Urbino’s legacy. Thus I grew to love Piero and 15th century art, the Renaissance’s age of innocence, before the Reformation and Counter- Reformation. Piero is partially responsible for our discovery of Le Marche. This is how.
Time passed; I got my degree, I found a job, got married and became a mother but I never forgot Italy. Almost 20 years after my last trip to the Bel Paese, we decided to buy a house in Italy. We had thought of Umbria, where I had had such a happy time. We went there on holiday, but as soon as we arrived, we realised that we couldn’t afford a house in Umbria. As luck would have it, we were following the Piero della Francesca trail and crossed the “Mountains of the Moon” (Alpe della Luna) to Le Marche. There in Urbino we just popped into an estate agent’s, and saw that the local house prices were far more affordable for us. And so we began our voyage of discovery to the region which we now know and love.
After visiting many an unsuitable ruin, we found the right house in, more by luck than judgment, the right place.
We didn’t know the area, and we didn’t deserve to find ourselves in Corinaldo, one of the most beautiful hill towns of Le Marche in my opinion.
I feel really at home there, and I’m proud to call myself a Corinaldese by adoption. I like greeting people as we go round Corinaldo,
I like supporting the local farmers by eating and drinking the local produce,
Tagliere in the Trattoria Clarice in Ancona
In Scuretto’s wine shop in Corinaldo.
I like travelling in the breath-taking local landscapes,
Near Serra Sant’Abbondio
and getting to know Le Marche’s rich cultural heritage.
Presepio in the Oratory of San Giuseppe in Urbino.
So, was it worth it? The answer is a definite Yes!