For the last week or so, my local wanderings have been tinged with a touch of melancholy. As I rush from right to left and from down to up and down again, looking for the first fragments of spring among my local fields, riverbanks and woods, I’m aware that this is most probably the last time I’ll be seeing them. At the end of this month, for force of circumstance, I’ll be leaving the small central Italian market town of Castel di Sangro that I’ve thought of as home for the last almost three years. A long time in my geographically errant lifetime. Love is a very strange thing and it isn’t easy to explain why I’ve become so fond of this place, with its dreadful climate and no obvious immediate “attractions” to a creature of the wild such as myself. But so it is. Located at an altitude of about 800 m a.s.l. on the right bank of the river Sangro in Abruzzo, but bordering on both Molise and Campania, Castel di Sangro has somehow managed to glean the best of those three regions. A somewhat confused mix of peoples, cultures and good things to eat, it’s a place that doesn’t look too sternly on the newly-arrived or the different. And being both, that for me is a good thing.
Big enough to contain everything you need and small enough to have it all close at hand, it has its fair share of urban sprawl. But clambering up and down among the flights of steps, alleyways and feral cats in the old district of Civita it still manages to offer a convincing impression of a typical Apennine village, inexplicably aromatic with wood smoke even in midsummer.
I’ll miss the market where stallholders from three continents exchange banter in Neapolitan dialect, I’ll miss the bar where no-one asks questions or turns to stare, but most of all I’ll miss that extraordinary mix of environments and habitats accessible within just a few kilometres for the delight of my eyes, soul and camera lens.
There is nothing “grand” to see. The soaring snow-covered peaks and boundless beech forests of the Apennines are a far-off backdrop… and that’s fine by me. Because while the madding crowds flock happily to the “authentic” villages, well-marked hiking trails and photographic high-spots to attempt that like-bait snap of a bear, wolf or roaring red deer stag, I’m away roaming happily, absorbed in the “lesser” world on my doorstep (or almost).
And within just a handful of kilometres from home, what an inconceivably varied world it is, with turkey and downy oak woodland, beech forests, small lakes, a stream and a river with its pebbly flood plain, strange rocky outcrops, high stony grassland, shrub-dotted abandoned meadows, deep valleys and even marshland, so rare as to be unique hereabouts. Each morning when I wake, the only dilemma is how to choose. It’s even delighted me with five plant species I’d never seen before… and believe me, here in the central Apennines, that’s quite a feat.
I’ll miss it, I really will… and as I empty drawers and cupboards, sift and pack for the umpteenth time I know it’s not going to be easy to let go. Who would have though it, yes, love is indeed a strange thing.
For my Italian-speaking friends (or anyone wanting to translate into another language), I recommend DeepL translator available clicking here or also as a browser extension for Google Chrome.
Per i miei amici di lingua italiana (o chiunque voglia tradurre in un’altra lingua), consiglio DeepL translator disponibile cliccando qui o anche come estensione per il browser Google Chrome.