Where the Alarm Goes Off
Exactly a year ago, on September 20th, 2015 at 6:34 p.m., Mr. and I were drinking white wine on the terrace at Kelly's Mission Rock restaurant on a warmish San Francisco evening. The water of the bay was pinkish from the setting sun, which lit up windows along the East Bay hills as if they were small fires. It was lovely. Yet as beautiful as it was, we knew we wanted to move on from San Francisco to try living in a different part of the world. We just didn't know where. So, we set a calendar reminder on our phones for exactly a year from then with a question "Where are we now?".
So much has happened since then - from getting married to moving to Poland - that we forgot we ever set the alarm. But today, my trusty phone buzzed and asked me "Where are you now?" And I had to laugh because the odds that we'd find ourselves in a tiny hilltop village in Molise, a region of Italy neither of us had even heard of, were pretty much infinitesimal.
What the heck are we doing in a tiny hilltop village in Molise? To make the long story short, Mr. has Italian heritage, which entitles him to Italian citizenship, so we hired an agency to help us file the paperwork and they brought us to Molise, where they're based. We're here for two weeks, going through the application process (which includes drinking beers with the mayor), playing tourists in Molise - Italy's least visited region - and watching our waists expand from the inconceivable amount of good food that the locals are feeding us.
In Molise, we've ran around medieval cities, ghost villages, 13th century churches that are literally everywhere and ancient Pompei-like ruins from the pre-Roman civilization of Samnites that called this place home. In the mountains (where it snows and people ski, even though this is Southern Italy!), we met Tony the cheese-maker who showed us how he molds giant pear-like caciocavallo by hand. In a medieval town, we listened to Christmas jingles performed on giant bells inside a bell factory that has operated since the 1300s. We swam in the Adriatic, hiked a mountain and went mushroom-hunting.
I could go on, but this isn't a travel article.
The thing that has made being here in Molise different from any other travel experience either of us have ever had, has been its people. And I don't mean the "friendly locals" travel cliche, because what we've experienced here goes waaaay beyond that.
Let me give you some examples.
For starters, every time we walk down the street in our village of Montagano or any other village for that matter, everyone says "Buon giorno". At first, it weirded us out. But soon, we learned not to avert our eyes like we usually do in a city and buon-giorno everyone we come across (which often causes the old ladies to ask if we're so-and-so's kids or grandkids).
And then there are the friends we've made. On our first night in Montagano, our apartment hosts drove us to their favorite restaurant for dinner, where we met Gino the owner and Nicola the chef who surprised us with a special pasta dish cooked inside a giant wheel of cheese. On our second night, we drank wine on the street with the local police chief. On the third, a retired art teacher Michele took us to his farm and sent us home with a bucket filled with fresh tomatoes, figs and melons. The next day, another local volunteered to take me mushroom-hunting in a nearby forest. And on day five, we were invited to a dinner party with 10 other villagers, including a bunch of musicians who by the end of the night had made up a song about us, called "The Americans".
In Montagano, a day doesn't pass without us being given things. Just today, I randomly found a cannery called Molise Goloso down the hill from the village center, run by a young husband and wife who produce locally grown sauces and jams and sell them online. They showed me around and then, just because, handed me a bottle of tomato sauce to take home. On the way back up, with my sauce in hand, I passed by an open cantina, a private wine cellar that's often found on the bottom of the local stone houses. The man inside waved me in and after showing me around, handed me a bottle of home-made red wine. And this happens here every day.
You see, one of the main reasons we wanted to leave San Francisco a year ago was because of how antisocial it felt. After two years of living there, we never got to know our neighbors or the shop keepers on our street. And even though we had a lot of friends in the area, we were all always busy and getting together had to often be scheduled days, sometimes weeks in advance. And at times, I felt like I knew more about their lives through social media than I did from seeing them in person.
Perhaps, that's the reality of life in a modern city. Or maybe we should have tried harder. I don't know. All I know is that we both felt like something was missing and that there must be a different way to live.
And that is why marking a year from that evening at Kelly's Mission Rock in a tiny hilltop village that greets, welcomes and feeds us so much that I've barely found the time to write this feels so significant. It seems like this village, where life hasn't changed much in centuries, is teaching us a life lesson. To slow down. To say hello. To give.
Of course, we can't stay in this village forever. But I do hope that we can bring some of it back with us when we leave...