After a two day journey covering six regions of Italy I have arrived at my new desk and home in Monopoli. I set out on Monday morning from Florence in a rented Fiat Punto packed full of my things (a few more bags than I arrived with 4 months ago) and headed south. Finding my way out of the center of Florence by car was perhaps the most difficult part of the entire journey. After that I settled in, gathered my thoughts and drove, Through Tuscany, through Umbria, through Lazio through the snowy mountains of Abruzzo and finally into Molise where I took a 24 hour detour in Montelongo, the town of my grandfather.
I had been to Montelongo before, once in 2002 with my mom and then again in November. We had somewhat maintained a connection to our friends there (cousins of distant cousins) and of course, nine years later they were eager to host us and hopeful for our return. I had called Pepino, my main contact and also somewhat of the town mayor, a few days before letting him know that I would be passing through and making a stop at the police station in Campobasso to pick up my permesso di soggiorno. He told me not to worry about a thing and that he would be there whenever I arrived. And he was. Right there by the fountain in the town piazza in the freezing cold. I followed him to the bed and breakfast of a friend (who had heat–this was a key factor) where I rested while the small heater in the corner of the room with enormous ceilings began to warm the place up. After a little rest I went back downstairs where it seemed the locals gather for drinks and to play video games to wait for Pepino. We went to one of the two restaurants in town for dinner–a small pizzeria–where the only other diners were Pepino’s 11 year old nephew and his friends. Road weary and cold I ate well. Pizza, bisteca and red wine. Off to bed.
The next day my host Maria served me a breakfast while she and her friend, also Maria gossiped about the local goings on. They asked about me and my life and before twenty minutes were up we were Facebook friends. From there anything is possible. The Italian was flowing but the local dialect tripped me up a bit. We were on our second macciato when Pepino arrived to tour me around a bit more. We went to the house he had inherited from his aunt that he is currently renovating. It is old and beautiful and will be even more so when it is finished. We stopped in to see his mother and aunt who were busying themselves in the kitchen pouring olive oil into jars and finding telephone numbers written on scratches of paper. From there we went to the other restaurant “La Nostrana” a beautiful trattoria in the Slow Food guide book that I had eaten at in November. Maria Concetta does it all herself, cures the meat, makes the cheese, makes the pasta, the whole thing. She had two big groups coming that day and was just lighting the fireplace when we arrived. She desperately wants me to help her spread the word about her in Italy and North America. And I want to help–she is incredible. I told her I’d be back soon. After Maria Concetta is was time for lunch so back to the house with mom, aunt, both brothers and nephews.
Then to Campobasso where I’d been told I could pick up my permesso di soggiorno between the hours of 3-5. Having heard horror stories of this experience in Florence, the one person ahead of me in line was a pleasant sight. 10 minutes later I was walking out of there, totally legal in Italy for one year.
The ride back to Montelongo to pick up my car was a long and windy one through nowhere Molise. These roads twist and turn through the mountains as little villages dot the hill tops. Nobody talks about Molise, including Italians. It seems that they don’t even know where it is. However everyone who lives there wants me to come back to live, for good.
Back to the house to collect a gift bag of olive oil, homemade wine and biscotti. Set the GPS to Bari, said my goodbyes and off I went winding back down to the autostrada and further south.