"ciao, they keep putting me on random buses and trains, I'm not sure how to get to you, it's getting late and I think the trains are not running to your town anymore, where should I meet you!?"
"I'm sorry, I can't understand you. You must speak slowly so I can understand. Please call
me when you arrive in Sassuolo. Ciao."
This was the first time I talked to Silvana, I was lost in Emilia Romagna and had to figure out how to get to a small town in the mountains. My bank card had been turned off because I failed to let them know I was traveling. It was getting dark, my Italian was just south of caveman and I was beginning to think I had made a mistake.
In 2008 I decided to travel to a small village in Italy not to get lost or run from something, but rather to find myself. I felt as if I were stuck in a rhythm that needed to be knocked off its axis. I needed a big dose of fear coupled with inspiration and awe. I also figured Italy was safe enough for a first time traveler to inspire more trips instead of scaring them out of my system.
I happened to find the small train that traveled to Sassuolo. Dropped off at the desolate station after dark, no one was around to ask directions. The pay phones seemed to be broken, so I approached one of two shops still open. With my poor translation from an outdated dictionary I managed to unknowingly hit on a butcher, who was covered in blood. After being laughed out of the butcher shop I found a pub where my Nutella and iced tea were paid for by a guy slugging shots claiming I was from "north country". This man would then arrange my pick up. After a full day of travel from Pisa to the mountains outside of Modena, I had made it to the small town of Prignano.
We arrived late to Silvana's farmhouse nestled in a valley with the thick, dark blanket of night obstructing any view. She showed me to my tiny house and told me she would return in the afternoon of the following day. This house was roughly 7'x7' and sat behind the main building amongst the gardens, covered in poppies. Inside was a bunk bed shrouded in mismatching quilts, the underside of which housed quite a few spiders. A small dresser with candles nearly burnt to the base would be my light source. There was also a small gas stove that I would not need to use. Remnants of past guests filled the drawer of the dresser. Note paper, matchbooks from cafes they visited, business cards and dried flowers. I began to think of what i would leave behind. Silence washed over my tiny haven.
After sleeping off the day of travel I awoke to the sound of roosters proclaiming it was morning. The smell of candle wax and old linens filled the dusty house as light streamed through the windows. As I stepped into this foreign world the landscape hummed. The sound of distant tractors plowing fields, insects buzzing around fig trees and the tall grasses swaying in the wind. I explored the farm as if I had just landed on a different planet. The old farmhouse, which was built in the 1600s was being put back together after decades of slow decay. Sections of the house crumbled and were being reclaimed by the earth. The terracotta roof glowed in the morning light. I entered the dark cold kitchen to find a witches studio; dried flowers and herbs hung on the walls, pots and pans draped above the sink and home made cakes sat on the old oak table.
Silvana's farm remained mostly wild with spots of cultivation, wild flowers were obviously the main priority. Grape vines scattered through the woods like spider webs, fruit trees align a hill side, fields of overgrown wheat and a small vegetable garden. A half built greenhouse made of old windows sat at the front of the garden. While I was walking around I ran into a man named Mauro who was a friend of Silvana. He was staying in the house that sat on top of the hill over looking the farm. Not being able to understand each others language made it tough to communicate, but we attempted for a while. Drawings and hand gestures were relied upon. Mauro seemed confused as to why I was there, my answer was much to complicated to draw or act out. As his tall weathered frame loped back to his house I too had to ask the question. What am I doing here?
Silvana's yellow car cut through the emerald landscape, returning from her job in town assisting the elderly. Before I went down to help prepare lunch I walked to the top of the dirt road. I looked out upon the valley I would call home for the next few weeks. The narrow road switch-backing below me into an unfamiliar, yet exciting journey. In that moment any doubt I had about this trip washed away.
more in part ll