It has been a while since our last post and we have just finished a busy summer. First, we want you to know we continue to be fine. The rate at which time passes seems, somehow, to have speed up and it is now already early Autumn in Italy.
During the summer season recently past, we returned for the seventh year to a rented place on the sand on the shore of the Adriatic Sea. This is a fortunately reoccurring, refreshing and rejuvenating experience that has the side benefit of avoiding the inundations of summer mass tourism in many places in this wonderful country. We have tranquility during the summer season and, as full time residents, make our pilgrimages to important cultural places in a more peaceful off-season. This is literally, the best of both worlds.
People are what it means to be in human society. Among the joys of experience on the shore over the years has been sharing the experience with other more recently arrived expatiates from the U.S., but also getting to know Italian families. There is a continuity for us in becoming acquainted with Italian families enjoying the shore with their maturing children. Each year as we return to the shore, we marvel at how much these children have grown, season-to-season.
Over time, a small group of Americans has settled in Ascoli. As in any groupings of associations, while continuing to enjoy a larger circle of expatriates and Italians, it seems a smaller circle have become a little closer. Somehow there may be some combination of similarity of temperament, what we collectively value in life and a considerate and respectful caring regard for each other that helps to cement an emotional bond. Being around each other is just ‘easy’.
It may be inevitable as we become closer to others in friendship, we have an opportunity to not only share in their joys, but also become aware of their health struggles and sorrows. An effect this has had on us is to reinforce not taking for granted all that has become vitally important and sustaining in our lives.
In the background, the COVID disruptive impact on the patterns of all our lives resulted in readjustments. In some instances, priorities had to be reaccommodated. On this side of the disruptions, patterns of experience have not quite reconstituted themselves back to exactly as they were before lockdowns and mask wearing.
Even though we personally escaped infection, perhaps there is still a residual awareness of vulnerability that was not quite as intense prior to the COVID epidemic experience. The apparent resurgence of some level of an emerging viral threat doesn’t provide much comfort in that regard.
In a previous post we announced the addition of a new canine family member over a year and a half ago. The little guy is now very well integrated as an essential family member. He exudes a positive connectivity and genuine affection, adding to the already positive atmosphere in our apartment.
The multiple, daily outings with him are beneficial on multiple fronts. We are out walking, shared between us humans, sometimes five times a day. There is the exercise and fresh air. And then there is the social aspect. An appealing, personable little dog is a social magnet. Italians seem to have a strong affinity for dogs of all types. More Italians know Cesare’s name than know ours. He has also developed a few canine ‘friends’ of his own he enjoys seeing.
Over more than ten years, walking these ancient streets and narrow passages has become very familiar and comfortable. However familiar, fascination with the depth of history in which we are immersed has not diminished. Perhaps for some, looking at an obviously old stone wall, exhibiting multiple repairs and modifications over millennia, might not seem particularly interesting. To us, it is a sign of resiliency and permanence in the face of multiple challenges over a very extended period. We seem to have an awareness of a much longer flow of time in what we see and experience here, every day.
Post COVID’s economic disruptions, there was also the challenge of dealing with some structural damage in Ascoli resulting from a series of earthquakes west of here, seven years ago. Other communities also had their own needs for improving the condition of structures. As a result, the Italian government initiated a program to inject capital into the Italian economy. One of the principal measures was to institute a financially incentivized reconstruction program for structural integrity and environmental impact improvements for existing structures.
However, formulating and executing such a major and complex rebuilding program would be a challenge in any governmental setting. With Italy’s bloated, multiple levels of competing and overlapping bureaucracies, efficiency in implementation has not been a realistic expectation.
After what felt like a protracted delay, renovation work finally began in Ascoli a couple of years ago. Gradually, scaffolding went up all over the historic center of Ascoli on buildings selected for repair and improvement. The scaffolding was accompanied by the erection of a significant number of large construction crane installations; those huge, metallic, elongated ‘Tee’s’ silhouetted against the sky. Historically, Ascoli had been called the ‘City of a Hundred Towers’. More recently, construction cranes might be a more accurate substitution for towers.
Our immediate wing of this probably over 600 year old, travertine stone palazzo, in which our apartment is situated, has not been directly involved in these renovation projects, so far. However, another adjacent wing of this palazzo was involved including internal structural repairs and a new roof. Scaffolding was very close to our terrace.
Immediately across from our building, another large palazzo has been undergoing very extensive work for over several years now. Scaffolding and construction activity has become part of our daily lives and will probably be continuing for some time to come.
Italians appear to reflect a high recognition of the cultural importance of the still standing evidence of a very long history. As a result, older structures that might have been demolished and subsequently totally rebuilt in the U.S. are, where feasible, preserved, and improved. This is done without modifying materially their exterior visual impact as historic landmarks. There is, of course some movement for historic preservation in the U.S. However, there is the difference that landmarks in the U.S. can reflect several centuries while landmarks here often reflect millennia.
With all the construction activity, plus street repaving and underground utility infrastructure improvements, there have been a series of frequently changing street closures and detours. Traffic patterns in the historic center of Ascoli have become even more chaotic than usual. Italians who were already innovative in parking solutions have gotten even more inventive. An accommodation we have had to make over recent years has been to the increase in the pervasive presence of dust and noise from all the construction.
As suggested in the title to this piece, improvements almost inevitably can get messy. We are caught in a sense of ambivalence. In all this mess, there is inherently encouraging hope. For all the bitching above about the inconveniences, on the bright side, all this effort says the Italians are doing what they have always done. They plan to stay here and make the most of it. Rootedness is part of what it means to be an Italian. They are improving things for a better tomorrow.
There can be no complaint about the intent. We might wish it could get done faster and have less of an effect than it has had on some of the small businesses that have been displaced. A significant number of neighborhood social communities have also likely been disrupted. How many people will ultimately move back into their old neighborhoods is anyone’s guess.
Among the reasons for our continuing optimism is the effort the local government has made to stimulate cultural life and pride in this city. New, dramatic lighting was installed in our major piazzas. The Quintana medieval reenactment festival this summer was a huge success. Several major concerts and entertainment events have been staged in Piazza del Popolo. Our perception is that the level of tourism is definitely up. Post COVID, the local economy needed that.
There is a reinforcing sense of pride of place in this community. It is probably why the local authorities were convinced the current disruptions could be successfully weathered. Borrowing from Thornton Wilder, this is for us now, ‘Our Town’. In a sense we have an optimistic view the Italians are investing in the future by continuing to honor the past.
I can contemplate someone in some far-off time in the future walking their canine companion past this still standing Palazzo of ours, wondering who used to live here. Just like we do on our daily walks in this still fascinating place.