Monday, August 01, 2005


On Sunday afternoon after we said goodbye to Paul and Mer, we drove back to San Venanzo, stopping along the way to take some pictures of the beautiful landscape. The vineyards are green, and the grapes are just starting to ripen. The sunflowers are fading fast but still magical, and the olive trees glisten silvery green, filled with fruit.

Earlier in the week, when I was watering the vegetable garden (l’orto), Adamo told me that there would be watermelon served in the piazza in front of the volcano museum on Sunday evening. He showed me what appeared to be an unbound book, and told me that this book was dedicated to the residents of San Venanzo, both old and new.

Adamo has been involved in writing a small book about the history of San Venanzo called “Il Giro del Prete” (The Journey of the Priest) and his sister Rosalba wrote the fauna section of a book about the flora and fauna of Monte Peglia, both of which were given to us as gifts. It certainly didn’t surprise me that Adamo was involved with yet another book.

We had walked up to the piazza and had seen a poster advertising different events scheduled for the volcano museum. Each Sunday during the summer the museum is open and last Sunday featured a film about Pompeii. Our volcano in San Venanzo (the only one in Umbria) has been extinct for 265,000 years and Vesuvius is still very much an active volcano. Having this volcano museum in San Venanzo requires a lot of imagination to keep people coming, and there’s nothing like a great natural disaster to get people’s interest.

The film was scheduled to begin at 4:30, but we got caught up in something else and didn’t remember until about 5 o’clock. When we arrived there were only a few people there, and the movie hadn’t yet started. We were told that we would wait a few minutes more. Whether we were waiting for a specific individual or just to see if others would show up I don’t know, but this relaxed attitude about promptness is definitely normal.

In the lobby we heard someone speaking English and strained to see who it was. We discovered that it was a British family…the parents and two young boys, maybe seven and eleven. We encouraged them to join us, and one of the museum employees, a young man who spoke some English, said that he would help them to understand the video.

The family sat right in front of us and the mother told us that her older son was very interested in volcanoes. As we would later discover, he was indeed quite knowledgeable and understood much of the film.

Of course they asked us where we were from and what had brought us to San Venanzo so we got to say our favorite phrase: “We live here.” The museum employee who spoke some English asked us why we had chosen San Venanzo and we said because of its beautiful location and because the people were so nice. We said that we loved living in San Venanzo and had been here for almost two years.

I then took this opportunity to lean forward and address the mayor, sitting across the aisle from us. “And, Madam Mayor, once the park behind our house is cleaned up, we’ll love it even more!”

As expected, she reiterated that yes, the park was scheduled to be cleaned up before November….also adding that she was hopeful….which leads us to fear that something may happen to prevent the clean-up. We remain cautiously optimistic. Hopefully once our neighbor Sandro arrives next week he’ll be able to get the scoop.

The film about Pompeii began and it was your typical Discovery Channel type of movie about Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 a.d. Much of it was pretty easy to figure out, and the English speaking guy came over to translate for the boy who was the volcano aficionado.

When the film was over we were allowed to tour the museum which we had never seen. We’ve seen school groups going in but had never known it to be open to the public. There were quite a few fossils from all over the world as well as mineral samples. A small museum but very nice.

As we were leaving Adamo and some other men were in the process of setting up a table with a large umbrella. We told him we were looking forward to seeing him later.

After dinner we walked up to the piazza and saw that quite a few people were already there. Most of the people had brought out their kitchen chairs and were seated in front of a large screen….a large white tarp which had been hung across the front of the volcano museum.

I walked back to our house and got the two folding camp chairs that we had brought with us from the states. We sat up our chairs off to the side and people-watched as more and more townspeople arrived and the setup continued. On the other side of the piazza, under the umbrella we could see the watermelon and cantaloupe waiting to be sliced.

Eventually the movie was ready to being. We still weren’t sure what to expect. I was still confused….what had I misunderstood about a book? No sign of books anywhere. Once again my Italian only lets me understand bits and pieces, and obviously I had missed something important.

When the movie started I was even MORE confused. The movie was a concert video of Ray Charles. Although we like Ray Charles, and know that some Italians are familiar with him, this seemed like a very odd choice for a movie in the local piazza, especially in the small town of San Venanzo.

The projector was adjusted back and forth to best fit the picture to the “screen”. Because this was Italy this was just as much a social event as a movie showing, and Art got up to say hello to Mauro. Our neighbor Iris sat down next to me, indicating that her husband was in the back of the piazza visiting with friends and relatives.

After listening to Ray sing a few songs the video was stopped. Was there a problem? Had there been a mistake? No, apparently this was just the “opening act”, and now the main feature would begin. Art had returned to his seat and neither of us could imagine what would come next.

The movie opened with the words “Traccio di San Venanzo”. This was where we’d attended the community picnic back in June. The first scene panned the picnic area….the tables, the massive grill, the stream, the trail leading to the statue of San Venanzo. The area was deserted, but the next scene showed everyone preparing for the picnic. Wow! We had no idea that anyone had filmed the picnic!

The barbeque was blazing as the men (naturally) tended to the sausages on the grill. The women were preparing the pasta, boiling huge vats of water and making the sauce. Bottles of water were cooling in the stream while bread was sliced for the bruschetta.

The following scenes showed the people….eating, laughing, commenting on the beautiful day. The audience cheered or hooted depending on who was being shown in the film. We didn’t know most of the people, but we did catch a quick glimpse of us sitting at the picnic table!

The kids were also featured, and as expected we saw them playing in the stream, gathering tadpoles. We hoped that we’d see Riley, the daughter of our friends Leslie and Brent and sure enough! There she was! Art and I said to each other how cool it would be if only Leslie, Brent and Riley could see this!

After the film ended there was of course a great round of applause. And then Adamo announced that copies of the video were on sale of €8 and could be ordered. Great! We’ll take two! Still not sure about what the book was about or when it will be available, but for now we’ll just wait and see.

The watermelon and cantaloupe were now sliced and everyone began to head for the table. The watermelon was very sweet, and of course very messy. We milled around for a few minutes, talking with neighbors and enjoying the camaraderie. This was the second night in a row that we’d been out in the evening, mingling with the locals, enjoying the simple pleasures of life in small town Italy.

Paul had told us that the joke between him and Mer while living in Italy was the question “Have I died and gone to heaven and just don’t know it?” I think we know the answer to that question….no you haven’t died but YES, you have gone to heaven. Heaven is right here, at least our little piece of it.


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