This morning I was reading a book of essays by Donna Leon, author of the addictive novels featuring crime solving Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti. In My Venice and Other Essays she writes about all things Venetian – all right I will admit I was a little jealous – her little tales of daily life were wonderful and I’ve decided she is my idol. The first essay, My Venice, reminded me about why I enjoy Pontelandolfo and scowl at the car I am forced to use to do anything in suburban NJ. Here read this: (p.3)
Much of the joy that I find in living in Venice results from this fact: there are no cars… Because we are forced to walk, we are forced to meet. That is every morning the people of Venice are constrained to see, walk past, walk along with their neighbors. This leads to casual conversation, to the exchange of information about the world or about their personal lives…
Thanks Donna, I totally get that. Every morning when I walked down the hill from our house in Pontelandolfo to the piazza for that incredible cappuccino, I would pass the same older woman dragging out drying racks and hanging her laundry. The first day, I smiled at her and she looked at me quizzically. By the third month she was telling me quick stories about the son she lives with and her grandchildren. When we go back next week for our six month visit, I hope she is still out there hanging the wash.
Pontelandolfo has one main piazza – Piazza Roma. This is the central social and shopping hub of daily life. People stroll, chat, have a caffè in one bar or another and actually smile at the strange American lady – me. They communicate – it might be tossing their hands in the air and grunting “bo” but it is the sound of people talking to people. Wednesday when the market comes to town, people swap tales, comment on purchases and catch up on local lore. They aren’t racing through the big glitzy glassed-in mall from one equally redundant store to the next. They are walking and talking.
They walk down to the bocci court or calcio field. They walk up the hill to the church. On Saint days, they walk in processions. They walk and talk – OK sometimes they repeat the rosary too. No necks straining under the weight of a bobbing head tilted down at hand held devices. Walking and talking – direct communication – who knew it was still being done!
I’ll tell you who else still walks and talks – my Aunt Stella. Stella, in her 90’s, lives in Brooklyn and walks to the market, botanical garden, museum, well just about everywhere. It keeps her mind agile and body strong. She looks at the city as her home and relishes every moment she can be out and about and talk to folks. She never had a car and loves the buses and subway system. Sure, sometimes she calls a car service but not too often. Who can she meet from the backseat of a car?
Then there is my 90 something young Aunt Chris, living on the fahkackata mountain in Hillsborough, NJ. She used to drive everywhere – dancing, senior club, exercise classes, lunch. She moved from her little house to what seems like miles from civilization and gave up her car. No sidewalks, no easy way to get to all those senior activities she used to love, no way to just bullshit with people. Granted, she is in a safe and loving environment with her son – but where is the action. Where is the drama she used to love when she was able to drive her car all over the place? She grew up in lower Manhattan and still remembers her sidewalk days.
I look at those two aunts that I absolutely adore and I look at the elderly women in Pontelandolfo who still walk everywhere. These women are older than I am and I’m getting medicare in May. Women dressed in black carrying flowers to the cemetery walk along the highway. Women walk down and up the mountain daily to get chow for lunch and dinner. Women who are strolling with their friends during passeggiata and still have that evil gleam of girlhood in their eyes.
That’s who I want to be – a woman who walks, talks and listens. Healthier for the physical activity and happier for the conversation.