Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 34 House and home

The wind whistled loudly against my ears during my afternoon walk today. I watched the relentless shiver of the trees as it blew around them and through them.  

I had planned to walk to the edge of Sternatia but changed my mind when I got part-way up the old connecting road. The clouds looked threatening and darkness comes earlier now that we’ve set the clock back an hour.

As I turned back towards Martignano, walking past empty fields and olive groves, I counted many abandoned structures, trulli and old stone storage sheds crumbling in the middle of nowhere.

I reached the outskirts of Martignano and noticed how many buildings under construction also seemed abandoned – at least, I’ve never seen anyone working on them.

Maybe it's the economic crisis. Everybody here says Italy has been one of the hardest hit. If that's true, I don't know where so many people get the money to eat out. Restaurants and bars are always full. Shops have a full array of merchandise and customers.

In the tiny town where I’m staying, a town that wouldn't take anybody on two feet more than minutes to criss-cross, the elementary school children are picked and dropped off by a bus. Even the child that lives across the street from the school gets picked up! We asked our hostess Paola, who has a four-year-old using the service, why they'd need a school bus. Well, it keeps somebody employed, she answered.

The signpost to wealth here, it seems to me, is the condition of your home. Many of the houses in Martignano have been lovingly renovated but others look exhausted, if not completely dead. Some proudly display wide exterior doors made of patterned steel and painted the colour of copper or bronze. Others have wooden arched entries barely able to stand.

It’s not as though there are “good” streets and “bad” streets. The renovated and decrepit sit cheek by jowl, even along the periphery, where you find a few detached houses.  Here sit fenced-in palazzos surrounded by open space with an empty farmhouse its nearest neighbour.  

Paola says few people here have mortgages, which is one reason why they have an easier time making ends meet than people in the North. Here houses are passed around in families. Rosario, who lives across the street with his wife Maria and two children under 5, bought his from a relative. He didn’t say what he paid for it, of course, but it couldn’t have been much because it was a wreck when he got it. He gutted it, managing to save only the original terrazzo flooring in only two of the bedrooms.  

They have a lovely home now, although Rosario, who used to work for a picture-framing manufacturer, has been out of work for almost two years.

Paola used to live in the North. (In fact, her mother lives in Cremona in Lombardy, which is on the left bank of the Po River.) She says the cost of living is so much higher in the Northern Italy, which is much more urban. Rents are exorbitant, and you can't grow your own food either. 

People are better off in the South, she says.

Rosario's house

Renovated and abandoned houses sit side by side

A single family house on Martignano's periphery. Why this awful orange, I ask?

Crumbling stone buildings sit in otherwise empty fields


  1. Quote: "Maybe it's the economic crisis. Everybody here says Italy has been one of the hardest hit. If that's true, I don't know where so many people get the money to eat out. Restaurants and bars are always full. Shops have a full array of merchandise and customers"

    It’s because of the "bella figura". Italians will always try to appear as well standing and good looking in front of other Italian people. Let’s take an example. During the winter Italians will have it freezing inside their houses and wont turn on any light if not strongly necessary. If you happen to be invited to dinner during winter at an Italian, you wont notice the cold, because they will have been warming the house up hours before your arrival to make it comfortable for you, but just put your hand on one of the walls and you'll notice that the house isn't so warm usually. All the money that they save this way will be used to look good and buy a new 9000-35.000€ prized car if the "old" one is more than 3-5 years old. With that said, Italy has been a country with a good economy right until the euro came. So all the money that they have been saving, are being spent now. I'm sure that you have noticed that the Italian tend to have one big house where all the family stays, which is again more economically than having to use money on heating up other houses.

    Anyway nice post ;)

  2. loving the photos that you are attaching to your stories!!! I cannot even imagine what it must be like to just "be living" elsewhere for enjoyment!!! Jealous!!!!

  3. We like the food, the pictures AND the cute boots!