Love and Strife in the Appenines (by Jo Malcolm)

Love and Strife in the Appenines (by Jo Malcolm)

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Jo Malcolm, (the only) Scottish resident in L’Aquila since 1983, English teacher, translator, writer. Has spent various periods away from L ‘Aquila in various places including Krakow, Rome, Edinburgh and Istanbul. Latest trip was in India this spring for two months.  Mostly interested in chatting and listening as she travels about. Currently freelancing as English lecturer in northern Italian university, and about to start teaching again in L’Aquila and Rome.

Before I came to Abruzzo, I was living in a not very attractive rented flat in St Andrews,Scotland, with my friend Babs. I hated my teaching job in a local secondary school, and she hated her housekeeping job in a local golfers’ hotel. Our shared- and urgent- ambition was to change our situation as soon as possible and so evenings were spent happily drinking wine together and planning our new lives.

Mine came sooner than expected. After a particurly rain-swept windy Scottish east-coast day with 2F, 3G and double 4E, followed by ten minutes of vapid chitchat in the staffroom, I picked up a novel in the school library, Love and Strife in the Appenines. Its cover had a photo with a blue sky of some old rocky village teetering on an unlikely mountain top and I was immediately enthralled.The story was set in Abruzzo, Italy. I had never heard of it, but it looked beautiful. I also liked the idea of love and strife (which turned out to be just as well).

That little book led me here.

I lived in L'Aquila for fifteen years, left for other adventures and travels, bought a house there, left again, and again returned not so long ago. The following is a little story about my return, and it explains some of why I have come back:

I drove out of L'Aquila and up the steep pot-holed road . Stray dogs slouched past, pawing beside the unemptied rubbish skips, and shreds of plastic bags tumbled and tangled in the stubble fields. The Gran Sasso was quite far ahead, the entire block visible. I could see my house, still vulgar in its salmon pink, and almost hidden now among a growing clump of unharmoniously-grouped new houses. But it was pert and proud and defiant, when half the town had been broken by the earthquake.

I unlocked the door, looked round, noticed a glass had been knocked over, and the rest was untouched.

"Anna, Anna!"

My neighbour Giuseppina was skipping around excitedly at the window, thin and intense and girl-like. Her eyes were bright with excitement.

I'm so glad youre here again, we knew youd be worried! You cant possibly sleep in your place, and certainly not on your own .Come and sleep in our tent. There are still tremors. Come on, come on.

I could have wept at her warmth and concern and neighbourliness, and felt the gentle comfort of belonging.

Giuseppina insisted that I had lunch with them and ushered me warmly into her home and kitchen.
The stout wooden table was set with flat plates, ironed cotton napkins, water jug, unmarked wine bottle, glasses.
The room had white walls, with a huge flatscreen tv attached full length along one of them, rustic furniture, pine.
The tiny mother fussed around, dressed in black, rosy-cheeked, white-haired and beady, bird-eyed, voice high pitched with excitement. I gave her a little present from the north of Italy and she was so touched she cried.
Quips were exchanged in dialect and I marvelled not for the first time at being Scottish and from a completely different world yet welcomed and able to contribute and understand and laugh with them all. A few family members were there, hospitable and kind.
Giuseppina was dancing around, high as a kite, and Margherita had come in from Rome, strong Roman accent, pezzo di pane and clever and funny too. We were all gathered together, cosy and safe and well fed, and so cheerful and lively that again after so many years, I was touched by the warmth and generosity and lack of pretension that I have seen in many Abruzzese people, and nowhere else in my many travels.

Jo Malcolm

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