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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Our Village in Italy is Called Lubriano

Written by Diana Armstrong
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Our village in Italy is called Lubriano, Civita di Bagnoregio, Calanchi Valley, Southern Umbria,  Rome, Florence, Via Roma, Porchetta, Diana ArmstrongOur village in Italy is called Lubriano. It is a "pass by" village. Tourists traveling to the famous hill-top town of Civita di Bagnoregio (called the "Dying Town" as it is collapsing into the Calanchi Valley below) stop at the edge of our village to gaze across towards their stunning destination no more than one mile away.  Truth is, this medieval wonder of a town is also our view.


The village of Lubriano (population 900 souls) is right on the border of Southern Umbria, about half way between Rome and Florence.


The one and only street slides along the crest of the hill with the land plunging into the valley on either side of it, affording the whole street with stunning views.  This street is called Via Roma. Why Via Roma? No one seems to know.  Despite its grand name, Via Roma is a modest thoroughfare. The cobbled lane is exactly nine feet wide, front door to front door. Very little traffic passes, but the little that does rushes by at true Italian speed, almost brushing the walls. When leaving our front door it is advisable to carefully poke your head out first, and check that the coast is clear before cautiously extending your foot out as if you are going to swim in a very cold swimming pool.


All along Via Roma, the 600 year old houses lean against each other, following the gradual almost imperceptible curves of the street in one meandering old row.  The sunlight slants into the lane, bringing to life the colors of the old buildings, each one aged to a soft tone of its former glory. The dusty colors: pinks, browns and golds, textured into each other, tug at you like a sunset.  The old iron street lamps, flower boxes, window shutters, and balconies turn every house into an idealized vision of a village in Italy. Everything is perfect, so picturesque that I worry that it may one day, if it is ever "discovered" come to look like a cliché of what it should be.


Our village in Italy is called Lubriano, Civita di Bagnoregio, Calanchi Valley, Southern Umbria,  Rome, Florence, Via Roma, Porchetta, Diana ArmstrongAs you enter Lubriano from the main road, (where all the tour buses stop to gaze across at Civita) a small square opens before you protected by chestnut trees. There is a small fountain, a drop dead view over the Calanchi valley, and a small war memorial in the middle.  The square is called the Col di Lana, the Square of the Wool. In days before, the sheep from the valley below were assembled for shearing here at the entrance to the town.  Beneath the chestnut trees, next to the town pump, there are one or two benches, always used by the proverbial four old men, who are a fixture in every small Italian town.  Day after day they sit there, conducting muttered conversations and eyeing any would-be entrants to the town.


The narrow street with its buildings squeezed one on top of the other threads its way from the Col di Lana to the town square. There, the Church of John the Baptist sits comfortably beside the Palazzo of the Monaldeschi, the ruling family of this area in feudal times. Beyond the palazzo the street goes on through the oldest part of the town, past sleeping houses and sleeping cats, until it peters out at the cimitero, the cemetery.


Shops in Lubriano bear no signs, Anna the hairdresser snips away all day in an undisclosed shop not 10 feet by 10 feet. No appointments are taken here and villagers crowd in to await their turn.


Luigina needs no advertising for her Frutte e Verdure where the imperfect fruit and vegetables of the village are sold in the front of her shop and the pretty and perfect ones shipped in are relegated to the back of the store. "Just picked" here means just that. Huge braids of garlic are the only standard fixture here. All the produce changes with the season to reflect what the local contadini have brought in to be sold.

In the evening, the town takes on a somewhat split personality. The Admiral Bar at one end is filled with the young who flaunt tight jeans, noisy motorcycles and various pierced body parts. In Italy a bar is different from a bar in the U.S.A. A bar in Italy has many different functions. Not only does it serve alcohol but also coffee and ice-cream. It is frequented by all, including young children.  Village posters are displayed here, and the bar owner is a walking Google.


The street leads as if through time to the other end of town where the old-timers live peacefully with their friends and memories close to the cemetery, always ablaze with flowers.  In the peaceful light of day, widows and widowers walk quietly down this street, carrying armfuls of blossoms.  They make the cemetery an extension of the life of the village rather than a dead end.


Wake up early and you will see workers heading for the fields with scythes or hoes on their shoulders. Wake a little later and you will see women on shopping expeditions,Our village in Italy is called Lubriano, Civita di Bagnoregio, Calanchi Valley, Southern Umbria,  Rome, Florence, Via Roma, Porchetta, Diana Armstrong friends congregating at particular chosen spots along the road. In winter there are warm spots where the sun's rays angle between the buildings to soothe chilled bones. In summer, there are cool spots, where a fresh breeze steals between the houses all baking together in a tight row.  Up and down our old Via Roma, women sit on tiny stools, chatting quietly as they strip fennel seeds from the plants they have brought in from the fields.  This is slow, tedious work, done patiently like their mothers and grandmothers did before them. I watch in fascination, and promise myself that, when cooking with fennel seed in the future, I'll remember these ladies and recall that the collection of a teaspoon of fennel seed equals an hour of manual labor.


I am surprised that there are two butcher shops in town. This seems an improbable luxury for such a small place. Bellapadrona Butcher shop is my preference. The shop is spotless, with an amazing selection. Pork, beef, chicken and turkey are laid out before me, not to mention a number of different salamis and sausages.  The butchery purchase takes quite a long while. There are usually four or five of us waiting, all local ladies. The village ethos does not yet approve of men folk getting involved in anything as domestic as butchery purchases. As I wait patiently with my neighbors in the butchery we chat away idly. All the village gossip is passed around. An amazing amount of it. Vendettas, the baker running off with the town beauty, a prominent citizen caught in a compromising situation, it goes on and on.


The owner, Giuseppina, is a lovely lady with a scrubbed smile, velvety smooth skin, rosy cheeks and blue eyes.  Her white coat and cap are starched and gleaming, making her eyes look bluer still.  Her husband is grappling, a little grumpily, in the back room with a length of salsicce. The long rope of sausage is coiled as though ready to attach to an anchor on the wharf.


Giuseppina begins working on my order. Everything is done by hand; it's inconceivable that anything could be prepackaged.  She handles my order for six quail as though they are pieces of jewelry, lovingly placing them on the wax paper, and wrapping each of these gems individually. Then she starts on my spiedini - kebabs.  Each piece of meat is carefully cut to size, mushrooms and peppers are added, and finally the finished products are laid before me for approval.


Our village in Italy is called Lubriano, Civita di Bagnoregio, Calanchi Valley, Southern Umbria,  Rome, Florence, Via Roma, Porchetta, Diana ArmstrongThe busiest day of the week in the butchery is Friday. Seemingly defying the Catholic tradition of fish-on-Friday, a whole deboned pig is laid out on a giant slab of marble. This is an Italian traditional dish called Porchetta. Giuseppina's husband stuffs the unfortunate porker with a highly aromatic stuffing of sage, onion and fennel and roasts him on a spit. On Friday morning at opening time, Giuseppina will hang up the "Porchetta" sign announcing a pig roast Italian style. The wafts of roasted porchetta will lead you to the butchery and she will slice it into delicious rounds for you, with a rich crust of honey-colored crackling on the outside and the delicious stuffing in the middle.



There is the tobacconist shop called the Sale e Tabacchi. We must back up to medieval times and the story of Italy and salt.  Ancient salt monopolies entitled salt to only be sold through the Italian Government, and for hundreds of year's salt was only sold at the tobacconist as agents for whoever was the ruler at the time. That is the Sale in Sale e Tabacchi.


Bruno is the owner. He is from the Amalfi Coast and moved up to Lubriano for a business opportunity.  He is usually in a hurry unlike his Lubriano shop keeper counterparts. His store is set into what on first appearance looks like the opening to a Roman tomb.  Right here, the old retired school teacher points to the jagged remains of an old wall. "This was a battlement and the ancient Porta -gate - into the village.  In 1920, they knocked down the city wall which was built around 1600 to allow trucks to enter the village" he says disparagingly.


Bruno also has the village responsibility for 21st century communications. He has a fax and can add minutes onto your cell phone. This present time stuff does stops for the month of August when Bruno's parents come into town to take over running the shop while Bruno is on vacation.  Medieval techniques now apply and the mere mention of sending a fax is enough to get you thrown out of the store.


All the local shops are supplemented by frequent trucks that come through the town selling their wares.  While Italians are fanatical about air pollution, sound pollution does not seem to worry them. Regularly each morning, with deafening regularity some or other truck comes through town.  Each one is equipped with the worst fog horn scratchy speakerphone/megaphone that you could impossibly imagine.  It makes me feel like I am in World War II and the Nazis are invading the town.  It's startling and disconcertingly loud. The words sound as though they are coming through an American drive-thru. Some trucks sell flowers, other fruit and of course the welcome fish truck from the Adriatic, there are even trucks that come through blaring that they are selling space age kitchens to fit into medieval dwellings.


The occasional itinerant comes through town selling wares and the word is soon spread around. Stranger in town, stranger in town. People peep out suspiciously through shutters.


A few yards further along the street, the shoemaker is bent over someone's old shoe. They say he has been a fixture on Via Roma for many years, with his tiny Calzoleria, shoe maker's shop. His seventy or more years of cobbling shoes have probably taught him patience and acceptance and he looks like an old worn shoe himself, with his placid face, his stooped shoulders and his big, skillful hands. In medieval times his workshop would have been a storage cellar, and it's still as small, dark and uncomfortable as it probably was then.  With his ancient tools it seems he should be making his own Pinocchio.


There is one shop that is non-existent in our village, and that is a postcard and souvenir shop. Hopefully, we will put that off for years.

Our village in Italy is called Lubriano, Civita di Bagnoregio, Calanchi Valley, Southern Umbria,  Rome, Florence, Via Roma, Porchetta, Diana Armstrong

© Diana Armstrong


Diana Armstrong is a Food and Travel Writer who divides her time between Lubriano, Italy and Denver, Colorado.  Her latest article is published in Gourmet Magazine April 2008. Her book about Lubriano is called Somewhere South of Tuscany, for more info see her website:


Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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