I have always appreciated the peaceful and, for lack of a better way to put it, wholesome lifestyle of my town, Grezzano. I’d never lived in the country before moving here in 2006, and although it took a while to get used to the unnervingly quiet nights (you can hear every critter out there!), beyond the effort of that minor acclimatization, I settled into this rural life quickly, and happily.
We live among farmers, wake frequently to the rooster’s crow from across the narrow ravine behind our house, an ax splitting wood, a tractor tilling a nearby field. When the season opens, hunters roam the forests around us for wild boar and pheasant, and any given morning local women of formidable foraging expertise can be spotted carrying bags of berries, porcini mushrooms, vitalba shoots or other wild edibles, depending on the time of year. Our own foraging traditions, somewhat lazier and much less adept, include detouring down a solitary dirt path where stray walnuts and apples are for the taking in autumn. We enjoy, too, the walk down to the pine-tree-lined main road to collect the massive cones those grand trees let loose like fragrant grenades (there’s no better fire-starter). Returning home, I always take some minutes to admire the mutable beauty of the surrounding hills—their surreal greens in early summer that turn a patchwork of muted violets and auburns in fall and, for a few breathtaking weeks in winter, an immaculate, all-silencing white.
Though small and ancient, Grezzano is modern enough. We’ve got regular bus and garbage service, reliable utilities (touch wood), good public water, and dependable-ish postal delivery. When I factor in the satellite dish, solar panels, and wi-fi, I realize I’ve got almost nothing to complain about. In fact, it’s this blend of old country lifestyle and modern amenities that makes life here so satisfying. I love that our air is clean and our water pure; that we have space to grow vegetables and plant fruit trees; that cowbells, curbside horse manure, and backyard hedgehogs form part of the daily landscape; that we’ll never have to contend for a parking spot. And I really love that having all this doesn’t mean renouncing internet access or a dozen or so movie channels. Like I said, we’ve got almost nothing to complain about. Almost.
For a time, the subtle signs of neglect cropping up around my village merely annoyed me. This past year, however, a few infrastructure calamities have hit town; and with each passing month that these problems go overlooked, it seems more unlikely they will ever be addressed. And that more than annoys. It worries me. Now, I know very well that living in Italy means accepting delay and disorder from almost every corner—especially so when it comes to anything bureaucratic; and while I’ve more or less learned how to get on board with ‘Italian ways’, I want to resist the ease of that route, I suppose because the neglect of Grezzano is as inexplicable as it is needless. And because it’s a special place, deserving protection, preservation—not neglect.
Shortly after we moved here in 2006, a construction company bought the land directly across from us. One of the first things they did was tear down a portion of one of Grezzano’s old walls. In its place went a hideous concrete thing, later overlaid with tacky stone slabs and more concrete—an improvement, but only because the prior version had been so monstrous.
Next their billboard went up, never to be replaced in these many years and today so tattered and crummy-looking the company can hardly wonder no one has called them to express interest in their product. This is what we see when we step from our front door to the street.
Then came the parking lot, and this, too, has remained unfinished and useless for the past six years. They never sold a single lot, and thus we Grezzanesi must bear with their incompetent business practices and disrespect for our home.
Earlier this year, a portion of road shoulder washed out just where the main road turns on to our formerly nice bridge. The problem was quickly if cursorily addressed by local authorities with concrete barricades.
As there is no clearer proclamation of disregard than provisional equipment left about a place, naturally the taggers arrived almost immediately.
More recently the bridge in Grezzano was damaged, likely from a car collision with the railing. An entire side of the bridge is now utterly compromised, rendering it both ugly and unsafe. The solution? To put up temporary metal blockades that in effect narrow further an already very tight passage.
I sometimes teasingly call Italy ‘The Land of Unfinished Projects’. Everywhere you look some once-majestic, crumbling villa begs to be torn down or restored, while shoddy, half-formed condos wanting completion pollute long stretches of highway. It’s amazing really, when you think of Italian architectural traditions and the well-established engineering sector. Yet the systematic (and bewildering) inefficiency Italy is famed for seems to hamper progress on all fronts, from tax evasion to toxic waste. Road works and other infrastructure projects are notoriously slow to finish, especially those involving cross-regional or multi-departmental collaboration. Should I complain, after all, about what’s happening in my tiny, inconsequential Grezzano? In the face of such things, the pull of apathy is strong, and admittedly I’m not trying to change the world here, merely draw attention to an aspect of italianità I am not entirely willing to succumb to. Yet civic pride, preservation, and a sense of shared responsibility are good things for any town, of that I am certain. This post, for my part, is an optimistic nudge towards that possibile future.