Tuesday 18 June 2013


My first picture taken on my first full day in the Sabina. The view from the bedroom at Il Sogno

My first night back in the Sabina, at Il Sogno in Casperia I slept like a log. Of course I was exhausted from the trip and was more than a bit jetlagged. All I remember is Richard adding some logs to the camino (fireplace) in the bedroom and the next moment it was day. I don't remember putting my head to the pillow.

A half dozen different breeds of birds were singing outside our window. Intermixed among their tweets, coos and chirrups, like the echo of a favourite song sung by a long lost friend was the muffled clanging of sheeps bells ringing in the distance. It was a beautiful sunny day in the Sabina. I wish I could wake up every day and feel like this.

Pecore, courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Richard was up making an espresso in the kitchen with our favourite Illy coffee. I pulled myself away from the window and headed into the kitchen to make some toast for some morning crostini. Last year, during one of our early forays to the alimentari for supplies, Letizia, one of the women who works at the deli counter, told us how to eat the local red prosciutto over hot toast. 

The heat from the toasted bread melts the rich white fat from the prosciutto into the toast releasing a heady aroma. Who needs butter? Anyway, since that day we usually have toast with prosciutto crudo once a day, either with coffee for breakfast or as an antipasto for lunch while we are here.

After breakfast we went out for a first walk around town. Last Christmas we decided to buy ourselves a new digital camera. I hadn't had much of a chance to practice with it before we left so I brought it with me, thinking I would take a lot of stock photos of Casperia to use later on for the blog. The light was perfect for a good morning shot of our front door so I took a couple of photos.

Anyone who has ever visited any of the Italian hill towns usually comes home with a collection of door photos. No two are the same. Some are rectangular, and some are curved at the top. Some are two panelled while others are a single door. 

Some are painted, some are just the weathered wood, and many are all possible stages of what you can have in between and make for a great photo. Someone could do a whole coffee table book on the subject... or at least a set of interesting looking post cards. 

The door to Il Sogno with the terrace garden on the left above the cantina.
Richard and I wandered down Via Mazzini and I took pictures as we went. 

Via Mazzini, the street where Il Sogno, the house we rent is located, is named after Genoese-born visonary Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the key figures of the 19th century struggle to unify Italy,and an early advocate for a United States of Europe. 

I made a mental note to myself to photograph as many of the street and alley name signs I could find and research the significance of each name. 

Further down Via Mazzini we pass La Torretta Bed & Breakfast. One ofthe palazzi beside it is undergoing restoration and renovation. It is a beautiful three story stone structure. We greet the workers as we pass and try to peak inside but the interior seems completely gutted. I wonder who has bought it and what it will look like when everything is finished.
Sign for La Torretta B&B

Further past La Torretta is one of my favourite intersections in Casperia. Here you can see Via Mazzini with the white stones, merging on to Via Garibaldi paved in black basalt. It is my favourite intersection for a number of reasons. First, the process of moving from one street to another brings to mind the process of changing gears on a ten-speed bike; changing the chain from one sprocket to another... It is sort of hard to explain... You have to remember that walking around town in Casperia you are always climbing or descending... always changing gears...

It is a combination of the two sloped streets meeting, one white, one black, both descending toward each other. The physical sensation of changing from a descent to an ascent as you change coloured roads... and then there is this amazing view of Via Garibaldi snaking below as you pass.

It is perhaps Casperia's most photographed street section. Here is my photo of it. Giorgio Clementi...

Photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Alessandra Finiti, and other more talented photographers than I have several amazing shots of it.

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

Via Garibaldi, like every Via Garibaldi in every city, town and village across Italy is named for the hero of Il Risorgimento, the fight for Italian unity and nationhood, Nice-born general and politician Giuseppe Garibaldi.  

Garibaldi and his heroic efforts caught the imagination of people all over the world. Our Italian friends might be surprised to know that since 1860 there has been a volcanic peak here in British Columbia named Mount Garibaldi. Nearby Mount Garibaldi is a lake named Garibaldi Lake, and since 1927, the 1,946.5 square kilometre area around the mountain and lake has been known as Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Street sign for Via Cola di Rienzo
From Via Garibaldi, we turn off onto Via Cola di Rienzo. This street is not named after any Italian soft drink, but after another interesting figure from Italian history, this time medieval history, the 14th century Roman-born visionary, popular leader and Tribune of Rome, Nicola di Rienzo

Cola di Rienzo succeeded ruling Rome for a while, but met a tragic end at the hands of an angry Roman mob on October 8, 1354. If you visit the Campidoglio Museum or the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome you can see a statue of Cola di Rienzo between the steps leading up to the museum and the church. This statue, raised in 1877, stands close to the place where he was killed.

As we walk through the streets and alleyways of Casperia, our attention is drawn to a number of interesting details which we had not noticed or paid that much attention to during our previous visits. 

Cast iron storm drain cover made at a fountry in Rieti

During our earlier visits to Casperia we tended to focus our attention on the buildings that surrounded us... Our gaze was usually drawn up to the amazing defensive tower houses that dominate the borgo.

This, being our third visit to Casperia, I am able to pay more attention to minor details in the scenery around us. The textures and colours of the story-filled stone walls of the houses...

...and the different layouts and patterns used to pave Casperia's cobbled streets.

A while back, one of Giorgio Clementi's black and white photos of a storm drain cover in Casperia caught my attention. Here it is, with the ancient named of the comune, Aspra and a date, 1885. I believe that this cast iron sewer grate is somewhere on Via Rivellini.

Photo courtesy of Giorgio  Clementi
Anyway, back in Vancouver I began to pay attention to the sewer grates we have in our own city and began to take pictures of them. Prior to seeing Giorgio's photo of this grate in Casperia, I never used to think of anything as mundane as a storm drain cover as art or something beautiful. Today as we walk through the vie and vicoli of Casperia I pay attention to not only what towers above me, but also to what lays at my feet, so I take pictures of all the storm drains and sewer grates we come across... 

The wrought iron fixtures come from a number of foundries... Some local, from Rieti, and some from as far south as Salerno.

We arrive at Casperia's main square, the Piazza Municipio, the political heart of the comune.  Here, along one side of the piazza in a cream coloured palazzo is housed Casperia's municipal hall.

On one side of the wall is a magnificent memorial to Casperia's war dead. Over the gateway into the town office is the Stemma Comunale, or coat of arms of Casperia, with its castle crowned asp and star. 

There is even a stone version of the stemma carved onto the keystone of the doorway. Continuing past the piazza we notice this fun little mail box on one of the houses...

 ...and another cast iron sewer grate at our feet....

The writing says VBS Brevete. I am not sure what it means...
At some point we find ourselves on Via Gugliemo Marconi. This street's sign seems to be much older than most of the others.

This street honours the memory of Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi who is famous for his pioneering work on long distance radio transmission. Marconi is celebrated as the inventor of the radio. Like Garibaldi, Marconi no doubt has a street or piazza named after him in every Italian community.

Via Tomassoli seems to be named for a much loved teacher and benefactor named Virgilio Tomassoli. Apparantly he left a substantial inheritance when he died with the wish that the funds would go toward a scholarship to support Asprese boys who wanted to study in Rome. Each year, Aspra's city council gave the name of a young man worthy to receive this kind of scholarship that would allow him to study in Rome. There is a 19th century portrait in the Casperia town council chambers showing him with a sign that says that he was worthy off his students. Apparantly Via tomassoli is a name that dates back only to around the year 1900. Prior to that, it was named Via Comunale.

One thing I began to notice more this time around were the number of small date plaques in the walls of Casperia's houses. Here is one from 1557...

Further along our walk I came across another manhole grate. This one is from a foundry in Rome.

Here are a few more street signs.

Tito Tazio, or Titus Tatius as he is known in English, was the Sabine king of Cures during the time of the famous rape (more properly translated as abduction) of the Sabine women. Titus Tatius marched on Rome at the head of a Sabine army and succeded in capturing the Capitoline through the help of the treachery of the vestal virgin Tarpeia

The intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David, Louvre. Titus Tatius is at left.
At some part in the battle, the captured Sabine women intervened and a reconciliation ensued after which Tatius ruled alongside Romulus as King of Rome for five years until his assassination in Lavinium.

I can only assume that Vicolo dei Claudi commemorates the Gens Claudia, the patrician Roman family which produced the Claudian emperors of Rome... 

Via Massari is named after Asprese-born writer and poet Orazio Massari, who in 1600 published the epic poem La Sabiniade. 

Here again is another street inscription we found dating back to 1600. If any of you can read what the inscription says and tell me, I will post it later.

Some of the street and alley names are of course totally self evident. This little alley leads under an overpass and into a section of stone walled gardens that overlook the east wall of the borgo. 

It wouldn't be a proper walk in a Sabine hilltown without an encounter or two with the feline residents of the area. Here is a picture of one of the many gatti asprese we came across enjoying the springtime sun. Che c'e'? he seems to say.

 A view of the snaking Via Garibaldi from another angle

According to what I have been told by local history expert Lorenzo Capanna, Via Nardi-Bruschi is dedicated to two patrician Aspresi: Luigi Nardi and Giacomo Bruschi, both who were generous benefactors of and donors to Aspra's hospital. Until 1900 the street had three names: The portion near Piazza Umberto I was called Via dell'Ospedale, the middle section was called Via del Giglio (Lily Street), and the part that connected to Via Garibaldi was known as Via Scarsella.

I mentioned earlier that the way the streets of Sabine hill towns are cobbled varies from town to town and street to street. This arching fish scale design can be found in many towns across Italy. 

Here again is another gatto asprese seemingly stunned by the heat of the spring day... Perhaps he is just in deep thought... "Where have I seen that turista before?"

Further along the street we found another old inscription. I am not sure whether this reads 1367 or 1567. Probably the latter. Wikipedia has great pages that talk about what happened in workd history on any given year. Here's a link to the one for 1567.


Via Nardi-Bruschi takes us out on to the town walls just to the east of Friends Cafe on Piazza Umberto I...

...past a little vicolo nearby, I assume, there once was or still is the town hospital.

The steps leading up toward the remains of the medieval tower overlooking Piazzale Oddo Valeriani, the one and only traffic circle in Casperia.

When we reach the top of the old tower we are just a few short paces from Friends Cafe. There is a beautiful view of Santa Maria in Assunta Church.
We have shopping to do so we head on down to the alimentari. I pause along the way to take photos of some more modern signs. It seems there is a fight brewing about some sort of cell phone tower being proposed for the town. 

This is a public notice about a town hall meeting planned for the evening of Tuesday, March 5th at the town auditorium to discuss the tower. The comune promises that technicians and experts will attend the meeting, as well as representatives from the "No Antenna" Committee.

It seems that people are not just concerned about the damage it will do to the beauty of the surroundings, but that there are also some serious health concerns about the strength of the radio signals from the tower.

As we pass out the Porta Romana and head toward the alimentari, we pass a sign commemorating the awarding to Casperia the much coveted Orange Flag from the Italian Touring Club and think about the previous public notice and the obvious contradictions.

One of our favourite stops in the day - Massimo and Irene's Margherita Alimentari
Letizia and Maria serving customers at the Alimentari's well stocked deli counter

There is nothing like the satisfyingly creamy goodness of a young local pecorino cheese like the Campagnolo sold here.
We stock up on staples: cheese, prosciutto, baby zucchine, tomatoes, arugula, cannelini beans, canned tuna, bottled water, and Oh! wine! I ask Massimo to sell us a couple of litres of his family's stock of Sabina D.O.P. olive oil. He promises to bring it the next day.

Loaded with groceries, we head back past the pastry shop and post office toward the Porta Romana. We climb up the stairs and find Stefano and Nicoleta enjoying a late breakfast (espresso and a pastry) outside Friends. We sit down and join them. Stefano is all bundled up seeming more ready for winter than a Spring day, but then again, he's Italian and we are Canadians.

A little gray cat ambles across the piazza heading past the vespasiano (public urinal) toward the steps up the hill. I go over and investigate. I believe I have talked about vespasiani and the origin of the name, but for those of you who have not read that earlier post, Vespasian was a Roman Emperor (AD 69 to 79), the founder of the Flavian Dynasty. Quoting directly from Wikipedia:

Vespasian imposed a Urine Tax (Latin: vectigal urinae) on the distribution of urine from public urinals in Rome's Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) system. (The Roman lower classes urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools.) The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for several chemical processes. It was used in tanning, and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten woollen togas. The buyers of the urine paid the tax.

The Roman historian Suetonius reports that when Vespasian's son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell (sciscitans num odore offenderetur). When Titus said "No," he replied, "Yet it comes from urine" („Atqui ex lotio est“).

The phrase Pecunia non olet is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins. Vespasian's name still attaches to public urinals in France (vespasiennes), Italy (vespasiani), and Romania (vespasiene).

We enjoyed a short visit with Stefano and Nicoleta. Stefano took a picture of Richard and I hamming it up behind the bar.

Photo courtesy of Stefano Aperio Bella
Prior to our arrival we had been concerned that Nicoleta's cat Mao Mao had been gravely ill. Apparently Mao Mao has diabetes. We asked how she was doing and as there were no customers yet in the bar, Nicoleta took us to her apartment for a short visit.

Mao Mao, March 20, 2012

If you remember from one of my earlier posts, Richard and I met Mao Mao one day on a walk to the town Cemetery.

At that time, we didn't know if Mao Mao was a boy or a girl, only that we had met a very beautiful silver tabby cat that was very affectionate and drooled when you patted it. We named our new friend "the Drooler."

We were very surprised to find out later after I posted my blog that this was Nicoleta's cat and that she, was a girl.


Anyway, we were very anxious to visit her. Mao Mao had lost a lot of weight from the diabetes, but she seemed in good spirits. It had been touch and go for a while. We had a little visit, gave her a few gentle pats. Passed on get well wishes from our cat Smokey, then headed back up the hill for lunch.

Later that afternoon we went down to Friends again for a Negroni and an appetizer. Boh, the bar mascot was there.  He seemed very happy to be in Stefano's lap.

Boh getting his pats and planning the rest of his evening...
Later on in the evening, we headed back up the hill. I wondered as we trudged up the basalt cobbled steps, "How many steps have we walked today". "Do my calorie burning efforts match my calorie intake?" And then I thought, "Lasciala perdere!"


Back at Il Sogno Richard made a wonderful pot of wild asparagus risotto. (Thank you Francesco!) I broke out a bottle of Orvieto Secco, put on some Paolo Conte tunes, and we settled in for the night.  

A plastic glass full of Sabina D.O.P. Extra Virgin Oilive Oil i begged from Stefano at Friends.
Afternote: I would like to thank three people who very kindly helped me get information, or helped me to correct information, on the street names of Casperia: my friend Clelia Angelelli, Casperia town councillor Marco Cossu, and local historian Lorenzo Capanna. Grazie infinite!

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