The memory of our first Italian train ride lingers with me to this day. We were on our way to Italy’s deep south! Today’s modern trains have dining cars, snack bars, and computer hookups.
But back in 1989, they sold snacks out of dish pans. Shouting Neapolitan men strode the aisles with bottled water, soft drinks, and bags of chips. Just grab a dubious-looking paper cup, jammed in among the bottles and enjoy! And what about lunch? No problem! As lunchtime approached other vendors boarded, dish pans now filled with cellophane-wrapped sandwiches made fresh that day(?) or fresh coconut, cut and ready to eat.
Like an old Italian movie, rambunctious children jostled among the shouting vendors. Old women, as big around as they were tall. Screaming babies. And Italian mammas pulling endless quantities of food from immense shopping bags. Giant sandwiches, boiled eggs, cheese, bread, fruit, wine, and even pasta!
“So this is Italy” I thought. “This is really Italy!”
Yes, that was Italy, the Italy of yesteryear. Which to a large degree has disappeared, as the younger generations become more cosmopolitan. And what a delight it was! The food vendors, the shouted conversations, and gesticulating hands. The mammas stuffing food into chubby mouths, in between cuffs on the ear for poor behavior.
And all against the beauty of the marvelous scenery, rolling past the windows.
It was then that Italy became engraved on our hearts. A love that’s never dimmed.
“Ah, you’re going to Italy’s deep south!” a fellow passenger from a neighboring town informed us. And before day’s end, we learned what a long way down the boot it was!
Mario’s birth area, il Cilento, was (and still is) like another world! And in shock, like Carlo Levi of the film Christ Stopped at Eboli, I wondered if we’d landed in some 3rd world nation instead of 20th century Europe!
And we fell in love with the rural mountain villages of Italy’s deep south that day.
And their unfathomable fascination continues to pull on our hearts. An indescribable something in the culture and beautiful, simple people. That goes far beyond the beauty of the landscape.
You can learn more about this movie on the Fascist era of Italy at IMDb. But we really recommend finding it, because it illustrates the world of the southern Italian mountain villages far better than we ever could.
But watch out! You might fall in love with Italy’s villages too!