Transhumanza History Resources

While at the Shanti Centre, I found a trove of books on Abruzzo travel and some history books. I started to read Abruzzo Along the Shepherds’ Tracks and took some notes. Stephanie graciously offered the book to me since it was my history. I am especially grateful now that I cannot find it new, only used. A search online this morning turned up this abbreviated version online: http://www.abruzzomoliseheritagesociety.org/TRATTURIeTRANSUMANZA.pdf

The publisher of the book does have ABRUZZO. Guida Storico-Artista and advertises it as the guide selected by George Clooney for the film “The American”. I found an English version: Abruzzo. History and Art Guide.

Advertisements

Getting to Calascio

In all of my research on Calascio, I had not devised a plan to get there. Why? Because I did not want to rent a car. Why? I would love to say that my reason is totally my  green travel scruples, but fear of driving in the mountains played a large part. I have become a flat-lander here in Wisconsin. A few months before leaving  I found a bus schedule, so I knew car free travel was possible. Finding a place to stay within walking distance was the bigger obstacle. When I found  a B&B or an agriturisimo, they required a car. The bus left from L’Aquila, but again I could not find a room near the bus line. I started to think of how to make a day trip. Leave my luggage in a hotel in Pescara or Chieti and bus to L’Aquila then bus to Calascio. Walk around Calascio, then return. The free time at the yoga retreat paid off.  Bingo! I found Rifugio della Rocca in an Abruzzo Bradt Travel Guide on the bookshelf in the den. I made a reservation. After a night in Pescara, I left in the early morning for L’Aquila then Calascio. A young man returning to the University in L’Aquila was also taking the bus. He told me about the two buses. One is for university students and one for the center of town and the Collemaggio Bus Terminal. He was in a dorm during the earthquake, but survived. The university is now on the outskirts of town. Thanks to him I took the correct bus. I just did not plan on how to get from the bus stop in Calascio to the Rifugio, nor did I realize how far Rocca Calascio is from Calascio. I told the bus driver where I was going and he dropped me off at the closest possible spot. In hind sight, I should have known to get off in the center of town, find a bar (a coffee shop in Italy) and find a phone. Someone at the Rifugio could have given me a lift.

The bus dropped me off in this intersection with no businesses and no phone. The Rifugio della Rocca is 3km all up hill. I started to walk, pulling my luggage.

00:55  11:30  L’Aquila-Terminal Bus Collemaggio  Calascio  12:25 Vedi il dettaglilo della corsa

This wonderful Mother and Daughter gave me a ride up the hill to the Rifugio della Rocca.

Yoga in the Foothills

Excerpts from emails to my husband:

I am at the yoga center. Now I am with a whole new group of people and it takes a while to become a group. Everyone is British as I expected. My ear was just getting used to Italian and now I am hearing a variety of British accents. I can’t understand half of the  conversations.

I was sorry to leave the mountains. I did not leave very early. I did more laundry as a preventative against poison ivy or-whatever is making my hands and feet bubble and itch again. Then I had to wait for a ride to Sulmona from someone from the farm. After my clothes dried, I had to wait for the afternoon lunch and rest time to end. Marcello who works there told me 3 o’clock. Manuella told me that he went back to Anversa to eat with his mother. Then I saw Manuella eating with her son Giacomo in an outdoor area at the side of the restaurant. Later, I saw Nunzio eating in the restaurant with his wife, Electra. Eventually Giacomo took me to Sulmona with Bourbonne, his Abruzzo sheep dog/golden retriever mix puppy. The puppy needed shots at the vet in Sulmona. I told him he should call the dog Jack Daniels. I explained cheese heads to Giacomo. He said he had seen the foam hats in American movies.

So here I am at the Shanti Centre until the 26th. I arrived in the dark and was surprised this morning by the landscapes in the hazy sunlight. Each scene seems to be lifted right out of an oil painting.

* * *

I am finally getting into relaxing. It is very hot – 29 or so and it is 10:30. We do yoga at 8 am then breakfast, time to read, swim, sun, or relax. We will have lunch and more free time. On my first day I had a massage. Stephanie’s massage hands found hiking kinks I didn’t know I had.  We do another yoga class  on the big deck at 5:30, then dinner. There is a sauna and solar hut tub. The other day, I slowly walked to Casoli, a 90 minute walk. They were ready to send out a search party after me. I was fine. We went to Atri yesterday and it was lovely. An old village with beautiful churches. We went out to eat last night. Our day to do yoga at the beach is tomorrow.

* * *

I think I am about ready to leave here and go home. But I have not seen Calascio yet. I have 3 nights to work out.  We are having a lazy day today. Yoga this evening and a barbeque. The yoga has been wonderful. Stephanie is a great teacher. I still cannot understand the Brits half the time.

Spent a wonderful day on the beach. Making reservations. Bye for now.

* * *

HOTEL ALBA

Gentile Sig.ra  Confermo la Sua prenotazione per domani  sera 26/06/2011  una stanza singola.
Grazie ci vediamo domani sera. Linda
* * *
John,
I will leave this little slice of heaven about 7:30 tonight after a dinner. Rupert is a great cook. You have competition. It is all vegetarian and he serves wonderful food with a variety and balance.  I do feel quite healthy. I hope there is internet at tonight’s hotel in Pescara.
Chris

Walking through Scanno

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Scanno and its people have been favorite subjects for photographers, such as Henry Cartier-Bresson, Pietro di Rienzo and Mario Giacomelli.  After leaving the lake area, we walked the sheep through the crooked and stepped streets of this charming medieval hilltown. Here we became the subject of many photographs by both tourists and towns people . Leaving … Continue reading

Lake Scanno and Lunch

This gallery contains 19 photos.

We hiked down a steep hill to Lake Scanno. This was not too vigorous. There was no way to get lost as long as you went down hill. The trick was to avoid branches in your face as you wound down thin paths. When we arrived at Lake Scanno, a band was playing music. Nunzio … Continue reading

Breakfast

This gallery contains 7 photos.

On the second day of hiking, I was up early and ready for another long day. I took early morning pictures of Frattura with one or two sheep dogs following me around the town. The British chap sat on a bench at one end of town looking towards Scanno and painting a landscape in his … Continue reading

People

I am often asked how many people were on the transhumanza. The number changed daily. Sometimes it changed part way through the day as people met up with us or left early. Here is what I remember.

An American family living in Rome: a mother, father, two sons and a niece from Portland, Oregon.  Because the sons were preparing to audition for a place in an orchestra, they left at times to practice.

A British family: The mother and father own a house in the French Alps and the grown daughter lives in Vancouver British Columbia.

A British couple: He painted wonderful watercolors in his sketchbook and claims to never make any watercolors bigger than the landscapes he produced on this trip. She was lively and friendly making for a great hiking companion.

An American woman from Alabama who lives in Kyoto where her partner teaches American history: She was working at the farm for 5 weeks on a trip devoted to studying organic agriculture in Italy. We spent many hours together hiking. She was happy to find another “single woman” on the trip. She tried to advise me to be a balanced woman and sometimes do things for myself. I assured her that I was an artist and possessed a healthy dose of selfishness. I felt a connection to her very quickly because my son just returned from a Rotary Youth Exchange in Japan. We talked about many things, including the differences between the Japanese and the Italian cultures.

An Italian mother and daughter: The teenage daughter was the same age as the American niece from Portland

An Italian woman who generously taught me Italian when we hiked together.

A Northern Italian hippie couple who drove a VW style van. I thought they would have been family friends if they lived in Eau Claire. They were also on the WWOOF program to learn about organic farms. They stayed on to work at the farm. We had many wonderful conversations, but I am afraid they were mostly in English and the man sometimes felt left out of the conversations.

An Italian couple: I did not talk to them very often. He is the one who took my picture with the big loaf of bread and often helped to pour wine from the big jugs. She had blond hair tied back with a headband. They definitely seemed like experienced hikers.

Italian sisters from Pescara: They interpreted for the English speakers whenever needed. They spend lots of free time at the farm and treat Nunzio, the owner, as an uncle. They would like to own some property in the country, but Anversa is too far from Pescara for a daily commute.

Young Italian couple with a five year old daughter and younger son: They hiked enthusiastically with us during the first day. On the second day, they met up with us in Scanno.

Another American Family living in Rome: The parents and tween daughter and son. They are friends with the first American family, but arrived the second day. They were soon moving back to America for a change in assignment. The husband works with food aid and the wife is an artist.

An Italian man and his Italian speaking Guatemalan wife: They were very friendly. I muddled through my first long conversation in Italian with him. I was so thrilled. We were comparing Catholicism and Buddhism. I am sure I do not know how to say pray, but we communicated.

An Italian man with a big camera: He was there for some of the trip.

I am counting 30 here, but may be off.

Of course there was Nunzio Marcelli who sometimes walked with us and sometimes organized parts of the trip on the side with other local businesses.  Also there were the shepherds (maybe 3), the horse handlers (in one picture I see three of them), Domenico, the bald man in the red T-shirt who worked at the farm and often took up the rear of the hike, and the Romanian cheesemaker. Nunzio’s staff delivered food or sleeping bags at various points along the way.

Shepherds, Abruzzo Mountain Life and the Transhumanza Tradition

Two shepherds and participant

From pre-Roman times until the late 1900’s all aspects of  life in an Abruzzo hilltown were shaped by sheep-rearing and the wool industry. Because the pastures for large flocks were outside of the towns, villages became tightly knit houses and fortresses clinging to steep hillsides. Those who profited from the sheep, built beautiful homes in the villages and gave generously to the local churches. The majority of men lived away from the village for most of the year. The transhumanza was traditionally a way to feed the sheep during the long, harsh Abruzzo winters. Snow covered the ground all winter. So in September, the shepherds took the sheep south all the way to warmer Puglia where the grass flourished in the winter, but dried out in the summer.  They returned along the same legislated trails or tratturi in May to take advantage of the lush pastures in the mountains. There were four major tratturi in the region. The shepherds from Anversa, Scanno, and Sulmona would take one of the inland routes. The shepherds from Calascio would head toward the  Adriatic coast walking almost 250 kilometers on their way to Foggia, Puglia.

When the shepherds returned in May, they took the sheep to the higher pastures in the mountains of the region. The shepherds were given two days off of work every fifteen days during the summer. The shepherds were slaves. They may have owned five sheep of their own, but worked for the wealthy families. The wave of emmigration to the United States in the late 1800’s gave them a chance for freedom and broke the economic system of the wealthy families. The transhumanza was in jeopardy at the time as new laws in Puglia encouraged crop growing.  Grazing land began to disappear as social and economic changes dismantled the system of sheep-rearing and craft production that sustained the region for many centuries. There are few to no Italian shepherds anymore. The shepherds on our transhumanza were Romanian.

The shepherds on our trek used a combination of whistles, sticks, dogs, and a mule to guide the sheep. The sheep seemed to follow the mule. The shepherds whistled signals to the mule, dogs, or sheep. I am not sure which. If a sheep started to stray or became lazy, the shepherd beat the ground near the slowpoke with his bastone. I would hear, “vai, vai, vai” and chants almost like football cheers, “Hey, hey”. Once in a while I understood a word like “pigra”, lazy. One older sheep gave up and a shepherd tied it to a horse for part of the trip. The white Abruzzo sheep dogs were gentle and circled around the edges of the herd when they were stopped to graze. They mingled easily with people in between working stints. Once in a while all the dogs would take off in one direction barking and running into the woods. Wolves are present in the Abruzzo parks and have taken a few of Nunzio’s sheep in recent weeks. I never found out, however, what the dogs were after on one of these escapades. They may have just been chasing something tasty to eat. There were about 20 dogs all told, some the white mastiffs and some black and white.

Sheep dogs hard at work!!

Sheep dogs

Shepherd's Chapel

Shepherd’s Chapel and An Abandoned Village

Abandoned village of Frattura

Abandoned village of Frattura

Following the sheep takes us to a shepherd’s chapel. The Catholic church maintained many of these during the height of the transhumanza. They were places of worship, rest, and sustenance. Then we headed to the village of Frattura Vecchia, 1,300m above sea level. This village was destroyed by an earthquake in 1915. The people fled and were forbidden to rebuild. In the Mussolini era, a new village was built on another hillside above Scanno Lake.The new Frattura has straight, ordered streets and many stairs. Without the more organic form, it definitely lacks some of the mystery of the old village.

The old Frattura was our lunch stop. Children played in the water and we had a tour of one rebuilt stone house. A local resident has restored one house for dinner parties. He does not live in the house, he only entertains there. The gable arches inside form a canopy over a large dining table. He installed a wood fired oven and a grill. Another house had a bolted doorway. We all laughed because the outer wall next to the door had a huge hole where the rocks used to form a wall.

Oven in renovated dining home in Frattura

The new Frattura had a Forestry building on the top road that became our camping area for the night. Pitched tents housed some families and the rest of us slept on air mattresses in a large room. Dinner was at 10 pm at a local bar. Nunzio and his kitchen team delivered and served the meal with all its Italian courses. I ducked out before dessert. We hiked over 15 km. thus far and have at more to go.

Locked door in abandoned house in Frattura

Locked door in abandoned house in Frattura

Sheep facing one way praying for a cool breeze.

Sheep facing one way praying for a cool breeze.

Chi va piano, va sano; chi va sano, va lontano.

English translation: He who goes softly, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.
Idiomatic meaning: Slowly but surely.

After a late dinner in the bioagroturismo restaurant, we were up early for the first day of hiking. Nunzio, the farm owner, told us that the hike would be slow. We would be stopping when the sheep ate. Christina from Pescara translated for the English speaking participants. Christina and her sister participate in the Adopt a Sheep program started by Nunzio 10 years ago. They frequently visit the farm to help, much like a CSA member of an American organic farm. The truth of the walking was that the sheep and the shepherds were usually way ahead of us. Once in a while we were walking directly behind them or waiting as they grazed.

I was up at 4:20 am for a shower in my mini bathroom. The shower, toilet and sink were all in one small closet sized space -quaint. I was the first to the square. Oh, yes, there is Italian time. An Italian mother and daughter, Sophie is the daughter, drove me up to the farm. She stopped the car to ask some farm workers a question. I caught the first part and it did not make sense to me. I kept it in my brain to ask later. “Quanti ti manca?” Manca is from mancare-to miss. The mother later explained that she was asking how long will it take before we are ready.

After breakfast, there was quite a wait while everything was prepared for the hike. Shepherds spent a long time tying packs on the horses. Balancing the weight and tying with rope was tricky and time consuming. Finally, about 6 am, we were off.

Preparing the horse.

Starting downhill in the early morning.

Giù, giù, giù

We started from the farm at about 600 m (1,837 ft) and walked down to the Valley of Sagittarius or Gole del Sagittario, a designated WWF nature preserve.  This gorge was described by the mid nineteenth century author, artist and poet, Edward Lear, “frightening and beautiful.” We followed a path through dense vegetation along the clear running Sagittario River that reminded me of the Laurel Mountains of Pennslyvania. The water gurgled over rocks and the path remained cool and refreshing.

Nunzio leads us into the Gole del SagittarioSu, su, su

Stream in Valley of Sagitarrius

Su, su, su, su

We emerged from the wooded area and climbed to Castrovalva, a village that clings to the steep hills above Anversa. Castrovalva is a a frazione or ward of Anversa. Anversa is home to 40o people and another 50 – 1oo people live in Castrovalva. Castrovalva derives its fame from M.C. Escher’s 1930 lithograph “Castrovalva”. One of  Escher’s early works, it does not explore the themes of impossible constructions, tesselations, or mathematically inspired work that later made him famous. We stopped for tea and snacks at the plaza named to honor Escher. This is the point where he stood to capture the view of Castrovalva with Anversa below and Casale off in the distance.  Later, we cross a sunny hillside and climb to a height where we see these villages, as well as, Cucullo to the north. We also have a view of  windmills on a mountain to our north. These windmills serve 10,000 families but were often quite still as we walked.  We kept looking at them to guage our own height. The afternoon seemed long as we searched for shady spots to rest. Finally we thought we were as high as the windmills.

Climbing to Castrovalva

Castrovalva

A snack at Escher's view point

Wind Farm

Long view of sunny afternoon trek

There were two very young children on the hike. I found it amazing that they lasted the day. I heard that they sometimes rode the horses. The youngest napped on his fathers stomach as we rested in the shade of some short, scrubby trees.

Our youngest participant resting in the shade

The views were fantastic at every turn. From the start, I knew this was one of the best things I had ever done in my life. Sometimes in the heat of the afternoon, I would remind myself of this fact. With each magical view, I had no problem convincing myself that the fatigue was well worth it.