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.

Arriving in Abruzzo

For years Calascio, Italy, the birthplace of my father’s parents, occupied a special part of my mental and emotional space . Growing up near my grandparents in Windber, Pennsylvania, I identified with my Italian ancestry. My grandfather would always offer me a dime from his black leather change purse. I know it was a game. Perhaps I had to guess which hand held the dime. I had to tap his fist and he revealed it in his palm as he smiled gently. My grandmother babysat me while my parents worked next door at the grocery store . My grandmother taught me to cut pucarelle noodles and to crochet while telling me stories of their German shepherd dog at their old farm in New Florence, Pennsylvania.

When I started a craft business in the late 1990’s I knew exactly what to call it: Calascio Designs. I found old files filled with logo ideas just waiting for this occasion. While I dreamed of traveling there to take pictures that would become part of a better logo, none of my money making plans ever seemed to grow feet. Finally, I saved the money. After years of internet research on the Abruzzo region, I had an itinerary.

I set off for Rome on the 12th of June. But Rome was an after thought. I stayed for a few days to get over jet lag. My first destination was La Porta dei Parchi bioagroturismo in Anversa degli Abruzzi in the Abruzzo mountains. While it was not exactly Calascio, it was in the region. I would be doing what my grandfather did in Abruzzo. What a great way to experience geneaology! The farm organized a transhumanza, a three day hike walking the sheep from the lower pasture of the farm to a higher pasture in the national park for the summer.  My grandfather, Pasquale Iocca, was a shepherd in Calascio. He left Italy in 1890 or 1900 as a young man. An Ellis Island document lists Pasquale Tocca from Calosino arriving on the Aller from Genoa on June 6, 1900.  He was 23 years old  and his destination was Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania to stay with a brother-in-law. However, the 1910 US census states that Pasquale, now living with his wife’s family on the New Florence farm, immigrated in 1901. The 1920 census has the family living in Paint, a coal mine town near Windber, and it lists  1890 as the immigration date. All of these documents indicate a birth date in 1877.

This is where the bus driver left me when we reached Anversa.

Traditional music in the piazza of Anversa degli Abruzzi.,

So I began my Abruzzo journey with a traditional transhumanza. I discovered much about the history of this area along the way.

I took a bus from Rome to L’Aquila where I saw a sad and devastated city center.  The center is not being rebuilt from the earthquake of April 6, 2009, while building is going on on the outskirts. From there I took a bus to Sulmona and another to Anversa. The bus driver drove me closer to the center – not very far to go from his normal stop. Through the passageway between two tall buildings, I could see the mountains behind the village and another little village nestled higher in the mountains. Breathtaking!

My room was up the steps from the piazza. Before supper, there was traditional Abruzzi music to celebrate the beginning of the Transhumanza. Participants and townspeople joined in the piazza for the music.

I remember a story that Grandma heard Grandpa play the accordion and that is how she fell in love with him.  As I listened to the music, I imagined their meeting.

My room was at the top of these steps and the piazza at the bottom.

The whole time I was in Rome, I felt a sneaky underlying suspicion. I was suspicious of myself. I wondered what I was doing there. From the moment I set foot in Anversa, I knew why I was there. I felt whole.