Life in Abruzzo shared Porta dei Parchi’s recipe for Shepherd Steak. We ate this wonderful cheese dish at the end of the transhumanza. It is a good way to use day old or dry bread. We were at the shepherd’s hut in the alta plano and ate Shepherd’s Steak and a stew with wild greens. This is truly one of the first times that I had mint and liked it! Maybe I am not allergic after all.
Porta dei Parchi is hosting the third and last (ultima) transhumanza of 2011 from August 26-August 28th. This video shows the transhumanza very well. Still no matter how many pictures you see, it does not compare to being there in person. On the first day, they will walk from Anversa to Old Frattura. You can find them on facebook on the Adotta una pecora page.
I made a big mistake the day I left Rome for Anversa degli Abruzzzi. I knew I needed cash to pay the rest of my bill at Porta dei Parchi and I knew that there would be few cash points out in the country. But I did not go to a bancomat in the Roma Termini Train Station. I took the 10 to 15 minute walk from my hotel, the Domus Nova Bethlem, to the Termini Metro stop. For one euro, I took the Metro from Termini to Tiburtina, another train station. I assumed that it would be easy to find a bancomat there. But it wasn’t. In hind site, I took the metro, not the train and while the two transportation systems are connected underground, I did not go to the areas at either train station where there would be a bancomat. Eager to be on my way, I decided to go ahead and find my bus and try to change money in L’Aquila. The bus station was not easy to find. There were no signs. If I asked anyone, they just said, “Non lo so”. “I don’t know it.” I walked from the Metro stop towards the train station and then outside where I crossed streets under an overpass. Once there, the biglietteria, ticket office, was easy to find.
Excited to see the mountains, I took a seat in the upper deck of the bus to L’Aquila. The dinner at the bioagriturismo was not until eight that night. So I had time to see a little of L’Aquila before getting the next bus to Sulmona, then another to Anversa.
The bus station in L’Aquila, the Collemaggio, is at the bottom of a hill. The walk to the center of town is up the hill. At times I felt I was going nowhere. Then I found a park and then buildings. Buildings were fenced off and strapped with metal or encased in wire mesh to contain the earthquake damage. But no one was working on reconstruction. Three military personnel in camouflage hung out and chatted near their vehicle. The post office mentioned in my old guide book was cordoned off as was the church, a major tourist site. There was one man walking around taking pictures, but very little activity. I tried to use the bancomats on the side streets. One after another refused to give me cash and cited my need to contact my bank at home. My bank, however, knew I was in Italy and I had money in my account. As I started to enter another bank, an older man with a cane who was visiting with the armed guard started to talk to me. I told him that I was in Abruzzo because my grandparents were born in Calascio. He told me his daughter lived in Miami. I told him as best I could about my problem. “La macchina della banca mi dice, ‘No’.” I didn’t know the term bancomat, so I said the bank machine tells me, “No.” Perhaps I said non functiona per me. Anyway, he understood and wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help at first. I heard “non lo so” again. After I tried once more at another machine, he offered to take me to another bank. So I made a leap of faith and put my luggage in his car and he drove me to a bank away from the center. We talked about Calascio and about my upcoming trip to walk with sheep. Familiar with Porta dei Parchi, he was impressed and told me about another Abruzzo farm where they raise donkeys. Away from the center, life appeared suburban and normal. The bank machine here gave me money! I returned to the car proclaiming “Va bene! Va bene! Grazie mille!” My first experience with the Abruzzese proved what I had heard and read. The Abruzzese are strong and gentle. My fatherly friend drove me to the bus station and I thanked him profusely again.
The next bus took me through the mountains to Sulmona. I followed the route on a map. I knew that I traveled close to Calascio, but could not quite see it from the road. I asked the bus driver where I should get off for the bus to Anversa degli Abruzzi. He motioned for me to stay on the bus as he drove through the town center. At the outskirts of town, he told me to buy a ticket at the small kiosk and wait across the street for the bus. But the kiosk was closed and there was no other place to buy a ticket. A driver waited with a small bus, the size of a van, and I asked him where to buy a ticket. “Non, lo so.” Where to get the bus to Anversa. “Non lo so.” I tried to ask others, but there was no one to ask. I was near a hospital and a parking lot. It was mid day, hot and sunny, and most people relax during the mid day break. Another bus finally arrived and I asked the same questions. “Non lo so.” Finally this bus driver took me back to the center of town without a ticket and dropped me off at a park. He told me to buy a ticket at the Tabacchi and wait for the bus on the other side of the park.
As I pulled my luggage across the park, gravel walkways clogged my luggage wheels and had to lift the luggage. Finally I made it to the other side and walked towards the shops. The tabaccaio or tobacconist told me the time for the bus and that I should wait on the opposite side of the park. I had enough time for a gelato from a shop near the park. For one euro, less than half the price in Rome, the sales clerk piled the gelato into a cup for me. As I crossed the park, I remembered Elizabeth Gilbert’s favorite Italian word in Eat,Pray, Love: “attraversiamo”, “let’s cross over”. I was not thrilled to attraverso again. I stood waiting for the bus and although early, was determined not to move until the bus arrived.
After fifteen minutes of waiting, more people arrived. I told a young man where I was going. He told me to wait on the other side of the park. My bus going toward Scanno left from the other side. I had no choice but attraversare il parco di nuovo and fast. I cursed the tabaccaio under my breath and cursed myself for not listening to the bus driver. A young man in this line confirmed that I was indeed in the right line. He was returning to Scanno from college. With a dreamy look in his eyes, he insisted that I should go to Scanno where I would find the most beautiful mountains. Although I tried to tell him that I would get to Scanno while walking with the sheep, he seemed disappointed that I would get off the bus before seeing Scanno. The bus drove through Sulmona and into the beautiful mountains. Lo so. Lo so.
The third day of hiking was much like the the first in length and intensity. We started at Agriturismo Valle Scannese da Gregorio where many stayed for the night. Gregorio’s farm is close to Scanno and features a restaurant, retail shop, and rooms.
We ended the day at 1666 m. (5,466 ft.) at Stazzo Casone Chiarono. Literally this translates as the big sheepfold house of Chiarano. The shepherds will stay at this large shepherd hut with the sheep until the August transhumanza. Mountains and rocky outcroppings ring this high green plain. Brown ski slopes of Monte Pratello crisscross one mountain to the east.
We are treated to traditional shepherd’s steak (bread topped with cheese and mint and baked with milk) and a stew mixture made of a dandelion-like wild greens served over dry bread. After staying to watch the Romanian cheesemaker make fresh ricotta, we pile into his car for the ride back to Anversa. With loud Romanian folk music blasting, we drove down to the National park entrance, through valley towns and back to the restaurant for one more meal as a group.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.