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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.