Tangled Up in Blue
And then one day I wake up and I’m homesick. Don’t worry, nothing serious. It’s just something hidden for a long time, buried by the enthusiasm of a new place, new life, opportunities and dreams. It’s that sometimes I really feel like I live in a different planet then where I grew up. In moments like this I try to hold on a positive memory, a safe corner of my mind. So be careful, this is going to be a bit of a sentimental post, but also a celebration of a place that is still there: a castle as a playground.
All Along the Watchtower
I challenge anybody to find a better playground than a castle. I’m not talking about a playground build in the shape of a castle, which we have here in Toronto and is wonderful and definitely safer and more child-proof than what I’m going to write about. I’m talking about a REAL castle, or at least what used to be a real castle in medieval times but still maintains the structure and the magic of it. It is the village where my father was born, hometown of my grandmother’s family. The place is called Croce di Caldarola, in Le Marche region. The first known information about the settlement goes back to the year 967 (yes, X century), but the fortress can be dated back to the XIV century. The composition of the village still unveils the shape of the castle, with a central polygonal tower built of huge rocks and the rest of the fortification hidden beneath a little hill, still called le mura, the walls. A solid arch and a steep hill divides the castle from the rest of the village, houses made of the same stone as the walls.
Photographs and Memories
When I was a kid, my grandparents used to live in the central part of the castle, their house cuddled by le mura, and a beautiful view of the mountain and the olive groves. That was the playground where me and my brother spent many days playing and inventing incredible adventures. We run the cobblestone lanes wielding our wood swords, killing dragons and enemies. We played with the miniature catapult our grandfather built for us. We threw stones in the well (yes, there was even a well) to see how deep it was. We embarked on archeological expeditions with shovels and picks, to reveal what lied beneath the hill. My grandmother used to have a little vegetable garden inside of a bath tub on the side of the hill. I’m not kidding: I never knew how that bath tub ended up there and I wish I had taken a picture of it, but it is probably still there. She grew the best lettuce and herbs in there and made the best salads ever. I remember her picking a small and thin carrot from the ground, shaking it from the dirt and giving it to me so that I can eat the sweetest carrot ever. I didn’t know what “organic” meant at the time. And then handmade pasta, a scented ragù sauce, a secret recipe peach juice so thick it was difficult to drink it out of the bottle. I’m pretty sure I will never eat anything that good. Or probably that is for me a sort of primordial taste I will always use as a benchmark with anything else I’ll eat. There was an attic full of treasures, where I once found an old book belonged to a WWI soldier, who used the blank pages to write a little diary of his life during the war. I still remember his fearful tale from the trenches and his signature: mi firmo per sempre Giuseppucci Nicola, forever Giuseppucci Nicola. I never knew who this soldier was, but that is probably when my passion for history started. We used to sit in the little alley behind the house, which my grandpa renamed Vicolo dei bambini, Children’s Lane, talking and playing and enjoying the breeze.
Remembering it today, a few decades and several thousands kilometres from it all, I just feel incredibly lucky for having had a castle as a playground, and my grandparents building wooden toys, cooking the best meals and telling us the most incredible stories. Writing it down makes me realise how these experiences shaped my identity, and it feels good to lose myself in these memories every now and then. It helps me get up and makes me feel ready for new challenges and adventures.